Who Is Baruch Spinoza?

I have taken great care not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.

- Baruch Spinoza, Tractatus Politicus (1677), 1, 4

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg discusses the Dutch Jewish Philosopher Spinoza. For the radical thinkers of the Enlightenment, he was the first man to have lived and died as a true atheist. For others, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he provides perhaps the most profound conception of God to be found in Western philosophy. He was bold enough to defy the thinking of his time, yet too modest to accept the fame of public office and he died, along with Socrates and Seneca, one of the three great deaths in philosophy. Baruch Spinoza can claim influence on both the Enlightenment thinkers of the 18th century and great minds of the 19th, notably Hegel, and his ideas were so radical that they could only be fully published after his death. But what were the ideas that caused such controversy in Spinoza’s lifetime, how did they influence the generations after, and can Spinoza really be seen as the first philosopher of the rational Enlightenment?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Spinoza

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Although Baruch Spinoza is one of the great thinkers of the European philosophical tradition, he was not a professional scholar – he earned his modest living as a lens grinder. So, unlike many thinkers of his time, he was unconstrained by allegiance to a church, university or royal court. He was free to be faithful to the pursuit of truth. This gives his philosophy a remarkable originality and intellectual purity – and it also led to controversy and charges of heresy. In the 19th century, and perhaps even more recently, "Spinozist" was still a term of abuse among intellectuals.

In a sense, Spinoza was always an outsider – and this independence is precisely what enabled him to see through the confusions, prejudices and superstitions that prevailed in the 17th century, and to gain a fresh and radical perspective on various philosophical and religious issues...

Continue reading Clare Carlisle's article: Spinoza, part 1: Philosophy as a way of life

Further Reading

Bento (in Hebrew, Baruch; in Latin, Benedictus) Spinoza is one of the most important philosophers—and certainly the most radical—of the early modern period. His thought combines a commitment to a number of Cartesian metaphysical and epistemological principles with elements from ancient Stoicism, Hobbes, and medieval Jewish rationalism into a nonetheless highly original system. His extremely naturalistic views on God, the world, the human being and knowledge serve to ground a moral philosophy centered on the control of the passions leading to virtue and happiness. They also lay the foundations for a strongly democratic political thought and a deep critique of the pretensions of Scripture and sectarian religion. Of all the philosophers of the seventeenth-century, perhaps none have more relevance today than Spinoza...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Baruch Spinoza by Stephen Nadler

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