The Concept of Equality in Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise

Beth Lord* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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Spinoza recognizes that in a democracy, ideals of freedom and equality shape our thoughts about ourselves as human beings. This paper examines Spinoza’s concept of equality in the Theological-Political Treatise, and considers its complexi­ties and ambiguities in light of his theories of freedom and democracy there and in the Ethics. Because Spinoza takes human beings to have unequal power, he does not believe we are naturally or intrinsically equal. Nor does he think equality is good in itself. Equality is good to the extent that it promotes human flourishing. The kind of equality Spinoza endorses is economic equality, which encourages human beings to become more powerful, virtuous, and free. I demonstrate this with reference to Spinoza’s discussion of the state of nature, democracy, and the Hebrew state in the Theological-Political Treatise and his remarks on charity, economic exchange, and their associated affects in the Ethics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)367-386
Number of pages20
JournalEpoche: a Journal for the History of Philosophy
Issue number2
Early online date2 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016

Bibliographical note

A version of this paper was first presented at the conference The Radical Enlightenment: the Big Picture and its Details in Brussels in May 2013. I would like to thank Steffen Ducheyne and the organizing team at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and to acknowledge the many helpful comments I received from listeners there and at subsequent events. Thanks also to the anonymous reviewer who suggested several helpful refinements.


  • Spinoza
  • Equality
  • Freedom
  • Democracy
  • Politics


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