Baruch Spinoza

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Baruch Spinoza was born in Amsterdam and was given a Jewish traditional upbringing. He was educated at the congregation’s academy where he received all the necessary education in regard to the perceptions of the Jewish community at that time. Most of the teachings in the academy by then constituted of religious education, prophetic writings and commentaries in rabbinical.

His excellence in this area however did not give him a reason to seek higher studies but rather left school to work in his family business. History has it that it was his curious and critical nature that later brought forth a conflict between him and the Jewish community.



With the death of his father during the England and the France war, his mother having died earlier, he embarked on philosophy and optics and it is believed that eventually the cause of his death was a result of glass dust inhaled while tending to his optic trade (Richard, 1999, 52). The Jewish community in which he was brought up together with the businesses that he conducted gave him the opportunity of interacting with many and more diverse thoughts than those he had been accustomed to while in school and also in the family life.
Important here is the contact he made with the free thinking Protestants who gave him an interest in a wide variety of theological thinking and current developments in science and philosophy. It was as history has it through colleges that were organized by these free thinkers that he was exposed to what can be referred to as Cartesian thought besides the desire to learn and understand his own traditions. His desire to learn his traditions led him to start writing for philosophical figures such as Gersonides and later to expand his intellect in which case he sought the tutelage of Franciscus Enden who was an Ex-Jesuit.
His tutor turned out to be most helpful to Spinoza as he had interest in many fields such as medicine which kept him seeking for all the latest developments in sciences. According to history, Franciscus was also well known to have an irreligious cast of mind and a passion in advocating for political ideas that reflected democracy for all. In essence, the knowledge that Spinoza attained from Enden gave him a diverse view of the society and largely contributed to his works in philosophy.
In addition, the intellectual orientation that he acquired from his tutor led to an increase in his unorthodox views and reluctance in observing the laws of the community a thing that eventually threatened to strain his relationship with the Jewish community. In the year 1656, tensions with the elders of the community had grown to an extent that they sought to excommunicate him accusing him of abominable heresies and extending to him a series of curses (Richard, 1999, 47). The excommunication given to him also prohibited him from communicating with others in the community.
It also prohibited the community members from participating in business with him, coming into close proximity with him under all circumstances or studying anything written by him. This rendered him to be an outcast in the community despite the fact that he was by birth a Jew. All this events did not hinder his association with his tutor as opposed to his business. In contrast, he continued with his studies and even took various trips to the university to study the Cartesian philosophy.
He was later to settle in Leiden in the same period and also embarked on his literary career. His first work is recorded in Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect. In this work he attempted to offer a method that would allow the mind to form philosophical ideas that are distinct and clear and which would allow for perfection. The work also contained an extended treatment of definition, an analysis of the causes and nature of doubt and a reflection on the various forms of knowledge.
This work was however left unfinished and was later followed by the Short Treatise on God, Man and His Well Being and it was this work that reflected his interest in ethics. Though much of his work was based on the ideas of Descartes, Spinoza never acknowledged all the conclusions of him largely because he did not wish to be seen as a Cartesian. In his later work and with the help of the geometric method used by Descartes in philosophy, he sought to fully integrate geometric methods in presenting his own thoughts. This method forms the basis of most of his works thereafter the year 1665.
By then, his work which was later to be known as Ethics was being circulated amongst and by his friends back at home despite the fact that is was only inform of a draft. In this context, the religious and political environment of that time did not allow him to complete the Ethics but rather he sought to embark on other works which would prepare the audience for the Ethics. Later in his work known as the Theological- Political Treatise, he sought to argue the freedom of thought enhanced the security and the stability of the society rather than undermining it in the long run.
It was in this work that Spinoza sought to demonstrate that the threat to the freedom of thought came largely from the clergy accusing the later of using the superstitions and fears of the people in an effort to maintain power. He thus argued that the sovereign should exercise the authority of ruling the people as opposed to the clergy and that it was the sovereign that was supposed to extend liberty to the people, giving them the right to adhere to the minimal creed that was neutral in regard to the various sects and their meanings in the lives of the people.
This was largely aimed at enabling the philosophers of the time to exercise their freedoms free from any constraints from sectarianism. This work ignited a lot of criticism from the opponents of philosophical ideas and the authorities who accused Spinoza of having nefarious intentions while writing it. Some of his friends were also uncomfortable with his latest work and together with the other opponents accused Spinoza of atheism a thing that he greatly resented himself. In the end, he was forced to move out to Hague where he spent all the rest of his life.
His exile life did not hinder him from undertaking further writings but rather he pressed on though none of his work thereon was to be published until after his death. Even after his death, his work now published in Holland experienced a lot of criticism and at some point was abolished in the country. Perhaps it would be right to say that it was Ethics that saw the popularity and the expertise of Spinoza grow in the field of philosophy. The Ethics was encompassed in five books with the first concentrating on God and the meaning of substance.
The second of these books deals largely on the knowledge and the mind whereas the third, fourth and the fifth books deals mostly with ethical discussions including the enslavement of the humans by their emotions, the human freedom and passion. In this regard, his work on the treatise dealt mostly on the human freedom realization through the analysis of passion and knowledge and the conflict between the two. To him and evident in many of his works, any knowledge theory, psychology of the nature of the humans and any metaphysics could be compared to an ethic that sought to explain the purpose of human life (Jonathan, 1999, 89).
In Ethics, Spinoza makes the use of a basic presumption which can be seen as rational and which states that to the intellect, the nature of the world is transparent in the sense that the dependence amongst the states and events in nature can be seen as reflections of the dependence amongst the various ideas held by the human. His argument was that each and everything existing in nature or the universe in other words represents only one reality or what can be referred to as substance and that the rules governing the reality surrounding the human life and which he is a part of as a whole are encompassed in only one set.
He viewed nature and God as representing only one reality or substance and that it is this substance that forms the basis of the universe (Francks, 2003, 99) Spinoza further argued that all entities in this substance are only modifications and that it is nature itself that determine the existence of all other things and their causality to other things. In this regard, he asserts that for one to understand the complex chain of causes and effects one must first strive to understand the various parts that constitute it as a whole.
In arguing for a single substance he says the substance is not dependent on anything else for its existence and that it is impossible for two substances to share the same attributes or nature. He argued that since substance can be conceived as being self dependent, then God can simply be seen as the only necessary being who despite this, is not distinct from the world. In this context, he sees God as the only existing substance with all other substances owing their existence to Him.
On the other hand, God is immanent to the world and any existing individual things are as a result of modifications done by Him (Thomas, 1999, 58). In the same work, he extends his monism to the mind and matter arguing that each of them represented a characteristic of appreciating an eternal reality that was the same. He asserts that the universal substance consists of mind and body with no difference between the two. This argument was later to form a significant solution to the problem of mind and body commonly referred to as neutral monism.
He argued that the disclosure of the very essential nature of things could be attributed to intellect as opposed to senses. To him, an adequate and complete idea in regard to God reveals two attributes about Him. In this context, God can be conceived through thinking or through extension. As opposed to other philosophical and theological works that gives God the aspect of infinity, the methods explained by Spinoza explains that each of the above named ways of conceiving God helps in disclosing the attributes of his presence (Cohn-Sherbok, 1997, 68).
According to him, humans should endeavor to increase their knowledge about God or the one reality and this can be done by discovering ways in which He or it in case of the reality constitutes a reality that is complete and self sufficiently unified and in which all the happenings that take place are necessary. He further argues that thinking forms a consciousness of the body and that the same mode should be conceived both under the attributes of thought and extension. In this regard, the body and the mind are seen as casually unrelated but rather as parallel expressions of only one reality.
He argues further that in the system thought as dominated by God, error and evil requires explanations and in this context, he identify each with privation. In essence, he defines error as the lack of sufficient ideas and evils as the absence that express no essence. Spinoza in his work also sought to show that human senses provides modifications of the body as opposed to knowledge and that it is only through seeing them as true that we can be able to understand them (Samuelson, 1998, 48).
Further, Spinoza seeks to explain human freedom or free will through the concept of time in which he contends that freedom encompasses the capacity of the humans to conceive the world in terms of eternity and free from the bondage of desires and emotions. He argues the free will result from the realization by the humans of their appetites on one hand and their failure to understand and conceptualize the reasons behind their needs and actions.
Emotions and desires to Spinoza are just results of the ignorance of those causes that determine the human race (Cohn-Sherbok, 1997, 57). Further more, he argues that adequate cognition results into agency and activity. For one therefore to acquire adequacy, he first have to understand his emotions. In this context, he attempted to provide a geometry for emotions to demonstrate that humans are mostly driven by the unknown only to improve and gain control over them once they understand their motivations.
In conclusion, he argues that religion, science and philosophy consists an intellectual love for God thus are identical (Schwartz, 2002, 105). In his writings on politics, Spinoza borrows much from the experience he gained from the political system of the time which he used as a basis for his theory on government. He argued that it was the business of the state to avoid putting limits on the exercise of reasons by humans but rather it should attempt to provide the necessary conditions in which reason and its exercise can flourish.
Thus to him, constitutional democracy is a necessary and sufficient condition for the provision of a forum of freedom of opinion and reason within the law framework. In essence, he shares the assumptions of Hobbes in regard to the social contract in his political writings. This assumption can be states that a contract is only binding if it is for the advantage of one and that right is derived from power. The basis of his political power is mostly organized around the notion of freedom more so the freedom of enquiry (Julian, 2006, 121).
Spinoza’s works has been greatly translated all over the world in the modern times and he is considered to be one of the most influential figures in philosophy. In addition, his works have influenced other fields besides philosophy such as the field of science and literature. The outstanding influence of his works however remains in philosophy with modern philosophers adopting them in teaching and in formulating their own works. Despite the earlier ban of his work in Holland shortly after his death and publication of most of it, his work has greatly being adapted in many areas today.
In his works, he sought to explain and bring into the light many concepts which he believed would help in understanding the substance concept and the concept of human freedom on the other hand. Though borrowing much from the works of the earlier philosophers notably Descartes and Hobbes, he always retained his position in making or reaching conclusions. At times he rejected their conclusions and offered his own warning the reader that those conclusions were not necessarily right.
Benedict de Spinoza died in a rented room in Hague where he had gone to spend the rest of his life after conflicts with the authorities in Holland and it is believed that he died of a respiratory problem caused by the glass dust inhaled during his optic grinding (Francks, 2003, 98). Work Cited Cohn-Sherbok Dan. Fifty Key Jewish Thinkers. London, Routledge, 1997, pp. 57, 68 Francks Richard. Modern Philosophy: The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. London, Routledge, 2003, pp. 98, 99 Jonathan Israel. Dutch Jewry: Its History and Secular Culture (1500-2000). London, Brill, 2002, pp. 89
Julian Wolfreys. Modern Criticism and Theory: A Critical Guide. New York, Edinburgh University Press, 2006, pp. 121 Richard H. The Columbia History of Western Philosophy. Columbia, Columbia University Press, 1999, pp. 47, 52 Samuelson Norbert. An Introduction to Modern Jewish Philosophy. New York, State University of New York Press, 1998, pp. 48 Schwartz Dov. Faith at the Crossroads: A Theological Profile of Religious Zionism. London, Brill, 2002, pp. 105 Thomas Edmund. Writers and Philosophers: A Sourcebook of Philosophical Influences on Literature. London, Greenwood Press, 1999, p

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