Unformatted text preview: SPINOZA
with Translations by
Samuel Shirley Edited, with
Introduction and Notes, by
Michael L. Morgan Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. Indianapolis I Cambridge Baruch Spinoza: 1 632-1 677
Copyright © 2002 by Hackett Publ ishing Company, Inc.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Spinoza, Benedictus de, 1 6 32-1 677.
[Works. Engl ish . 2002]
Complete works/Spinoza; translated by Samuel Shirley and others;
edited, with introduction and notes, by Michael L. Morgan.
Includes bibl iographical references and index.
ISBN 0-87220-620-3 (cloth)
I. Philosophy. I. Shirley, Samuel, 1 9 1 2- II. Morgan, Michael L., 1 944III. Title.
B3958 . S 5 2002
1 99'.492- dc2 1 2002068497 The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of
American National Standard for Information Sciences- Permanence of Paper
for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1 984.
€I CONTENTS Translator's Preface
Editorial Notes vii
xxi Treatise o n the Emendation of the Intellect
Short Treatise on God, Man, and His Well-Being
Principles of Cartesian Ph ilosophy and Metaphysical Thoughts
The Letters 31
755 Index 96 1 TRAN S LATORS P REFAC E In these translations, I have adhered to the Gebhardt Heidelberg text of 1 926 ex
cept as noted. Leaving the task of annotation and exposition in the hands of more
competent scholars, I shall confine myself in this Preface to a personal odyssey, a
sort of voyage around Spinoza.
At Oxford I do not remember that I read anyth ing by Spinoza and very little
about him. But that l ittle interested me strangely. So I attended the lectures given
by H. H. Joachim, without much understanding. These lectures were delivered
in the late afternoon, and as the sun streamed through New College windows onto
the gray head of that venerable and beloved figure, it was for me an aesthetic ex
perience rather than an intellectual enl ightenment.
But the seed was sown. Many years later, being entrusted with the task oflec
turing to university extension adult classes, I chose Spinoza's Ethics, using the edi
tion translated by Boyle. That edition was prefaced by an inspiring in troduction
by Santayana. But there were a number of passages in the translation that puzzled
me, and when I sought out the original Latin in a library, I found that they were
m istranslations. Writing to the publisher, I poin ted out four such passages and pro
vided my own translations. In due course I received a courteous reply, confirm
ing my criticisms and promising to incorporate my corrections in the next reprint.
A check for £5 was enclosed (it should be remembered that £5 was worth far more
in the 19 50s than it is now). The next edition appeared with my corrections.
Now I had tasted - j usta sip- of the heady wine of authorship. Ambition grew;
could I not improve on the Boyle translation? My offer to do so was courteously
refused by the publisher as commercially unviable.
In 1 972, at the age of 60, I resigned my post as headmaster of a grammar school .
G ifted with the abundant leisure of retirement, I turned my mind to a translation
ofSpinoza's Ethics. This I duly offered to some respected publ ishers in the United
Kingdom. They declined, invariably with courteous regrets, but one of them, for
tunately, advised me to try Hackett Publ ishing Company in the United States.
So began my long and happy connection with Hackett. My translation of the
Ethics came out in 1982. Encouraged by a few laudatory reviews, I turned my at
tention to the Theological-Political Treatise, a work for which I have a fervent ad
miration. Thereafter, gently cajoled by Lee Rice, to whom I rema in vastly
indebted, I con tinued with the rest of Spinoza's works with the exception of the
Hebrew Grammar and the Short Treatise on God, Man, and His Well-Being, which
was originally written in Dutch. The results are here before you.
vii viii Translator's Preface A word on Spinoza's Latinity. This was criticized by some earlier scholars, per
haps because of h is modest admission in Letter 1 3 , where he seeks the help of h is
more accompl ished friends in polishing his hastily composed Principles orCarte
sian Philosophy. Unsure of h imself as he may have been, he nevertheless suc
ceeded in forging for himself a powerful l inguistic instrument, wonderfully l ucid,
devoid of all rhetoric, and with a peculiar charm of its own. It was an appropriate
medium of expression for one who, in much of the Ethics, was nearing the l imits
of what it is that can be put into words.
I could not have persisted with the task of translation without a steady convic
tion of its worthwhileness. To my mind, although Spinoza l ived and thought long
before Darwin, Freud, Einstein, and the startl ing impl ications of quantum theory,
he had a vision of truth beyond what is normally granted to human beings. He
was relen tless in pursuit of a goal that was basically ethical and rel igious, ridding
h imself of the anthropocentric bias that is inevitably innate in human beings and
manifested in their religious beliefs. His conclusions did not dismay him, as they
did so many of his contemporaries when they realized the full impl ications. Even
Henry Oldenburg, h is correspondent for many years, in h is later letters was ap
palled when he came to see the full implications of Spinoza's radical th inking.
But Spinoza boldly looked reality in the face and, far from being discouraged at
what he saw, drew from it a spiritual sustenance, an elevation of mind that sup
ported him all his life. It is th is aspect of S pinozism that is captured in the title of
Errol Harris' book Salvation from Despair. Such, then, are the considerations,
purely personal, that have induced me to undertake this lengthy task.
Finally, while I have never contributed to the rich field of Spinozan exegesis,
I venture to share with readers an idea that continues to occur to me, one that may
be capable of elaboration by other scholars. Genuine artistic creativity seems to
us a mysterious business. Many writers, poets, painters, and composers have tried
to indicate, with varying success, what happens in this process. They say that they
do not know what they are doing or are about to do. They are, as it were, possessed.
My own favorite illustration is Book IV of the Aeneid, where Vergil becomes so
absorbed in the creation of h is Dido character that the stammering Aeneas cuts
a very unheroic figure; yet he should be the flawless hero, the prototype of his al
leged descendant Augustus. Can the essence of God be seen as the source of the
ill-understood phenomenon that we call artistic creativity? In the "conatus" ofhu
man beings, a conaius that derives from God's potentia, do we see a shadow, an
image, of God's creativity, finding expression most markedly in the process of artis
I conclude with a tribute to my wife, who heroically endured for many years
my preoccupation with Spinoza.
Samuel Shirley INTRODU CT I ON Reading the works of Spinoza, one can be overwhelmed by a sense of abstract
rigor and detachmen t. They may seem to some readers the product of an almost
mechanical mental l ife. This appearance notwithstanding, I am inclined to as
cribe to Spinoza a romantic set of virtues. He is among thinkers extraordinarily
creative and novel ; his thinking is marked by a marvelous intensity and focus; and
yet his deepest commitments are to the most embracing unity and sense of com
prehensiveness that one can find in the tradition of Western philosophy. In short,
Spinoza's writings and h is thought are marked by a kind of heroism that is rare
and beautiful - even breathtaking.
We are tempted to think that the notion of perspective or points of view, so cru
cial to the world of art, was not of importance to philosophy until Kant and Ger
man Ideal ism made it so. Kant, it is said, taught us what metaphYSiCS could and
could not accomplish by confining its investigations to the viewpoint of human ex
perience and then went on to distinguish between the detached point of view of
the scientific enquirer and the engaged point of view of the moral agent. From
those beginnings, German Idealism and its twentieth-century legacy made the
notion of perspective or point of view central to philosophical accounts of human
existence and human experience, from Fichte, Schelling, and Kant to Schopen
hauer and Nietzsche, to Husserl, Heidegger, and beyond. And with this legacy came
a series of stmggles, between the natural and the human sciences, between exis
tentialism and scientific philosophy, between relativism and objectivism, and more.
But perspective was at the center of Spinoza's system. H is thinking shows a pas
sion for unity and totality, coupled with a scrupulous fidelity to the integrity of the
individual particular. There is no parochialism in Spinoza. His commitment to the
progress of scientific enquiry into the natural world belied any such l imitation in
behalf of his cognitive goals. In every way, in every dimension of our lives, Spinoza
saw the common; he saw unity and wholeness. At the same time his allegiance to
the univell>ality of the ethical life and its virtues did not annul the personal per
spective of human experience. For him life was always a struggle against our finite
limitations of perspective and particularity. Life was not life without such l imita
tions, but neither could life be what it could be if we were satisfied with them. The
world was of necessity filled with particular objects, but they existed within a Single
order. We are among those objects, and our goal is to do what we can, in knowledge
and conduct, to live with our particularity and yet transcend it. Spinoza was fully
aware of the necessity and the complexity of human pell>pective; he knew what it
ix Introduction meant to the hopes for scientific knowledge, for the burdens of religious, moral, and
political confl ict, and for the possibility of a truly blessed life. In a certain sense, per
spective is the fulcrum on which all Spinoza's thinking turns.
Spinoza l ived in a world distant from our own. No amount of h istorical deta il
and reconstruction can adequately place us in the complex world of Western
Europe in the seventeenth century. So much was new and yet so much was old.
Spinoza was immersed in all of it, in a world that was, by virtue of i ts economic
and geograph ical situation, at a crossroads. Spinoza knew about rel igious ortho
doxies and about rel igious reform; he knew about traditional culture and novel
ties; he knew about old texts and new thinking, abou t the tensions between
conservative political practice and l iberal hopes and aspirations; and he knew
about the risks - persecution and possibly death. To him, reason in us was akin
to reason in nature; one order permeated everything and enabled us, as rational
beings, to understand ourselves and the whole and to l ive peacefully and calmly
within it. This was the key to science, to ethics, and to religion. It was the key to
all of life. It was his goal to show, clarify, explain, and teach it - to the benefit of
If the key that unlocked the secrets of possibil ity for us as human beings was
unity and totality, the wholeness and order of all things, then the reality that
grounded the aspiration to this unity and order was the fact that each of us, as nat
ural obj ects and as human beings, was precisely located in that unity and order;
each of our places was determined in every way, and we were thereby endowed
with a very particular point of view on the whole. In a letter to Henry Oldenburg
of November 1 66 5 (Ep32), as he attempts to clarify the natu re of parts and wholes,
Spinoza provides us with a famous image. Each of us is, he tells us, like a l ittle
worm in the blood. Natu re is like the en tire circulatory system or l ike the entire
organism; each of us lives within that system or organism, interacting with only a
small part of it and experiencing only a very l imited region. Even if we grasp the
fact that there is a total system and u nderstand its principles to some degree, our
experience is so circumscribed and narrow that we are bound to make mistakes
about our understanding of the system and our place in it. Myopia confines our
understanding, no matter how we seek to overcome it. And we do. We aspire to
experience every detail, every event, and every item as part of the whole, to see it
from the perspective of the whole rather than from our own narrow poin t of view.
Our success is limited; we can free ourselves from prejudices and blindness but
only to a degree. We can see ourselves and act in terms of the whole, but only
within limits. Our goal is to free ourselves from the distortions and corruptions of
our finitude, to become free, active, and rational . These are all the same, and are
aspects of becoming like the whole, which is what the tradition dignifies with the
title "God" or "divine" or "the H ighest Good."
I do not believe that Spinoza saw th is challenge and th is sort of l ife as an es
cape from the world. H istory was riddled with strife and confl ict, with prejudice
and persecution. Life could be better; it could be harmonious with nature rather
than a struggle with it. Religious and pol itical institutions could be renovated to Introduction serve human purposes, and human l ife could be refashioned as well. The an
cient Stoics had understood that life in harmony with nature was the best human
l ife, and that in order to achieve such harmony, one had to understand nature.
Natural philosophy or science was both the h ighest achievement of human
rational ity and the key to living the best human life. Spinoza, I believe, fully sym
pathized with the broad strokes of this program . Like the Stoics, he revered rea
son and our rational capacities. Like them, he saw our reason and the reason in
nature as intimately linked. Like them, he saw natural phil osophy as the key to
opening the door of the h ighest good and the way through that door as leading
to tranquility of spirit, harmony with nature, and peace. To be sure, Spinoza was
a modern . Natural ph ilosophy meant the developments and achievemen ts of the
new science, conducted in the spirit of Descartes and others, grounded in math
ematics and a priori reasoning about natural events and causal relations. But if
the science was modem and mathematical and the metaphysics constructed as
a foundation for that science, the overall role for it and its goals were very simi
lar to th ose of the ancient Stoics: union with the whole of nature through knowl
edge of the natural order.
Moreover, Spinoza would call the goal of this project- the human project
"blessedness." He did not shy away from religious terminology, the vocabulary of
the Judaism and the Christianity with which he was so familiar. Indeed, it is a re
markable feature of his temperament that his thinking never totally rejected reli
gious themes, beliefs, and vocabulary as much as it sought to refine and refashion
them. One might say this about virtually all of the great seventeenth-century
philosophers, that they did not decisively reject the religious world out of which
they emerged and in which they l ived. They sought to retool that world, to come
to a new understanding of rel igiOUS life and to revise rel igiOUS concepts and ter
minology. Even those, like Hobbes and Spinoza, who were censored and vilified
as atheists, did not reject religion . More correctly, we, from our perspective, can
appreciate their philosophical goals as epistemological, ethical, and rel igiOUS all
at once. Spinoza, in these terms, was a religious visionary, a moral innovator, and
a philosopher-scientist, not one bu t all. His passion for unity and wholeness made
any fragmentation of this conglomerate undesirable, but the reality was that in h is
day, given the way that these and other domains ofl ife were lived and experienced,
any such fragmentation was quite impossible.
Hence, Spinoza's scientific philosophy and ethics aimed at tranquil ity in a con
flicted and turbulent world; they did not seek escape from that world but rather a
renovation of it. His was a world view for life, not for escape from l ife. It recom
mended changes in one's behavior and one's beliefs, practices, and institu tions.
What it did not recommend was escape from life. It was, as he put it in the Ethics,
a meditation on life and not on death.
One could seek the perspective of eternity in order to redeem the unavoidable
perspective of finitude, but, as living and natural beings, we could not escape the
latter and, as human beings, we should not avoid the former. This is the gist of
Spinoza's philosophy, h is eth ics, and h is religion. The key to grasping th is picture xi xii Introduction of our hopes and our realities is reason , that abil ity within us that enables us to
understand and make sense of our world and ourselves.
Spinoza presents us with the total ity of his system in one work: the Ethics. He also
left us with a prel iminary version of that work, as well as two treatises that consti
tute introductions to h is philosophy, and writings that are examples of appl ica
tions of that work- to politics and religion. Because these do not completely agree
with each other, all of this makes it hard to grasp his ph ilosophical system.
To me Spinoza is remarkable for h is creativity. He was an heir of a philosophi
cal terminology that came down to the seventeenth century from antiquity, the
recovery of ancient philosophies and texts, and its presence in the medieval philo
sophical tradition. He did not invent terms like "substance," "attribute," "mode,"
"affect," "essence," "necessity," and "eternity." He was taught the terms, how they
were used, what they meant, and more. And he was taught how they figured in the
thinking of Descartes, who was, for Spinoza, the bridge between the philosophical
tradition and the new philosophy and new science. What Spinoza did was to take
the tradition, Descartes' accomplishment, and h is own passionate commitments
and blend them into a new whole, a new worldview. At one level, it is an extension
and modification of Cartesian metaphysics; at another, it has its own character and
demands a view of the natural order very different from that of Descartes.
Spinoza has a relentless mind. His commitment to reason involves a commit
ment to consistency and rigor. This is n ot to say that he does not allow h is reason
to leap to conclusions that seem strange and even recalcitrant to us, and it is not
to say that he never makes mistakes. What I mean is that he can be understood as
starting with certain concepts whose meanings are clear and correct to him and
pushing the consequences of accepting those concepts. He can also be under
stood as observing what Descartes had achieved and yet as believing that
Descartes had fuiled to follow reason to its relentless conclusions because of prej
udices, biases to which Descartes had clung and which Spinoza saw as distortions.
In the case of the concept of substance, for example, Spinoza thought that he and
Descartes largely agreed about what substance means, but he thought too that if
so, there was no j ustification for treating minds and bodies as substances. More
over, if the principle of sufficient reason was foundational for scientific enquiry
and if the natural world and even eternal truths were created by God, then a deep
contingency would lie at the heart of nature and human knowledge. And even if
one were to treat the physical world as a collection of bodies that causally...
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