Baruch or Benedict: On Some Jewish Aspects of Spinoza's Philosophy

Baruch or Benedict: On Some Jewish Aspects of Spinoza's Philosophy

Baruch or Benedict: On Some Jewish Aspects of Spinoza's Philosophy

Baruch or Benedict: On Some Jewish Aspects of Spinoza's Philosophy

Excerpt

Baruch Spinoza, one of the greatest philosophers of all times and undoubtedly the greatest thinker Judaism. has given to the modern intellectual world, has been at the same time also one of the most controversial figures in the history of philosophy. This book is not one more presentation or discussion of his philosophy but an attempt to elucidate some salient problems that concern its Jewish aspects. It will deal with some striking examples of Spinoza's ambivalent attitude towards Judaism, and of the ambivalent attitude toward Spinoza and his philosophy by Judaism and by Jewish thinkers.

The Rabbis of the Jewish community in Amsterdam who pronounced the ban on Spinoza in 1656 stated: "Cursed be he in daytime, cursed be he by night, cursed be he when he lies down, cursed be he when he arises, cursed be he in his going and cursed be he in his coming..." Spinoza's Christian adversaries were also unsparing in their venomous vilifications and terms of abuse, changing his name from Benedictus ("blessed" - Baruch in Hebrew) to Maledictus ("cursed").

In recent generations, many learned thinkers have sought to find a reason for the fact that a philosopher whose way of life was so modest and exemplary, to whom the crowning ideal of his life and philosophy was "the intellectual love of God", whose philosophy was pervaded by a near mystical longing for God or Nature, has given birth to so much hostility. This aroused already W. v. Goethe's consternation. In his autobiography Dichtung und Wahrheit he mentions his reading of the entry on Spinoza in Pierre Bayle's famous and influential Dictionnaire historique et critique (1695/1697). He became perplexed by the fact that on the one band Bayle expressed extremely critical views of Spinoza's philosophy, bordering on defamation, while at the same time he appraised the philosopher's personality. According to the traditional beliefs on which Goethe was brought up wrong and detestable thoughts are inseparable from evil character. A good person, possessing excellent character-traits, cannot be infected by abominable and corruptive ideas. If, therefore, Bayle lauds Spinoza as a human being, his philosophy cannot be bad altogether. This awakened Goethe's curiosity and provoked him to read Spinoza himself who then became one of his favorite philosophers. The Ethics became his . . .

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