Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) was born in Amsterdam, Holland, of a prosperous merchant family, Jews who had fled Portugal because of religious persecution. After an education in the Jewish tradition (the Hebrew Bible, The Talmud and Jewish codes, the works of Maimonides), as well as in Latin, Spinoza showed an inclination toward independent and heretical thinking. He fell into disfavor with the synagogue authorities for arguing that there is nothing in the Hebrew Bible to support the views that God has no body, that there are angels, or that the soul is immortal. He also maintained that Moses, alleged author of the first five books, was no guide to science, nor a final guide to theology. The authorities, after trying in vain to silence him with bribes and threats, excommunicated him in July 1656. Befriended by Christians, Spinoza left Amsterdam and eventually settled in the town of Voorburg and later in The Hague, where he worked as a lens grinder. During this period of his life he encountered and was deeply influenced by the philosophies of Descartes and Hobbes.
In his major work, Spinoza sought to bring to philosophy the certainty of mathematical reasoning by beginning with absolutely certain truths and reasoning carefully and explicitly from them. Like Euclid's Elements, each of its five parts opens with definitions, axioms, and postulates, and is followed by theorems proved from them. Informal remarks elaborating on the implications of the theorems follow in Scholia (Notes) and Appendices.
Spinoza published only two works during his lifetime, the Principles of Descartes's Philosophyand the Theologico-Political Treatise, but his genius was known to scholars in all parts of Europe. He was also respected as a man of unimpeachable character. On February 20, 1677, he died of pulmonary disease aggravated by inhaling glass dust from his lens grinding. He was buried in the New Church on the Spuy. The Ethic was published—at some risk—by Spinoza's friends a year after his death. A sizable selection from it is set forth below.
Spinoza concurred with Hobbes and Descartes in holding that all matter is governed by deterministic laws, while rejecting (as did Hobbes) dualism, the notion of a soul which is somehow a different kind of reality from matter. Most significantly, he rejected the common Judeo-Christian notion of God as creating and ruling the material world from outside—“transitive cause.” Rather, he maintained, God is the immanent cause of all things— the world's inherent energy, which he also designated as Substance. In Part 1 (here reprinted complete) Spinoza demonstrates that, rather than the two ultimate realities of Descartes, thought and extension, only one substance exists. This is God or Nature, which exists necessarily, not caused by anything prior to itself. Thought and extension are real, but not really distinct: they are two of the infinite attributes of God. All finite things are modes of God, not separate substances but depending on the one substance, somewhat as a wave depends on the ocean. Spinoza is thus a pantheist (“all-God-ist”). God, however, is not a per