Spinoza’s Liberalism

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Abstract

While Spinoza’s political philosophy is often described as liberal, it is not always clear what this label means or whether it is warranted. Calling Spinoza ‘liberal’ implies that he belongs to a historical tradition of political philosophers, who formulated and defended claims, which later became identified as central to political liberalism. Consequently, clarifying how Spinoza is a liberal requires specifying precisely which liberal views he articulated and defended. This paper, first, examines the various ways that commentators have interpreted Spinoza as defending liberal commitments. This examination shows that most commentators describe Spinoza as liberal on the grounds that his politics defends the value of individual political freedom, specifically of speech and thought. The paper, second, considers whether he upholds a claim that is important to contemporary liberalism, what is sometimes called the fundamental liberal principle. The paper concludes that Spinoza does not, which suggests that he does not sit as easily in the liberal tradition as some scholars have suggested.

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