Spinoza, one of the towering figures in the history of philosophy, was born into the Spanish-Portuguese Jewish community in Amsterdam in 1632. His parents were converso immigrants from Portugal. In his youth, he studied at the synagogue schools under the teachers Saul Levi Morteira and Menassah ben Israel. He does not, however, appear to have completed his rabbinical training, perhaps because he had already begun to develop the unorthodox religious and philosophical opinions that characterize his works. By 1656, such opinions had caused his excommunication from the Jewish community. Afterwards, Spinoza was for some time affiliated with a group of radical Protestants known as the Collegiants.
Spinoza moved from Amsterdam to Rijnsburg in 1660, and from there to Voorburg in 1663; he spent his final years (1670-1677) at the Hague, subsisting on slender means. His career as a “lens-grinder” is well known, but that description understates his skill in optics: He fashioned telescopes and microscopes admired by the likes of Leibniz and Huygens. Most of his philosophical works remained unpublished when he died of phthisis in 1677.
Spinoza's work is early evidence of a sea change in Western thinking about the nature of God and human understanding. He rejects the supernaturalism of popular religion in favor of a scientist's confidence in the “natural light” of reason: for him, divine law and the laws of science are identical, and human beings learn about God by rightly understanding natural phenomena. The mysterious events frequently attributed to God's unknowable will are, in truth, no more than natural occurrences for which science has yet to discover correct explanations. “God exists, ” in other words,
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Publication information: Book title: The Age of Milton: An Encyclopedia of Major 17th-Century British and American Authors. Contributors: Alan Hager - Editor. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 2004. Page number: 312.
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