Locke and the Case for Rationality
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The struggle for toleration begins philosophically with Plato’s demand in Republic that (at least some) artists be banished from the ideal state. Historically, it may even be said to begin in the Garden of Eden, when the curse of intolerance is Adam’s punishment for sin (‘I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed’. Genesis, 3.15). For my purposes, however, the history begins in the seventeenth century, the period which saw the publication of John Locke’s seminal text, Epistola de Tolerantia. The importance of Locke’s work lies both in its response to the specific practical problems of religious toleration in the Reformation period in Britain and Europe, and in its attempt to provide a more general philosophical justification of toleration, particularly of the toleration of religious diversity. Most importantly, however, Locke’s political philosophy signals the birth of liberalism, and his Letter on Toleration constitutes an early attempt to provide a liberal justification of toleration.
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