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Baruch de Spinoza

Spinoza's Ethics: A Collective Commentary edited by Michael Hampe, Ursula Renz and Robert Schnepf (Brill's Studies in Intellectual History: Brill Academic) Against the background of religious wars and in full knowledge of the relevance of the new exact sciences of the seventeenth-century, Spinoza developed one of the most ambitious projects in the history of philosophy: his Ethics written in geometrical style. It is a book that deals with ontology, epistemology, human emotions, as well as with the freedom and bondage of individuals and societies, in one continuous line of argumentation. At the same time, the book combines the highest standards of conceptual and argumentative clarity with a wisdom that is saturated with the experience of life. Even today it sets a standard for enlightened theoretical and practical reasoning. This collective commentary discusses each of the five parts of Spinoza's Ethics. In the introduction, historical consequences of the Ethics are elucidated, as well as its continued philosophical relevance.

This volume is an enlarged version of the collective commentary on Spinoza's Ethics which appeared in German in the series Klassiker Auslegen in 2006. It seeks to provide a commentary on all parts of the Ethics, while at the same time offering an insight into the way scholars from different philosophical traditions discuss Spinoza. Many of the German-speaking contributors are here presented to an English speaking audience for the first time. Due to historical circumstances, particularly following the Nazi era, Spinoza was a neglected philosopher in Germany. In comparison with other countries, such as France, the Anglo-Saxon world and the Netherlands, Spinoza was not paid the attention his work deserved. It is one of the merits of the Spinoza Gesellschaft that, in the last two decades, this situation has slowly begun to change. As many of the essays contained in this collection show, there are now several discussions going on about many aspects of Spinoza's thought, ranging from metaphysics to ethics and social philosophy. In contrast to the German edition of this volume, where we had only a restricted amount of space, this English edition also includes new essays about the context of Spinoza's Ethics and its reception.

Spinoza's Ethics is one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken by a philosopher. It addresses every area of philosophical inquiry, at least in its basic elements: ontology, philosophy of mind, physics, epistemology, the study of emotions, social philosophy, political philosophy, meta-ethics, moral philosophy and, finally, the consideration of 'final things' such as freedom, happiness and eternity. The affirmations Spinoza makes are meant to be categorically true. All are meant to be interlinked and presented in a fully transparent proof structure. In this book, practical wisdom and scientific rationality are not set out as two conflicting traditions. Scientific knowledge is presented as the rational foundation for a happy life. Relevant science is distinguished from irrelevant science according to how well it answers the question of what constitutes a happy life. Spinoza himself was quite aware of the boldness of his claims. When Albert Burgh, a former student (who later converted to Catholicism), asked him how he knew that his philosophy was the best one, Spinoza answered: "I do not presume that I have found the best philosophy. I know that I understand the true philosophy."'

The crucial question, however, is: how, exactly, are practical wisdom and science related in the Ethics? Five points are important to note in this regard:

1) Ontological presupposition instead of deontological foundation. Spinoza's Ethics does not propose a deontological ethics which answers the question 'What should I do?' without regard for the human psycho-physical constitution. It explains how a happy and self-determined life can be lived on the basis of the structures and laws of nature and human existence. Spinoza's Ethics is a theory of nature and of human existence, within which he develops a theory about what is good for human beings.

2) Naturalism. Spinoza defends a naturalism that denies all being which is supposed to transcend nature in any way. So, not only the anthropological resources of moral action but also the goods for which it strives are understood to be natural. The ethics envisaged by Spinoza exclude any kind of bonum morale. Instead, it proceeds on the premise that it is always a bonum naturale which—more or less reliably—makes us happy and free. It does, however, make a distinction between goods which tend to last and others which tend to lead to merely fleeting happiness.

3) Universality. In spite of the rejection of a genuine moral good, Spinoza believes that general statements about what can make us happy and free are possible. The Ethics is built upon premises of natural philosophy and anthropology: although people live under different conditions, therefore developing quite different needs and ideas about which things are good, they are nevertheless all subject to the same natural laws. In principle, therefore, the same things are beneficial or detrimental to us all. The fourth part of the Ethics consequently makes quite general statements about what is good and bad. Hate, for instance, is always bad (4p45); cheerfulness, on the other hand, always good (4p42).

4) Epistemological anti-scepticism. General statements about what is beneficial or detrimental to persons and their self-determination are possible only if people themselves can have knowledge of nature, including human nature. Spinoza's Ethics therefore also rests on the epistemological presupposition that people can gain insights into the ontological and natural constitution of their own species. Consequently, the Ethics rejects epistemological relativism and scepticism.

5) Necessity and Systematicity. Spinoza assumes that the insights of different philosophical disciplines are necessarily and systematically connected. This does not imply that everything is deducible from the definitions of the Ethics' first part. Spinoza does, however, consider the connections between some insights to be so binding that he is confident we will share his ethical and meta-ethical conclusions as soon as we have acquired an understanding of nature, man and man's capacity for the truth.

Spinoza does not present all of this in the usual prose. Instead, his book is modelled on Euclid's Elements. Hence the subtitle, "ordine geometrico demonstrata". As is the case in a geometrical treatise, Spinoza distinguishes between definitions, axioms, postulates, propositions and proofs. The proofs of the propositions refer back to presupposed definitions and axioms—and sometimes to preceding propositions. Every new proposition is in a certain sense also the beginning of a new line of thought. This means that the flow of the reading is constantly being interrupted. A reader who really wants to get a clear picture of what is presupposed by a passage is forced time and again to turn back the pages. Only if propositions are integrated by the reader into the preceding insights can the intended increase in knowledge take place. But, as difficult as such a text may be to read, for someone who really flips the pages back and forth it acquires a transparency that a 'normal continuous text' could never equal. Thus Spinoza forces his readers to actually make the connections between the insights of the different philosophical disciplines mentioned above.


The posthumous publication of the Ethics in February 1678 caused a public scandal in Europe. This was not entirely unforeseen. Spinoza's first published work, Principles of Cartesian Philosophy (1663), pro- voked a long correspondence about the nature of evil with the wheat merchant Willem van Blyenbergh, who was deeply concerned about the religious foundations of morality. Independently of this, Spinoza had been considered a Cartesian atheist by certain theologians since the early 1660s? And by the time of the publication of the Tractatus theologico-politicus it had become obvious that Spinoza acknowledged neither a divine transcendence nor a theology of creation. Later, in the Ethics, Spinoza expressed this succinctly with the phrase "deus sive natura" (1p15s). He may very well have been encouraged in this regard by Franciscus van den Enden. This Amsterdam physician headed a Latin school, and had gathered a philosophical discussion group around himself. Spinoza visited the school and frequented the discussion group.' It is possible that what today is sometimes celebrated as Spinoza's naturalism might, at the time when these thoughts were being conceived, have only been understood as atheism.

With the publication of the Tractatus theologico-politicus in 1670, Spinoza became an internationally known author surrounded by scandal. Refutations were published. Leibniz read the Tractatus as soon as it appeared and made ambivalent notes in the margins of his copy.' Out of precaution, Spinoza published the book under a pseudonym and gave false information about the publisher. In it, he not only developed a critical biblical hermeneutics, which contested the right of theologians to make scientific statements about nature and man on the basis of revelation, but also proposed a political theory, the primary goal of which was to defend the libertas philosophandi. Although his authorship became known shortly after the book's publication, Spinoza was not persecuted in the liberal Netherlands. Nonetheless, thereafter the church authorities observed him carefully. Soon he had the reputation of being the most systematic and dangerous atheist in all of Europe and of endangering the foundations of morals and the State.'

Given this background, it is hardly surprising that Spinoza refrained from publishing the Ethics when he completed it in 1675. Two years previously, he had rejected the offer of an Ordinary Professorship in Heidelberg. The agents of the State sovereign had assured Spinoza that he would have absolute freedom to philosophise, but also that the sovereign trusted that he would not misuse this freedom to disturb the publicly recognized religion.' Spinoza preferred the peace of a solitary and private life to this offer of a public teaching position" following the motto which appeared on his seal, which was later added to the beginning of his posthumously published works: "caution" ("caute"). With the same circumspection, Spinoza saw to it that the manuscript of the Ethics was not passed on to persons he did not know well or did not trust. Included among the latter was the young Leibniz, who visited Spinoza in 1676 in Den Haag. Although Leibniz had knowledge of Spinoza's basic concepts and propositions at that time, he did not have the opportunity to study the Ethics until it appeared in February 1678 as part of the Opera posthuma, which he immediately procured.

The publication and the distribution of the Ethics was one of the most exciting and consequential events in the history of early Enlightenment publications. When Spinoza died in February 1677, both the Reformed authorities in The Hague and Amsterdam and the Catholic clergy in Rome were aware of its existence. In spite of this, several close friends of Spinoza decided to publish his various unpublished works together and, intriguingly, in Latin and Dutch simultaneously. In addition to the Ethics, these works include the Tractatus logico-politicus, in which Spinoza argued for democracy as the fundamentally superior form of government, the Tractatus de intellectus emendatione and the Compendium Grammatices Linguae Hebraeae. As Israel" has pointed out, this was a distinctively brazen and fearless approach, given that the works had to be translated, prepared for publication, distributed in total secrecy and all this in a race against time.

It was Spinoza's circle of friends who guaranteed the spread of the Ethics after his death. To what extent additions were made in the process of this distribution is one of the questions which the critical interpretation of Spinoza's writings addresses."


The Ethics comprises five parts, entitled: Of God, Of the Nature and Origin of the Mind, Of the Origin and Nature of the Affects, Of Human Bondage, or of the Powers of the Affects and Of the Power of the Intellect, or of Human Freedom. The order of these five parts reflects the fact that the theory of God—also a theory of being—forms the basis for all that follows. Particularly significant is the fact that the theory of the human mind follows the ontology, and not the other way around. Spinoza's philosophy is not based on a theory of subjectivity. The central role played by the theory of affects in the overall concept of the Ethics is also clearly evident from these titles. It is developed from ontological and epistemological claims, and in turn forms the basis for his moral philosophy, his social philosophy and his theory of human freedom. This, in turn, reveals an insight into how emotions determine our actions and our convictions, furthermore, it constitutes a starting point for the demonstration that, under certain conditions, freedom is possible. Spinoza does not oppose human freedom to nature. Free persons, too, are a part of nature.

In order to secure the foundation for this line of reasoning, Spinoza begins the first part of the Ethics with a refined argument for the uniqueness of substance, which he calls "God" or "Nature". "Whatever is, is in God, and nothing can be or be conceived without God." (1p15) This argument excludes all transcendence. It leaves no room for the conception of God as a creator who is not part of the world.

Put positively: God is the immanent cause of the world and of things. Furthermore, it implies an amendment of the Aristotelian idea that we and the things we encounter in everyday life are substances, and of the Cartesian dualism of substance, according to which body and soul are substantially different things. The two different kinds of substance are replaced by the distinction between different attributes of God, two of which are named: extension and thinking. All individual things are considered to be modifications of these attributes. Thereby the Aristotelian substances become mere modes, i.e. things that by definition
are dependent on others. Using this monism of substance as a starting
point, Spinoza goes on to try to show that all things, including per-
sons, are determined in their being and their action. Neither do they
have a free will, nor can they act with absolute spontaneity.

In the first propositions of the second part of the Ethics, Spinoza derives a further important conclusion from his ontology. Referring back to his theory of attributes, he shows that mind and body are two aspects of the same thing. On the basis of a number of axioms, taken for the most part from his discussion with Descartes, he furthermore develops a conception of human subjectivity according to which man is a dependent being subject to empirical influences, even in his thinking. This has consequences for human self-knowledge, which, according to Spinoza, is fundamentally inadequate. The second part of the Ethics is interrupted by a digression which more or less repeats the Cartesian physics in a generalized form. It serves as a basis for the development of a conception of physical individuality, according to which individuals are not indivisible quantities, for instance, but rather units of motion. Geometrically complex, they nevertheless function as a dynamic unity. Spinoza thus provides a physical explanation for what it means that individual things are to be understood as modes and not as substances. The individuality of man is essentially dependent upon the individuality of his body and his awareness of the same.

Having developed this concept of individuality, Spinoza introduces the concept of conatus in the third part of the Ethics: every individual thing tends or strives to preserve its being. Whatever furthers self-preservation leads to 'positive' affects, whatever hinders it, to 'negative' ones. Grief or joy are therefore our primary means of access to the changing states of our own bodies in the successive situations in which we find ourselves. On this basis, Spinoza develops one of the most refined theories of the human affects in the history of philosophy. Using the geometrical method, he reconstructs how individual emotions arise in various constellations. If we endeavour to learn about our emotions by this method, we distance ourselves from their immediate impact and become able to deal with them actively. In some cases, however, this requires the imaginative use of counter-emotions or the visualisation of how they were caused. We can overcome hatred if we imagine that the other person was acting out of a tendency for self-preservation and not in order to harm us. If we furthermore think of the object of our hatred as a benefactor, the hate disappears (3p43dem). Spinoza explains the inter-subjectivity of emotions with his theory of imitatio affectuus: if one imagines a body similar to oneself to be affected in a certain way, one feels a similar emotion (3p27). Although Spinoza treats emotions according to the geometrical method as natural things, the cultural and historical plasticity of human emotionality does not escape him. The insight, that "[d]ifferent men can be affected differently by one and the same object" (3p51), allows him to take the changing social context of emotional life seriously. So, unlike contemporary neuroscience, Spinoza avoids a naturalistic reductionism. At the same time, he gains a foundation for his philosophical critique of cultural prejudices.

The Ethics culminates in the presentation of a conception of human freedom. It is set off against a preceding analysis of human servitude, in which Spinoza explains the destructive and pathological mechanisms of certain emotions. Freedom, for Spinoza, is above all freedom from: from the emotional states and dependencies that prevent individuals from becoming active in the world according to their individual natures. Some of Spinoza's ideas seem to hint at lines of thought that one encounters later in the psychoanalytical therapy of neurotic compulsions. His thoughts concerning the therapy of individuals include elements of social and political theory. People who have freed themselves from emotional cultural prejudices and neurotic compulsions are in a position to form and maintain more reasonable communities. Perhaps one could say that Spinoza anticipated certain social and psychological conceptions of the so-called 'Frankfurt School', in particular the idea of an "authoritarian character"." According to the latter, religious fanaticism and the hateful exclusion of persons with different political opinions are only possible where the majority of a society's members have not yet succeeded in freeing themselves from tormenting emotional structures. Be that as it may, Spinoza's defense of the freedom of thought and opinion in the Tractatus theologicopoliticus is grounded in these ideas of the Ethics.

Freedom and happiness are not facts pertaining to an original state of autonomy or a transcendental netherworld. They cannot be received as grace, but must rather be earned individually and socially—in the context of individuals' emotional lives and of the social relations within communities. They are cognitive processes, in which one learns how to modify one's own situation and one's own emotional experience. This process is accompanied by feelings of pleasure arising from one's own ability to act. The fruits of this labour are experienced as happiness, most emphatically as the intellectual love of God or of Nature. Spinoza thereby succeeds in addressing human spiritual needs in a rational theory of wisdom, at the same time opening up realistic prospects for their satisfaction. These needs were expressed by contemporary theologians in, at best, a distorted manner, seldom accompanied by indications about a viable way to satisfy them. In a theory of immanence, happiness and freedom are the result of the efforts made in the course of everyday life.


As everyone knows, there is a thin line between frustration and fascination—a truth that can generally be confirmed by readers of Spinoza's Ethics. Not only the individual propositions and arguments but also the structure, the composition and even the outer appearance of the text are far removed from the familiar, even for those acquainted with other philosophical texts and the history of philosophy. Due to this potential for frustration as well as for fascination that characterizes Spinoza's writings, their author became a constant point of reference for intellectual disputes and waves of philosophical enthusiasm in the 18th and 19th centuries. `Spinozism' developed into a kind of 'intellectual phantom' that came to haunt the most diverse debates and figured in the background of many philosophical and literary projects.

The negative influence exerted on the reception of Spinoza's thought by the accusation of atheism, levelled against the philosopher by Pierre Gayle in his article in the Dictionnaire historique et critique,' lasted until decades after his death. Subsequently, the so-called 'Spinoza dispute' ensued in 1786. In a discussion with Moses Mendelssohn, Johann Heinrich Jacobi reported that Lessing, during a conversation about Goethe's poem Prometheus, had "testified" to his adherence to "Spinozism"." In the aftermath of this discussion, Jacobi caused a stir with his interpretation of Spinoza's philosophy as the one and only logically consistent system, the consequences of which were avoidable only by a "salto mortale" into the Christian faith.'' The discussion with Mendelssohn, and Jacobi's book, triggered a wide reception of the Ethics, which peaked in an almost religious enthusiasm for nature in the case of Goethe, and in discussions about Spinoza among Goethe, Schiller, Herder and Wieland. Fichte countered Jacobi's claim that the only alternative to Spinoza's determinism was a religious alternative—or one that is critical of reason as such—" with his version of the so-called 'Critical Philosophy', which replaced the absolute substance with an absolute ego. Fichte argued that one could be a subject and therefore a full-fledged human being only by understanding oneself first and foremost as free. On the basis of this idea, the debate about Spinoza influenced the 'German Idealism' of Schelling and Hegel. Hegel's dictum, that "the truth should be understood and expressed, not as substance, but equally well as subject placed Spinoza in opposition to conceptions that accepted human subjectivity and freedom as irreducible realities to be taken into account by philosophical thought. In France, in the wake of Althusser, the alternative "Hegel or Spinoza" continues to mark philosophical discussion to the present day.

The authors of Weimar Classicism and German Idealism had promoted Spinoza from a "dead dog" (words put into the mouth of Lessing by Jacobi) to one of the most significant philosophers of all time. In the 19th century, a number of very diverse philosophical initiatives could refer to his work more impartially. Whereas German Idealism had seemed only to know the first and fifth parts of the Ethics, these initiatives took the other parts of Spinoza's major work into account as well: the theory of motion and the social philosophy were now also considered worthy of discussion. Not only were the physiological approaches of Gustav Theodor Fechner and Johannes Müller inspired by Spinoza, all the monisms of popular philosophy claimed him as their progenitor. Friedrich Nietzsche, too, with his amor fati recognized Spinoza as a "predecessor" who, regrettably, had laden himself with an "armour"—the mos geometricus—that hindered the way in which his work was received. In France, the historian of philosophy Victor Cousin and his school stylised Spinozist thought into a philosophical position defined by its opposition to Cartesian thought.27 Spinoza was accused of having discarded experience, which had initially informed his philosophy, in favour of deduction. Finally, a connection has been made between the thought of Sigmund Freud and Spinoza. Freud himself only saw parallels and no direct influence of Spinoza's theory of emotions on his psychoanalysis. But he did make it clear that "moral value judgements are completely foreign" to the psychoanalytical theory of the emotions in the performance of its task of scientifically examining psychosexual development. Is there not perhaps a deeper connection after all between Spinoza's dictum that insight is liberating and Freud's 'talk therapy', in which insight into repressed desires and fears provides relief from the torments of the soul?

In the 20th century, Spinoza became an important reference in the context of British Hegelianism (F.H. Bradley and J.E.M. McTaggart) and Neo-realism. John Caird wrote an introduction to Spinoza in 1888 and H.H. Joachim wrote a commentary of Spinoza in 1901, taking as his point of departure the epistemology. Here, Spinoza appeared neither as a materialist nor as a naturalist but rather, first and foremost, as a thinker of unity and immanence. In Space, Time and Deity, the Neo-realist Samuel Alexander invoked Spinoza as a predecessor of his non-materialist and immanentist cosmology. In these contexts, Spinoza seemed helpful for countering a manner of thinking that threatened to dissolve nature in an idealistic absolute. Outside philosophical circles, Spinoza attracted the attention of physicists. Einstein's rejection of chance in the dispute over quantum mechanics ("God does not play dice") and his conviction that the world can basically be made geometrically intelligible (cf. the general theory of relativity) was connected to Spinoza's theory of universal necessity. Like Freud, Einstein saw parallels between his own work and that of Spinoza and expressed his sympathy for the latter, yet could perceive no direct influence on his own works. The fact that Spinoza was a regular point of reference for philosophers of law such as Hermann Heller, Hans Kelsen and Carl Schmitt, who either associated or dissociated themselves from his thought, is only gradually being acknowledged in recent literature." As late as 1947, Carl Schmitt wrote "The most brazen humiliation ever inflicted upon God and mankind, justifying all the curses of the synagogue, is to be found in the 'sive' of the formula Deus sive Natura." The story of the Spinozists among the socialists has also rarely been told." The role that Spinoza played in the formative period of sociology is perhaps still reflected in his reception by Niklas Luhmann, who quotes Spinoza in the motto of his book The Society of Society: "Id quod per aliud non potest concipi, per se concipi debet" (1a2).

By the time Carl Gebhardt published the Latin edition—long considered the leading edition—of Spinoza's works in Heidelberg in 1926, Spinoza was already a well-established author among the cultural bourgeois in Germany, for whom his main work had a certain status as a book of edification. But after 1933, the National Socialists put an end to this reception of Spinoza in Germany, a setback from which it has not recovered to the present day. Spinoza has been the object of standard-setting historical and philological research in the Netherlands and in Italy. But in recent times, systematically ambitious interpretations of Spinoza have been undertaken primarily in France and in the context of Anglo-American analytical philosophy. In France, Spinoza was read from the late 1960s onward as an alternative to the existentialism inspired by Descartes. Important commentaries were written by Martial Gueroult, Alexandre Matheron and Gilles Deleuze. As a result of the writings of Deleuze and Althusser, Spinoza became an author who was constantly referred to by the anti-structuralists. In the analytical philosophy of England and Scandinavia, the detailed proof structure of the Ethics was considered exemplary. It inspired authors such as Arne Naess, Jonathan Bennett and Charles Jarrett to reconstruct the line of argument in the Ethics, in part—especially in the cases of Naess and Jarrett—by means of logical methods that could not have been known to Spinoza." The treatment of Spinoza in both French and English philosophy has shown phases of differing intensity. Early accounts, such as Stuart Hampshire's Spinoza and Edmund Curley's Spinoza's Metaphysics, were mere overviews, yet nevertheless influential. These gave way to commentaries by authors such as Gueroult and Bennett. Finally (and, in part, concurrently), Spinoza has been perceived as a systematic discussion partner, who is to be confronted on an equal footing and whose philosophical position for many reasons seems 'revivable', e.g. in the works of Gilles Deleuze." Like Einstein and Freud, Davidson also recognizes Spinoza as a predecessor of his anomalous monism, but insists that he was unaware of the connection while developing his position in the philosophy of mind and the theory of action. "It is amusing", he said in 1993 in an interview with Kathrin Glüer, "to discover that one is of one mind with someone better than oneself."


The tracks made by the writings of Spinoza in the history of philosophy are so deep that it is imperative for anyone wanting to understand this history to visit the place where these tracks begin: the Ethics itself. "Mais Spinoza", Althusser rightly demands "il faut le lire, et savoir qu'il existe: qu'il existe encore aujourd'hui. Pour le reconnaitre, it faut au moms le connaitre un peu".

Spinoza's highly original project of linking science and wisdom has played a steadily diminishing role in the history of the way in which his thoughts have been received. In fact, it is usually only after one returns to the text of the Ethics itself that one finds oneself asking how philosophy could satisfy not only theoretical but also therapeutic requirements.

This corresponds to the fact that philosophy became a science within the universities and, outside of academic institutions, was reduced to popular edification. In the 19th century, the idea that philosophical insights should improve the lives of people appears in the philosophical writings of only a few authors (typically active outside the universities), most prominently perhaps Marx and Kierkegaard, yet even here, improvement is not expected from philosophy alone. For Marx, the theoretical insights of historical materialism have to pass into political action in order for conditions to be not only interpreted but also changed. Kierkegaard, after his disappointment with the scientific nature of Hegel's system, has the philosophical therapist sit at the bedsides of the despairing only to assist them with the leap into faith. The idea that a philosophical approach should be judged, not only on the merits of its methodological well-foundedness (something that can supposedly be clarified in advance), but also according to its relevance for the lives of people regained prominence later, most notably in the philosophy of American pragmatism. But the latter, as is well-known, ultimately forfeited all truth claims in the conviction that testimonies to democracy are more fundamental than philosophical insight. The study of philosophical treatises has since become part of a literary education, which, in the best of cases, acts as a substitute for the old tradition of the salons. Whether the mildly therapeutic effect of those collective talk cures can be attributed to the contact with philosophical teachings of wisdom or rather just to the civilizing effect of beautiful and cultured men and women, is hard to say. The seminars for humanities, like the salons they succeed, may very well also just be about furthering or hindering careers.

The stringency of Spinoza's attempt to develop a conception of human bondage and freedom, unhappiness and happiness, by starting out from the construction of a basic system of philosophical concepts and proceeding to a theory of psychophysical phenomena and emotions in one continuous line of argumentation remains unique in modern philosophy. Its' seriousness is in stark contrast to many streams of contemporary philosophy. Spinoza's thought is likely to remain, for the foreseeable future, the standard by which any effort to reconcile theory and practice in philosophy measures itself. Reconciliations of this kind almost always involve theoretical or practical difficulties, which, as was the case with the philosophy of Spinoza, are likely to have the all makings of a scandal. Nevertheless, interest in attempts to reconcile wisdom and scientific thought is growing in the present day. After all, we remain as much in the dark as ever about where unchecked scientific progress on the one hand, and semi-religious teachings of salvation on the other, could be leading us.

Steven B. Smith, the Alfred Cowles Professor of Political Science at Yale University, is the author of Reading Leo Strauss: Politics, Philosophy, Judaism, Spinoza's Book of Life: Freedom and Redemption in the Ethics (Yale UP), and Spinoza, Liberalism, and the Question of Jewish Identity (Yale UP). His publications have appeared most recently in Hebraic Political Studies, Review of Politics, and Political Theory, and he has lectured throughout the United States, Europe, and Israel. Professor Smith has held the position of Master of Branford College at Yale since 1996.

Baruch de Spinoza (1632-1677)—often recognized as the first modern Jewish thinker—was also a founder of modern liberal political philosophy. This book is the first to connect systematically these two aspects of Spinoza's legacy. Steven B. Smith shows that Spinoza was a politically engaged theorist who both advocated and embodied a new conception of the emancipated individual, a thinker who decisively influenced such diverse movements as the Enlightenment, liberalism, and political Zionism.

Most readers of Spinoza treat him as a pure metaphysician, a grim determinist, or a stoic moralist, but none of these descriptions captures the author of the Ethics, argues Steven B. Smith in Spinoza's Book of Life: Freedom and Redemption in the Ethics (Yale UP). Offering a new reading of Spinoza's masterpiece, Smith asserts that the Ethics is a celebration of human freedom and its attendant joys and responsibilities and should be placed among the great founding documents of the Enlightenment. Two aspects of Smith's book distinguish it from other studies. It treats the famous "geometrical method" of the Ethics as a form of moral rhetoric, a model for the construction of individuality. And it presents the Ethics as a companion to Spinoza's major work of political philosophy, the Theologico-Political Treatise, each work helping to explore the problem of freedom. Affirming Spinoza's centrality for both critics and defenders of modernity, the book will be of value to students of political theory, philosophy, and intellectual history.

Spinoza, Liberalism, and the Question of Jewish Identity  by Steven B. Smith (Yale UP)Focusing on Spinoza's Theologico-Political Treatise, Smith argues that Spinoza was the first thinker of note to make the civil status of Jews and Judaism (what later became known as the Jewish Question) an essential ingredient of modern political thought. Before Marx or Freud, Smith notes, Spinoza recast Judaism to include the liberal values of autonomy and emancipation from tradition. Smith examines the circumstances of Spinoza's excommunication from the Jewish community of Amsterdam, his skeptical assault on the authority of Scripture, his transformation of Mosaic prophecy into a progressive philosophy of history, his use of the language of natural right and the social contract to defend democratic political institutions, and his comprehensive comparison of the ancient Hebrew commonwealth and the modern commercial republic. According to Smith, Spinoza's Treatise represents a classic defense of religious toleration and intellectual freedom, showing them to be necessary foundations for political stability and liberal regimes. In this study Smith examines Spinoza's solution to the Jewish Question and asks whether a Judaism, so conceived, can long survive.


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