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Baruch Spinoza

Like many important thinkers, Baruch Spinoza, a philosopher of the seventeenth century, was actually never recognized for his work during his life.

Though of Portuguese ancestry, due to the Portuguese Inquisition, he was born and lived in a Jewish community in Amsterdam. There, influenced by his readings and peers, such as Frances van den Enden (who was later seen as an atheist), Spinoza himself began to doubt the word of the Hebrew Bible. His works were so radical that they caused the Jewish community to issue a cherem (sort of Jewish excommunication), and his works were later on also added to the Catholic “Index of Forbidden Books.”

Spinoza was fascinated with Decartes, also introduced to him by his friend Van Den Enden, although he came to oppose Descartes in many aspects, such as the mind-body dualism (the believe that the mind and body are independent, the mind is not the same as the brain and works separately.) Spinoza believed that the mind and the body were one and the same.

Spinoza’s most famous work was the book “Ethics.” In this work he states that everything is part of nature. “God is nature and nature is God.” Normally whenever I see a work that involves itself with religion, I take a step back, try to remove my bias and explore to see if there is anything I can still relate too.

In his book, Spinoza also tries to create a guide to help people live a more fulfilling life. He divides emotions into three categories; sadness, joy and desire. He believed that desire was the essence of humans; it was not something to suppress, for “If to live is the same as to desire, then ceasing to desire is in a way dying.” He then further divides them to actions and passions.

Actions are anything in us or outside of us that create a change. Because we have need and want to grow, we search for those actions that will benefit us. However passions can bring upon emotions such as sadness which block our understanding. Therefore we should try to void emotions. Spinoza realises that this is not an actual doable task. He then suggests that we should work towards being able to restrain and moderate them.

It is easy to think of many arguments that would have ended better if the people in it would have been able to control their emotions and look at things more objectively.



2 thoughts on “Baruch Spinoza

  1. While I might pause along with you at the invocation of God (or god, for that matter) in these sorts of arguments, I will admit that I find the sentiment that “God is nature and nature is God” has an eastern ring to it that I do find appealing – a sort of totality of the universe that is wrapped up in the simple idea of ‘god.’ Interestingly, he seems to be barking up the same tree as the Buddha when he invokes desire at the heart of living; the first and second of Buddhism Noble Truths tell us that “Life is suffering,” and that “the cause of our suffering is desire” (or thereabouts). Is there any indication that this similarity arose independently of the Buddha’s teachings? Or might Spinoza be one of the first Europeans to be interested in this more eastern sensibility?

    Posted by bryanjack | October 24, 2012, 9:15 pm
    • So I did some digging and I found that in the book “Spinoza: His Life and Philosophy”
      by Sir Frederick Pollock, Johannes Colerus, they say that it was likely that he knew of the existence of Buddhism, but there is nothing to suggest the extent of his knowledge on its doctrines.
      He did however have trouble trusting what he learned and was taught by Judaism. He once mentioned in a letter to Albert Burgh that India was “a seat of diver religions.” So perhaps he did look for others religions that could help his understanding of the world better.

      Posted by 113marianag | October 25, 2012, 6:36 pm

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