باروخ اسپینوزا و بعدها بندیکت دِ اسپینوزا (۱۶۳۲ - ۱۶۷۷ میلادی) فیلسوف مشهور هلندی است. او قابلیتهای علمی فراوانی داشت و گستره و اهمیت آثارش تا سالها پس از مرگ او به طور کامل درک نشد. امروزه، اسپینوزا یکی از بزرگترین خردگرایان فلسفه قرن هفدهم و زمینه ساز ظهور نقد مذهبی و همچنین عصر روشنگری در قرن هجدهم به شمار میرود. اسپینوزا به واسطهٔ نگارش مهمترین اثرش، اخلاقیات، که پس از مرگ او به چاپ رسید و در آن دوگانهانگاری دکارتی را به چالش میکشد، یکی از مهمترین فیلسوفان تاریخ فلسفهٔ غرب به شمار میرود. فیلسوف و مورخ، گئورگ ویلهلم فریدریش هگل، دربارهٔ فیلسوفان هم عصر خود نوشت: «شما یا پیرو اسپینوزا هستید، و یا اساساً فیلسوف نیستید.»
اسپینوزا یک سفاردی بود. پدر او در جریان تفتیش عقاید در پرتغال، به مدارا پذیرترین کشور جهان آن زمان یعنی هلند مهاجرت کردند تا از مجازات یهودی بودن در امان بمانند. اسپینوزا در جامعهٔ یهودیان هلند بزرگ شد و در آنجا تعلیمات یهودی را نزد تنی چند از بهترین خاخامهای عصر خود فرا گرفت. اسپینوزا عهد عتیق و سایر متون یهودی را به خوبی فرا گرفت، اما با گذر زمان نظرهای بحثبرانگیزی دربارهٔ سندیت عهد عتیق و سرشت امر مقدس پیدا کرد که به نظر میرسد در نهایت منجر به تکفیر و رانده شدن او از جامعهٔ یهودیان در سن ۲۳ سالگی شد. حتی پیش از واکنش یهودیان، کلیسای کاتولیک کتابهای او را در فهرست کتابهای ممنوعه قرار داد و پروتستانهای هلندی این کتابها را به آتش کشیدند.
پیشهٔ اسپینوزا تراش عدسی بود و زندگی آرامی داشت. او در طول زندگی، جایزهها، افتخارات و تدریس در مکانهای صاحبنام را رد کرد، و سهم ارث خانوادگیاش را به خواهرش بخشید. دستاوردهای فلسفی و شخصیت اخلاقی اسپینوزا زمینهساز آن شد تا ژیل دلوز، او را «شاهزادهٔ فلسفه» بنامد. اسپینوزا در سن ۴۴ سالگی، ظاهراً به خاطر بیماری ریه که احتمالاً سل یا سیلیکوز بوده و در اثر استنشاق گرد شیشه در زمان انجام کارش وخیمتر شده، در گذشت. اسپینوزا در صحن نیو کرک مسیحیان در لاهه دفن شدهاست. کاتولیکهای آن زمان با اسپینوزا و بسیاری از متفکران آن زمان که اتفاقاً از بزرگترین نوابغ تاریخ بشر بودند مخالفت میکردند و به اینگونه مخالفتها اکثراً جنبه عمل میپوشاندند مثلاً تقریباً همان زمان در ایتالیا کار جوردانو برونو یکسره کرده او را زنده در آتش سوزاندند! او بسیار شانس آورد که مثل سقراط و جوردانو برونو اعدام نشد.
اسپینوزا تحصیل علم را در مدرسهٔ یهودیان آغاز کرد اما رفته رفته نشانههای تردید در مورد کتاب مقدس یهودیان به عنوان وحی الهی در او آشکار شد. اسپینوزا تحت تأثیر فلسفهٔ دکارت بود امّا در تعاملات متافیزیکی خود تلاش میکرد بر دوگانه انگاری دکارتی چیره شود و خدا، روح و ماده را در پیوندی واحد به اندیشه درآورد.
باروخ (بندیکت) د اسپینوزا در یک خانوادهٔ مذهبی یهودی در آمستردام متولّد شد. خانوادهٔ او در اوایل همان سده به همراه بسیاری از دیگر یهودیان پرتغالی و اسپانیایی، از بیم پیگرد توسط دستگاه تفتیش عقاید کلیسا، به هلند پناه آورده بودند. هلند در آن زمان از نظر مذهبی سرزمین نسبتاً رواداری بود. پدر اسپینوزا او را به مدرسهٔ یهودیان سپرد تا با آموزش در حوزه دینشناسی، خاخام شود. اسپینوزا در سن ۱۶ سالگی شاگردی استثنایی در حوزه امور دینی بود، اما یادگیری در این زمینه او را راضی نمیساخت. به دلیل آشنایی به چند زبان، به طور مستقل به مطالعه آثار فلسفی پرداخت. در سن ۱۸ سالگی، نشانههای تردید در مورد کتاب مقدس یهودیان به عنوان وحی الهی در او آشکار شد و به تدریج موضوعهایی چون دخالت یک خدای شخصی در امور انسانی، برگزیدگی قوم یهود از طرف خداوند و نیز حقوق ویژه روحانیون را مورد شک و پرسش قرار داد.
البته بسیاری از دانشجویان یهودی هم هوادار استقلال و آرمان آزادی اندیشه بودند به تدریج علم مخالفت با فضای منقبض ناشی از قرائت ستنی از تعالیم یهودیت را بلند کردند و تورات را زیر سؤال میبردند. به همین دلیل پیشوایان یهودیت به شدت نگران چنین مسائلی بودند. از این رو وقتی اسپینوزا شروع به اشاعه نظریات نا تعارف و غیر سنتی خود کرد با مخالفت شدید روبه روشد. او میگفت کسانی که اسفار پنجگانه موسی را نوشتهاند، هم از نظر علمی و هم از نظر علم کلام و الهیات سادهلوحانی بیش نیستند و اصولاً خمسهٔ موسی اصلاً از موسی نیست! او به این بسنده نکرد و گفت که در تورات هیچ شاهدی بر این که خداوند صاحب جسم است یا روح فناناپذیر است و یا فرشتگان وجود دارند در دست نیست . کسی نمیتوانست در مجادلات منطقی با او حریف شود در نتیجه اولیای دین برای ساکت کردن او مستمری سالانه ۲۰۰۰ فلورن به او پیشنهاد کردند تا حداقل از اشاعهٔ نظریاتش به طور علنی دست بکشد. اما او قبول نکرد.او تا آخر عمر همسری نداشت و تا مرگ همین گونه ماند.
از آخر یکی از یهودیان متعصب به او سوءقصد کرد که از آن جان سالم به در برد. او در کالج آفینیوس که مدیر وان دن اندن، آن از آزادآندیشان دورهٔ خود بود، درس میخواند که این هم باعث بدگمانی نسبت به خود در جامعه یهودیت آمستردام شد. وان دن اندن قبلاً کشیش یسوعی بود ولی حالا آزادیخواه شده و مطالعات وسیعی در زمینهٔ آثار یونان باستان و فلسفه داشت. او بعدهها به آزادیخواهان فرانسوی پیوست و توطئهای برای انحلال نظام سلطنتی فرانسه و ایجاد دموکراسی کرد ولی جنبش شکست خورد و او توسط پادشاه فرانسه اعدام شد.
او از نظرات حسدای کرسکاس بسیار تأثیر گرفت و آثار موسی بن میمون و فلسفه مدرسی و جردانو برونو را به دقت مطالعه کرد. حسدای کرسکاس میگفت جهان از ازل وجود داشته و تا ابد وجود خواهد داشت و خلقت شامل چیدمان اینها میشود. این نظر بر روی اسپینوزا تأثیر فلسفی گذاشت. او سرانجام در ۱۶۶۳ در لاهه ساکن شد و در همانجا درگذشت. او به قدری معروف شد که لایب نیتس به ملاقات او میرفت و باهنریک اولدنبرگ که دبیر اول انجمن سلطنتی بریتانیا بود نامهنگاری میکرد و دوست بود. او با رابرت بویل، شیمیدان معروف نیز نامهنگاری میکرد و دوست بود.
اسپینوزا مراسم عبادی و دینی را بیاهمیت و زاید خواند و به این نظر رسید که متنهای کتاب مقدس را نباید کلمه به کلمه فهمید. از همین رو، او را در سن ۲۴ سالگی به جرم افکار انحرافی از جامعه یهودیان هلند اخراج و ورودش را به کنیسهها ممنوع کردند. نظریاتش دشمنان زیادی برای او تراشیده بود و پس از اینکه سوء قصد به جان او نافرجام ماند، از آمستردام گریخت و گوشهگیری و انزوا پیشه کرد و خود را یکسره وقف فلسفه نمود.
اسپینوزا زندگی سادهٔ خود را از راه تراش شیشههای ذرهبین تأمین میکرد. در سال ۱۶۷۳ شهریار پفالتس که با نظریات فلسفی اسپینوزا آشنا بود، به وی پیشنهاد کرسی استادی فلسفه در دانشگاه هایدلبرگ را داد، مشروط بر آنکه او از آزادی پژوهش فلسفی برای براندازی دین عمومی سوءاستفاده نکند. اسپینوزا این دعوت را رد کرد، چون نمیخواست استقلال فکری خود را قربانی مقام و عقل را تابع ایمان سازد. وی در پاسخ به دعوت آن شهریار نوشت: «از آنجا که نمیدانم مرزهای آزادی فلسفی، برای اینکه دین برانداخته نشود کجاست، نمیتوانم از فرصت به دست آمده استفاده کنم».
در سال ۱۶۷۵ یک دیندار کاتولیک به نام آلبرت بورگ در نامهای به اسپینوزا نوشت: «من این نامه را بنابر وظیفهٔ دینی خود برایتان مینویسم تا عشق به همسایه را حتی به شما که یک کافر هستید نشان دهم. شما را فرا میخوانم که روح خود را به موقع نجات دهید و به مسیحیت بگروید. شما مدعی هستید که سرانجام، فلسفه حقیقی را یافتهاید. اما از کجا میدانید که فلسفهٔ شما بهترین است؟ آیا میخواهید کفرگوییهای ناگفتنی موجودی نکبتزده، کِرمی حقیر و انسانی خاکی را که سرانجام غذای کِرمها میشود، گستاخانه بر حکمت بیانتهای پدر جاودانی برتر شمارید؟ از شما خواهش میکنم بس کنید و دیگران را نیز همراه خود به فساد نکشانید».
اسپینوزا در پاسخ این مؤمن مسیحی نوشت: «من ادعا نمیکنم که بهترین فلسفه را یافتهام، اما میدانم که حقیقت را میتوان شناخت. تمام دلیلهایی که شما در نامهٔ خود اقامه کردید، فقط در طرفداری از کلیسای رومی است. آیا معتقدید که با آنها میتوان اقتدار این کلیسا را به روش ریاضی اثبات کرد؟ و چون این چنین نیست چگونه میخواهید باور کنم که بُرهانهای من، ساخته و پرداخته ارواح خبیث است و سخنان شما مُلَهم از پروردگار؟ افزون بر آن، من میبینم و نامهٔ شما نیز آشکارا نشان میدهد که بردهٔ این کلیسا شدهاید، نه به خاطر عشق به خداوند، بلکه از بیم آتش دوزخ که تنها علت خرافهاست. این خرافه را از خود دور سازید و خردی را که خداوند به شما ارزانی داشته به رسمیت بشناسید و اگر نمیخواهید جزو موجودات فاقد خرد به شمار آیید، از آن بهره گیرید. بس کنید و خطاهای ابلهانه را معما و رازورزی جلوه ندهید!».
اسپینوزا کتاب مقدس را حاوی قانونهایی اخلاقی میدانست که فرمانبری میطلبد، اما کمکی به شناخت حقیقت نمیکند.
مهمترین اثر اسپینوزا «اخلاقیات» نام دارد. اما این کتاب بر خلاف عنوانش، به معنای گستردهٔ کلمه بیشتر متافیزیک است و فلسفهٔ اخلاق در آن جایگاه اصلی را ندارد. اسپینوزا در زمان حیاتش، این اثر را فقط در اختیار معدودی از دوستانش قرار داد و به اصرار شخصی او، انتشار این کتاب پس از مرگش صورت گرفت.
اسپینوزا از جوانی دچار بیماری سل بود و تقریباً تمام عمر ناچار شد از یک رژیم سخت غذایی پیروی کند. اهل خوشگذرانی و معاشرت نبود. در نهایت سادگی میزیست و پول بازنشستگیای را که بنابر وصیت دوستی دریافت میکرد، خود از پانصد گولدن به سیصد گولدن کاهش داد. اسپینوزا در ۲۱ فوریه ۱۶۷۷ در سن ۴۵ سالگی در لاهه چشم از جهان فروبست.
اسپینوزا تحت تأثیر فلسفهٔ دکارت بود. اما در تاملات متافیزیکی خود تلاش میکرد بر دوگانهانگاری دکارتی چیره گردد و خدا، روح و ماده را در پیوندی واحد به اندیشه درآورد. دکارت دو جهان مختلف را قائل میشد:ذهن، ماده. اسپینوزا این را اشتباه یافت. دکارت نفس را در معنای قدرت فکر کردن، تنها مطلق به انسان میدانست و حیوانات را فاقد آن میپنداشت. ذهن که قدرت تصمیمگیری داشت جدا از بدن تصور میکرد! حتی طی یک اقدام علمی گفت که منشأ ین روح در غده پینه آل مغز است زیرا حیوانات این را نداشتند. در اصل رنه دکارت اعتقاد داشت جایگاه خودآگاهی در غده پینه آل در مغز است زیرا خودآگاهی همان روح است. ایرادی که اسپینوزا گرفت آن بود که اگر ذهن جدا از بدن است پس چگونه به دست من فرمان حرکت میدهد؟ در اصل اندیشه ریشه در کارکرد فیزیکی مغز انسان دارد که در زمان دکارت مثل اکنون منشأ فیزیک مغز یک راز بود. این مسئلهای که دکارت مطرح کرد در اصل مشابه آن افلاطون و در اسلام به صورت من ثابت مطرح شده بود. او معتقد بود من ثابت در اسلام که مسلمانان و فلاسفهٔ اسلامی فکر میکنند استدلال محکمی است در اصل ناشی از جهل علمی آن هاست. ریشه من ثابت روح متافیزیکی نیست بلکه مغز انسان است که از طریق فیزیکی میتواند پاسخ گوی کامل باشد. گرچه اسپینوزا در یکی از نامههایش ذهن را صرفاً از نظر فلسفی جدا از ماده میدانست ولی نمیگفت در واقعیت همچنین چیزی واقعیت دارد و بلکه بر یگانه انگاری تأکید میکرد.
اسپینوزا، خدا و ادیان[ویرایش]
خدا برای اسپینوزا، خدایی آن جهانی نیست که جهان را از نیستی آفریده باشد. جهان ناآفریدهاست. نه آغازی داشته و نه پایانی برای آن در نظر گرفته شده. جهان برای اسپینوزا، خدای جاودانی و به عبارت دیگر صورت پدیداری الوهیت است. برای وی، خدا و طبیعت و جوهر این همانند. این، عالیترین مفهوم متافیزیک اسپینوزاست.
در اصل و به طور خلاصه که از زبان اسپینوزا بیان شده جهان صحنه خیمهشببازی نیست و خدا خیمهشب باز آن که آن را کنترل کند، خود از طریق معجزه قوانین طبیعت را نقض کند و زیر پا بگذارد و در صورت لزوم دوباره آن را به کار گیرد!خدا همان طبیعت است که در برگیرنده تمام علتها و جوهر هاست. از اینرو اسپینوزا تا حدی شبیه تفکر شرقی فکر میکند که بیجهت نیست زیرا خود از فلسفه هندی تا حدی وام گرفته است. او بعضی از آثار هندی را مطالعه میکرد.
فلسفه اسپینوزا سرشار و اشباع شده از خداست.اودر جایی میگوید: من خواهان عشق عقلانی به خدا هستم. از اینرو نگاه اسپینوزا یک جهانبینی علمی بسیار متعالی و زیباست به حدی که انشتین را مجذوب خود میکند. انشتین یک دانشمند و متفکر همه خدایی و یک اسپینوزایی بود.
با آنکه نوابغی چون آلبرت انیشتین و جورج الیوت، نظرات اسپینوزا را ستودهاند و انیشتین در نامهای نوشته که تنها به "خدای اسپینوزا "باور دارد، اما نظام فلسفی اسپینوزا هم در معرض نقدهای جدی قرار دارد. از جمله اینکه وی اساس فلسفه خود را بر این اصل استوار کرده که " ممکن نیست دو جوهر نامتناهی و ناکرانمند همزمان وجود داشته باشند". و بنابر آن نتیجه میگیرد که پس جهان و خدا یکی هستند. این اصل که تنها یک اصل ریاضی است، تنها در ریاضی و آن هم در هندسه دو بعدی مصداق دارد. به عبارت سادهتر اگر معلوم شود که فرض اولیه وی نادرست است، کل سیستم نظام فلسفی او فرو خواهد ریخت. و حال آنکه در هندسه امروزی امکان وجود دو و یا چند بینهایت همزمان وجود دارد (به عنوان مثال میتوان دو صفحه موازی را فرض کرد که گسترهٔ هر دوی آنها تا بینهایت ادامه دارد).
نقد دیگر این است که امتداد فلسفه او نهایتاً به ماتریالیسم ختم میشود، چرا که او خداوند را «جوهر ممتد» میداند، یعنی صفت مادی برای خدا قائل شده؛ لذا نتیجه ساده این میشود که هرچه هست ماده است و غیر آن نیست. اسپینوزا وقتی با خشم خداباوران مواجه شد سعی در اصلاح و توجیه سخن خود کرد و اصطلاح «حالت» را ابداع کرد و امتداد را یک حالت و نه صفت)attribute) خواند. حتی فلاسفه مارکسیست نیز معتقدند که فلسفه اسپینوزا سرانجام از ماتریالیسم مطلق سر درمیآورد.
اسپینوزا میگوید :" جهان ناآفریده است". یعنی از روز ازل همین بوده که هست. حال که نظریهٔ Big Bang مورد توافق قاطبهٔ دانشمندان عالم قرار گرفته، قوام نظام فلسفی او کاهش یافته است. از طرفی خدای اسپینوزا به انسان بی اعتناست و نه او را پاداش میدهد و نه مجازاتی در کار خواهد بود، اسپینوزا به معاد اعتقادی ندارد؛ و این عدالت الهی را زیر سؤال میبرد؛ و بدین گونه خدا تبدیل به تودهٔ عظیم مادی غول پیکر ولی منفعلی میشود. او میگوید جهان غایتی ندارد. با فرض درستی نظر او، زندگی انسان و کل فلسفه خلقت (اگر خلقتی در کار باشد) پوچ و بی معناست؛ لذا نتیجه اخلاقی فلسفه او نهیلیسم و آنارشیسم است. محسن جهانگیری در کتاب "اسپینوزا فیلسوف جاودانه " مینویسد که شاید دست تقدیر باعث شد تا اسپینوزا خالق نظام فلسفی باشد که سازگارترین فلسفه با علم است. یک فرض دیگر هم ممکن است و آن اینکه او خودآگاه یا ناخودآگاه، در عصر شکوفایی علوم تجربی تلاش کرد تا نظام فلسفی را بسازد که مورد توجه عالمان و دانشمندان طبیعی واقع شود.
۱. رساله دفاعیه: بعد از تکفیر وبه زبان اسپانیایی نوشت ولی متأسفانه مفقود شد و در دسترس نیست.
۲. رساله مختصره: اولین کار فلسفی او که در دسترس است. به فارسی ترجمه نشده است.
۳. رساله در باب اصلاح فاهمه یا بهبود عقل: رسالهای ناتمام.
۴. شرح اصول فلسفهٔ دکارت: یکی از آثار مهم که به روش هندسی در سال ۱۶۶۳ منتشر شد. دکتر میر آن را ترجمه کرده است.
۵. رساله الهی سیاسی (به انگلیسی:Theologico-Political Treatise، به لاتین:Tractatus Theologico-Politicus): بسیار بسیار اثر مهم و تأثیرگذار بر روشنفکران بعد. موضوع کتاب نقادی کتاب مقدس است و بسیار جنجالبرانگیز بوده و هست. بدون نام منتشر شد. جزو کتابهای ممنوعهٔ زمان خود بود.
از مطالب ترجمه شده این کتاب:
ترس خرافه را میپروراند. اشخاص ضعیف و حریص از روی بد بختی از عبادت استفاده میکنند و اشکهای زنانه میریزند تا از خداوند درخواست کمک کنند. تجمل و تشریفات دردین قرار داده شدهاند تا ذهن انسان را با تعصبات مسدود کنند و برای عقل جایی نمیماند که حتی اندکی شک کند. فراموش نکنید که عقل بازیچه الهیات نیست.
او دین را دستمال رازهای مضحک مینامد که اشخاصی را به خود جلب میکند که عقل را تحقیر میکنند. او در مقابل این پرسش که یهودیان قوم برگزیده خداوند هستند، میگوید:این اعتقاد بی معناست. هرکس با خواندن صادقانه قوانین موسی متوجه میشود خداوند فقط با انتخاب سرزمینی کوچک که در آن در صلح و صفا زندگی کنند به آنان عنایت داشتهاند.
او در مقابل این پرسش که متون مقدس کلام خداند هستند، مینویسد: کتاب مقدس صرفاً شامل حقیقت روحانی-یعنی تمرین عدالت و نیکوکاری-است، نه حقایق زمینی و نیز اصرار میکنند همه کسانی که قوانین دنیوی را (مثلاً در جایی او قوانین سختگیرانه استنتاج شده حکومتی یا اجتماعی یهودیت از تورات را زیر سؤال میبرد و میگوید اینها استعاره هستند) در کتاب مقدس پیدا میکنند یا در اشتباهاند یا خودخواه. مثلاً او رفتار خیلیها را که سعی میکنند قوانین علمی را از کتب مقدس پیدا کنند، اشتباه میداند. انشتین نیز به عنوان کسی که بارها در مقابل این تفسیرهای علمی-دینی قرار گرفته میگوید: متن علمی نهایی استنتاج شده در نهایت به همه چیز شباهت دارد غیر از کتاب مقدسی که از آن استنتاج شده! در اصل اینها جهتداری شدهاند)
او مقدمه را با یک اخطار به پایان میرساند: من از بسیای از افراد میخواهم کتاب مرا نخوانند: توده بیسواد و خرافاتی که فکر میکنند که عقل چیزی جز بازیچه الهیات نیست، از این کتاب چیزی نمیفهمند. درواقع شاید ایمانشان آشفته گردد.(با این حساب او نیز مانند گالیله، علم را سکولار میکنند) این کتاب که شهرت جهانی دارد تا کنون کامل به فارسی ترجمه نشده است. توضیحات کاملتر سیاسی مطرح شده را در مقاله تخصصی رساله الهی سیاسی (اسپینوزا) ببینید.
۶. نامهها: شامل ۸۴ نامه.
۷. رساله سیاست: ناتمام.
گوته :ذهنی که بر من تأثیر گذاشته ذهن اسپینوزا بوده است و...(بقیه در کتاب مسئله اسپینوزا ص۶۲ بخوانید)
پیوند به بیرون[ویرایش]
کلیپی به فارسی دربارهٔ اسپینوزا:
(میتوانید سایر فلاسفه هارا هم از این مجموعه ببینید)
کلیپی که به روابط فکری اسپینوزا و انشتین میپردازد (پیشنهاد میکنم حتماً ببینید):
"Spinoza" redirects here. For other uses, see Spinoza (disambiguation).
Baruch Spinoza (/ /; Dutch: [baːˈrux spɪˈnoːzaː]; born Benedito de Espinosa, Portuguese: [bɨnɨˈðitu ðɨ ʃpiˈnɔzɐ]; 24 November 1632 – 21 February 1677, later Benedict de Spinoza) was a Dutch philosopher of Sephardi/Portuguese origin. By laying the groundwork for the 18th-century Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism, including modern conceptions of the self and the universe, he came to be considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy.
Spinoza's magnum opus, the posthumous Ethics, in which he opposed Descartes' mind–body dualism, has earned him recognition as one of Western philosophy's most important thinkers. 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." Hegel said, "You are either a Spinozist or not a philosopher at all." His philosophical accomplishments and moral character prompted 20th-century philosopher Gilles Deleuze to name him "the 'prince' of philosophers".
Spinoza's given name varies among different languages: Hebrew: ברוך שפינוזה Baruch Spinoza, Portuguese: Benedito or Bento de Espinosa and Latin: Benedictus de Spinoza; in all these languages, the given name or its etymology means "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 an outwardly simple life as a lens grinder, turning down rewards and honours throughout his life, including prestigious teaching positions. He 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. He is buried in the churchyard of the Christian Nieuwe Kerk in The Hague.
Family and community origins
Spinoza's ancestors were of Sephardic Jewish descent and were a part of the community of Portuguese Jews that had settled in the city of Amsterdam in the wake of the Portuguese Inquisition (1536), which had resulted in 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 proud of their identity.
The Spinoza family ("de Espinosa" or "Espinosa" in Portuguese and in Spanish; it could also be spelled as "de Espinoza" or "Espinoza" in both languages) probably had its origins in Espinosa de los Monteros, near Burgos, or in Espinosa de Cerrato, near Palencia, both in Northern Castile, Spain. The family was expelled from Spain in 1492 and fled to Portugal. Portugal compelled them to convert 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 resumed the practice of Judaism. Miguel was a successful merchant and became a warden of the synagogue and of the Amsterdam Jewish school. He buried three wives and three of his six children died before reaching adulthood.
Amsterdam and Rotterdam operated as important cosmopolitan centres where merchant ships from many parts of the world brought people of various customs and beliefs. This flourishing commercial activity encouraged a culture relatively tolerant of the play of new ideas, sheltered from the censorious hand of ecclesiastical authority. Not by chance were the philosophical works of both Descartes and Spinoza developed in the cultural and intellectual background of the Dutch Republic in the 17th century. Spinoza may have had access to a circle of friends who were unconventional in terms of social tradition, including members of the Collegiants. One of the people he knew was Niels Stensen, a brilliant Danish student in Leiden; others included Albert Burgh, with whom Spinoza is known to have corresponded.
Benedito de Espinoza 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 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 Portuguese, although he also knew Hebrew, Spanish, 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". 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 Francis 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, won his case, but then renounced his claim in her favour.
Spinoza adopted the Latin name Benedictus de Spinoza, began boarding with Van den Enden, and began teaching in his school. Following an anecdote in an early biography by Johannes Corelus, he is said to have fallen in love with his teacher's daughter, Clara, but she rejected him for a richer student. (This story has 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 when 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.
Spinoza's break with the prevailing dogmas of Judaism, and particularly the insistence on non-Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, was not sudden; rather, it appears to have been the result of a lengthy internal struggle: "If anyone thinks my criticism [regarding the authorship of the Bible] is of too sweeping a nature and lacking sufficient foundation, I would ask him to undertake to show us in these narratives a definite plan such as might legitimately be imitated by historians in their chronicles... If he succeeds, I shall at once admit defeat, and he will be my mighty Apollo. For I confess that all my efforts over a long period have resulted in no such discovery. Indeed, I may add that I write nothing here that is not the fruit of lengthy reflection; and although I have been educated from boyhood in the accepted beliefs concerning Scripture, I have felt bound in the end to embrace the views I here express."
Nevertheless, once branded as a heretic, Spinoza's clashes with authorities became more pronounced. For example, questioned by two members of his synagogue, Spinoza 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 and his younger brother Gabriel (Abraham). ran the family importing business. The business ran into serious financial difficulties, however, perhaps as a result of the First Anglo-Dutch War. 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 and so that he could inherit his mother's estate (which at first was incorporated into his father's estate) 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 chiefly to the study of philosophy, especially the system expounded by Descartes, and to optics.
Expulsion from the Jewish community
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 censure:
The Talmud Torah congregation issued censure routinely, on matters great and small, so such an edict was not unusual.
The language of Spinoza's censure is unusually harsh, however, and does not appear in any other censure known to have been issued by the Portuguese Jewish community in Amsterdam. The exact reason for expelling Spinoza is not stated. The censure refers only to the "abominable heresies that he practised 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 censure.
First, there were Spinoza's radical theological views that he was apparently expressing in public. As philosopher and Spinoza 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, the Amsterdam Jewish community was largely composed of former "conversos" who had fled from the Portuguese Inquisition within the previous century, with their children and grandchildren. This community 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 evidence that the Amsterdam municipal authorities were directly involved in Spinoza's censure 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." Other evidence makes it clear that the danger of upsetting the civil authorities was never far from mind, such as bans adopted by the synagogue on public wedding or funeral processions and on discussing religious matters with Christians, lest such activity might "disturb the liberty we enjoy." Thus, the issuance of Spinoza's censure was almost certainly, in part, an exercise in self-censorship by the Portuguese Jewish community in Amsterdam.
Third, it appears likely that Spinoza 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. He had also committed the "monstrous deed," contrary to the regulations of the synagogue and the views of some 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 censure, 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 censure issued routinely by the Amsterdam congregation to discipline its members, the censure issued against Spinoza did not lead to repentance and so was never withdrawn.
After the censure, Spinoza is said to have addressed an "Apology" (defence), 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. For example, he cited a series of cryptic statements by medieval biblical commentator Abraham ibn Ezra intimating that some apparently anachronistic passages of the Pentateuch (i.e., "[t]he Canaanite was then in the land," Genesis 12:6, which ibn Ezra called a "mystery" and exhorted those "who understand it keep silent") were not of Mosaic authorship as proof that his own views had valid historical precedent.
The most remarkable aspect of the censure 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.
In September 2012, the Portugees-Israëlietische Gemeente te Amsterdam asked the chief rabbi of their community Haham Pinchas Toledano to reconsider the cherem after consulting several Spinoza experts. However he declined to remove it, citing Spinoza's "preposterous ideas, where he was tearing apart the very fundamentals of our religion".
Later life and career
Spinoza spent his remaining 21 years writing and studying as a private scholar.
Spinoza believed in a "Philosophy of tolerance and benevolence" and actually lived the life which he preached. He was criticized and ridiculed during his life and afterwards for his alleged atheism. However, even those who were against him "had to admit he lived a saintly life". Besides the religious controversies, nobody really had much bad to say about Spinoza other than, "he sometimes enjoyed watching spiders chase flies".
After the cherem, the Amsterdam municipal authorities expelled Spinoza from Amsterdam, "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". 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 Descartes' "Principles of Philosophy" as well as on his masterpiece, the Ethics. In 1663, he returned briefly to Amsterdam, where he finished and published Descartes' "Principles of 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 throughout Europe. He also wrote and published his Theological Political Treatise in 1670, in defence 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 visited Spinoza and claimed that Spinoza's life was in danger when supporters of the Prince of Orange murdered de Witt in 1672. 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.
Lens-grinding and optics
Spinoza earned a modest living from lens-grinding and instrument making, yet he was involved in important optical investigations of the day while living in Voorburg, through correspondence and friendships with scientist Christiaan Huygens and mathematician Johannes Hudde, including debate over microscope design with Huygens, favouring small objectives and collaborating on calculations for a prospective 40 ft telescope which would have been one of the largest in Europe at the time. The quality of Spinoza's lenses was much praised by Christiaan Huygens, among others. In fact, his technique and instruments were so esteemed that Constantijn Huygens ground a "clear and bright" 42 ft. telescope lens in 1687 from one of Spinoza's grinding dishes, ten years after his death. The exact type of lenses that Spinoza made are not known, but very likely included lenses for both the microscope and telescope. He was said by anatomist Theodor Kerckring to have produced an "excellent" microscope, the quality of which was the foundation of Kerckring's anatomy claims. During his time as a lens and instrument maker, he was also supported by small but regular donations from close friends.
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 of the Bible (which he later destroyed).
Spinoza chose for his device the Latin word "caute" ("cautiously"), inscribed beneath a rose, itself a symbol of secrecy. "For, having chosen to write in a language that was so widely intelligible, he was compelled to hide what he had written."
In 1676, Spinoza met with Leibniz at The Hague for a discussion of his principal philosophical work, Ethics, which had been completed in 1676. This meeting was described in Matthew Stewart's The Courtier and the Heretic.
Spinoza's health began to fail in 1676, and he died on 20 February 1677 at the age of 44. His premature death was said to be due to lung illness, possibly silicosis as a result of breathing in glass dust from the lenses that he ground. Later, a shrine was made of his home in The Hague.
Textbooks and encyclopaedias 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." Reviewer M. Stuart Phelps noted, "No one has ever come nearer to the ideal life of the philosopher than Spinoza." Harold Bloom wrote: "As a teacher of reality, he practised 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." Bloom writes of Spinoza, "He appears to have had no sexual life." Spinoza also corresponded with Peter Serrarius, a radical Protestant and millennarian merchant. Serrarius was a patron to Spinoza after Spinoza left the Jewish community, and even had letters sent and received for the philosopher to and from third parties. Spinoza and Serrarius maintained their relationship until Serrarius' death in 1669. 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.
Writings and correspondence
The writings of René 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".
Spinoza engaged in correspondence from December 1664 to June 1665 with Willem van Blijenbergh, 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 his own manuscript "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 which he used to mark his letters and which was engraved with 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 modelled on Euclid's geometry and has been described as a "superbly cryptic masterwork."
Substance, attributes, and modes
Main article: Philosophy of Baruch Spinoza
Spinoza argued that God exists and is abstract and impersonal. Spinoza's view of God is what Charles Hartshorne describes as Classical Pantheism. Spinoza has also been described as an "Epicurean materialist," specifically in reference to his opposition to Cartesian mind-body dualism. This view was held by Epicureans before him, as they believed that atoms with their probabilistic paths were the only substance that existed fundamentally. Spinoza, however, deviated significantly from Epicureans by adhering to strict determinism, much like the Stoics before him, in contrast to the Epicurean belief in the probabilistic path of atoms, which is more in line with contemporary thought on quantum mechanics. Spinoza's system imparted order and unity to the tradition of radical thought, offering powerful weapons for prevailing against "received authority." 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 a single, fundamental 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. Spinoza's main contention with Cartesian mind–body dualism was that, if mind and body were truly distinct, then it is not clear how they can coordinate in any manner. Humans presume themselves to have free will, he argues, which is a result of their awareness of appetites that affect their minds, while being unable to understand the reasons why they want and act as they do.
Spinoza contends that "Deus sive Natura" 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 intertwined, causally related, and deriving from the same substance. It is important to note here that, in Parts 3 through 4 of the Ethics, Spinoza describes how the human mind is affected by both mental and physical factors. He directly contests dualism. The universal substance emanates both body and mind; while they are different attributes, there is no fundamental 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 in which God can make changes, but a God which itself is the deterministic system of which everything in nature is a part. Spinoza argues that "things could not have been produced by God in any other way or in any other order than is the case,"; he directly challenges a transcendental God which actively responds to events in the universe. Everything that has and will happen is a part of a long chain of cause and effect which, at a metaphysical level, humans are unable to change. No amount of prayer or ritual will sway God. Only knowledge of God, or the existence which humans inhabit, allows them to best respond to the world around them. Not only is it impossible for two infinite substances to exist (two infinities being absurd), God—being the ultimate substance—cannot be affected by anything else, or else it would be affected by something else, and not be the fundamental substance.
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. 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. This illusionary perception of freedom stems from our human consciousness, experience, and indifference to prior natural causes. Humans think they are free but they ″dream with their eyes open″. For Spinoza, our actions are guided entirely by natural impulses. 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."
This picture of Spinoza's determinism is ever more illuminated through reading this famous quote in Ethics: ″the infant believes that it is by free will that it seeks the breast; the angry boy believes that by free will he wishes vengeance; the timid man thinks it is with free will he seeks flight; the drunkard believes that by a free command of his mind he speaks the things which when sober he wishes he had left unsaid. … All believe that they speak by a free command of the mind, whilst, in truth, they have no power to restrain the impulse which they have to speak.″ Thus for Spinoza morality and ethical judgement like choice is predicated on an illusion. For Spinoza, ″Blame″ and ″Praise″ are non existent human ideals only fathomable in the mind because we are so acclimatized to human consciousness interlinking with our experience that we have a false ideal of choice predicated upon this.
Spinoza's philosophy has much in common with Stoicism inasmuch as both philosophies sought to fulfil 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.
Spinoza shared ethical beliefs with ancient Epicureans, in renouncing ethics beyond the material world, although Epicureans focused more on physical pleasure and Spinoza more on emotional wellbeing. 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 particularity. 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.
Main article: Ethics (Spinoza)
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, is inadequate for discovering truth. His concept of "conatus" states that human beings' natural inclination is to strive toward preserving an essential being, and asserts 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.
Also in the "Ethics", Spinoza discusses his beliefs about what he considers to be the three kinds of knowledge that come with perceptions. The first kind of knowledge he writes about is the knowledge of experiences. More precisely, this first type of knowledge can be known as the knowledge of things that could be “mutilated, confused, and without order.” Spinoza, Benedict (1677). The Ethics. pp. Books 1–5. Another explanation of what the first knowledge can be is that it is the knowledge of dangerous reasoning. Dangerous reason lacks any type of rationality, and causes the mind to be in a “passive” state. This type of “passive mind” that Spinoza writes about in the earlier books of The Ethics is a state of the mind in which adequate causes become passions. Spinoza’s second knowledge involves reasoning plus emotions. He explains that this knowledge is had by the rationality of any adequate causes that have to do with anything common to the human mind. An example of this could be anything that is classified as being of imperfect virtue. Imperfect virtues are seen as those which are incomplete. Many philosophers, such as Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle, would compare imperfect virtue to pagan virtue. Spinoza defines the third and final knowledge as the knowledge of God, which requires rationality and reason of the mind. In more detail, Spinoza uses this type of knowledge to join together the essence of God with the individual essence. This knowledge is also formed from any adequate causes that include perfect virtue. Spinoza, Benedict (1677). The Ethics. pp. Books 1–5.
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, foreshadow 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.
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.
History of reception
Pantheist, panentheist, or atheist?
Main article: Spinozism
See also: Pantheism controversy
It is a widespread belief that Spinoza equated God with the material universe. He has therefore been called the "prophet" and "prince" and most eminent expounder of pantheism. More specifically, in a letter to Henry Oldenburg he states, "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 (1883–1969), when Spinoza wrote in Deus sive Natura (Latin for 'God or Nature'), Spinoza meant God was natura naturans (nature doing what nature does; literally, 'nature naturing'), not natura naturata (nature already created; literally, 'nature natured'). 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 said, "no attribute of a substance can be truly conceived from which it follows that the substance can be divided", meaning that one cannot conceive an attribute in a way that leads to division of substance. He also said, "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, according to Jaspers, 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 (1891–1976) 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. However, American panentheist philosopher Charles Hartshorne (1897–2000) insisted on the term Classical Pantheism to describe Spinoza's view.
In 1785, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi published a condemnation of Spinoza's pantheism, after Gotthold 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:
By 1879, Spinoza’s pantheism was praised by many, but was considered by some to be alarming and dangerously inimical.
Spinoza's "God or Nature" (Deus sive Natura) provided a living, natural God, in contrast to Isaac Newton's first cause argument and the dead mechanism of Julien Offray de La Mettrie's (1709–1751) work, Man a Machine (L'homme 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.
According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Spinoza's God is an “infinite intellect”, (Ethics 2p11c) all knowing, (2p3) and capable of loving both himself—and us, insofar as we are part of his perfection. (5p35c) And if the mark of a personal being is that it is one towards which we can entertain personal attitudes, then we should note too that Spinoza recommends amor intellectualis dei (the intellectual love of God) as the supreme good for man. (5p33) However, the matter is complex. Spinoza's God does not have free will (1p32c1), he does not have purposes or intentions (1apendix), and Spinoza insists that “neither intellect nor will pertain to the nature of God” (1p17s1). Moreover, while we may love God, we need to remember that God is really not the kind of being who could ever love us back. “He who loves God cannot strive that God should love him in return,” says Spinoza (5p19).
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.
Comparison to Eastern philosophies
Similarities between Spinoza's philosophy and Eastern philosophical traditions have been discussed by many authors. 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
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 out-flowing results from the properties of these attributes, it is the Vedantic Deity pure and simple."
Spinoza's reception in the 20th century
Late 20th-century Europe demonstrated a greater philosophical interest in Spinoza, often from a left-wing or Marxist perspective. Karl Marx liked Spinoza's account of the universe, interpreting it as materialistic. Notable philosophers Louis Althusser, Gilles Deleuze, Antonio Negri and Étienne Balibar 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 Spinoza, 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. However, Nietzsche did never read Spinoza's works themselves, but took his information about Spinoza out of Kuno Fischer's History of Modern Philosophy.
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.
Spinoza's religious criticism and its effect on the philosophy of language
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 to 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 in literature, art, and popular culture
Spinoza has had influence beyond the confines of philosophy.