New publication: John Toland’s ‘Letters to Serena’

We are pleased to announce the publication of a book edited by Network member Ian Leask.

Ian Leask (ed.), John Toland’s ‘Letters to Serena’, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2013
ISBN 978-I-84682-395-4

John Toland (1670-1722), one of the most important thinkers of the ‘radical Enlightenment’, was part of the vanguard that helped to disseminate and develop Spinozistic ideas across Europe. Probably Toland’s most substantial philosophical work, the Letters to Serena (1704) carries out two separate tasks, united by a common strategy of ‘ungodding’ the world. In the first three Letters, Toland provides a genealogical examination – strongly influenced by Spinoza’s TTP – of superstition, prejudice and notions of an ‘immortal soul’; the supernatural is shown to be mere human invention. In the final two (more metaphysical) Letters, he first critiques Spinoza’s treatment of motion as a fait accompli: the Ethics rules out a transcendent or transitive cause of motion, and yet provides no alternative explanation. But to ‘solve’ the problem, Toland then draws on Leibniz’s insistence that force is an essential constituent of any substance – although, typically, he rips this Leibnizian principle from its original, theological setting. The result is that ‘motive force’ is used to bolster the sheer autonomy of the material world, and Spinozistic immanence thereby deepened and ‘improved’.

Despite the significance of the text, this is the first modern, English-language edition of the Letters since its original publication. Accordingly, the editor provides a substantial introduction, a contextual timeline, full annotations and a bibliography.


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