Dutch Philosopher of Portuguese Jewish Origin
Baruch Spinoza, later Benedict de Spinoza
Dutch Philosopher of Portuguese Jewish Origin
When we mistakenly fear an evil, the fear vanishes when we hear the true tidings; but the contrary also happens, namely, that we fear an evil which will certainly come, and our fear vanishes when we hear false tidings; thus imaginations do not vanish at the presence of the truth, in virtue of its being true, but because other imaginations, stronger than the first, supervene and exclude the present existence of that which we imagined.
When you say that if I deny, that the operations of seeing, hearing, attending, wishing, &c., can be ascribed to God, or that they exist in Him in any eminent fashion, you do not know what sort of God mine is; I suspect that you believe there is no greater perfection than such as can be explained by the aforesaid attributes. I am not astonished; for I believe that, if a triangle could speak, it would say, in like manner, that God is eminently triangular, while a circle would say that the divine nature is eminently circular. Thus each would ascribe to God its own attributes, would assume itself to be like God, and look on everything else as ill-shaped. The briefness of a letter and want of time do not allow me to enter into my opinion on the divine nature, or the questions you have propounded. Besides, suggesting difficulties is not the same as producing reasons. That we do many things in the world from conjecture is true, but that our redactions are based on conjecture is false. In practical life we are compelled to follow what is most probable; in speculative thought we are compelled to follow truth. A man would perish of hunger and thirst, if he refused to eat or drink, till he had obtained positive proof that food and drink would be good for him. But in philosophic reflection this is not so. On the contrary, we must take care not to admit as true anything, which is only probable. For when one falsity has been let in, infinite others follow. Again, we cannot infer that because sciences of things divine and human are full of controversies and quarrels, therefore their whole subject-matter is uncertain; for there have been many persons so enamored of contradiction, as to turn into ridicule geometrical axioms.
When, the prophets, in speaking of this election which regards only true virtue, mixed up much concerning sacrifices and ceremonies, and the rebuilding of the temple and city, they wished by such figurative expressions, after the manner and nature of prophecy, to expound matters spiritual, so as at the same time to show to the Jews, whose prophets they were, the true restoration of the state and of the temple to be expected about the time of Cyrus.
When, therefore, we said we venerate a man, through wonder at his prudence, fortitude, etc., we do so, because we conceive those qualities to be peculiar to him, and not as common to our nature; we, therefore, no more envy their possessor, than we envy trees for being tall, or lions for being courageous.
Will and Intellect are one and the same thing.
With regard to marriage, it is plain that it is in accordance with reason, if the desire of connection is engendered not merely by external form, but by a love of begetting children and wisely educating them; and if, in addition, the love both of the husband and wife has for its cause not external form merely, but chiefly liberty of mind.
Yet minds are not conquered by force, but by love and high-mindedness.
You seem to wish to employ reason, and ask me, How I know that my philosophy is the best among all that have ever been taught in the world, or are being taught, or ever will be taught? a question which I might with much greater right ask you; for I do not presume that I have found the best philosophy, I know that I understand the true philosophy. If you ask in what way I know it, I answer: In the same way as you know that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles: that this is sufficient, will be denied by no one whose brain is sound, and who does not go dreaming of evil spirits inspiring us with false ideas like the true. For the truth is the index of itself and of what is false. But you, who presume that you have at last found the best religion, or rather the best men, on whom you have pinned your credulity, you, who know that they are the best among all who have taught, do now teach, or shall in future teach other religions. Have you examined all religions, ancient as well as modern, taught here and in India and everywhere throughout the world? And, if you, have duly examined them, how do you know that you have chosen the best since you can give no reason for the faith that is in you? But you will say, that you acquiesce in the inward testimony of the Spirit of God, while the rest of mankind are ensnared and deceived by the prince of evil spirits. But all those outside the pale of the Romish Church can with equal right proclaim of their own creed what you proclaim of yours.
The supreme mystery of despotism, its prop and stay, is to keep men in a state of deception, and with the specious title of religion to cloak the fear by which they must be held in check, so that they will fight for their servitude as if for salvation.
They are bound to estimate the nature of such rulers (having no information on the subject) in accordance with their own nature, and therefore they assert that the gods ordained everything for the use of man, in order to bind man to themselves and obtain from him the highest honor.
This will or appetite for doing good, which arises from pity of the thing whereon we would confer a benefit, is called benevolence, and is nothing else than desire arising from compassion.
True virtue is life under the direction of reason
We seek to free from misery, as far as we can, a thing which we pity.
When a man is a prey to his emotions, he is not his master.
The ultimate aim of Government is not to rule or restrain by fear, not to exact obedience, but on the contrary, to free every man from fear, that he may live in all possible security; in other words to strengthen his natural right to exist and work without injury to himself and others. The object of government is not to hang men from rational beings into puppets, but to enable them to develop their minds and bodies in security, and to employ their reason unshackled... The true aim of Government is liberty.
They seem to have conceived man in nature as a kingdom within a kingdom. For they believe that man disturbs rather than follows the course of nature, and that he has absolute power in his actions, and is not determined by anything else than himself. They attribute the cause of human weakness and inconstancy not to the ordinary power of nature, but to some defect or other in human nature, wherefore they deplore, ridicule, despise, or what is most common of all, abuse it: and he that can carp in the most eloquent or acute manner at the weakness of the human mind is held by his fellows as almost divine. ...For the present I wish to revert to those, who would rather abuse or deride human emotions than understand them. Such persons will doubtless think it strange that I should attempt to treat of human vice and folly geometrically, and should wish to set forth with rigid reasoning those matters which they cry out against as repugnant to reason, frivolous, absurd, and dreadful. However, such is my plan. Nothing comes to pass in nature, which can be set down to a flaw therein; for nature is always the same, and everywhere one and the same in her efficacy and power of action: that is, nature's laws and ordinances, whereby all things come to pass and change from one form to another, are everywhere and always the same; so that there should be one and the same method of understanding the nature of all things whatsoever, namely, through nature's universal laws and rules. Thus the passions of hatred, anger, envy, and so on, considered in themselves, follow from this same efficacy of nature; they answer to certain definite causes, through which they are understood, and possess certain properties as worthy of being known as the properties of anything else, whereof the contemplation in itself affords us delight.
Those are most desirous of honor and glory who cry out the loudest of its abuse and the vanity of the world.
Virtue is action in accord with the laws of one's own nature.
We shall also endeavor to do whatsoever we conceive men to regard with pleasure, and contrariwise we shall shrink from doing that which we conceive men to shrink from.
When a man is governed by his passions he is in bondage. For a man under their control is not his own master, but is mastered by a fortune in whose power he is, so that he is often forced to follow the worst course though he sees the better one before him.
The Universe is governed by divine laws, which, unlike those of man’s making, are immutable, inviolable and an end to themselves, not instruments for the attainment of particular objects. The love of God is man’s only true good. From other passions we can free ourselves, but not from love, because for the weakness of our nature we could not subsist without the enjoyment of something that may strength us by our union with it. Only the knowledge of God will enable us to subdue the hurtful passions, This, as the source of all knowledge, is the most perfect of all; and inasmuch as all knowledge is derived from the knowledge of God, we may know god better than we know ourselves. This knowledge in time leads to the love of God, which is the soul’s union with Him. The union of the soul with God is its second birth, and therein consist man’s immortality and freedom.
Things are naturally contrary, that is, cannot exist in the same object, in so far as one is capable of destroying the other.
Those things, which are common to all, and are equally in a part and in the whole, cannot be conceived except adequately.
Virtue which is according to the precepts of reason, appears equally great in avoiding as in overcoming dangers.
We should see what notions are common to all men, and what notions are clear and distinct to those who are unshackled by prejudice, and we should detect those that are ill-founded. ...From similar causes arise those notions which we call general... They arise, to wit, from the fact that so many images, for instance, of men, are formed simultaneously in the human mind, that the powers of the imagination break down, not indeed utterly, but to the extent that the mind losing count of small differences between individuals and their definite number, and only distinctly imagining that, in which all the individuals, in so far as the body is affected by them, agree... this the mind expresses by the name man, and this it predicates of an infinite number of individuals. We must, however, bear in mind, that these general notions are not formed by all men in the same way, but vary in each individual according as the point varies, whereby the body has been most affected and which the mind most easily remembers. ... It is thus not to be wondered at, that among philosophers who attempt to explain things in nature merely by the images formed of them, so many controversies should have arisen.