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9 - Getting his hands dirty: Spinoza's criticism of the rebel

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 January 2011

Yitzhak Y. Melamed
Affiliation:
The Johns Hopkins University
Michael A. Rosenthal
Affiliation:
University of Washington
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Summary

Nobody likes to be told what to do. But that doesn't stop Spinoza from making many moral assessments, often harshly negative ones. Thus we find Spinoza branding certain affects as evil or wrong. Indignation, for Spinoza, is “necessarily evil.” Hate “can never be good.” Pity is contrary to the dictates of reason. Scorn, humility, and many other affects are condemned in similar fashion, and Spinoza offers an especially scathing assessment of people governed by their affects in Chapter 17 of the TTP:

Everyone knows what crimes men are often led to by a distaste for the present, and a desire to make fundamental changes by uncontrolled anger and scorn for poverty; everyone knows how much these affects fill and disturb the hearts of men.

At the beginning of the Treatise on the Intellect and elsewhere, Spinoza also disparages the all-too-common single-minded pursuit of wealth or power or sensual pleasure. Spinoza first criticizes himself for these pursuits:

I saw that I was in the greatest danger, and that I was forced to seek a remedy with all my strength, however uncertain it might be.

But then he extends his negative assessment to the rest of us too:

all those things men ordinarily strive for, not only provide no remedy to preserve our being, but in fact hinder that preservation, often cause the destruction of those who possess them, and always cause the destruction of those who are possessed by them.

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Spinoza's 'Theological-Political Treatise'
A Critical Guide
, pp. 168 - 191
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2010

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