Ethics

Ethics

Published shortly after his death, the Ethics is undoubtedly Spinoza's greatest work - an elegant, fully cohesive cosmology derived from first principles, providing a coherent picture of reality, and a guide to the meaning of an ethical life. Following a logical step-by-step format, it defines in turn the nature of God, the mind, the emotions, human bondage to the emotions...

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Title:Ethics
Author:Baruch Spinoza
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Edition Language:English

Ethics Reviews

  • Joshua Nomen-Mutatio

    Here's video footage of a pretty good discussion of a great, frequently glossed over, and far too often underappreciated philosopher who is one of my favorite philosophers of all time:

    Steven Nadler is an excellent authority on Spinoza and has written a few books on him. I really like Catherine Wilson as well from this and now have several of her books and articles on my to-read l

    Here's video footage of a pretty good discussion of a great, frequently glossed over, and far too often underappreciated philosopher who is one of my favorite philosophers of all time:

    Steven Nadler is an excellent authority on Spinoza and has written a few books on him. I really like Catherine Wilson as well from this and now have several of her books and articles on my to-read list.

    The other guys are sort of annoying and make some rather disagreeable points in my opinion. Especially Mr. Blue Shirt and the guy who keeps going on about Freud because he doesn't seem to know about much else. But Nadler is solid and so is Catherine Wilson.

    Also...

    There are links to the entire work as published online here:

  • Esteban del Mal

    If rationality is defined as the capacity to solve problems, anticipate consequences and understand causes of events, one would be hard pressed to find its more complete realization than in the philosophy of Benedict Spinoza. Indeed, in his masterwork,

    , Spinoza set out to prove certain theorems which are to be deduced from axioms in the manner of Euclidean geometry. Whether or not he was successful in this endeavor has been a matter for over three intervening centuries of scholarship and debate.

    If rationality is defined as the capacity to solve problems, anticipate consequences and understand causes of events, one would be hard pressed to find its more complete realization than in the philosophy of Benedict Spinoza. Indeed, in his masterwork,

    , Spinoza set out to prove certain theorems which are to be deduced from axioms in the manner of Euclidean geometry. Whether or not he was successful in this endeavor has been a matter for over three intervening centuries of scholarship and debate. Yet Spinoza anticipated his detractors, if not through his philosophy, then by answering them explicitly, "I do not presume to have discovered the best philosophy, but I know that I understand the true one."

    The book is divided into five parts, each part building upon the previous. Three essential aspects of his particular stripe of rational thought are: first, his confidence in the ability of reason to supply us with dependable knowledge (epistemology); secondly, his conviction that the universe itself is governed by rational law (metaphysics); and lastly, his certainty that reason is the one acceptable guide to living (ethics). All that Spinoza asks is that we first take one small leap of -- ironically enough -- faith and submit to the notion that everything happens for a reason, what philosophers call

    (and theists call God, but we'll come back to that). In essence, only belief in the intelligibility of the world, ourselves included, will provide the motivation necessary for pushing through our own limitations.

    While the

    progresses in a linear manner, it is helpful to first thoroughly acquaint oneself with Spinoza's epistemology, by which he establishes his various axioms. He proposes that knowledge is derived in three separate, yet progressively linked, ways: knowledge acquired from sense perception is of the lowest level, and while of some value, is neither completely authentic nor consistent. Knowledge at the next level is found in the rational, as scientific principles. These ideas Spinoza refers to as

    , considered as such because they are logically related and one can have complete certainty about them in the same way one has complete certainty in the mathematical logic of, say, six is to three as four is to two. Knowledge at the third and highest level Spinoza terms scientific intuition. Knowledge at this stage is wholly contingent upon mastery of the previous stage of knowledge, the rational, which it then enables one to transcend. This is the insight that enables one to see possibilities that are beyond the current realm of scientific knowledge. One who possesses such intuitive knowledge understands that everything is necessary to the whole of the eternal order of things, and as such, the universe is rendered as a single absolute system that is governed by rational law.

    It is from such an unequivocal position that Spinoza promotes the tenets of the

    . His epistemology is inextricably tied to his metaphysics and takes up the first three parts of the treatise, wherein he argues that the Universe is cause of itself. And it is in the working out of this element of his philosophy that the most distinctive, and perhaps most remarkable, claims of Spinozism are made. Living at the early dawn of the Enlightenment, Spinoza felt the need to interpret the nature of God in language sufficient to do justice to the new universe that science was explaining. The problem Spinoza perceived is not to prove the existence of God, but to find what God is really like. His first step was to define the existence of God in such a way as to make it incontrovertible. This concept is regarded as

    by contemporary philosophers, in that there is only one root thing from which all other things stem. And it is this root thing which Spinoza alternately calls substance, or God. He maintains that (a) there is a substance that has every attribute; (b) there cannot be two substances that have an attribute in common; (c) there cannot be a substance that has no attributes, and consequently; (d) there cannot be two substances. As a result, this uniquely self-determining substance, God, cannot be produced by anything other than itself.

    As such, God is immanent in the rational order of the universe; the rational order which is expressed through the natural world and in human thought. If something exists other than God, it is either within and dependent upon God, in which case it is merely a finite expression of God, what Spinoza calls a

    ; or it is without God, in which case something exists which is not God, whereby God is limited, and therefore itself finite, which is impossible because God has been demonstrated to be infinite. A necessary consequence of this claim is that the only entity exhibiting anything resembling free will in the universe is God, because everything else is necessarily dependent upon it, or, as Spinoza himself puts it, "God is, and acts solely by the necessity of His own nature; He is the free cause of all things." As a result, everything is determined by the ultimate substance, including human behavior. Or, as Spinoza would have it, "men believe themselves to be free, simply because they are conscious of their actions, and unconscious of the causes whereby those actions are determined." Great stuff, that. While it may induce existential panic in most of my literary-minded, free will sympathetic friends, I find it liberating.

    The determinism of Spinoza, a consequence of his claim of holism, leads into his next claim in the

    , that the mind and body are really the same thing conceived under the Cartesian attributes of Thought and Extension. Because both Thought and Extension must be regarded as two aspects of a single reality, but cannot be demonstrated to be two distinct substances under Spinoza's rational universe, they must be two attributes of the single substance, or what I previously identified as God. It therefore follows that God, the natural universe as a whole, can be conceived as simultaneously a system of extended or material things and a system of thinking or immaterial things. As such, mind and body, expressions of the attributes of Thought and Extension, are nothing more than different sides of the same coin. Even so, Spinoza differs with strict materialism, in that the identity of the mind doesn't reduce either mind to body or body to mind. Spinoza sees the scientific knowledge of the body through reason advancing from, rather than opposed to, awareness of the body through sense and imagination. His rationalism is a consequence of empiricism, not in competition with it.

    What is meant, then, by Spinoza's controversial statement that the mind is the idea of the body is understood as it is related to his epistemological system: knowledge born of sensory experience is of a lower order than knowledge of a rational kind. Still, rational knowledge is not possible without prior empirical experience; as a result, the mind, as the rational, is a necessary and ascendant consequence of the body, as the empirical. As such, as one ascends the levels of knowledge and one's ideas of the modifications of one's body become more logically consistent, one can be said to more fully understand the causes of these modifications. Knowledge based solely on empiricism is then, strictly speaking, reactive, whereas knowledge based upon rationalism is proactive. Spinoza uses the example of the sun, which one's senses tells one is a disc some few hundred feet from the earth. This idea is not false if considered at merely the sensory level of knowledge, but is inadequate at the next level of knowledge, in as much as it is demonstrated that the sun is a gigantic star millions of miles away.

    The reason Spinoza addresses epistemological and metaphysical questions in the first place is because he feels that they are a necessary foundation for ethical questions. We must first know our potentialities and our relation to Nature, otherwise our ideas about moral philosophy will simply be projections of our imaginations. Spinoza understands that the rational laws of science, being comprehensive, are just as applicable to human life as they are to the physical universe. Ethical behavior becomes a matter of applied psychology. The virtuous man is not one who lives in accord with moral commandments imposed upon him by some external, vengeful authority, but the man who acts in accordance with his nature. A nature which has been laid bare to him.

    Having demonstrated that a person's life is determined by forces both external and seemingly unmanageable to it, Spinoza endeavors to show in the final parts of his treatise that freedom from the bondage of determinism is really a matter of degree. And it is by exercising freedom, as he defines it, that one acts in an ethical manner. By acknowledging that one's life is determined, one becomes free, in that one is aware of the chain of causation that governs one's actions. By achieving adequate knowledge one understands the eternal; yet, one simultaneously comes to understand that one's own nature is distinguished from the whole of things because one recognizes one's separate existence is locked in this time-bound conception of ours that promises only incomplete knowledge. One is able to transcend this limited knowledge by replacing one's confused notions with the aforementioned adequate ideas.

    An example of a confused idea addressed by Spinoza is emotion. Our emotions, he contends, are a result of ignorance. "We feel strongly because we understand dimly." One's emotional reaction to another person is a result of not understanding what makes that person act as he or she does. In experiencing the passions, one is reacting to external causes and one's conscious life is proceeding at the level of sense-perception, not at the level of the rational. If knowledge of this kind is insufficient, so much more so is a life that is based on it. The free man is conscious of his compulsions and seeks to understand them. This is the only freedom one can truly aspire to –- not escape from the necessity of one's reality, but to understand both it and oneself as a part of it.

    When one comes to this understanding, good and evil are seen as one's reaction to circumstance, not as the eternal nature of things. Indeed, the concept of good and evil is relative and has nothing to do with that eternal nature. Spinoza writes, "So every man, according to his emotions, judges a thing to be good or bad, useful or useless." The solution to such a dilemma is to understand one's relation to the eternal order of things and in so doing one is liberated from the perpetual anxiety of striving against it. Things are neither good nor evil in and of themselves, they are just necessary to the universe as a whole. Coming to this awareness is no simple task, but if one extrapolates rationalism in the manner prescribed by Spinoza, it is a necessary outgrowth. It is only in comprehending the universe that man can rise above it, for as the philosopher reminds us, "The intellectual love of God, which arises from the intuitive kind of knowledge, is eternal."

  • Hadrian

    Baruch you beautiful magnificent bastard. Within these two hundred dense pages of Euclidean geometric proofs axioms and postulates you manage to construct an ethical system , upend the traditional conception of monotheistic G-dd, and instead make him synonymous with the Laws of Nature. This is the best last expression of scholastic theology, and one of the most influential and astonishing philsophers of ever. It is a system which is both beautiful in its logic and yet kind and sympathetic in its

    Baruch you beautiful magnificent bastard. Within these two hundred dense pages of Euclidean geometric proofs axioms and postulates you manage to construct an ethical system , upend the traditional conception of monotheistic G-dd, and instead make him synonymous with the Laws of Nature. This is the best last expression of scholastic theology, and one of the most influential and astonishing philsophers of ever. It is a system which is both beautiful in its logic and yet kind and sympathetic in its recognition of the flaws, and refuting the Descartian mind-body dualiity, and yet preeemptivly going after Leibnizs Just World tripe, recognizing the imperfections and nature of human beings yet offering a coherent method to their betterment through reason and Caring For Others - not some empty cliche but instead a necessry outlet for understanding the universe and maintaining positive emotion

    As an additional benefit, such a system is comptible with some of the recent materialist neurological discoveries of modern science, stating that the mind can be inlfuenced by the body, and taht we must understand physical causes in order to make progress with the mentl/abstract. We must cultivate our gardens.

    Spinoza is the foundations of philosophy and even mysticism and religion for even the most doubtful and venomous of skeptics, offering up the Universe and the Mathematical Laws of Nature instead of the dusty antiquated God of Bronzze Age massacres who demands foreskins for marriage. Perhaps a few others with benefit s of additional centuries of thought might yet construct a more applicable or cogent system but he is the base of it. He has the foundation, our Rock upon which the new Church is to be founded.

    (Written in sleep-deprived haze on a trans-Pacific flight. Typos and other mistakes preserved. May write a better review later, but this will serve for now.)

  • Aasem Bakhshi

    No matter which intellectual/religious background you come from, its one text that has the power to change your conception of cosmos. Its hard to decide what is more awe-inspiring: Spinoza's God or his Man and that is perhaps the ultimate success of his supreme and elegant egoism.

  • Stian

    Perhaps it is the sentimentality that arose in me because of the circumstances under which I read the book that leads me to rate it five stars. There was something about reading this close to the window, with snow slowly trickling down from the pitch black sky, and the fireplace burning, and always at least 10 clementines by my side to be devoured while I read, that just made it so enjoyable. I don’t wish to make a detailed and big review here (there are other, better ones elsewhere, written by

    Perhaps it is the sentimentality that arose in me because of the circumstances under which I read the book that leads me to rate it five stars. There was something about reading this close to the window, with snow slowly trickling down from the pitch black sky, and the fireplace burning, and always at least 10 clementines by my side to be devoured while I read, that just made it so enjoyable. I don’t wish to make a detailed and big review here (there are other, better ones elsewhere, written by people much more qualified than myself), but it suffices to say that I can see why Einstein fell in love with Spinoza and regarded him as one of his heroes, and I can understand why Russell called him “the noblest and most lovable of the great philosophers.”

    - Einstein's poem, dedicated to Spinoza.

  • Max

    Can I jump farther and state that Spinoza may have killed God even before Nietzsche. I mean, forget the axioms and propositions. The idea of a God, in all human religions is very much contradictory and tricky, you want God to be superior, different, and 'unlike anything else' as is mentioned in the Koran. Yet at the same time, you attribute humane characteristics to this same God. Most importantly, is that he watches, guards, loves and hates every one of us. Well, Spinoza ingeniously took this i

    Can I jump farther and state that Spinoza may have killed God even before Nietzsche. I mean, forget the axioms and propositions. The idea of a God, in all human religions is very much contradictory and tricky, you want God to be superior, different, and 'unlike anything else' as is mentioned in the Koran. Yet at the same time, you attribute humane characteristics to this same God. Most importantly, is that he watches, guards, loves and hates every one of us. Well, Spinoza ingeniously took this idea to the absurd. The tone of the Ethics, is like educating an adult who still thinks childishly, like 'Take some freaking responsibility alright?'. God has no passions whatsoever, he does not love you nor hate you. He just doesn't care. Maybe he cannot even if he willed. Maybe he is something that isn't after all. You can see where this line of reasoning is going.

    Oh, and the oneness of God, led everything else to be within the realm or dependent on God. Now, Proposition 23 says: The will cannot be called a free cause, but only a necessary one. Furthermore when the human mind perceives something, we are saying that God who constitutes the human mind has this idea. Yes. Spinoza explicitly concludes the following 'men are deceived in what they think themselves free, of their own free will'. Even the suspense of judgement is only a perception and not an act of free will. I could hear Spinoza's evil laugh while writing this.

    Determinism. At some point in the book, Spinoza acknowledges that maybe it is not 'free will' of God, but just the necessity of his being. The idea that an emotion can only be replaced or overcome by a stronger emotion, which Nietzsche preached just a century later. The concepts of good, bad, praise, and blame are all non-existent human ideals. The only freedom man can achieve is acknowledging the determinism of this world. You can see how this resulted in the excommunication of Spinoza from his Jewish community.

    One of my favorite quotes from the book which I love entertaining:

    'men are conscious of their desire, but unaware of the causes by which their desires are determined'.

  • Gary  Beauregard Bottomley

    The best way to read this book is to listen to it. If I were to have read it, I would have dwelled excessively on the axioms, definitions and propositions and would have missed the forest for the trees. Don't worry if you don't get the definition as he gives them. You'll be able to pick them up when he uses them latter on. Spinoza is an incredibly good writer. He will tell you what he's going to tell you, tell you and than tell you again. He'll say "in other words" or "take this example" or othe

    The best way to read this book is to listen to it. If I were to have read it, I would have dwelled excessively on the axioms, definitions and propositions and would have missed the forest for the trees. Don't worry if you don't get the definition as he gives them. You'll be able to pick them up when he uses them latter on. Spinoza is an incredibly good writer. He will tell you what he's going to tell you, tell you and than tell you again. He'll say "in other words" or "take this example" or other such explanatory statements and amplify what he's been telling you while never being 'prolix' (a word he actually uses and I had to look it up. It means tediously long winded with words).

    I've often heard people make the expression that they "believe in the God of Spinoza". After having read this book, I seriously would doubt them. What they've done is focused on the Spinoza formulation "that God is Nature and Nature is God" and they like the way that sounds, but they don't really know how Spinoza gets there or what he means by it.

    This book is a vibrant defense of Scholasticism (Aristotelian thought) against Descartes' mind body duality. Spinoza creates a system with only one substance (God) but infinite attributes. Two of those attributes are thought and extension (body), but it's clear that God possess infinitely many more. God (or Substance) is the creator of the universe and possess thinking. The God/Nature Nature/God formulation would be pantheistic. But, Spinoza goes beyond that and very well could be 'panentheistic' (God transcends nature), but I can't say for sure based only on this book.

    Spinoza uses most of the metaphysics of Aristotle. He believes God is the efficient cause (the mover) of the universe, but he does not believe in Aristotle's final causes, teleology. He believes that God is necessary, and that the universe is determined because from the necessary existence and therefore essence of God everything must follow from cause and effect (i.e. that Free Will is an illusion. Aristotle in his Ethics believes that Free Will does exist, but mostly Spinoza and Aristotle seem to agree. The concept of 'essence' are essential items in each of their systems). Things are only contingent when we don't know enough.

    Only the first two sections of the book dealt with God and the Mind. The other three sections deal with emotions and our control. He'll reach some of the same conclusion that Aristotle reaches in his Nicomachean Ethics. Such as, our highest virtue is the contemplative virtue and we need to wake up, stop being distracted by the petty and focus on the universe and our place in it. He'll say we are most divine like when we use our contemplation on higher order matters.

    Also, I want to mention that his sections on emotions and human bondage were some of the best formulations of psychology I've ever have come across in my readings. He'll say that it's our desires and our pains and pleasures which determine our emotional well being. The active part of us determines our emotional health and through the passive part is how our passions sneak in. Leading a virtuous life is the best. We should return hate with love or high mindedness for its own sake. He'll even segue into a self help book by saying we should repeat such slogans to ourselves so that when we our prone to hate we will know how to act instead. I can't understand why today's self help books don't do as well as Spinoza does within this book.

    This book is a relatively easy read. It's clear that Hegel grabs major parts from Spinoza in his "Phenomenology of Spirit", and Hegel is no way as easy to read as this book is. Spinoza's attributes are determinants (limitations) of the infinite. Hegel makes all determinants negations of the infinite and gives us his dialectics (or movements) based on that. I did notice that Spinoza uses 'vacillate' in the later parts of his book and it seemed to correlate with Hegel's movements. I wish I had read this book before I had read Hegel. He would have made more sense to me if I had.

    Never trust the summations you might have heard about this book or any other of the classic philosophical works you may come across. They always seem to get it wrong. This is a good book to read because Spinoza is such a great writer (he's not prolix as my review is!), he has a genuinely interesting take on the world, his psychology sections seem to be as good as any I have ever seen, you'll probably learn to be suspicious of the statement "I believe in the God of Spinoza" because a lot of baggage comes with that statement, and the influence his work has had on others becomes obvious and they would be easier to understand if you read this book before reading them.

    (A note: I enjoyed this book so much I've downloaded his previous book "A Theologico Political Treatise" for free from LibriVox because it doesn't seem to be available at Audible).

  • Carl

    If I were exiled to a desert island, imprisoned, or otherwise isolated, and there were only book of philosophy I could have to read and re-read for the rest of my life, it would be

    of Spinoza.

    Here Spinoza lays out a complete system that encompasses metaphysics, theology, physics, psychology, and ethics. Throughout Spinoza is concerned with what it means to be free, and what sort of beliefs are worthy of a free human being. To be free, he insists, means not to be a slave -- not to anyone el

    If I were exiled to a desert island, imprisoned, or otherwise isolated, and there were only book of philosophy I could have to read and re-read for the rest of my life, it would be

    of Spinoza.

    Here Spinoza lays out a complete system that encompasses metaphysics, theology, physics, psychology, and ethics. Throughout Spinoza is concerned with what it means to be free, and what sort of beliefs are worthy of a free human being. To be free, he insists, means not to be a slave -- not to anyone else, and not to your own wishes, compulsions, fantasies, and emotions. To be free is to be rational, and to be rational is to live the best kind of life for a human being to live.

    I should add also that

    is itself the work of a lonely spirit, a spirit who relinquished the claims of community and tradition in order to create a different and better future through the power of philosophy. I can think of no better company for my own solitude than the

    of Spinoza.

  • Ted

    Spinoza’s classic is contained in a book I have called The Rationalists. Also included are Descartes’

    and

    ; and Leibniz’s

    and

    .

  • Alexander

    Don't be cowed by the metaphysical tail-chasing of Books I, II, and V.

    The piston-huffing, steampunk clockwork of Axioms, Proofs, Scholia, and Corollaries can pound the reader's nerves like the mechanized hammer in a belfry. Even hardcore Spinozists

    on how or whether these moving parts all click into place, so don't be miffed if you feel you've wandered into some weird Kabbalah seminar MC'd by a Jewy mathlete poking at his graphing-calculator.

    Or perhaps my slow-moving brain simply can't keep pace with all the intermes

    Don't be cowed by the metaphysical tail-chasing of Books I, II, and V.

    The piston-huffing, steampunk clockwork of Axioms, Proofs, Scholia, and Corollaries can pound the reader's nerves like the mechanized hammer in a belfry. Even hardcore Spinozists

    on how or whether these moving parts all click into place, so don't be miffed if you feel you've wandered into some weird Kabbalah seminar MC'd by a Jewy mathlete poking at his graphing-calculator.

    Or perhaps my slow-moving brain simply can't keep pace with all the intermeshing gears. Essence. Substance. Attribute. Mode. Axiom. God. The musty pageant of scholastic theo-jabber hasn't dated well, even as Spinoza's aim was full-blown demystification -- the annihilation of orthodox religious doctrine in favor of a wholly naturalized "God" -- a logic-driven breaking of the vessels.

    Once our renegade Cartesian emerges from his empyrean clocktower to engage human nature in Books III & IV ("On the Affects" & "On Human Bondage"),

    becomes a much more nourishing book, though again, written as if Spock and Commander Data had collaborated on a treatise to

    on a Euclidean grid -- a visionary Jewbot crunching game-theoretic equations in a geometric love-letter to God (whom he knows will not return said love).

    observed that

    is a Rorschach for new readers, so this abyss-dwelling materialist and ego-blasted freewill-doubter takes to Spinoza like a lizard to a sunbaked rock. The tranquil surge of tautologies rarely provokes a yawn, while even the most self-evident claims seem slanted in a crisp new light, as if the bevy of truths I've come to accept is being ritually crop-rotated in freshly-composted black earth. ("Compost" has a double-meaning here, as some of Spinoza's notions will have you unholstering your pooper-scooper (i.e. the soul dies with the body, but "the mind" partakes of eternity, and thus survives in some form. -Bk. V, Prop. 23).

    is a mixed bag of philosophical tricks, despite its systematic aims.)

    The

    movement, in its attempt to mashup Heideggerian phenomenology with pre-industrial eco-communion and reciprocity with wild spaces, has found a partial-ancestor in Spinoza's immersive pantheism -- albeit conferred by a Dutch freethinker who spent most of his life in boarding houses, lens-grinding workshops, libraries, taverns, and (before his excommunication) the synagogue. What this tells us is that

    has as much to offer the roving city rat as the stinky dreadlocked Greenpeace volunteer, even as Spinoza might have dismissed much of today's green movement as "empty superstition and unmanly compassion" (Bk. IV, Sch. 1). Nature may be the source and generative matrix of All, but

    still has one foot planted in Pentateuchal

    . (With regards to human emotion, it has

    feet squarely planted. We are all bucks to be broken. Every passion named and tamed.)

    Freud noted that the poets discovered the Unconscious long before he did, but Spinoza gave the concept a transgressive breadth and depth shocking to the Powers that Be (or the Powers that Were). European theocrats reviled him for his sweeping materialist vision of humans as passion-inflamed meat puppets, a vision that ripples forward to the present moment, with discoveries in neurophysiology that bracket (perhaps even obliterate) our hallowed notions of libertarian self-rule.

    "I consider men's affects [emotions] and properties just like other natural things. And of course human affects, if they do not indicate man's power, at least indicate the power and skill of Nature, no less than many other things we wonder at and take pleasure in contemplating" (Bk. IV, Prop. 57).

    Not that Spinoza's ethics are remotely "scientific." Rather they tend to seesaw between common-sense folk-morality and some spicy, proto-Nietzschean "revaluation of all values"-style critique, particularly in his (subtle but derogatory) views on pity, humility, compassion, and remorse. But throughout the treatise, there's a prevailing Vulcan faith in "reason" as the ultimate metaethical arbiter, which pitches Spinoza into a vague, dithering scientism without the science, a residual Platonism which magically equates knowing things "as they truly are" with nobility and virtue, a fuzzy

    that has plagued philosophy for millennia. "Things are good only insofar as they aid man to enjoy the life of the mind" (Bk. IV, App. V). Contra Spinoza, flat-earthers can be sweet people, while bookish savants can be callous dicks.

    Freewill is largely kaput in the cosmos of

    . By the luck of the draw (our constitutional and environmental preconditions), some of us will ripen into bravura, meticulously-carved marionettes, whilst others are condemned to be wormeaten Punch & Judy sockpuppets stewing in vice, superstition, and fear. (I say "largely" kaput because there's some cognitive dissonance in

    over whether the enlightened Spinozan has achieved a tentative sort of freedom, stemming from the veto-powers of the superego. Hence, there can be freedom from the passions, but not from causation. Spock didn't choose to be Spock, et al.) Those who brazenly declare themselves "free" are usually the least so, since they evade the self-deconstructive labor of unwinding the myriad threads of their constitutive origins and experiences.

    So paradoxically, Spinoza would hail those who plunge facefirst into the pregnant abyss of determinism as possessing true freedom, by which he means a life uncontaminated by the resentment and emotional tumult of our passions and addictions, our blistering narcissism and neurotic sense of entitlement. But again, since we did not

    the metaethical Universe which "reason" is primed to discover and retrofit our values to, freedom comes to mean empowerment and joy (within our limitations) rather than causation-trumping liberty.

    In other words, some puppets get an eleven-stringed guidewire with greased ball-socket joints and gyro-stabilized swivel-torso, while the rest of us sock-monkeys bob and weave on tangled hanks of rotting yarn. The upshot here is that the virtue-seeking rationality of the Alpha marionettes compels them to upgrade and enlighten as many of the Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons as they can, for the community's sum benefit. "Everyone who is led by reason desires for others also the good he wants for himself" (Bk. IV, Prop. 73). This radical revolt against Plato's philosopher-kings helps make Spinoza a future prince of democratic modernity.

    At the omega point of enlightenment, the true love of God would have us (lucky-rolling scions of serendipity) reason our way to a Taoist aeyrie of universal empathy in the Vulcan embrace of cosmic determinism:

    "The mind is determined to wish for this or that by a cause, which has also been determined by a cause, and this again by another, and so on to infinity. This realization teaches us to hate no one, to despise no one, to mock no one, to be angry with no one, and to envy no one."

    So spaketh the Jewish Buddha of 17th-century Amsterdam.

    All the more dismaying when, in Book V ("On Human Freedom"), Spinoza tumbles off the rails into theobabble mystagoguery, and this just a few pages after bashing Descartes for skyhooking "occult qualities" to prop up the latter's rickety Cogito. Pot calls kettle noir.

    Still, this is two centuries before the Darwinian upgrade. By the lights of his time, Spinoza had balls of brass and a suped-up frontal lobe. The prince of philosophers, and patron saint of the brainy, dispassionate Outsider.

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