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The Ethics (1677)

by Benedict de Spinoza

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,375314,885 (4.08)29
Published shortly after his death, the Ethics is undoubtedly Spinoza's greatest work - an elegant, 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, the emotions, 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, the nature of freedom and the path to attainable happiness. A powerful work of elegant simplicity, the Ethics is a brilliantly insightful consideration of the possibility of redemption through intense thought and philosophical reflection.… (more)
  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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» See also 29 mentions

English (19)  Spanish (6)  French (3)  Dutch (2)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  All languages (31)
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Spinoza is without any doubt the thinker that pulled western Europe out of the dark age and the first true modern philosopher of history. The tenets contained in his chief philosophical work are particularly deserving of interest because for the first time in the history of philosophy after Epicurus and the ancient materialists, Spinoza refuses to acknowledge the notion of an afterlife, staunchly rejects the transcendental nature of God and claims that human beings are merely capable of recognizing two of the countless attributes belonging to the immanent God, but on the downside, Spinoza turns out to deny also free will and the immortality of the soul, and the positions he took concerning these matters earned him the backlash of the religious community of his age. To fully grasp Spinozism and why the controversial nature of its principles still echo down the ages, it is recommended to take a quick look at the Theological-Political Treatise before delving into this work, but no other philosopher is strictly required to get the gist of his general ideas. Many modern readers and philosophers after his death recognized Spinoza as a pantheist, but as it is far from the divinizing of matter and soul of the Neoplatonist Iamblichus, I reckon this is a major misunderstanding of his ontological argument that posits God as the eternal self-generating principle (Natura Naturans) of the attributes of the passive nature (Natura Naturata), thus the term "panetheism" is the most appropriate one to define Spinoza's philosophy. In view of its contents, i'd recommend Spinozism to the readers who seek a middle way between atheism and theism without conforming to any religious dogmas. ( )
  Vertumnus | Jul 22, 2021 |
The word on the street is that one can safely skip the first two of the five parts of this book—difficult to understand—and jump straight to what the book is ostensibly about, ethics. I’m not sure, though, that the reader who begins with part three or four would be able to make much sense of it. Spinoza’s treatise begins and ends with God, and the “ethics” it offers are not so much moral prescriptions as they are a way to combat the storms to which our passions are prey.
If that makes it sound as if it’s a rehash of ancients such as Epictetus, in a way it is, but with crucial differences, particularly in that Spinoza denies that either God or man has free will. The God he demonstrates in the manner of Euclidean geometry is not the one you heard about in Sunday school. Spinoza’s alternate term for God is “nature,” which often brings the label “pantheist” to his philosophy. To an extent, that’s justified; God is the sum total of what is. Still, that equivalence affects not only what we mean by “God,” but also by “nature.”
Since there is no free will, nothing in the universe is arbitrary, except perhaps for the fact that the universe exists. Or maybe even that’s not an exception. In Spinoza’s take, the universe cannot not exist. Whatever happens is the result of a chain of causes. To that extent, life is determined, but not predetermined.
So where do ethics fit into this? As far as I can understand, the point is to come to know and embrace what is and thereby overcome emotions based on inadequate knowledge through stronger emotions that make us more fit to act (in Spinoza's system, to act is categorically better than to be passive). In so far as we grow in knowledge, the actions we take are more likely to be toward objects that benefit both us and other humans.
At least, that’s what I understand him to say. At one point, Spinoza’s insistence that virtue is nothing other than “acting according to the laws of our nature.” That’s a sentence the self-aggrandizers of our day might applaud, except that Spinoza doesn’t mean material things beyond those necessary for living. Those governed by reason “desire nothing for themselves which they do not desire for others.”
For the most part, Spinoza presents his case for the virtuous life—which for him is the only life that can be called free—on its own merits. His rare departures from this admirable strategy include a couple of negative remarks about conventional religion. His complaint about “the superstitious, who know better how to rail at vice than to teach virtue” (part IV, scholium to proposition 63) is close to the mark, as is his description of “the creed of the multitude” (the scholium to proposition 41 in part V).
The translation I read is the one by Hale White, first published 1883, revised by Amelia Hutchison in 1910, and reprinted in volume 31 of the Great Books of the Western World. It’s serviceable, from what I can tell by comparing a few passages to the Latin text. Still, I found I could follow Spinoza’s argument better if I mentally substituted “emotion” every time the translation spoke of an “affect.” But overall, the struggle I had with the book had more to do with the stringency of Spinoza’s thought and writing style than any faults in the translation. Nevertheless, I found this a worthwhile read. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
My expectations for this book were very high, and sadly it fell well short of what I hoped to find. I had been exposed to Spinoza’s ideas through other people discussing them, but this was my first attempt at reading his work directly. On the positive side, Spinoza is a unique thinker, and his approach of using proofs along the lines of geometrical proofs is challenging and for those interested in the subject, it is worth the effort to experience a different approach. The Penguin Classics edition also offers a supporting introduction to better help the reader understand Spinoza and what he was trying to accomplish. There are no notes though, as the logic-based method that Spinoza would not benefit much from notes.

There are significant issues in reading this work, though. There is a huge amount of references as Spinoza builds his case similar to what Euclid did, so one needs to refer back to previous propositions and associated definitions, axioms, demonstrations, etc. when attempting to follow Spinoza’s proofs. This challenge is undoubtedly made more difficult because this is a translation into English of the original Latin. The logic itself is problematic too, as there appeared to be cases where circular reasoning was used, and assertions which were not supported, and arguments which didn’t use logic at all, instead indicating that things were “absurd” or “no one would be able to doubt” and those are not logical arguments.

One of the biggest and clearest areas where there is an issue is around the concepts of infinite and infinity. In looking at the following statement:

If corporeal substance is infinite, they say, let us conceive it to be divided two parts. Each part will either be finite or infinite. If the former, than an infinite is composed of two finite parts, which is absurd. If the latter [NS: i.e., if each part is infinite], then there is one infinite twice as large as another, which is also absurd.”

Certainly, his statement that an infinite could be composed of two finite parts “is absurd” is correct, but he makes the mistake of thinking that you can’t divide an infinite into two (or more) infinites, and he totally ignores the idea of dividing an infinite into a finite piece and an infinite piece. Examples of both an infinite being made up of multiple infinites or of multiple finites along with at least one infinite are easily seen in Math, and there are signs in his argument that he thinks of infinity as a number, and not a concept of “being without end”.

The above mentioned problems occur fairly early on in his work, and thus the foundations on which he builds the rest of the work are built on incorrect definitions and propositions, or at least ones which are not supported logically. I was not able to get past these issues, and so I did not enjoy the overall work as much as I might have. Perhaps I will revisit this work again in the future, to get more out of what he was attempting to do. I will certainly not read it again with overly high expectations. ( )
  dave_42 | Jun 26, 2020 |
nice book by a nice guy imo ( )
  theodoram | Apr 7, 2020 |
This book was very hard to understand. I thought it might be easier since I heard it uses math proofs to work its way to explain the universe, but that just made it more difficult for me. So what was this book talking about?

I think this was a guys way of trying to answer the questions "why do bad things happen to good people?" The answer he comes up with is that God does not have feelings or other human characteristics because God is Nature. Nature has a set of rules that produce a set of outcomes that can only happen one way. From what I read it seems that Spinoza was against the concept of Free Will.

Also, I wasn't too keen on his reasoning for why God exists. "God Exists because god's essence is existence. God's essence is perfect, there-for god exists." to paraphrase it.

I thought there were some interesting ideas about the divine and world around us being one. I also agree with the idea that God doesn't care who wins a Football game.

I wouldn't recommend this book unless you are a philosophy buff or really into 17th century geometry proofs used for non-math. ( )
  nmorse | Dec 3, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Beskrivelse:
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 (64 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Benedict de Spinozaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Boyle, AndrewTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cīrule, BrigitaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Curley, EdwinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eliot, GeorgeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Elwes, Robert Harvey MonroTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hampshire, StuartIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parkinson, G. H. R.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parkinson, G. H. R.Prefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rodríguez Bachiller, ÁngelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Suchtelen, Nico vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zariņš, VilnisForewordsecondary 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.
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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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Published shortly after his death, the Ethics is undoubtedly Spinoza's greatest work - an elegant, 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, the emotions, 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, the nature of freedom and the path to attainable happiness. A powerful work of elegant simplicity, the Ethics is a brilliantly insightful consideration of the possibility of redemption through intense thought and philosophical reflection.

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Book description
pt. 1. Concerning God

pt. 2. Of the nature and origin of the mind

pt. 3. Concerning the origin and nature of the emotions

pt. 4. Of human bondage, or the nature of the emotions

pt. 5. Of the power of the intellect, or of human freedom
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