Free thinking

P67: A free man thinks of nothing less than of death, and his wisdom is a meditation on life, not on death. (p. 151)

P68: If men were born free, they would form no concept of good and evil so long as they remained free. (p. 151)

P69: The virtue of a free man is seen to be as great in avoiding dangers as in overcoming them. (p. 152)

P70: A free man who lives among the ignorant strives, as far as he can, to avoid their favours. (p. 152)

P71: Only free men are very thankful to one another. (p. 153)

P72: A free man acts honestly, not deceptively. (p. 153)

P73: A man who is guided by reason is more free in a state, where he lives according to a common decision, than in solitude, where he obeys only himself. (p. 154)

For Spinoza freedom is all about gaining an adequate understanding of Nature/or God. This means that the free person is constantly aware that they are learning about being in the world and will necessarily feel joy in gaining an adequate idea of what is happening in their life. This means they will focus upon the here-and-now, not their death. The free person also would not think of things in explicitly “moral” terms; rather freedom of thought means that you would see how both good and evil are shaped by the contexts that they emerge from. Free thinking also means making fine judgements about the dangers in your life and avoiding danger if it means your life is under threat.

The free person is able to discern who is ignorant and who is not, and would not seek to gain the favour of ignorant people. Free people are pleased when they meet other people who are also free, and they act in an honest way out of necessity, making fine judgements about what should be considered deceptive in particular contexts.

Perhaps most importantly, free thinking involves conceiving ways of establishing states which are founded upon common reasoned decisions. All of these ideas have implications for teachers, but P73 is particularly important. A free thinking teacher has the opportunity to establish a “state” in their classrooms which is founded upon “common decisions”. By inducting students to think adequately about their lives, the teacher can establish a genuine community of learning which enables all students to be free thinkers.


Author: @wonderfrancis

Francis Gilbert is a Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching on the PGCE Secondary English programme. He also teaches the Creative Writing module on the MA in Children’s Literature, which is run by Maggie Pitfield and Professor Michael Rosen. Previously, he worked for a quarter of a century in various English state schools teaching English and Media Studies to 11-18 year olds. He has, at times, moonlighted as a journalist, novelist and social commentator. He is the author of ‘Teacher On The Run’, ‘Yob Nation’, ‘Parent Power’, ‘Working The System -- How To Get The Very Best State Education for Your Child’, and a novel about school, ‘The Last Day Of Term’. His first book, ‘I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here’ was a big hit, becoming a bestseller and being serialised on Radio 4. In his role as an English teacher, he has taught many classic texts over the years and has developed a great many resources to assist readers with understanding, appreciating and responding to them both analytically and creatively. This led him to set up his own small publishing company FGI Publishing ( which has published his study guides as well as a number of books by other authors, including Roger Titcombe’s ‘Learning Matters’ and anthology of creative writing 'The Gold Room'. He is the co-founder, with Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, of The Local Schools Network,, a blog that celebrates non-selective state schools, and has his own website, He has appeared numerous times on radio and TV, including Newsnight, the Today Programme, Woman’s Hour and the Russell Brand Show. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing and Education by Goldsmiths.

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