Spinoza, Baruch

International Encyclopedia of Ethics (2013)
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Baruch, or Benedictus, Spinoza (1632–77) is the author of works, especially the Ethics and the Theological-Political Treatise, that are a major source of the ideas of the European Enlightenment. The Ethics is a dense series of arguments on progressively narrower subjects – metaphysics, mind, the human affects, human bondage to passion, and human blessedness – presented in a geometrical order modeled on that of Euclid. In it, Spinoza begins by defending a metaphysics on which God is the only substance and is bound by the laws of his own nature. Spinoza then builds a naturalistic ethics that is constrained by, and to some extent is a product of, his strong metaphysics. Human beings are individuals that causally interact with other individuals and are extremely vulnerable to external influence. They are not substances. Moreover, human beings are bound by the same laws that bind all other individuals in nature, so Spinoza presents accounts of goodness, virtue, and perfection that are consistent with these perfectly general laws. Spinoza’s principal influences include René Descartes, Thomas Hobbes (see hobbes, thomas), Moses Maimonides (see maimonides, moses), the Roman Stoics (see stoicism), and Aristotle (see aristotle). Although his innovative philosophical views undoubtedly contributed to the strong writ of cherem, or ostracism, that Spinoza received from the Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam in 1656, his work nevertheless also shows the influence of the study of Scripture and of Jewish law.
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