Benedict de Spinoza (1632-1677)
Amsterdam, Holland

Baruch (Benedict) de Spinoza was born to a Jewish merchant family in Amsterdam after his parents fled Spain and the Spanish Inquisition. He attended Jewish school until he went to work in his father’s business. As a merchant he met many “free-thinking” philosophers, including Descartes, Hobbes, and Machiavelli. Spinoza did not believe in the validity of sense perception to gain knowledge and he believed geometry was the perfect model for philosophy.

In Theological-Political Treatise, Spinoza made many people angry when he argued that society’s stability and security is enhanced by freedom of thought, or the freedom to philosophize. He wrote that the main threat to freedom was the church leaders, because they had all the political power and used the fears and superstitions of the people to keep their power. He wanted to take the political power away from the church and give it to the king. He hoped that the change in power would allow philosophers the freedom to do their work without having to worry about the church’s reaction. His Treatise was condemned as evil and he was accused of being an atheist.

The work that Spinoza is best known for is Ethics. In Ethics he tried to explain how people can best find happiness. He argued that God and nature are the thing. Happiness is to be found in the intellectual love of God/nature, which humans attain through reason and understanding. “The highest endeavor of the mind, and the highest virtue, is to understand things by intuition.” His belief that knowledge of God was open to all people angered the church leaders of his time.

Spinoza died of a lung ailment in 1677. Because his writings were so controversial, he only published one during his lifetime under his own name. Following his death his friends collected several of his works, including Ethics, and published them. Even after his death, this and his other writings were banned in Holland.

Spinoza Quotations

“Peace is not the absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.”

“Blessed are the weak who think that they are good because they have no claws.”

“If men were born free, they would, so long as they remained free, form no conception of good or evil.”

“I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand.”

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