<history of philosophy, biography> born into the Portuguese-Jewish community living in exile in Holland, Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) engaged in profound study of medieval Jewish thought as well as modern philosophy and the new science. Expelled for his heretical theological opinions from the synagogue at Amsterdam in 1656, he supported himself by grinding optical lenses and began a serious study of Cartesian philosophy. Private circulation of his philosophical treatises soon earned him a significant reputation throughout Europe, but Spinoza so treasured his intellectual independence that in 1673 he declined the opportunity to teach at Heidelberg. Spinoza's first published work was a systematic presentation of the philosophy of Descartes, together with his own modifications. The Principles of Descartes's Philosophy (1663). While completing the development of his own philosophical views, Spinoza turned his attention to other issues. The Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (A Theologico-Political Treatise) (1670) is a treatment of popular religion and toleration. Spinoza disavowed anthropomorphic conceptions of god, proposed modern methods for biblical interpretation, and defended political toleration of alternative religious practices, especially between Christians and Jews. In the metaphysical speculations that dominated his philosophical reflections, the firm conviction that the universe is a unitary whole led rationalist Spinoza to express his philosophy in a geometrical form like that of Euclid's Elements. Thus, each of the five books of the Ethica Ordine Geometrico Demonstrata (Ethics) (1677) presents a series of significant propositions, each of which is deduced from self-evident definitions and axioms. In Book I Spinoza claimed to demonstrate both the necessary existence and the essential nature of the unique, single substance that comprises all of reality. The infinite attributes of this being ("god or nature") account for every feature of the universe. Book II describes the parallel structure and necessary function of the ideas and things we, with our dual natures, comprehend through the two attributes best known to us, thought and extension. It also accounts for the possibility of human knowledge based ultimately on the coordination of these diverse realms. Spinoza applied similar principles to human desires and agency in Books III-V of the Ethics, recommending a life that acknowledges the fundamental consequences of our position as mere modes of the one true being. Recognizing the invariable influence of desire over our passionate natures, we must always strive for the peace of mind that comes through an impartial attachment to reason. Although such an attitude is not easy to maintain, he concluded that "All noble things are as difficult as they are rare". Spinoza's Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione (On the Improvement of the Understanding) (1677) provides additional guidance on the epistemological consequences of his metaphysical convictions. Here Spinoza proposed a "practical" method for achieving the best knowledge of which human thinkers are capable. Recommended Reading: Primary sources: Spinoza Opera, ed. by C. Gebhardt (Heidelberg, 1925); The Collected Works of Spinoza, Volume I, ed. by Edwin Curley (Princeton, 1985); Benedict De Spinoza, Ethics including the Improvement of the Understanding, tr. by R. H. M. Elwes (Prometheus, 1989); Baruch Spinoza, Theologico-Political Treatise, tr. by R. H. M. Elwes (Dover, 1951). Secondary sources: The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza, ed. by Don Garrett (Cambridge, 1995); Henry Allison, Benedict de Spinoza: An Introduction (Yale, 1987); Roger Scruton, Spinoza (Oxford, 1987); Genevieve Lloyd, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Spinoza and the Ethics (Routledge, 1996); Steven M. Nadler, Spinoza: A Life (Cambridge, 1999); Edwin M. Curley, Behind the Geometrical Method: A Reading of Spinoza's Ethics (Princeton, 1988); Errol E. Harris, Spinoza's Philosophy: An Outline (Humanity, 1992); Harry Austryn Wolfson, The Philosophy of Spinoza: Unfolding the Latent Processes of His Reasoning (Harvard, 1983). Additional on-line information about Spinoza includes: Ron Bombardi's comprehensive guide to Spinoza at Studia Spinoziana. Joseph B. Yesselman's tribute to the philosophy of Spinoza. T. L. S. Sprigge's article in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Also see: double aspect theory, Jewish philosophy, metaphysics, the persecution of philosophers, and rationalism. The article in the Columbia Encyclopedia at Bartleby.com. The thorough collection of resources at EpistemeLinks.com. Santiago Barona's SpinozaWeb. A section on Spinoza from Alfred Weber's history of philosophy. Snippets from Spinoza (Latin and English) in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Rosalba Dur'n Forero's comparison of Hobbes with Spinoza on gender equality. A paper on Spinoza's treatment of Cartesian ideas by Timo Kajamies. Olli Koistinen's paper on the practical aims of Spinoza's philosophy. An unfinished article in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Bjoern Christensson's brief guide to Internet resources. A brief entry in The Macmillan Encyclopedia 2001.
[A Dictionary of Philosophical Terms and Names]
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