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by Benedict de Spinoza,R. H. M. Elwes

If men's minds were as easily controlled as their tongues, every king would sit safely on his throne, and government by compulsion would cease; for every subject would shape his life according to the intentions of his rulers, and would esteem a thing as true or false, good or evil, just or unjust, in obedience with their dictates. -from "That in a Free State Every Man May Thing What He Likes, and Say What He Thinks" An early voice calling for reason as the ruler of the human mind, and a man with, at best, a Deistic outlook on religion, Spinoza is perhaps the first truly modern philosopher. He is certainly the first modern critic of the Bible. His devoted adherents include many great names of 19th-century literature: Goethe, Coleridge, Shelley, and George Eliot were deeply swayed by his writing; in the 20th century, Albert Einstein claimed Spinoza's deterministic outlook as an abiding influence; understanding the writings of all these figures is greatly enhanced by an appreciation of Spinoza. In Theologico-Political Treatise, first published anonymously in 1670, Spinoza rails against religious intolerance and calls for governments to be entirely secular. His Political Treatise, unfinished at his death, was published only posthumously, and deals with democratic government.
Download A Theologico-political Treatise, and a Political Treatise epub
ISBN: 1596055219
ISBN13: 978-1596055216
Category: Politics
Subcategory: Philosophy
Author: Benedict de Spinoza,R. H. M. Elwes
Language: English
Publisher: Cosimo Classics (December 27, 2005)
Pages: 428 pages
ePUB size: 1514 kb
FB2 size: 1240 kb
Rating: 4.8
Votes: 168
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The subtle things in this book are suspected of being capable of doing serious damage to the idea of consensus. Still, this is mainly a book for serious readers who seek ideas in previous centuries. It is unlikely to provide much material to songwriters and comedians who long for sustained fame in the 21st century, and who might benefit by providing the kind of depth contained in the title of Chapter XIII, "It is Shown That Scripture Teaches Only Very Simple Doctrines, Such as Suffice for Right Conduct." (p. 175). This unabridged Elwes translation, available from Dover Publications since 1951, was originally published in 1883. According to the Introduction, the second work included here on pages 279 to 387 (where this unfinished work reaches a lack of conclusiveness with, "we shall easily see that men and women cannot rule alike without great hurt to peace. But of this enough.") A POLITICAL TREATISE was translated by A. H. Gosset, "who has also, in my absence from England, kindly seen the work through the press." (pp. xxxii - xxxiii). The lofty thoughts presented in the main work here are primarily theological in nature. There is no index, and the Notes on pages 267-278 are those of the author on the primary work, A THEOLOGICO-POLITICAL TREATISE. Chapter I, "Of Prophecy," on "sure knowledge revealed by God to man," (p. 13) as distinct from ordinary knowledge which all share, and Moses is considered first, as unique in the sense expressed by Deut. xxiv. 10: "And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses whom the Lord knew face to face." (p. 18). Furthermore, Spinoza wrote, "that if Moses spoke with God face to face as a man speaks with his friend (i.e. by means of their two bodies) Christ communed with God mind to mind." (p. 19). There is a return to the earlier view of Moses on pages 123-4 in Chapter VIII on "The Authorship of the Pentateuch." After an examination of the early books of the Bible, and especially Deuteronomy, it was the opinion of Spinoza, "I cannot find anyone, save Ezra, to whom to attribute the sacred books." (p. 130).
The Introduction by R. H. M. Elwes provides a few facts about Spinoza's life on pages x-xx and a brief summary of his writings, primarily the Ethics from pages xxiii to xxxi. The description of appetite, desire, pleasure, and pain on page xxvii as a basis from which "Spinoza deduces the entire list of human emotions" is thought to be the best of Spinoza, but that isn't what this book is about. As the Ethics developed, "The doctrine that rational emotion, rather than pure reason, is necessary for subduing evil passions, is entirely his own." (p. xxviii). Tobacco is not mentioned often in this book, but it is reported that one of Spinoza's amusements was "smoking now and again a pipe of tobacco." (p. xix). Also on Saturday, February 20, 1677, Spinoza spent some time with the landlord and his wife "in conversation, and smoked a pipe of tobacco, but went to bed early." (p. xx). His friend and physician, Lewis Meyer, came to see him the next day, the 21st, and Spinoza expired at about three o'clock on that Sunday afternoon, while the landlord and his wife were at church. The malady from which Spinoza suffered was called phthisis, and it seems as unlikely that any pain that he might have suffered will be conclusively linked to the habit which he enjoyed by doctors who currently do research on heart and lung problems for the leading companies in the tobacco industry, but there may be some basis here for finding a link between philosophy and what they call "junk science."
Those who seek commentaries might find a number to choose from. Spinoza's works were targets of opportunity for philosophers who were concerned about freedom of religion. The final mention of Spinoza in the text of THE SOCIOLOGY OF PHILOSOPHIES by Randall Collins (Harvard University Press, 1998, paperback, 2000) is in a section called Deep Troubles: Free Will and Determinism, Substance and Plurality. As simply summarized there, "Spinoza avoided two-substance dilemmas by positing a single substance with mental and material aspects" (p. 843). The conclusion of that section of Collins's Chapter 15, "Sequence and Branch in the Social Production of Ideas" is "No doubt future philosophies will be created upon this long-standing deep trouble." (p. 845). That seems far more likely than that anyone will explain why Spinoza died of phthisis.
This is a classic which I found amazing.
Baruch Spinoza (later Benedict de Spinoza; 1632-1677) was a Dutch philosopher. He was raised in the Portuguese Jewish community in Amsterdam, but was expelled from this community due to his ideas about the authenticity of the Hebrew Bible and the nature of God. He lived a deliberately simple life, making a living as a lens grinder for eyeglasses, and turning down teaching positions that were offered to him. The companion volume to this book is On the Improvement of the Understanding / The Ethics / Correspondence (v. 2).

The Theologico-Political Treatise raises many doubts about the Hebrew Bible, but Spinoza's point was to use this controversy and uncertainty to argue in favor of religious toleration. He notes that "Adam, the first man to whom God was revealed, did not know that He is omnipotent and omniscient; for he his himself from Him, and attempted to make excuses for his fault before God... Abraham also knew not that God is omnipresent, and has foreknowledge of all things; for when he heard the sentence against the inhabitants of Sodom, he prayed that the Lord should not execute it till He had ascertained whether they all merited such punishment... Further, the divine testimony concerning Abraham asserts nothing but that he was obedient, and that he `commanded his household after him that they should keep the way of the Lord' [Gen 18:19]; it does not state that he held sublime conceptions of the Deity." (Pg. 35-36) He also points out, "as Moses believed that God dwelt in the heavens, God was revealed to him as coming down from heaven on to a mountain, and in order to talk with the Lord Moses went up the mountain, which he certainly need not have done if he could have conceived of God as omnipresent." (Pg. 38)

He asserts, "Nothing, then, comes to pass in nature in contravention to her universal laws... for whatsoever comes to pass, comes to pass according to laws and rules which involve eternal necessity and truth, although they may not all be known to us, and therefore she keeps as fixed and immutable order... as the laws and rules of nature are the decrees of God, it is in every way to be believed that the power of nature is infinite, and that he laws are broad enough to embrace everything conceived by the Divine intellect; the only alternative is to assert that God has created nature so weak, and has ordained for her laws so barren, that He is repeatedly compelled to come afresh to her aid if He wishes that she should be preserved, and that things happen as He desires: a conclusion, in my opinion, very far from removed from reason. Further, as nothing happens in nature which does not follow from her laws, and as her laws embrace everything conceived by the Divine intellect, and lastly as nature preserves a fixed and immutable order; it most clearly follows that miracles are only intelligible as in relation to human opinions, and merely mean events of which the natural cause cannot be explained by a reference to any ordinary occurrence, either by us, or at any rate, by the writer and narrator of the miracle." (Pg. 83-84) He adds, "Therefore miracles, in the sense of events contrary to the laws of nature, so far from demonstrating to us the existence of God, would, on the contrary, lead us to doubt it, where, otherwise, we might have been absolutely certain of it, as knowing that nature follows a fixed and immutable order." (Pg. 85)

He suggests, "the difficulty of interpreting Scripture arises from no defect in human reason, but simply from the carelessness (not to say malice) of men who neglected the history of the Bible while there were still materials for inquiry... the prophets and apostles did not preach to the faithful only, but chiefly to the unfaithful and wicked. Such persons, therefore, were able to understand the intentions of the prophets and apostles, otherwise the prophets and apostles would have seemed to be preaching to little boys and infants, not to men endowed with reason. Moses, too, would have given his laws in vain, if they could only be comprehended by the faithful, who need no law. Indeed, those who demand supernatural faculties for comprehending the meaning of the prophets and apostles seem truly lacking in natural faculties, so that we should hardly suppose such persons the possessors of a Divine supernatural gift." (Pg. 114)

He argues, "as it is, the history of the Bible is not so much imperfect as untrustworthy: the foundations are not only too scanty for building upon, but are also unsound. It is part of my purpose ... to remove common theological prejudices... I will begin with the received opinions concerning the true authors of the sacred books... The words of Aben Ezra which occur in his commentary... shows that it was not Moses who wrote the Pentateuch, but someone who lived long after him... To prove this... he draws attention to the facts... that the preface to Deuteronomy could not have been written by Moses, inasmuch as he had never crossed the Jordan... in [Deut 31:9] the expression occurs, `and Moses wrote the law': words that cannot be ascribed to Moses, but must be those of some other writer narrating the deeds and writings of Moses... The narrative is prolonged after the death of Moses, for in Exodus 16:34 we read that `the children of Israel did eat manna forty years until they came to a land inhabited, until they came unto the borders of the land of Canaan.' In other words, until the time alluded to in Joshua 6:12... where it is related that Moses wrote the book of the law, the historian adds that he handed it over to the priests and bade them read it out at a stated time to the whole people. This shows that the work was of much less length than the Pentateuch, inasmuch as it could be read through at one sitting... The book of Joshua may be proved not to be an autograph ... events are related which took place after Joshua's death. For instance, that the Israelites worshipped God, after his death, so long as there were any old men alive who remembered him." (Pg. 121-127)

He concludes the book, "it is impossible to deprive men of the liberty of saying what they think...the safest way for a state is to lay down the rule that religion is comprised solely in the exercise of charity and justice, and that the rights of rulers in sacred, no less than in secular matters, should merely have to do with actions, but that every man should think what he likes and say what he thinks." (Pg. 264-265)

In the Political Treatise, he says, "in the state of nature, wrong-doing is impossible; or, if anyone does wrong, it is to himself, not to another. For no one by the law of nature is bound to please another, unless he chooses, nor to hold anything to be good or evil, but what he himself, according to his own temperament, pronounces to be so; and, to speak generally, nothing is forbidden by the law of nature, except what is beyond everyone's power.... But wrongdoing is action which cannot lawfully be committed. For if men by the ordinance of nature were bound to be led by reason, then all of necessity would be so led. For the ordinances of nature are the ordinances of God... which God had instituted by the liberty, whereby he exists, and they follow, therefore, from the necessity of the divine nature... and consequently, are eternal, and cannot be broken. But men are chiefly guided by appetite, without reason; yet for all this they do not disturb the course of nature, but follow it of necessity. And, therefore, a man ignorant and weak of mind, is no more bound by natural law to order his life wisely, than a sick man is bound to be sound of body." (Pg. 297-298)

Spinoza is one of the "main guys" of the history of philosophy (particularly his Ethics, which is contained in the companion volume to this one), and these two books are of ongoing importance to anyone studying philosophy.