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9 - Spinoza’s Philosophical Religion

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 October 2021

Don Garrett
Affiliation:
New York University
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Summary

Spinoza responds to the charge of atheism and the accompanying insinuation that his philosophy is irreligious by arguing that philosophy are theology distinct and autonomous practices. Each operates in accordance with its own epistemological standards and neither is the handmaid of the other. However, many of his readers have found his defense of this position unconvincing. Spinoza, they have claimed, awards priority to philosophy by endowing it with the authority to judge religion. In this chapter, I examine Spinoza’s response to their accusation. Religion, as he portrays it, can take various forms, of which the religion revealed in Scripture is one, and Spinozist philosophy is another. The shift from a theological to a philosophical mode of enquiry is not a move from a religious to a non-religious outlook, but a transition from one form of religious practice to another. This conclusion may disappoint critics who regard Spinoza as a predominantly secular philosopher, but I argue that they misidentify the nature of his radicalism. Spinoza undoubtedly aims to challenge the dominant religions of his time; but he also aspires to illuminate a form of religion that does justice to a philosophical understanding of God.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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