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Description Details Customer Reviews The 17th-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza was expelled from the Jewish community of Amsterdam at the age of 24 for "horrendous heresies" and was eventually reviled by all religious authorities for claiming that humans were parts of a unified nature, that God was identical with nature, and that reason, not revelation, supplied the truth of God. Review This Product No reviews yet - be the first to create one!

Subscribe to our newsletter Some error text Name. Email address subscribed successfully. A activation email has been sent to you. As Kisner rightly points out, reason seems incapable of supplying any specific guidance:. Consequently, deliberation at this level [i. The problem is endemic to Spinoza's very conception of reason, which cannot apprehend particulars and so cannot make circumstance-specific, or person-specific, determinations To show how practical deliberation can proceed despite the limitations of reason, Kisner helpfully distinguishes between the perspective of reason [PR], which issues only "general practical directives derived from adequate ideas" , and the practical perspective [PP], which includes "the deliberative processes by which we decide the particular course of action that best promotes our power" Practical deliberation depends crucially on inadequate ideas, to identify the circumstances in which one stands, and on the passions to supply "feedback for determining whether one has correctly implemented reason's guidance" The free man helps us to form a more concrete conception of the PR, without dictating how we imperfect, fallible, and largely passive beings should act.

Many have supposed that total impartiality is ethically problematic in part because it would force us to treat as morally irrelevant all personal relationships based on love, care, and friendship. Kisner seems to be sympathetic to this critique, taking to Bernard Williams' famous "one thought too many" example as illustrating "the proper role of partiality in moral deliberation: Fortunately, as Kisner sees it, because Spinoza's ethics remains rooted in self-interest, "the fact that one benefits from and loves his wife counts squarely as an ethical concern" Still, lest we accord too much ethical weight to special relations, Kisner is quick to point out that, on Spinoza's account, "we would be better people, in the sense of more powerful and happy, if we were impartial" I take it that Kisner's claim here is that while the best person i.

Here, as elsewhere, Kisner supplies a portrayal of Spinoza as a more moderate ethical philosopher than we are accustomed to. Indeed, one of the avowed main conclusions of the book is that "Spinoza's ethics is better equipped to account for traditional morality than has been appreciated" 5.

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Take, for instance, Kisner's account of moral responsibility in Chapter 3. Here Kisner maintains that, for Spinoza, freedom is not a necessary condition for moral responsibility, so causal determinism does not preclude moral responsibility. And since, on Spinoza's view, evil actions are the product of ignorance and impotence, assignments of blame are never appropriate.

While Kisner seems to shy away from this interpretation because it would "involve a fairly radical revision of much conventional morality" 66 , Spinoza's willingness to embrace counter-intuitive and unconventional claims is part of what makes him so interesting. A more formal way in which Kisner attempts to place Spinoza within mainstream moral philosophy is by putting his ethics in dialogue with Kant's see esp.

Twice Kisner notes that, on the issue of autonomy, despite evident and important differences, Spinoza is "far closer to Kant than one might think" ; cf.

Baruch Spinoza (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

And his account of Spinoza's contemporary relevance relies heavily on his claim that Spinoza "defends attractive Kantian intuitions about the ethical significance of autonomy. While I agree with Kisner's claim that "Spinoza's view [of freedom] is worthy of greater attention" 11 , I am not convinced that establishing Spinoza's place within the Schneewindian narrative is the most helpful way of appreciating why. We are essentially a part of nature, and can never fully remove ourselves from the causal series that link us to external things.

But we can, ultimately, counteract the passions, control them, and achieve a certain degree of relief from their turmoil. The path to restraining and moderating the affects is through virtue. Spinoza is a psychological and ethical egoist. All beings naturally seek their own advantage—to preserve their own being—and it is right for them do so. This is what virtue consists in. Since we are thinking beings, endowed with intelligence and reason, what is to our greatest advantage is knowledge. Our virtue, therefore, consists in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, of adequate ideas.

The best kind of knowledge is a purely intellectual intuition of the essences of things. They are apprehended, that is, in their conceptual and causal relationship to the universal essences thought and extension and the eternal laws of nature. But this is just to say that, ultimately, we strive for a knowledge of God. The concept of any body involves the concept of extension; and the concept of any idea or mind involves the concept of thought.

So the proper and adequate conception of any body or mind necessarily involves the concept or knowledge of God. What we see when we understand things through the third kind of knowledge, under the aspect of eternity and in relation to God, is the deterministic necessity of all things. We see that all bodies and their states follow necessarily from the essence of matter and the universal laws of physics; and we see that all ideas, including all the properties of minds, follow necessarily from the essence of thought and its universal laws.

This insight can only weaken the power that the passions have over us. We are no longer hopeful or fearful of what shall come to pass, and no longer anxious or despondent over our possessions.

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We regard all things with equanimity, and we are not inordinately and irrationally affected in different ways by past, present or future events. The result is self-control and a calmness of mind. Our affects or emotions themselves can be understood in this way, which further diminishes their power over us. The third kind of knowledge generates a love for its object, and in this love consists not joy, a passion, but blessedness itself. He takes care for the well-being and virtuous flourishing of other human beings.

He does what he can through rational benevolence as opposed to pity or some other passion to insure that they, too, achieve relief from the disturbances of the passions through understanding, and thus that they become more like him and therefore most useful to him. Moreover, the free person is not anxious about death. The free person neither hopes for any eternal, otherworldly rewards nor fears any eternal punishments. He knows that the soul is not immortal in any personal sense, but is endowed only with a certain kind of eternity.

This understanding of his place in the natural scheme of things brings to the free individual true peace of mind. Free human beings will be mutually beneficial and useful, and will be tolerant of the opinions and even the errors of others. However, human beings do not generally live under the guidance of reason. The state or sovereign, therefore, is required in order to insure—not by reason, but by the threat of force—that individuals are protected from the unrestrained pursuit of self-interest on the part of other individuals.

The ostensive aim of the Theological-Political Treatise TTP , widely vilified in its time, is to show that the freedom to philosophize can not only be granted without injury to piety and the peace of the Commonwealth, but that the peace of the Commonwealth and Piety are endangered by the suppression of this freedom.

Early life and career

He also defends, at least as a political ideal, the tolerant, secular, and democratic polity. A person guided by fear and hope, the main emotions in a life devoted to the pursuit of temporal advantages, turns, in the face of the vagaries of fortune, to behaviors calculated to secure the goods he desires. Thus, we pray, worship, make votive offerings, sacrifice and engage in all the various rituals of popular religion. But the emotions are as fleeting as the objects that occasion them, and thus the superstitions grounded in those emotions subject to fluctuations.

Ambitious and self-serving clergy do their best to stabilize this situation and give some permanence to those beliefs and behaviors. Only then will we be able to delimit exactly what we need to do to show proper respect for God and obtain blessedness. This will reduce the sway that religious authorities have over our emotional, intellectual and physical lives, and reinstate a proper and healthy relationship between the state and religion. A close analysis of the Bible is particularly important for any argument that the freedom of philosophizing—essentially, freedom of thought and speech—is not prejudicial to piety.

Thus, philosophy and religion, reason and faith, inhabit two distinct and exclusive spheres, and neither should tread in the domain of the other. The freedom to philosophize and speculate can therefore be granted without any harm to true religion. In fact, such freedom is essential to public peace and piety, since most civil disturbances arise from sectarian disputes. The real danger to the Republic comes from those who would worship not God, but some words on a page: From a proper and informed reading of Scripture, a number of things become clear.

First, the prophets were not men of exceptional intellectual talents—they were not, that is, naturally gifted philosophers—but simply very pious, even morally superior individuals endowed with vivid imaginations. This is what allowed them to apprehend that which lies beyond the boundary of the intellect. Moreover, the content of a prophecy varied according to the physical temperament, imaginative powers, and particular opinions or prejudices of the prophet.

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The prophets are not necessarily to be trusted when it comes to matters of the intellect, on questions of philosophy, history or science; and their pronouncements set no parameters on what should or should not be believed about the natural world on the basis of our rational faculties. The ancient Hebrews, in fact, did not surpass other nations in their wisdom or in their proximity to God. They were neither intellectually nor morally superior to other peoples.


God or Nature gave them a set of laws and they obeyed those laws, with the natural result that their society was well-ordered and their autonomous government persisted for a long time. Their election was thus a temporal and conditional one, and their kingdom is now long gone. True piety and blessedness are universal in their scope and accessible to anyone, regardless of their confessional creed.

The law of God commands only the knowledge and love of God and the actions required for attaining that condition. Such love must arise not from fear of possible penalties or hope for any rewards, but solely from the goodness of its object. The divine law does not demand any particular rites or ceremonies such as sacrifices or dietary restrictions or festival observances. The six hundred and thirteen precepts of the Torah have nothing to do with blessedness or virtue. They were directed only at the Hebrews so that they might govern themselves in an autonomous state.

The ceremonial laws helped preserve their kingdom and insure its prosperity, but were valid only as long as that political entity lasted. They are not binding on all Jews under all circumstances. They were, in fact, instituted by Moses for a purely practical reason: This is true not just of the rites and practices of Judaism, but of the outer ceremonies of all religions.

None of these activities have anything to do with true happiness or piety. A similar practical function is served by stories of miracles. Scripture speaks in a language suited to affect the imagination of ordinary people and compel their obedience. Rather than appealing to the natural and real causes of all events, its authors sometimes narrate things in a way calculated to move people—particularly uneducated people—to devotion. Every event, no matter how extraordinary, has a natural cause and explanation.

At the same time, he thereby reduces the fundamental doctrine of piety to a simple and universal formula, naturalistic in itself, involving love and knowledge. This process of naturalization achieves its stunning climax when Spinoza turns to consider the authorship and interpretation of the Bible itself. Others before Spinoza had suggested that Moses was not the author of the entire Pentateuch for example, Abraham ibn Ezra in the twelfth century and, in the seventeenth century, the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes.

But no one had taken that claim to the extreme limit that Spinoza did, arguing for it with such boldness and at such length. Nor had anyone before Spinoza been willing to draw from it the conclusions about the status, meaning and interpretation of Scripture that Spinoza drew. Spinoza denied that Moses wrote all, or even most of the Torah. Moses did, to be sure, compose some books of history and of law; and remnants of those long lost books can be found in the Pentateuch.

But the Torah as we have it, as well as as other books of the Hebrew Bible such as Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings were written neither by the individuals whose names they bear nor by any person appearing in them. Spinoza believes that these were, in fact, all composed by a single historian living many generations after the events narrated, and that this was most likely Ezra the Scribe.

It was the post-exilic leader who took the many writings that had come down to him and began weaving them into a single but not seamless narrative. Canonization into Scripture occurred only in the second century BCE, when the Pharisees selected a number of texts from a multitude of others.

While in there was nothing novel in claiming that Moses did not write all of the Torah. He was dismayed by the way in which Scripture itself was worshipped, by the reverence accorded to the words on the page rather than to the message they conveyed. If the Bible is an historical i.

The study of Scripture, or Biblical hermeneutics, should therefore proceed as the study of nature, or natural science proceeds: Just as the knowledge of nature must be sought from nature alone, so must the knowledge of Scripture—an apprehension of its intended meaning—be sought from Scripture alone and through the appropriate exercise of rational inquiry. When properly interpreted, the universal message conveyed by Scripture is a simple moral one: This is the real word of God and the foundation of true piety, and it lies uncorrupted in a faulty, tampered and corrupt text.

The lesson involves no metaphysical doctrines about God or nature, and requires no sophisticated training in philosophy. The object of Scripture is not to impart knowledge, but to compel obedience and regulate our conduct. Spinoza claims, in fact, that a familiarity with Scripture is not even necessary for piety and blessedness, since its message can be known by our rational faculties alone, although with great difficulty for most people.

By reducing the central message of Scripture—and the essential content of piety—to a simple moral maxim, one that is free of any superfluous speculative doctrines or ceremonial practices; and by freeing Scripture of the burden of having to communicate specific philosophical truths or of prescribing or proscribing a multitude of required behaviors, he has demonstrated both that philosophy is independent from religion and that the liberty of each individual to interpret religion as he wishes can be upheld without any detriment to piety. There had always been a quasi-political agenda behind his decision to write the TTP, since his attack was directed at political meddling by religious authorities.

But he also took the opportunity to give a more detailed and thorough presentation of a general theory of the state that is only sketchily present in the Ethics. Such an examination of the true nature of political society is particularly important to his argument for intellectual and religious freedom, since he must show that such freedom is not only compatible with political well-being, but essential to it.

Naturally, this is a rather insecure and dangerous condition under which to live. As rational creatures, we soon realize that we would be better off, still from a thoroughly egoistic perspective, coming to an agreement among ourselves to restrain our opposing desires and the unbounded pursuit of self-interest—in sum, that it would be in our greater self-interest to live under the law of reason rather than the law of nature.

We thus agree to hand over to a sovereign our natural right and power to do whatever we can to satisfy our interests. That sovereign—whether it be an individual in which case the resulting state is a monarchy , a small group of individuals an oligarchy or the body-politic as a whole a democracy —will be absolute and unrestrained in the scope of its powers.

Obedience to the sovereign does not infringe upon our autonomy, since in following the commands of the sovereign we are following an authority whom we have freely authorized and whose commands have no other object than our own rational self- interest. The type of government most likely to respect and preserve that autonomy, issue laws based on sound reason and to serve the ends for which government is instituted is democracy. Monarchy, on the other hand, is the least stable form of government and the one most likely to degenerate into tyranny. The sovereign should have complete dominion in all public matters secular and spiritual.

There should be no church separate from the religion instituted and regulated by the state. This will prevent sectarianism and the multiplication of religious disputes.

All questions concerning external religious rites and ceremonies are in the hands of the sovereign. Justice and charity thereby acquire the force of civil law, backed by the power of the sovereign. This is a matter of inalienable, private right, and it cannot be legislated, not even by the sovereign. Nor can speech ever truly and effectively be controlled, since people will always say want they want, at least in private. There must, Spinoza grants, be some limits to speech and teaching. Seditious discourse that encourages individuals to nullify the social contract should not be tolerated.

But the best government will err on the side of leniency and allow the freedom of philosophical speculation and the freedom of religious belief. It is hard to imagine a more passionate and reasoned defense of freedom and toleration than that offered by Spinoza. There is an enormous body of literature on Spinoza in many languages, especially French, Italian, Dutch and German. There is also the irregularly published series Studia Spinozana , each volume of which contains essays by scholars devoted to a particular theme.

Ethics The Ethics is an ambitious and multifaceted work. A substance is prior in nature to its affections. One substance cannot be produced by another substance. It pertains to the nature of a substance to exist. Every substance is necessarily infinite. Except God, no substance can be or be conceived. In nature there is nothing contingent, but all things have been determined from the necessity of the divine nature to exist and produce an effect in a certain way. All the prejudices I here undertake to expose depend on this one: I, Appendix God is not some goal-oriented planner who then judges things by how well they conform to his purposes.

I, Appendix A judging God who has plans and acts purposively is a God to be obeyed and placated.

1. Biography

For if it did not fall to that end, God willing it, how could so many circumstances have concurred by chance for often many circumstances do concur at once? Perhaps you will answer that it happened because the wind was blowing hard and the man was walking that way. But they will persist: If you answer again that the wind arose then because on the preceding day, while the weather was still calm, the sea began to toss, and that the man had been invited by a friend, they will press on—for there is no end to the questions which can be asked: And so they will not stop asking for the causes of causes until you take refuge in the will of God, i.

I, Appendix This is strong language, and Spinoza is clearly aware of the risks of his position. As he explains, A circle existing in nature and the idea of the existing circle, which is also in God, are one and the same thing, which is explained through different attributes. Therefore, whether we conceive nature under the attribute of Extension, or under the attribute of Thought, or under any other attribute, we shall find one and the same order, or one and the same connection of causes, i.

Indeed they seem to conceive man in nature as a dominion within a dominion. For they believe that man disturbs, rather than follows, the order of nature, that he has absolute power over his actions, and that he is determined only by himself. III, Preface Descartes, for example, believed that if the freedom of the human being is to be preserved, the soul must be exempt from the kind of deterministic laws that rule over the material universe. Nature is always the same, and its virtue and power of acting are everywhere one and the same, i.

So the way of understanding the nature of anything, of whatever kind, must also be the same, viz. We conceive things as actual in two ways: But the things we conceive in this second way as true, or real, we conceive under a species of eternity, and to that extent they involve the eternal and infinite essence of God. Vp29s But this is just to say that, ultimately, we strive for a knowledge of God.