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Philosophy of Benedict Spinoza Essay

If one were to make a list of iconoclastic and radical thinkers, Benedict Spinoza would rank high. His great and enduring work, Ethics, continues to have renewed impact, currently among environmentalists and ecologically minded thinkers. Spinoza wrote numerous philosophical, political, and religious criticism works. His efforts consistently express a mind set in favor of religious tolerance and in opposition to traditional religious orthodoxy.

In his two major works, Tractatus Thologico-Politicus and Ethics present interpretations of spiritual concepts that continue to offend some religious believers and provide an avenue of belief for those who aver traditional religion. Born in Amsterdam on November 24, 1632 in a jewish community and died in The Hague on February 20, 1677 at the age of 44. Latinized his given name Baruch(blessed) using the form Benedictus. Spinoza lived an outwardly simple life as a lens grinder, turning down rewards and honors throughout his life, including prestigious teaching positions.

The family inheritance he gave to his sister. On 27 July 1656, the Talmud Torah congregation of Amsterdam issued a writ of cherem (Jew)/Herem(Hebrew), a kind of ban, shunning, ostracism, expulsion, or excommunication against the 23 year old Spinoza. Amsterdam and Rotterdam operated as important cosmopolitan centers where merchant ships from many parts of the world brought people of various customs and beliefs. Some possibility of free thought and shelter from the crushing hand of ecclesiastical authority.

Most significantly, he came into contact with so-called ‘free-thinking’ Protestants – dissenters from the dominant Calvinism – who maintained a lively interest in a wide range of theological issues, as well as in the latest developments in philosophy and science. In order to discuss their interests, these free-thinkers organized themselves into small groups, they called colleges, which met on a regular basis. Spinoza may have attended such meetings as early as the first half of the 1650? s, and it is most likely here that he received his first exposure to Cartesian thought.

His intellectual horizons were expanding and he was experiencing a restlessness that drove him to look further afield. It was at this time that he placed himself under the tutelage of an ex-Jesuit, Latinist,a medical doctor, Franciscus Van den Enden, who was notorious for his allegedly irreligious cast of mind, a passionate advocate of democratic political ideals. Spinoza’s increasingly unorthodox views and, perhaps, laxity in his observance of the Jewish law strained his relations with the community. Tensions became so great that resulted in his excommunication .

Most Important works

a) Ethica ordine geometrico demonstrate (simply, Ethics) b)Tractatus Theologico-politicus c)Brief Treatise on God, Man and His Happiness d)Tractaus de intellectus emendation e)Cogitata metaphysica Philosophy A . Against dualism “God is the infinite, necessarily existing (that is, uncaused), unique substance of the universe. There is only one substance in the universe; it is God; and everything else that is, is in God. ” Spinoza believed God exists and contends that “Deus sive Natura” (“God or Nature”) is a being of infinitely many attributes, is abstract and impersonal.

As a youth he first subscribed to Descartes’s dualistic belief that body and mind are two separate substances, but later changed his view and asserted that they were not separate, the universal substance consists of both body and mind, that it is a single identity there being no difference between these aspects. 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 which surrounds us and of which we are part.

Spinoza believes that: 1)a God that does not rule over the universe by providence, but a God which itself is the deterministic system of which everything in nature is a part. 2)God would be the natural world and have no personality. 3)To see God or Nature as acting for the sake of ends—to find purpose in Nature—is to misconstrue Nature and “turn it upside down” by putting the effect (the end result) before the true cause. 4)Nor does God perform miracles, since there are no departures whatsoever from the necessary course of nature.

The belief in miracles is due only to ignorance of the true causes of phenomena. If a stone has fallen from a room onto someone’s head and killed him, they will show, in the following way, that the stone fell in order to kill the man. 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: why was the wind blowing hard at that time? why was the man walking that way at that time? 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: but why was the sea tossing? why was the man invited at just that time?

And so they will not stop asking for the causes of causes until you take refuge in the will of God, i.e. , the sanctuary of ignorance. (I, Appendix) B. Humane vision “Everything must necessarily happen the way that it does. Therefore, humans have no free will. They believe, however, that their will is free” 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 we are determined and to understand why we act as we do.

So freedom is not the possibility to say “no” to what happens to us but the possibility to say “yes” and fully understand why things should necessarily happen that way. This illusionary perception of freedom stems from our human consciousness, experience and our 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. This picture of Spinoza’s determinism is ever more illuminated through reading 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 judgment like choice is predicated on an illusion. c. Politcal Philosophy “Every man may think what he likes,and say what he thinks. The real disturber of peace are those who, in a free state, seek to curtail the liberty of judgement which they are unable to tyrannize over. ” Spinoza’s reputation as a political thinker is eclipsed by his reputation as a rationalist metaphysician. Nevertheless, Spinoza was a penetrating political theorist whose writings have enduring significance.

In his two political treatises,has it’s main purpose the defense of free expression, Spinoza advances a number of forceful and original arguments in defense of democratic governance, freedom of thought and expression, and the subordination of religion to the state. On the basis of his naturalistic metaphysics, Spinoza also offers trenchant criticisms of ordinary conceptions of right and duty. And his account of civil organization, grounded in psychological realism, stands as an important contribution to the development of constitutionalism and the rule of law.

There is also textual evidence for the view that Spinoza does not reject other forms of government in favor of democracy. One of the central aims of A Political Treatise is precisely to demonstrate how different forms of governments can meet the fundamental political value of stability. For example, Spinoza explains that, historically, monarchies have enjoyed the most stability of any form of government (PT: VI:317), and that their potential instability results from the divergent interests between the sovereign and the citizens.

In light of this, Spinoza advises the sovereign to act in his or her own interests which is to act in the interests of the citizens. In the case of aristocracy, instability is said to result from inequality of political power among the ruling aristocrats, the remedy for which consists of equalizing such power as far as possible. Spinoza’s considered thoughts on the stability of democracy were interrupted by his untimely death, but while he thought it most consistent with freedom, he nevertheless regarded it as the most unstable of all political forms.

Indeed, Spinoza comments that democracies naturally evolve into aristocracies, and aristocracies naturally evolve into monarchies. At least on one understanding of “natural,” democracies may be interpreted as less natural than aristocracies and monarchies (PT: VIII: 351). To understand ends, sources, and justification of political authority, one does well to begin with the Conatus Principle and the associated psychological axioms employed by Spinoza. The source of problems for Spinoza’s political theory, specifically the moral notions of “contract,” “rights,” and “obligations” can also be traced to his view of human nature.


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