Two Ethical Ideals in Spinoza’s "Ethics": The Free Man and The Wise Man

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According to Steven Nadler’s novel interpretation of Spinoza’s much discussed ‘free man’, the free man is not an unattainable ideal. On this reading, the free man represents an ideal condition not because he is passionless as has often been claimed, but because even though he experiences passions, he “never lets those passions determine his actions.” In this paper, I argue that Nadler’s interpretation is incorrect in taking the model of the free man to be an attainable ideal within our reach. Furthermore, I show that Spinoza’s moral philosophy has room for another ideal yet attainable condition, which is represented by the wise man. On my reading, becoming a wise man consists not in surmounting human bondage, but in understanding ourselves as finite expressions of God’s power and, thereby, coming to terms with the ineliminability of bondage for us due to our very human or modal condition in the Spinozistic universe.
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