Axios Press’s Essence of . . . series takes the greatest works ever written in the field of practical philosophy and pares them down to their essence. We select the best passages—the ones that are immediately relevant to us today, full of timeless wisdom and advice about the world and how best to live our lives—and leave behind the more obscure or less important bits. Our selections are not isolated: they flow together to create a seamless work that will capture your interest and attention from page one. And we provide useful notes and a solid introduction to the work.
Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) is regarded as one of the very greatest of the Western philosophers. A Jewish lens grinder, he was expelled from his synagogue, never married, and lived as a boarder, supporting himself with daily work while corresponding with the great minds of Europe. Deliberately rejecting wealth, pleasure, and fame, he found complete contentment in developing a deductive logic that underlay both his view of the world and his famous ethics.
Einstein said: “I believe in Spinoza’s God.” The great German author Goethe said: “[In] the Ethics of this man…, I found the serenity to calm my passions….That wonderful sentence ‘he who truly loves God must not desire God to love him in return’… filled my whole subsequent thought.”
This new edition makes Spinoza’s own words understandable by everyone.
About The Author
Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) was born in Amsterdam of Jewish parents who were refugees from the Spanish Inquisition. Of all the philosophers of the 17th century, perhaps none have more relevance today than Spinoza.
About the Editor
Hunter Lewis, co-founder of global investment firm Cambridge Associates, has written nine books on economics and moral philosophy. He has served on boards and committees of fifteen leading not-for-profit organizations, including environmental, teaching, research, and cultural organizations, as well as the World Bank.
Introduction: Baruch de Spinoza (1632–1677)
Book One: On the Improvement of the Understanding
Book Two: The Ethics
Part A: God
Part B: Mind and Emotion
Part C: The Power of Reason (Gaining Human Freedom)
Appendix A: God
Part I: Concerning God
Appendix B: Mind and Emotion
Part II: Of the Nature and Origin of the Mind
Part III: On the Origin and Nature of the Emotions
Part IV: Of Human Bondage, or the Strength of the Emotions
Appendix C: The Power of Reason (Gaining Human Freedom)
Part V: On the Power of the Understanding, or of Human Freedom
Book Three: Letters
Baruch de Spinoza (1631-1677)
Spinoza’s life, as well as his doctrines, reflects the possibilities of a pure “religion” of deductive logic, where “religion” is defined as a set of personal evaluations and beliefs and actions inspired by those evaluations and beliefs, not just a socially organized religion like Judaism or Christianity. A solitary bachelor, Spinoza moved from town to town to escape the time-consuming attentions of his devoted friends; an imperturbable boarder, he sometimes remained in his room for three months at a time, to the fond amazement of whatever family he was staying with; an expert lens grinder, he always paid his own way and gently declined the financial patronage of princes. As Spinoza explained the motive behind this unconventional existence, which some of his contemporaries viewed as a kind of extreme secular monasticism:
After experience had taught me that all the usual surroundings of social life are vain and futile, and seeing that none of the objects of my fears contained in themselves anything either good or bad, except insofar as the mind is affected by them, I finally resolved to inquire whether there might be some real good having power to communicate itself, which would affect the mind singly, to the exclusion of all else—whether, in fact, there might be anything of which the discovery and attainment would enable me to enjoy continuous, supreme, and unending happiness.
I say “I finally resolved,” for at first sight it seemed unwise willingly to lose hold on what was sure for the sake of something then uncertain. I could see the benefits which are acquired through fame and riches, and that I should be obliged to abandon the quest of such objects, if I seriously devoted myself to the search for something different and new. I perceived that if true happiness chanced to be placed in the former I should necessarily miss it; while if, on the other hand, it were not so placed, and I gave them my whole attention, I should equally fail.
I therefore debated whether it would not be possible to arrive at the new principle or at any rate at a certainty concerning its existence, without changing the conduct and usual plan of my life. With this end in view I made many efforts, but in vain. . . .
For the ordinary surroundings of life which are esteemed by men (as their actions testify) to be the highest good may be classed under the three heads—Riches, Fame, and the Pleasures of Sense: with these three the mind is so absorbed that it has little power to reflect on any different good. By sensual pleasure the mind is enthralled . . . so that it is quite incapable of thinking of any other object; when such pleasure has been gratified it is followed by extreme melancholy The pursuit of honors and riches is likewise very absorbing, especially if such objects be sought simply for their own sake. . . . In the case of fame the mind is still more absorbed, for fame is conceived as always good for its own sake, and as the ultimate end to which all actions are directed. Further the attainment of riches and fame is not followed as in the case of sensual pleasure by repentance, but, the more we acquire, the greater is our delight, and consequently, the more we are incited to increase both the one and the other; on the other hand, if our hopes happen to be frustrated, we are plunged into the deepest sadness. Fame has the further drawback that it compels its votaries to order their lives according to the opinions of their fellow men, shunning what they usually shun, and seeking what they usually seek.
When I saw that all these ordinary objects of desire would be obstacles in the way of a search for something different and new—no, that they were so opposed thereto that either they or it would have to be abandoned, I was forced to inquire which would prove the most useful to me. But further reflection convinced me that . . . evils arise from the love of what is perishable, such as the objects already mentioned [while] love toward a thing eternal and infinite feeds the mind wholly with joy, and is itself unmingled with any sadness, wherefore it is greatly to be desired and sought for with all our strength.
[Even then] I could not forthwith lay aside all love of riches, sensual enjoyment, and fame. [But] while my mind was employed with [deductive logic], it turned away from its former objects of desire. . . . Although these intervals were at first rare, and of very short duration, yet afterwards, . . . they became more frequent and more lasting.
Read the complete public domain version showing deletions and additions
[On the Improvement of Understanding; The Ethics, Correspondence.pdf]
See a complete list of all of Spinoza’s Propositions, Notes, Corollaries, Definitions, Axioms, and Postulates referenced but not included in this book.