Baruch de Spinoza

Baruch de Spinoza


Edited by Peter Y. Chou

Preface: In 1929, Einstein was asked in a telegram by Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein whether he believed in God. Einstein responded by telegram "I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings." I recall reading that Einstein had a picture of Spinoza displayed in his room. Apparently, Einstein visited the Spinoza House in Rijnsburg, Holland on November 2, 1920. Shortly afterwards, he wrote a poem "Zu Spinozas Ethik" which began: "Wie lieb ich diesen edlen Mann, mehr als ich mit Worten sagen kann." ("How much do I love that noble man, more than I could say with words.")
    My experience with Spinoza came at Columbia University (1960) when I read Spinoza's Ethics (1677) as part of the Contemporary Civilization and Humanities curriculum. Spinoza's description of the wise and ignorant man at the end of the book touched me deeply. I felt that this Dutch-Jewish philosopher from the 17th century was calling forth to me to embark on the path of wisdom, to experience blessedness and true peace of mind. When I read those last lines of the book, I was sobbing in tears: "But all things noble are as difficult as they are rare." Being a chemistry student, the words "noble" and "rare" conjured up the noble and rare gas, Argon, whose name resembled the Greek argonauts who accompanied Jason in quest of the Golden Fleece. Since the noble gases have their electronic shells filled, they symbolized a sense of fulfillment and perfection, similar to the wise man who is free from desires and blessed with peace of mind.
    While doing my doctorate research at Cornell in biochemistry, I began studying Buddhist philosophy to purify my mind so I could be more focused in my research (1968). I visited Anthony Damiani's bookshop, American Brahman in downtown Ithaca at 118 West State Street, to learn about the perennial philosophy of Plato and the Oriental sages. On one occasion (summer 1968), Anthony wished to read me one of his favorite philosophical passages. I thought it was going to be from the Thomas Taylor translation of Plato, but he turned to the last page of Spinoza's Ethics. Tony had already told me that the path to spiritual enlightenment is the work of a lifetime, not to be accomplished instantly. When he got to the line "what is rarely discovered must be hard", tears were flowing from my eyes again, for deep within I knew that the enlightenment path I've embarked on will require all my energies, all my mind, and all my heart.
    Recently, when I saw a poster at Stanford on Rebecca Goldstein's lecture: "Spinoza's Mind: How Spinoza Thought About the Mind and How Spinoza's Mind Thought" at Tresidder Union, Oak West Room on Thursday, October 25, 2007 at 8 pm, all my memories of Spinoza came back. My college copy of Spinoza's Ethics with its yellow paperback cover is in storage boxes, so I rounded up some Spinoza books from the Stanford Bing Wing stacks and have typed Spinoza's concluding words from his Ethics below. The translations are combined from the two books cited. May Spinoza's message inspire and enlighten our mind to blessedness.

Proposition 42: Blessedness is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself. We do not enjoy blessedness because we keep our lusts in check. On the contrary, it is because we enjoy blessedness that we are able to keep our lusts in check.

Blessedness consists in love towards God, a love that arises from the third kind of knowledge. So this love must be related to the mind in so far as the mind is active. Therefore it is virtue itself. That is the first point. Again, the more the mind enjoys this divine love or blessedness, the more it understands; that is, the more power it has over the emotions and the less subject it is to emotions that are bad. So the mind's enjoyment of this divine love or blessedness gives it the power to check lusts. And since human power to keep lusts in check consists solely in the intellect, no one enjoys blessedness because he has kept his emotions in check. On the contrary, the power to keep lusts in check arises from blessedness itself.

    With this I have finished all the things I wished to show concerning the Mind's power over the affects and its Freedom. From what has been shown, it is clear how much the Wise man is capable of, and how much more powerful he is than one who is ignorant and is driven only by lust. For not only is the ignorant man troubled in many ways by external causes, and unable ever to possess true peace of mind, but he also lives as if he knew neither himself, nor God, nor things; and as soon as he ceases to be acted on, he ceases to be. On the other hand, the wise man, insofar as he is considered as such, is hardly troubled in spirit, but being, by a certain eternal necessity, conscious of himself, and of God, and of things, he never ceases to be, but always possesses true peace of mind.
    If the way I have shown to lead to these things now seems very difficult, still, it can be found. Indeed, what is so rarely discovered must be hard. For if salvation were ready at hand, and could be found without great effort, how could nearly everyone neglect it? But all things noble are as difficult as they are rare.

— Baruch de Spinoza, The Ethics,
     Part V: Power of the Intellect or Human Freedom
     Proposition 42, Conclusion of the book.
     Translated by Samuel Shirley
     Hackett Publishing Co., Indianapolis, 1982, p. 225
     (Stanford Library: B3973.E5.S47)
The Collected Works of Spinoza, Volume I
     Edited & translated by Edwin Curley
     The Ethics, Proposition 42
     Princeton University Press, 1985, pp. 616-617
     (Stanford Library: B3958.1985.v.1)


Spinoza Books at the Stanford Library:

Baruch de Spinoza, The Ethics and Selected Letters,
Translated by Samuel Shirley
Hackett Publishing Co., Indianapolis, IN, 1982
(Stanford Library: B3973.E5.S47)

The Collected Works of Spinoza, Volume I
Edited & translated by Edwin Curley
Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1985
(Stanford Library: B3958.1985.v.1)

Steven Nadler, Spinoza's Ethics: An Introduction,
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 2006
(Stanford Library: B3974.N24.2006)

Steven Nadler, Spinoza: A Life,
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1999
(Stanford Library: B3997.N33.1999)

Margaret Gullan-Whur, Within Reason: A Life of Spinoza
Jonathan Cape, London, 1998
(Stanford Library: B3997.G85.1998)

Stuart Hampshire, Spinoza,
Penguin Books, Middlesex, UK, 1987 (1st published 1951)
(Stanford Library: B3997.H2.1987)

Baruch Spinoza, How to Improve Your Mind,
With Biographical Notes by Dagobert D. Runes
Philosophical Library, NY, 1956
(Stanford Library: B3983.E5E4)

Neal Grossman, Healing the Mind,
(The Philosophy of Spinoza Adapted for a New Age)
Susquehanna University Press, Selinsgrove, PA, 2003
(Stanford Library: B3998.G76.2003)

S.M. Melamed, Spinoza and Buddha: Visions of a Dead God,
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1933
(Stanford Library: B3998.M4)


Web Links to Benedict de Spinoza

Baruch Spinoza
(Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Biography, Ethics,
Theological-Political Treatise, Bibliography, Other Internet Resources)
Benedict De Spinoza (16321677)
(Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Life & Works, Geometric Method & The Ethics,
Metaphysics, Mind & Cognition, Psychology, Ethics, References & Further Reading)
Wikipedia: Baruch Spinoza
(Early & Later Years, Ethical Philosophy, Pantheism Controversy, Modern Relevance)
The Ethics (1677)
(Translated from the Latin by R.H.M. Elwes,1883)
Ethica in English by Benedictus de Spinoza
(Project Gutenberg, Online Books, E-text #3800)
Spinoza, Ethics Demonstrated in Geometrical Order
Part V: The Power of the Intellect, or Human Freedom
(Translated by Jonathan Bennett, July 2004, PDF file)
Baruch Spinoza's Quotes
(Brainy Quote: 47 quotes of Spinoza)
Baruch Spinoza Quotes
(43 quotes of Spinoza from
Einstein's Third Paradise
(By Gerald Holton, Daedalus, Fall 2002, pp. 26-34; Einstein & Spinoza)
Einstein's poem "Zu Spinozas Ethik"
(In Einstein's handwriting, original German "Zu Spinozas Ethik", circa 1920)
Einstein's poem "To Spinoza's Ethics"
(Physics Forums: translated by Ben Thorn, 10/16/2007)
An Interview with Rebecca Goldstein, author of "Betraying Spinoza"
(By Paul Comstock, California Literary Review, March 30, 2007)
An Reasonable Doubt: On Baruch Spinoza
(By Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Edge: The Third Culture, July 29, 2006)
A Kibitz on Pure Reason
(The author of Betraying Spinoza on rationalism, passion, and great 17th-century hair)
(By Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Michael Weiss, Jewcy, March 17, 2007)

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (10-25-2007)