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Baruch Spinoza

Western Philosophers
17th-century philosophy

Benedictus de Spinoza

Main interests
Ethics, Epistemology, Metaphysics
Notable ideas
Influences Influenced
Hobbes, Descartes, ibn Sina, ben Maimon, Kryfts Conway, Kant, Hegel, Davidson

Benedictus de Spinoza (Birth: November 24, 1632 (Amsterdam, Netherlands, Death: February 21, 1677 (The Hague, Netherlands)


), was named Baruch Spinoza by his synagogue elders and known as Bento de Espinosa or Bento d'Espi˝oza in his native Amsterdam. He is one of the three great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy, the others being RenÚ Descartes and Gottfried Leibniz. His magnum opus was the Ethics. His writings, like those of his fellow rationalists, reveal considerable mathematical training and ability. Unlike them, he did not contribute to the science of his day during his life. The full impact of his work only took effect sometime after his death and after the publication of his Opera Posthuma. He is considered, these days, to have played a pivotal role in the preparation towards the Age of Enlightenment in the eighteenth century and to be a founder of modern biblical criticism.

Portal Philosophy Portal


1 Life
2 Philosophy
2.1 Spinoza's Definitions
3 Modern relevance
4 Major Works
6 Bibliography
6.1 By Spinoza
6.2 About Spinoza
7 See also
8 External links


Born to a family of Sephardic Jews, among the Portuguese Jews of Amsterdam, he gained fame for his positions of pantheism and neutral monism, as well as the fact that his Ethics was written in the form of postulates and definitions, as though it were a geometry treatise. In the summer of 1656, he was excommunicated because of apostasy from the Jewish community for his claims that God is the mechanism of nature and the universe, having no personality, and that the Bible is a metaphorical and allegorical work used to teach the nature of God, both of which were based on a form of Cartesianism (see RenÚ Descartes). Following his excommunication, he adopted the first name Benedictus (the Latin equivalent of his given name, either Baruch or Bento). The terms of his excommunication were quite severe; excerpts from the text may be found at.

After his excommunication, he lived and worked for a while in the school of Franciscus van den Enden, who taught him Latin and perhaps also introduced him to modern philosophy. In this period Spinoza also became acquainted with several Collegiants, members of a non-dogmatic and interdenominational sect with tendencies towards Rationalism. By the beginning of the 1660s Spinoza's name became more widely known and he was visited by Henry Oldenburg, with whom he would maintain a correspondence for the rest of his life. Spinoza's first publication was on the Principles of Cartesian Philosophy, but already in that work he introduced some of his own ideas. In 1665 he notified Oldenburg that he had started to work on a new book, the Theologico-Political Treatise, published in 1670.

Since the public reactions to the anonymously published Theologico-Political Treatise turned unfavourable to his brand of [2] Cartesianism, he abstained from publishing more of his works. The Ethics and all other works, apart from the Principles of Cartesian Philosophy and the Theologico-Political Treatise, were published after his death in the Opera postuma edited by his friends.

Some of the major figures whom Spinoza met include Henry Oldenburg and Leibniz.


Known as both the "greatest Jew" and the "greatest Atheist", Spinoza contended that God and Nature were two names for the same reality, namely the single substance (meaning "to stand beneath" rather than "matter") that underlies the universe and of which all lesser "entities" are actually modes or modifications. The argument for this single substance runs something as follows:

1. Substance exists and cannot be dependent on anything else for its existence.
2. No two substances can share an attribute.
Proof: If they share an attribute, they would be identical. Therefore they can only be individuated by their modes. But then they would depend on their modes for their identity. This would have the substance being dependent on its mode, in violation of premise 1. Therefore, two substances cannot share the same attribute.
3. A substance can only be caused by something similar to itself (something that shares its attribute).
4. Substance cannot be caused.
Proof: Something can only be caused by something which is similar to itself, in other words something that shares its attribute. But according to premise 2, no two substances can share an attribute. Therefore substance cannot be caused.
5. Substance is infinite.
Proof: If substance were not infinite, it would be finite and limited by something. But to be limited by something is to be dependent on it. However, substance cannot be dependent on anything else (premise 1), therefore substance is infinite.
Conclusion: There can only be one substance.
Proof: If there were two infinite substances, they would limit each other. But this would act as a restraint, and they would be dependent on each other. But they cannot be dependent on each other (premise 1), therefore there cannot be two substances.

Spinoza contended that "Deus sive Natura" ("God or Nature") was a being of infinitely many attributes, of which extension and thought were two. His account of the nature of reality, then, seems to treat the physical and mental worlds as two different, parallel "subworlds" that neither overlap nor interact. This formulation is a historically significant panpsychist solution to the mind-body problem known as neutral monism.

Spinoza was a thoroughgoing determinist who held that absolutely everything that happens occurs through the operation of necessity. For him, even human behaviour is fully determined, freedom being our capacity to know we are determined and to understand why we act as we do. So freedom is not the possibility to say "no" to what happens to us but the possibility to say "yes" and fully understand why things should necessarily happen that way. By forming more "adequate" ideas about what we do and our emotions or affections, we become the adequate cause of our effects (internal or external), which entails an increase in activity (versus passivity). This means that we become both more free and more like God, as Spinoza argues in the Scholium to Prop. 49, Part II.

Spinoza's philosophy has much in common with Stoicism inasmuch as both philosophies sought to fulfil a therapeutic role by instructing people how to attain happiness (or eudaimonia, for the Stoics). However, Spinoza differed sharply from the Stoics in one important respect: he utterly rejected their contention that reason could defeat emotion. On the contrary, he contended, an emotion can be displaced or overcome only by a stronger emotion. For him, the crucial distinction was between active and passive emotions, the former being those that are rationally understood and the latter those that are not. He also held that knowledge of true causes of passive emotion can transform it to an active emotion, thus anticipating one of the key ideas of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis.

Some of Spinoza's philosophical positions are:

  • God is the natural world and has no personality.
  • The natural world made itself.
  • There is no real difference between good and evil.
  • Everything must necessarily happen the way that it does. Therefore, there is no free will.
  • Everything done by humans and other animals is excellent and divine.
  • All rights are derived from the State.
  • Animals can be used in any way by people for the benefit of the human race.

Spinoza's Definitions

From G. H. R. Parkinson's "Benedict de Spinoza - The Ethics and On the Improvement of the Understanding"; ISBN: 0460873474; p. 260.

"Spinoza's definitions are of the kind now commonly called 'stipulative'; that is, they tell the reader how Spinoza proposes to use certain words. Spinoza is not concerned (as a Dictionary is concerned) to describe the standard uses of words. His purpose, as he observes in the Ethics (E3: Def. XX. Expl.- p. 130) is to explain, not the meaning of words {i.e. the properties}, but the nature {i.e. the causes} of things. One may compare what is done by scientists, when they introduce new technical terms, or give old words a new sense, with a view to explaining what it is that interests them. For Spinoza's views about definition, cf. On the Improvement of the Understanding:[95-98]; p. 253.

Modern relevance

Albert Einstein said that Spinoza was the philosopher who had most influenced his worldview (Weltanschauung). Spinoza equated God (infinite substance) with Nature, and Einstein, too, believed in an impersonal deity. His desire to understand Nature through physics can be seen as contemplation of God. Arne NŠss, the father of the deep ecology movement, acknowledged drawing much inspiration from the works of Spinoza.

In the late twentieth century, there was a great increase in philosophical interest in Spinoza in Europe, particularly from a left-wing or Marxist perspective. Notable philosophers Gilles Deleuze, Antonio Negri and ╔tienne Balibar have each written books on Spinoza. Other philosophers heavily influenced by Spinoza where Constantin Brunner and John David Garcia. Stuart Hampshire wrote a major English language study of Spinoza, though H H Joachim's work is equally valuable.

Spinoza's portrait featured prominently on the older series of the 1000 Dutch gulden banknote, which was legal tender in the Netherlands until the euro was introduced in 2002.

The highest and most prestigious scientific prize of the Netherlands is named the Spinozapremie (Spinoza reward).

Major Works


Mind and body are one and the same individual which is conceived now under the attribute of thought, and now under the attribute of extension.
-Ethics II prop. 7

I have laboured carefully, not to mock, lament, or execrate human actions, but to understand them.
-Spinoza's A Political Treatise; ISBN: 0486202496; p. 288.


By Spinoza

About Spinoza

See also