The Faith of a Liberal: Selected Essays by Morris R. Cohen

By Morris R. Cohen | Go to book overview

2
SPINOZA: PROPHET OF LIBERALISM

THOSE who have studied Spinoza in his historic setting are not likely to claim for him an opulence of original ideas comparable to that of Leibniz or Kant. As a genuinely humble, non- professional, but devoted seeker for the truth--his type still persists among lowly Jewish artisans--Spinoza never valued ideas for their novelty, and had no hankering to be the founder of a new system of philosophy. The tremendous impression which he has made on the imagination of mankind during the last century and a half is due rather to the singular purity of his light, and to the way in which many traditional ideas (and even their hackneyed expressions) are fused into a pure and coherent whole by the fire of his concentrated intellectual energy that kindles a lyric ardor for human well-being. In this respect Spinoza greatly resembles Dante. Like Dante, he could well have said: My work is in the field of ethics or practical philosophy. It is to trace the way from human bondage and misery to freedom and happiness; and if I touch on speculative matters, it is because I agree with Aristotle that intellectual vision is essential to the highest human life and that truly practical men must theorize.

It is because he so well exemplifies the faith that the way to human salvation is through reason and enlightenment that Spinoza may well be considered the philosopher-prophet of liberalism.

____________________
Published in The New Republic, Vol. 50, p. 164 ( March 30, 1927).

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