A Letter Concerning Toleration
  • Publication Date: June 12, 2013
  • ISBN: 9781554811250 / 1554811252
  • 134 pages; 5½" x 8½"

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A Letter Concerning Toleration

  • Publication Date: June 12, 2013
  • ISBN: 9781554811250 / 1554811252
  • 134 pages; 5½" x 8½"

Locke argued that religious belief ought to be compatible with reason, that no king, prince or magistrate rules legitimately without the consent of the people, and that government has no right to impose religious beliefs or styles of worship on the public. Locke’s defense of religious tolerance and freedom of thought was revolutionary in its time. Even today, his letter poses a challenge to religious intolerance, whether state-sponsored or originating from religious dogmatists.

Based on both Locke’s original Latin and the seventeenth-century English translation of William Popple, this edition offers a reader-friendly version that remains loyal to the original text. In addition to a forty-page introduction that situates the Letter in its historical and philosophical contexts, this edition includes excerpts from writings on religious toleration by William Penn, Baruch Spinoza, Pierre Bayle, and Samuel von Pufendorf, as well as generous selections from the famous Locke-Proast debates on religious toleration.


“My guess is that this will shortly become the most used edition of Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration. The editor has an excellent introduction in which he describes the social context of the letter and the place it occupies in Locke’s thought. He has done a fine job of bringing up to date the standard translation of Locke’s Latin. And it is very useful to have, as an appendix, a few passages on toleration from Locke’s other writings and some of the criticisms lodged at the time against Locke’s views. All together, this is a fine publication of an important document in the history of religious toleration.” — Nicholas Wolterstorff, Yale University

“This edition stands out as a superb pedagogic resource. The edition is especially valuable because it assembles many contributions to the debate on religious toleration by Locke’s contemporaries, including selections from the exchange between Locke and his most forceful critic Jonas Proast. It is very convenient to have these materials collected for the first time in a single volume. The edition will prove indispensable for courses that investigate the intellectual origins of religious toleration in the West.” — Sam Black, Simon Fraser University

John Locke: A Brief Chronology
A Note on the Text

A Letter Concerning Toleration

Appendix A: Additional Writings on Toleration and Religion by Locke

  1. From An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689)
  2. From The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695)

Appendix B: Locke’s Contemporaries on Religious Toleration

  1. From William Penn, The Great Case of Liberty of Conscience Once More Briefly Debated and Defended (1670)
  2. From Baruch Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise (1670)
  3. From Pierre Bayle, A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14:23, “Compel them to come in, that my house may be full” (1686)
  4. From Samuel von Pufendorf, Of the Nature and Qualification of Religion in Reference to Civil Society (1687)

Appendix C: Locke and His Critics

  1. From Thomas Long, The Letter for Toleration Deciphered, and the Absurdity and Impiety of an Absolute Toleration Demonstrated (1689)
  2. From Jonas Proast, The Argument of the Letter Concerning Toleration, Briefly Considered and Answered (1690)
  3. From Philanthropus [John Locke], A Second Letter Concerning Toleration (1690)

Suggestions for Further Reading

Kerry Walters is Professor of Philosophy at Gettysburg College.