Spinoza’s Book of Life

Spinoza’s Book of Life: Freedom and Redemption in the Ethics

Steven B. Smith
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Spinoza’s Book of Life
    Book Description:

    Most readers of Spinoza treat him as a pure metaphysician, a grim determinist, or a stoic moralist, but none of these descriptions captures the author of theEthics,argues Steven B. Smith in this intriguing book. Offering a new reading of Spinoza's masterpiece, Smith asserts that the Ethics is a celebration of human freedom and its attendant joys and responsibilities and should be placed among the great founding documents of the Enlightenment.

    Two aspects of Smith's book distinguish it from other studies. It treats the famous "geometrical method" of theEthicsas a form of moral rhetoric, a model for the construction of individuality. And it presents theEthicsas a companion to Spinoza's major work of political philosophy, theTheologico-Political Treatise,each work helping to explore the problem of freedom. Affirming Spinoza's centrality for both critics and defenders of modernity, the book will be of value to students of political theory, philosophy, and intellectual history.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12849-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. A Note on the Texts
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xix-xxvi)

    Who was the author of theEthics?¹ Spinoza was born Bento Despinosa on November 24, 1632, in Amsterdam. His Hebrew name Baruch means “blessed.” His father, Michael, was a reasonably well-to-do merchant who had arrived in Amsterdam from Portugal via Nantes sometime around 1623. While there is some dispute over the family’s social standing, the fact that Michael served two terms on theparnas, the governing body of the Jewish-Portuguese community, fixes him as a member of the upper crust of the Amsterdam Sephardim. Spinoza’s mother, Hanna, died in 1638 when he was only six years old, followed by his...

  6. 1 Thinking about the Ethics
    (pp. 1-30)

    Spinoza’sEthicsis by general consensus one of the most difficult books ever written.¹ This is so in part because the ideas that Spinoza sought to convey are inherently difficult. The themes of substance, attribute, necessity, and eternity are not such as to allow easy access. But Spinoza’s work is made doubly difficult by the method by which he attempted to communicate these ideas. As a work writtenin more geometrico, theEthicsconsists of formal propositions, definitions, scholia, and corollaries, all of which are said to follow from one another in the manner of a formal geometrical proof. Philosophy...

  7. 2 Thinking about God
    (pp. 31-61)

    Starting points are always difficult in philosophy, and Spinoza is no exception. He makes it appear that if we do not understand the opening definitions and axioms of theEthicswe cannot possibly hope to understand the demonstrations that follow from them. This reading would have some plausibility if the work unfolded in a rigorously deductive manner from self-evident first principles. But it doesn’t. TheEthicsis continually punctuated by digressions, repetitions, polemics, and rebuttals. The geometry forms a kind of surface rhetoric below which we can better determine Spinoza’s purpose. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the opening...

  8. 3 Thinking about Thinking
    (pp. 62-93)

    The transition from part one to part two marks an important change in the overall direction of theEthics. In part one Spinoza dealt with the biblical theme of the unity and oneness of God. To take seriously the proposition that God is one meant thinking about God not as the transcendent creator of nature, but as fully articulated within the natural world and its causal processes. In part two, however, Spinoza turns away from the unitary structure of nature as a whole to consider the issues of personal identity, the relation of mind to body, and the basic composition...

  9. 4 Thinking about Desire
    (pp. 94-122)

    TheEthicsis generally regarded as a work of scientific psychology akin to Descartes’sMeditationsand the opening chapters of Hobbes’sLeviathan. Following the examples of these two predecessors, Spinoza took mathematics, and especially geometry, as providing the model for all reasoning. All the sciences are to proceed from the same clear and distinct premises as constitute a mathematical formula. Mathematics provides a kind of universal language that cuts across the study of nature and the socalled human sciences, like politics, history, and morality. In one of his most decisive utterances on this approach, Spinoza tries to justify his use...

  10. 5 Thinking about Politics
    (pp. 123-153)

    The subject matter of part four of theEthicsmarks a change from moral psychology to political theory. Theconatusthat impels each person to seek to preserve him or herself has a social character that leads us to seek out the company and friendship of others as a means not only of survival but of enhancing our power and freedom. The theme of this part of the book is the transition from the state of nature to civil society, from individual psychology to membership in a polity. It takes up the great question posed earlier by Hobbes, namely, How...

  11. 6 Thinking about Love
    (pp. 154-182)

    In his posthumously publishedLove and FriendshipAllan Bloom remarks that while Rousseau may have been “the most erotic of modern philosophers,” Socrates was “the most erotic of philosophers, period.”¹ I will not quarrel with this statement except to note that it fits with a number of fairly standard views on modernity. Marxist historians and their acolytes have long contended that the older traditions of chivalry and courtly love no longer conformed to the imperatives of the new market-oriented economy of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The great ethical philosophers of the early modern period devoted themselves to exonerating the...

  12. 7 The Authority of Reason
    (pp. 183-202)

    TheEthicsis a singular book written by someone who valued his singularity. Even the title of the book remains something of a mystery, for it is a work that contains very few of what we would call ethical propositions. As a result, although Spinoza’s influence has been widespread, there are very few people today who would call themselves Spinozists, or, if they do, they are happy to recognize or appropriate one aspect of Spinoza’s thought and declare allegiance to it while ignoring or disavowing the others. In a world where there are still Platonists, Aristotelians, Thomists, Kantians, and even...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 203-216)
  14. Index of Passages Cited from Spinoza’s Ethics
    (pp. 217-218)
  15. General Index
    (pp. 219-230)