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Baruch Spinoza

Baruch Spinoza was born on November 24th 1632 in Amsterdam.

He was the son of a successful merchant. Although his mother tongue was Portuguese, he also knew Hebrew, Spanish, Dutch, French, and later Latin. In 1653, at the age of 20, Spinoza began studying Latin with Frances van den Enden (later known as an atheist and a radical democrat), who introduced Spinoza to scholastic and modern philosophy.

When his father died in 1654 renounced his inheritance and gave it to his sister. Spinoza then adopted the Latin name Benedictus de Spinoza, began boarding with Van den Enden and teaching in his school. During this time Spinoza met the Collegiants, an anti-clerical sect with tendencies towards rationalism. During this time many of his friends belonged to group that rejected the authority of established churches. It is not certain when Spinoza began doubting the bible and all that it says but it is claimed that it was the result of a lengthy internal struggle.

Now branded as a heretic, Spinoza clashes with the church became more pronounced. After his father’s death in 1654, Baruch Spinoza ran the family business but had to give it up when it ran into significant financial difficulties. It was then that he decided to devote himself to philosophy. In 1656, the Jewish community in Amsterdam issued a ban of Spinoza. Spinoza spent his remaining 21 years writing and studying as a private scholar. It was then that he worked on and wrote his novel “Ethics”. During this time he worked as a lens-grinder for microscope and telescope which was said to have caused his death in 1677.

Spinoza’s philosophy was largely based around the bible. He believed that god exists and it abstract and impersonal. When he was younger and was studying Descartes, he disputed his theory that the body and mind are two separate substances and said that they were a single identity. He also contended that everything that exists in Nature is one reality and that there is only one set of rules governing the whole of the reality that surrounds us and of which we are part.

Spinoza also viewed God and Nature as two names for the same reality that is the basis of the universe and which all other entities are actually just modifications. He also believed that everything that has and will happen is a part of a long chain of cause and effect that cannot be changed. No amount of prayer or ritual will sway god. Only the knowledge of God allows us to best respond to the world around us. Spinoza was a determinist and believed that everything happens for a reason. According to him, humans do not have the possibility to say “no” to events that will happen, but we have the possibility to say “yes” and fully understand why things need to happen that way. When we say “yes” to things that happen and understand more about what’s happened, we become more free and more like God.

Spinoza lived a modest life and did not become well-known until his death. Once his book was published posthumously, he became known as one of Western philosophy’s more important thinkers. Philosopher Georg Wilhem Freudrich Hegel said that all contemporary philosophers are either a Spinozist or not a philosopher at all. I think that his modest upbringings greatly affected his work. He was shunned by his community at a relatively young age. Most of his philosophy was affected by this and his views of God were also determined by his childhood mentors and friends especially Frances van den Enden. Arguably one of the things that he is best known for is laying the groundwork for the 18th century Enlightenment.

I think that it’s truly incredible that he was able to make such pronounced statements about thing that we still are not sure of today. Spinoza’s naturalism (the idea that nothing exists beyond the natural world), was incredibly controversial and still is today. The thing that has surprised me the most is how sure he was of his beliefs even when they contradicted the social norm of the era.



2 thoughts on “Baruch Spinoza

  1. Great post! Just like you mentioned on my post about Bergson, I find it so fascinating how similar their early lives were, but how diverse their philosophical ideas are. This kind of validates that your upbringing doesn’t necessarily influence you to think a certain way. Spinoza’s idea that no amount of prayer or ritual can sway god is very interesting, I am really curious to know what Christians of that time and modern day have to say about that idea that he presented.

    Posted by ashleyashrafian | October 15, 2013, 5:45 am
    • Hi Ashley, thanks for your comment! At that time, Jews living outside of Islam were forced to adopt Christianity and secretly maintain the Jewish faith. Spinoza however said that there should be political tolerance of alternative religious practices and that Christians and Jews could live peacefully together. Unfortunately this wasn’t adopted and he was not well liked by people of both the Jewish or Christian faiths. His books and philosophy drew largely from work from the Arabian and Jewish philosophy of religion but his main sources were early, little-known Jewish heretics and obscure Christian writers of his own time. He is now known as the “Greatest Christian” and the “Greatest Atheist”.

      Posted by emilysaint05 | October 16, 2013, 3:08 am

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