Authors: Baruch Spinoza

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Dutch philosopher

Identity: Jewish

Author Works


Renati des Cartes principia philosophiae, 1663 (Principles of Descartes’ Philosophy, 1905)

Tractatus theologico-politicus, 1670 (A Theologico-Political Treatise, 1862)

Opera posthuma, 1677

Ethica, 1677 (Ethics, 1870)

Tractatus politicus, 1677 (A Political Treatise, 1883)

De intellectus emendatione, 1677 (On the Improvement of the Understanding, 1884)

Epistolae doctorum quorundam virorum ad B.D.S. et auctoris responsiones, 1677 (Letters to Friend and Foe, 1966)

Compendium grammatices linguae hebraeae, 1677 (Hebrew Grammar, 1962)

Tractatus de deo et homine eiusque felicitate, 1862 (A Short Treatise on God, Man, and His Well-Being, 1963)

The Chief Works of Benedict de Spinoza, 1883-1884 (2 volumes)

The Collected Works of Spinoza, 1985 (Edwin Curley, editor)

A Spinoza Reader: The Ethics, and Other Works, 1994 (Curley, editor)


Baruch Spinoza (spuh-NOH-zuh), the great Dutch philosopher who tried to demonstrate the existence and nature of God in a geometrically precise fashion, was christened Baruch, the son of Michael and Hannah Deborah de Spinoza. His parents were descendants of Jews who, having been forced into the Catholic faith and having practiced their Jewish religion in secret, fled from Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition. Michael Spinoza was a merchant, only moderately prosperous, and Baruch, born in Amsterdam on November 24, 1632, was the third child of his second wife. Baruch’s mother died when he was six years old, and Baruch was probably left in the care of Rebecca, the remaining child of Michael Spinoza’s first marriage.{$I[AN]9810000366}{$I[A]Spinoza, Baruch}{$I[geo]NETHERLANDS, THE;Spinoza, Baruch}{$I[geo]JEWISH;Spinoza, Baruch}{$I[tim]1632;Spinoza, Baruch}

Baruch Spinoza

(Library of Congress)

He attended a local Hebrew school, where his education began with the Hebrew alphabet and proceeded through the Old Testament and the Talmud. His early education can be characterized as Orthodox Jewish. When he was eight years old his father married for the third time, and the family soon moved to better quarters as the father’s business improved. The boy’s studies continued; his work was so promising that he went on to advanced studies at a Hebrew academy, Etz Hayim, and remained there from 1645 to 1652. He studied Latin and Greek and had a thorough grounding in Scholastic theology and philosophy as well as the philosophies of René Descartes and Thomas Hobbes.

Sometime in the course of his studies Spinoza began to doubt the truth of what he was being taught. Although he followed the Hebrew tradition, he also began to study philosophy and gradually realized that he was not interested in being a rabbi. His questioning attitude became apparent to his fellow students, and in 1656, two years after his father’s death, he was excommunicated by the Jews. Feeling against him was intense; at one time before the excommunication someone had tried to assassinate him. Spinoza, believing himself to be right in his doubts, quietly settled in Amsterdam and took up the trade of grinding lenses; it was said that he was an excellent craftsman. The work was arduous and painstaking, and the dust irritated his lungs, but he was able to devote his nights to study, particularly to reading Descartes. Fascinated with Descartes’s method of constructing proofs from ideas that could not be doubted, he began to consider constructing an account of reality that would have geometrical exactness. Euclidian geometry in Spinoza’s time was considered a priori knowledge, representing a system of immutable truth. Spinoza was fascinated by geometry and the way Descartes utilized geometrical models in philosophical and scientific investigations.

He changed his name from Baruch to Benedictus, the Latin form of Baruch, which means “blessed,” and thereby completed his liberation from the traditions of his fathers. He studied Latin with the Dutch scholar Van den Enden, and there were rumors that he was attracted to his tutor’s daughter. If he was, nothing came of it, and Spinoza finally left Amsterdam and moved to the village of Rijnsburg. While he was there he wrote his first philosophical work, Principles of Descartes’ Philosophy, an attempt to put into geometric form the philosophy of Descartes. At the same time he was working on other projects, the most important being his Ethics, and he was spending a considerable amount of time corresponding and helping visiting students who came to him from Amsterdam. He moved to The Hague, and in 1670 his second book, A Theologico-Political Treatise, appeared. It caused a furor, for the philosopher’s conception of God and reality was quite different from both the orthodox Christian and Jewish views. The Dutch Synod prohibited the work, and its anonymous author was condemned as the devil. When Spinoza became known as the author, the criticism abated to some extent because of his quiet manner and scholarly reputation, but it never wholly died down during his lifetime.

Offered the chair of philosophy at the University of Heidelberg, he refused the post in order to be free both in his opinions and in his time to write. He continued to grind lenses during the day and to write philosophy at night. It is not clear why he continued grinding lenses for the rest of his life. Some contend that he needed the money, others that he did it for diversion. He lived a modest, frugal, and simple life. Pleasant in his personal relationships, he had many good friends. In spite of his retiring way of life, he was well known. He engaged in wide correspondence, and numerous philosophers came to visit him. His death came at The Hague on February 21, 1677, from tuberculosis, probably aggravated by having breathed glass dust over the years. As he had planned it, his principal works were published after his death.

Many religious leaders of Spinoza’s day wrongly accused him of pantheism. His system, as spelled out in his Ethics, is monistic in nature. Unlike Descartes, who started his system of knowledge from the foundation of self (Cogito) and argued his way to the existence of God, Spinoza began his monistic journey with the existence of God and constructed his system around it.

BibliographyChappell, Vere, ed. Baruch de Spinoza. New York: Garland, 1992. A very short biography of Spinoza accompanied by a series of essays explaining and discussing his ideas.Deleuze, Gilles. Spinoza: Practical Philosophy. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1988. Brief volume offers a biography of Spinoza and discusses his work succinctly.Della Rocca, Michael. Representation and the Mind-Body Problem in Spinoza. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Are the mind and body identical? What are the requirements for having a thought about an object? To this author, those are important questions, and he believes Spinoza had ideas about them and that the ideas of Spinoza are often misunderstood.Garrett, Don, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Spinoza was a mass of conflicting ideas. In the introduction, Garrett tries to place Spinoza’s work in the tradition of philosophy, and in the opening essay, W. N. A. Klever offers a biography of Spinoza and a discussion of his works in general. Following is a series of essays examining specific parts of Spinoza’s thought.Gullan-Whur, Margaret. Within Reason: A Life of Spinoza. London: Jonathan Cape, 1998. A feminist account of Spinoza’s life that contrasts his acceptance of the male domination of society with his egalitarian republican ideals. Contains a bibliography and an index.Harris, Errol F. Spinoza’s Philosophy: An Outline. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1992. A book for beginners, discussing Spinoza’s life and style, his principal works, and a means of understanding his methods and his writings.Hunter, Graeme, ed. Spinoza: The Enduring Questions. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994. A series of essays that attempt to define Spinoza’s place in the history of philosophy.Nadler, Steven. Spinoza: A Life. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.Scruton, Roger. Spinoza. New York: Routledge, 1999. A biographical introduction to the thoughts of the philosopher, clearly presented and requiring no special background. Includes bibliography.Woolhouse, R. S. Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz. London: Routledge, 1993. The three seventeenth century philosophers are examined in relation one to another. René Descartes is recognized as the father of the modern shape of philosophy (not of all of its twists and turns), and Spinoza and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz are examined as to their agreements and disagreements with Descartes.Yovel, Yirmiyahu. Spinoza and the Heretics. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989.
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