02 September 2006

Spinoza, Credited

A public radio show (Speaking of Faith) recently featured Rebecca Goldstein, author of a new book on Baruch Spinoza, "Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity." It has reignited my interest in the original pantheist philosopher. I previously read his "Ethics", which I found pretty dense though intriguing.

It's amazing to me to see Spinoza credited as the inspiration for much of the enlightenment, inspiring the founders of the USA, and the separation of church and state, as a meme. To me, this is an incredible confluence of interests. The book has inspired quite a bit of commentary, including a review in the NYT. We recently passed the 350th anniversary of Spinoza's excommunication by the Jews of Amsterdam, around 28 July it seems.
Spinoza was cited by Einstein as having defined a God with which he could identify. Spinoza's God is the God of Nature, or in Einstein's view, the God of natural law. It's easy to appreciate that this was taken to be blasphemous in the 17th century.

Though the book is not in our library so soon after its release, I did find another book that may be as good, and certainly is of great interest if one seeks to know and understand Spinoza: "The Heretic and the Courtier: Spinoza, Leibnitz, and the Fate of God in the Modern World", by Matthew Stewart. Not content to chronicle Spinoza alone, Stewart casts a spell by comparing two figures who could not be more different: Spinoza the optician and lens grinder by day and philospher by night; Leibnitz the polymath prodigy who defends religioin against the tide of Spinoza's thinking, all the while harboring strong sympathies for Spinoza. More when I finish it...

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