Toland, John

Toland, John

(tō`lənd), 1670–1722, British deist, b. Ireland. Brought up a Roman Catholic, Toland became a Protestant at 16. He studied at Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Leiden and after 1694 lived at Oxford for several years. In 1696 he published Christianity not Mysterious, in which he tried to reconcile the scriptural claims of Christianity with the epistemology of John LockeLocke, John
, 1632–1704, English philosopher, founder of British empiricism. Locke summed up the Enlightenment in his belief in the middle class and its right to freedom of conscience and right to property, in his faith in science, and in his confidence in the goodness of
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. He asserted that neither God nor his revelation is above the comprehension of human reason. The book was widely attacked, and it was burned in Ireland in 1697. Toland's next work (1698) was a biography of John Milton, which also caused a scandal; it contained a passage that was believed to cast doubt on the authenticity of the New Testament. His Anglia Libera (1701), in support of the Act of Settlement (see Settlement, Act ofSettlement, Act of,
1701, passed by the English Parliament, to provide that if William III and Princess Anne (later Queen Anne) should die without heirs, the succession to the throne should pass to Sophia, electress of Hanover, granddaughter of James I, and to her heirs, if they
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), brought him favor from the court of Hanover, where he was received by the Electress Sophia. To her daughter, Sophia Charlotte, he addressed his Letters to Serena (1704), in which he argues that motion is an intrinsic quality of matter, thus repudiating the Cartesian conception. In his Pantheisticon (1720) he develops the pantheistic ideas implicit in the Letters. He is believed to have been the first to use the term pantheism.

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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