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12 - Miracles, wonder, and the state in Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise

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

INTRODUCTION

In the Theological-Political Treatise, Spinoza seems to offer a purely secular account of sovereign authority, one that has no recourse to God as a source of authority. Chapter 16, which is dedicated to showing the “foundation of the state” [de republicae fundamentis], begins with a discussion of the natural right of every person and then shows how the state arises as a consequence of the mutual exercise of these rights. This follows Spinoza's efforts in the first fifteen chapters of the TTP to “separate Philosophy from Theology,” one of whose key moments is the critique of miracles in Chapter 6. There he points out that there is no such thing as a miracle, if we mean by that a divinely produced contravention of natural law. When confronted by a natural event that they do not understand, men are quick to claim that God is the cause of it and has suspended the natural order to produce it. However, that would lead to a contradiction in God's nature, because God cannot will a law to be universal and at the same time contravene it. But even if miracles have no metaphysical status, Spinoza notes, they still have political uses. Scripture is full of examples in which sovereigns point to some supposed miracle in order to inspire awe and wonder in their subjects.

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Spinoza's 'Theological-Political Treatise'
A Critical Guide
, pp. 231 - 249
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2010

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