1902 Encyclopedia > Benedict Spinoza

Benedict de Spinoza
(Baruch Spinoza)
Dutch philosopher
(1632-77)




BARUCH SPINOZA (1632-1677), or, as he afterwards signed himself, Benedict de Spinoza, philosopher, was born at Amsterdam on 24th November 1632. His parents belonged to the community of Jewish emigrants from Portugal and Spain who, fleeing from Catholic persecution in the Peninsula, had sought refuge in the nearly emancipated Netherlands. The name, variously written De Spinoza, D'Espinoza, and Despinoza, probably points to the province of Leon as the previous home of the family; there are no fewer than five townships so called in the neighbourhood of Burgos. Of the philosopher's parents nothing is known. His father is said to have been a tradesman in fair circumstances, and the house is still shown upon the Burgwal where his son Baruch was born; two sisters, Rebekah and Miriam, formed the remainder of the family. Spinoza received his first training under the senior rabbi, Saul Levi Morteira, whose most promising pupil he soon became. Under Morteira he became familiar with the Talmud and, what was probably more important for his own development, with the philosophical writings of Ibn Ezra and Maimonides, Levi ben Gerson, Chasdai Creskas, and other representatives of Jewish mediaeval thought, who aim at combining the traditional theology with ideas got from Aristotle and his Neoplatonic commentators. Latin, still the universal language of learning, formed no part of Jewish education; and Spinoza, after learning the elements from a German master, resorted for further instruction to a physician named Franz van den Ende, who eked out an income by taking pupils. Van den Ende appears to have been distinctly a man of parts, though of a somewhat indiscreet and erratic character. He was eventually hanged in Paris as a conspirator in 1674. His enthusiasm for the natural sciences may have been the only ground for the reputation he had acquired of instilling atheistic notions into the minds of his pupils along with the Latin which he taught them. But it is quite possible that his scientific studies had bred in him, as in many others at that time, a materialistic, or at least a naturalistic, turn of mind; indeed we should expect as much in a man of Van den Ende's somewhat rebellious temperament. We do not know whether his influence was brought to bear in this sense upon Spinoza; but it has been suggested that the writings of Bruno, whose spirit of enthusiastic naturalism and fervid revolt against the church would be especially dear to a man of Van den Ende's leanings, may have been put into the pupil's hand by the master. Latin, at all events, Spinoza learned from Van den Ende to use with correctness, freedom, and force, though his language does not, of course, conform to classical canons. The only romance of Spinoza's life is connected with Van den Ende's household. The physician had an only daughter, Clara Maria by name, who, besides being a proficient in music, understood Latin, it is said, so perfectly that she was able to teach her father's pupils in his absence. Spinoza, the story goes, fell in love with his fair instructress; but a fellow-student, called Kerkering, supplanted him in his mistress's affections by the help of a valuable necklace of pearls which he presented to the young lady. Chronology unfortunately forbids us to accept this little episode as true. Recent investigation has proved that, while the marriage with Kerkering, or rather Kerckkrink, is a fact, it did not take place till 1671, in which year the bride, as appears by the register, was twenty-seven years of age. She cannot, therefore, have been more than eleven or twelve in 1656, the year in which Spinoza left Amsterdam; and as Kerckkrink was seven years younger than Spinoza, they cannot well have been simultaneous pupils of Van den Ende and simultaneous suitors for his daughter's hand. But, though the details of the story thus fall to pieces, it is still possible that in the five years which followed his retirement from Amsterdam Spinoza, who was living within easy distance and paid visits to the city from time to time, may have kept up his connexion with Van den Ende, and that the attachment may have dated from this later period. This would at least be some explanation for the existence of the story; for Colerus expressly says that Spinoza "often confessed that he meant to marry her." But beyond possibility we cannot go in the matter. There is no mention of the Van den Endes in Spinoza's correspondence; and in the whole tenor of his life and character there is nothing on which to fasten the probability of a romantic attachment.

The mastery of Latin which he acquired from Van den Ende opened up to Spinoza the whole world of modern philosophy and science, both represented at that time by the writings of Descartes. He read him greedily, says Colerus, and afterwards often declared that he had all his philosophical knowledge from him. The impulse towards natural science which he had received from Van den Ende would be strengthened by the reading of Descartes; he gave over divinity, we are told, to devote himself entirely to these new studies. His inward break with Jewish orthodoxy dated, no doubt, farther back,—from his acquaintance with the philosophical theologians and commentators of the Middle Ages; but these new interests combined to estrange him still further from the traditions of the synagogue. He was seldomer seen at its services,— soon not at all. The jealousy of the heads of the synagogue was easily roused. An attempt seems to have been made to draw from him his real opinions on certain prominent points of divinity. Two so-called friends endeavoured, on the plea of doubts of their own, to lead him into a theological discussion; and, some of Spinoza's expressions being repeated to the Jewish authorities, he was summoned to give an account of himself. Anxious to retain so promising an adherent, and probably desirous at the same time to avoid public scandal, the chiefs of the community offered him a yearly pension of 1000 florins if he would outwardly conform and appear now and then in the synagogue. But such deliberate hypocrisy was abhorrent to Spinoza's nature. Threats were equally unavailing, and accordingly on the 27th of July 1656 Spinoza was solemnly cut off from the commonwealth of Israel. The curses pronounced against him may be read in most of the biographies. While negotiations were still pending, he had been set upon one evening by a fanatical ruffian, who thought to expedite matters with the dagger. Warned by this that Amsterdam was hardly a safe place of residence for him any longer, Spinoza had already left the city before the sentence of excommunication was pronounced. He did not go far, but took up his abode with a friend who lived some miles out on the Old Church road. His host belonged to the Collegiants or Rhijnsburgers, a religious society which had sprung up among the proscribed Arminians of Holland. The pure morality and simple-minded piety of this community seem early to have attracted Spinoza, and to have won his unfeigned respect. Several of his friends were Collegiants, or belonged to the similarly-minded community of the Mennonites, in which the Collegiants were afterwards merged. In this quiet retreat Spinoza spent nearly five years. He drew up a protest against the decree of excommunication, but otherwise it left him unmoved. From this time forward he disused his Hebrew name of Baruch, adopting instead the Latin equivalent, Benedictus. Like every Jew, Spinoza had learned a handicraft; he was a grinder of lenses for optical instruments, and was thus enabled to earn an income sufficient for his modest wants. His skill, indeed, was such that lenses of his making were much sought after, and those found in his cabinet after his death fetched a high price. It was as an optician that he was first brought into connexion with Huygens and Leibnitz; and an optical Treatise on the Rainbow, written by him and long supposed to be lost, has been recently discovered and reprinted by Dr Van Vloten. He was also fond of drawing as an amusement in his leisure hours; and Colerus had seen a sketch-book full of such drawings representing persons of Spinoza's acquaintance, one of them being a likeness of himself in the character of Masaniello.

The five years which followed the excommunication must have been devoted to concentrated thought and study. Before their conclusion Spinoza had parted company from Descartes, and the leading positions of his own system were already clearly determined in his mind. A number of the younger men in Amsterdam—many of them students of medicine or medical practitioners—had also come to regard him as their intellectual leader. A kind of philosophical club had been formed, including among its members Simon de Vries, John Bresser, Louis Meyer, and others who appear in Spinoza's correspondence. Originally meeting in all probability for more thoroughgoing study of the Cartesian philosophy, they looked naturally to Spinoza for guidance, and by-and-by we find him communicating systematic drafts of his own views to the little band of friends and students. The manuscript was read out and discussed at their meetings, and any points remaining obscure were referred to Spinoza for further explanation. An interesting specimen of such difficulties, propounded by Simon de Vries and resolved by Spinoza in accordance with his own principles, is preserved for us in Spinoza's correspondence. This Simon de Vries was a youth of generous impulses and of much promise. Being in good circumstances, he was anxious to show his gratitude to Spinoza by a gift of 2000 florins, which the philosopher half-jestingly excused himself from accepting. De Vries died young, and would fain have left his fortune to Spinoza; but the latter refused to stand in the way of his brother, the natural heir, to whom the property was accordingly left, with the condition that he should pay to Spinoza an annuity sufficient for his maintenance. The heir offered to fix the amount at 500 florins, but Spinoza accepted only 300, a sum which was regularly paid till his death. The written communications of his own doctrine referred to above belong to a period after Spinoza had removed from the neighbourhood of Amsterdam; but it has been conjectured that the Short Treatise on God, on Man, and his Wellbeing, which represents his thoughts in their earliest systematic form, was left by him as a parting legacy to this group of friends. It is at least certain, from a reference in Spinoza's first letter to Oldenburg, that such a systematic exposition was in existence before September 1661. [401-1] There are two dialogues somewhat loosely incorporated with the work which probably belong to a still earlier period. The short appendix, in which the attempt is made to present the chief points of the argument in geometrical form, is a fore-runner of the Ethics, and was probably written somewhat later than the rest of the book. The term "Nature" is put more into the foreground in the Treatise, a point which might be urged as evidence of Bruno's influence,—the dialogues, moreover, being specially concerned to establish the unity, infinity, and self-containedness of Nature [401-2]; but the two opposed Cartesian attributes, thought and extension, and the absolutely infinite substance whose attributes they are—substance constituted by infinite attributes—appear here as in the Ethics. The latter notion—of substance—is said to correspond exactly to "the essence of the only glorious and blessed God." The earlier differs from the later exposition in allowing an objective causal relation between thought and extension, for which there is substituted in the Ethics the idea of a thoroughgoing parallelism.





Early in 1661 Spinoza's host removed to Rhijnsburg near Leyden, the headquarters of the Collegiant brotherhood, and Spinoza removed with him. The house where they lived at Rhijnsburg is still standing, and the road bears the name of Spinoza Lane. Very soon after his settlement in his new quarters he was sought out by Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society. [401-3] Oldenburg became Spinoza's most regular correspondent,—a third of the letters preserved to us are to or from him; and it appears from his first letter that their talk on this occasion was "on God, on infinite extension and thought, on the difference and the agreement of these attributes, on the nature of the union of the human soul with the body, as well as concerning the principles of the Cartesian and Baconian philosophies." Spinoza must therefore have unbosomed himself pretty freely to his visitor on the main points of his system. Oldenburg, however, was a man of no speculative capacity, and, to judge from his subsequent correspondence, must have quite failed to grasp the real import and scope of the thoughts communicated to him. From one of Oldenburg's early letters we learn that the treatise De Intellectus Emendatione was probably Spinoza's first occupation at Rhijnsburg. The nature of the work also bears out the supposition that it was first undertaken. It is, in a manner, Spinoza's " organon,"—the doctrine of method which he would substitute for the corresponding doctrines of Bacon and Descartes, as alone consonant with the thoughts which were shaping themselves or had shaped themselves in his mind. It is a theory of philosophical truth and error, involving an account of the course of philosophical inquiry and of the supreme object of knowledge. It was apparently intended by the author as an analytical introduction to the constructive exposition of his system, which he presently essayed in the Ethics. But he must have found as he proceeded that the two treatises would cover to a large extent the same ground, the account of the true method merging almost inevitably in a statement of the truth reached by its means. The Amendment of the Understanding was therefore put aside unfinished, and was first published in the Opera Posthuma. Spinoza meanwhile concentrated his attention upon the Ethics, and we learn from the correspondence with his Amsterdam friends that a considerable part of book i. had been communicated to the philosophical club there before February 1663. It formed his main occupation for two or three years after this date. Though thus giving his friends freely of his best, Spinoza did not cast his thoughts broadcast upon any soil. He had a pupil living with him at Rhijnsburg whose character seemed to him lacking in solidity and discretion. This pupil (probably Albert Burgh, who afterwards joined the Church of Rome and penned a foolishly insolent epistle to his former teacher) was the occasion of Spinoza's first publication,—the only publication indeed to which his name was attached. Not deeming it prudent to initiate the young man into his own system, he took for a text-book the second and third parts of Descartes's Principles, which deal in the main with natural philosophy. As he proceeded he put Descartes's matter in his own language and cast the whole argument into a geometric form. At the request of his friends he devoted a fortnight to applying the same method to the first or metaphysical part of Descartes's philosophy, and the sketch was published in 1663, with an appendix entitled Cogitata Metaphysica, still written from a Cartesian standpoint (defending, for example, the freedom of the will), but containing hints of his own doctrine. The book was revised by Dr Meyer for publication and furnished by him, at Spinoza's request, with a preface, in which it is expressly stated that the author speaks throughout not in his own person but simply as the exponent of Descartes. A Dutch translation appeared in the following year.

In 1663 Spinoza removed from Rhijnsburg to Voorburg, a suburban village about 2 miles from The Hague. His reputation had continued to spread. From Rhijnsburg he had paid frequent visits to The Hague, and it was probably the desire to be within reach of some of the friends he had made in these visits—among others the De Witts —that prompted his change of residence. He had works in hand, moreover, which he wished in due time to publish; and in that connexion the friendly patronage of the De Witts might be of essential service to him. The first years at Voorburg continued to be occupied by the composition of the Ethics, which was probably finished, however, by the summer of 1665. A journey made to Amsterdam in that year is conjectured to have had reference to its publication. But, finding that it would be impossible to keep the authorship secret, owing to the numerous hands through which parts of the book had already passed, Spinoza determined to keep his manuscript in his desk for the present. In September 1665 we find Oldenburg twitting him with having turned from philosophy to theology and busying himself with angels, prophecy, and miracles. This is the first reference to the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, which formed his chief occupation for the next four years. The aim of this treatise may be best understood from the full title with which it was furnished— Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, continens dissertationes aliquot, quibus ostenditur libertatem philosophandi non tantum salva pietate et reipublicae pace posse concedi sed eandem nisi cum pace reipublicae ipsaque pietate tolli non posse. It is, in fact, an eloquently reasoned defence of liberty of thought and speech in speculative matters. The external side of religion—its rites and observances—must of necessity be subject to a certain control on the part of the state, whose business it is to see to the preservation of decency and order. But, with such obvious exceptions, Spinoza claims complete freedom of expression for thought and belief; and he claims it in the interests alike of true piety and of the state itself. The thesis is less interesting to a modern reader—because now generally acknowledged—than the argument by which it is supported. Spinoza's position is based upon the thoroughgoing distinction drawn in the book between philosophy, which has to do with knowledge and opinion, and theology, or, as we should now say, religion, which has to do exclusively with obedience and conduct. The aegis of religion, therefore, cannot be employed to cover with its authority any speculative doctrine; nor, on the other hand, can any speculative or scientific investigation be regarded as putting religion in jeopardy. Spinoza undertakes to prove his case by the instance of the Hebrew Scriptures. Scripture deals, he maintains, in none but the simplest precepts, nor does it aim at anything beyond the obedient mind; it tells us nought of the divine nature, but what men may profitably apply to their lives. The greater part of the treatise is devoted to working out this line of thought; and in so doing Spinoza consistently applies to the interpretation of the Old Testament those canons of historical exegesis which are often regarded as of comparatively recent growth. The treatise thus constitutes the first document in the modern science of Biblical criticism. It was published in 1670, anonymously, printer and place of publication being likewise disguised (Hamburgi apud Heinricum Künraht). The storm of opposition which it encountered showed that these precautions were not out of place. It was synodically condemned along with Hobbes's Leviathan and other books as early as April 1671, and was consequently interdicted by the states-general of Holland in 1674; before long it was also placed on the Index by the Catholic authorities. But that it was widely read appears from its frequent re-issue with false title-pages, representing it now as an historical work and again as a medical treatise. Controversialists also crowded into the lists against it. A translation into Dutch appears to have been proposed; but Spinoza, who foresaw that such a step would only increase the commotion which was so distasteful to him, steadily set his face against it. No Dutch translation appeared till 1693.

The same year in which the Treatise was published Spinoza removed from his suburban lodging at Voorburg into The Hague itself. He took rooms first on the Veerkay with the widow Van de Velde, who in her youth had assisted Grotius to escape from his captivity at Loewenstein. This was the house afterwards occupied by Colerus, the worthy Lutheran minister who became Spinoza's biographer. But the widow insisted on boarding her lodger, and Spinoza presently found the expense too great for his slender purse. He accordingly removed to a house on the Pavelioen Gracht near at hand, occupied by a painter called Van der Spijck. Here he spent the remaining years of his life in the frugal independence which he prized. Colerus gives particulars which enable us to realize the almost incredible simplicity and economy of his mode of life. He would say sometimes to the people of the house that he was like the serpent who forms a circle with his tail in his mouth, meaning thereby that he had nothing left at the year's end. His friends came to visit him in his lodgings, as well as others attracted by his reputation—Leibnitz among the rest—and were courteously entertained, but Spinoza preferred not to accept their offers of hospitality. He spent the greater part of his time quietly in his own chamber, often having his meals brought there and sometimes not leaving it for two or three days together when absorbed in his studies. On one occasion he did not leave the house for three months. "When he happened to be tired by having applied himself too much to his philosophical meditations, he would go downstairs to refresh himself, and discoursed with the Van der Spijcks about anything that might afford matter for an ordinary conversation, and even about trifles. He also took pleasure in smoking a pipe of tobacco; or, when he had a mind to divert himself somewhat longer, he looked for some spiders and made them fight together, or he threw some flies into the cobweb, and was so well pleased with the result of that battle that he would sometimes break into laughter " (Colerus). He also conversed at times on more serious topics with the simple people with whom he lodged, often, for example, talking over the sermon with them when they came from church. He occasionally went himself to hear the Lutheran pastor preach—the predecessor of Colerus—and would advise the Van der Spijcks not to miss any sermon of so excellent a preacher. The children, too, he put in mind of going often to church, and taught them to be obedient and dutiful to their parents. One day his landlady, who may have heard strange stories of her solitary lodger, came to him in some trouble to ask him whether he believed she could be saved in the religion she professed. "Your religion is a good one," said Spinoza; " you need not look for another, nor doubt that you will be saved in it, provided that, while you apply yourself to piety, you live at the same time a peaceable and quiet life." Only once, it is recorded, did Spinoza's admirable self-control give way, and that was when he received the news of the murder of the De Witts by a frantic mob in the streets of The Hague. It was in the year 1672, when the sudden invasion of the Low Countries by Louis XIV. raised an irresistible clamour for a military leader and overthrew the republican constitution for which the De Witts had struggled. John De Witt had been Spinoza's friend, and had bestowed a small pension upon him; he had Spinoza's full sympathy in his political aims. On receiving the news of the brutal murder of the two brothers, Spinoza burst into tears, and his indignation was so roused that he was bent upon publicly denouncing the crime upon the spot where it had been committed. But the timely caution of his host prevented his issuing forth to almost certain death. Not long after Spinoza was himself in danger from the mob, in consequence of a visit which he paid to the French camp. He had been in correspondence with one Colonel Stoupe, a Swiss theologian and soldier, then serving with the prince of Conde, the commander of the French army at Utrecht. From him Spinoza received a communication enclosing a passport from the French commander, who wished to make his acquaintance and promised him a pension from the French king at the easy price of a dedication to his majesty. Spinoza went to Utrecht, but returned without seeing Conde, who had in the meantime been called elsewhere; the pension he civilly declined. There may have been nothing more in the visit than is contained in this narrative; but on his return Spinoza found that the populace of The Hague regarded him as no better than a spy. The town was full of angry murmurs, and the landlord feared that the mob would storm his house and drag Spinoza out. Spinoza quieted his fears as well as he could, assuring him that as soon as the crowd made any threatening movement he would go out to meet them, " though they should serve me as they did the poor De Witts. I am a good republican and have never had any aim but the honour and welfare of the state." Happily the danger passed off without calling for such an ordeal.





In 1673 Spinoza received an invitation from the elector palatine to quit his retirement and become professor of philosophy in the university of Heidelberg. The offer was couched in flattering terms, and conveyed an express assurance of "the largest freedom of speech in philosophy, which the prince is confident that you will not misuse to disturb the established religion." But Spinoza's experience of theological sensitiveness led him to doubt the possibility of keeping on friendly terms with the established religion, if he were placed in a public capacity. Moreover, he was not strong; he had had no experience of public teaching; and he foresaw that the duties of a chair would put an end to private research. For all these reasons he courteously declined the offer made to him. There is little more to tell of his life of solitary meditation. In 1675 we learn from his correspondence that he entertained the idea of publishing the Ethics, and made a journey to Amsterdam to arrange matters with the printer. "But, whilst I was busy with this," he writes, "the report was spread everywhere that a certain book of mine was in the press, wherein I endeavoured to show that there was no God; and this report found credence with many. Whereupon certain theologians (themselves perhaps the authors of it) took occasion to complain of me to the prince and the magistrates; moreover, the stupid Cartesians, because they are commonly supposed to side with me, desiring to free themselves from that suspicion, were diligent without ceasing in their execrations of my doctrines and writings, and are as diligent still." As the commotion seemed to grow worse instead of subsiding, Spinoza consigned the manuscript once more to his desk, from which it was not to issue till after his death. His last literary work was the unfinished Tractatus Politicus and the preparation of notes for a new edition of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, in which he hoped to remove some of the misunderstandings which the book had met with. The Tractatus Politicus develops his philosophy of law and government on the lines indicated in his other works, and connects itself closely with the theory enunciated by Hobbes a generation before. Consumption had been making its insidious inroads upon Spinoza for many years, and early in 1677 he must have been conscious that he was seriously ill. On Saturday the 20th of February he sent to Amsterdam for his friend Dr Meyer. On the following day the Van der Spijcks, having no thought of immediate danger, went to the afternoon service. When they came back Spinoza was no more; he had died about three in the afternoon with Meyer for the only witness of his last moments. Spinoza was buried on the 25th of February "in the new church upon the Spuy, being attended," Colerus tells us, "by many illustrious persons and followed by six coaches." He was little more than forty-four years of age.

Spinoza's effects were few and realized little more than was required for the payment of charges and outstanding debts. "One need only cast one's eyes upon the account," says his biographer, '' to perceive that it was the inventory of a true philosopher. It contains only some small books, some engravings, a few lenses, and the instruments to polish them." His desk, containing his letters and his unpublished works, Spinoza had previously charged his landlord to convey to Jan Rieuwertz, a publisher in Amsterdam. This was done, and the Opera Posthuma appeared in the same year, without the author's name, but with his initials upon the title-page. They were furnished with a preface written in Dutch by Jarig Jellis, a Mennonite friend of Spinoza's, and translated into Latin by Dr Meyer. Next year the book was proscribed in a violently worded edict by the states of Holland and West Friesland. The obloquy which thus gathered round Spinoza in the later years of his life remained settled upon his memory for a full hundred years after his death. Hume's casual allusion to "this famous atheist" and his "hideous hypothesis" is a fair specimen of the tone in which he is usually referred to; people talked about Spinoza, Lessing said, "as if he were a dead dog." The change of opinion in this respect may be dated from Lessing's famous conversation with Jacobi in 1780. Lessing, Goethe, Herder, Novalis, and Schleiermacher, not to mention philosophers like Schelling and Hegel, united in recognizing the unique strength and sincerity of Spinoza's thought, and in setting him in his rightful place among the speculative leaders of mankind. Transfused into their writings, his spirit has had a large share in moulding the philosophic thought of the 19th century, and it has also been widely influential beyond the schools. Instead of his atheism Hegel speaks of his acosmism, and Novalis dubs him a God-intoxicated man. Schleiermacher's fine apostrophe is well known, in which he calls upon us to "offer a lock of hair to the manes of the holy and excommunicated Spinoza."

Spinoza's personal appearance is described by Colerus from the accounts given him by many people at The Hague who knew him familiarly. ''He was of a middle size, and had good features in his face, the skin somewhat dark, black curled hair, and the long eyebrows of the same colour, so that one might easily know from his looks that he was descended from the Portuguese Jews." Leibnitz also gives a similar description: ''The celebrated Jew Spinoza had an olive complexion and something Spanish in his face." These characteristics are preserved in a portrait in oil in the Wolfenbüttel library, which was probably the original of the (in that case unsuccessfully rendered) engraving prefixed to the Opera Posthuma of 1677. This portrait has recently been photographed for Dr Martineau's Study of Spinoza. In 1880 a statue was erected to Spinoza at The Hague by international subscription among his admirers.

Spinoza's philosophy is a thoroughgoing pantheism, which has both a naturalistic and a mystical side. The foundation of the system is the doctrine of one infinite substance, of which all finite existences are modes or limitations (modes of thought or modes of extension). God is thus the immanent cause of the universe; but of creation or will there can be no question in Spinoza's system. God is used throughout as equivalent to nature (Deus sive natura). The philosophical standpoint comprehends the necessity of all that is—a necessity that is none other than the necessity of the divine nature itself. To view things thus is to view them, according to Spinoza's favourite phrase, sub specie aeternitatis. Spinoza's philosophy is fully considered in the article CARTESIANISM (see vol. v. p. 152 sq.).

Literature.—The contents of the Opera Posthuma included the Ethics, the Tractatus Politicus, and the De Intellectus Emendatione (the last two unfinished), a selection from Spinoza's correspondence, and a Compendium of Hebrew Grammar. The Treatise on the Rainbow, supposed to be lost, was published anonymously in Dutch in 1687. The first collected edition of Spinoza's works was made by Paulus in 1802 ; there is another by Gfrörer (1830), and a third by Bruder (1843-46) in three volumes. Van Vloten's volume, published in 1862, Ad Benedicti de Spinoza opera quae supersunt omnia supplementum, is uniform with Bruder's edition so as to complete it by a supplementary volume. It contained the early treatise De Deo et homine, the Treatise on the Rainbow, and several fresh letters. A complete and authoritative edition has only recently been achieved by Dr Van Vloten and Professor J. P. N. Land. The work was undertaken by them for the Spinoza Memorial Committee formed in Holland to celebrate the bicentenary of the philosopher's death; the funds remaining after the erection of the statue mentioned above were devoted to the publication of this handsome edition (2 vols., 1882-83). An English translation of The Chief Works of Spinoza, by R. H. M. Elwes, appeared in 1883, and a separate translation of the Ethics by W. H. White was published in the same year; previous translations were unscholarly in execution. The main authority for Spinoza's life is the sketch published in 1705, in Dutch, with a controversial sermon against Spinozism, by Johannes Colerus. The French version of this Life (1706) has been several times reprinted as well as translated into English and German. The English version, also dating from 1706, has been reprinted by Mr Frederick Pollock at the end of his work, Spinoza, his Life and Philosophy (1880). Mr Pollock's book and Dr Martineau's Study of Spinoza (1882), both admirable pieces of work, are in a manner complementary, and may with advantage be studied together. In his introduction Mr Pollock gives a list of the biographical sources, and also some account of the early literature relating to Spinoza. The Spinoza literature in more recent times has become so extensive as to forbid quotation. A. van der Linde's Benedictus Spinoza: Bibliografie (The Hague, 1871) is a classified catalogue as nearly as possible complete down to that date. (A. SE.)


Footnotes

401-1 Various manuscript copies were apparently made of the treatise in question, but it was not printed, and dropped entirely out of knowledge till 1852, when Edward Böhmer of Halle lighted upon an abstract of it attached to a copy of Colerus's Life, and shortly afterwards upon a Dutch MS. purporting to be a translation of the treatise from the Latin original. This was published in 1862 by Van Vloten with a re-translation into Latin. Since then a superior Dutch translation has been discovered, which has been edited b Professor Schaarschmidt and translated it into German. Another German version with introduction and notes has been published by Sigwart based on a comparison of the two Dutch MSS.

401-2 The fact that Spinoza nowhere mentions Bruno would not imply, according to the literary habits of those days, that he was not acquainted with his speculations and even indebted to them. There is no mention, for example, of Hobbes throughout Spinoza's political writing, and only one casual reference to him in a letter, although the obligation of the Dutch to the English thinker lies on the surface. Accordingly full weight must be allowed to the internal evidence brought forward by Sigwart and others to prove Spinoza's acquaintance with Bruno's writings. But in regard to this question, and in regard to the elaborate researches directed to prove that the main determinations of Spinoza's thought are anticipated in the mediaeval philosophers of his own race, it must be said that these investigations are of comparatively little vital interest. Doubtless Spinoza's thought was coloured by his Hebraic origin and his Hebraic studies ; from these sources, above all, he may have brought with him to the study of the dualistically expressed philosophy of Descartes the need, and the profound conviction, of unity. But the main strain of Spinoza's thought is sufficiently explained by reference to the Cartesian philosophy itself, the intellectual milieu of the time. Descartes's metaphysics can be shown to lead us to the very threshold of Spinoza's system ; not only the general form, but the very terminology—substance, attributes, and modes—lay waiting to be appropriated by an independent student.

401-3 Henry Oldenburg (c. 1626-1678) was a native of Bremen, but had settled in England in the time of the Commonwealth. Though hardly a scientific man himself, he had a genuine interest in science, and must have possessed social gifts. He was the friend of Boyle, and acquainted with most of the leaders of science in England as well as with many on the Continent. He delighted to keep himself in this way au courant with the latest developments, and lost no opportunity of establishing relations with men of scientific reputation. It wras probably at the suggestion of Huygens that he bent his steps towards Spinoza's lodging.

402-1 The title of the Latin original ran -- Renati des Cartes Principorum Philosophiae pars i et ii. more geometrico demonstratae per Benedictum de Spinoza Amstelodamensem. Accesserunt ejiusdem Cogitata Metaphysica.



The above article was written by: Andrew Seth, M.A., Professor of Logic and Philosophy, University of South Wales.



Search the Encyclopedia:



About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Sitemaps
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us



© 2005-17 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries