Friday, May 26, 2006

What would Spinoza think?

Salon's essay,

Everybody loves Spinoza,

Illustration by Bob Watts/

and Rebecca Goldstein's interview, Free Radical

easily lead me to wonder just what Baruch would think about the World today.

He was a Jew living in the world's most liberal city and country in the 1600s:
Amsterdam, Holland.

He witnessed religious intolerance: Spain expelled Jews and Moslems, as did Portugal. The Jews went to the Netherlands. Yet the Jewish community also expelled Spinoza for his philosophy.

Spinoza exalted Nature, saw God and Nature as one, became in the eyes of many, a Pantheist or even a Panentheist.

How instructive is it to see our own universe through the lens of this lens maker, this Rationalist, this man of Ethics?

We would see that nothing has changed. There are still religious wars. There is still intolerance. Man continues to rape Nature, failing to find harmony or nurture. No doubt Spinoza would remain the optimistic fatalist he was 400 years ago. The wise man, he thought, sees the world from the point of view of eternity. Spinoza, like the Buddhist, was a determinist. Nothing can be otherwise than it is. Individual freedom of action and choice-- mere illusion. So too the sensory world. Knowledge through reason alone can bring happiness. The ladder of knowledge, using reason, leads up to God where God, Nature, and the Mind become mystically one. No wonder there was no Mrs. Spinoza. Just one substance exists in Baruch's universe, God is ultimately alone. The monist becomes a solipsistic God. Yet he is filled with self-love, love for all those marvelous manifestations of God and Nature in the modes and attributes. Narcissus adores the pool of himself.

Spinoza, like so many modern workers, died in the dust and the pollution of his own work. The dust of lens grinding contributed to his death by consumption, at the age of 45. The individual death, though, is but an illusion: from the lens of the eye of God, Spinoza's thought, the only meaningful reality, is immortal.

I like what Shakespeare, Spinoza's near contemporary, wrote. The words seem to apply to Spinoza, himself:

His life was gentle; and the elements
So mixed in him, that Nature might stand up,
And say to all the world, THIS WAS A MAN!

William Shakespeare

Happy Thoughts...


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