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7 - Spinoza’s Ethical Theory

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 October 2021

Don Garrett
Affiliation:
New York University
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Summary

Ethics, for Spinoza, is knowledge of “the right way of living.” That ethics is central to his philosophical project is unmistakable from the title of his most systematic presentation of his philosophy: Ethics, Demonstrated in Geometrical Order (Ethica, ordine geometrico demonstrata). While that work seeks to demonstrate a broad range of metaphysical, theological, epistemological, and psychological doctrines, they are selected for inclusion, at least in large measure, because of the support he takes them to provide for his ultimate ethical conclusions. Many of those conclusions are distinctive and provocative, and many of his reasons for them are innovative and intriguing. This chapter begins by providing an outline of Spinoza’s ethical theory, including is naturalistic foundations; its primary terms of ethical evaluation; the nature and causes of bondage to the passions; the prescriptions of reason; the way to freedom and autonomy; and eternity, intellectual love of God, and blessedness. It then considers four important questions for Spinoza’s ethical theory: the nature and motivational force of ethical judgments; the conditions for ethical responsibility; the role of altruism in ethics; and the value of life and the harmfulness of death.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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