de Spinoza, was named Baruch Spinoza by his synagogue elders and
known as Bento de Espinosa or Bento d'Espiñoza in his native
Amsterdam. He is considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century
philosophy and, by virtue of his magnum opus the Ethics, one of
the definitive ethicists. His writings, like those of his fellow
rationalists, reveal considerable mathematical training and facility.
was a lens crafter by trade, an exciting engineering field at
the time because of great discoveries being made by telescopes.
The full impact of his work only took effect sometime after his
death and after the publication of his Opera Posthuma. He is now
seen as having prepared the way for the 18th century Enlightenment,
and as a founder of modern biblical criticism.
Born to a great family of Sephardic Jews, among the Portuguese
Jews of Amsterdam, he gained fame for his positions of pantheism
and neutral monism, as well as the fact that his Ethics was written
in the form of postulates and definitions, as though it were a
geometry treatise. In the summer of 1656, he was excommunicated
because of apostasy from the Jewish community for his claims that
God is the mechanism of nature and the universe, having no personality,
and that the Bible is a metaphorical and allegorical work used
to teach the nature of God, both of which were based on a form
of Cartesianism (see René Descartes). Following his excommunication,
he adopted the first name Benedictus (the Latin equivalent of
his given name, Baruch). The terms of his excommunication were
quite severe; see Kasher and Biderman (19nn).
his excommunication, he lived and worked for a while in the school
of Franciscus van den Enden, who taught him Latin and may have
introduced him to modern philosophy. In this period Spinoza also
became acquainted with several Collegiants, members of a non-dogmatic
and interdenominational sect with tendencies towards Rationalism.
By the beginning of the 1660s Spinoza's name became more widely
known, and eventually Leibniz and Henry Oldenburg paid him visits.
corresponded with the latter for the rest of his life. Spinoza's
first publication was his Principles of Cartesian Philosophy,
a work that introduced some of his own ideas. In 1665 he notified
Oldenburg that he had started to work on a new book, the Theologico-Political
Treatise, published in 1670.
the public reactions to the anonymously published Theologico-Political
Treatise turned unfavourable to his brand of Cartesianism, Spinoza
abstained 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 caution). The Ethics and all
other works, apart from the Principles of Cartesian Philosophy
and the Theologico-Political Treatise, were published after his
death in the Opera Postuma edited by his friends.
Known as both the "greatest Jew" and the "greatest
Atheist", Spinoza contended that God and Nature were two
names for the same reality, namely the single substance (meaning
"to stand beneath" rather than "matter") that
underlies the universe and of which all lesser "entities"
are actually modes or modifications. The argument for this single
substance runs something as follows:
Substance exists and cannot be dependent on anything else for
2. No two substances can share an attribute.
Proof: If they share an attribute, they would be identical. Therefore
they can only be individuated by their modes. But then they would
depend on their modes for their identity. This would have the
substance being dependent on its mode, in violation of premise
1. Therefore, two substances cannot share the same attribute.
3. A substance can only be caused by something similar to itself
(something that shares its attribute).
4. Substance cannot be caused.
Proof: Something can only be caused by something which is similar
to itself, in other words something that shares its attribute.
But according to premise 2, no two substances can share an attribute.
Therefore substance cannot be caused.
5. Substance is infinite.
Proof: If substance were not infinite, it would be finite and
limited by something. But to be limited by something is to be
dependent on it. However, substance cannot be dependent on anything
else (premise 1), therefore substance is infinite.
There can only be one substance.
Proof: If there were two infinite substances, they would limit
each other. But this would act as a restraint, and they would
be dependent on each other. But they cannot be dependent on each
other (premise 1), therefore there cannot be two substances.
contended that "Deus sive Natura" ("God or Nature")
was a being of infinitely many attributes, of which extension
and thought were two. His account of the nature of reality, then,
seems to treat the physical and mental worlds as two different,
parallel "subworlds" that neither overlap nor interact.
This formulation is a historically significant panpsychist solution
to the mind-body problem known as neutral monism.
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, 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.
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,
Spinoza's philosophy has much in common with Stoicism in as much
as both philosophies sought to fulfil a therapeutic role by instructing
people how to attain happiness (or eudaimonia, for the Stoics).
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
be displaced or overcome only by a stronger emotion.
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
of Spinoza's philosophical positions are:
God is the natural world and has no personality.
2. The natural world is infinite.
3. There is no real difference between good and evil.
4. Everything must necessarily happen the way that it does. Therefore,
there is no free will.
5. Everything done by humans and other animals is excellent and
6. All rights are derived from the State.
7. Animals can be used in any way by people for the benefit of
the human race.
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 a relativist's position, that nothing
is good or bad, except to the extent that it is subjectively perceived
to be by the individual.
instance, one person may find roasted peanuts tasty and so for
her roasted peanuts are good. But another person may be allergic
to nuts and so for him peanuts are bad. Spinoza's point is, there
is nothing inherent in any thing, like a nut, to make it either
good or bad. From this he concluded the ethical ventures of other
philosophers had been mistaken. His words put it best themselves.
experience had taught me that all the usual surroundings of social
life are vain and futile; seeing that none of the objects of my
fears contained in themselves anything either good or bad, except
in so far as the mind is affected by them, I finally resolved
to inquire whether there might be some real good having power
to communicate itself, which would affect the mind singly, to
the exclusion of all else: whether, in act, there might be anything
of which the discovery and attainment would enable me to enjoy
continuous, supreme, and unending happiness. I say 'I finally
resolved,' for at first sight it seemed unwise willingly to lose
hold on what was sure for the sake of something then uncertain.
I could see the benefits which are acquired through fame and riches,
and that I should be obliged to abandon the quest of such objects,
if I seriously devoted myself to the search for something different
and new. I perceived that if true happiness chanced to be placed
in the former I should necessarily miss it; while if, on the other
hand, it were not so placed, and I gave them my whole attention,
I should equally fail...
will here only briefly state what I mean by true good, and also
what is the nature of the highest good. In order that this may
be rightly understood, we must bear in mind that the terms good
and evil are only applied relatively, so that the same thing may
be called both good and bad according to the relations in view,
in the same way as it may be called perfect or imperfect. Nothing
regarded in its own nature can be called perfect or imperfect;
especially when we are aware that all things which come to pass,
come to pass according to the eternal order and fixed laws of
human weakness cannot attain to this order in its own thoughts,
but meanwhile man conceives a human character much more stable
than his own, and sees that there is no reason why he should not
himself acquire such a character. Thus he is led to seek for means
which will bring him to this pitch of perfection, and calls everything
which will serve as such means a true good. The chief good is
that he should arrive, together with other individuals if possible,
at the possession of the aforesaid character. What that character
is we shall show in due time, namely, that it is the knowledge
of the union existing being the mind and the whole of nature.
then, is the end for which I strive, to attain to such a character
myself, and to endeavour that many should attain to it with me.
In other words, it is part of my happiness to lend a helping hand,
that many others may understand even as I do, so that their understanding
and desire may entirely agree with my own. In order to bring this
about, it is necessary to understand as much of nature as will
enable us to attain to the aforesaid character, and also to form
a social order such as is most conducive to the attainment of
this character by the greatest number with the least difficulty
Pantheism Controversy (Pantheismusstreit)
In 1785, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi published a condemnation of
Spinoza's pantheism. 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 entire issue became
a major intellectual and religious concern for European civilization
at the time.
Albert Einstein said that Spinoza was the philosopher who had
most influenced his worldview (Weltanschauung). Spinoza equated
God (infinite substance) with Nature, and Einstein, too, believed
in an impersonal deity. His desire to understand Nature through
physics can be seen as contemplation of God. Arne Næss,
the father of the deep ecology movement, acknowledged drawing
much inspiration from the works of Spinoza.
the late twentieth century, there was a great increase in philosophical
interest in Spinoza in Europe, often from a left-wing and Marxist
perspectives. Notable philosophers Gilles Deleuze, Antonio Negri
and Étienne Balibar have each written books on Spinoza.
Other philosophers heavily influenced by Spinoza were 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.
portrait featured prominently on the 1000 Dutch gulden banknote,
legal tender in the Netherlands until the euro was introduced
highest and most prestigious scientific prize of the Netherlands
is named the Spinozapremie (Spinoza reward).
"Mind and body are one and the same individual which is conceived
now under the attribute of thought, and now under the attribute
of extension." Ethics II prop. 7.
have laboured carefully, not to mock, lament, or execrate human
actions, but to understand them." A Political Treatise, 288.
the road I have shown to lead to this is very difficult, it can
yet be discovered. And clearly it must be very hard when it is
so seldom found. For how could it be that it is neglected practically
by all, if salvation were close at hand and could be found without
difficulty? But all excellent things are as difficult as they
are rare." Ethics, 224.
which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form
a clear and precise picture of it." Ethics