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The New International Encyclopædia/Spinoza, Baruch

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SPINOZA, spḗ-nō'zȧ, Baruch, or Benedict (1632-77). A famous Dutch-Jewish philosopher, born in Amsterdam, November 24, 1632. His father, a Portuguese merchant, had fled from Catholic persecution to the Netherlands. Spinoza was carefully educated in Jewish theology and speculation. He was, however, alienated from the orthodox belief by studies of physical science and of the writings of Descartes and probably those of Giordano Bruno. His heresies resulted in threats of severe punishment from his instructors in the Talmud and the Cabala, and the relation soon became so unpleasant that Spinoza withdrew from the synagogue. The rabbis, in 1656, excommunicated him and secured his banishment from Amsterdam. However, he remained in the neighborhood of the city for five years, supporting himself, as in later years, as a lens-maker.

Previous to his expulsion from the Jewish community Spinoza is said to have fallen in love with the daughter of Van den Ende, his master in Greek and Latin, and to have been rejected by her. Possibly even before his expulsion he composed his first work, Tractatus de Deo et Homine ejusque Felicitate (discovered in a Dutch translation in 1852, the Latin original not being extant), in which the form of his developed system is foreshadowed. And the De Intellectus Emendatione and Tractatus Theologico-politicus are also probably referable to the period of his Amsterdam residence, although the latter was not published until 1670 and the former until 1677.

In 1661 Spinoza went to Rhynsburg, near Leyden, and two or three years later to Voorburg, near The Hague. Shortly after, yielding to the solicitations of friends, he removed to The Hague itself. The Elector Palatine, Charles Louis, offered him a chair at the University of Heidelberg, but Spinoza declined the position in order to be free from any restrictions upon his thinking. An offer of a pension, on the condition of his dedicating a work to Louis XIV., he rejected with scorn. His domestic accounts, after his death, show that he preferred to live on a few pence a day rather than be indebted to another's bounty. He died February 21, 1677. His constitution was no less undermined by consumption and overwork than his sensitive mind was wrought upon by persecution and the violent severance of natural ties. But no word of complaint ever passed his lips; simplicity and heroic forbearance, coupled with an antique stoicism and a child-like, warm, sympathizing heart, were the salient features of his character. His life, in its nobility and suffering, is perhaps the most convincing plea for the vitality of the philosophy for which it served as the human context.

Spinoza's philosophy finds its most adequate expression in his great work, Ethica Ordine Geometrico Demonstrata (posthumously published in 1677). The basis from which it was developed was mainly Cartesianism. Certainly from Descartes he derived his empirical rationalism and his conception of exact demonstration. This latter, on the analogy of geometrical demonstrations, consisted of a series of axioms with corollaries, propositions, and elucidations, designed to render bias or extraneous inference impossible, and there can be no doubt that Spinoza was one of the most conscientious of thinkers in his effort to eliminate the personal equation. Nevertheless, there are few philosophers in whom the personal element is more distinctive. The very fact of Spinoza's severance from his own race and religion, together with his failure to adopt Christian thought, made the individuality of his system the more inevitable; he was bound by no tradition and so followed to the fullest the instincts of his reason. He was influenced by Descartes in method and probably by Bruno in his pantheism, but his system is still his own to a degree seldom true in the history of philosophy.

This system is a thorough-going and complicated pantheism. The universe is identical with God, who is the substance of all things. The conception of substance (which Spinoza inherited from the Scholastics) is not that of a material reality, but of a logical subject — the self-sufficient and comprehensive basis for all reality, capable of sustaining as its attributes all temporal existences. Spinoza recognized the possible existence of an infinite number of such attributes, but held that only two kinds are known to us — extension, or the world of material things, and thought. These two comprehend existence and they include all that exists in a real and palpable way, at least so far as human knowledge is concerned.

The idea of extension as the gist of physical reality, and of thought as a non-extended reality, Spinoza derived from Descartes. But Descartes made each of these independent substances and conceded to them the power of causal interaction — mind acting upon body and vice versa. Spinoza, as we have seen, makes both forms of reality dependent upon an ultimate substance — God — in which is their existence. Furthermore, he denies their power of causal interaction. Cause and effect in his conception are always similar; extension and thought are wholly dissimilar; therefore their causal interrelation is impossible. Causation may subsist between individual objects in the attribute extension, that is, between physical bodies, or between individual ideas in the attribute thought, but not between ideas and things. To explain the apparent causal interactions of the latter Spinoza resorted to an elaborate theory of parallelism. Every idea has a physical counterpart in the attribute extension; every physical object has its idea. This is not only true for the individuals in each attribute, but nocossarily for their relations also. Hence parallel with every physical causal series there is an ideational causal series reduplicating it; neither is dependent upon the other, but both depend upon the divine substance made manifest through them.

The individuality of things, whether ideas or physical objects, Spinoza explained as particular modes or ‘affections’ of substance. All particular things in space are the modes of God in the attribute extension: all particular thoughts and feelings are modes of God in the attribute thought. The modes are natura naturata; substance or God is natura naturans. The modes are ephemeral and their existence assumes temporal form; God is eternal, outlasting all attributive changes. Particular things, accordingly, whether of body or mind, are evanescent and finite. All existence is mortal.

Nevertheless there is an indestructible world. It is not to be found in the realm of existences, but in a realm of essences — something wholly different. The Spinozistic conception of essence is most nearly related to the Scholastic conception of Realism and to Plato's conception of a world of ideas. It is an hypostatization of the universal aspect of things, that is, of their essential nature in a logical or definitive sense, and in many respects is a striking forecast of Hegel's logic of the Absolute. The most distinctive difference between Spinoza's world of existences and his world of essences is that the former exists in time, while the latter has no temporal being. But mortality can pertain only to temporal being; therefore the world of essences, being timeless, must be immortal. Furthermore, the world of essences is a world of immanent being. Every existence has a universal or essential character, though to realize this character it must transcend its own intrinsic form, that is, free itself from whatever gives it particularity. The world of essences thus has a kind of being within the world of existences — as the immanent cause of the latter — though it does not share its temporal limitation. Now this is precisely true of the divine substance; and so it is that the world of essences represents the essential nature of God.

Immanent causation means self-causation, and that which is self-determined is free. From this reasoning Spinoza derived his doctrine of freedom to be won in the world of essences. Existence in the attribute is bondage, for each existent thing is determined by its own causal series; every particular object or idea is subject to other objects or ideas, and the form of its being is determined by them. Only in non-temporal, self-caused being, that is, in the universal and immanent, is freedom possible; only by identification with the eternal verities, with substance or God, is immortality — and with it peace — to be obtained.

From this conception springs Spinoza's ethical doctrine, developed in the third, fourth, and fifth parts of the Ethica. In its practical form his teaching assumes that everything, so far as in it lies, strives to remain in its own being. The effort by which this striving is manifest is nothing but the actual essence of the thing. This effort, when it is in the mind alone, is will; when in mind and body, it is appetite. If desire is satisfied, we have pleasure; if not, we have sorrow. All affections and emotions resolve into desire, joy, and sorrow, accompanied by ideas. The good is that which we know to be useful, that is, that which we know to be a means for the nearer attainment of the standard of human nature which is our ideal. Knowledge of good and bad can be a cause in the moral world, counteracting passion and raising us from the world of appetite and mortality to the world of eternal truths.

The passage from mortality to immortality, from bondage to freedom, is made plausible to Spinoza's mind by the fact that every reality has its immanent cause, its universal aspect, or what may be called its cosmological truth. By cultivating steadily this inunanent and universal nature man is enabled to realize his immortal destiny. As to the nature of the initiative by which a soul in bondage is to alter its course, Spinoza has no clear teaching. The problem seems not to have presented itself to him, and indeed this is hardly to be wondered at, since his own mind turned so instinctively to what he conceived to be the divine and the good.

Spinoza's position in the development of philosophical thought is in many respects unique. He belonged to no school and he founded none. While in a measure his work was based upon that of his predecessors, it is too strikingly individual to be conceived a mere continuation, even of Cartesian thought. In the vigor and comprehensiveness of his conception, in synthetic daring, he must be ranked with the greatest philosophical thinkers; and though his system gave rise to no sequential development, he has had perhaps the most pervasive influence of any modern philosopher except Kant. Not only metaphysicians, but poets such as Goethe, Wordsworth, and Shelley, have gone to him for inspiration, and the essence of his thought has been in large part appropriated in the poetic pantheism of modern interpretations of nature.

Complete editions of Spinoza's works have been published by Paulus (1802-03), by Bonden (1843-46), and by Van Volten and Land (1882-82). English translations have been made for the Bohn Library (1883), by White and Stanlay, the Ethics (London, 1883), by Fullerton, The Philosophy of Spinoza, selections with introduction (New York, 2d ed. 1894), Of the extensive literature especially to be mentioned are: Caird, Spinoza (Edinburgh, 1888); Martineau, A Study of Spinoza (London, 1882); Pollock, Spinoza (2d ed., ib., 1899); Fullerton, On Spinozistic Immortality (Philadelphia, 1899); Camerer, Die Lehre Spinozas (Stuttgart, 1877); Baltzer, Spinozas Entwickelungsgang (Kiel, 1888); Berendt and Friedländer, Spinozas Erkenntnislehre (Berlin, 1891); Hoff, Die Staatslehre Spinozas (ib., 1895); Kuno Fischer, Geschichte der neueren Philosophie, I. (Heidelberg, 1897).