Tuesday 29 January 2019

John Toland (1670-1722): The Original Freethinker

Portrait of Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine (1737-1809)
Laurent Dabos [Public domain]
Today is Freethinkers Day, an annual celebration inviting people to 'challenge arbitrary authority, question the status quo, and construct logical and reasonable arguments against ingrained behaviour', among other things. (see Days of the Year)

According to sources, the celebration was devised sometime in the 1990s (by Truth Seeker magazine, the world's oldest Freethought publication, founded in 1873), the purpose being to promote appreciation of freethinking through the life and works of Thomas Paine (1737-1809), who was born on this day (at least, if one goes by the Old Style calendar). Paine, as is well known, was a seminally important figure of the Enlightenment period who, through his writings and his political activities, played an important role in both the American and French revolutions of the latter part of the 18th century.

That aside, it hardly seems right to let the day pass without also paying respect to one who might qualify for the status of 'the original freethinker'. That pedestal belongs to Irishman, John Toland (1670-1722). For, while the notion of 'freethought' has surely been around, in one form or another, since the time immemorial (whenever homo sapiens first acquired the ability to think, reason, rationalise and construct logical arguments), the terms itself appears to have been coined around the 1690s, when it was used to describe the ideas of John Toland, by his fellow Irishman fellow Irishman, Bishop (George) Berkeley (1685-1753).

Irrespective of who started it, or who's birthday it celebrates, Freethinkers Day is party time for freethinkers everywhere, past and present. Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. off course John Toland was first freethinker and freethinkers father.


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Milestones and Anniversaries

Further Reading

  • An Account of the Courts of Prussia and Hanover: Sent to a Minister of State in Holland by John Toland (The Manuscript Publisher, 2013)
  • Letters to Serena by John Toland (Four Courts Press, 2013)
  • Nazerenus by John Toland (Voltaire Foundation, 1999)
  • Physic without Physicians byJohn Toland (The Manuscript Publisher, 2020)
  • Reasons for Naturalizing the Jews in Great Britain and Ireland by John Toland (The Manuscript Publisher, 2013)