A Spinoza Reader: The Ethics and Other Works
by Baruch Spinoza
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
There is joy in returning to a thinker after a quarter century. I read Spinoza in my first semester of graduate school and hadn't ever occasioned to read him again until these last few weeks. I did this time read parts of this anthology and of his masterwork, The Ethics, that I did not read the first time around.
Apparently in class in 1996 we were focused on his metaphysics, so this time I enjoyed reading some of his biblical hermeneutics, psychology, and moral and political thought. I feel as if I come away with a better grasp of Spinoza, his role in the history of ideas, and his influence upon later thinkers.
I was surprised to find some wise aphorisms in The Ethics, which reminded me of Marcus Aurelius. Here are a few examples: "He who lives according to the guidance of reason will strive, as far as he can, to bring it about that he is not troubled with affects of hate, and consequently will strive that the other also should not undergo those affects." "A free man thinks of nothing less than of death, and his wisdom is a meditation on life, not on death." "A free man who lives among the ignorant strives, as far as he can, to avoid their favors." "The proud man loves the presence of parasites, or flatterers, but hates the presence of the noble."
But then there are the puzzling ones as well, such as "There are no affects of hope or fear without sadness . . . there is no hope without fear." "Humility is not a virtue, or does not arise from reason." "He who loves God cannot strive that God should love him in return."
Spinoza's work is an extreme expression of the life of reason. This is more fully embodied in his geometric approach to philosophy, presenting definition, axioms, and postulates that makes his masterwork awkward to read.
But as an expression of the life of reason, his philosophy possesses admirable qualities. It represents a high (yet impossible) ideal--the closing line of The Ethics is "But all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare."
But I find him overall to be obtuse and wrongheaded, particularly in his metaphysics which undergirds everything else.
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