Freethinking


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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Freethinking

 

in social thought, a current that rejects religious strictures on the rational analysis of the dogmas of faith and defends intellectual freedom in the search for truth. Historically, freethinking has been manifested in various forms of the critique of religion. The term “freethinking” came into use in the 18th century, with the publication of A Discourse of Freethinking (1713), a treatise by the English deist A. Collins.

During the Middle Ages, when religious ideology enjoyed absolute rule in intellectual matters, one of the forms of free-thinking was the theory of “double truth,” which asserted the independent and equally valid significance of scientific truths and religious views (Avicenna and Averroës, for example). Among the outstanding representatives of medieval freethinking were the 12th-century Azerbaijani poet and thinker Nizami Ganjevi, the 12th-century Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli, and the 16th-century Russian philosopher Feodosii Kosoi (the Squint-eyed). Freethinking is reflected in the Armenian folk epic David of Sasun. Among the representatives of Renaissance freethinking were prominent scholars, philosophers, and writers, such as Pietro Pomponazzi, Ulrich von Hutten, and Erasmus of Rotterdam.

Voltaire, one of the most outstanding Enlightenment freethinkers, made a valuable contribution to the deist critique of religion. During the Englightenment the traditions of freethinking were consistently developed from the standpoint of atheism by J. O. de La Mettrie, P. H. Holbach, and D. Diderot. Later, the aspiration toward unfettered discussion of religious questions was expressed in the demand for freedom of conscience, which was advanced by the ideologists of the 18th- and 19th-century bourgeois revolutions in various countries. In 18th-century Russia the ideas of freethinking were vividly expressed by M. V. Lomonosov and I. A. Tret’iakov. Freethinking pervades the work of A. N. Radishchev. Many of the Decembrists, including P. I. Borisov, A. P. Bariatinskii, and I. D. Iakushkin, argued from the standpoint of freethinking.

From the second half of the 19th century the principles of freethinking were defended and justified by prominent Western European and Russian natural scientists, including the German biologist E. Haeckel, who played an outstanding role in the history of freethinking, struggling against mysticism and official religion and founding the Monistic League in Jena in 1906 to further this struggle. The Monistic League and other progressive organizations of the bourgeois intelligentsia spread the ideas of freethinking.

In contemporary bourgeois society many scientific and cultural figures attack the crude forms of religion, frequently rejecting its dogmas and rituals but usually failing to completely repudiate religion as a world view. Some members of the progressive and anticlerical intelligentsia in a number of capitalist countries have adopted the standpoint of freethinking and rationalism and joined special societies and associations that promote enlightenment and publish relevant literature. The national freethinkers’ societies of Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Federal Republic of Germany, Finland, France, Great Britain, India, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, the USA, Uruguay, and several other countries belong to the World Union of Freethinkers, which was founded in Brussels in 1880. The International Humanist and Ethical Union, which was founded in Amsterdam in 1952, consists of 20 national freethinkers’ societies with headquarters in Western Europe and the USA.

REFERENCES

Marx, K., and F. Engels. Sviatoe semeistvo. Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 2, pp. 132–38.
Frantsev, Iu. P. U istokov religii i svobodomysliia. Moscow-Leningrad, 1959.
Kogan, Iu. Ia. Ocherki po istorii russkoi ateisticheskoi mysli XVIII v. Moscow, 1962.
Istoriia i teoriia ateizma. Moscow, 1962.
Istoriia svobodomysliia i ateizmav Evrope. Moscow, 1966.
Gol’dberg, N. M. Svobodomyslie i ateizm v SShA (XVIII-XIX vv.). Moscow-Leningrad, 1965.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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