John Toland

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Toland, John


Born Nov. 30, 1670, near Londonderry, Northern Ireland; died Mar. 11, 1722, in Putney, near London. British materialist philosopher.

Toland attended the universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Leiden, as well as Oxford University. In the lost essay “The Lev-ite Tribe” (1691) and in the book Christianity Not Mysterious (1696), Toland voiced his opposition to the Christian religion and church. The book was burned in 1697 on charges that it attacked religion and morality. Sentenced to imprisonment, Toland fled. Subsequently he wrote a biography of J. Milton (1699) and brought out works by the English republican J. Harrington (1700). Persecuted for his philosophical and political views, Toland was forced to wander and live in poverty.

In his main philosophical work, Letters to Serena (1704), Toland argued for the unity of motion and matter; motion, according to his theory, is an integral and inalienable property of matter. Subjecting Spinoza’s ideas on substance and Newton’s concept of absolute space to critical examination, Toland advanced the thesis that space and time are inseparably bound to moving matter. Toland’s advocacy of materiality as a property of the eternal and infinite universe was a significant contribution to the development of philosophical materialism.

Toland’s thesis that matter is endowed with self-movement—primal activity being inherent in matter—contains elements of dialectics. At the same time, Toland stayed within the framework of mechanistic materialism: he rejected chance, and he made no connection between the movement of matter and its qualitative changes. With his deistic criticism of the religious world view, which embraces religious dogmas and cults, Toland came close to atheism. His ideas greatly influenced the 18th-century French materialists as well as A. N. Radishchev.


The Miscellaneous Works, vols. 1–2. London, 1747.
In Russian translation:
In Angliiskie materialisty XVIII v., vol. 1. Moscow, 1967.


Meerovskii, B. V. “Angliiskii materializm XVIII v.” In Angliiskie materialisty XVIII v., vol. 1. Moscow, 1967.
Dzhokhadze, D. V. “Dzh. Toland.” In Istoriia dialektiki XIV-XVIII vv. Moscow, 1974.
Lantoine, A. J. Toland, 1670–1722. Paris, 1927.


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The president of the Historical Association, Professor Justin Champion, visited the group at King Edward VI College on September 30, to conduct a talk on John Toland, an early 18th-century thinker who challenged existing orthodoxies in both church and state.
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Also not surprisingly, only this dialogue of the six Italian works of Bruno's English years had remained untranslated into English in its entirety, except possibly by John Toland in the seventeenth century.