Baruch (Benedict) Spinoza
Baruch (or Benedict) Spinoza
(1632-1677), was one of the most important philosophers of the European
tradition of rationalism. He was a member of the Sephardic Jewish community
of Amsterdam, and received a thorough education in the tradition of medieval
philosophical texts as well as in the works of Descartes, Hobbes, and other
writers of the period.
Contact with dissident Christian movements and with the scientific and
philosophical thought of Descartes led Spinoza to distance himself from
orthodox life. Not yet 24 years old, Spinoza rejected traditional
interpretations of Scripture and thus deviated from Jewish orthodoxy. In
1656 he was deemed a heretic, cast out of the synagogue, and cursed with all
the curses of the firmament. In 1656 he was expelled from the synagogue at
Amsterdam on charges of heretical thought and practice, after which he
Latinized his name to Benedict.
For a short time Spinoza was exiled from Amsterdam, but he returned
and began his life again, supporting himself by grinding lenses for optical
instruments, Spinoza stayed for a period of time in the vicinity of
Amsterdam, where he gave private lessons and carried on a wide
correspondence. In order not to compromise his freedom of thought and
speech, he repeatedly refused a chair at the University of Heidelberg, but
nevertheless became celebrated in his own day and was regularly visited by
other philosophers; among others, Gottfried Leibniz.
In 1660 he moved to Voorburg and then on to the Hague, where he lived with
great frugality on a small pension. In 1672 Spinoza undertook a small
diplomatic mission to the invading French army, but on his return he was
under suspicion as a spy and narrowly escaped being killed by the mob.
Spinoza lived out his remaining years in the same frugal state, writing and
corresponding. He died of phthisis, possibly brought on by his trade as a
lens-grinder. There remain numerous testimonies to his simplicity, virtue,
charm, and courage.
"Nature abhors a vacuum."
"Do not weep; do not wax
"Peace is not an absence of
war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence,
"There is no hope unmingled
with fear, and no fear unmingled with hope."
"Minds, nevertheless, are not
conquered by arms, but by love and generosity."
"The greatest pride, or the
greatest despondency, is the greatest ignorance of one's self."
"All excellent things are as
difficult as they are rare."
"The highest activity a human
being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to
"Men are deceived if they
think themselves free, an opinion which consists only in this, that they are
conscious of their actions and ignorant of the causes by which they are