Spinoza's Jewishness

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Deckard
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 12:03 am
How important is Spinoza's Jewishness to his philosophy?

He left behind orthodox Judaism but could Spinozism be considered a sort of heretical Jewish sect?

I'm thinking not so important and not a heretical Jewish sect. Descartes was probably much more important to his philosophy than Judaism.

But then could we say that Spinozism was a Jewish version of Cartesianism?

Hopefully these questions are not considered to be a sort of mild antisemitism. It is only due to my ignorance of Judaism and for that matter Spinozism that I ask these questions.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 12:19 am
@Deckard,
Deckard;160726 wrote:
How important is Spinoza's Jewishness to his philosophy?

He left behind orthodox Judaism but could Spinozism be considered a sort of heretical Jewish sect?

I'm thinking not so important and not a heretical Jewish sect. Descartes was probably much more important to his philosophy than Judaism.

But then could we say that Spinozism was a Jewish version of Cartesianism?

Hopefully these questions are not considered to be a sort of mild antisemitism. It is only due to my ignorance of Judaism and for that matter Spinozism that I ask these questions.


For this question, you ought to read Harry Wolfson's monumental, Spinoza. It seems clear that Spinoza's conception of God as Nature (or whatever exists) is very much a product of the Hebrew theology as expressed in the "Schmai"*. The seminal Hebrew prayer that ends in, the declaration that Adonoi Echod. The Lord (our God) is One.


I don't see any connection between Judaism and Cartesianism. What do you mean?

There is no suggestion of anti-Semitism in your questions (mild or strong) so far as I can tell. Why should there be? And why worry about it? Honi soit qui mal y pense. (The Motto of the Order of the Knights of the Garter. "Evil (Shame) to him who thinks evil").

*The prayer is called, "the Schmai" because it begins, with "Schmai Yisroale". Hear, O Israel.(The Lord, Our God, is One).
 
Pepijn Sweep
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 12:56 am
@kennethamy,
I think the fact he lived in Amsterdam is also Important Immigrant
Liberal, rich city-Republic
*
Pepijn
 
Deckard
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 02:52 am
@Pepijn Sweep,
kennethamy;160731 wrote:
For this question, you ought to read Harry Wolfson's monumental, Spinoza. It seems clear that Spinoza's conception of God as Nature (or whatever exists) is very much a product of the Hebrew theology as expressed in the "Schmai"*. The seminal Hebrew prayer that ends in, the declaration that Adonoi Echod. The Lord (our God) is One.

*The prayer is called, "the Schmai" because it begins, with "Schmai Yisroale". Hear, O Israel.(The Lord, Our God, is One).


Monism does seem to follow in some round about way from monotheism perhaps by way of Parmenides? I did a little searching but can you say a little more about how the Shema prayer relates to this or do I have to read the book? How do we get from "God is One" to "God is One Substance" ? Does the Shema prayer really imply that God is Everything/Nature and Everything/Nature is God?

Quote:
I don't see any connection between Judaism and Cartesianism. What do you mean?


I asked if Spinozism could be considered a Jewish version of Cartesianism. Spinoza as the Jewish version of Descartes. But after thinking a few seconds longer about my question I realize that it is clearly incorrect as it suggests that Spinoza's work is somehow merely derivative of Descartes and anyone who has even glanced at Ethics will know this is far from the case. Nevertheless, Descartes did precede Spinoza and Spinozism would not have been Spinozism without Cartesianism.

With all this talk about Spinoza's influences I think it is important that I recognize Spinoza as an individual personality. Judaism and Cartesianism heavily influenced Spinoza but there is also the individual person Spinoza. A strong individual personality is not only more than the sum of its parts but also a part independent of its influences.

Pepijn Sweep;160735 wrote:
I think the fact he lived in Amsterdam is also Important Immigrant
Liberal, rich city-Republic
*
Pepijn


Yeah, I have to give Amsterdam its props. I always remember that New York used to be New Amsterdam. Amsterdam was a major player on the historical scene back in the day and perhaps it will be again someday.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 02:54 am
@Deckard,
Spinoza is often considered the philosophical forbear of the first truly secular philosophy. As such, I think he made a conscious effort to divest himself of his inherited religious outlook, as far as the development of his philosophy goes. He did not object to religion per se, and recognised its beneficial effects for those who practised it sincerely. But I think his philosophical attitude was, as I say, very deliberately distanced from the faith of his ancestors. Surely that is one of the reasons why he was excommunicated. (A good read is The Courtier and the Heretic, by Matthew Stewart, an account of the relationship between Liebniz and Spinoza.)
 
Deckard
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 03:10 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;160744 wrote:
Spinoza is often considered the philosophical forbear of the first truly secular philosophy. As such, I think he made a conscious effort to divest himself of his inherited religious outlook, as far as the development of his philosophy goes. He did not object to religion per se, and recognised its beneficial effects for those who practised it sincerely. But I think his philosophical attitude was, as I say, very deliberately distanced from the faith of his ancestors. Surely that is one of the reasons why he was excommunicated. (A good read is The Courtier and the Heretic, by Matthew Stewart, an account of the relationship between Liebniz and Spinoza.)

I actually read that book. I got a strong impression of Leibnitz's personality from it than I did of Spinoza. Spinoza remained mysterious - an excommunicated exile in an Amsterdam attic. Stewart made Spinoza seem so humble that I am still not sure why Leibniz bothered to make the trip. I've looked at Spinoza's Ethics a few times tonight. It is of course full of statements about "God". The statements about "God" makes me want to disqualify Ethics as a secular work. Yet, my quotes around the word "God" are meant to indicate that Spinoza was using this word/concept in a special way...possibly a secular way! That is maybe the crux of the matter is it not! Is there such a thing as a secular "God"? Is pantheism a secular religion - is the term "secular religion" an oxymoron? I think that it is oxymoronic. At most pantheism is a transitional stage between the religious and the secular though perhaps it is really just another religion. Perhaps that is exactly what you meant by saying that "Spinoza is often considered the philosophical forbear of the first truly secular philosophy". But to call Spinoza a "forebear" of the first truly secular philosophy is not necessarily to say that he aimed at or intended that secular philosophy. Would Spinoza have thought that the truly secular was going to far? Well there were many who called him an atheist back then but were they right and would be right in calling him one now? Is God just a word?
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 03:27 am
@Deckard,
According to religious orthodoxy, pantheism of Spinoza's variety is at least as bad as, and probably worse than, outright atheism. Spinoza's 'God or Nature' was completely divorced from the scriptures and the sacred lore of the religious traditions. I like Russell's comment on him
Quote:
..the noblest and most lovable of the great philosophers...ethically he is supreme. As a consequence, he was considered, during his lifetime and for a century afterwards, a man of appalling wickedness
(HWP, Ch10)

There is a considerable difference between the God of philosophers such as Spinoza and the officially sanctioned objects of worship. I suspect this is why he was regarded with such horror by his contemporaries. But in an irreligious age like ours, the distinction is altogether lost, I suspect.

Interestingly, R M Bucke includes Spinoza as an exemplar of those possessing cosmic consciousness in his book of that name.
 
Pepijn Sweep
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 04:02 am
@jeeprs,
We are working on it. Anne Frank> Adonis Echoot Boom, Boom Chigago Dam RABOBANK >ps & Co

---------- Post added 05-06-2010 at 03:04 AM ----------

2000 Canadians

Jewish Historisch Museum
:bigsmile:Enjoy AMS
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 05:58 am
@Pepijn Sweep,
Pepijn Sweep;160735 wrote:
I think the fact he lived in Amsterdam is also Important Immigrant
Liberal, rich city-Republic
*
Pepijn


He wasn't an immigrant. His family had been there for a while. They did come from Spain, but that was a long while ago.

---------- Post added 05-06-2010 at 08:23 AM ----------

jeeprs;160744 wrote:
Spinoza is often considered the philosophical forbear of the first truly secular philosophy. As such, I think he made a conscious effort to divest himself of his inherited religious outlook, as far as the development of his philosophy goes. He did not object to religion per se, and recognised its beneficial effects for those who practised it sincerely. But I think his philosophical attitude was, as I say, very deliberately distanced from the faith of his ancestors. Surely that is one of the reasons why he was excommunicated. (A good read is The Courtier and the Heretic, by Matthew Stewart, an account of the relationship between Liebniz and Spinoza.)


I have read that book. In fact, I think I own it. It is very good. I think Spinoza was not at all happy with religion. His Tractatus Theologico-Politicus amply shows that. In fact, his attack on religion is devastating. And, for those who identify belief in God with religion, his excommunication was justified. You must know that Spinoza's statue in Amsterdam is inscribed with a quote from the great German poet, Heinrich Heine, "Der Gott vertrunkener Mensch" ("The man drowned in God"). But not drowned in religion.
 
Pepijn Sweep
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 06:40 am
@kennethamy,
I was using it to demonstrate the possibilities of Immigrants in those days. His father was born in Portugal, but his grandfather near Burgos. Nowadays we speak about 2nd generation immigrants. Guess we still practize Apartheid, in liberal Holland...
 
Deckard
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 12:30 pm
@Pepijn Sweep,
Spinoza's definition of "God".

Quote:
Definition VI. By God, I mean a being absolutely infinite--that is, a substance consisting in infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality.
Explanation.--I say absolutely infinite, not infinite after its kind: for, of a thing infinite only after its kind, infinite attributes may be denied; but that which is absolutely infinite, contains in its essence whatever expresses reality, and involves no negation.
Is "God" really the best word for this substance?
I think it may be but I think this makes Definition VI a religious statement something to be thought of as part of a creed or statement of faith.
How does this definition of God square with an Orthodox Jewish definition of God is stating a definition like Spinoza did even allowed in Orthodox Judaism? Anyone know?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 12:43 pm
@Deckard,
Deckard;160874 wrote:
Spinoza's definition of "God".



Is "God" really the best word for this?


By what criterion? Spinoza was attempting to construct a new language for talking about God, for he thought that the traditional language of religion and theology embodied anthropomorphism and superstition. He was trying to do for theology what Galileo had done for physics. Expunged the teleological language of Aristotle and the medievals . Spinoza was trying to create a philosophical revolution just as he believed Galileo has instituted a scientific revolution. He was attempting, in fact, to make philosophy catch up with science.

A fine little book that explains this elegantly is, Spinoza, by the late, Stuart Hampshire.
 
No Robots
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 01:20 pm
@kennethamy,
Constantin Brunner argued for the close connection between Spinoza and Judaism:

[INDENT]Jahveh ehad, cried Moses: "Hear O Israel, Being is our God, Being is One" (Deut. 6:4).

Yet this quotation provides precisely the historically monstrous example of how Israel hears and how the truth is straightway transformed into superstition in Israel's ears. For this magnificent saying is at once a hymn of exultation and a wrathful protest against idol worship of any kind; but despite this protest, it now signifies—in the conception of Israel, the Jewish, Christian and Muslim Israel—the well-enough known, imbecilically wrong translation: "Hear O Israel, the Lord our god is the only God!" (Brunner, Spinoza gegen Kant, page 43). Moses said that thou shalt not make unto thee any image of this Jahveh, no imagination of it, i.e., it is that which cannot be thought as things are thought, as if it had the same sort of being as things—I am that I am (Ex. 3:14)! Jahveh, Being, is the term for the wholly abstract spiritual; it has no relation to the relative world. By Jahveh, the wholly great is meant. It means the same thing as Spinoza does in his great—his absolutely great expression, Ens constans infinitis attributis (Absolute Being with infinite attributes.) And Jahveh Tsebaot, Jahveh of infinite powers, is nothing but the mystical expression of the same thing as is expressed philosophically by Ens constans infinitis attributis.--Our Christ / Constantin Brunner, p. 157-8.[/indent]
 
Deckard
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 09:57 pm
@Pepijn Sweep,
Here's another way to state the OP. Was Spinoza speaking to all of humanity or more to the Jews? I think it is obvious that he was speaking to all of humanity and that he meant his message to be accessible to all of humanity.

My worry is that there is some kind of hidden key to Spinoza to be found in Judaism. Like I won't really get the gist of Spinoza unless I have a better understanding of Judaism. I may take a look at those books you recommended ken but first I think I need to give the Ethics a slow read.

There is also the worry that focusing on the possible Judaic roots of Spinoza's message is a way of explaining away or undermining what he really had to say. The text on the surface may be more important than anything that lies beneath.

Is focusing on or looking for those possibly important Judaic roots a deconstruction of Spinoza's texts?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 10:17 pm
@Deckard,
Deckard;161103 wrote:
Here's another way to state the OP. Was Spinoza speaking to all of humanity or more to the Jews? I think it is obvious that he was speaking to all of humanity and that he meant his message to be accessible to all of humanity.

My worry is that there is some kind of hidden key to Spinoza to be found in Judaism. Like I won't really get the gist of Spinoza unless I have a better understanding of Judaism. I may take a look at those books you recommended ken but first I think I need to give the Ethics a slow read.

There is also the worry that focusing on the possible Judaic roots of Spinoza's message is a way of explaining away or undermining what he really had to say. The text on the surface may be more important than anything that lies beneath.

Is focusing on or looking for those possibly important Judaic roots a deconstruction of Spinoza's texts?


I don't, myself, understand that worry. The genetic fallacy is the fallacy of thinking that it follows that because a view has a particular genesis, that the view loses its validity. Freud, for example was accused of the genetic fallacy because he seemed to argue that since he could explain the secular genesis of the the concept of God, he had somehow shown that God does not exist. Going from the sublime to the ridiculous, Hitler, Goebbels, and the other Nazi's argued that because relativity theory was "Jewish science" and therefore the science of inferiors, it was wrong. Your worry seems also to be a manifestation of the genetic fallacy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_fallacy
 
Deckard
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 11:34 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;161107 wrote:
I don't, myself, understand that worry. The genetic fallacy is the fallacy of thinking that it follows that because a view has a particular genesis, that the view loses its validity. Freud, for example was accused of the genetic fallacy because he seemed to argue that since he could explain the secular genesis of the the concept of God, he had somehow shown that God does not exist. Going from the sublime to the ridiculous, Hitler, Goebbels, and the other Nazi's argued that because relativity theory was "Jewish science" and therefore the science of inferiors, it was wrong. Your worry seems also to be a manifestation of the genetic fallacy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_fallacy

My worries may be a form of genetic fallacy. I'm certainly glad you mentioned it. However, I was not necessarily trying to invalidate or undermine Spinoza's work but rather looking for a key to a deeper understanding of it. But looking for such keys, or expecting that they exist, may be some variation on the genetic fallacy.

I expect that the accusation of genetic fallacy has been leveled against Derrida's method of deconstruction.

Descartes and the empiricists walk us through their thought processes and dispel the mystery as we read. They tell us how they got to those ideas.

But Spinoza's Ethics is different. Spinoza starts with definitions as Euclid did. But Euclids definitions are more self-evident (ignoring other geometries for the moment) than Spinoza's are. And since Spinoza's definitions are not self-evident, it is not a genetic fallacy to say: "Where did he get those definitions from?"

Quote:
Definition VI. By God, I mean a being absolutely infinite--that is, a substance consisting in infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality.
This does not seem self-evident to me. If he used the word such as "Being" instead of "God" I might have an easier time with it. Is "God" really the best word? For that matter, is "Being" any better?
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 11:49 pm
@Deckard,
actually I do understand your plight there. I could never understand what Spinoza means by 'substance'. If it is supposed to be 'that out of which everything else is formed' then it makes no sense whatever to me. Any comments on that Kennethamy?

"Being" I find a little easier to understand because it has the connotation of 'interiority'...hard to explain I guess....
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 7 May, 2010 06:31 am
@Deckard,
Deckard;161121 wrote:

But Spinoza's Ethics is different. Spinoza starts with definitions as Euclid did. But Euclids definitions are more self-evident (ignoring other geometries for the moment) than Spinoza's are. And since Spinoza's definitions are not self-evident, it is not a genetic fallacy to say: "Where did he get those definitions from?"

This does not seem self-evident to me. If he used the word such as "Being" instead of "God" I might have an easier time with it. Is "God" really the best word? For that matter, is "Being" any better?


It is a genetic fallacy only if the genesis (origin) of a view is supposed to show something about the correctness of that view. That a murderer tells us that the Sun is shining in no way undermines the truth of the statement, the Sun is shining. The Sun may still be shining even if a murderer says so. Indeed, even if a congenital liar says so. Although, in this second case, we would want to check into whether it is true that the Sun is shining more closely, and not want to take the congenital liar's word for it.

But if you mean by, where did Spinoza get the definitions from, rhetorically to ask, what justifies those definitions, that question does not commit the genetic fallacy. It is certainly a legitimate question. The brief answer is that Spinoza's view of definition is not the modern view that definitions are nominal (the technical term is) but rather that they are real definitions. This is too long a story to go into here, but roughly, what that distinction between nominal and real definitions comes to is that a nominal definition is a definition of terms, words. But a real definition is (supposed to be) a definition of things. This issue of whether things, rather than words can be defined is controversial, and is not (as I said) on the track of recent thought. The received view is that only words can be defined, not things. (Although, the philosopher, Saul Kripke, seems to be questioning that view). Anyway, Spinoza believed that his definitions were real definitions, and that he was not "merely" (or at all) defining the term, "God" but rather, God. And to the question, how would Spinoza (or anyone) for that matter know whether his definition of God (not of "God: mind you) was the true definition, Spinoza's answer would have been, intellectual intuition, for like all Rationalists (Plato, for a prime instance, Descartes, for another) Spinoza held that we (human beings, or at least some human being) have the faculty of intellectual intuition that bypasses empirical knowledge, and which gives us a true insight into Reality. This is not, of course, a view accepted by Empiricists, who deny that anyone has such a faculty as intellectual intuition. But that, of course, is another long story.

But I hope I have given you at least a rough answer to your question, how does Spinoza justify the definitions he starts with in his Ethics?
 
No Robots
 
Reply Fri 7 May, 2010 09:17 am
@Deckard,
Deckard;161103 wrote:
Here's another way to state the OP. Was Spinoza speaking to all of humanity or more to the Jews? I think it is obvious that he was speaking to all of humanity and that he meant his message to be accessible to all of humanity.


Spinoza wrote for a specific audience, namely, the philosophically minded. He specifically did not want a mass readership:

[INDENT]I am aware that in the mind of the masses superstition is no less deeply rooted than fear; I recognize that their constancy is mere obstinacy, and that they are led to praise or blame by impulse rather than reason. Therefore the multitude, and those of like passions with the multitude, I ask not to read my book; nay, I would rather that they should utterly neglect it, than that they should misinterpret it after their wont.--Theological-Political Treatise, Preface[/INDENT]

Quote:
My worry is that there is some kind of hidden key to Spinoza to be found in Judaism. Like I won't really get the gist of Spinoza unless I have a better understanding of Judaism. I may take a look at those books you recommended ken but first I think I need to give the Ethics a slow read.


What is required to understand Spinoza is an analysis that includes a sound understanding of Judaism. This is what Brunner provides.
 
 

 
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