Spinoza’s Philosophy Summary

April 22, 2012

Baruch Spinoza

Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), is a Dutch philosopher and has written the following works:

- Treatise on God, man and his happiness (written in Latin in 1661)

- Treaty on reform of the understanding (written probably in 1661)

- Principles of the philosophy of Descartes (1663)

- Theological-Political Treatise (1670)

- Political Treatise (1673-1677)

- The Ethics (published the year of the death of Spinoza)

Spinoza, rejecting any divine transcendence, identifies and merges God and the nature. The intellectual love of wisdom is the true God, who is the immanent reality.

Spinoza and the geometric method:

The Ethics (Spinoza’s main work), is exposed as is a treatise on geometry: from definitions, axioms and postulates, it follows an ordered series of theorems, proofs and corollaries.

This geometry, far from being inessential, the manifest will of the philosopher to proceed rigorously, as do mathematicians.

- Spinoza seeks to express, in Ethics, objectively, the fundamental essence of all things.

- As for the title of Ethics, must not mislead us. Ethics does not mean a moral sense of the term, but the real true knowledge of God, immanent in the world, the practice of science that is.

God or Nature:

What is? A single substance absolutely infinite, we are only modes. The God of Spinoza, the subject of ethics has nothing to do with that of the Judeo-Christian transcendent principle in the world.

- We must, indeed, all expel anthropomorphic representation of the divine.

- God is nothing other than a Being absolutely infinite, composed of an infinity of attributes, a single substance (the substance that refers to itself and is conceived through itself).

God identifies with this substance. It means the whole of reality or nature, understood as the unity of things and the only Being to whom the realities relate: Deus sive Natura = God or Nature.

- The philosophers of the Renaissance, as Giordano Bruno, Spinoza had probably struck by their representation of nature and an infinite.

- This is a design “pantheistic,” found in Ethics, knew at least the term “pantheism” a doctrine identifying God and the whole of reality (the term “pantheism” is not to attribute to Spinoza as appeared in the early thirteenth century).

In this unique substance of that nature being one with God, the human mind grasps only two attributes, extension and thought, the defining attribute to Spinoza as follows: what the understanding perceives of a substance as constituting its essence.

In this perspective, then that represent particular objects of the world?

- These are changes of substance that is infinite nature, in other words patterns, that is to say, the affections of this substance.

- Thus, each particular creature showing up as a way of God as another thing, by means of which it is designed.

This tripartite (substance-attribute-mode) enables us to grasp the meaning of the concepts of nature and of Nature Nature natured:

- By Nature naturans, Spinoza meant God Himself, as it is in itself and conceived through itself, in any real producer.

- By Nature natured, the philosopher understands everything that follows in the nature of God and his attributes, all that is produced by the substance as it is in itself and through it.

Such a system is strictly deterministic: the infinite attributes of God necessarily produce certain effects. Nothing is given contingent in nature:

- The absolute necessity is talking about Spinoza in Ethics has this meaning: everything is determined by the Divine Nature to produce an effect.

- Contingency, that is to say what can not be, represents only a defect of our understanding, a lack of real knowledge.

The essence of human nature in Spinoza’s Philosophy: desire and passion

Within this doctrine, how to understand the essence of human nature? There is in us an active element, named Spinoza conatus:

- The conatus, denotes the effort by which each thing, provided it is in itself, strives to persevere in his being.

- But when the conatus becomes conscious of itself, it is called desire, which thus identifies the “appetite” accompanied by the consciousness of itself.

- Conatus and desire to match the dynamic assertion of our being.

But human desires can be altered by the intervention of external causes.

- We are suffering, indeed, the action of forces that we are necessarily linked, since we are a part of Nature.

- Thus are born the passions, which are modifications of our being passive.

Joy and sorrow are the two fundamental passions which derive other passions: joy is the transition to greater perfection, the sadness, the passing of the man is less perfect.

For Spinoza, the man’s life is marked by the sad procession of sad passions (hatred, envy …).

- These passions reduce man to a state of servitude, that is to say, passivity.

- Here comes the philosophy’s role is to cure the man of her sad passions, to become master of himself.

Spinoza, Virtue and wisdom

Virtue in Spinoza, has nothing to do with what is commonly understood. Being virtuous is to acquire true knowledge of our passions through appropriate ideas and concepts.

Thus the righteous is the one who discovers the dynamism that animates him:

- To be virtuous is to know the real access to the fullness of life.

- Virtue and life are inseparable.

The wise man is the one who has access to true knowledge, and he comes in the fullness.

Spinoza and Politics

The wise man lives under the regime of reason. In this way, the citizen Spinoza also found the agreement and unity with others.

Thus, the State must be rationally designed: the only rational State opens the way to freedom, under the laws of human nature, that is to say, aware of the infinite nature.

Spinoza is a Democrat. Democracy means a system where no one transfers his rights to another and where all are equal, a city where freedom of conscience is absolute.

Thus emerges the destiny of free men living under the regime of reason in a free city. By accessing the true knowledge, man becomes a God to man. Spinoza’s politics merges with its Ethics and completes it.