Spinoza - Spinoza Benedict Spinoza (1632-1676) is unique...

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Spinoza Benedict Spinoza (1632-1676) is unique among the major figures of modern philosophy. He is the only major modern philosopher whose religious background is Jewish rather than Christian. And he is the only modern philosopher before the nineteenth century who openly challenges the central claim of Judeo-Christian theology: that the world has been freely created by God, who is both (a) transcendent (i.e. separate from and "above" creation) and (b) law-giver to, and judge of the actions of, human beings. Against this orthodoxy, Spinoza advances the radical view (sometimes called "panentheism") that "all things are in God": God is the one and only substance and all finite things (including minds and bodies) are but modes of this one substance. Spinoza’s main philosophical work, published the year after his death, is entitled The Ethics , or to give it its full title , The Ethics Demonstrated in a Geometrical Order . As the title suggests, and as its contents confirm, Spinoza takes as his literary model Euclid’s presentation of classical geometry in the Elements . In the seventeenth century, geometry represented the paradigm of exact knowledge. Consequently, many held that an attempt should be made to reformulate philosophical doctrines in the manner of Euclid: one should begin with unequivocal definitions of key terms and the most basic, self-evident truths (axioms), and then show how other truths can be derived from these in a logical order. In The Ethics Spinoza develops his philosophy in a very different way from Descartes Meditations. He is unimpressed by Descartes attempt to establish a point of absolute certainty ("I think, therefore I am") or his efforts to raise and then dispel the doubt of an omnipotent deceiver. Instead, Spinoza is content to accept as starting points what Descartes calls "clear and distinct" ideas: truths evident to the intellect or known by the "natural light." The definitions and axioms of the Ethics are examples of these. Spinoza is very critical of what he sees as Descartes lack of attention to the precise definition of terms. In Spinoza’s view, Descartes relies on many terms (substance, God, cause) which he has not defined in a careful manner, and which he often uses ambiguously. As a consequence, Descartes reaches many conclusions which Spinoza finds to be absurd. In fairness to Descartes, one should say that many of these conclusions are prized precisely because they support traditional theological doctrines. Spinoza’s point, however, is that if one is rigorous in defining ones terms and careful in working through the logical consequences of them, one will end up with a very different metaphysical picture than is allowed by orthodox religion. In this respect Spinoza is a far more courageous philosopher than Descartes, who, as we have seen, makes every effort to emphasize the acceptability of his philosophy to the Catholic Church. Cracks in the Foundation
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This note was uploaded on 02/07/2009 for the course PHIL Phil 104 taught by Professor Irwin during the Fall '08 term at UCSD.

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Spinoza - Spinoza Benedict Spinoza (1632-1676) is unique...

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