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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. 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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O panteísmo de Spinoza e o Deus de Nietzsche são de alguma forma a mesma coisa. Mas Nietzsche não era ateu? Sim, mas disse que, se houvesse um único Deus verdadeiro, Ele invariavelmente cuidaria da dança do cosmos, das colisões, dos impactos e da busca pela sobrevivência. Não é este o Deus de Spinoza, que é tudo, em todo lugar e em todo o mundo? Einstein, quando perguntado por um rabino sobre sua visão de Deus, disse: "Acredito no Deus de Spinoza, que se revela na harmonia de tudo que existe, não num Deus que se preocupe com o destino e as ações humanas". No entanto, até Stephen Hawking, que definitivamente não era teísta, perguntou respeitosamente "Quem acendeu as equações e detonou a explosão?" Obviamente, o Big Bang implica que o universo teve um começo, o que é antagônico à visão de Spinoza, se é que não corrobora a criação ex-nihilo do monoteísmo ortodoxo. Spinoza propôs que tudo é infinito e nada é finito. Mas e quanto ao tamanho do meu sapato? Como ele pode ser tão infinito quanto, digamos, a distância da luz? Spinoza afirma que é a imaginação ou a distinção de coisas que tornam as coisas finitas. Mas de acordo com ele, nada é finito. O que Paulo diz de Pedro nos revela mais sobre Paulo do que sobre Pedro. O que Spinoza diz sobre o mundo revela menos sobre o mundo do que sobre, digamos, Marilena Chauí... ( )
  jgcorrea | Dec 29, 2018 |
Benedict Spinoza


Wordsworth Classics, Paperback, 2001.

8vo. xcii+276. Translation by William Hale White, revised by Amelia Hutchinson Stirling. Introduction by Don Garrett, 2001 [vii-xv]. Translator's Preface [xvii-lxxxviii]. Index [pp. 258-76].

First published in Latin as Ethica, ordine geometrico demonstrata, 1677.
This translation first published, 1883.
Second edition, 1894 [revised, with a new preface].
Fourth edition, 1923 [corrected].
Wordsworth Classics edition, 2001.


Translator's Preface
Parallel Passages from Bruno

First Part
Of God

Second Part
Of the Nature and Origin of the Mind

Third Part
Of the Origin and Nature of the Affects

Fourth Part
Of Human Bondage, or of the Strength of the Affects

Fifth Part
Of the Power of the Intellect, or of Human Liberty

Guide to Using the Index


Having wrestled with Ethics for quite some time, I can now understand much better Bertrand Russell’s calling Spinoza “the noblest and most lovable of the great philosophers. Intellectually, some others have surpassed him, but ethically he is supreme.”[1] Somerset Maugham, not the easiest man to impress, considered his first reading of Spinoza to be “one of the signal experiences of my life. It filled me with just that feeling of majesty and exulting power that one has at the sight of a great mountain range.”[2] I can’t say the same for me, for I found much of Spinoza hard to understand or hard to believe, but he is certainly worth the trouble.

Every reviewer has said it and I am not going to be the sole exception. Spinoza is a really tough read. Apart from occasional prefaces and appendices, each part of Ethics starts with a set of definitions and axioms, and continues with a number of propositions and demonstrations, often accompanied by scholia, corollaries, lemmas, postulates and other esoteric sections like that. Cross-references between them are legion. Every demonstration ends with “Q.E.D.” (from “quod erat demonstrandu”, Latin for “that is what I wanted to prove and I have proved it”). Apart from the complicated and difficult to follow structure, the writing is dry, verbose, turgid, repetitious and, sometimes, not terribly lucid. How much of this is due to Spinoza himself and how much to the White-Stirling translation, I do not profess to know.

All this doesn’t sound too promising, but there are extenuating circumstances. First of all, the forbiddingly mathematical approach is evident from the very title. It is a pity the only place in this edition where you can read the full original title is the Introduction: Ethics, Demonstrated in Geometrical Order. So you’ve been warned from the beginning.

I don’t think it’s doing Spinoza an injustice to suggest that his cumbersome method need not be taken too seriously. But it’s a useful starting point for a review. Following the author’s example, there are two axioms why you ought to read Spinoza’s Ethics:

Axiom 1. As evident from the table of contents, he discusses subjects that ought to be of interest to every thinking creature.

Axiom 2. Whatever the difficulties of his style, Spinoza is an extraordinarily original and powerful thinker.

There are six propositions, none of them in need of demonstration, how to deal with Spinoza’s Ethics:

Proposition 1. Do not be discouraged easily. Persevere. Every beginning is tough and this one is no exception. The first two parts are quite a slog. Never mind. Persevere. You will gradually become aware how everything fits in its special place and a complex system emerges.

Proposition 2. Do not skip. You can’t start from Part Three. I mean, you can, of course, but you may not. Spinoza’s system is not just all-encompassing, but tightly organised. Skipping is risky. It’s like doing a puzzle with missing pieces.

Proposition 3. Pay special attention to the definitions and axioms in the beginning of each part. Read them several times, a dozen times if you have to. Learn them by heart if you can. The whole argument later, page after page of propositions and demonstrations, follows directly from this initial set of definitions and axioms.

Proposition 4. Pay special attention to the propositions and the scholia, not so much to the demonstrations. These last are repetitious and, unless you are an outstanding logician, difficult to follow. But the propositions and the scholia are for the most part easier to understand and self-sufficient. Spinoza would deplore an emotional approach like this, but he would know you have no other choice.

Proposition 5. Read slowly and carefully, if possible with a fresh head. You might be surprised how smoothly it flows.

Proposition 6. Do not pay too much attention to the cross-references.
Scholium: If you follow Proposition 5, you won’t have to.

Spinoza’s God is a very curious entity. He does call him a “Being”, but surely He is not. He is better defined as a substance with infinite attributes. Everything is an expression of God’s will and could not have been otherwise than it is. I think Bertrand Russell has rightly called this notion “complete and undiluted pantheism”.[3] If you ask me, the hypothesis is completely unnecessary, and calling it “God” is pure mischief-making. But there He is, so let’s accept the fantasy for the sake of the argument and see where it leads us.

Well, it leads us to some curiously modern notions. What Spinoza calls “God”, the whole universe with its laws and everything in it, is nowadays called nature. Thus Spinoza’s desire to know God is the desire to understand the world, including ourselves. It is a noble, disinterested and, above all, scientific desire, especially considering Spinoza’s repeated warnings to distinguish between intellect and imagination. Another important consequence is the complete abolition of free will. You are what you are and you do what you do because you cannot be otherwise than you are. This may be depressing or liberating, that depends on the reader’s personality.

Somewhat ironically considering the title of his book, but completely in line with his definition, Spinoza makes no attempt to describe God’s character in ethical terms. What a huge improvement over all religions, from Mount Olympus to Christianity, with their inane ideas of God as a capricious prima donna or a hard taskmaster! Spinoza’s God is certainly all-powerful. But He is not all-good. He is not all-bad, either. He is neither partially good nor partially bad. Spinoza’s God is absolutely indifferent, or at any rate profoundly inscrutable (which is the same).

The best part of the First Part is the Appendix. Here Spinoza drops the convoluted acrobatics hitherto employed and speaks in plain language of practical things. It’s not difficult to see why he was branded as heretic. He condemns with agreeable harshness the egotism and the stupidity of people who imagine that God created the world for their own private amusement. He has no patience with those misguided minds who view themselves as the pinnacle of nature and the ultimate purpose to which God has aimed ever since Creation. He is perfectly aware that such delusions have gone on for quite some time and it is now very difficult to eradicate them.

Thus has this prejudice been turned into a superstition and has driven deep roots into the mind – a prejudice which was the reason why everyone has so eagerly tried to discover and explain the final causes of things. The attempt, however, to show that nature does nothing in vain (that is to say, nothing which is not profitable to man), seems to end in showing that nature, the gods, and man are alike mad.

The Second Part I found the most tedious. Spinoza begins with 13 propositions on the mind-body division which I would not even pretend to understand. Then he continues with a discussion of moving and resting bodies which is strangely Newtonian, except that Spinoza doesn’t use the concept of force. This is easier to comprehend, but I fail to see its relevance. The most memorable episode is one of the scholia (Proposition 3) where Spinoza, in his no-nonsense manner, warns his readers that if they don’t stop confusing the power of God with the power of earthly kings, they won’t understand a word of what he has to say. At another place (Proposition 35, Scholium), he demolishes free will and the fools who believe in it:

For instance, men are deceived because they think themselves free, and the sole reason for thinking so is that they are conscious of their own actions, and ignorant of the causes by which those actions are determined. Their idea of liberty therefore is this – that they know no cause for their own actions; for as to saying that their actions depend upon their will, these are words to which no idea is attached. What the will is, and in what manner it moves the body, everyone is ignorant, for those who pretend otherwise, and devise seats and dwelling-places of the soul, usually excite our laughter or disgust.

The later sections of Part II become more relevant, if not easier to understand. Spinoza’s conclusions, however he arrives at them, are disturbing and, again, remarkably modern and scientific. In a nutshell, our mind is terribly limited. We have adequate knowledge neither of our bodies nor, still less indeed, of the external world. Spinoza calls our knowledge “confused and mutilated” (Proposition 29, Scholium) and argues that “falsity consists in the privation of knowledge” (Proposition 35). This is perfectly true 340 years later. Socrates was exaggerating, but he was not far from the truth. We do know something, but very little. To recognise this is the first sign of wisdom in the scientist as well as in the layman. One of the most important things in life is to learn to say “I don’t know”. Equally important, Spinoza might have said in English, is to strive towards perfect (i.e. true) knowledge; whether one calls this knowledge Nature, God or anything else is quite irrelevant.

Assuming that I understand him correctly, I have a few disagreements with our Dutch friend here. For instance, he insists on sharp division between reason and imagination, and argues that the former is greatly superior to the latter. This seems to me a little rash. Somewhat astonishingly, Spinoza concludes (Proposition 47) that “the human mind possesses an adequate knowledge of the eternal and infinite essence of God.” Since this involves a flagrant contradiction with earlier propositions, I assume he meant that our minds have the potential to achieve this ideal some time in the future. Well, I do believe he overestimated human nature just a bit. Then again, maybe it’s I who underestimate it. Either way, the quest to attain the unattainable may well be worth it in itself.

In Part III things become really interesting. For this is where the true ethics starts. This is also the last place where you must come to terms with the author. One of the most difficult things about reading Spinoza is that you have to meet him entirely on his own ground. However unconvincing or obscure may be his argumentation, you must accept his conclusions at least for the time being, or the whole system would make no sense. You must even modify your language. Spinoza uses words like God, action, cause, affect, passion and countless others with meanings you are not going to find in the Oxford English Dictionary. He does explain every single definition, but it doesn’t help that sometimes he uses certain words rather inconsistently. Spinoza’s world is a strange one in every possible way. But it’s worth a sightseeing tour.

Spinoza is serious. He sets out to describe a complete system of human conduct. Before he does that (in Parts IV and V), he defines here three major “affects” – joy, sorrow and desire – and derives from them all secondary ones that govern us, neatly listed and defined at the end of this part. The definitions are as simple as they are far-reaching. Joy and sorrow are simply affects that lead to greater or lesser perfection, respectively. Love and hatred, inclination and aversion, devotion and derision, and countless other couples like these are no more than variations on joy and sorrow. Affects of which we have an adequate idea (i.e. complete knowledge) lead to action. If privation of knowledge prevents us from forming adequate ideas, then the affects are merely passions and our existence consists of suffering rather than actions.

Desire, which seems to me vaguer and more akin to consequence of the affects, is defined as indistinguishable from appetite and “the essence itself of man in so far as it is concerned as determined to any action by any of his affections” (Proposition 9, “The Affects” in the end). Some of Spinoza’s definitions are indeed searing – jealousy, for instance, is described as a “vacillation of the mind” that unites hatred and envy, hatred towards the beloved object and envy towards the new beneficiary – but it would be a mistake to spend too much time on this part. It is no more than preparation for Part IV.

Part IV, which gave the title of Somerset Maugham’s best-known if not greatest novel, is the longest and the most compelling. It consists of 73 propositions flanked by lengthy preface and appendix. Its opening describes with unexpected lucidity not only Maugham’s protagonist, but also what follows:

The impotence of man to govern or restrain the affects I call bondage, for a man who is under their control is not his own master, but is mastered by fortune, in whose power he is, so that he is often forced to follow the worse, although he sees the better before him.

Here Spinoza confirms the startling conclusions that were hinted in the previous part. He begins with the Preface where he observes that good and evil “indicate nothing positive in things considered in themselves, nor are they anything else but modes of thought, or notions which we form from comparison of one thing with another.” This may seem like a strange claim in a work titled Ethics, and in the definitions Spinoza goes as far as separating good and evil on the basis of mere usefulness, but he does make it clear that he uses “good” and “evil” only insofar as they facilitate or hinder, respectively, the higher perfection of the individual. As we shall see presently, Spinoza’s ideal man is a very tall order indeed.

Even more startling, not to say shocking, is Spinoza’s proposal of profound egotism (Propositions 20, 22, 24-25, 52, 58). Self-preservation and the seeking of one’s own good is the first step of happiness, the spring of all virtues. Suicidal maniacs receive no sympathy: they are “impotent of mind”. Neither do fighters for causes, defenders of friends or self-sacrifices on account of one’s children: “No one endeavours to preserve his own being on account on another thing”. Self-satisfaction and even self-exaltation are deemed compatible with reason and therefore desirable. On the other hand, pity, repentance and humility are considered evil (Propositions 47, 50, 53, 54). They are merely forms of sorrow that diminish the power of the mind; “the man who repents of what he has done”, Spinoza observes with beautiful harshness, “is doubly wretched or impotent”. Even hope and fear “cannot be good of themselves” because they are never free of sorrow. The climax, as well as the least convincing part, comes in Proposition 47 where Spinoza takes the magic wand and transforms the profound egotism into profound altruism:

He who lives according to the guidance of reason strives as much as possible to repay the hatred, anger or contempt of others towards himself with love and generosity.

As Bertrand Russell has noted, there is nothing to be said against this principle “except that it is too difficult for most of us to practise sincerely.”[4] Spinoza apparently sensed that all this sounds suspiciously Christian and took pains to distinguish his ideas from the religious outlook. “He who is led by fear, and does what is good in order that he may avoid what is evil, is not led by reason”, he notes in Proposition 63. In the scholium that follows immediately, he concentrates his most savage attack on religion. No wonder he was excommunicated by the Jews and hated by the Christians:

The superstitious, who know better how to rail at vice than to teach virtue, and who study not to lead man by reason, but to hold him through fear, in order that he may shun evil rather than love virtue, aim at nothing more than that others should be as miserable as themselves, and, therefore, it is not to be wondered at if they generally become annoying and hateful to men.

The fourth part ends with seven propositions (67–73) that attempt to describe the free man, the first one being the famous “A free man thinks of nothing less than of death, and his wisdom is not a mediation upon death but upon life.” The free man, according to Spinoza, is one who lives entirely by reason. Only thus will he acquire complete knowledge of God and complete control over himself. Only thus will he never suffer from the bondage of excessive desire. If anything, this is far more difficult than the profound altruism just mentioned. In the last part of his remarkable work, Spinoza offers some insights into the mind of his free man.

Part V may look like something of an anti-climax (unhappiness is so much more glamorous than happiness), but it’s logically necessary. Though by far the shortest (about 30 pages), it is hardly the easiest. It contains some of Spinoza’s most confusing contradictions. For example, in Proposition 21 he asserts that “the mind can imagine nothing, nor can it recollect anything that is past, except while the body exists.” Two propositions later, he demonstrates – to his own satisfaction, not mine – that “the human mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the body, but something of it remains which is eternal.” (This makes Spinoza’s curt dismissal of Descartes’ mind-body hypothesis as “more occult than any occult quality” more than a little ironic.) Another strange thing is the claim that those who love God cannot expect God to love them back (Proposition 18), a very sensible expectation considering that Spinoza’s God is completely indifferent (Proposition 17, Corollary), yet later (Proposition 36) we are told “that the love of God towards men and the intellectual love of the mind towards God are one and the same thing.” Go figure!

The so-called “intellectual love of God” is the central concept in Part V. This is the perfect kind of love, the ultimate virtue; Spinoza calls it “blessedness”. It can never be extinguished, nor can it be degraded by jealousy or other passions. More importantly, this is the only kind of love that allows us to live as free men under the guide of reason. There is no affect, Spinoza believes, of which our reason cannot form an adequate idea and therefore transform it into right action. Otherwise affects are passions that result from inadequate knowledge, life is not action but passive suffering, and we are all slaves of our desires instead of their masters. The free man’s task is to overcome all this. The intellectual love of God is the free man’s business.

It’s only fair to Spinoza to note that, though he is no pessimist, he certainly doesn’t live in a fool’s paradise, either. He is perfectly aware that the vast majority of people are far from his ideal of the free man. Yet he concludes with qualified optimism. And that’s a very satisfying conclusion:

I have finished everything I wished to explain concerning the power of the mind over the affects and concerning its liberty. From what has been said we see what is the strength of the wise man, and how much he surpasses the ignorant who is driven forward by lust alone. For the ignorant man is not only agitated by external causes in many ways, and never enjoys true peace of soul, but lives also ignorant, as it were, both of God and of things, and as soon as he ceases to suffer ceases also to be. On the other hand, the wise man, in so far as he is considered as such, is scarcely ever moved in his mind, but, being conscious by a certain eternal necessity of himself, of God, and of things, never ceases to be, and always enjoys true peace of soul. If the way which, as I have shown, leads hither seem very difficult, it can nevertheless be found. It must indeed be difficult since it is so seldom discovered; for if salvation lay ready to hand and could be discovered without great labour, how could it be possible that it should be neglected almost by everybody? But all noble things are as difficult as they are rare.

Generally speaking, I am a great defender of readability and lucidity; I have very little patience with nearly unreadable obscurity that requires an exhausting struggle to grasp the author’s meaning. Spinoza is one of the very few exceptions where the effort is totally worth it. Whatever one’s opinion of his vague metaphysics (Parts I and II), there is no question that his ethical system (Parts III to V) is profoundly practical and, alas, still far ahead of our times. I feel this first reading will not be the last.

Note on the Edition

The Introduction by Don Garrett is a lucidly written essay with a number of interesting points. He doesn’t waste the time of his readers with what they can read further in the same volume. He goes straight to the point and suggests stimulating parallels with Hume and Descartes, trying to explain why Spinoza has had a more powerful influence than either. There is a “rich irony”, Mr Garrett says, in the fact that an intellectual philosopher and no prose stylist like Spinoza should have had a strong effect on creative writers from Goethe to Somerset Maugham, while David Hume, who wrote a beautiful prose and (unlike Spinoza) considered imagination just as important as intellect, should be hardly mentioned in literary circles. Spinoza would not have been pleased because “one of the chief aims of his philosophy was to increase our reliance on the intellect and to decrease our reliance on the imagination.” I should think this is just as good a reason to read Spinoza as any, for it makes him more than relevant in today’s insane world. The case with Descartes is more complex. In a nutshell, Mr Garrett argues that Spinoza took some of the Frenchman’s ideas (i.e. of substances) and radically developed and clarified them.

The last few paragraphs of the Introduction are dedicated to William Hale White who, with the aid of Miss Stirling, made “one of the earliest usable translations of the Ethics into English.” It is only here – and nowhere else in the volume – that we are told the corrected fourth edition was used as a copy text. Mr Garrett points out several biographical claims that modern research has disclaimed and challenges some of the translator’s philosophical interpretations, but he concludes that, on the whole, “White’s elucidations hold up surprisingly well”.

The Translator’s Preface is a monumental (~70 pages) and scholarly (55 footnotes) essay that will repay close study. It begins with a brief statement of the translators’ objective (“to present a version of the Ethics which shall be perfectly literal, and yet be intelligible, so far as they can understand it”) and an even briefer defence of tangled passages (“those who complain of obscurity must remember that the Latin is often obscure”), continues with detailed and painstakingly researched account of Spinoza’s life and writings, and concludes with exhaustive account of his philosophical system. It is encouraging to know that the translation you are about to read was made by people who really took their subject seriously. I can only hope their grasp of Latin was just as good as their knowledge of Spinoza’s life.

Spinoza’s outward life was short and uneventful. He grinded and polished lenses for a living and wrote philosophical treatises in his spare time. He died only 44 years old, having never travelled farther than The Hague from his native Amsterdam. Spinoza’s inward life, however, was another matter. He was intensely interested in mathematics, astronomy and science in general, conducted an important correspondence with a number of persons, and strived to understand Man and Nature with fearless honesty. Even the meagre events of his life testify to his remarkable courage and integrity. When he was excommunicated by the Jewish community in Amsterdam, he merely changed his Jewish name “Baruch” (blessed) for the Latin “Benedict” (the same) and continued his studies. When he was offered a pension if he wrote a book about the French king, he politely refused. When he was offered a chair at Heidelberg, but on the condition that he wouldn’t outrage the accepted religion, he politely refused. Money, position, property and earthly pleasures seem to have had little hold on him. They certainly couldn’t swerve him from his quest for truth – whatever it led him to. He was, in short, just the type of man to write a book like Ethics.

Both the Introduction and the Translator’s Preface can – and perhaps should – be read after the book. It is a good rule of thumb to approach a new book with as little prejudice as possible. Better to have a limited understanding worked out by yourself than a complete one that is yours only second-hand.

[1] History of Western Philosophy (1946), Book Three, Chapter 10. Russell’s analysis in this chapter cannot be recommended highly enough as a sort of rough guide through the maze of Ethics, although Russell’s conclusions must not be accepted unconditionally.
[2] The Summing Up (1938), Chapter 63.
[3] Russell, ibid. See note 1.
[4] Russell, ibid. See note 1. ( )
4 vote Waldstein | Jun 14, 2016 |
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. ( )
3 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.) ( )
2 vote HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
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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.

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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.Prefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parkinson, G. H. R.Translatorsecondary 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.
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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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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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)

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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."--P. [4] of cover.… (more)

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