(1632 - 1677)
Baruch Spinoza was a Jewish Dutch philosopher who is considered one of the great rationalists of 17th century philosophy.
Spinoza was born in Amsterdam in 1632, into a
family of Jewish emigrants fleeing persecution in Portugal. He was
trained in Talmudic scholarship, but his views soon took
unconventional directions which the Jewish community - fearing
renewed persecution on charges of atheism - tried to discourage.
Spinoza was offered 1000 florins to keep quiet about his views, but
refused. At the age of 24, he was summoned before a rabbinical court,
and solemnly excommunicated.
Spinoza refused all rewards and honours, and gave
away to his sister his share of his father's inheritance - keeping
only a bedstead for himself. He earned his living as a humble
lens-grinder. He died [at the Hague] in February 1677 of consumption,
probably aggravated by fine glass dust inhaled at his workbench.
His philosophy is summarized in the Ethics, a very
abstract work, which openly expresses none of the love of nature that
might be expected from someone who identified God with nature. And
Spinoza's starting point is not nature or the cosmos, but a purely
theoretical definition of God. The work then proceeds to prove its
conclusions by a method modeled on geometry, through rigorous
definitions, axioms, propositions and corollaries. No doubt in this
way Spinoza hoped to build his philosophy on the solidest rock, but
the method, as well as some of the arguments and definitions, are
Spinoza believed that everything that exists is
God. However, he did not hold the converse view that God is no more
than the sum of what exists. God had infinite qualities, of which we
can perceive only two, thought and extension. Hence God must also
exist in dimensions far beyond those of the visible world.
Significantly, Spinoza titled his chief work The
Ethics. He derived an ethic by deduction from fundamental
principles, and so his ethics were closely linked to his view of
"God or nature" as everything. The highest good, he
asserted, was knowledge of God, which was capable of bringing freedom
from tyranny by the passions, freedom from fear, resignation to
destiny, and true blessedness.
At first Spinoza was reviled as an atheist - and
certainly, his God is not the conventional Judo-Christian God. The
philosophers of the enlightenment ridiculed his methods - not without
some grounds. The romantics, attracted by his identification of God
with Nature, rescued him from oblivion.