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Baruch de Spinoza
(Benedictus de Spinoza)
|Born||24 November 1632|
|Died||21 February 1677 (aged 44)
The Hague, Dutch Republic
|Education||Talmud Torah of Amsterdam
University of Leiden
Foundationalism (according to Hegel)
Correspondence theory of truth
|Ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, Hebrew grammar|
|Pantheism, determinism, neutral monism, psychophysical parallelism, intellectual and religious freedom, separation of church and state, criticism of Mosaic authorship of some books of the Hebrew Bible, political society as derived from power (not contract), affect, natura naturans/natura naturata|
Baruch Spinoza (/bəˈruːk
Spinoza was raised in a Portuguese-Jewish community in Amsterdam. He developed highly controversial ideas regarding the authenticity of the Hebrew Bible and the nature of the Divine. Jewish religious authorities issued an herem (חרם) against him, causing him to be effectively expelled and shunned by Jewish society at age 23, including by his own family. His books were later added to the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books. He was frequently called an “atheist” by contemporaries, although nowhere in his work does Spinoza refute the existence of God.
Spinoza lived an outwardly simple life as an optical lens grinder, collaborating on microscope and telescope lens designs with Constantijn and Christiaan Huygens. He turned down rewards and honours throughout his life, including prestigious teaching positions. He died at the age of 44 in 1677 from a lung illness, perhaps tuberculosis or silicosis exacerbated by the inhalation of fine glass dust while grinding lenses. He is buried in the Christian churchyard of Nieuwe Kerk in The Hague.
Spinoza’s magnum opus, the Ethics, was published posthumously in the year of his death. The work opposed Descartes’ philosophy of mind–body dualism, and earned Spinoza recognition as one of Western philosophy‘s most important thinkers. In it, “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”. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegelsaid, “The fact is that Spinoza is made a testing-point in modern philosophy, so that it may really be said: You are either a Spinozist or not a philosopher at all.” His philosophical accomplishments and moral character prompted Gilles Deleuze to name him “the ‘prince’ of philosophers.”
Substance, attributes, and modes
These are the fundamental concepts with which Spinoza sets forth a vision of Being, illuminated by his awareness of God. They may seem strange at first sight. To the question “What is?” he replies: “Substance, its attributes, and modes”.
Spinoza argued that God exists and is abstract and impersonal. His 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 that 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 desire what they desire 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 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 and denies 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, by which it can and does make changes, but a God that 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 that 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 provides the best response to the world around them. Not only is it impossible for two infinite Substances to exist (two infinities being absurd), God as the ultimate Substance cannot be affected by anything else, or else it would be affected by something else, and not be the fundamental, all-pervasive 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 that 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 process allows us to 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, despite strongly believing that they do. This illusionary perception of freedom stems from 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 illuminated by 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 nonexistent human ideals only fathomable in the mind because we are so acclimatized to human consciousness interlinking with our experience that we have a false idea 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. Spinoza, however, 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.