Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) was born into Amsterdam’s community of Marranos, Jews who had once secretly practiced their religion in Spain before being expelled. In 1656, he was excommunicated from the Jewish community and later changed his name to the more Latin-sounding Benedict, by which he is usually referred.
During his life and after, Spinoza’s philosophical ideas were deeply controversial. In 1670, he published the Theological–Political Treatise, in which he argued that the Bible, like all scriptures, should be interpreted as a document produced by human beings, and not by God. Spinoza contended the real content of religion did not concern the nature of God but rather with guiding people to do what is morally right through stories and precepts. Thus, religion is a system of moral and political control, and all religions are equally valid, insofar as they perform this task effectively. These views were so controversial in seventeenth-century Europe that Spinoza published the book anonymously.
Much of Spinoza’s philosophical labors were devoted to his magnum opus, Ethics, which was published in 1677, soon after his death at The Hague. In this book, Spinoza presented a systematic account of God, nature, the mind, and the attainment of happiness. For Spinoza, everything in nature was governed by strict, and necessary, causal laws. Therefore, everything is a necessary consequence of necessary laws, and nothing could have been different than how it is. Spinoza believed God was simply the totality of nature, not an independent creator. He concluded there is no meaning, or purpose, to the world. In the final book of Ethics, Spinoza considered how, given this conclusion, we can still be happy.
Working for much of his life as a lens-grinder, Spinoza died at The Hague in 1677.
- Although we do not know for certain, Spinoza was probably excommunicated for denying that the soul is immortal and that God created the world for a purpose.
- Spinoza called the state of happiness beatitude