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Epoché: A Journal for the History of Philosophy

Volume 21, Issue 1, Fall 2016

Erik Stephenson
Pages 145-171
DOI: 10.5840/epoche201682969

An Ethical Justification for Political Resistance in Spinoza

This paper demonstrates that an ethical justification for political resistance can be found in Spinoza’s writings. It establishes that important elements of his ethical analysis of politics entail an ethical imperative to actively resist any attempt on the part of the sovereign to abolish or unduly curtail freedom of thought and expression. It shows that, under such circumstances, active resistance will be in accord with reason: (1) the less it is motivated by any species of hatred; and (2) the more it serves to empower people. Since freedom of thought and expression necessarily involves the freedom to engage in the philosophical critique of prejudices, and the latter can itself function as a form of political resistance, the ethical imperative to preserve libertas philosophandi amounts to an enjoinder to preserve a form of perpetual resistance within the normal functioning of the rationally-ordered state.