Returning from her last day at the Library, Selma was exhausted and overwhelmed with by the sheer volume of details about and by Spinoza that had kept her scribbling right up to closing time.
The notes she was able to spin of the man, his thoughts and what those before her had gleaned from his writing left her brain in an intellectual fog that seemed impenetrable.
“ I finally gave up, Manny”
“Not before you got what you came for, I hope.”
“What I wasn’t able to make notes on today, I made PDF’s and emailed them to myself so I can use them when we get back. You want to see what I’ve got so far?”
Reluctant but curious, Manny took her notes and began reading aloud.
Bento Spinoza, son in a prominent Portuguese-Jewish family was born in 1632 in Amsterdam. He was intellectually gifted and a pupil in the Talmud Torah School and was possibly being groomed for a career as a rabbi.
However, Spinoza denied the immortality of the soul; and rejected the idea of a pre-existent being, i.e. God. It followed that any Law given by a non-existent God was no longer binding on Jews. He never made it into the upper levels of the curriculum that included advanced study of Talmud. On July 27, 1656, he was issued the writ of cherem, or excommunication. He was probably glad to have a reason to leave the community and Judaism. It took a couple of centuries before other thinkers began to consider that he just might be right.
By 1661, he was living in Rijnsburg, where he worked on the Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect, an essay on philosophical method, and the Short Treatise on God, Man and His Well-Being. These early writings were an attempt to lay out his metaphysical, epistemological and moral views.
His critique of Descartes’s Principles of Philosophy was completed in 1663. By this time, he was also working on the Ethics, his philosophical masterpiece. However, when he saw the principles of toleration in Holland being threatened by reactionary forces he put it aside to complete his Theological-Political Treatise. When he died in 1677, he was still working on the Political Treatise. It was published posthumously along with his other unpublished writings.
The Ethics is a logical critique of the traditional philosophical conceptions of God, the human being and the universe, and of the religions and the theological and moral beliefs that came with them. What Spinoza intends to demonstrate is the truth about God, nature, ourselves, the principles of society, religion and the good life.
In spite of the metaphysics, physics, anthropology and psychology discussed, Spinoza intended his work to be ethical in nature. Happiness and well being come from living a life of reason; not from living as a slave to passions and the acquisition of goods or in the non-thinking attachment to superstitions that passes as religion. To clarify and support these ethical conclusions, however, he must take the mystery out of the universe and show it for what it really is.
Manny’s wheezing sigh was followed by an out of breath remark.
“That’s all you got after three days in the dust, Selma?”
“I’ve got a lot more but that’s a pretty good start, don’t you think?”