They had immigrated to Amsterdam from Portugal in order to escape the Inquisition that had spread across the Iberian Peninsula and live in the relatively tolerant atmosphere of Holland. Spinoza's father, Michael, was a successful merchant and a respected member of the community.
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His mother, Hanna, the second of Michael's three wives, died in , just before Spinoza was to turn six. The young Spinoza, given the name Baruch, was educated in his congregation's academy, the Talmud Torah school. There he received the kind of education that the community deemed necessary to constitute one as an educated Jew.
Jon Miller, Meaning in Spinoza’s Method - PhilPapers
This largely consisted of religious study , including instruction in Hebrew, liturgy, Torah, prophetic writings, and rabbinical commentaries. Although Spinoza no doubt excelled in these, he did not move on to the higher levels of study which focused on the Talmud and were typically undertaken by those preparing for the rabbinate. Whether by desire or by necessity, Spinoza left the school in order to work in his father's business, which he eventually took over with his half-brother, Gabriel. The Jewish community in Amsterdam was by no means a closed one , but Spinoza's commercial activities put him in touch with more diverse currents of thought than those to which he had hitherto been exposed.
Most significantly, he came into contact with so-called 'free-thinking' Protestants - dissenters from the dominant Calvinism — who maintained a lively interest in a wide range of theological issues, as well as in the latest developments in philosophy and science. This naturally included the work of Descartes, which was regarded by many in Holland to be the most promising of several alternatives to scholasticism that had emerged in recent decades. In order to discuss their interests, these free-thinkers organized themselves into small groups, they called colleges, which met on a regular basis.
Spinoza may have attended such meetings as early as the first half of the 's, and it is most likely here that he received his first exposure to Cartesian thought. This is not to say that Spinoza ceased to mine the resources of his own tradition - he became steeped, for example, in the writings of such philosophically important figures as Maimonides and Gersonides - but his intellectual horizons were expanding and he was experiencing a restlessness that drove him to look further afield.
It was at this time that he placed himself under the tutelage of an ex-Jesuit, Franciscus Van den Enden, who had recently set up a Latin school in Amsterdam.
Van den Enden turned out to be the perfect teacher for Spinoza. In addition to having an excellent reputation as a Latinist, he was a medical doctor who kept abreast of all that was new in the sciences. He was also notorious for his allegedly irreligious cast of mind, and he was a passionate advocate of democratic political ideals. It is safe to say that Spinoza's studies with Van den Enden included more than lessons on how to decline nouns.
Spinoza's intellectual reorientation, however, came at a cost. His increasingly unorthodox views and, perhaps, laxity in his observance of the Jewish law strained his relations with the community. Tensions became so great that, in , the elders of the synagogue undertook proceedings to excommunicate him.
It then levels a series of curses against him and prohibits others from communicating with him, doing business with him, reading anything he might write, or even coming into close proximity with him. Spinoza may still have been a Jew, but he was now an outcast. Little is known about Spinoza's activities in the years immediately following his excommunication.
He continued his studies with Van den Enden and occasionally took up residence in his teacher's home. As it was now impossible for him to carry on in commerce, it was most likely at this time that he took up lens grinding as an occupation. There is also evidence that he traveled periodically to Leiden to study at the university. There he would have received formal instruction in Cartesian philosophy and become familiar with the work of prominent Dutch Cartesians. In , he settled near Leiden, in the town of Rijnsburg. It was during this same period, in the late 's, that Spinoza embarked upon his literary career.
It contains, in addition, reflection upon the various kinds of knowledge, an extended treatment of definition, and a lengthy analysis of the nature and causes of doubt. Most notably, it contains an unambiguous statement of the most famous of Spinoza's theses - the identity of God and Nature. Spinoza's stay in Rijnsburg was brief.
In he moved to the town of Voorburg, not far from The Hague, where he settled into a quiet, but busy, life. As a condition of publication, Spinoza had his friend, Lodewijk Meyer, write a preface to the work, warning the reader that his aim was exposition only and that he did not endorse all of Descartes's conclusions.
Despite his admiration for Descartes, Spinoza did not want to be seen as a Cartesian. Spinoza's work on Descartes shows him to have been interested from early on in the use of geometric method in philosophy. It was out of this experimentation that the idea arose for a fully geometric presentation of his thought.
Meaning in Spinoza's Method (Electronic book text)
He began work on this sometime in the early 's, and by substantial portions of what was to become the Ethics were circulating in draft form among his friends back in Amsterdam. Though he was well into the project by then, the political and religious climate of the day made Spinoza hesitant to complete it. He chose to exercise caution and suspended work on it, turning instead to a book that would prepare an audience receptive to the Ethics.
As is clear from the text, he considered the primary threat to this freedom emanated from the clergy, whom he accused of playing upon the fears and superstitions of people in order to maintain power. His solution was to divest the clergy of all political power, even to the point of placing authority over the practice of religion in the hands of the sovereign. The sovereign, Spinoza argued, should extend broad liberties within this domain, requiring adherence to no more than a minimal creed that was neutral with respect to competing sects and the meaning of which was open to a variety of interpretations.
This, he hoped, would allow philosophers the freedom to do their work unencumbered by the constraints of sectarianism. It was condemned as a work of evil, and its author was accused of having nefarious intentions in writing it. Even some of Spinoza's closest friends were deeply unsettled by it. Though he had assiduously tried to avoid it, Spinoza found himself embroiled in heated religious controversy and saddled with a reputation for atheism , something he greatly resented.
Spinoza's last move, in , was to The Hague, where he was to live out his remaining years. Spinoza admired De Witt for his liberal policies and was horrified at the murder. With the ascent of the Orangist-Calvinist faction, he felt his own situation to be tenuous. Despite these distractions, Spinoza pressed on.
Baruch Spinoza, "Human Beings are Determined"
By it was complete. As he perceived his enemies to have grown in influence and opportunity, however, Spinoza decided against publishing it. Public viewing of the definitive statement of his philosophy would have to wait until after his death. By this time Spinoza was in a state of failing health. Weakened by a respiratory illness, he devoted the last year of his life to writing a work of political philosophy, his Political Treatise. Though left unfinished at his death, Spinoza's intention was to show how governments of all types could be improved and to argue for the superiority of democracy over other forms of political organization.
In the part he did finish, Spinoza showed himself to be an astute analyst of diverse constitutional forms and an original thinker among liberal social contract theorists. Spinoza died peacefully in his rented room in The Hague in These were immediately shipped to Amsterdam for publication, and in short order they appeared in print as B. Opus Posthuma. But even in death Spinoza could not escape controversy; in , these works were banned throughout Holland.
One wonders why Spinoza would have employed this mode of presentation. The effort it required must have been enormous, and the result is a work that only the most dedicated of readers can make their way through. Some of this is explained by the fact that the seventeenth century was a time in which geometry was enjoying a resurgence of interest and was held in extraordinarily high esteem, especially within the intellectual circles in which Spinoza moved. We may add to this the fact that Spinoza, though not a Cartesian, was an avid student of Descartes's works.
While this characterization is true, it needs qualification. In order to understand this difference one must take into account the distinction between two types of geometrical method, the analytic and the synthetic. Descartes explains this distinction as follows:. It demonstrates the conclusion clearly and employs a long series of definitions, postulates, axioms, theorems and problems, so that if anyone denies one of the conclusions it can be shown at once that it is contained in what has gone before, and hence the reader, however argumentative or stubborn he may be, is compelled to give his assent.
CSM II, The analytic method is the way of discovery. Its aim is to lead the mind to the apprehension of primary truths that can serve as the foundation of a discipline. The synthetic method is the way of invention. Its aim is to build up from a set of primary truths a system of results, each of which is fully established on the basis of what has come before.
Its ultimate aim is to aid us in the attainment of happiness, which is to be found in the intellectual love of God.
This love, according to Spinoza, arises out of the knowledge that we gain of the divine essence insofar as we see how the essences of singular things follow of necessity from it. In view of this, it is easy to see why Spinoza favored the synthetic method.
Beginning with propositions concerning God, he was able to employ it to show how all other things can be derived from God. We are, as it were, put on the road towards happiness. Of the two methods it is only the synthetic method that is suitable for this purpose. What is perhaps most noteworthy about this system is that it is a species of monism - the doctrine that all of reality is in some significant sense one.
In Spinoza's case, this is exemplified by the claim that there is one and only one substance. This substance he identifies as God.
While monism has had its defenders in the west, they have been few and far between. Spinoza is arguably the greatest among them. Spinoza builds his case for substance monism in a tightly reasoned argument that culminates in IP We may best follow the course of this argument by taking it in three parts. First, we examine four definitions that play a crucial role in the argument. Second, we look at two propositions to which the demonstration of IP14 appeals.
And third, we turn to the demonstration of IP14 itself. This definition has two components.