Benedict (Baruch) de Spinoza
Dutch philosopher

1632 - 1677

Baruch Spinoza was a Dutch philosopher. He was also called Benedict, the Latin form of Baruch.

Spinoza was born in Amsterdam of Jewish parents. He early acquired the reputation of a freethinker and was excommunicated by the Jewish community in 1656. He then lived in several towns in the Netherlands, earning a living as a lens grinder. Throughout his career, Spinoza was a strong supporter of religious and political liberalism. He prized his independence, rejecting offers of a pension from King Louis XIV of France and of a university professorship in Germany. Although he was respected by many, Spinoza was controversial because of his unorthodox views on religion, philosophy, and politics.

Spinoza's philosophy was strongly influenced by the French philosopher Rene Descartes. Spinoza accepted Descartes's view that thought and matter are the basic categories of reality. The physical world is nothing but bits of matter moving and interacting according to general causal laws. However, in his masterpiece, The Ethics (published shortly after his death), Spinoza developed Descartes's ideas in radically unconventional ways. Spinoza stated that "God or Nature" is the only substance. Thought and matter are God's infinite attributes, and all finite things (such as human minds and bodies) are only modes or states of the attributes of God. Spinoza allowed no exceptions to causality, denying free will to humanity and God. He maintained, however, that freedom of mind can be obtained by rational understanding of our place in nature and our subjection to its laws--particularly the laws of the passions.

Contributor: Margaret D. Wilson, Ph.D., Prof. of Philosophy, Princeton Univ.


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