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The Ethics by Benedict de Spinoza

The Ethics (1677)

by Benedict de Spinoza

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,473135,061 (4.08)26
  1. 40
    Discourse on Method by René Descartes (caflores)
    caflores: Descartes es más claro y breve, pero Spinoza lleva la racionalidad más lejos.

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Published shortly after his death in 1677, Ethics is undoubtedly Spinoza’s greatest work—a fully cohesive philosophical system that strives to provide a coherent picture of reality and to comprehend the meaning of an ethical life. Following a logical step-by-step format, it defines in turn the nature of God, the mind, human bondage to the emotions, and the power of understanding, moving from a consideration of the eternal to speculate upon humanity’s place in the natural order, freedom, and the path to attainable happiness. A powerful work of elegant simplicity, Ethics is a brilliantly insightful consideration of the possibility of redemption through intense thought and philosophical reflection. ( )
  MarkBeronte | Mar 4, 2014 |
According to the introduction, “Baruch Spinoza, who wrote in the mid-seventeenth century, has been considered the first modern philosopher, for he was the first to write philosophy from a standpoint beyond commitment to any particular religious persuasion. He was also among the first philosophers in modernity to advocate democracy as the best form of government.” The introduction claims he was influenced by Aristotle, Hobbes, Descartes as well as such figures of Judaic-Arabic thought as Maimonides. Ethics is Spinoza’s masterpiece--it came to my attention because it was on Good Reading’s list of “100 Significant Books.” In a way though, the title is a misnomer. Ethics, the study of right conduct, is only a small part of the treatise. Rather Ethics treats nearly the entirety of philosophy in its five parts.

The first part, “Concerning God” consists of a proof of God’s existence. It’s one of those ontological arguments, which I find among the most unconvincing of any attempts at a case for God. One of those that thinks the very definition of God is itself proof of existence. There’s a peculiar consequence though of how Spinoza defines God. He believes that a consequence of God’s very perfection is that “neither intellect nor will appertain to God’s nature.” After all, how can a perfect being wish to change any aspect of the universe? If God is infinite, how can he be outside Nature? Thus all is set, God does not and cannot intervene in the universe; there is no room for the supernatural. So Spinoza’s own definition and “proof” of God reduces him to triviality. God is just another word for all that exists--in which case, I don’t get why bother with the concept. (On the other hand, I understand it was precisely this line of argument which helped develop arguments for religious freedom and allowed free thinking, deism, and atheism to come out from hiding.) Part Two, “Of the Nature and Origin of the Mind” was the thorniest to read and understand. The best I can make out, contra Descartes, Spinoza denies any dichotomy between mind and body--both are expressions of an individual.

Part Three, Four, and Five are all closely connected. Part Three “On the Origin and Nature of Emotions” argues that “all emotions are attributed to desire, pleasure or pain” according to “each man’s nature,” recognizing individual differences in tastes and values. At the end he defines various emotions according to this system. Spinoza seems to argue for this being very deterministic, which makes me wonder, why bother with an ethical system at all, if humans are unable to conform to it? This is clarified somewhat in the next two parts, “Of Human Bondage, or the Strength of Emotions” and “Of Human Freedom”--which doesn’t deal with politics as you might think, but with Freedom from those pesky emotions, by “framing a system of right conduct” and developing a habit of conforming to reason. Politics was touched on more in Part Four, where the influence of Hobbes idea of the social contract was obvious.

It was from Section Four that I felt I took away something valuable. Much of the heart of Spinoza’s ethics is very reminiscent to me of Aristotle’s ethics, which established the whole line of “rational ethical egoism” which I find so much more appealing than appeals to disinterested altruism such as Kant’s rule-based “categorical imperative” that calls for conforming to ethical rules without caring about consequences--to yourself or others--or utilitarianism which asks you to calculate the greatest good for the greatest number without caring about tramping on individuals with hobnailed boots. Spinoza, like Aristotle, emphasizes that ethics is about human flourishing and happiness. But what I like about Spinoza, that I don’t remember from Aristotle (who admittedly I haven’t reread in years) is his emphasis on reciprocity and empathy--in other words, the Golden Rule that has been a near universal in moral thinking from Confucius to Jesus: “Every man should desire for others the good which he seeks for himself.” Spinoza recognizing humans flourish best with other humans argues it’s in a person’s self-interest, and makes a person happiest, when consequently people “are just, faithful, and honourable in their conduct.” I like that squaring of the circle of selfishness and altruism.

Mind you, this was difficult, dry reading. Philosophy doesn’t have to be. I found Plato, with his dialogue format and use of metaphor and story quite fun, and Aristotle quite lucid. In comparison to Spinoza's Ethics, Descartes Discourse on Method is easy. Spinoza writes as if he’s setting out a geometry text. His arguments are set out as definitions, axioms, corollaries, postulates, and especially propositions and their proofs. There are, mercifully, notes where he does set out his arguments in a more conventional narrative form, but especially in Part Two, when dealing with such concepts as the relationship between body and mind, and how we know what we know--well, this isn’t for the faint of heart. Plato and Aristotle write as if their audience are ordinary people--Spinoza as if his audience consists of mathematicians, scientists and philosophers. So no, I’m not saying that in giving this a rating Goodreads equates with “Really Liked It” I’m saying this was a fun read, and I can’t even say on first read on my own I felt I fully comprehended and got out of this all that I could. I possibly should have read more about Spinoza by popularizers before tackling this--it was hard going. But Spinoza is definitely a thinker worth encountering. ( )
1 vote LisaMaria_C | Jun 20, 2013 |
Baruch you beautiful magnificent bastard. Within these two hundred dense pages of Euclidean geometric proofs axioms and postulates you manage to construct an ethical system , upend the traditional conception of monotheistic G-dd, and instead make him synonymous with the Laws of Nature. This is the best last expression of scholastic theology, and one of the most influential and astonishing philsophers of ever. It is a system which is both beautiful in its logic and yet kind and sympathetic in its recognition of the flaws, and refuting the Descartian mind-body dualiity, and yet preeemptivly going after Leibnizs Just World tripe, recognizing the imperfections and nature of human beings yet offering a coherent method to their betterment through reason and Caring For Others - not some empty cliche but instead a necessry outlet for understanding the universe and maintaining positive emotion

As an additional benefit, such a system is comptible with some of the recent materialist neurological discoveries of modern science, stating that the mind can be inlfuenced by the body, and taht we must understand physical causes in order to make progress with the mentl/abstract. We must cultivate our gardens.

Spinoza is the foundations of philosophy and even mysticism and religion for even the most doubtful and venomous of skeptics, offering up the Universe and the Mathematical Laws of Nature instead of the dusty antiquated God of Bronzze Age massacres who demands foreskins for marriage. Perhaps a few others with benefit s of additional centuries of thought might yet construct a more applicable or cogent system but he is the base of it. He has the foundation, our Rock upon which the new Church is to be founded.

(Written in sleep-deprived haze on a trans-Pacific flight. Typos and other mistakes preserved. May write a better review later, but this will serve for now.) ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
Ethics presents a monolithic metaphysical system, derived from axioms and definitions. It possesses an austere beauty and, it would seem, great psychological insight - the latter particularly via Spinoza's enumeration of the basic emotions and his elaboration of these, plus his solution to the problems they tend to cause to human beings. Spinoza is massively invested in his elaborate higher metaphysics, which knit together his particular notions of God, man, and nature. On that foundation, after a couple of hundred pages of this seamless order, his political philosophy is dealt with in one page only. The result is frightening.

At one point, using his relentless geometrical method, Spinoza derives the conclusion that it is perfectly OK for humans to cause serious suffering to animals - this is because we are, somehow - in a curious Spinozistic fashion - special. Philosophical reasoning which assumes that "all other things are equal" can be be interesting and useful, but perhaps all other things are never equal, and reading this book might help to appreciate this. The perfect movement from high-flown abstract principles to the justification of extremely cruel treatment of animals is a harsh inference. Spinoza doesn't hold back. Perhaps he's also gone wrong somewhere in his asumptions.

At a higher level, the notions of body and thought, as being just two of the limitless modes of what he refers to as "God", but the only two accessible to our understanding, is very interesting and very evocative. Einstein said the God he believed in was the Spinozist God. Ethics was a major influence on enlightenment philosophy and it is a classic statement of the non-existence of free will. Perhaps it's a book you should read if you really want to, and pass over without feeling guilty if you don't. I enjoyed it. ( )
1 vote mirta | Jan 23, 2012 |
American novelist and professor of philosophy Rebecca Newberger Goldstein has chosen to discuss Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics on  FiveBooks as one of the top five on her subject - Reason and its Limitations, saying that: 

“…He is of course one of the great 17-century rationalists, someone who made all the claims for reason that have ever been made. There is great ambiguity in him. He was called a God-intoxicated man by the poet Novalis. But he was also perhaps one of the most effective atheists of all time. …”

The full interview is available here: http://five-books.com/interviews/rebecca-goldstein
  FiveBooks | Mar 30, 2010 |
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Verket er bygget opp rundt læresetninger, bevis og anmerkninger. Det er inndelt i fem deler som handler om Gud, om sjelens natur og opprinnelse, om følelsenes opprinnelse og natur, om menneskelig slaveri eller følelsenes makt og om hvordan fornuften kan frigjøre mennesket. Dette er Spinozas hovedverk. Bokas innledning setter verket inn i sin sammenheng.

» Add other authors (69 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Benedict de Spinozaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boyle, AndrewTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Curley, EdwinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hampshire, StuartIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parkinson, G. H. R.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parkinson, G. H. R.Prefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Suchtelen, Nico vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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By cause of itself I understand that whose essence involves existence, or that whose nature cannot be conceived except as existing.
In 1492, the year of the discovery of Africa, the shadow of religious persecution fell across the Iberian peninsula.
There is no singular thing in Nature which is more useful to man than a man who lives according to the guidance of reason
Blessedness is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself; nor do we enjoy it because we restrain our lusts; on the contrary, because we enjoy it, we are able to restrain them.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140435719, Paperback)

Published shortly after his death in 1677, Ethics is undoubtedly Spinoza’s greatest work—a fully cohesive philosophical system that strives to provide a coherent picture of reality and to comprehend the meaning of an ethical life. Following a logical step-by-step format, it defines in turn the nature of God, the mind, human bondage to the emotions, and the power of understanding, moving from a consideration of the eternal to speculate upon humanity’s place in the natural order, freedom, and the path to attainable happiness. A powerful work of elegant simplicity, Ethics is a brilliantly insightful consideration of the possibility of redemption through intense thought and philosophical reflection.

First time in Penguin Classics
Edwin Curley's translation is considered definitive
Inlcudes an introduction outlining Spinoza's philosophy and placing it in context

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:34 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Benedict de Spinoza's Ethics, first published in 1677, constitutes a major systematic critique of the traditional and religious foundations of philosophical thought. In it, Spinoza follows a logical step-by-step format consisting of definitions, axioms, propositions, proofs, and corollaries to create a comprehensive inquiry into the truth about God, nature, and humans' place within the universe. From these broad metaphysical themes, Spinoza derives what he considered to be the highest principles of religion and society and lays out an ethical system in which reason is the supreme value. A seminal contribution to 17th-century rationalism, Spinoza's Ethics refutes the dualism of Rene Descartes and provides a bridge between religion and modern-day psychology. This edition is the translation by R. H. M. Elwes.… (more)

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