“Baruch Spinoza (1632-) was a modern philosopher, currently recognized as one of the leading exponents of rationalism. Among his works emphasizes problematize and provide a different understanding of nature in relation to the deity, as well as having discussed important moral, political and religious concepts.”
In the following article we will see the biography of Baruch Spinoza, as well as a brief description of his main contributions to modern philosophy.
Biography of Baruch Spinoza: rationalist philosopher
Baruch Spinoza, originally called Benedictus (in Latin) or Bento de Spinoza (In Portuguese), was born on November 24, 1632 in Amsterdam. His parents were Jews who had emigrated to Spain and later to Portugal. There they were forced to convert to Christianity, although they continued to practice Judaism in secret. After being arrested by the Inquisition, they finally fled to Amsterdam.
In this city, Baruch’s father developed as an important merchant and later as a director of the city’s synagogue. For his part, Baruch Spinoza’s mother died when he was only six years old.
Before arriving in Amsterdam, Spinoza had already trained in institutes with a Roman Catholic approach. In the same period he was trained in Hebrew and Jewish philosophy. Already in Amsterdam, at the age of 19, Spinoza worked as a small merchant, while continuing to study in schools with an orthodox Jewish approach.
At this time, Spinoza was especially interested in Cartesian philosophy, in mathematics and in Hobbes’s philosophy; that led him to move away more and more from Judaism. Little by little he became very critical of the accuracy and interpretation of the Bible, especially regarding the idea of the immortality of the soul, the notion of transcendence and the laws dictated by God, as well as its connection to the Jewish community. The latter earned him excommunication.
In fact, it was in this period that Spinoza began to change his name from Hebrew to Latin, probably due to the possibility of reprisals and censorship. In fact, he refused to serve as a teacher at the University of Heidelberg because he was asked not to alter the current religious slogans.
Baruch Spinoza spent his last years in The Hague, where he died of tuberculosis on February 21, 1677, at age 44 and without having completed one of his last works, called a political treatise.
One of the themes on which Spinoza’s work was centered was ethics. In fact, Ethics demonstrated according to the geometric order, is the name of his most representative work. In this one, Spinoza discussed the traditional philosophical conception about God and about the human being, about the universe and the moral beliefs underlying religion and theology. Among other things, the philosopher wanted to show that God actually exists, as well as nature and ourselves.
Heir of Cartesian thought, which suggested the possibility of finding a rational and algebraic explanation about the existence of God, but also faithful to his Jewish, stoic and scholastic formation, Baruch held the existence of a single infinite substance.
The difference with the thought of Descartes is that, for Spinoza, this substance is unique (Descartes spoke of two), and can be equivalent to nature and at the same time to God. From there, he discusses the relationship between nature and the divine. And since God is not caused by anything, that is, nothing precedes him, then he exists. Or in other words, God, as a unique and divine substance, is that which is conceived on the spot.
This is one of the ontological arguments about its most representative existence in different works of modern rationalism.
Not only that, but Spinoza maintains that, consequently, the human mind can know well through thought, or through its extension. This takes as a model to Descartes, but at the same time it makes a difference, since the latter said that knowledge was given only through thought, and that extension (nature) made reason err.
Spinoza maintains that there are three types of human knowledge: one derived from the enslavement of the passions, another related to reason and consciousness of causes (whose value is the control of passions), and the third is the disinterested intuition that is assimilates to God’s point of view. The latter is the only one capable of providing the only possible human happiness.
Treaty of political theology
The Tractatus, a work that earned Spinoza an important recognition, combines biblical criticism, political philosophy and the philosophy of religion with the development of metaphysics. Something that is represented in an important way is the distance and criticism of Spinoza with respect to the Bible.
For Spinoza, the topics that this book presents are riddled with inconsistencies that can be explained through the scientific study of language, history and beliefs of the past. For this reason it is believed that it is one of the works that also earned Spinoza excommunication.
Thus, Spinoza sets out to reveal the truth about the scriptures and religion, and in this way sabotage or question the political power exercised in modern states by religious authorities. It also defends, at least as a political ideal, the tolerant, secular and democratic policy. Among other things, Spinoza rejected the term and conceptions about morality, because he considers that it is only ideals.
Other of his most representative works are Brief treaty about God, man and happiness and the reform of the understanding.