Spinoza on Philosophy, Religion, and Politics: The Theologico-Political Treatise

Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press (2012)
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Susan James explores the revolutionary political thought of one of the most radical and creative of modern philosophers, Baruch Spinoza. His Theologico-Political Treatise of 1670 defends religious pluralism, political republicanism, and intellectual freedom. James shows how this work played a crucial role in the development of modern society.



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The introduction sets out a distinctive methodological approach to the study of the Theologico‐Political Treatise. In contrast to the stances taken by many other commentators, this book illuminates the argument of the Treatise by setting it in the historical context of the political and th... see more

Spinoza's Project

This chapter explains Spinoza's reasons for writing and publishing the Treatise. His central goal is, as he says, to establish that the freedom to philosophize is compatible with the peace and piety of the republic, and to show that, without this freedom, peace and piety cannot be maintain... see more

The Meaning of Prophecy

Spinoza's critique of false or superstitious religion initially focuses on the interpretation of the Bible. The first six chapters of the Treatise use a mixture of philosophical and biblical arguments to show what Scripture does not determine, and thus what philosophy is free to investigat... see more

What Divine Law Is

Spinoza's positive account of the divine law is an extremely radical one, almost uniquely so in the context of seventeenth‐century debate. God is not a legislator who issues decrees and punishments, and prescriptions only become laws when they are ordained by a human agent. Human beings mu... see more

The Meaning of Scripture

The first six chapters of the Treatise explicate the revealed teaching of the Bible, focusing on what it does not require. The middle section of the work now challenges the views of the Reformed Church (and others) about how the Bible should be interpreted, and elaborates the hermeneutic m... see more

Putting the Interpretative Method to Work

Before Spinoza can use his method to explain what the Bible teaches and show that its doctrine is compatible with the freedom to philosophise, he needs to clear away four errors defended by his theological opponents. Against the claim that scriptural doctrine was conveyed to the prophets b... see more

True Religion

Spinoza now sets out to explicate the religious doctrine taught by Scripture and to reinforce his claim that it does not threaten the division between theology and philosophy or challenge the freedom to philosophize. Following a line of ecumenically inclined writers (Arminians, Socininans ... see more

Theology and Philosophy

Spinoza is now in a position to conclude that, contrary to the view held by the Voetians, philosophy and theology are distinct and ‘neither is the handmaid of the other’. Philosophy aims at truth, theology at obedience, and since these are separate goals there need be no conflict between t... see more

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Susan James
Birkbeck College

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