Spinoza's Heresy: Immortality and the Jewish Mind

By Steven Nadler | Go to book overview

6 The Life of Reason

Philosophers are, as a breed, rationalistic. The life of reason is generally deemed to be of greater value, more 'worth living', than a life of passion. In his dialogue Phaedrus, Plato has Socrates express his pride in being a person of self-control, one who does not allow his emotions to get the better of him. 'I am the master of myself', he claims, 'rather than the victim of love.' 1 Socrates compares the soul to a chariot, with a driver in charge of two horses, one white and one black. The charioteer, the 'soul's pilot', is reason. The white steed is noble and good, and willingly does his master's bidding. He is a lover of glory, and pursues the course the charioteer dictates. The other horse is unruly, 'hot-blooded, consorting with wantonness and vainglory; shaggy of ear, deaf, and hard to manage with whip and goad'. 2 This horse, representing base desire, needs to be controlled by the charioteer with his obedient helper. The healthy soul is a well-ordered soul, with reason governing the other parts. 3

Plato's literary talents are undeniable. But few philosophers have argued as rigorously—and with such historical immediacy—as Spinoza for the importance of being governed by reason, for leading a life by the guidance of our intellect and not our emotions. Like the Stoics before him, he believed that true happiness came to those who were able to control their passions. We cannot eliminate them entirely, he insists, but there is much we can do to moderate their effects and diminish their ability to overwhelm us. This is the path of virtue and the route to personal, social, and political well-being.

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Spinoza's Heresy: Immortality and the Jewish Mind
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Spinoza's Heresy iii
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgements xiii
  • Contents xv
  • Abbreviations xvi
  • 1: Cherem in Amsterdam 1
  • 2: Abominations and Heresies 16
  • 3: Patriarchs, Prophets, and Rabbis 42
  • 4: The Philosophers 67
  • 5: Eternity and Immortality 94
  • 6: The Life of Reason 132
  • 7: Immortality on the Amstel 157
  • Conclusion 182
  • Bibliography 213
  • Index 223
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