Baruch Spinoza

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Spinoza, Baruch


(Benedict de Spinoza). Born Nov. 24, 1632, in Amsterdam; died Feb. 21, 1677, in The Hague. Dutch materialist philosopher, pantheist, and atheist. Son of a Jewish merchant.

After his father’s death in 1654, Spinoza became head of the family business. At the same time, he entered into scholarly relationships and friendships outside the Jewish community of Amsterdam, especially among those opposed to the Calvinist church, which was dominant in the Netherlands. Spinoza was greatly influenced by his Latin tutor, Van Den Ende, who was a follower of Vanini, and also by U. Acosta, an exponent of Jewish free-thinking. In 1656 the leaders of the Jewish community of Amsterdam pronounced upon Spinoza the herem, or “great excommunication.” To escape persecution, Spinoza took up residence in the countryside, where he was forced to earn his living by grinding lenses. He later lived in Rijnsburg, a suburb of The Hague, where he composed his philosophic works.

In his struggle against the oligarchic leadership of the Jewish community, Spinoza became a resolute foe of Judaism. Ideologically and politically, he was an advocate of republican government and an opponent of monarchy.

Initially, Spinoza’s philosophic views were influenced by Maimonides, Crescas, Ibn Ezra, and other medieval Jewish philosophers. Spinoza overcame these early influences by assimilating the pantheistic and materialist views of G. Bruno, the rationalist method of R. Descartes, mechanistic and mathematical natural science, and the philosophy of T. Hobbes, who influenced Spinoza’s sociological doctrine. Through the use of mechanical-mathematical methodology, Spinoza strove to create an integral picture of nature. Continuing the traditions of pantheism, Spinoza made the identity of god and nature the central point of his ontology; he understood nature as a unitary, eternal, and infinite substance that excludes the existence of any other principle and is thus the cause of itself (causa sui). Although he recognized the reality of infinitely diversified individual things, Spinoza understood these things as a totality of modes— individual manifestations of a single substance.

The qualitative characteristics of substance were revealed by Spinoza in the concept of the attribute as the inalienable property of substance. Although in principle the number of attributes is infinite, only two attributes—extension and thought—are accessible to finite human intelligence. Unlike Descartes, who dualisti-cally counterposed space and thought as two independent substances, Spinoza saw these as two attributes of one and the same substance.

In his examination of the world of individual things, Spinoza emerged as one of the most radical exponents of determinism and one of the most radical opponents of teleology; this was highly esteemed by Engels (see K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 20, p. 350). At the same time, by advancing a mechanistic interpretation of determinism, identifying causality with necessity, and viewing the fortuitous merely as subjective category, Spinoza arrived at the viewpoint of mechanistic fatalism. He was convinced that the whole world was a mathematical system and could be fully known by the geometric method. In Spinoza’s scheme, the infinite mode of motion-and-rest was to link the world of individual things, which were in a state of mutual interaction, with substance conceivable in the attribute of extension. Another infinite mode, infinite intellect (intellectus infinitus), was to link the world of individual things with substance conceivable in the attribute of thought. Spinoza asserted that in principle all things are animate, although to differing degrees. The basic property of infinite intellect, however, was “always to know everything clearly and distinctly” (Izbr. proizv., vol. 1, Moscow, 1957, p. 108), and Spinoza assigned this property solely to human beings.

Taking a naturalistic view of humans as part of nature, Spinoza asserted that body and soul were mutually independent as a consequence of the ontological independence of the two attributes of substance. He combined this view with a materialist tendency in explaining the human activity of thought: the dependence of man’s thinking on his bodily state is revealed, according to Spinoza, at the stage of sensory cognition. Sensory cognition constitutes the first kind of knowledge, also called opinion (opinio). Sensory cognition, according to Spinoza, often leads to error; although it is an inadequate reflection of the object, it nonetheless contains an element of truth.

Spinoza’s rationalism most strikingly manifested itself in the juxtaposition of understanding (intellectio), the sole source of authentic truth, to sensory cognition. In Spinoza, understanding emerges as a second kind of knowledge, consisting of reason (ratio) and intellect (intellectus).

The attainment of adequate truths, which is possible only at this stage, is conditioned by the fact that the human soul as a mode of the attribute of thought is capable of comprehending everything that derives from substance. It is possible, too, by virtue of the fundamental thesis of rationalist panlogism, which identifies the principles of thought with the principles of being: “the order and connection of ideas are the same as the order and connection of things” (ibid., p. 407).

The third kind of knowledge is intuition, which is the foundation of authentic knowledge. Genetically, Spinoza’s doctrine of intuition was linked with the doctrines of mystical pantheism concerning the “inner light” as the source of nondiscursive, unmedi-ated communication with god and with Descartes’s doctrine concerning the axioms of the clear and precise mind as the foundation of all knowledge. Intuition is interpreted by Spinoza as intellectual; it provides knowledge of things from the aspect of eternity—as absolutely essential modes of a single substance.

In the area of anthropology, Spinoza rejected the idea of the freedom of the will; will, for Spinoza, coincided with reason. Extending the laws of mechanistic determinism to human behavior, Spinoza demonstrated the necessary character of all human actions without exception. At the same time, he lent support to the dialectical idea of the compatibility of necessity and freedom, an idea expressed by the concept of free necessity. Since Spinoza identified freedom with knowledge, the striving for self-knowledge became for him the strongest human drive. Spinoza put forth a thesis concerning intellectual love of god (amor Dei intellectualis) and the concept of the immortality of the human soul, a notion linked to the pantheistic conception of the death of a human being as the return to the unified substance.

Spinoza’s philosophic system also embraces ethics. At the center of his concept of a secularized morality is the idea of the “free man” directed in his activity solely by reason. In Spinoza, principles of hedonism and utilitarianism are combined with the positions of an ascetic, contemplative ethics.

Like other exponents of the theory of natural law and the social contract, Spinoza deduced the laws of society from the characteristics of unchanging human nature. He believed that it was possible to harmoniously combine the individual egoistic interests of citizens with the interests of the entire society.

Although pantheistic in appearance, Spinoza’s philosophy was profoundly atheistic in content. By going beyond the conception of double truth, Spinoza was able to lay the foundations for a scientific critique of the Bible. Fear, according to Spinoza, was the cause of religious superstitions. Spinoza’s anticlericalism was bound up with his recognition of the political role of the church as the closest ally of monarchical government. At the same time, in the spirit of “natural religion,” Spinoza asserted that genuine religion, the basis of which was philosophic wisdom, had to be distinguished from superstition. The Bible is superfluous for the free man guided by reason alone but is essential for the majority of people—the “crowd”—which lives only by passions and is incapable of being guided by reason.

Spinoza’s atheism had an enormous influence on European freethinking of the 17th and 18th centuries. At the same time, adherents of romanticism and F. Schleiermacher interpreted Spinoza’s teaching in a religious and mystical spirit. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, when religious consciousness reached a crisis stage, E. Renan, L. Brunschvicg, and other bourgeois philosophers attempted to interpret Spinoza’s teaching in the spirit of the “new” religion. Spinoza’s atheistic and naturalistic ideas were taken up by D. Diderot and other French materialists of the 18th century and greatly influenced German philosophers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, especially G. Lessing, J. W. von Goethe, and J. Herder. F. W. J. von Schelling, G. Hegel, and L. Feuerbach were also influenced by Spinoza. The influence on Hegel is seen especially in panlogism, the dialectics of the integral interpretation of the world, and the dialectical conception of freedom in its connection to necessity.


Opera, vols. 1–4. Heidelberg, 1925.
Oeuvres, vols. 1–3. Paris, 1964–65.
In Russian translation:
Izbr. proizv, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1957.


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Hallet, H. F. B. de Spinoza. London, 1957.
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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Tuyo, con toda sinceridad, B. de Spinoza (1928: 214).