Early Modern Philosophy

Benedict De Spinoza

What was Spinoza’s legacy?

Spinoza has acquired an almost saintly aura over the centuries. In 1672 he wanted to participate in a protest against the brutal mob assassination of the Dutch statesman and mathematician, Johan De Witt, and his brother, Cornelis. There was great physical risk in such participation, but the only thing that stopped Spinoza was that a friend locked him up. The nineteenth century Romantic writer Novalis called Spinoza “the God-intoxicated man.” The twentieth century philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) called Spinoza “the most lovable and noble of all philosophers.”

Spinoza is believed to have influenced the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, and the scientist Albert Einstein, as well as authors such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Heinrich Heine, Percy Bysshe Shelley, George Eliot, George Sand, and Jorge Luis Borges. Late-twentieth century naturalists, as well as those who advocate a mind-body identity, have embraced his work. His cognitive account of the emotions as expressing beliefs has grounded branches of contemporary psychology, as well as philosophy of mind.

The contemporary playwright David Ives’ New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation: Amsterdam, July 27, 1656 dramatizes both the persecution of Spinoza and the concern of Jewish leaders that Spinoza’s radical thought would disrupt the fragile acceptance of the Jewish community in Amsterdam. At one point in the play, the Spinoza character quips, “There is no Jewish dogma, only bickering.”

After Spinoza was excommunicated from his Jewish community, he could receive neither patronage nor any other employment. He therefore made his living by grinding and polishing lenses. The dust from the glass is believed to have fatally injured his lungs and been responsible for his early death.


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