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Isaiah Berlin famously distinguished between “negative” and “positive” liberty, arguing that in practice the two are often in tension with each other. This paper uses Berlin’s distinction to analyze Spinoza’s discussion of freedom in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. Libertas philosophandi is Spinoza’s shorthand for freedom of thought and expression – an important element in traditional liberal (“negative”) freedom. The TTP (as its subtitle announces) is devoted in great part to defending the value and importance of permitting such freedom in the state. But as commentators have often noted, Spinoza is reluctant to extend this liberty to the clerics of his day. I argue that this is best understood by reference to a more “positive” conception of freedom that also appears (in less conspicuous passages) in the TTP. This more positive conception, familiar from the Ethics, explains and justifies the liberty-limiting restrictions placed on religious agents and institutions.

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Tijdschrift voor Filosofie


BE ISSN 0040-750X E-ISSN 2031-8952