Wednesday, November 28, 2012
John Toland: Ireland’s Forgotten Philosopher, Scholar . . . and Heretic by J.N. Duggan
A concise introduction to the Irish Voltaire
This brief book amounts to little more than an extensive article, read in about a half hour’s time, but the price of the Kindle file is appropriate for the content. It is not a complete biography of John Toland, but a concise summary of his philosophical career. The text is well written and the author gives a good sense of the personality of the man. Toland was notorious for his championing of reason over religion. He was the first person ever to be referred to as a “freethinker,” and Toland himself coined the term “pantheism” to describe the philosophy of Spinoza, of whom he was a disciple. A contemporary of such philosophical luminaries as Berkeley, Leibniz, and Locke, Toland never enjoyed the renown or respect they received, largely because his works were too controversial for his time. The picture Duggan paints here is of a man who not only welcomed such controversy but enthusiastically pursued it.
Toland was Irish, the author is Irish, and the purpose of this book is largely to bring attention to Toland’s Irishness. As such, some of the material may seem a bit unnecessary to the American reader, such as minute details about the history of Catholicism in Ireland. Overall, however, it’s an enlightening piece of writing and worth the time spent. Its value is increased by a comprehensive bibliography of Toland’s works. Anyone looking to learn more about this lesser-known figure of the Enlightenment should consider this a useful addition to their Kindle library.
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