Saint Baruch

"To be what we are, and to become what we
are capable of becoming, is the only end of life."

"Do not weep; do not wax indignant. Understand."

It was in Amsterdam that Baruch Spinoza found the freedom to reject the Judeo-Christian notion of God. Elsewhere, he might have been killed for his rejection of God. As it was, in 1656, at the age of 24, he was "excommunicated" from (shunned by) the Jewish community. The writ of excommunication accused him of 'abominable heresies' and ‘monstrous deeds’ and then leveled a series of curses against him. Most importantly, it forbid other Jews from communicating with him, doing business with him, reading anything he wrote, or even being physically near him!

Some believe that Spinoza rightly feared being burned at the stake for what he wrote. In any case, that is the reason that his major works were only published posthumously by his friends. And to make his writing more palatable, they appear to have deleted some of Spinoza's statements in which he made it clear that he used the word "God" to refer to Nature.

In his lifetime, Saint Baruch was proclaimed an atheist for his rejection of the traditional notion of God—which he replaced with a notion of the Divine Natural World. The concept known as "pantheism," with which he is associated and which is often based on his ideas, only came into being long after his death. It is utterly mind boggling how Spinoza could have freed himself from God, Free Will and the special Divinity of the Human Soul (i.e., lying outside of the Laws of Nature/Yo), and the Mind-Body problem way back in the 17th Century, long before modern psychological science, evolutionary theory, and modern physics. In many ways, Baruch Spinoza was the first Yoan.

It is a testament to the progress of human understanding that this Jewish heretic became a proud symbol of the Netherlands, appearing on the largest Dutch banknote in use prior to the adoption of the euro.

A Poem about Baruch Spinoza
by Albert Einstein
(1920, translated from the German)

How much do I love that noble man
More than I could tell with words
I fear though he'll remain alone
With a holy halo of his own.

[In addition to the pages just linked to, to explore further the similarities between Spinoza's Universe/God/Nature and Yo, see The Proofs of Yos Existence, in the The Word According to Yo and in Yo FAQ.]




The material below was excerpted from the Baruch Spinoza article
(January 10, 2005 revision)

by Steven Nadler,
Professor of Philosophy,
University of Wisconsin-Madison


Spinoza's metaphysics of God

Spinoza's metaphysics of God is neatly summed up in a phrase that occurs in the Latin (but not the Dutch) edition of the Ethics: "God, or Nature", Deus, sive Natura: "That eternal and infinite being we call God, or Nature, acts from the same necessity from which he exists" (Part IV, Preface). It is an ambiguous phrase, since Spinoza could be read as trying either to divinize nature or to naturalize God. But for the careful reader there is no mistaking Spinoza's intention. The friends who, after his death, published his writings must have left out the "or Nature" clause from the more widely accessible Dutch version out of fear of the reaction that this identification would, predictably, arouse among a vernacular audience.

There are, Spinoza insists, two sides of Nature. First, there is the active, productive aspect of the universe — God and his attributes, from which all else follows. This is what Spinoza, employing the same terms he used in the Short Treatise, calls Natura naturans, "naturing Nature". Strictly speaking, this is identical with God. The other aspect of the universe is that which is produced and sustained by the active aspect, Natura naturata, "natured Nature".

By Natura naturata I understand whatever follows from the necessity of God's nature, or from any of God's attributes, i.e., all the modes of God's attributes insofar as they are considered as things that are in God, and can neither be nor be conceived without God. (Ip29s).

Spinoza's fundamental insight in Book One is that Nature is an indivisible, uncaused, substantial whole — in fact, it is the only substantial whole. Outside of Nature, there is nothing, and everything that exists is a part of Nature and is brought into being by Nature with a deterministic necessity. This unified, unique, productive, necessary being just is what is meant by ‘God’. Because of the necessity inherent in Nature, there is no teleology in the universe. Nature does not act for any ends, and things do not exist for any set purposes. There are no "final causes" (to use the common Aristotelian phrase). God does not "do" things for the sake of anything else. The order of things just follows from God's essences with an inviolable determinism. All talk of God's purposes, intentions, goals, preferences or aims is just an anthropomorphizing fiction.

All the prejudices I here undertake to expose depend on this one: that men commonly suppose that all natural things act, as men do, on account of an end; indeed, they maintain as certain that God himself directs all things to some certain end, for they say that God has made all things for man, and man that he might worship God. (I, Appendix)

God is not some goal-oriented planner who then judges things by how well they conform to his purposes. Things happen only because of Nature and its laws. "Nature has no end set before it … All things proceed by a certain eternal necessity of nature." To believe otherwise is to fall prey to the same superstitions that lie at the heart of the organized religions.

[People] find — both in themselves and outside themselves — many means that are very helpful in seeking their own advantage, e.g., eyes for seeing, teeth for chewing, plants and animals for food, the sun for light, the sea for supporting fish … Hence, they consider all natural things as means to their own advantage. And knowing that they had found these means, not provided them for themselves, they had reason to believe that there was someone else who had prepared those means for their use. For after they considered things as means, they could not believe that the things had made themselves; but from the means they were accustomed to prepare for themselves, they had to infer that there was a ruler, or a number of rulers of nature, endowed with human freedom, who had taken care of all things for them, and made all things for their use.

And since they had never heard anything about the temperament of these rulers, they had to judge it from their own. Hence, they maintained that the Gods direct all things for the use of men in order to bind men to them and be held by men in the highest honor. So it has happened that each of them has thought up from his own temperament different ways of worshipping God, so that God might love them above all the rest, and direct the whole of Nature according to the needs of their blind desire and insatiable greed. Thus this prejudice was changed into superstition, and struck deep roots in their minds. (I, Appendix)

A judging God who has plans and acts purposefully is a God to be obeyed and placated. Opportunistic preachers are then able to play on our hopes and fears in the face of such a God. They prescribe ways of acting that are calculated to avoid being punished by that God and earn his rewards. But, Spinoza insists, to see God or Nature as acting for the sake of ends — to find purpose in Nature — is to misconstrue Nature and "turn it upside down" by putting the effect (the end result) before the true cause.

Nor does God perform miracles, since there are no departures whatsoever from the necessary course of nature. The belief in miracles is due only to ignorance of the true causes of phenomena.

If a stone has fallen from a room onto someones head and killed him, they will show, in the following way, that the stone fell in order to kill the man. For if it did not fall to that end, God willing it, how could so many circumstances have concurred by chance (for often many circumstances do concur at once)? Perhaps you will answer that it happened because the wind was blowing hard and the man was walking that way. But they will persist: why was the wind blowing hard at that time? why was the man walking that way at that time? If you answer again that the wind arose then because on the preceding day, while the weather was still calm, the sea began to toss, and that the man had been invited by a friend, they will press on — for there is no end to the questions which can be asked: but why was the sea tossing? why was the man invited at just that time? And so they will not stop asking for the causes of causes until you take refuge in the will of God, i.e., the sanctuary of ignorance. (I, Appendix)

This is strong language, and Spinoza is clearly not unaware of the risks of his position. The same preachers who take advantage of our credulity will fulminate against anyone who tries to pull aside the curtain and reveal the truths of Nature. "One who seeks the true causes of miracles, and is eager, like an educated man, to understand natural things, not to wonder at them, like a fool, is generally considered and denounced as an impious heretic by whose whom the people honor as interpreters of nature and the Gods. For they know that if ignorance is taken away, then foolish wonder, the only means they have of arguing and defending their authority is also taken away."

The Human Being

In Part Two, Spinoza turns to the origin and nature of the human being. The two attributes of God of which we have cognizance are extension and thought. This, in itself, involves what would have been an astounding thesis in the eyes of his contemporaries, one that was usually misunderstood and always vilified. When Spinoza claims in Proposition Two that "Extension is an attribute of God, or God is an extended thing", he was almost universally — but erroneously — interpreted as saying that God is literally corporeal. For just this reason, "Spinozism" became, for his critics, synonymous with atheistic materialism  . . .

One kind of extended body, however, is significantly more complex than any others in its composition and in its dispositions to act and be acted upon. That complexity is reflected in its corresponding idea. The body in question is the human body; and its corresponding idea is the human mind or soul. The mind, then, like any other idea, is simply one particular mode of God's attribute, Thought. Whatever happens in the body is reflected or expressed in the mind. In this way, the mind perceives, more or less obscurely, what is taking place in its body. And through its body's interactions with other bodies, the mind is aware of what is happening in the physical world around it. But the human mind no more interacts with its body than any mode of Thought interacts with a mode of Extension.1

One of the pressing questions in seventeenth century philosophy, and perhaps the most celebrated legacy of Descartes's dualism, is the problem of how two radically different substances such as mind and body enter into a union in a human being and cause effects in each other. How can the extended body causally engage the unextended mind, which is incapable of contact or motion, and "move" it, that is, cause mental effects such as pains, sensations and perceptions. Spinoza, in effect, denies that the human being is a union of two substances. The human mind and the human body are two different expressions — under Thought and under Extension — of one and the same thing: the person. And because there is no causal interaction between the mind and the body,2 the so-called mind-body problem does not, technically speaking, arise.


Baruch
Spinoza

When asked about the value of his life's work, Baruch Spinoza replied, “I do not presume that I have found the best philosophy, I know that I understand the true philosophy.” The Dutch-Jewish philosopher met with tremendous resistance among many groups in his day, but his work provided one of the bases for 17th-century rationalism. He was strongly influenced by René Descartes, the founder of rationalism; and late in life he befriended Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the other great rationalist of the time.

Spinoza was born on Nov. 24, 1632, to a Portuguese family living in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. His parents were crypto-Jews—people forced by the Spanish Inquisition to embrace Christianity, but who secretly held on to their Jewish faith. In Amsterdam they became members of the Jewish community, and young Spinoza probably attended the local school for Jewish boys. After school he had lessons in Latin, several European languages, and other secular subjects.

Spinoza began to discuss with his fellow students his skepticism about such religious doctrines as the authorship of the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible, and the existence of God. The Jewish religious leaders in the city were worried that his heretical ideas might harm the Jewish community, since Jews were not yet accepted as citizens. Because Spinoza was unwilling to recant his statements, he was excommunicated in July 1656, and the civil authorities banished him from Amsterdam for a short time.

Baruch Spinoza changed his first name to its Latin equivalent, Benedictus, and earned his living grinding lenses for eyeglasses and microscopes. In 1660 he moved to Rijnsburg, a small village on the Rhine River to practice his trade and read. Three years later he settled in Voorburg, near The Hague, where he worked on his ‘Tractatus Theologico-Politicus'. In May 1670 Spinoza settled permanently in The Hague. He continued to study and write, insisting on reasoned approaches to religion in his philosophy. He believed in one God, and that everything depended on God, but his view of a deity was so far removed from the philosophy that preceded him that some philosophers branded him an atheist.

Writers—including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Johann von Goethe, and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing—admired his work and helped to render his philosophy respectable. His other writings include the unfinished ‘Tractatus Politicus', published in 1677, ‘Ethics' (1677), and an unfinished Hebrew grammar. Spinoza died on Feb. 21, 1677.

Knowledge

The human mind, like God, contains ideas. Some of these ideas — sensory images, qualitative "feels" (like pains and pleasures), perceptual data — are imprecise qualitative phenomena, being the expression in thought of states of the body as it is affected by the bodies surrounding it. Such ideas do not convey adequate and true knowledge of the world, but only a relative, partial and subjective picture of how things presently seem to be to the perceiver. There is no systematic order to these perceptions, nor any critical oversight by reason. "As long as the human Mind perceives things from the common order of nature, it does not have an adequate, but only a confused and mutilated knowledge of itself, of its own Body, and of external bodies" (IIp29c). Under such circumstances, we are simply determined in our ideas by our fortuitous and haphazard encounter with things in the external world. This superficial acquaintance will never provide us with knowledge of the essences of those things. In fact, it is an invariable source of falsehood and error. This "knowledge from random experience" is also the origin of great delusions, since we — thinking ourselves free — are, in our ignorance, unaware of just how we are determined by causes.

Compare this to The Prayer of Saint Francis (Crick)



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Adequate ideas, on the other hand, are formed in a rational and orderly manner, and are necessarily true and revelatory of the essences of things. "Reason", the second kind of knowledge (after "random experience"), is the apprehension of the essence of a thing through a discursive, inferential procedure. "A true idea means nothing other than knowing a thing perfectly, or in the best way"(IIp43s). It involves grasping a thing's causal connections not just to other objects but, more importantly, to the attributes of God and the infinite modes (the laws of nature) that follow immediately from them. The adequate idea of a thing clearly and distinctly situates its object in all of its causal nexuses and shows not just that it is, but how and why it is. The person who truly knows a thing sees the reasons why the thing was determined to be and could not have been otherwise. "It is of the nature of Reason to regard things as necessary, not as contingent" (IIp44). The belief that some thing is accidental or spontaneous can be based only on an inadequate grasp of the thing's causal explanation, on a partial and "mutilated" familiarity with it. To perceive by way of adequate ideas is to perceive the necessity inherent in Nature.

Sense experience alone could never provide the information conveyed by an adequate idea. The senses present things only as they appear from a given perspective at a given moment in time. An adequate idea, on the other hand, by showing how a thing follows necessarily from one or another of God's attributes, presents it in its "eternal" aspects — sub specie aeternitatis, as Spinoza puts it — without any relation to time. "It is of the nature of Reason to regard things as necessary and not as contingent. And Reason perceives this necessity of things truly, i.e., as it is in itself. But this necessity of things is the very necessity of God's eternal nature. Therefore, it is of the nature of Reason to regard things under this species of eternity" (IIp44). The third kind of knowledge, intuition, takes what is known by Reason and grasps it in a single act of the mind.

Spinoza's conception of adequate knowledge reveals an unrivaled optimism in the cognitive powers of the human being. Not even Descartes believed that we could know all of Nature and its innermost secrets with the degree of depth and certainty that Spinoza thought possible. Most remarkably, because Spinoza thought that the adequate knowledge of any object, and of Nature as a whole, involves a thorough knowledge of God and of how things related to God and his attributes, he also had no scruples about claiming that we can, at least in principle, know God perfectly and adequately. "The knowledge of God's eternal and infinite essence that each idea involves is adequate and perfect" (IIp46). "The human Mind has an adequate knowledge of God's eternal and infinite essence" (IIp47). No other philosopher in history has been willing to make this claim. But, then again, no other philosopher identified God with Nature.

Passion and Action

Spinoza engages in such a detailed analysis of the composition of the human being because it is essential to his goal of showing how the human being is a part of Nature, existing within the same causal nexuses as other extended and mental beings. This has serious ethical implications. First, it implies that a human being is not endowed with freedom, at least in the ordinary sense of that term. Because our minds and the events in our minds are simply ideas that exist within the causal series of ideas that follows from God's attribute Thought, our actions and volitions are as necessarily determined as any other natural events. "In the Mind there is no absolute, or free, will, but the Mind is determined to will this or that by a cause that is also determined by another, and this again by another, and so to infinity" (IIp48).

What is true of the will (and, of course, of our bodies) is true of all the phenomena of our psychological lives. Spinoza believes that this is something that has not been sufficiently understood by previous thinkers, who seem to have wanted to place the human being on a pedestal outside of (or above) nature.

Most of those who have written about the Affects, and men's way of living, seem to treat, not of natural things, which follow the common laws of nature, but of things that are outside nature. Indeed they seem to conceive man in nature as a dominion within a dominion. For they believe that man disturbs, rather than follows, the order of nature, that he has absolute power over his actions, and that he is determined only by himself. (III, Preface)

Descartes, for example, believed that if the freedom of the human being is to be preserved, the soul must be exempt from the kind of deterministic laws that rule over the material universe.

Spinoza's aim in Parts Three and Four is, as he says in his Preface to Part Three, to restore the human being and his volitional and emotional life into their proper place in nature. For nothing stands outside of nature, not even the human mind.

Nature is always the same, and its virtue and power of acting are everywhere one and the same, i.e., the laws and rules of nature, according to which all things happen, and change from one form to another, are always and everywhere the same. So the way of understanding the nature of anything, of whatever kind, must also be the same, viz. through the universal laws and rules of nature.

Our affects — our love, anger, hate, envy, pride, jealousy, etc. — "follow from the same necessity and force of nature as the other singular things". Spinoza, therefore, explains these emotions — as determined in their occurrence as are a body in motion and the properties of a mathematical figure — just as he would explain any other things in nature. "I shall treat the nature and power of the Affects, and the power of the Mind over them, by the same Method by which, in the preceding parts, I treated God and the Mind, and I shall consider human actions and appetites just as if it were a Question of lines, planes, and bodies." . . .

Theological-Political Treatise

The ostensive aim of the Theological-Political Treatise (TTP), widely vilified in its time, is to show that the freedom to philosophize can not only be granted without injury to piety and the peace of the Commonwealth, but that the peace of the Commonwealth and Piety are endangered by the suppression of this freedom". But Spinoza's ultimate intention is reveal the truth about Scripture and religion, and thereby to undercut the political power exercised in modern states by religious authorities. He also defends, at least as a political ideal, the tolerant, secular, and democratic polity.

On Religion and Scripture

Spinoza begins the treatise by alerting his readers, through a kind of "natural history of religion", to just those superstitious beliefs and behaviors that clergy, by playing on ordinary human emotions, encourage in their followers. A person guided by fear and hope, the main emotions in a life devoted to the pursuit of temporal advantages, turns, in the face of the vagaries of fortune, to behaviors calculated to secure the goods he desires. Thus, we pray, worship, make votive offerings, sacrifice and engage in all the various rituals of popular religion. But the emotions are as fleeting as the objects that occasion them, and thus the superstitions grounded in those emotions subject to fluctuations. Ambitious and self-serving clergy do their best to stabilize this situation and give some permanence to those beliefs and behaviors. "Immense efforts have been made to invest religion, true or false, with such pomp and ceremony that it can sustain any shock and constantly evoke the deepest reverence in all its worshippers" (TTP, Preface, G III.6-7/S 2-3). Religious leaders are generally abetted in their purposes by the civil authority, which threatens to punish all deviations from theological orthodoxy as "sedition". The result is a state religion that has no rational foundations, a mere "respect for ecclesiastics" that involves adulation and mysteries but no true worship of God.

The solution to this state of affairs, Spinoza believes, is to examine the Bible anew and find the doctrines of the "true religion". Only then will we be able to delimit exactly what we need to do to show proper respect for God and obtain blessedness. This will reduce the sway that religious authorities have over our emotional, intellectual and physical lives, and reinstate a proper and healthy relationship between the state and religion. A close analysis of the Bible is particularly important for any argument that the freedom of philosophizing — essentially, freedom of thought and speech — is not prejudicial to piety. If it can be demonstrated that Scripture is not a source of "natural truth", but the bearer of only a simple moral message ("Love your neighbor"), then people will see that "faith is something separate from philosophy". Spinoza intends to show that in that moral message alone — and not in Scripture's words or history — lies the sacredness of what is otherwise merely a human document. The Bible teaches only "obedience [to God]", not knowledge. Thus, philosophy and religion, reason and faith, inhabit two distinct and exclusive spheres, and neither should tread in the domain of the other. The freedom to philosophize and speculate can therefore be granted without any harm to true religion. In fact, such freedom is essential to public peace and piety, since most civil disturbances arise from sectarian disputes. The real danger to the Republic comes from those who would worship not God, but some words on a page: "It will be said that, although God's law is inscribed in our hearts, Scripture is nevertheless the Word of God, and it is no more permissable to say of Scripture that it is mutilated and contaminated than to say this of God's Word. In reply, I have to say that such objectors are carrying their piety too far, and are turning religion into superstition; indeed, instead of God's Word they are beginning to worship likenesses and images, that is, paper and ink" (TTP, chap. 12, G III.159/S 145-6).

From a proper and informed reading of Scripture, a number of things become clear. First, the prophets were not men of exceptional intellectual talents — they were not, that is, naturally gifted philosophers — but simply very pious, even morally superior individuals endowed with vivid imaginations. They were able to perceive God's revelation through their imaginative faculties via words or real or imaginary figures. This is what allowed them to apprehend that which lies beyond the boundary of the intellect. Moreover, the content of a prophecy varied according to the physical temperament, imaginative powers, and particular opinions or prejudices of the prophet. It follows that prophecy, while it has its origins in the power of God — and in this respect it is, in Spinoza's metaphysical scheme, no different from any other natural event — does not provide privileged knowledge of natural or spiritual phenomena. The prophets are not necessarily to be trusted when it comes to matters of the intellect, on questions of philosophy, history or science; and their pronouncements set no parameters on what should or should not be believed about the natural world on the basis of our rational faculties.

Spinoza provides an equally deflationary account of God's election, or the "vocation", of the Hebrews. It is "childish", he insists, for anyone to base their happiness on the uniqueness of their gifts; in the case of the Jews, it would be the uniqueness of their being chosen among all people. The ancient Hebrews, in fact, did not surpass other nations in their wisdom or in their proximity to God. They were neither intellectually nor morally superior to other peoples. They were "chosen" only with respect to their social organization and political good fortune. God (or Nature) gave them a set of laws and they obeyed those laws, with the natural result that their society was well-ordered and their autonomous government persisted for a long time. Their election was thus a temporal and conditional one, and their kingdom is now long gone. Thus, "at the present time there is nothing whatsoever that the Jews can arrogate to themselves above other nations" (TTP, chap. 3, G III.56/S 45). Spinoza thereby rejects the particularism that many — including Amsterdam's Sephardic rabbis — insisted was essential to Judaism. True piety and blessedness are universal in their scope and accesssible to anyone, regardless of their confessional creed.

Central to Spinoza's analysis of the Jewish religion — although it is applicable to any religion whatsoever — is the distinction between the divine law and the ceremonial law. The law of God commands only the knowledge and love of God and the actions required for attaining that condition. Such love must arise not from fear of possible penalties or hope for any rewards, but solely from the goodness of its object. The divine law does not demand any particular rites or ceremonies such as sacrifices or dietary restrictions or festival observances. The six hundred and thirteen precepts of the Torah have nothing to do with blessedness or virtue. They were directed only at the Hebrews so that they might govern themselves in an autonomous state. The ceremonial laws helped preserve their kingdom and insure its prosperity, but were valid only as long as that political entity lasted. They are not binding on all Jews under all circumstances. They were, in fact, instituted by Moses for a purely practical reason: so that people might do their duty and not go their own way. This is true not just of the rites and practices of Judaism, but of the outer ceremonies of all religions. None of these activities have anything to do with true happiness or piety. They serve only to control people's behavior and preserve a particular society.

A similar practical function is served by stories of miracles. Scripture speaks in a language suited to affect the imagination of ordinary people and compel their obedience. Rather than appealing to the natural and real causes of all events, its authors sometimes narrate things in a way calculated to move people — particularly uneducated people — to devotion. "If Scripture were to describe the downfall of an empire in the style adopted by political historians, the common people would not be stirred …" Strictly speaking, however, miracles — understood as divinely caused departures from the ordinary course of nature — are impossible. Every event, no matter how extraordinary, has a natural cause and explanation. "Nothing happens in nature that does not follow from her laws" (TTP, chap. 6, G III.83/S 73). This is simply a consequence of Spinoza's metaphysical doctrines. Miracles as traditionally conceived require a distinction between God and nature, something that Spinoza's philosophy rules out in principle. Moreover, nature's order is inviolable in so far as the sequence of events in nature is a necessary consequence of God's attributes. There certainly are "miracles" in the sense of events whose natural causes are unknown to us, and which we therefore attribute to the powers of a supernatural God. But this is, once again, to retreat to superstition, "the bitter enemy of all true knowledge and true morality".

By analyzing prophecy in terms of vividness of imagination, Jewish election as political fortune, the ceremonial law as a kind of social and political expediency, and the belief in miracles as an ignorance of nature's necessary causal operations, Spinoza naturalizes (and, consequently, demystifies) some of the fundamental elements of Judaism and other religions and undermines the foundations of their external, superstitious rites. At the same time, he thereby reduces the fundamental doctrine of piety to a simple and universal formula, naturalistic in itself, involving love and knowledge. This process of naturalization achieves its stunning climax when Spinoza turns to consider the authorship and interpretation of the Bible itself. Spinoza's views on Scripture constitute, without question, the most radical theses of the Treatise, and explain why he was attacked with such vitriol by his contemporaries. Others before Spinoza had suggested that Moses was not the author of the entire Pentateuch. But no one had taken that claim to the extreme limit that Spinoza did, arguing for it with such boldness and at such length. Nor had anyone before Spinoza been willing to draw from it the conclusions about the status, meaning and interpretation of Scripture that Spinoza drew . . .

The State

Spinoza's account of religion has clear political ramifications. There had always been a quasi-political agenda behind his decision to write the Treatise, since his attack was directed at political meddling by religious authorities. But he also took the opportunity to give a more detailed and thorough presentation of a general theory of the state that is only sketchily present in the Ethics. Such an examination of the true nature of political society is particularly important to his argument for intellectual and religious freedom, since he must show that such freedom is not only compatible with political well-being, but essential to it.

The individual egoism of the Ethics plays itself out in a pre-political context — the so-called "state of nature", a universal condition where there is no law or religion or moral right and wrong — as the right of every individual to do whatever he can to preserve himself. "Whatever every person, whenever he is considered as solely under the dominion of Nature, believes to be to his advantage, whether under the guidance of sound reason or under passion's sway, he may by sovereign natural right seek and get for himself by any means, by force, deceit, entreaty, or in any other way he best can, and he may consequently regard as his enemy anyone who tries to hinder him from getting what he wants" (TTP, chap. 16, G III.190/S 174). Naturally, this is a rather insecure and dangerous condition under which to live. In Hobbes' celebrated phrase — and Spinoza was clearly influenced by his reading of that British thinker — life in the state of nature is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short". As rational creatures, we soon realize that we would be better off, still from a thoroughly egoistic perspective, coming to an agreement among ourselves to restrain our opposing desires and the unbounded pursuit of self-interest — in sum, that it would be in our greater self-interest to live under the law of reason rather than the law of nature. We thus agree to hand over to a sovereign our natural right and power to do whatever we can to satisfy our interests. That sovereign — whether it be an individual (in which case the resulting state is a monarchy), a small group of individuals (an oligarchy) or the body-politic as a whole (a democracy) — will be absolute and unrestrained in the scope of its powers. It will be charged with keeping all the members of society to the agreement, mostly by playing on their fear of the consequences of breaking the "social contract".

Obedience to the sovereign does not infringe upon our autonomy, since in following the commands of the sovereign we are following an authority whom we have freely authorized and whose commands have no other object than our own rational self- interest. The type of government most likely to respect and preserve that autonomy, issue laws based on sound reason and to serve the ends for which government is instituted is democracy. It is the "most natural" form of governing arising out of a social contract — since in a democracy the people obey only laws that issue from the general will of the body politic — and the least subject to various abuses of power. In a democracy, the rationality of the sovereign's commands is practically secured, since it is unlikely that a majority of a large number of people will agree to an irrational design. Monarchy, on the other hand, is the least stable form of government and the one most likely to degenerate into tyranny . . .

There must, Spinoza grants, be some limits to speech and teaching. Seditious discourse that encourages individuals to nullify the social contract should not be tolerated. But the best government will err on the side of leniency and allow the freedom of philosophical speculation and the freedom of religious belief. Certain "inconveniences" will, no doubt, sometimes result from such an extensive liberty. But the attempt to regulate everything by law is "more likely to arouse vices than to reform them". In a passage that foreshadows John Stuart Mill's utilitarian defense of liberty nearly two centuries later, Spinoza adds that "this freedom is of the first importance in fostering the sciences and the arts, for only those whose judgment is free and unbiased can attain success in these fields" (TTP, chap. 20, G III.243/S 226).

It is hard to imagine a more passionate and reasoned defense of freedom and toleration than that offered by Spinoza.


Notes added to the excerpts from Steven Nadler's article.

1Thought (personal, private ideas and feelings) and Extension (the intersubjectively verifiable, measureable material world) are merely two ways of experiencing/knowing God/Nature, or rather Yo.

2I.e., two different ways of experiencing/knowing the same phenomenon can not "cause" the other way of knowing/experiencing that phenomenon anymore than anything can cause itself.

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& Bleeding Statues

Scary Stuff!






The Miracle Links


Astounding Videos of Real Miracles



Truly Amazing Illusions



Video of a Genuine Miracle
(with no trick photography!)




Timothy Leary's
How to Operate
Your Brain

An Owner's Manual


Philosophy Is a Team Sport

with a preface by
R. Crumb

Yo on Ebola, SARS,
AIDS, & Avian Flu


The Trouble
with Trippies


South Park "On Hippies"



Is South Park
Being Banned?!?

Does Prayer Work?

The Results of
a Scientific Study
Creationism & Intelligent Design

Penn & Teller, Richard Dawkins, Stephen
Colbert, Bill Hicks, & Bill Maher

Robert DeNiro
& Martin Scorsese
On the Meaning of Yo


Jon Stewart &
The Wombat Join Them

Flying Spaghetti Monster?
Bah. Humbug!


Creationism & Intelligent Design vs. SPAM





Magic Yo

Tom Cruise Takes on
Lord Psychopharm

and His

Psychiatrists of
the Round Tablets