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24 November 1632|
Amsterdam, Dutch Republic
|Died||21 February 1677
The Hague, Dutch Republic
|School||Rationalism, founder of Spinozism|
|Main interests||Ethics, Epistemology, Metaphysics|
|Notable ideas||Panentheism, Pantheism, Determinism, Deism, neutral monism, intellectual and religious freedom / separation of church and state, Criticism of Mosaic authorship of some books of the Hebrew Bible, Political society derived from power, not contract|
Baruch Spinoza and later Benedict de Spinoza (24 November 1632 – 21 February 1677) was a Jewish-Dutch philosopher. Revealing considerable scientific aptitude, the breadth and importance of Spinoza's work was not fully realized until years after his death. By laying the groundwork for the 18th century Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism, he came to be considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy. His magnum opus, the posthumous Ethics, in which he opposed Descartes's mind–body dualism, has earned him recognition as one of Western philosophy's most important contributors. In the Ethics, "Spinoza wrote the last indisputable Latin masterpiece, and one in which the refined conceptions of medieval philosophy are finally turned against themselves and destroyed entirely." Philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel said of all contemporary philosophers, "You are either a Spinozist or not a philosopher at all."
Spinoza's name in different languages is Hebrew: ברוך שפינוזה Baruch Spinoza, Portuguese: Benedito or Bento de Espinosa and Latin: Benedictus de Spinoza; in all these languages, the given name means "the Blessed". Spinoza was raised in the Portuguese Jewish community in Amsterdam. He developed highly controversial ideas regarding the authenticity of the Hebrew Bible and the nature of the Divine. The Jewish religious authorities issued a cherem (Hebrew: חרם, a kind of ban, shunning, ostracism, expulsion, or excommunication) against him, effectively excluding him from Jewish society at age 23. His books were also later put on the Catholic Church's Index of Forbidden Books.
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 philosophical accomplishments and moral character prompted 20th century philosopher Gilles Deleuze to name him "the 'prince' of philosophers."
Spinoza died at the age of 44 allegedly of a lung illness, perhaps tuberculosis or silicosis exacerbated by fine glass dust inhaled while grinding optical lenses. Spinoza is buried in the churchyard of the Christian Nieuwe Kerk in The Hague.
Spinoza's ancestors were of Sephardic Jewish descent, and were a part of the community of Portuguese Jews that grew in the city of Amsterdam after the Alhambra Decree in Spain (1492) and the Portuguese Inquisition (1536) had led to forced conversions and expulsions from the Iberian peninsula.
Attracted by the Decree of Toleration issued in 1579 by the Union of Utrecht, Portuguese "conversos" first sailed to Amsterdam in 1593 and promptly reconverted to Judaism. In 1598 permission was granted to build a synagogue, and in 1615 an ordinance for the admission and government of the Jews was passed. As a community of exiles, the Portuguese Jews of Amsterdam were highly jealous of their identity.
Some historians argue the Spinoza family ("Espinosa" in Portuguese) had its origins in Espinosa de los Monteros, near Burgos, Spain. Others claim they were Portuguese Jews who had moved to Spain and then were expelled back to their home country in 1492, only to be forcibly converted to Catholicism in 1498.
Spinoza's father was born roughly a century after this forced conversion in the small Portuguese city of Vidigueira, near Beja in Alentejo. When Spinoza's father was still a child, Spinoza's grandfather, Isaac de Spinoza (who was from Lisbon), took his family to Nantes in France. They were expelled in 1615 and moved to Rotterdam, where Isaac died in 1627.
Spinoza's father, Miguel (Michael), and his uncle, Manuel, then moved to Amsterdam where they reassumed practicing Judaism. Miguel was a successful merchant and became a warden of the synagogue and of the Amsterdam Jewish school. He buried three wives, however, and three of his six children died before reaching adulthood.
Amsterdam and Rotterdam operated as important cosmopolitan centers where merchant ships from many parts of the world brought people of various customs and beliefs. This hustle and bustle ensured, as in the Mediterranean region during the Renaissance, some possibility of free thought and shelter from the crushing hand of ecclesiastical authority. Spinoza may have had access to a circle of friends who were basically heretics in the eyes of tradition. One of the people he may have known was Niels Stensen, a brilliant Danish student in Leiden; others included Coenraad van Beuningen and his cousin Albert Burgh, with whom Spinoza is known to have corresponded.
Baruch de Espinoza, as he was called in Portuguese, was born on 24 November 1632 in the Jodenbuurt in Amsterdam, Netherlands. He was the second son of Miguel de Espinoza, a successful, although not wealthy, Portuguese (i.e. Sephardic Jewish) merchant in Amsterdam. His mother, Ana Débora, Miguel's second wife, died when Baruch was only six years old. Spinoza's mother tongue was Spanish, although he also knew Hebrew, Portuguese, Dutch, perhaps French, and later Latin. Although he wrote in Latin, Spinoza learned Latin late in his youth.
Spinoza had a traditional Jewish upbringing, attending the Keter Torah yeshiva of the Amsterdam Talmud Torah congregation headed by the learned and traditional senior Rabbi Saul Levi Morteira. His teachers also included the less traditional Rabbi Manasseh ben Israel, "a man of wide learning and secular interests, a friend of Vossius, Grotius, and Rembrandt," whose home was a center for Jewish scholars in Amsterdam[page needed] and who later took a leading part in promoting the readmission of Jews to England. While presumably a star pupil, and perhaps considered as a potential rabbi, Spinoza never reached the advanced study of the Torah in the upper levels of the curriculum. Instead, at the age of 17, after the death of his elder brother, Isaac, he cut short his formal studies in order to begin working in the family importing business..
In 1653, at age 20, Spinoza began studying Latin with Frances van den Enden (Franciscus van den Enden), a notorious free thinker, former Jesuit, and radical democrat who likely introduced Spinoza to scholastic and modern philosophy, including that of Descartes. (A decade later, in the early 1660s, Van den Enden was considered to be a Cartesian and atheist, and his books were put on the Catholic Index of banned books.)
Spinoza's father, Miguel, died in 1654 when Spinoza was 21. He duly recited Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning, for eleven months as required by Jewish law. When his sister Rebekah disputed his inheritance, he took her to court to establish his claim, and then renounced it in her favor.
Spinoza adopted the Latin name Benedictus de Spinoza, began boarding with Van den Enden, and began teaching in his school. He is said to have fallen in love with his teacher's daughter, Clara, but she rejected him for a richer student (although this story has also been discounted on the basis that Clara Maria van den Enden was born in 1643 and would have been no more than about 18 years old at the time Spinoza left Amsterdam. In 1671 she married Dirck Kerckring).
During this period Spinoza also became acquainted with the Collegiants, an anti-clerical sect of Remonstrants with tendencies towards rationalism, and with the Mennonites who had existed for a century but were close to the Remonstrants. Many of his friends belonged to dissident Christian groups which met regularly as discussion groups and which typically rejected the authority of established churches as well as traditional dogmas.
Questioned by two members of the synagogue, Spinoza at this time apparently responded that God has a body and nothing in scripture says otherwise. He was later attacked on the steps of the synagogue by a knife-wielding assailant shouting "Heretic!" He was apparently quite shaken by this attack and for years kept (and wore) his torn cloak, unmended, as a souvenir.
After his father's death in 1654, Spinoza ran the family importing business along with his younger brother Gabriel (Abraham). The business ran into serious financial difficulties, however, perhaps as a result of wars involving Holland, England and France.[vague] In March 1656, Spinoza filed suit with the Amsterdam municipal authorities to be declared an orphan in order to escape his father's business debts, so that he could inherit his mother's estate (which his father had inherited in trust for him) without it being subject to his father's creditors. In addition, after having made substantial contributions to the Talmud Torah synagogue in 1654 and 1655, he reduced his December 1655 contribution and his March 1656 pledge to nominal amounts (and the March 1656 pledge was never paid).
Spinoza was eventually able to relinquish responsibility for the business and its debts to his younger brother, Gabriel, and devote himself to philosophy and optics.
On 27 July 1656, the Talmud Torah congregation of Amsterdam issued a writ of cherem (Hebrew: חרם, a kind of ban, shunning, ostracism, expulsion, or excommunication) against the 23 year old Spinoza. The following document translates the official record of the cherem:
The Lords of the ma’amad, having long known of the evil opinions and acts of Baruch de Espinoza, have endeavord by various means and promises, to turn him from his evil ways. But having failed to make him mend his wicked ways, and, on the contrary, daily receiving more and more serious information about the abominable heresies which he practiced and taught and about his monstrous deeds, and having for this numerous trustworthy witnesses who have deposed and born witness to this effect in the presence of the said Espinoza, they became convinced of the truth of the matter; and after all of this has been investigated in the presence of the honorable chachamin, they have decided, with their consent, that the said Espinoza should be excommunicated and expelled from the people of Israel. By the decree of the angels, and by the command of the holy men, we excommunicate, expel, curse and damn Baruch de Espinoza, with the consent of God, Blessed be He, and with the consent of all the Holy Congregation, in front of these holy Scrolls with the six-hundred-and-thirteen precepts which are written therein, with the excommunication with which Joshua banned Jericho, with the curse with which Elisha cursed the boys, and with all the curses which are written in the Book of the Law. Cursed be he by day and cursed be he by night; cursed be he when he lies down, and cursed be he when he rises up; cursed be he when he goes out, and cursed be he when he comes in. The Lord will not spare him; the anger and wrath of the Lord will rage against this man, and bring upon him all the curses which are written in this book, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven, and the Lord will separate him to his injury from all the tribes of Israel with all the curses of the covenant, which are written in the Book of the Law. But you who cleave unto the Lord God are all alive this day. We order that no one should communicate with him orally or in writing, or show him any favor, or stay with him under the same roof, or within four ells of him, or read anything composed or written by him.
The Talmud Torah congregation issued cherem routinely, on matters great and small, so such an edict was not unusual
The language of Spinoza's cherem is unusually harsh, however, and does not appear in any other cherem known to have been issued by the Portuguese Jewish community in Amsterdam. The exact reason for expelling Spinoza is not stated. The cherem refers only to the "abominable heresies that he practiced and taught," to his "monstrous deeds," and to the testimony of witnesses "in the presence of the said Espinoza." There is no record of such testimony, but there appear to have been several likely reasons for the issuance of the cherem.
First, there were Spinoza's radical theological views that he was apparently expressing in public. As philosopher and Spinoza's biographer Steven Nadler puts it: "No doubt he was giving utterance to just those ideas that would soon appear in his philosophical treatises. In those works, Spinoza denies the immortality of the soul; strongly rejects the notion of a providential God—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and claims that the Law was neither literally given by God nor any longer binding on Jews. Can there be any mystery as to why one of history's boldest and most radical thinkers was sanctioned by an orthodox Jewish community?"
Second, there is ample basis to assume that the Amsterdam Jewish community, largely comprising former "conversos" having within the last century fled from the Portuguese Inquisition (and their children and grandchildren), must have been concerned to protect its reputation from any association with Spinoza lest his controversial views provide the basis for their own possible persecution or expulsion. There is little or no evidence that the Amsterdam municipal authorities were directly involved in Spinoza's cherem itself. But "in 1619, the town council expressly ordered [the Portuguese Jewish community] to regulate their conduct and ensure that the members of the community kept to a strict observance of Jewish law"; and other evidence, such as bans adopted by the synagogue itself on public wedding or funeral processions and on discussing religious matters with Christians, lest such activity might "disturb the liberty we enjoy," makes it clear that the danger of upsetting the civil authorities was never far from mind. Thus, the issuance of Spinoza's cherem was almost certainly, in part, an exercise in self censorship by the Portuguese Jewish community in Amsterdam.
Third, it appears likely that Spinoza himself had already taken the initiative to separate himself from the Talmud Torah congregation and was vocally expressing his hostility to Judaism itself. He had probably stopped attending services at the synagogue either after the lawsuit with his sister or after the knife attack on its steps. He might already have been voicing the view expressed later, in his Theological-Political Treatise, that the civil authorities should suppress Judaism as harmful to the Jews themselves. Either for financial or other reasons, he had in any case effectively stopped contributing to the synagogue by March 1656. And he had committed the "monstrous deed," contrary the regulations of the synagogue and the views of certain rabbinical authorities (including Maimonides), of filing suit in a civil court rather than with the synagogue authorities--to renounce his father's heritage, no less. Upon being notified of the issuance of the cherem, he is reported to have said: "Very well; this does not force me to do anything that I would not have done of my own accord, had I not been afraid of a scandal." Thus, unlike most of the cherem issued routinely by the Amsterdam congregation to discipline its members, the cherem issued against Spinoza did not lead to repentance and so was never withdrawn.
After the cherem, Spinoza is said to have addressed an "Apology" (defense), written in Spanish, to the elders of the synagogue, "in which he defended his views as orthodox, and condemned the rabbis for accusing him of 'horrible practices and other enormities' merely because he had neglected ceremonial observances." This "Apology" does not survive, but some of its contents may later have been included in his Theological-Political Treatise.
The most remarkable aspect of the cherem may be not so much its issuance, or even Spinoza's refusal to submit, but the fact that Spinoza's expulsion from the Jewish community did not lead to his conversion to Christianity. Spinoza kept the Latin (and so implicitly Christian) name Benedict de Spinoza, maintained a close association with the Collegiants, a Christian sect, even moved to a town near the Collegiants' headquarters, and was buried in a Christian graveyard--but there is no evidence or suggestion that he ever accepted baptism or participated in a Christian mass. Thus, by default, Baruch de Espinoza became the first secular Jew of modern Europe.
Spinoza spent his remaining 21 years writing and studying as a private scholar.
After the cherem, the Amsterdam municipal authorities, "responding to the appeals of the rabbis, and also of the Calvinist clergy, who had been vicariously offended by the existence of a free thinker in the synagogue," promptly expelled Spinoza from Amsterdam. He spent a brief time in or near the village of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, but returned soon afterwards to Amsterdam and lived there quietly for several years, giving private philosophy lessons and grinding lenses, before leaving the city in 1660 or 1661.
During this time in Amsterdam, Spinoza wrote his Short Treatise on God, Man, and His Well-Being, "of which two Dutch translations survive, discovered about 1810."
Spinoza moved around 1660 or 1661 from Amsterdam to Rijnsburg, (near Leiden), the headquarters of the Collegiants. In Rijnsburg he began work on his Principles of Cartesian Philosophy as well as on his masterpiece, the Ethics. In 1663 he returned briefly to Amsterdam, where he finished and published the Principles of Cartesian Philosophy (the only work published in his lifetime under his own name), and then moved the same year to Voorburg.
In Voorburg, Spinoza continued work on the Ethics and corresponded with scientists, philosophers, and theologians across Europe. He also wrote and in 1670 published his Theological Political Treatise in defense of secular and constitutional government--and in support of Jan de Witt, the Grand Pensionary of the Netherlands, against the Stadholder, the Prince of Orange. Leibniz, who visited Spinoza, claimed that Spinoza’s life was in danger when the Prince of Orange murdered de Witt. While published anonymously, the work did not long remain so, and de Witt's enemies characterized it as "forged in Hell by a renegade Jew and the Devil, and issued with the knowledge of Jan de Witt." It was condemned in 1673 by the Synod of the Reformed Church and formally banned in 1674.
In 1670 Spinoza moved to The Hague, where he lived on a small pension from Jan de Witt and a small annuity from the brother of his dead friend, Simon de Vries. He worked on the Ethics, wrote an unfinished Hebrew grammar, began his Political Treatise, wrote two scientific essays ("On the Rainbow" and "On the Calculation of Chances"), and began a Dutch translation (that he later destroyed) of the Bible.
Spinoza chose the Latin word "caute" (be cautious), inscribed beneath a rose, itself a symbol of secrecy, as his device. "For, having chosen to write in a language that was so widely intelligible, he was compelled to hide what he had written."
Spinoza earned a comfortable living from lens-grinding. While the lens-grinding aspect of Spinoza's work is uncontested, the type of lenses he made is in question. Many have said he produced excellent magnifying glasses, while some historians describe him as a maker of lenses for eyeglasses. He was also supported by small, but regular, donations from close friends.
In 1676, Spinoza met with Leibniz at The Hague for a discussion of his principal philosophical work, Ethics, which had been completed in 1676. Leibniz then began to plagiarize the as-yet unpublished work when he returned to Germany. This meeting was described in Matthew Stewart's The Courtier and the Heretic. Spinoza never married nor fathered any children. When he died, he was considered a saint by the general Christian population and was buried in holy ground.
Spinoza's health began to fail in 1676, and he died on 20 February 1677, at the age of 45. His premature death was said to be due to lung illness, possibly silicosis as a result of breathing in glass dust from the lenses he ground. Later, a shrine was made of his home in The Hague.
Textbooks and encyclopedias often depict Spinoza as a solitary soul who eked out a living as a lens grinder; in reality, he had many friends but kept his needs to a minimum. He preached a philosophy of tolerance and benevolence. Anthony Gottlieb described him as living "a saintly life." The reviewer M. Stuart Phelps noted "No one has ever come nearer to the ideal life of the philosopher than Spinoza." Another reviewer, Harold Bloom, wrote: "As a teacher of reality, he practiced his own wisdom, and was surely one of the most exemplary human beings ever to have lived." According to the New York Times "In outward appearance he was unpretending, but not careless. His way of living was exceedingly modest and retired; often he did not leave his room for many days together. He was likewise almost incredibly frugal; his expenses sometimes amounted only to a few pence a day." According to Harold Bloom and the Chicago Tribune "He appears to have had no sexual life." Spinoza also corresponded with Peter Serrarius, a radical Protestant and millennarian merchant. Serrarius is believed to have been a patron of Spinoza at some point after his conversion. By the beginning of the 1660s, Spinoza's name became more widely known, and eventually Gottfried Leibniz and Henry Oldenburg paid him visits, as stated in Matthew Stewart's The Courtier and the Heretic. Spinoza corresponded with Oldenburg for the rest of his short life.
The writings of Rene Descartes have been described as "Spinoza's starting point." Spinoza's first publication was his geometric exposition (proofs using the geometric method on the model of Euclid with definitions, axioms, etc.) of Descartes's Parts I and II of Principles of Philosophy (1663). Spinoza has been associated with Leibniz and Descartes as "rationalists" in contrast to "empiricists".
From December 1664 to June 1665, Spinoza engaged in correspondence with Blyenbergh, an amateur Calvinist theologian, who questioned Spinoza on the definition of evil. Later in 1665, Spinoza notified Oldenburg that he had started to work on a new book, the Theologico-Political Treatise, published in 1670. Leibniz disagreed harshly with Spinoza in Leibniz's own published Refutation of Spinoza, but he is also known to have met with Spinoza on at least one occasion (as mentioned above), and his own work bears some striking resemblances to specific important parts of Spinoza's philosophy (see: Monadology).
When the public reactions to the anonymously published Theologico-Political Treatise were extremely unfavourable to his brand of Cartesianism, Spinoza was compelled to abstain from publishing more of his works. Wary and independent, he wore a signet ring engraved with his initials, a rose, and the word "caute" (Latin for "cautiously").
The Ethics and all other works, apart from the Descartes' Principles of Philosophy and the Theologico-Political Treatise, were published after his death, in the Opera Posthuma edited by his friends in secrecy to avoid confiscation and destruction of manuscripts. The Ethics contains many still-unresolved obscurities and is written with a forbidding mathematical structure modeled on Euclid's geometry and has been described as a "superbly cryptic masterwork."
These are the fundamental concepts with which Spinoza sets forth a vision of Being, illuminated by his awareness of God. They may seem strange at first sight. To the question "What is?" he replies: "Substance, its attributes, and modes".
Spinoza believed God exists and is abstract and impersonal. Spinoza's system imparted order and unity to the tradition of radical thought, offering powerful weapons for prevailing against "received authority." As a youth he first subscribed to Descartes's dualistic belief that body and mind are two separate substances, but later changed his view and asserted that they were not separate, being a single identity. He contended that everything that exists in Nature (i.e., everything in the Universe) is one Reality (substance) and there is only one set of rules governing the whole of the reality which surrounds us and of which we are part. Spinoza viewed God and Nature as two names for the same reality, namely the single substance (meaning "that which stands beneath" rather than "matter") that is the basis of the universe and of which all lesser "entities" are actually modes or modifications, that all things are determined by Nature to exist and cause effects, and that the complex chain of cause and effect is understood only in part. His identification of God with nature was more fully explained in his posthumously published Ethics. That humans presume themselves to have free will, he argues, is a result of their awareness of appetites while being unable to understand the reasons why they want and act as they do. Spinoza has been described by one writer as an "Epicurean materialist."
Spinoza contends that "Deus sive Natura" ("God or Nature") is a being of infinitely many attributes, of which thought and extension are two. His account of the nature of reality, then, seems to treat the physical and mental worlds as one and the same. The universal substance consists of both body and mind, there being no difference between these aspects. This formulation is a historically significant solution to the mind-body problem known as neutral monism. Spinoza's system also envisages a God that does not rule over the universe by providence, but a God which itself is the deterministic system of which everything in nature is a part. Thus, according to this understanding of Spinoza's system, God would be the natural world and have no personality.
In addition to substance, the other two fundamental concepts Spinoza presents and develops in the Ethics are attribute – that which the intellect perceives as constituting the essence of substance, and mode – the modifications of substance, or that which exists in, and is conceived through, something other than itself.
Spinoza was a thoroughgoing determinist who held that absolutely everything that happens occurs through the operation of necessity. For him, even human behaviour is fully determined, with freedom being our capacity to know we are determined and to understand why we act as we do. So freedom is not the possibility to say "no" to what happens to us but the possibility to say "yes" and fully understand why things should necessarily happen that way. By forming more "adequate" ideas about what we do and our emotions or affections, we become the adequate cause of our effects (internal or external), which entails an increase in activity (versus passivity). This means that we become both more free and more like God, as Spinoza argues in the Scholium to Prop. 49, Part II. However, Spinoza also held that everything must necessarily happen the way that it does. Therefore, humans have no free will. They believe, however, that their will is free. In his letter to G. H. Schuller (Letter 58), he wrote: "men are conscious of their desire and unaware of the causes by which [their desires] are determined."
Spinoza's philosophy has much in common with Stoicism inasmuch as both philosophies sought to fulfill a therapeutic role by instructing people how to attain happiness. However, Spinoza differed sharply from the Stoics in one important respect: he utterly rejected their contention that reason could defeat emotion. On the contrary, he contended, an emotion can only be displaced or overcome by a stronger emotion. For him, the crucial distinction was between active and passive emotions, the former being those that are rationally understood and the latter those that are not. He also held that knowledge of true causes of passive emotion can transform it to an active emotion, thus anticipating one of the key ideas of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis.
Some of Spinoza's philosophical positions are:
Encapsulated at the start in his Treatise on the Improvement of the Understanding (Tractatus de intellectus emendatione) is the core of Spinoza's ethical philosophy, what he held to be the true and final good. Spinoza held good and evil to be relative concepts, claiming that nothing is intrinsically good or bad except relative to a particular individual. Things that had classically been seen as good or evil, Spinoza argued, were simply good or bad for humans. Spinoza believes in a deterministic universe in which "All things in nature proceed from certain [definite] necessity and with the utmost perfection." Nothing happens by chance in Spinoza's world, and nothing is contingent.
In the universe anything that happens comes from the essential nature of objects, or of God/Nature. According to Spinoza, reality is perfection. If circumstances are seen as unfortunate it is only because of our inadequate conception of reality. While components of the chain of cause and effect are not beyond the understanding of human reason, human grasp of the infinitely complex whole is limited because of the limits of science to empirically take account of the whole sequence. Spinoza also asserted that sense perception, though practical and useful for rhetoric, is inadequate for discovering universal truth; Spinoza's mathematical and logical approach to metaphysics, and therefore ethics, concluded that emotion is formed from inadequate understanding. His concept of "conatus" states that human beings' natural inclination is to strive toward preserving an essential being and an assertion that virtue/human power is defined by success in this preservation of being by the guidance of reason as one's central ethical doctrine. According to Spinoza, the highest virtue is the intellectual love or knowledge of God/Nature/Universe.
In the final part of the "Ethics", his concern with the meaning of "true blessedness", and his explanation of how emotions must be detached from external cause and so master them, give some prediction of psychological techniques developed in the 1900s. His concept of three types of knowledge – opinion, reason, intuition – and his assertion that intuitive knowledge provides the greatest satisfaction of mind, lead to his proposition that the more we are conscious of ourselves and Nature/Universe, the more perfect and blessed we are (in reality) and that only intuitive knowledge is eternal. His unique contribution to understanding the workings of mind is extraordinary, even during this time of radical philosophical developments, in that his views provide a bridge between religions' mystical past and psychology of the present day.
Given Spinoza's insistence on a completely ordered world where "necessity" reigns, Good and Evil have no absolute meaning. The world as it exists looks imperfect only because of our limited perception.
However, Schopenhauer contended that Spinoza's book is the opposite of ethics. "...[I]t is precisely ethics on which all pantheism is wrecked. If the world is a theophany, then everything that man does, and indeed every animal does, is equally divine; nothing can be censurable and nothing can be more praiseworthy than anything else." According to Schopenhauer, Spinoza's "teaching amounts to saying; 'The world is because it is; and it is as it is because it is so.'...Yet the deification of the world...did not admit of any true ethics; moreover, it was in flagrant contradiction with the physical evils and moral wickedness of this world."
It is a widespread belief that Spinoza equated God with the material universe. However, in a letter to Henry Oldenburg he states that: "as to the view of certain people that I identify god with nature (taken as a kind of mass or corporeal matter), they are quite mistaken". For Spinoza, our universe (cosmos) is a mode under two attributes of Thought and Extension. God has infinitely many other attributes which are not present in our world. According to German philosopher Karl Jaspers, when Spinoza wrote "Deus sive Natura" (God or Nature) Spinoza meant God was Natura naturans not Natura naturata, and Jaspers believed that Spinoza, in his philosophical system, did not mean to say that God and Nature are interchangeable terms, but rather that God's transcendence was attested by his infinitely many attributes, and that two attributes known by humans, namely Thought and Extension, signified God's immanence. Even God under the attributes of thought and extension cannot be identified strictly with our world. That world is of course "divisible"; it has parts. But Spinoza insists that "no attribute of a substance can be truly conceived from which it follows that the substance can be divided" (Which means that one cannot conceive an attribute in a way that leads to division of substance), and that "a substance which is absolutely infinite is indivisible" (Ethics, Part I, Propositions 12 and 13). Following this logic, our world should be considered as a mode under two attributes of thought and extension. Therefore the pantheist formula "One and All" would apply to Spinoza only if the "One" preserves its transcendence and the "All" were not interpreted as the totality of finite things.
Martial Guéroult suggested the term "Panentheism", rather than "Pantheism" to describe Spinoza’s view of the relation between God and the world. The world is not God, but it is, in a strong sense, "in" God. Not only do finite things have God as their cause; they cannot be conceived without God. In other words, the world is a subset of God.
In 1785, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi published a condemnation of Spinoza's pantheism, after Lessing was thought to have confessed on his deathbed to being a "Spinozist", which was the equivalent in his time of being called an atheist. Jacobi claimed that Spinoza's doctrine was pure materialism, because all Nature and God are said to be nothing but extended substance. This, for Jacobi, was the result of Enlightenment rationalism and it would finally end in absolute atheism. Moses Mendelssohn disagreed with Jacobi, saying that there is no actual difference between theism and pantheism. The issue became a major intellectual and religious concern for European civilization at the time.
The attraction of Spinoza's philosophy to late 18th-century Europeans was that it provided an alternative to materialism, atheism, and deism. Three of Spinoza's ideas strongly appealed to them:
Spinoza's "God or Nature" (Deus sive Natura) provided a living, natural God, in contrast to the Newtonian mechanical "First Cause" or the dead mechanism of the French "Man Machine". Coleridge and Shelley saw in Spinoza's philosophy a religion of nature. Novalis called him the "God-intoxicated man". Spinoza inspired the poet Shelley to write his essay "The Necessity of Atheism".
Spinoza was considered to be an atheist because he used the word "God" (Deus) to signify a concept that was different from that of traditional Judeo–Christian monotheism. "Spinoza expressly denies personality and consciousness to God; he has neither intelligence, feeling, nor will; he does not act according to purpose, but everything follows necessarily from his nature, according to law...." Thus, Spinoza's cool, indifferent God is the antithesis to the concept of an anthropomorphic, fatherly God who cares about humanity.
Steven Nadler suggests that settling the question of Spinoza's atheism or pantheism depends on an analysis of attitudes. If pantheism is associated with religiosity, then Spinoza is not a pantheist, since Spinoza believes that the proper stance to take towards God is not one of reverence or religious awe, but instead one of objective study and reason, since taking the religious stance would leave one open to the possibility of error and superstition.
Similarities between Spinoza's philosophy and Eastern philosophical traditions have been discussed by many authorities. The 19th-century German Sanskritist Theodore Goldstücker was one of the early figures to notice the similarities between Spinoza's religious conceptions and the Vedanta tradition of India, writing that Spinoza's thought was "... a western system of philosophy which occupies a foremost rank amongst the philosophies of all nations and ages, and which is so exact a representation of the ideas of the Vedanta, that we might have suspected its founder to have borrowed the fundamental principles of his system from the Hindus, did his biography not satisfy us that he was wholly unacquainted with their doctrines... We mean the philosophy of Spinoza, a man whose very life is a picture of that moral purity and intellectual indifference to the transitory charms of this world, which is the constant longing of the true Vedanta philosopher... comparing the fundamental ideas of both we should have no difficulty in proving that, had Spinoza been a Hindu, his system would in all probability mark a last phase of the Vedanta philosophy."
Max Muller, in his lectures, noted the striking similarities between Vedanta and the system of Spinoza, saying "the Brahman, as conceived in the Upanishads and defined by Sankara, is clearly the same as Spinoza's 'Substantia'." Helena Blavatsky, a founder of the Theosophical Society also compared Spinoza's religious thought to Vedanta, writing in an unfinished essay "As to Spinoza’s Deity—natura naturans—conceived in his attributes simply and alone; and the same Deity—as natura naturata or as conceived in the endless series of modifications or correlations, the direct outflowing results from the properties of these attributes, it is the Vedantic Deity pure and simple."
Late 20th century Europe demonstrated a greater philosophical interest in Spinoza, often from a left-wing or Marxist perspective. Karl Marx liked his materialistic account of the universe. Notable philosophers Louis Althusser, Gilles Deleuze, Antonio Negri, Étienne Balibar and Marilena Chaui have each drawn upon Spinoza's philosophy. Deleuze's doctoral thesis, published in 1968, refers to him as "the prince of philosophers." Other philosophers heavily influenced by Spinoza include Constantin Brunner and John David Garcia. Stuart Hampshire wrote a major English language study of Spinoza, though H. H. Joachim's work is equally valuable. Unlike most philosophers, Spinoza was highly regarded by Nietzsche.
Spinoza was an important philosophical inspiration for George Santayana. When Santayana graduated from college, he published an essay, “The Ethical Doctrine of Spinoza”, in The Harvard Monthly. Later, he wrote an introduction to Spinoza’s Ethics and ‘De intellectus emendatione’. In 1932, Santayana was invited to present an essay (published as "Ultimate Religion") at a meeting at The Hague celebrating the tricentennial of Spinoza's birth. In Santayana's autobiography, he characterized Spinoza as his “master and model” in understanding the naturalistic basis of morality.
Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein evoked Spinoza with the title (suggested to him by G. E. Moore) of the English translation of his first definitive philosophical work, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, an allusion to Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. Elsewhere, Wittgenstein deliberately borrowed the expression sub specie aeternitatis from Spinoza (Notebooks, 1914-16, p. 83). The structure of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus does have some structural affinities with Spinoza's Ethics (though, admittedly, not with the latter's own Tractatus) in erecting complex philosophical arguments upon basic logical assertions and principles. Furthermore, in propositions 6.4311 and 6.45 he alludes to a Spinozian understanding of eternity and interpretation of the religious concept of eternal life, stating that "If by eternity is understood not eternal temporal duration, but timelessness, then he lives eternally who lives in the present." (6.4311) "The contemplation of the world sub specie aeterni is its contemplation as a limited whole." (6.45)
Leo Strauss dedicated his first book ("Spinoza's Critique of Religion") to an examination of the latter's ideas. In the book, Strauss identified Spinoza as part of the tradition of Enlightenment rationalism that eventually produced Modernity. Moreover, he identifies Spinoza and his works as the beginning of Jewish Modernity. More recently Jonathan Israel, Professor of Modern European History at The Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, has made a detailed case that from 1650-1750 Spinoza was "the chief challenger of the fundamentals of revealed religion, received ideas, tradition, morality, and what was everywhere regarded, in absolutist and non-absolutist states alike, as divinely constituted political authority."
Spinoza has had influence beyond the confines of philosophy. The 19th century novelist George Eliot produced her own translation of the Ethics, the first known English translation of it. Eliot liked Spinoza's vehement attacks on superstition. In his autobiography "From My Life: Poetry and Truth", Goethe recounts the way in which Spinoza's Ethics calmed the sometimes unbearable emotional turbulence of his youth. Goethe later displayed his grasp of Spinoza's metaphysics in a fragmentary elucidation of some Spinozist ontological principles entitled Study After Spinoza. Moreover, he cited Spinoza alongside Shakespeare and Carl Linnaeus as one of the three strongest influences on his life and work. The 20th century novelist W. Somerset Maugham alluded to one of Spinoza's central concepts with the title of his novel Of Human Bondage. Albert Einstein named Spinoza as the philosopher who exerted the most influence on his world view (Weltanschauung). Spinoza equated God (infinite substance) with Nature, consistent with Einstein's belief in an impersonal deity. In 1929, Einstein was asked in a telegram by Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein whether he believed in God. Einstein responded by telegram: "I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings." Spinoza's pantheism has also influenced environmental theory; Arne Næss, the father of the deep ecology movement, acknowledged Spinoza as an important inspiration.
Moreover, the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges was greatly influenced by Spinoza's world view. Borges makes allusions to the philosopher's work in many of his poems and short stories, as does Isaac Bashevis Singer in his short story The Spinoza of Market Street. The title character of Hoffman’s Hunger, the fifth novel by the Dutch novelist Leon de Winter, reads and comments upon the Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione over the course of the novel. Spinoza has been the subject of numerous biographies and scholarly treatises.
Spinoza is an important historical figure in the Netherlands, where his portrait was featured prominently on the Dutch 1000-guilder banknote, legal tender until the euro was introduced in 2002. The highest and most prestigious scientific award of the Netherlands is named the Spinoza prijs (Spinoza prize). Spinoza was included in a 50 theme canon that attempts to summarise the history of the Netherlands.
Spinoza's life has been honored by educators.
The 2008 play "New Jerusalem," by David Ives, is based on the cherem (ban, shunning, ostracism, expulsion or excommunication) issued against Spinoza by the Talmud Torah congregation in Amsterdam in 1656, and events leading to it.
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