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Ethics, for Spinoza, is knowledge of “the right way of living.” That ethics is central to his philosophical project is unmistakable from the title of his most systematic presentation of his philosophy: Ethics, Demonstrated in Geometrical Order (Ethica, ordine geometrico demonstrata). While that work seeks to demonstrate a broad range of metaphysical, theological, epistemological, and psychological doctrines, they are selected for inclusion, at least in large measure, because of the support he takes them to provide for his ultimate ethical conclusions. Many of those conclusions are distinctive and provocative, and many of his reasons for them are innovative and intriguing. This chapter begins by providing an outline of Spinoza’s ethical theory, including is naturalistic foundations; its primary terms of ethical evaluation; the nature and causes of bondage to the passions; the prescriptions of reason; the way to freedom and autonomy; and eternity, intellectual love of God, and blessedness. It then considers four important questions for Spinoza’s ethical theory: the nature and motivational force of ethical judgments; the conditions for ethical responsibility; the role of altruism in ethics; and the value of life and the harmfulness of death.
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?