Spinoza’s Defense of Toleration: The Argument From Pluralism

Keywords: Spinoza, toleration, Bayle, Bodin, faith, Theological-Political Treatise


Spinoza’s bold, spirited defense of toleration is an animating theme of the Theological-Political Treatise (TTP) and an important reason for the significant historical impact of the text. But Spinoza’s arguments for toleration can be challenging to discern. True to its title, the TTP offers two main arguments for toleration, one political, the other theological. This paper argues that Spinoza’s theological argument for toleration is closely connected to a distinct and often overlooked argument from pluralism. This paper examines Spinoza’s argument from pluralism and defends that it is more attractive to similar arguments for toleration offered by Bodin and Bayle. It is more attractive than Bodin’s pluralism argument because Spinoza’s allows that religious beliefs and doctrines of faith have a rational justification, which makes possible a more optimistic picture of the prospects for religious disputation. Spinoza’s pluralism argument is also more attractive than Bayle’s argument because Spinoza’s does not regard religious beliefs as justified by sincerity, which means that he does not need to recognize any problematic rights of erroneous conscience, nor is he forced to accept as justified sincere beliefs in persecution or obviously immoral or irreligious beliefs.


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