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8 - Spinoza's conception of law: metaphysics and ethics

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

The God of the Hebrew Bible is a sovereign lawgiver to the Jewish people. God commands his people to act, or not to act, in certain ways and holds them responsible for their actions, punishing disobedience and rewarding obedience. Within the religious traditions that descend from Judaism, divine law is conceived of as a set of dictates or commands that God issues to all human beings – commands that establish inescapable obligations, on the basis of which humans are held accountable for their actions. One of Spinoza's primary goals in the TTP is to offer a reinterpretation of the idea of divine law, according to which it is understood not as the literal command of a sovereign being, but as a law taught by the “natural light of reason” and “inferred from the consideration of human nature alone.” In the TTP, this interpretation is developed against the background of a general analysis of the concept of law that has wide-ranging consequences for Spinoza's philosophy. In what follows I focus on two of these consequences: Spinoza's endeavor to use the notion of law (including divine law) to bridge the divide between the natural and the normative, and the role he assigns to the concept of law in underwriting the systematic unity of his ethical theory.

GENERAL ANALYSIS OF LAW

Spinoza presents his fullest analysis of the concept of law in Chapter 4 of the TTP, “On the divine law.”

Type
Chapter
Information
Spinoza's 'Theological-Political Treatise'
A Critical Guide
, pp. 143 - 167
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2010

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