Saturday, November 24, 2007

Baruch Spinoza born 375 years ago

Baruch Spinoza (via wikipedia)
When Albert Einstein was asked by the New Yorker Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein "Do you believe in God?", his answer was, "I believe in Spinoza's God, who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a god who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind."

Baruch Spinoza, the Dutch philosopher who had so strongly influenced Einstein's philosophical and religious views, was born in Amsterdam 375 years ago today, on November 24, 1632, the son of Jewish refugees from Portugal. His conviction based on his studies of Renaissance philosophers, and especially of the writings of Descartes, brought him in conflict with the Amsterdam Jewish community, who expelled him in 1656. Earning his living as a lensmaker for microscopes, glasses and telescopes - a booming industry at the time - he could continue his studies, and while his way of life was very modest, he soon gained a reputation as quite a radical thinker. In his posthumously published Ethics, he tried to present his philosophical reasoning "in geometrical order", in a rigourous way modelled after Euclid's Elements. Spinoza was convinced that God exists in everything in nature, a pantheism that was soon interpreted as plain atheism.

If you want to know more about Spinoza than I can tell you, good starting points on the web are the biographies at wikipedia and the SEP, the BBC Radio 4 "In Our Time" program on Spinoza, and the collection of links "Studia Spinoziana" I've found via the Spinoza Institute.

14 comments:

Bee said...

The interesting question is then what did they mean with God? Does He just reveal himself in the " lawful harmony of the world" or is He the lawful harmony? And if not, what else is He?

Plato said...

Into the formation of such a world picture the scientist could place the "center of gravity of his emotional life [Gefühlsleben]." And in a sentence with special significance, he added that persevering on the most difficult scientific problems requires "a state of feeling [Gefühlszustand] similar to that of a religious person or a lover."

Taken from link.

So it may mean "theory of everthing" today, is just another way of sayng what these people did then?

Maybe Einstein personalized it with the picture of the "wise old man: offering his guidance to the harmony of the world.

ChickenBreeder said...

"God exists in everything"

Treehuggers will be pleased with Spinoza :)

And if Spinoza's god does not care about the doing and undoing of mankind, then why should mankind care about Spinoza's god?

Thomas Paine said...

Russell said of Spinoza in his history volume:

"Spinoza (1634–77) is the noblest and most lovable of the great philosophers. Intellectually, some have surpassed him, but ethically he is supreme. As a natural consequence, he was considered, during his lifetime and for a century after his death, a man of appalling wickedness."

QUASAR9 said...

Funny how only 'mankind' seems to concern him/herself with philosophy theology and/or physics (or at least the only ones who read, write & talk about it)...

... the rest of the universe just gets on with being & being in a continuous state of (perpetual?) change.

As for harmony - not sure how harmonious colliding galaxies, colliding blackholes, or even earthquakes & tsunamis are ... I certainly rather spend a night at the opera, than be washed away like an ant or a 'shrimp' in Bangladesh. But maybe all we really are is shrimp food - we may eat them, but ultimately we (the physical body) ourselves decay into molecules, minerals or food for other 'lifeforms'

Life & existance is soo transient and ephemeral

QUASAR9 said...

Bee, the God 'who' some pray to, is meant to be the God 'who' created and sustains the universe

... but if God is not concerned with the things of Man & Woman, maybe God is no longer concerned with the things of matter either.

Alas though, an all knowing all seeing God, could be 'bored' even with 10^500 universes. Maybe like the proverbial gardener God wants to plant a new universe, and start from scratch again - but hold on God is already reputed to have done that before - and that requires God to be caught in linear or directional Time, and only limited Man or Mind is caught up in Time, and/or limited by Time.

stefan said...

The interesting question is then what did they mean with God? Does He just reveal himself in the "lawful harmony of the world" or is He the lawful harmony?

My theologically unsophisticated understanding is that Spinoza thought that God is nature, that He is present there everywhere. This is in contrast to other beliefs (say, Newton's, or Leibniz') that God has left his fingerprint in the harmony of the world he has set in motion.

However, since this concept of Spinoza's God is, in my opinion, a bit vague, and so much different from the jewish-christian-islamic concept of the personal god, it's not such a big step to get rid of this kind of God altogether - why should mankind care about Spinoza's god, as chickenbreeder suggest. I guess that's why Spinoza came to be considered an atheist.

Best, Stefan

Anonymous said...

Here's my best guess as to what this reality is all about after thinking about it for the last 40 years: the fact that we exist at all is strong evidence that everything possible exists, and that this particular collapsed wave function is in fact a subtractive process from this infinite pleroma brought about by consciousness making choices, rather than something created out of nothing by an unknown actor. Atoms organize into molecules, then cells, then minds; and minds already organize into something greater (okay, insert internet joke here if you must). Eventually consciousness organizes sufficiently to truly understand and engineer reality at the finest levels, creating an ever-changing ouroboros of possibilities. Odds are that this has already happened with the universe we inhabit, and thus God (for lack of a better term) is truly in everything. We are both God's children and its parents.

So that's my particular brand of craziness, which brings me to the heart of this post: it would be fascinating to hear the way-out-there wild philosophical speculations of physicists as to the meaning of it all, given that they stare more deeply into the clockwork of the universe than most.

Uncle Al said...

pantheism that was soon interpreted as plain atheism

Can God make a collection plate so vast that even He cannot fill it? Sure! ALL OF THEM. Only shop in the company store - or else.

michael Cassidy said...

I haven't read Spinoza in about 40-42 years; he may not have been an atheist [why the 'e' before the 'i'?] but he came so close. I wish he had made the step.

"Life & existance is soo transient and ephemeral" if I remember Spinoza's discussion revolves around this ephemeral existance and why we should live ethical lives.

"wave function is in fact a subtractive process from this infinite pleroma brought about by consciousness making choices, rather than something created out of nothing by an unknown actor. "

This sounds a little too much like Intelligent Design for me.

QUASAR9 said...

God or multiverse I don't understand this or argument either
One could equally argue God and the multiverse
or if one prefers no god and no multiverse

Michael said...

"God or multiverse I don't understand this or argument either One could equally argue God and the multiverse or if one prefers no god and no multiverse"

Can you have no god and a multiverse?

QUASAR9 said...

Michael, then you are full circle back to the original argument "God or multiverse"

I don't understand why - one or the other. They are not mutually exclusive in my eyes ...

But to answer your question you can have no god and a multiverse, supposing there is no god, and there is a multiverse.

I know there are 11 dimensions in the uk:

In the first dimension move the penniless, and the disenfranchised
In the second dimension move those on unemployment benefit & homeless

In the third dimension move those on benefits, including housing benefit and students (with grants)

In the fourth dimension move those on disability benefits, and students with student loans

In the fifth dimension move those on £200 per week
In the sith dimension move those on £12,000 a year, tax credits and child allowance

In the seventh dimension move those on £15,000 a year - better off students, and 'foreign' stuidents

In the eighth dimension move those on £25,000 or more - and/or with PHDs

In the nineth dimension move those on £100,000 or more a year

In the 10th dimension move those on a £million or more per year

In the 11th dimension move those not 'beholden' or indebted to those in the other ten dimensions

Anonymous said...

Of all the commentaries on Spinoza which I have read the one which gave me the impression " Now here is someone who KNOWS what Spinoza was getting at " It is Ruth Saw's Vyndication of Metaphysics " Nobody should give an opinion on his ideas unless having first read this slim volume.
R G Jenkins