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Baruch Spinoza - Antonio Damasio and Rebecca GoldsteinAdd to Queue

  • Posted by : pangeaprogressredux

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  • Date posted : Jan 01, 1970


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In 1656, Amsterdam’s Jewish community excommunicated Baruch Spinoza, and, at the age of twenty–three, he became the most famous heretic in Judaism. He was already germinating a secularist challenge to religion that would be as radical as it was original. He went on to produce one of the most ambitious systems in the history of Western philosophy, so ahead of its time that scientists today, from string theorists to neurobiologists, count themselves among Spinoza’s progeny. In Betraying Spinoza, Rebecca Goldstein sets out to rediscover the flesh-and-blood man often hidden beneath the veneer of rigorous rationality, and to crack the mystery of the breach between the philosopher and his Jewish past. Goldstein argues that the trauma of the Inquisition’ s persecution of its forced Jewish converts plays itself out in Spinoza’s philosophy. The excommunicated Spinoza, no less than his excommunicators, was responding to Europe’ s first experiment with racial anti-Semitism. Here is a Spinoza both hauntingly emblematic and deeply human, both heretic and hero—a surprisingly contemporary figure ripe for our own uncertain age. Contemporaries called him "Satan incarnate" and "the most impious atheist who ever lived upon face of the earth." But he is now revered as arguably the greatest philosopher since Plato, as the political theorist who first enunciated the general principles for a secular democratic society, and in many ways a modern saint. Baruch, later Benedict, de Spinoza (1632-77) devoted his adult life to thinking about the biggest questions of all: the nature of God and the universe, the function of religion, man's elusive quest for happiness, the ideals of government, how we should conduct our lives. His own was one of absolute simplicity -- a rented room, a little gruel for supper, an occasional pipe of tobacco, most of it paid for by his small earnings as a lens-maker. But, as the poet Heinrich Heine said, "All our modern philosophers . . . see through the glasses which Baruch Spinoza ground." Part of Spinoza's prescription for true happiness may sound familiar. The ancient Greeks advocated a stoic indifference to the world's ills; St. Augustine confessed that our hearts are restless until they rest in God; Buddhists believe that we must free ourselves from the wheel of desire to find spiritual beatitude. Unlike these austere systems, however, Spinoza's doesn't reject the body or the delights of the world: "It is the part of a wise man, I say, to refresh and restore himself in moderation with pleasant food and drink, with scents, with the beauty of green plants, with decoration, music, sports, the theater, and other things of this kind, which anyone can use without injury to another. For the human body is composed of a great many parts of different natures, which constantly require new and varied nourishment." And we should strive to be cheerful too: "Why is it more proper to relieve our hunger and thirst than to rid ourselves of melancholy?"

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