Spinoza, Baruch (Benedict) De

(1632–77)
   Dutch philosopher. Only the bare facts are known of the life of one of the greatest philosophers and intel-lects of all time, for he deliberately omitted his personality from his work. His father and grandfather were Marranos who fled from Portugal to escape the Inquisition and openly resumed the Jewish faith. His family were leaders of the community in Amsterdam, prosperous and respected, and his father served on several occasions as warden of the synagogue.
   As a boy, Spinoza received a traditional Jewish education, and his attainment in rabbinical studies was such that by the age of twenty he became the rabbi of one of the local synagogues. A Hebrew scholar and author of a Hebrew grammar, he also learned Portuguese, Latin, Dutch and Spanish. He obviously acquired a scientific and philosophical education and was schooled in the works of Galileo, Kepler and Descartes. Greatly interested in optics, he adopted the skilled profession of lens-making.
   Spinoza struggled with the great problem of philosophical enquiry for a religious man of the 17 century, the interpretation of the Bible. The lofty concept of a universal God, immanent in all creation, was the core of his metaphysical and ethical system. (He was later called a ‘God-intoxicated man’.) Yet, to his rational and scientific mind conventional religion, whether Jewish or Christian, was man-made; the Scriptures were a human document without supernatural authority; and there was no proof of an immortal soul divorced from the body. This 17-century thinker helped to usher in the rationalism of the 18 century, and the Higher Criticism of 19-century Bible scholarship. Even before Spinoza, there were het-erodox currents of this kind in the Dutch- Jewish community, associated with the names of Uriel da COSTA and others. The rabbis and lay leaders of the congregation were trying to suppress heresies that might not only undermine Jewish faith, but provoke reactions from the Calvinist authorities. Although the Jews were permitted to take refuge and live freely in Holland, they were not citizens of the country. Men who had recently escaped persecution for their religion were naturally loath to be persecuted for the free-thinking of their own members. Although Spinoza did not seek to make converts and continued to attend the synagogue, he refused to conceal his scepticism. In the face of this danger, the Amsterdam college of rabbis excommunicated him on 27 July 1656. His father had died three years earlier and was spared the shame of seeing his brilliant son an outcast. And an outcast in a very real sense Spinoza was, unable to seek protection from the only community likely to care for him. Around the same time, he re- nounced most of an inheritance, after a lawsuit with his stepsister. For the next four years he lived in Amsterdam, grinding and polishing lenses to eke out a modest existence. He became the leader of a small circle of enlightened men interested in philosophical enquiry. Although offered money so that he could pursue philosophy alone, he refused all but a very small annuity, shunning possessions and believing that he should earn his own keep. In 1660 he left the city for a small village near Leiden, seemingly in search of peace to continue his writing. He remained there until 1663, when he moved to Voorburg, near The Hague.
   Here he was persuaded to publish his Philosophical Principles of Descartes (first ed. in Latin, 1663), the only work to appear under his own name. As the appendix made clear, it was an exposition of a philosophy which he did not himself hold. The next work to be published, Treatise on Religious and Political Philosophy (first ed. in Latin), appeared anonymously in 1670. Sketching his metaphysics in outline, the work was intended as a defence of toleration and liberal principles in a modern republic. The book was greeted with indignant protest on all sides, and he dared publish no more in his lifetime. Spinoza carried his tolerance into practical action when in 1672 he protested at great personal risk, when a mob murdered two brothers under suspicion of collaborating with the invading French army.
   Although he lived quietly, spending his energies on his studies, Spinoza was not a recluse. He was loved and respected by his neighbours and known as a courteous and kindly man. He corresponded with a few scholars in other countries, but was considered dangerous to know, and most of the men who dared to write to him were intellectually inferior to him. However, he is known to have had some contact with the German scholar Leibnitz, who sent him a tract on optics in 1671 and visited him in 1676. Greatly different though they were in temperament and worldly ambition, these two men were the intellectual giants of their countries.
   True to his wish for seclusion, Spinoza refused the chair of philosophy at Heidelberg University, offered to him by Elector Karl Ludwig in 1673. The rest of his short life was devoted to writing.
   He was consumptive even in childhood and his disease must have been irritated by the dust from the lenses he ground. He died in obscurity at the age of forty-four, unreconciled with the Jewish community, leaving behind him the barest of material possessions and his manuscripts. Chief of these was Ethics (first ed. 1677), which sets forth his complete metaphysical system. Spinoza himself wrote of it: ‘I do not presume to have discovered the best philosophy, but I know that I understand the true one.’ It was published anonymously by his friends, bearing only the initials B.D.S. In his Ethics he formulates the system which contains his doctrine of human happiness and freedom, and his description of the right way of life. Although seeking salvation by reason, Spinoza’s search was in the prophetic spirit, and his indebtedness to his early training in rabbinics, especially the work of MAIMONIDES, is apparent in his philosophy. Spinoza continued to be reviled after his death, and his works neglected, until the end of the 18 century. First to admire him were LESSING and Goethe. Since then the work of this writer of strict morality, reflecting his early background in a vocabulary reminiscent of the Old Testament, has been revered by philosophers of every shade of thought.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Spinoza, Baruch / Benedict — (1632 77)    Together with Descartes and Leibniz, Spinoza was one of the great rationalists of the early modern period. A grinder of lenses by profession, he was ethnically Jewish, but was expelled from his synagogue in Amsterdam for heresy (he… …   Christian Philosophy

  • SPINOZA, BARUCH (Bento, Benedictus) DE — (1632–1677), philosopher born in Amsterdam of Portuguese background, who became one of the most important representatives of the rationalist movement in the early modern period. Introduction In the Jewish and National Library in Jerusalem,… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Spinoza,Baruch — Spi·no·za (spĭ nōʹzə), Baruch or Benedict 1632 1677. Dutch philosopher and theologian whose controversial pantheistic doctrine advocated an intellectual love of God. His best known work is Ethics (1677). * * * …   Universalium

  • SPINOZA, Baruch (or Benedict) — (1632 1677)    Dutch materialist philosopher who was EXCOMMUNICATED for his free thought by the JEWISH community of Amsterdam. He believed that mastery over NATURE and the perfection of man was the purpose of knowledge. And considered DEMOCRATIC… …   Concise dictionary of Religion

  • Baruch de Spinoza — Baruch Spinoza (um 1665) Baruch de Spinoza, hebräisch: ברוך שפינוזה‎, portugiesisch: Bento de Espinosa, latinisiert: Benedictus de Spinoza (* 24. November 1632 in Amsterdam; † 21. Februar 1677 in Den Haag), war ein nieder …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Baruch Spinoza — Baruch (de) Spinoza Baruch de Spinoza, hebräisch ברוך שפינוזה, portugiesisch Bento de Espinosa, latinisiert: Benedictus de Spinoza (* 24. November 1632 in Amsterdam; † 21. Februar 1677 in Den Haag) war ein niederländischer Philosoph mit …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Spinoza — Baruch (de) Spinoza Baruch de Spinoza, hebräisch ברוך שפינוזה, portugiesisch Bento de Espinosa, latinisiert: Benedictus de Spinoza (* 24. November 1632 in Amsterdam; † 21. Februar 1677 in Den Haag) war ein niederländischer Philosoph mi …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Spinoza — Spinoza, Baruch oder Benedict, einer der bedeutendsten u. einflußreichsten Philosophen der neuern Zeit, geb. am 24. Novbr. 1632 zu Amsterdam, der Sohn einer aus Portugal eingewanderten Judenfamilie, war von Geburt schwächlich aber äußerst… …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • Baruch Spinoza — Infobox Philosopher region = Western Philosophy era = 17th century philosophy color = #B0C4DE| image size = 200px image caption = name = Baruch de Spinoza birth = November 24, 1632 (Amsterdam, Netherlands) death = February 21, 1677 (The Hague,… …   Wikipedia

  • Benedict de Spinoza — noun Dutch philosopher who espoused a pantheistic system (1632 1677) • Syn: ↑Spinoza, ↑de Spinoza, ↑Baruch de Spinoza • Instance Hypernyms: ↑philosopher …   Useful english dictionary

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