What Does it Mean to Speak Freely? Spinoza and the Public Sphere

Philosophy after Dark is an invitation to dialogue, as opposed to standard scholarly conferences. It is an attempt to go beyond the format of the traditional academic events, in search of new ways to bring philosophy to the general public and to the online forum. Join us in the debate on Zoom or live on the Youtube channel.

Spinoza’s Tractatus theologico-politicus is summarized by its subtitle. There we find out that Spinoza’s work is aimed at “containing several discourses which demonstrate that freedom to philosophize may not only be allowed without danger to piety and the stability of the republic but cannot be refuse without destroying the peace of the republic and piety itself”. Further in the work, after having laid the “principles” of the state that would allow for such freedom, Spinoza contends that:

“No one[…] can surrender their freedom to judge and to think as they wish and everyone, by the supreme right of nature, remains master of their own thoughts. It follows that a state can never succeed very far in attempting to force people to speak as the sovereign power commands, since people’s opinions are so various and so contradictory.[…]Hence, a government which denies each person freedom to speak and to communicate what they think, will be a very violent government, whereas a state where everyone is conceded this freedom will be moderate.” (XX 4)

But what does it mean to speak freely? More often than not, the concept of free speech has been defined as being (legally) allowed to say what is actually on your mind, akin to Isaiah Berlin’s well-known notion of negative freedom. But does the absence of coercion really suffice? Or are we in need of something more?

Are the passions that enslave us a hindrance for free speech? Should free speech be a rational act, and in which sense? And how can we not be prejudiced anyway? Answering such questions entail further issues: what is the role of the state (laws, government) regarding free speech? How about the role of the Church? Can free speech be subversive? How can public education fight against prejudice? Finally, and more broadly, what does our surrounding community have to do with our capacity of speaking freely? Tune in to discuss all of this with Mogens Laerke, author of a forthcoming book on Spinoza and the liberty of philosophizing.

A discussion with Mogens Laerke (Oxford), moderated by Dana Jalobeanu and Alexandru Liciu.

For the zoom link write to dana.jalobeanu@gmail.com

You can find a trailer down below:

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