This page contains a list of the seven best books on or by Spinoza. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books on Spinoza” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview, a third person may be looking for classic works by Spinoza. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on Spinoza. This list was created by compiling recommendations from across the internet and is not a list of personal recommendations. More information about this process is at the end of the post. Here are the best books on or by Spinoza in no particular order:
Spinoza: A Very Short Introduction – Roger Scruton
Publisher description: Benedict de Spinoza (1632-77) was at once the father of the Enlightenment and the last sad guardian of the medieval world. In his brilliant synthesis of geometrical method, religious sentiment, and secular science, he attempted to reconcile the conflicting moral and intellectual demands of his epoch, and to present a vision of humanity as simultaneously bound by necessity and eternally free. In this book Roger Scruton presents a clear and systematic analysis of Spinoza’s thought, and shows its relevance to today’s intellectual preoccupations.
Spinoza – Michael Della Rocca
Publisher description: Renowned for his metaphysics, Spinoza made significant contributions to understanding the human mind, the emotions, moral philosophy, and political philosophy.
Beginning with an overview of Spinoza’s life, Michael Della Rocca carefully unpacks and explains Spinoza’s philosophy: his metaphysics of substance and argument at the center of his whole system that God is the sole independent substance; his account of the human mind and its relation to the body; his theory that human beings tend towards self-preservation and his most famous work, the Ethics, including the problem of free will; and his writings on the state, religion and scripture.
Della Rocca concludes with a chapter on Spinoza’s legacy and how modern philosophers, Hume, Hegel, and Nietzsche, responded to Spinoza’s challenge. Ideal for those coming to Spinoza for the first time as well as those already acquainted with his thought, Spinoza is essential reading for anyone studying philosophy.
Spinoza: A Life – Steven Nadler
Publisher description: Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) was one of the most important philosophers of all time; he was also one of the most radical and controversial. The story of Spinoza’s life takes the reader into the heart of Jewish Amsterdam in the seventeenth century and, with Spinoza’s exile from Judaism, into the midst of the tumultuous political, social, intellectual, and religious world of the young Dutch Republic. This new edition of Steven Nadler’s biography, winner of the Koret Jewish Book Award for biography and translated into a dozen languages, is enhanced by exciting new archival discoveries about his family background, his youth, and the various philosophical, political, and religious contexts of his life and works. There is more detail about his family’s business and communal activities, about his relationships with friends and correspondents, and about the development of his writings, which were so scandalous to his contemporaries.
The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza – Don Garrett
Publisher description: Benedict (Baruch) de Spinoza has been one of the most inspiring and influential philosophers of the modern era, yet also one of the most difficult and most frequently misunderstood. The essays in this volume provide a clear and systematic exegesis of Spinoza’s thought informed by the most recent scholarship. They cover his metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, psychology, ethics, political theory, theology, and scriptural interpretation, as well as his life and influence on later thinkers.
Publisher description: This anthology of the work of Baruch de Spinoza (1632-1677) presents the text of Spinoza’s masterwork, the Ethics, in what is now the standard translation by Edwin Curley. Also included are selections from other works by Spinoza, chosen by Curley to make the Ethics easier to understand, and a substantial introduction that gives an overview of Spinoza’s life and the main themes of his philosophy. Perfect for course use, the Spinoza Reader is a practical tool with which to approach one of the world’s greatest but most difficult thinkers, a passionate seeker of the truth who has been viewed by some as an atheist and by others as a religious mystic.
The anthology begins with the opening section of the Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect, which has always moved readers by its description of the young Spinoza’s spiritual quest, his dissatisfaction with the things people ordinarily strive for–wealth, honor, and sensual pleasure–and his hope that the pursuit of knowledge would lead him to discover the true good. The emphasis throughout these selections is on metaphysical, epistemological, and religious issues: the existence and nature of God, his relation to the world, the nature of the human mind and its relation to the body, and the theory of demonstration, axioms, and definitions. For each of these topics, the editor supplements the rigorous discussions in the Ethics with informal treatments from Spinoza’s other works.
Ethics – Spinoza
Publisher description: A profoundly beautiful and uniquely insightful description of the universe, Benedict de Spinoza’s Ethics is one of the masterpieces of Enlightenment-era philosophy.
Published shortly after his death, the Ethics is undoubtedly Spinoza’s greatest work – an elegant, fully cohesive cosmology derived from first principles, providing a coherent picture of reality, and a guide to 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. The Ethics is presented in the standard translation of the work by Edwin Curley. This edition also includes an introduction by Stuart Hampshire, outlining Spinoza’s philosophy and placing it in context.
Theological-Political Treatise – Spinoza
Publisher description: The second edition incorporates Samuel Shirley’s pre-eminent translation with corrections of the typographical errors of its first edition, and a new general index. Seymour Feldman has contributed a new Bibliography and notes.
This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:
- browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
- searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
- browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- searching for recommendations on philosophy forums
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Spinoza
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Spinoza
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