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1 - The Textual History of Spinoza’s Ethics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2010

Olli Koistinen
Affiliation:
University of Turku, Finland
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Summary

Spinoza's Ethics has come down to us in a single version: the Latin text as it appears in the Opera Posthuma, published in Amsterdam in 1677, within a year after the philosopher's death. Spinoza himself had prepared the text for the press. He left a final version in his desk, and had given his landlord, Hendrik van der Spyk, and his friends (among them his publisher, the Amsterdam bookseller Jan Rieuwertsz) instructions to provide for its publication. Summarized thus, the textual history of the Ethics would seem to be relatively simple and unproblematic. There are, however, some complications. To begin with, the process of writing the Ethics was not straightforward. Spinoza originally planned to present his philosophy in a plain, discursive (rather than geometrical) form. The original Latin text of this early work is lost, but a contemporary Dutch translation of this unfinished Korte Verhandeling van God, de Mensch en Deszelvs Welstand (Short Treatise on God, Man and His Well-Being) survives. He then decided to recast the material rigorously 'in geometrical order'. The conversion of the older text to the Ethics proceeded well until 1665. Then Spinoza slowed down the work on the Ethics, or perhaps suspended it altogether, in order to write his other masterpiece, the Theological-Political Treatise. After the publication of that work in 1670, Spinoza took up the Ethics again, though exactly when he did so is unclear.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2009

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