Spinoza on the move
May 21, 2020 10:04 AM   Subscribe

Benedict Spinoza has been triggering intense response for centuries. Now his moment to shine has come.

Scholars Clare Carlisle and Yitzhak Y. Melamed in the The Times Literary Supplement have this to say:
The recent explosion of Spinoza studies – and of contemporary metaphysics and epistemology inspired by Spinoza – has resulted in a deep reorientation in analytic as well as continental philosophy. In many ways, Spinoza is now replacing Kant and Descartes as both the compass and the watershed of modern thought.
The writers of the TLS piece have numerous publications that draw attention to Spinoza’s importance: Some of Melamed’s many works on Spinoza: Recent work on Spinoza by other writers: Spinoza’s importance for science is also becoming better understood. Marjorie Grene writes in Spinoza and the Sciences:
The metaphysical foundations necessary to support an adequate scientific method, the vision of a unified science entailed by such foundationist propositions, the criticism, and, partly, correction of Cartesian physical theory, original use of the mathematical tradition, anticipations of twentieth century doctrines of space and time, the application of a complex investigative method in the emerging field of scientific hermeneutics: all these features are to be discovered when we look at Spinoza in the context of the history of the sciences, from his own time to ours.
posted by No Robots (21 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Spinoza's work can be off-putting in its austerity. There have been some attempts at making his work more accessible for general audiences. The Catholic Encyclopedia mentions Constantin Brunner's work as "[v]important for Spinoza's teaching." Harry Waton was another Spinoza enthusiast and popularizer, although probably not to everyone's taste.
posted by No Robots at 10:24 AM on May 21


Only part way through but can highly reccomend The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World as a view into the world. in 1676 Leibniz, 'co-creator of calculus' , decided to travel from Paris to The Hague to meet Spinoza and had a week long chat. I had no idea what a crazyman autodidact fashionista was this Gottfried, his host Baruch (barmitzva name) was an utter ascetic. No actual description of the private event but it must have been a hell of a good chat!
posted by sammyo at 10:46 AM on May 21 [4 favorites]


Spinoza does have his detractors. Two anti-Spinoza articles at the Discovery Institute: posted by No Robots at 11:05 AM on May 21


The Atheist in the Attic

Delany wrote a historical novella about Leibniz and Spinoza's meeting.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 11:07 AM on May 21 [4 favorites]


Spinoza does have his detractors.

Well, he was the one who started a beef with the Cartesians.
posted by thelonius at 11:07 AM on May 21 [3 favorites]


To be fair, the many known Cartesian plots are plane as day.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 11:15 AM on May 21 [40 favorites]


I will favorite that but not forgive it.
posted by biogeo at 12:10 PM on May 21 [9 favorites]


The Discovery Institute:

Mind, not matter, is the source and crown of creation, the wellspring of human achievement. Conceived by the ancient Hebrews, Greeks and Christians, and elaborated in the American Founding, Western culture has encouraged creativity, enabled discovery and upheld the uniqueness and dignity of human beings.

Linking religious, political, and economic liberty, the Judeo-Christian culture has established the rule of law, codified respect for human rights and conceived constitutional democracy. It has engendered development of science and technology, as well as economic creativity and innovation.

In contrast, the contemporary materialistic worldview denies the intrinsic dignity and freedom of human beings and enfeebles scientific creativity and technological innovation. Its vision of a closing circle of human possibilities on a planet of limited horizons summons instead the deadening ideologies of scarcity, conflict, mutual suspicion and despair.


Why, pray tell, should I take the word of this Bible-Theo-centric right-wing Eurocentric conservative economic George Gilder founded bunch of whatevers word on Spinoza, or anything else for that matter?

Take a look at Rebecca Goldstein's book - Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity for a less skewed view.
posted by njohnson23 at 12:33 PM on May 21 [9 favorites]




Detractors? I don't think a single one of them bothered to go there. Spinoza would smile serenely, and move on. As the man says:

"If the way I have shown to lead to these things now seems very hard, still, it can be found. And of course, what is found so rarely must be hard. For if salvation were at hand, and could be found without great effort, how could nearly everyone neglect it? But all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare."

For the uninitiated, Spinoza's entry in the IEP is a good primer. Will Durant's essay (audio on Youtube) is also edifying. Neither are any substitute for the Ethics. The newly published George Eliot translation is a delight, and many blessings upon Carlisle for finally putting it out there.

Bonus link for George Eliot fans: what Middlemarch could have taught Spinoza. Lovers of the Ethics will probably spot that the author misrepresents what Spinoza set out to achieve, which is getting us to think in a particular way. The philosophy is the starting point, not the destination. I like to think Eliot mastered this fully, and testing it to its limits made her the insightful writer she became. Thanks for posting!
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 1:59 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Besides the austere metaphysics, Spinoza's early earnest takedown of all organized religion, his positive and reductive ethical defense of democracy, and inspiring concept of peace (as opposed to war) in the suppressed Theologico-Political Treatise is a great read.
posted by Harry Caul at 2:29 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


This was a very interesting article - I had no idea there was a new edition of Ethics forthcoming.

I was raised an evangelical christian and studied philosophy in college and reading Spinoza at that time was so absolutely liberating and mind-blowing for me at the time. Quite life changing for me, even though it was hundreds of years old.

People get caught up in the god and nature thing with Spinoza, but everyone seems to gloss over his arguments about free will (or rather the lack of), and those to me were his most interesting and consequential.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:35 PM on May 21 [4 favorites]


We can now recognize this anthropomorphic deity as the God of those modern atheists who caricature religious belief as a wish-fulfilment fantasy about a cosmic father-figure.

WHO CARICATURES THE CARICATURISTS?

OH. THESE TWO AUTHORS. THEY DO.
posted by gurple at 8:10 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


Two anti-Spinoza articles at the Discovery Institute

The Discovery Institute is a right-wing front organization founded in the 90s to pass off creationism as “intelligent design”. We shouldn’t be giving these disingenuous God botherers the time of day. They are not arguing in good faith.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:15 PM on May 21 [9 favorites]


The Discovery Institute is a right-wing front organization founded in the 90s to pass off creationism as “intelligent design”.

Interesting though that they now find Spinoza to be a bigger threat than Darwin.
posted by No Robots at 9:19 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


Deleuze was ahead of the curve once again.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 10:55 PM on May 21


Take a look at Rebecca Goldstein's book - Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity for a less skewed view.

Unfortunately, I tried to read that book once and had to give it up. The book is more of a memoir it seems of growing up Jewish and how Spinoza is perceived and thought about within that world. And so my primary objection is that Spinoza is not a Jewish philosopher. I don't mean that (only) because he was excommunicated but that he does not come out of that tradition at all. He is no more a Jewish philosopher than he is a Portuguese philosopher. So despite Goldstein being a smart writer, I object to the framing itself.

(as a personal aside, my family on my maternal grandfather's side is Portuguese Jews who fled to Mexico. Here in the Jewish Museum in Amsterdam it was disorienting to see all these plaques with the same surnames as that side of the family (e.g. Pimentel, Duarte etc.))

I do recommend The Courtier and the Heretic which is a fun romp through those times and arguably places Spinoza closer to his proper context, with Descartes and Leibniz.
posted by vacapinta at 12:37 AM on May 22 [2 favorites]


He is no more a Jewish philosopher than he is a Portuguese philosopher.

Or a Dutch philosopher, if you please?! For what it's worth, you could argue that his position as an outsider Marrano Jew born into Amsterdam's outsider orthodox community is crucial to his uniqueness. Even among his philosopher friends, he's an outsider. He unsettles Leibniz, takes potshots at Descartes and insists to Oldenburg he is not an atheist. He stands alone, a completely original thinker. He belongs to nobody, so he can belong to anybody.

What fascinates me is that there must be as many different Spinozas as there are Spinoza adherents, but all would agree he has enriched their lives. Some people he brings closer to the Divine (for want of a better word) others he steers towards atheism. He is deeply religious, and not religious at all. If he can be said to stand for anything, it is tolerance, pluralism and freedom of conscience. And in this day and age, he arguably sits more easily alongside Islamic philosophy than Christian, a point surely not lost on his detractors at Discovery. They must be shitting themselves right now, and no wonder.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 4:00 AM on May 22 [12 favorites]


I have a personal philosophy that friends have told me is similar to Spinoza. I will dive into these links this rainy weekend, thanks!
posted by hypnogogue at 7:32 AM on May 22


The Discovery Institute: Mind, not matter, is the source and crown of creation, the wellspring of human achievement.

I always wonder if this kind of thing is just a lazy and overly literal interpretation of the Mind-Only/Yogachara Buddhist doctrine of Vasubandhu and others.
posted by sneebler at 1:13 PM on May 22


I always wonder if this kind of thing is just a lazy and overly literal interpretation of the Mind-Only/Yogachara Buddhist doctrine of Vasubandhu and others.

I think, probably not. For one thing, Spinoza has attracted this kind of attack for a long time, and there's no reason I can see to think that this tradition of anti-materialism was influenced by Buddhism.
posted by thelonius at 1:46 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


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