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Benedict (Baruch) de Spinoza (1632–1677) was one of the most systematic, inspiring, and influential philosophers of the early modern period. From a pantheistic starting point that identified God with Nature as all of reality, he sought to demonstrate an ethics of reason, virtue, and freedom while unifying religion with science and mind with body. His contributions to metaphysics, epistemology, psychology, ethics, politics, and the analysis of religion remain vital to the present day. Yet his writings initially appear forbidding to contemporary readers, and his ideas have often been misunderstood. This second edition of The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza includes new chapters on Spinoza's life and his metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of religion, and biblical scholarship, as well as extensive updates to the previous chapters and bibliography. A thorough, reliable, and accessible guide to this extraordinary philosopher, it will be invaluable to anyone who wants to understand what Spinoza has to teach.
Like Hobbes, Spinoza invokes promising and contract or covenant in his discussion of the foundations of the state: primarily in his Theological-Political Treatise. This chapter poses a set of related puzzles concerning the interpretation of Spinoza's claims about promises and contracts specifically as they relate to Hobbes. It compares the doctrines of Hobbes and Spinoza concerning several key topics: rights and powers, good and evil, reason and passion, and faith and deception. These doctrines are used to resolve the puzzles about the nature and significance of promising and contract in Spinoza's political philosophy. It seems surprising that Spinoza characterizes Hobbes as denying that reason urges peace in all circumstances, since Hobbes states that "the first, and fundamental law of nature", from which he derives the obligation to keep covenants, is "to seek peace and follow it", and he characterizes all of the laws of nature as "dictates of reason".
The second half of Ethics, Part 5, presents Spinoza's theory of the participation of human minds in the eternal. Although this theory constitutes the culmination of the Ethics, it has often proven opaque to even its most attentive and penetrating readers. Edwin Curley has written candidly, “In spite of many years of study, I still do not feel that I understand this part of the Ethics at all adequately” (1988, 84). Jonathan Bennett memorably declared this part of the Ethics to be “an unmitigated and seemingly unmotivated disaster” and “rubbish which causes others to write rubbish” (1984, 357, 374). Spinoza's central doctrines in this portion of the Ethics include the following: “1. There is in God an idea of the formal essence of each human body. / 2. An idea of the formal essence of the human body remains after the destruction of the human body, and for this reason there is a part of the human mind that is eternal. / 3. The wiser and more knowing one is, the greater is the part of one's mind that is eternal.” Each of these three central doctrines seems, on its face, to be inconsistent with the rest of Spinoza's philosophy; in fact, for each of the three doctrines, there are two different ways in which it seems inconsistent with the rest of his philosophy.
Spinoza identifies the minds or souls of finite things with God's ideas of those things. Margaret Wilson famously suggests that this identification prevents Spinoza from giving an adequate account of the human mind:
Descartes's position on the mind–body issue is notoriously beset with difficulties. Still, [his] theory of res cogitantes does recognize and take account of certain propositions about the mental that seem either self-evidently true or fundamental to the whole concept. These include … that the mind (in a straightforward and common sense of the term) represents or has knowledge of external bodies; that it is ignorant of much that happens in “its” body; that having a mind is associated with thinking and being conscious; that mentality is recognizable from behavior of a certain sort, and the absence of mentality from “behavior” of other sorts. Will not Spinoza's theory of “minds” simply fail to be a theory of the mental if it carries the denial of all or most of these propositions? More specifically, will it not fail to make sense of the specific phenomena of human mentality by attempting to construe the human mind as just a circumscribed piece of God's omniscience?
So the Philosophers . . . follow virtue not as a law, but from love, because it is the best thing. (Ep 19)
Spinoza is in many ways - and as many have observed - a philosopher in the Cartesian tradition. His first published work was an elucidation of Descartes's Principles of Philosophy, and Descartes is the only philosopher named and discussed in the Ethics. Some of his most fundamental metaphysical and epistemological doctrines are Cartesian, while many others appear to result from reflection on various difficulties in Descartes's position. His physics, too, is largely Cartesian. Despite this unmistakable influence, however, Spinoza's guiding intellectual purpose was quite different from Descartes's. Descartes sought primarily to improve the sciences - for himself and for others - by providing a better foundation for them. He justified this endeavor ultimately on the grounds that it would bring human beings greater mastery over nature. Spinoza, in contrast, sought primarily to improve the character of human beings - both himself and others - by improving their self-understanding. He justified this endeavor ultimately on the grounds that it would bring human beings peace of mind as integral aspects of nature.
In many ways, Benedict (Baruch) de Spinoza appears to be a contradictory figure in the history of philosophy. From the beginning, he has been notorious as an “atheist” who seeks to substitute Nature for a personal deity; yet he was also, in Novalis's famous description of him, “the God-intoxicated man.” He was an uncompromising necessitarian and causal determinist, whose ethical ideal was to become a “free man.” He maintained that the human mind and the human body are identical; yet he also insisted that the human mind can achieve a kind of eternality that transcends the death of the body. He has been adopted by Marxists as a precursor of historical materialism, and by Hegelians as a precursor of absolute idealism. He was a psychological egoist, proclaiming that all individuals necessarily seek their own advantage above all else and implying that other individuals were of value to himself only insofar as they were useful to him; yet his writings aimed to promote human community based on love and friendship, he had many devoted friends, and even his critics were obliged to acknowledge that his personal conduct was above reproach. He held that the state has the right to do whatever it has the power to do, while at the same time he defended democracy and freedom of speech.
Benedict (Baruch) de Spinoza has been one of the most inspiring and influential philosophers of the modern era, yet also one of the most difficult and most frequently misunderstood. Spinoza sought to unify mind and body, science and religion, and to derive an ethics of reason, virtue, and freedom 'in geometrical order' from a monistic metaphysics. Of all the philosophical systems of the seventeenth century it is his that speaks most deeply to the twentieth century. The essays in this volume provide a clear and systematic exegesis of Spinoza's thought informed by the most recent scholarship. They cover his metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, psychology, ethics, political theory, theology, and scriptural interpretation, as well as his life and influence on later thinkers.
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