Baruch spinoza

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Universiteit van Amsterdam

2007 - 2008



Nuri Chandru Melwani
Student #: 5765579
Dutch Culture and Society I
Professor Marije Michel
January 2008

Life and Works

Baruch Spinoza (November 24, 1632 - February 21, 1677) came from a family of Portuguese Jews called Marranos, i.e. they were forced to convert to Christianity but, nonetheless,secretly lived as Jews. His father had immigrated to Amsterdam to avoid persecution where he began a merchant business. However, both of Spinoza’s parents died at a young age, Spinoza being 6 when his mother died and 22 at his father’s death. Consequently, both he and his brother took over the family business, while Spinoza continued, for a time, to be a respectable member of the synagogue. It was notlong before problems arose when Spinoza refused to renounce the heterodox opinions attributed to him and, after various unsuccessful efforts to buy his silence; the Jewish community cursed and excommunicated him.

There are several theories as to why such strong actions were taken against him, one of which is the fact that the peculiar religious position of the Marranos had brought aboutscepticism in the Jewish practice causing the rabbis to feel that they must affirm the religious unity of their community. This is, however, only one of the many opinions on the matter.

Just a few years after the ban, the family business collapsed and Spinoza left Amsterdam to live for some years in Rijnsburg, near Leiden. Once there, Spinoza resided with a member of the Collegiant sect, with which hewas creating an association. However, only four years after that, he moved to Voorburg and later to The Hague. By then, Spinoza was a skilled optical lens grinder with many followers from who he also accepted some small financial support.

Progressively, Spinoza attracted followers at an International scale and, with the publication of Tractatus Theologico-Politicus in 1670, he even acquirednotoriety. This book was published anonymously in Amsterdam and was in fact even in such a format that both its front page and its binding were falsely titled. However, this was no impediment for it becoming extremely infamous and Spinoza was soon discovered to be its author.

As for its contents, it is divided into two parts; it is part a biblical study and part a political treatise. That whichthe philosopher wants to transmit through this book is full freedom of thought and religious practice. More specifically, it is here (and again in the Ethics) where we can find Spinoza’s famous theory of identifying God and Nature. As a matter of fact, this is one of the many opinions as to whey Spinoza was excommunicated.

In general terms Spinoza claims in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus thatthat which is important is the Bible’s moral story. He then goes on to say that there is nothing in the Bible that should sanction intolerance within or even between both Judaism and Christianity.

Moreover, through his writings, he also brings to light several political facts by reflections on Jewish history, as, for example, the relationship between the Church and the State through time. Itis at this point, when dealing with Spinoza’s political theory, that we can observe numerous similarities or the strong influence of Hobbesian philosophy. In other words, Spinoza adapts Hobbes idea of the social contract, maintaining its basic structure but connoting a more liberal and democratic interpretation of it.

The Tractatus Theologico-Politicus was one of the only two books that Spinozaever published during his lifetime; the other being The Principles of Descartes’ Philosophy in 1663. The latter was originally dedicated to a young man Spinoza was tutoring at the time.

Not long after Spinoza died (1677, The Hague, Netherlands), his friends published Opera Postuma, which contained the Ethics -one of the most important and influential works in Western philosophy-, the...
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