letter on tolerance

Image: Jornal de Resenhas / Thyago Nogueira


Presentation of the newly edited book by John Locke

European winter of 1689, mid-February. Locke boards the ship Isabella, in The Briel, Holland, bound for the port of Harwich, England, from where he would leave for London and put an end to an exile of five and a half years. In September 1683, when he chose to leave his country, his fears were imprisonment and perhaps death. The years of the Exclusion Crisis (1679-1681) had already passed, the frustrated attempt to withdraw from the royal succession, due to the fact that he was Catholic, the one who would become Jaime II, but the disturbances that broke out in June 1683, arising from the Rye House Plot, an alleged plan to assassinate Charles II and his heir, increased tension between the Crown and its opponents.

It was to be expected that there would be retaliation. A reserved man, but viscerally involved with English politics since, in 1666, he met, in Oxford, Anthony Ashley Cooper (1621-1683), the future first Earl of Shaftesbury, Locke foresaw what could happen to him. Royalists knew whose side he was on, as he had for years been closely associated with Shaftesbury, a political exponent of the Whigs, in whose home he resided for over a decade. It is difficult to say whether and to what extent Locke participated in conspiracies, but it is safe to say that during this period, the beginning of the 1680s, he composed the Two agreements about the government and thus elaborated an apology for the right of active resistance, the culmination of his response to the absolutist Robert Filmer (c. 1588-1653), whose work Patriarch: A Defense of the Natural Power of Kings Against the Unnatural Liberty of the People just been edited.

With the arrest and death of some opponents of the Crown, such as Algernon Sidney (1622-1683), Locke judged that retaliation could reach him; so he made up a will and left hastily for Holland, figuring he might never set foot on English soil again. His return took place only when William III and Maria II assumed the throne. The England he left behind was therefore very different from the one he returned to, at least as far as the political scene was concerned. The so-called Glorious Revolution had consolidated.

Until his return from exile in Holland, Locke had not published anything of philosophical relevance: poems in Latin and English, participation in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, reviews on Bibliothèque Universelle & Historique, as well as a summary in French of the Essay on human understanding. Perhaps he even participated in the composition of The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, in 1669, and an anonymous political pamphlet, Letter from a quality person to his friend in the field, printed in November 1675, whose negative reception, provoked by its seditious character, would explain his almost immediate departure for France, where he would remain until May 1679 (Locke alleged, however, health problems).

In any case, the fact that until his return from exile in the Netherlands he had published relatively little does not mean that he did not dedicate himself to writing: his manuscripts, part of which are still unpublished today, prove how fruitful it was. In 1689, however, Locke decided to make his thought known, even though two of the works he published at the time were not fully finished: a piece from the first of Two agreements about the government got lost, and the Essay on Human Understanding it suffered from a certain prolixity attributed to its discontinuous wording. In subsequent editions, Locke did not attempt to correct these defects that he himself pointed out, which seems to indicate that he did not consider them to be that serious.

From a philosophical point of view, the works held up. As mentioned earlier, the two treatises they were largely composed in the early 1680s (between 1679 and 1683, dates vary), but it is certain that they received later additions and that they were completed when James II was no longer king. the writing of Rehearsal, in turn, dates back to 1671, the date of its first two drafts, A and B, and extended at least until 1685, the year attributed to draft C. Published in London in the autumn of 1689, the two treatises and the Rehearsal were printed with the year 1690, and only the latter was signed by Locke. His political work reached the public anonymously, as did letter on tolerance, the third major publication of 1689, which took place in April, in Gouda, Holland, under the care of Philip van Limborch (1633-1712), to whom it was dedicated.

Originally written in Latin at the end of 1685, it was translated into English by William Popple (1638-1708) shortly after it was published and had two consecutive London editions: the first in October 1689, the second, corrected, in March 1690. XNUMX. It is well known Locke's statement in the codicil to his will that this translation was carried out without his authorization or collaboration (the original, “without my privacy”, has a controversial meaning), but it is worth considering that he was aware of its progress (cf. Correspondence, ed. de Beer, v. III, 1147) and did nothing to stop him.

More than that, in a passage from the Second letter on tolerance (ed. 1690, p. 10; works, ed. 1823, v. VI, p. 72), Locke seems to have endorsed the result of Popple's work, saying that it could have been done "more literally", but that the "translator must not be condemned" for expressing the meaning of the text with words more lively than those of the author. . In its English translation, the Menu received a preface which, due to lack of identification, could not be known to have been by the translator. To attentive readers, however, it must have generated a certain strangeness, as it extolled an “absolute freedom” that did not match the limits to tolerance advocated in the Menu.

At that time, two alternatives for dealing with religious conflicts were being discussed in England: understanding and indulgence, which, in Popple's eyes, would be a palliative, the other harmful. In a letter to Limborch dated March 12, 1689, Locke explains what was at stake: “The question of tolerance was taken up by Parliament under a double title, namely: understanding and indulgence. The first means extending the boundaries of the Church with a view to including a greater number by removing part of the ceremonies. The second means the toleration of those who are either unwilling or unable to join the Anglican Church on the terms offered by it” (Correspondence, ed. de Beer, vol. III, 1120).

The proposal for understanding was rejected, but indulgence was approved in the so-called Law of Tolerance, of May 24, 1689. With it, the legislation against religious dissent was not abolished, but only the penalties corresponding to a part of that legislation were suspended. . In practical terms, this means that some discrimination was preserved, such as that resulting from the Test Law, in force since 1673, whose purpose was to ensure that dissidents did not assume public office. To antitrinitarians and Catholics nothing was granted. The amendment to the Toleration Act leaves no doubt as to its purpose: "to exempt their majesties' Protestant subjects, who are dissenters from the Anglican Church, from the penalties of certain laws". The Anglicans thus maintained their privileges, in addition to leaving the structure of their church untouched, which from then on coexisted with the assemblies of the dissidents, given that they gained the legal concession to hold public services.

In a new letter to Limborch, now dated June 6, 1689, Locke makes an illuminating comment in this regard: “No doubt you have already heard this: toleration, finally, has now been established by law in our country. Not perhaps as wide in scope as you and those like you who are true Christians and free from ambition or envy may want. Still, so far, it represents progress. I hope that with these firstfruits the foundations have been laid of that liberty and peace in which the church of Christ will one day be established. No one is entirely prevented from holding his own cult or liable to penalties except Romans, unless they are willing to take the oath of allegiance and to renounce transubstantiation and certain dogmas of the Roman Church” (Correspondence, ed. de Beer, vol. III, 1147).

As can be seen, the Law of Tolerance did not bring any benefit to Catholics, who were only admitted after renouncing the supremacy of the pope – this was the purpose of the oath of alliance, which dates back to 1605, the year of the Gunpowder Plot – and to deny some of its constitutive dogmas, such as transubstantiation in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Catholics were accepted, therefore, as long as… they ceased to be Catholics! It should be noted here, however, that there are two elements at issue: one of a political nature, the other of a doctrinal nature. At least for Locke, as is clearly seen in the Menu, rigidity and dogmatic plurality generate divergences that could be avoided, and he even defends, in the work The reasonableness of Christianity (1695), that a Christian must assent to only one proposition: Jesus Christ is the Messiah (and, strictly speaking, to some articles that are concomitant with it: that Jesus is risen and that he is the lawgiver and judge supreme; cf. RC, §§ 291, 301).

All other beliefs would be inessential to salvation and should never justify separation among Christians. As attested by post scriptum à Menu, this same reasoning still applies to the rites and implies a reduction to a minimum of “necessary things” as opposed to “indifferent” to salvation. In the theological lexicon of the time, this way of conceiving the Christian religion was labeled latitudinary and was one of the key traits of the Arminians (or Remonstrants), with whom Locke would identify himself in Holland, as they also made this minimalism in religion a of the reasons for toleration. As for submission to the pope, it really was a danger, it was supposed, since, in case of disagreement between Rome and London, Catholics could betray the king whose subjects they were. That's how, in Menu, but also already in Tolerance test, written in 1667, Locke claims the exclusion of Catholics.

In XNUMXth-century England, when dealing with tolerance, the possibility of coexistence between Anglicans, supporters of the official church, the heterogeneous group of dissidents (including Presbyterians, independents, Quakers and Baptists stood out) and Catholics. Throughout the Stuart Dynasty, which began with Jaime I in 1603, the advances and retreats related to tolerance, to a certain extent, mirrored the clashes between the Crown and Parliament, whose culminating points were the deposition of Jaime II (1688) and, years before, the civil wars (1642-1649) that led to the regicide of Carlos I, on January 29, 1649, and the temporary establishment of the Republic.

Throughout this period, the limitation of royal power and the role that the House of Lords and Commons should play was fiercely debated, thus creating a variegated political spectrum – from absolutists defending divine right to levelers – in which the freedom and equality of individuals was a core and controversial component. It is not by chance that Locke had to state in the Menu that the church is a voluntary association. One of the political dimensions of religion at the beginning of Modernity is revealed precisely in the effort on the part of civil power to impose a common religion on all subjects. See, in this regard, the most emblematic case of all: the situation of Protestants in France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685).

Throughout his life, if one compares the First (1660) and Second (c. 1662) Booklets on the Government to letter on tolerance, it is easy to see that Locke's position has changed substantially. At first, in response to the work The big question about indifferent things in religious worship (1660), by Edward Bagshaw (1629-1671), he conferred on the civil power a right of regulation which, in his mature eyes, would have seemed not only excessive but also counterproductive.

When discussing in Menu the alleged insurrectionary character of the religious assemblies of dissenters, Locke argues that seditions and conjurations have nothing to do with the religious confession of any of the dissenting churches, but with the discrimination to which they were subjected. Were they free to act, what reason could their members have for rebelling against the civil power? Deep down, the attempt to establish uniformity regarding doctrine and worship is the main reason for the conflicts. In Locke, or better, in the Locke that emerges from the Tolerance test (1667), the limits of what is tolerable continue to be justified by political reasons (including in the case of atheists, whose exclusion is due to the practical implications of their unbelief), but these reasons no longer reached the point of admitting that the civil power conceived and regulated “indifferent things” as defended in the Two booklets on government.

To Limborch, September 10, 1689, Locke wrote: "Men will always differ in religious matters, and rival parties will continue to quarrel and war among themselves unless the establishment of an equal liberty for all creates a bond of mutual charity for each other. means whereby all may unite in one body” (Correspondence, ed. de Beer, vol. III, 1182).

If unity is possible, therefore, it does not have to result from uniformity, but from the admission of differences. In political terms, this means that the civil power must transfer to individuals the responsibility for their own salvation. According to his conscience, each one must adhere to the beliefs and cults that he deems appropriate and, thus, worship God in the way that seems right to him, as long as it does not affect public order. Tolerance needs to have limits, after all, but it should be noted that its borders are not demarcated by the wandering of individuals (assuming that it exists) in the search for salvation: someone's mistake can cause their own misery, but it is innocuous for others. others, as Locke states in Paper.

Limits to tolerance are only justified in view of what threatens society as a political organization, and this never happens when someone loses their way to God. Evidently, Locke does not despise the pastoral care of the erring, which becomes a duty for Christians, but this care must be carried out without the use of force and can never be left to the civil power.

State and Church have different purposes: one is responsible for the preservation and promotion of civil goods; to another, the care of the soul with a view to eternal life. Mutual interferences are necessarily deleterious. These two definitions, however, do not constitute an argument for toleration. Strictly speaking, they only reflect the central thesis of Menu: the need to distinguish between the purposes of the State and the Church. Why, however, should the care for the salvation of souls not belong to the State?

In his answer to this problem, Locke makes use of some reasons, such as that the use of force is useless in the formation of beliefs: how could the State take care of the salvation of souls, if the only means available to it is incapable of achieving the intended goal? Since human understanding cannot be moved except by arguments, it is impossible for coercion to change the belief of individuals and make them believe in the truth that would save them. The most that coercion does is to generate hypocrites, supposed converts who wanted to escape persecution. Here, therefore, is the most famous (and debated) argument for distinguishing between the ends of the State and the Church: a characteristic means of action of the civil power, force is inadequate for the formation of beliefs, which means that care for salvation it cannot be a purpose of the State.

It turns out, however, that the argument from the inadequacy of force plays yet another role in Locke's reasoning. If this argument proves that the State does not have the appropriate means to convert souls, it also operates as a reason to explain why individuals would never trust the political power to care for the salvation of souls, if it were up to them to determine their ends. What sense could there be in granting the State the care for the salvation of souls, if it lacks a suitable instrument for that purpose?

From this perspective, the argument of the inadequacy of force ends up intertwining with another, which may well be called the argument of burden, which allows one to clearly perceive that, ultimately, what is at stake in the distinction between the purposes of the State and the Church is the legitimacy of political power. By defending religious tolerance, Locke's intention is not to advocate for a state policy, but for the delimitation of the State itself, whose functions are contrasted with those of the Church.

Shortly after it was published, the Menu gave rise to the composition of two reviews. The first, still in 1689, by Thomas Long (1621-1707): The “Letter on Tolerance” Deciphered and the Absurdity and Impiety of Absolute Tolerance Demonstrated, which Locke didn't bother to answer directly. The second, in 1690, was The Argument of the “Charter on Tolerance”, briefly analyzed and answered, by Jonas Proast (c. 1642-1710), chaplain of All Souls College, Oxford (1677-1688, 1692-1698), later Archdeacon of Berkshire (1698-1710), with whom Locke had a controversy that lasted until the end of his life: The Fourth letter on tolerance is unfinished and was made public only in the edition of posthumous works, from 1706. Always under the epistolary genre and anonymously or pseudonymously, this controversy – a total of almost 600 pages! – consists of the following publications:

(ia) LOCKE. letter on tolerance (Gouda, 1689), anonymous; English translation by William Popple, plus Preface by the translator (London, 1st ed.: 1689; 2nd revised ed.: 1690);

(ib) PROAST. The Argument of the “Letter on Tolerance” Briefly Analyzed and Answered (Oxford, 1690), anonymous;

(ii.a) LOCKE. Second letter on tolerance (London, 1690), signed by Philanthropist;

(ii.b) PROAST. Third letter on tolerance (Oxford, 1691), anonymous;

(iii.a) LOCKE. Third letter on tolerance (London, 1692), signed by Philanthropist;

(iii.b) PROAST. Second letter to the author of the Three Letters on Tolerance (Oxford, 1704), signed by Philocristo;

(iv.a) LOCKE. Fourth letter on tolerance (London, 1706, posthumous works).

Taking publication dates as a measure, the exchange of letters was quite intense in its early years, but was interrupted for more than a decade, until Proast reignited the debate, incited by an anonymous publication in 1704, The just and impartial character of the clergy of the Anglican Church, and for the work The rights of Protestant dissidents, by John Shute (1678-1734), whose first part also came out that year.

As a matter of fact, Locke's maturity and old age were marked by several theoretical clashes, in which he unreservedly engaged. Two other such clashes, centered on the theological implications of his writings, took place with Edward Stillingfleet (1635-1699), regarding the Essay on Human Understanding, and with John Edwards (1637-1716), about The reasonableness of Christianity. Years before, Locke had already opposed Stillingfleet, but with tolerance as a topic: his goal was to respond to the sermon The damage of separation (1680) and, in particular, to the work The unreasonableness of separation (1681). This first confrontation between them, however, remains very unknown, since the Defense of non-compliance ( critical notes) by Locke, dated 1681-1682, remains unpublished.

In a public and detailed way, dealing specifically with tolerance, it was even with Proast that Locke would debate, since his other main writings on the subject, dating from the 1660s, were also published in their entirety for the first time only very late: the Tolerance test, in 1876, in the Life of John Locke, by HR Fox Bourne; you Two booklets on government, in 1961, in an edition prepared by CA Viano.

Proast's criticism of Locke seeks to overthrow the thesis of the distinction between the ends of the State and the Church. From his perspective, there is only one argument to support it, that of the inadequacy of force, and that argument is flawed. Force can indeed, thinks Proast, contribute to the formation of beliefs. Many individuals, considered by him as opinionated, refuse to consider the reasons presented to them to evaluate their beliefs, which means that an irrational attachment prevents them from listening to arguments or positions that are contrary to them. Faced with such closure and excepting the action of divine grace, there is only one alternative: the use of force.

Still from Proast's point of view, force plays an “indirect and distant” role in the formation of beliefs: in fact, it is incapable of generating them, but it can make individuals, when forced to analyze what they previously despised, are led to elaborate a reflection that otherwise they would not elaborate and, consequently, to change their belief. Therefore, if this capacity can be attributed to force, it must be admitted that it is a means that can be used in the salvation of souls; more than that, if it is recognized that there is still a need to use it, then it can be argued that the State employs it in the promotion of religion or, in Proast's terms, true religion. If political power is responsible for taking care of civil goods, why should it refrain from the infinitely more important task of saving souls, if that can be within its reach? Therefore, the distinction between the purposes of the State and the Church would not be justified.

This criticism provoked several conceptual developments in the debate between Locke and Proast. By way of introduction, however, it is convenient to outline two lines of argument from which one intends to justify the greater or lesser extent of the State's purposes: on the one hand, inevitably, the discussion about the usefulness of force in the formation of beliefs; on the other, the divergence about the attainable knowledge of true religion. As for force, Locke initially seems to concede that, at least to a certain extent, it may indeed have an indirect utility, but as the controversy develops, it becomes clear that, in his eyes, if force is to produce the desired effect, it will just be the result of chance.

This statement is enough for Locke to maintain his fundamental thesis, but he seeks to corroborate it by claiming that, even if force were useful, it would be impossible to apply it without injustices occurring and without causing, on balance, more harm than well, so that individuals would never grant the State the right to employ it in religious matters. Among the objections that can be raised to the application of force, perhaps the most important is the following: how do you effectively know when someone has already analyzed the arguments presented to you? Or is conversion the only sign that someone has reflected properly? Given the very nature of the understanding, which is intimate or internal, there is no external criterion that allows establishing when the reflection has been carried out satisfactorily, and, consequently, it becomes impossible to determine for how long and to what degree of force a dissident must be submitted. Ultimately, how can one know what is going on in the mind of the dissident who is being subjugated? What sign can be resorted to to end submission except conversion? Who guarantees, however, that it is sincere? And the adherents of the official religion, did they really reflect on their belief? If some of them have not done so, shouldn't they also, for consistency, be subjugated? For all these reasons, even if the “indirect and distant” usefulness of force in the conversion of souls is abstractly conceded, it would be inevitable that its use would not result in abuses, which means that individuals would under no circumstances attribute to the State the task of taking care of of salvation.

The use of force in religious matters is all the more reprehensible because, justified in Proast fashion, it seems to presuppose that it is impossible that, after reflecting on the arguments in favor of the (supposed) true religion, a dissenter should maintain his belief in a way that can be relied upon. classify as intellectually respectable. Locke's response to the criticism he had received thus explores a second line of argument, which makes explicit the dogmatism of his opponent, who tends to assume that dissent always results from a fault that is both moral and intellectual.

In the eyes of bigots like Proast, there are enough reasons to recognize and believe in the true religion, so that all dissent is regarded not simply as error, but also as opinionated or even malice. It is a position that classifies the religious belief of individuals as right and wrong, as if the distinction between truth and falsehood were uncontested and as if every error (or supposed error) could only result from some form of deviation. already in Menu, Locke was radically opposed to this type of posture, stating that “each one is orthodox for himself”. What he stands for, as he developed it in the Essay on Human Understanding, is that in religious matters it is impossible to demonstrate except the existence of God (cf. Rehearsal, IV. 10). Demonstrating the existence of God, however, does not imply demonstrating the truth of this or that religion, nor of this or that church. These beliefs are nothing more than opinion or faith, they never fall under the category of knowledge.

When, at the beginning of Menu, Locke clearly identifies three arguments to support the distinction between the ends of the State and the Church (the first two being that of the inadequacy of force and that of the charge), he implicitly resorts, in the third of them, to the opposition between knowledge and belief. Its purpose is to prove that, even if the State were granted the function of taking care of the salvation of souls and that force were an adequate means to do so, this would lead to an absurdity, since different religions would be imposed, each one in a different country. The reason is simple: in each state, the holder of political power takes his own religion as the true one. and why this happens?

Because everyone is convinced that they have the truth. Proast's insistence that force must be used in the promotion of religion is rooted, therefore, not only in the verification of its "indirect and distant" usefulness and in the alleged need for it to be used, but also in the assumption that there is a true religion, perfectly knowable, unique in the name of which it would be legitimate to resort to force. It is only in the name of the truth, of that truth that one wants to have secure proofs, that the imposition is justified. Ironically, the very ones who accuse others of being opinionated are the ones who place their own beliefs beyond reproach. There is no doubt: the pretense of possessing the truth is the root of intolerance.

As mentioned earlier, Locke does not consider true religion to be demonstrable, but that never stopped him from believing in Christianity and being a member of the Anglican Church. Asserting the limitation of human knowledge in religious matters does not imply becoming an atheist or agnostic. Perhaps the greatest consequence of criticism of the claim to truth is a change in emphasis in religious life: more than doctrine, action must be valued. For Locke, and the preamble to Menu is a beautiful example of this, especially in the mention of chapter 5 of the Epistle to the Galatians, where Paul speaks of “faith working through love” (Gl 5:6), the most important thing is to seek virtue, love of neighbor; in short, to live after the example of Christ.

Locke is fiercely critical of all people, especially clergymen, whose concerns center on dogma and its often cruel imposition on others. In their eyes, they forget the fundamentals, if they don't use religion to mask hidden interests. Metaphorically speaking, it is often suspected that they are more interested in the benefit of the fleece than the food of the sheep (cf. political essays, A tolerance, P. 286). Even in the preamble of Menu, it is plainly asserted that those who are conniving with vices are far more opposed to the glory of God than are dissenters who lead an innocent life.

This way of understanding the Christian religion, which, like latitudinarianism, is used to the perspective of the Arminians, ends up constituting a new argument in favor of tolerance. In this sense, the Gospel and reason converge in its defense, as Locke himself admits, safeguarding the political limits so that public order is not affected. At Menu, however, Locke does not mention other interpretations of Sacred Scripture, notably that of Augustine (354-430), herald of the intolerant, who sought to justify persecution based on some biblical passages, such as the famous parable of the banquet, as it occurs in Lucas (14:15-24). It fell to Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) to directly confront Augustine in a four-volume work, published from 1686 to 1688, entitled Philosophical commentary on these words of Jesus Christ “Compel them to come in”.

In early Modernity, defending religious tolerance meant, in the most concrete terms possible, opposing the use of force in religious matters, that is, opposing torture, imprisonment, taxation, confiscation, capital punishment and to exile, making explicit the injustices or abuses that constitute the search for religious uniformity. As Locke wrote in a letter to Limborch, if there is any attainable unity among the members of a society, it does not, and cannot, come from persecution. However, it is not enough to make an apology for diversity as something intrinsically valuable. Locke defends it, rather, as an alternative to uniformity, which is politically unsustainable.

From this perspective, even though the Second Treatise about Government does not directly address the topic of tolerance, it can be said that the defense of religious dissent through the distinction between the ends of the State and the Church is analogous to the critique of absolutism. In either case, it is a question of safeguarding for individuals a scope of freedom and rights that must be protected from any arbitrary intervention, that is, from any intervention that goes beyond the purposes that can be attributed to the civil government.

In short, taking the letter on tolerance in its totality, it is possible to affirm that Locke opposes the three great lines along which intolerance was traditionally defended: first, with regard to the political aspect, disagreeing that dissent in itself had any factious character; secondly, from the ecclesiastical point of view, promoting a conciliatory position in terms of doctrine and worship, by defending the emphasis on the minimum fundamental elements of the Christian religion: above all, what matters is the Christian experience or practice, not abstract discussions; thirdly, regarding theology, safeguarding the individual's ability and right to freely seek the salvation of his own soul without this implying that dissidents could affect others, influencing them negatively.

Locke's defense of toleration was never self-serving, however. As already mentioned, he was both Christian and Anglican, although he may have held heterodox positions towards the end of his life. Be that as it may, the fact is that Locke considered religion an essential element for understanding humanity itself. It is with reference to God and creation, for example, that morality is based (cf. Essay on Human Understanding, i.iv. 8) and that the equality and freedom of individuals are justified (Second Treatise about Government, §§ 4, 6). Us Essays on the Law of Nature (particularly in the seventh), there is even talk of a natural duty to worship God.

Because of this, the defense of the distinction between the purposes of the State and the Church should not be understood as an apology for a secularizing vision of the world and human existence. Among other beliefs, Locke always maintained that there is an afterlife and that it is more important than the present life. In claiming tolerance, Locke does not aim to diminish the value of religion, but to ensure that the religious exercise of dissenters is not restricted or authorized as a mere concession or indulgence; so long as they do not affect the civil goods of others, all individuals should have equal rights to belief and worship.

Born in 1632 and having witnessed the major events of XNUMXth century English history (the civil wars, the regicide of Charles I, the Republic, Cromwell's Protectorate, the Restoration of the monarchy, the Glorious Revolution), Locke was involved in major political issues and intellectuals of his time, which also included advances in science in the philosophical field. In addition to the composition of Essay on Human Understanding, in which one can note the presence of René Descartes (1596-1650) and Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655), whose works Locke discovered in the late 1650s, when he was a student at Oxford, the contacts he made are representative of his scientific bent with Robert Boyle (1627-1691) and Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689), as well as his election to the Royal Society in 1668.

In life, Locke even published on economics and education: Some considerations on the consequences of lowering interest rates and raising the value of money (1691, but dated 1692), followed by other works on monetary theory, and Some thoughts on education (1693). If it were the case of dimensioning the influence of his legacy, it would not be an exaggeration to say that his relevance corresponds to the breadth of his interests.

Specifically with regard to tolerance, thanks to what is known today due to access to his manuscripts, it is likely that the meeting with Shaftesbury changed the course of his thinking, but this in no way detracts from the greater thesis that Locke came to defend. from the Tolerance test nor does it make it captive to the circumstances in which it was conceived. The need to distinguish between the ends of the State and the Church remains current: on the one hand, due to the possibility of political power seeking to legitimize itself using religion (the State co-opting the Church), on the other, due to the persistence of religious, both clerics and lay people, harassing political power with objectives that go beyond the admissible ends of civil society, that is, trying to guide the community based on their particular religious beliefs (the Church meddling in the State). The oppressive impetus of those who claim to possess the truth or those who opportunistically speak in its name knows no rest. Tolerance always needs defenders.

* Flavio Fontenelle Loque Professor of Philosophy at the Federal University of Itajubá – Itabira campus. Author, among other books, of Skepticism and religion in early modernity (Loyola).



John Locke. letter on tolerance. Organization, introduction and notes: Flavio Fontenelle Loque. Belo Horizonte, Authentic, 190 pages,







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  • Letter to the presidentSquid 59mk,g 18/06/2024 By FRANCISCO ALVES, JOÃO DOS REIS SILVA JÚNIOR & VALDEMAR SGUISSARDI: “We completely agree with Your Excellency. when he states and reaffirms that 'Education is an investment, not an expense'”
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table