Benedictus de Spinoza
A philosopher's philosopher.
The monarchs of Spain (1492) and Portugal (1497) required all Jews living in their dominions to adopt the Cristion religion. Many accepted baptism, but at enormous risk continued to prctise Judaism secretly. Holland was one of the only countries (in western Europe) allowing Jews to immigrate (nearing the beginning of the seventeenth century). Some of the, still practicing marranos
, as they were known, managed to make their way to Holland. Baruch de Spinoza
was born in Amsterdam in 1632 to Portugese marrano parents and died in 1677.
Showing signs of an extraordinary intellect, he was trained to be a rabbi, not only in the traditional Hebrew and Arabic, but also in Latin. In his early twenties, however, he expressed doubts about the immortality of the soul and the existence of angels. A denial of a bribe into silence (made by the Jewish authorities) lead to an excommunication. Because of this he changed his name into Benedictus de Spinoza. Making a life for himself, as many rabbicinal students did, by lens grinding he spent his time writing and conversing, after losing a trade ship in the business he inhereted from his uncle.
Spinoza's reputation brought him into contact with Cristiaan Huygens
, and Oldenburg, the secretary of the Royal Society
, with whom he carried on an extensive philosophical correspendence.
Spinoza published only two works before his death. When on his way to the printer to publish the Ethica
a romor was gaining currency that Spinoza was printing a book showing there is no God. Speeches were made before the prince and many theologians were abusing his opinions and writings. Spinoza decided to print nothing untill after his death, having the inquisition in mind.
The de Witt brothers (Johan de Witt
and Cornelis de Witt
) were among his friends, who were for years the liberal leaders of the Dutch government. When in 1672 they were lynched at The Hague Spinoza was locked in his room by his friends. Having, for once, lost his philosophical calm he wanted to run into the streets and denounce the murderers. His friends probably saved his life.
In his work 'Tractatus Theologico-Politicus
'(1) Spinoza describes his views on the organisation of human society. In many ways Spinoza's views correlate with those of Thomas HobbesJohn Milton
, Spinoza makes the first great plea for free speech; a novel position in its time. The subtitle of the treatise is: 'Containing Certain Discussions Where is Set Forth that Freedom of Thought and Speech not only May, without Prejudice to Piety and the Public Peace, be Granted; but Also May Not, without Danger to Piety and the Public Peace, be Withheld'
. Spinoza concedes the right of government to regulate speech; he argues only that it is foolish and unprofitable to make the attempt. In the nature of things it is impossible for us to abdicate our natural right to judge, each of us, of truth and falsity, right and wrong. The state can only punish us for expressing our views. But doing so will be subverting its own end:
No, the object of government is not to change men from rational beings into beasts or puppets, but to enable them to develop their minds and bodies in security, and to employ their reason unshackled; neither showing hatred, anger, or deciet, nor watched with the eyes of jealousy and injustice. In fact, the true aim of government is liberty.
The second major difference is that Spinoza considered democracy to be the 'most natural' and best form of government. Thomas Hobbes was a supporter of the British monarchy, as described in his Leviathanare
the laws of God. Everything occurs necessarily as it follows from the divine nature. Miracles would, looking at it from that point of view, render the existence of God doubtfull. By these thoughts David Hume
's thoughts on miracles, as described in 'An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
', were greatly influenced.
The aim of philosophy; understanding
Like the stoics
Spinoza used his philosophy to attain a certein peace of mind that could not be disturbed by external circumstance. In his work Tractatus de intellectus emendatione
Spinoza describes his method for deducing truthfull thoughts from fictive ideas, untruthfull ideas and doubtfull ideas. In a way he basis himself on Descartes
' work 'Discourse on the Method
'. Spinoza argues that humans compare one thought with other thoughts to deduce their truthfullness, showing his rationalism
. This offcourse does not help untill one can say that at least one thing is true without a doubt. From there one can decide on the truthfullness of thoughts(2). This way of determining truth has lead to logical positivism
, an important supporter of which was Ludwig Wittgenstein
are known as the three great (continental
; traditionally set out against the three great (British) empiricists Locke
he explains what emotions are. Spinoza argues that there are three affects which are both physical and mental at the same time: lust, unlust and desire. These can be influenced by outside or inside sources (passions or actions). In a strict sense only God is 'free', but in living by living lies freedom for humanity. By doing 'good' and rejoicing over this (bene agere et laetari) one lives by reason and allows reason to exist.
The power of the mind consists in knowledge. The increasing knowledge of nature leads to (joy+thought of object=) love. Love and knowledge equals a rational love for God (amor dei intellectualis). This brings a knowledge of a third sort: beholding, which in turn brings happiness; peace of mind. In that sense virtue is its own reward.
ca. 1660. Korte Verhandeling van God, de mensch en deszelvs welstand (Short Treatise on God, Man and His Well-Being).
1662. Tractatus de intellectus emendatione (On the Improvement of the Understanding).
1663. Principia philosophiae cartesianae (Principles of Cartesian Philosophy, translated by Samuel Shirley, with an Introduction and Notes by Steven Barbone and Lee Rice, Indianapolis, 1998).
1670. Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (A Theologico-Political Treatise).
1675/76 Tractatus Politicus (Unfinished)
1677. Ethica Ordine Geometrico Demonstrata
1677. Hebrew Grammar.
(1) Ludwig wittgenstein
referred to this work when deciding the name for his 'Tractatus Philosophico Logicus
(2) The difference between thoughts and truthfull thoughts is a clear reference to Plato
A New History of Philosophy: From Descartes to Rawls - Wallace I matson
Tractatus de intellectus emendatione
Ethica Ordine Geometrico Demonstrata