Spinoza

JEANINE:  …and high up in the mountains I found you in y our tent with a rifle on your lap, reading Spinoza.  (Act 2, Sc. 6)

Various Briefs on Spinoza.  Click on the Links to go to webpage for more details.

Wikipedia

Baruch or Benedict de Spinoza (November 24, 1632 – February 21, 1677) was a Dutch philosopher of Portuguese Jewish origin. Revealing considerable scientific aptitude, the breadth and importance of Spinoza’s work was not fully realized until years after his death. Today, he is considered one of the great rationalistsof 17th-century philosophy, laying the groundwork for the 18th century Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism. By virtue of his magnum opus, the posthumous Ethics, in which he opposed Descartes’ mind–body dualism, Spinoza is considered to be one of Western philosophy’s most important philosophers. Philosopher and historian Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel said of all modern philosophers, “You are either a Spinozist or not a philosopher at all.”

Though Spinoza was active in the Dutch Jewish community and extremely well-versed in Jewish texts, his controversial ideas eventually led community leaders to issue a cherem (Hebrew: חרם, a kind of excommunication) against him, effectively dismissing him from Jewish society at age 23.  Likewise, all of Spinoza’s works were listed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Prohibited Books) by the Roman Catholic Church.

Spinoza lived quietly as a lens grinder, turning down rewards and honors throughout his life, including prestigious teaching positions, and gave his family inheritance to his sister. Spinoza’s moral character and philosophical accomplishments prompted 20th century philosopher Gilles Deleuze to name him “the ‘prince’ of philosophers.” Spinoza died at the age of 44 of a lung illness, perhaps tuberculosis or silicosis exacerbated by fine glass dust inhaled while plying his trade. Spinoza is buried in the churchyard of the Nieuwe Kerk on Spui in The Hague.

The attraction of Spinoza’s philosophy to late eighteenth-century Europeans was that it provided an alternative to materialism, atheism, and deism. Three of Spinoza’s ideas strongly appealed to them:

  • the unity of all that exists;
  • the regularity of all that happens; and
  • the identity of spirit and nature.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Baruch (or Benedictus) Spinoza is one of the most important philosophers—and certainly the most radical—of the early modern period. His thought combines a commitment to Cartesian metaphysical and epistemological principles with elements from ancient Stoicism and medieval Jewish rationalism into a nonetheless highly original system. His extremely naturalistic views on God, the world, the human being and knowledge serve to ground a moral philosophy centered on the control of the passions leading to virtue and happiness. They also lay the foundations for a strongly democratic political thought and a deep critique of the pretensions of Scripture and sectarian religion. Of all the philosophers of the seventeenth-century, perhaps none have more relevance today than Spinoza.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Benedict de Spinoza was among the most important of the post-Cartesian philosophers who flourished in the second half of the 17th century. He made significant contributions in virtually every area of philosophy, and his writings reveal the influence of such divergent sources as Stoicism, Jewish Rationalism, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Descartes, and a variety of heterodox religious thinkers of his day. For this reason he is difficult to categorize, though he is usually counted, along with Descartes and Leibniz, as one of the three major Rationalists. Given Spinoza’s devaluation of sense perception as a means of acquiring knowledge, his description of a purely intellectual form of cognition, and his idealization of geometry as a model for philosophy, this categorization is fair. But it should not blind us to the eclecticism of his pursuits, nor to the striking originality of his thought.

Among philosophers, Spinoza is best known for his Ethics, a monumental work that presents an ethical vision unfolding out of a monistic metaphysics in which God and Nature are identified. God is no longer the transcendent creator of the universe who rules it via providence, but Nature itself, understood as an infinite, necessary, and fully deterministic system of which humans are a part. Humans find happiness only through a rational understanding of this system and their place within it. On account of this and the many other provocative positions he advocates, Spinoza has remained an enormously controversial figure. For many, he is the harbinger of enlightened modernity who calls us to live by the guidance of reason. For others, he is the enemy of the traditions that sustain us and the denier of what is noble within us. After a review of Spinoza’s life and works, this article examines the main themes of his philosophy, primarily as they are set forth in the Ethics.

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