Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise (1670–2020). Commemorating A Long-Forgotten Masterpiece

A special issue of Philosophies (ISSN 2409-9287).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 December 2020) | Viewed by 31048

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Guest Editor
Erasmus School of Philosophy, Erasmus University Rotterdam, 3000 DR Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Interests: history of philosophy; the history of Dutch academic philosophy; Spinoza studies

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Guest Editor
Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Utrecht University, 3512 BL Utrecht, The Netherlands
Interests: anthropology; political philosophy; religious pluralism; visual and material culture of religion

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise first appeared, anonymously, in 1670. After the publication of the Opera Posthuma (1677), few scholars took the trouble to take the work seriously. In his famous History of Philosophy, Hegel only devoted a few lines to the work, caustically describing it as a mere predecessor of contemporary Biblical criticism. In the early 20th century, Gebhardt deemed it a pamphlet written as an intervention in the political-ecclesiastical controversies of the Republican Era of Johan de Witt, which ended with violent death by the Hague mob. In the 21st century, Theo Verbeek outlined its inconsistencies in Exploring the Will of God (2003) and in a review of the Cambridge Guide to the work (2010), edited by Malamed and Rosenthal, named it ‘badly organized and—let us admit it—without a clear and recognizable focus’.

Notwithstanding this benign neglect during the last three centuries, the TTP finally seems to emerge from the shadow of the Ethics. In the wake of the growing interest in the political philosophy of Spinoza in France and Italy and the study of the historical significance of Radical Enlightenment by Jonathan Israel, recent studies of the TTP have focused on the context of the Dutch Republic. The field of the history of humanities has also led to a growing interest in Spinoza’s philological scholarship displayed in the TTP. In a stricter philosophical approach of Spinoza’s philosophy, scholars zoomed in on the passionate nature of humans and the first form of knowledge, the imagination, opening the way to reassessing positive religion, and attempts were made to link Ethics and the TTP.

This commemorative Special Issue will offer a style guide of the various recent approaches to the TTP and explore new directions, such as the reception of Spinoza in the modern Middle East and the relevance of Spinoza’s political philosophy to understanding the role of religion in contemporary European forms of nationalism and authoritarianism.

Prof. Dr. Henri Krop
Dr. Pooyan Tamimi Arab
Guest Editors

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Keywords

  • Spinoza
  • politics
  • religious studies
  • early Enlightenment
  • biblical philology
  • freedom of expression
  • democracy

Published Papers (10 papers)

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11 pages, 245 KiB  
Editorial
Spinoza’s Theological–Political Treatise (1670–2020). Commemorating a Long-Forgotten Masterpiece
by Henri Krop and Pooyan Tamimi Arab
Philosophies 2021, 6(3), 67; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies6030067 - 6 Aug 2021
Viewed by 2540
Abstract
In entitling this Special Issue of Philosophies, commemorating the publication of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (hereafter TTP) 350 years ago, ‘a long-forgotten masterpiece’, we acknowledge our debt to Edwin Curley, who in the 1990s wrote two papers called ‘Notes on a Neglected Masterpiece’ [...] [...] Read more.
In entitling this Special Issue of Philosophies, commemorating the publication of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (hereafter TTP) 350 years ago, ‘a long-forgotten masterpiece’, we acknowledge our debt to Edwin Curley, who in the 1990s wrote two papers called ‘Notes on a Neglected Masterpiece’ [...] Full article
12 pages, 7102 KiB  
Article
Spinoza in His Time: The 17th-Century Religious Context
by Joke Spaans
Philosophies 2021, 6(2), 27; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies6020027 - 1 Apr 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2875
Abstract
In one of the last paragraphs of his Tractatus theologico-politicus (1670), Spinoza extolls the harmony between people of a diversity of faiths, maintained by the magistracy of Amsterdam. However, he also seems apprehensive about the possibility of the return of chaos, such as [...] Read more.
In one of the last paragraphs of his Tractatus theologico-politicus (1670), Spinoza extolls the harmony between people of a diversity of faiths, maintained by the magistracy of Amsterdam. However, he also seems apprehensive about the possibility of the return of chaos, such as during the Arminian Controversies in the Dutch Republic in the 1610s and the English Civil War in the 1640s and 1650s. The so-called Wolzogen affair in 1668 probably rattled him. Spinoza’s fears would, however, prove groundless. Theological controversy in the public church was often fierce and bitter, but did not threaten the integrity of the State after 1619. Political and ecclesiastical authorities supported discussions and debate in which a new theological consensus could be hammered out. From the examples of Petrus de Witte’s Wederlegginge der Sociniaensche Dwaelingen and Romeyn de Hooghe’s Hieroglyphica, I will argue that such freedom was not limited to the universities, under the aegis of academic freedom, but that Spinoza’s call for free research and open debate was in fact everyday reality. Full article
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15 pages, 272 KiB  
Article
The Tractatus Theologico-Politicus and the Dutch: Spinoza’s Intervention in the Political-Religious Controversies of the Dutch Republic
by Henri Krop
Philosophies 2021, 6(1), 23; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies6010023 - 15 Mar 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2620
Abstract
This paper outlines the Dutch background of the Tractatus theologico-politicus (TTP) and aims to contribute to a deeper understanding of the Theological-Political Treatise. It reads Spinoza’s first main work published anonymously as an intervention in the many political-religious controversies, which began in [...] Read more.
This paper outlines the Dutch background of the Tractatus theologico-politicus (TTP) and aims to contribute to a deeper understanding of the Theological-Political Treatise. It reads Spinoza’s first main work published anonymously as an intervention in the many political-religious controversies, which began in 1579 and ravaged the Dutch Republic during the first century of its history. The three main topics of these controversies are also the focus of the TTP: I. the freedom to philosophize; II. the relation between Church and State, and III. the nature of public religion, which is defined by a minimal creed. These topics were familiar to the contemporary Dutch reader. The TTP appears to give a theoretical account of what theological-political practice was in the days of Spinoza. Full article
13 pages, 260 KiB  
Article
Of Prophecy and Piety: Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus between al-Farabî and Erasmus
by Michiel Leezenberg
Philosophies 2021, 6(2), 51; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies6020051 - 20 Jun 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2774
Abstract
In this contribution, I discuss some less well-known premodern and early modern antecedents of Spinoza’s concepts and claims in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. On the one hand, I will argue, Spinoza’s notion of prophecy owes more to Moses Maimonides than to any Christian [...] Read more.
In this contribution, I discuss some less well-known premodern and early modern antecedents of Spinoza’s concepts and claims in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. On the one hand, I will argue, Spinoza’s notion of prophecy owes more to Moses Maimonides than to any Christian author; and through Maimonides, Spinoza may be linked to the discussion of prophecy in The Virtuous City by the tenth-century Islamic philosopher al-Farabî. Spinoza’s concern with prophecy as a popular formulation of the Divine Law may be fruitfully seen in the light of these two authors. On the other hand, Spinoza’s notion of pietas has arguably been shaped by a number of early modern authors from the Low Countries, including Thomas a Kempis and Erasmus: it does not consist in merely obeying the law, but also has a clear devotional and theist dimension of love for God and for one’s neighbors. As such, it may be associated with recent ideas on philosophy and spiritual exercises. These findings have a number of non-trivial implications for Spinoza’s place in the rise of modern, academic Western philosophy. I will discuss these implications in the context of Pierre Hadot’s influential views on philosophy as a way of life and Michel Foucault’s notion of spirituality. Full article
20 pages, 284 KiB  
Article
Spinoza: A Baconian in the TTP, but Not in the Ethics?
by Jo Van Cauter and Daniel Schneider
Philosophies 2021, 6(2), 32; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies6020032 - 15 Apr 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 3124
Abstract
This paper resolves some puzzles regarding Spinoza’s appropriations and rejections of various aspects of Bacon’s methodology, and uses these solutions to resolve some long-standing puzzles concerning Spinoza’s modus operandi in the TTP. We argue first that, appearances to contrary, Spinoza takes a consistent [...] Read more.
This paper resolves some puzzles regarding Spinoza’s appropriations and rejections of various aspects of Bacon’s methodology, and uses these solutions to resolve some long-standing puzzles concerning Spinoza’s modus operandi in the TTP. We argue first that, appearances to contrary, Spinoza takes a consistent line in his assessment of Bacon’s epistemic approach. We argue that Spinoza follows Bacon in grounding his overall epistemic method in a “historiola mentis” (a brief account or history of the mind), and that differences between Spinoza’s and Bacon’s respective historiola mentis can explain Spinoza’s embrace of this inductive method for his interpretation of Scripture in the TTP, as well as his general abandonment of Bacon’s inductive method in the metaphysical investigation of the Ethics. In short, we argue that the “historiola mentis” constructed by Bacon depicts the intellect as an error-prone faculty that needs be continuously restrained by observation and experimentation—a depiction which motivates Bacon’s reformed inductive empiricism. Spinoza accepts this depiction in regard to a subset of the mind’s ideas—the ideas of the imagination, and hence sees the inductive method as suitable for interpreting Scripture. But contra Bacon, Spinoza’s “historiola mentis” also shows that the human mind includes a subset of ideas that yield true, certain knowledge of things “infinite” and sub specie aeternitatis. Spinoza finds these “intellectual” ideas to be quite useful for systematic metaphysics, but of limited use for interpreting historical texts like Scripture. Full article
12 pages, 212 KiB  
Article
Spinoza and the Possibility of a Philosophical Religion
by Martijn Buijs
Philosophies 2021, 6(2), 34; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies6020034 - 16 Apr 2021
Viewed by 2442
Abstract
What is a philosophical religion? Carlos Fraenkel proposes that we use this term to describe “the interpretation of the historical forms of a religion in philosophical terms”. Such a philosophical interpretation allows religious traditions to be utilized in service of a political-pedagogical program, [...] Read more.
What is a philosophical religion? Carlos Fraenkel proposes that we use this term to describe “the interpretation of the historical forms of a religion in philosophical terms”. Such a philosophical interpretation allows religious traditions to be utilized in service of a political-pedagogical program, the goal of which is orienting society towards the highest good: human excellence. Here, I outline the idea of a philosophical religion as it can be found in the Arabic tradition of rationalist Aristotelianism and scrutinize Spinoza’s ambiguous response to this idea. Despite his programmatic separation of theology and philosophy, I argue, Spinoza, at least in some crucial passages, shows himself to be engaged in the project of retrieving the truths of philosophy through the interpretation of Scripture. Thus, there are two contradictory strains at work in Spinoza’s philosophy of religion: he systematically denies that Scripture is the locus of truth, yet he articulates parts of his philosophical anthropology and rational theology by means of Scriptural exegesis. Both of these strains, however, depend on the claim that the final arbiter of truth about the divine and the one true act of worship of God is metaphysics. Full article
12 pages, 223 KiB  
Article
The Coherence of Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise
by Yoram Stein
Philosophies 2021, 6(1), 20; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies6010020 - 8 Mar 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 3353
Abstract
Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus has been critiqued as contradictory and inconsistent. This is why I believe that the question with regard to Spinoza’s ‘neglected masterpiece’ should be: How to read the Treatise as a coherent philosophical work? I suggest that the reason why the [...] Read more.
Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus has been critiqued as contradictory and inconsistent. This is why I believe that the question with regard to Spinoza’s ‘neglected masterpiece’ should be: How to read the Treatise as a coherent philosophical work? I suggest that the reason why the Treatise seems contradictory is because of the complex juxtaposition of its two main foci: the relationship between theology and philosophy, and that of theology and politics. In this paper, I will argue against the claim of contradiction and pursue to demonstrate a close correlation and mutual interdependence of both relations. While the domains of theology and philosophy may be separate, there is no contradiction between the salvation of the ignorant and the salvation of the wise. Similarly, there is no contradiction between the theological part of the Treatise—which focuses on ‘piety’ and the defense of the freedom of ‘internal religion’—and the political part—which focuses on ‘peace’, and claims that the state should have absolute power over ‘external religion’. Full article
20 pages, 283 KiB  
Article
From Reality without Mysteries to the Mystery of the World: Marilena Chaui’s Reading of Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus
by Viviane Magno
Philosophies 2021, 6(2), 45; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies6020045 - 28 May 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2575
Abstract
This article offers an overview of Marilena Chaui’s reading of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (TTP). Chaui has published numerous books and essays on Baruch Spinoza. Her two-volume study The Nerve of Reality is the culmination of a decades-long engagement with the Dutch philosopher, and [...] Read more.
This article offers an overview of Marilena Chaui’s reading of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (TTP). Chaui has published numerous books and essays on Baruch Spinoza. Her two-volume study The Nerve of Reality is the culmination of a decades-long engagement with the Dutch philosopher, and her research has been a valuable resource for generations of Latin American scholars. From this extensive output, we focus on Chaui’s main texts on the theological-political, concentrating on her analysis of the concept of superstition and the philosophical language of the TTP, which Chaui calls a “counter-discourse”. Spinoza’s enduring relevance for the interpretation of contemporary phenomena is clarified by Chaui’s analysis of the TTP, which establishes a fundamentally political understanding of superstition. Full article
18 pages, 279 KiB  
Article
The Reception of Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise in the Islamic Republic of Iran
by Sina Mirzaei
Philosophies 2021, 6(2), 42; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies6020042 - 20 May 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 3784
Abstract
In the form of a case study and based upon novel material about the reception of Spinoza’s Theological–Political Treatise (TTP) in Iran, this paper studies issues with the interactions among political, theological and philosophical ideas in the reception of Spinoza’s TTP. The paper [...] Read more.
In the form of a case study and based upon novel material about the reception of Spinoza’s Theological–Political Treatise (TTP) in Iran, this paper studies issues with the interactions among political, theological and philosophical ideas in the reception of Spinoza’s TTP. The paper starts with the first Iranian encounters with Spinoza’s philosophy in the Qajar era in the nineteenth century and then focuses on the reception of the TTP in the period after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The first translation of the TTP was prepared in the 1990s by Muḥsin Jahāngīrī, but he withheld the manuscript from being published. I discuss the arguments that led him to withhold the publication of his translation; in this context, it will be important to consider the tumultuous religious and political debates, and broader questions as to the legitimacy of political power will also prove relevant. The first doctoral dissertation in Persian about the TTP will be described, followed by a description of a digital translation of the twentieth chapter of the TTP, which was published after the 2009 election protests. The article ends with discussing translator Ali Ferdowsi’s motivation to produce the first complete Persian translation of the TTP, published in Tehran in 2017. In conclusion, it will be discussed to which extent the theocratic political context in the country caused interest in the TTP. Full article
12 pages, 231 KiB  
Article
Conspiracy Theories as Superstition: Today’s Mirror Image in Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus
by Jamie van der Klaauw
Philosophies 2021, 6(2), 39; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies6020039 - 18 May 2021
Viewed by 2592
Abstract
The contention in this paper is that the theological-political disputes Spinoza was concerned with 350 years ago are similar to the conspiratorial disputes we experience today. The world in Spinoza’s Tractatus theologico-politicus, a political intervention in his time, serves as a “mirror image”, [...] Read more.
The contention in this paper is that the theological-political disputes Spinoza was concerned with 350 years ago are similar to the conspiratorial disputes we experience today. The world in Spinoza’s Tractatus theologico-politicus, a political intervention in his time, serves as a “mirror image”, that is to say, it deals with the same problem we face today albeit in a different mode. Understanding our contemporary condition under the auspices of a Spinozist perspective, problems in countermeasures to the conspiratorial disputes come to light. Scholarly work and practice focus on the epistemological dimension of conspiracy theories, tying in the extent to which they are problematic to the degree in which they deal in untruth. However, the lesson from Spinoza’s analysis of the theological-political disputes is that such theories do not deal in truth, but, in affect, they do not spring from a lack of education but a lack of certainty. The work of Spinoza opens up a different approach, and if our aim is like that of the TTP, to defend political life against the threat of civil war, such a different approach is in order. Full article
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