Baruch Spinoza

Spinoza: An Overlooked Thinker

Spinoza was born Baruch Spinoza in Amsterdam in 1632. His parents were of Spanish-Jewish decent and fled to Amsterdam to flee the Spanish Inquisition and became part of the Jewish community there. His father Michael was a merchant and was well-liked within the community. Hanna, Spinoza’s mother, would die in 1638, a little while before Spinoza was to turn six. Spinoza was influenced by Greek philosophy, including Platonism, stoicism and by Renaissance and enlightenment thinkers, including Maimonides, Machiavelli, Descartes, and Hobbes.


His controversial ideas challenged the divine origin of the Hebrew Bible, the nature of God, and the earthly power wielded by religious authorities both Jewish and Christian alike. He was often called an atheist by his contemporaries although nowhere in his work does Spinoza argue against the existence of God. His theological studies were inseparable from his thinking on politics, and he is grouped with thinkers like Hobbes, Locke, Leibniz, and Kant and he established a form of political writing called secular theology.

Spinoza questioned the authenticity of the Hebrew Bible and the nature of the Divine when he openly defied rabbinic authorities in 1655-1656. Consequently, the Jewish religious authorities expelled him permanently from the congregation and he was shunned by Jewish society at age 23, even by his own family. After expulsion, Spinoza lived an outwardly simple life as an optical lens polisher, but he was a dedicated clandestine philosopher and shared his writings with a circle of supporters. His works were banned by the Dutch Reformed church and his books were added to the Catholic Church’s index of Forbidden Books.

Spinoza’s philosophy and writings include metaphysics, epistemology, political philosophy, ethics, philosophy of mind and philosophy of science. It earned Spinoza an enduring reputation as one of the most important and original thinkers of the seventeenth century and deeply influenced Albert Einstein and other modern thinkers and scientists.


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