Philosophy Index

Baruch Spinoza

Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) was a highly influential Dutch philosopher. He wrote in the 17th Century during the scientific revolution, and helped develop what would become the enlightenment in philosophy.

Spinoza's Monism

Spinoza's most famous work is his Ethics, which was published in 1677, shortly after his death. Ethics is written in the fromat of a geometrical treatise, with sets of definitions and axioms followed by propositions and proofs. His method specifically immitates Euclid's work, Elements of Geometry. Spinoza saw this as a better way to write philosophy, as the arguments became clearer and less ambiguous than in other philosophical works, most notably those of his contemporary, René Descartes, which were written as a narrative.

Spinoza disagreed with the mind-body dualism of Descartes. He viewed reality as a single substance, with various modes and attributes. He considered God to be synonymous with “nature” in a broad sense, and that God was the single substance, with lesser entities being its modes. Spinoza essentially denies that human beings have free will, explaining this illusion as a result of our limited understanding of our own actions.

Spinoza had considerable knowledge of the work of Descartes, and wrote about and in response to Descartes' work. Spinoza's rejection of dualism comes from one of Descartes' own assertions, which Spinoza views as fundamentally incompatible with dualism. Descartes considers God to be infinite, in the sense that his is complete, or lacking nothing. Spinoza says that if God lacks nothing, then there can be nothing which is not God — no other substance may exist, for if it existed apart from God, God would lack it. Therefore, Spinoza concludes, all things must be God, modes of a single divine and perfect substance.

Life

Spinoza's family was of Portugese-Jewish origin, and came to Amsterdam in the Netherlands as refugees from the inquisitions in Spain and Portugal which were forcing conversions to Christianity. Spinoza was actively involved in his Jewish community, though some of his work later saw him expelled from that group.

Interperetations of Spinoza

It has been argued that Spinoza was, in fact, an atheist, but was unable to declare himself as such given his religious surroundings. By making God synonymous with the universe as a whole, including all of its components.

It has also been argued that Spinoza's thought more closely resembles that of Buddhism, due to the concept that all things are equally divine. However, Buddhism essentially rejects that the divine is a substance in the way that Spinoza considers it.

Spinoza's Works

  • On the Improvement of the Understanding (1662)
  • Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (1670)
  • Ethics (1677)

Vitals

Name: Baruch Spinoza
Born: November 24, 1632 (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Died: February 21, 1677 (The Hague, Netherlands)