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Spinoza, Baruch

Category: Mystic

Baruch or Benedict de Spinoza  (1632 – 1677) was a Dutch philosopher born in Amsterdam.  Spinoza's ancestors were of Sephardic Jewish descent.  His mother died when Baruch was six and wars with England and France took the life of his father and decimated his family's fortune.  Thereafter he became a lens grinder to earn a living, but a philosopher by inclination. 

Spinoza was brought up as a Jew, but gradually became known in the Jewish community for 'positions contrary to Jewish belief', with critical positions towards the Talmud and other religious texts. In the summer of 1656, he was issued the writ of cherem (a kind of excommunication) from the Jewish community. The terms of his cherem were severe. It was never revoked. Following his excommunication, he adopted the first name Benedictus, the Latin equivalent of his given name, Baruch; they both mean "blessed".

What comes across when you read about his life is what a quiet unassuming man he appears to have been.  He never married, never fathered any children and lived quietly as a lens grinder, turning down rewards and honours throughout his life, including prestigious teaching positions.  The following poem may be apocryphal it hardly matters if it is.

A Poem about Baruch Spinoza - Albert Einstein  (1920, translated from the German)

How much do I love that noble man
More than I could tell with words
I fear though he'll remain alone
With a holy halo of his own.

He was also true to his philosophy and beliefs suffering horrendous criticism and abuse from the religious community.  He was treated as a heretic during his lifetime, but this did not sway him from recording what he had meticulously worked out and in my view 'received'.  A number of people have remarked how closely his philosophy matches with Hindu vedanta thought.  It also matches with quite a number of other mystical belief systems, which is hardly surprising given that the mystic view is always consistent, and for this reason I have classified Spinoza as a mystic.

 

Spinoza dedicated himself completely to philosophy after 1656, fervently hoping he could change the world through establishing a clandestine philosophical movement. But the climate was not at all favourable and  public censure prevented him ever realising his aims.

During his lifetime his publications were minimal.  Spinoza's first publication was his Tractatus de intellectus emendatione, the Theologico-Political Treatise was published in 1670.  Both books were published anonymously and the public reactions  were extremely unfavourable.  So unfavourable were they that Spinoza ceased publication of any more.  But he didn't stop writing.  Wary and independent, he wore a signet ring engraved with his initials, a rose and the word "caute" (Latin for "cautiously"). The Ethics and all other works, were published after his death and edited by his friends in secrecy to avoid confiscation and destruction of manuscripts.

The Rose - a symbol of an enlightened person

The breadth and importance of Spinoza's work was not fully realized until years after his death. Today, he is considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy, laying the groundwork for the 18th-century Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism.

By virtue of his magnum opus, the posthumous Ethics, Spinoza is also considered one of Western philosophy's definitive ethicists.

It is worth adding that Spinoza and his work were highly regarded by Nietzsche, and  Albert Einstein named Spinoza as the philosopher who exerted the most influence on his world view.

Spinoza is now feted as an important historical figure in the Netherlands. The highest and most prestigious scientific award of the Netherlands is named the Spinoza prijs (Spinoza prize).

Spinoza died in February 1677 aged only 45, of a lung illness, perhaps tuberculosis or silicosis caused by fine glass dust inhaled while tending to his trade.

I have used a very large number of his ideas and 'proofs' for this website, principally because they ring true and seem to portray what is in essence a universal philosophy – the philosophy of the mystics.

Just to provide an example, he contended that everything that exists in Nature/Universe is one Reality (substance) so substance is 'energy'.  He also said that there is only one set of rules governing the whole of the reality which surrounds us and of which we are part – spirit = system.

Spinoza also contended that "Deus sive Natura" ("God or Nature") was a being of infinitely many attributes, of which extension and thought were two.  Thus God = the Ultimate Intelligence – the sum of all function.

His concept of the functions of the mind have also been useful to me, tying in with those of Plato and numerous other philosophers.  His understanding of the workings of the mind is extraordinary, given the time his work was being undertaken and his background.
An impressive man.

To be what we are, and to become what we
are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.

"Do not weep; do not wax indignant. Understand."

 

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