The Spin on Spinoza

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Spinoza : 

Spinoza

The Spin on Spinoza : 

The Spin on Spinoza by Dave Shafer CHJ Fairfield, CT

Slide 3: 

Spinoza in his time and place (Spinoza in context) Spinoza the philosopher Spinoza the humanist Presentation outline

Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) : 

Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677)

In 1632 Spinoza was born, then was circumcised by the mohel of the Portuguese Jews of Amsterdam : 

In 1632 Spinoza was born, then was circumcised by the mohel of the Portuguese Jews of Amsterdam

Spinoza, the man : 

Spinoza, the man Born and lived in Amsterdam (1632-1677) Family was Portuguese Crypto-Jews, then later reverted to Judaism when left Spain for Holland Mother died when he was 6 years old, father when he was 22 Extended family was prosperous merchants Education at Hebrew school, with added secular tutors at home.

Spinoza was a serious student : 

Spinoza was a serious student

Spinoza the linguist : 

Spinoza the linguist Knew Portuguese and Spanish from parents Knew Dutch from his environment Knew Hebrew from religious school Learned Latin from a tutor Knew some French and Italian Maybe some German from a German tutor who taught him Latin Self- taught in some Greek

Born in Amsterdam, died in the Hague : 

Born in Amsterdam, died in the Hague

Amsterdam in 1660 : 

Amsterdam in 1660

Slide 11: 

Spinoza lived during the Dutch “Golden Age”. Cheap energy from windpower fed sawmills and made Holland a world boat building and shipping power (think Dutch East Indies). This prosperity and a society that welcomed artists, scientists, philosophers and religious diversity made Holland a hotbed for new ideas and an ideal place for Spinoza – who pushed to the limits and then far beyond, which ideas could be tolerated.

Slide 12: 

It was a “Little Ice Age” in Europe – unusually cold, for decades

Amsterdam Town Hall : 

Amsterdam Town Hall

Dam Square, commerce heart of city : 

Dam Square, commerce heart of city

Slide 15: 

Dutch tulip mania peaked in 1637, when Spinoza was 5 years old. This particular bulb type set a record as selling for 10X the annual earnings of a skilled craftsman, for just one bulb!

Dutch tulip mania – the first of modern “bubbles” bursting : 

Dutch tulip mania – the first of modern “bubbles” bursting

Amsterdam synagogue built right after Spinoza’s death – regarded then as the 8th wonder of the world because of its size. Still there today. : 

Amsterdam synagogue built right after Spinoza’s death – regarded then as the 8th wonder of the world because of its size. Still there today.

Rembrandt was a Dutch contemporary : 

Rembrandt was a Dutch contemporary Also Vermeer

Rembrandt was close to the Jewish community and used many Jewish themes and models : 

Rembrandt was close to the Jewish community and used many Jewish themes and models Saul and David Ahasueras

We can see how some contemporary Jews looked and dressed : 

We can see how some contemporary Jews looked and dressed

Sephardic dress in 1600’s : 

Sephardic dress in 1600’s

Spinoza was a lens grinder, by profession : 

Spinoza was a lens grinder, by profession Nobility kept ornately decorated lens grinding machines as art objects. Spinoza made lenses for spectacles, magnifying lenses, and telescopes. He eventually died from many years of inhaling glass dust.

Rembrandt painting, with a lens : 

Rembrandt painting, with a lens

The microscope had just been invented : 

The microscope had just been invented by Dutch scientist Van Leeuwenhoek

Tiny lenses were needed for it : 

Tiny lenses were needed for it

Slide 26: 

The telescope had also been recently invented. It and the microscope both need lenses to operate

Spinoza made contributions to optics : 

Spinoza made contributions to optics His theory of the rainbow correctly explains the role of water drops in its creation

This was an age of important optical discoveries, with the microscope and the telescope : 

This was an age of important optical discoveries, with the microscope and the telescope Science and this Age of Reason were opening up new worlds to explore, with important philosophical and religious consequences

Spinoza the Philosopher : 

Spinoza the Philosopher Spinoza developed the first “theory of everything”. It is a lot to swallow in a short presentation like this one.

But let’s dive in and to try to assess it : 

But let’s dive in and to try to assess it

Spinoza took a deductive approach, like Euclid’s geometry : 

Spinoza took a deductive approach, like Euclid’s geometry Starting with a few premises he built up an enormous philosophical edifice – a theory of everything, people included

But the whole edifice is only as strong as those few starting premises : 

But the whole edifice is only as strong as those few starting premises If these are false or unclear the whole structure gets very unsteady, since it is resting on a very small pivot area

Slide 33: 

Then, like a house of cards, the whole thing tends to collapse. Most grand, expansive, philosophical theories are like that. They may contain very many interesting ideas but basically lack the logical rigor that good philosophy requires.

Adding complexity to a fatally flawed system does not make it any stronger : 

Adding complexity to a fatally flawed system does not make it any stronger

The weight of Spinoza’s huge structure could not be supported by his weak and flawed premises : 

The weight of Spinoza’s huge structure could not be supported by his weak and flawed premises

Slide 36: 

Premise 1Some things (e.g. watches) are very complicated. They contain many parts which fit and work together in an orderly and regular manner to achieve their end (e.g. telling the time). Premise 2This complexity is evidence of design - the parts could not have come together in this way by chance - they must have been put together deliberately to achieve their purpose. Premise 3Where there is evidence of design, there must be a designer. In the case of a watch, this is the watchmaker. Premise 4The universe shows evidence of design. Nature has many complicated parts which work together to achieve their end (e.g. the eye, the pollination of flowers by bees, the orbits of the planets, the conditions of the Big Bang). They could not have come together in this way by chance. ConclusionIf the universe shows evidence of design, then it must have a designer. This we call God.Therefore God exists This argument is not from Spinoza Argument by design, for the existence of God Premise #2 and #4 are false, so conclusion is not justified. Extremely simple recursive rules in nature can lead to extreme complexity, in physics and in biology. Evolution then keeps those biology results that work well. No designer is needed. (Flawed premises invalidate conclusion)

The questions are the key to fame : 

The questions are the key to fame Most philosophers become famous for the questions they ask, not for the very flawed answers they give, like Descartes (here) and his “Mind-Body problem”, or Spinoza and his struggles with religion and human destiny.

Tough questions : 

Tough questions Descartes – “how can the physical brain think?” Spinoza – “Do we have free will? (his answer – “No!”)

Descartes tried to doubt the existence of everything and concluded that at least he existed (“I think, therefore I am”). Seeing the fly here is not enough to know that it truly exists. But then he waffled and accepted God as a given. : 

Descartes tried to doubt the existence of everything and concluded that at least he existed (“I think, therefore I am”). Seeing the fly here is not enough to know that it truly exists. But then he waffled and accepted God as a given. Spinoza was a braver man and excluded all supernatural content from his system, since it can be doubted and is unnecessary.

Spinoza’s influence : 

Spinoza’s influence Spinoza was very important for his own ideas And his critique’s of the ideas of others, like Descartes. But few take seriously his grand philosophical project, a theory of everything. One modern philosophical journal rejected a submitted article about Spinoza, saying “we are not now, have never been, or will we ever be interested in Spinoza”

Spinoza the pioneer : 

Spinoza the pioneer Unlocking Spinoza’s complex ideas about ethics, nature, psychology, emotions, politics and biblical criticism is not easy. But he tackled the very big questions and had some shocking ideas for his time.

Some things in life are simple, like men, but Spinoza’s thought is not one of them : 

Some things in life are simple, like men, but Spinoza’s thought is not one of them

We should try to learn from a deep thinker like Spinoza, to help us with life choices : 

We should try to learn from a deep thinker like Spinoza, to help us with life choices We are always facing both large and small issues and have decisions to make

Spinoza the humanist : 

Spinoza the humanist Getting into Spinoza’s metaphysics is heavy lifting, but Spinoza the humanist is much more accessible, and of greater interest to our group.

We all know where we are headed, so Spinoza’s views on religion are of special interest : 

We all know where we are headed, so Spinoza’s views on religion are of special interest

Slide 46: 

“Relax, honey – change is good.” It is hard to put a spin on death

What comes at the end of life – a great adventure, something awful, or nothing? : 

What comes at the end of life – a great adventure, something awful, or nothing?

Spinoza came down firmly on the side of “nothing” : 

Spinoza came down firmly on the side of “nothing”

Spinoza rejected all supernatural ideas : 

Spinoza rejected all supernatural ideas

Spinoza the skeptic : 

Spinoza the skeptic A willful blindness to the flaws in religions was not his cup of tea. Spinoza tried to see clearly and bravely, starting with “God”

A skeptical thinker will have a hard time with the way God and religion are often presented : 

A skeptical thinker will have a hard time with the way God and religion are often presented

Spinoza rejected the anthropomorphic images of a god, like Jupiter here, as do most skeptics : 

Spinoza rejected the anthropomorphic images of a god, like Jupiter here, as do most skeptics

Spinoza also rejected traditional ideas about heaven and hell : 

Spinoza also rejected traditional ideas about heaven and hell

Spinoza rejected a literal reading of the bible : 

Spinoza rejected a literal reading of the bible Adam and Eve, by Von Stuck

Slide 55: 

These are unsophisticated religious ideas that are taught to small children before they are old enough to know any better.

He valued reason way above sense impressions, and rejected miracles : 

He valued reason way above sense impressions, and rejected miracles

Spinoza was very familiar with Christian thought and had many Christian friends : 

Spinoza was very familiar with Christian thought and had many Christian friends Water into wine miracle

Some inconvenient (for us) truths about Spinoza : 

Some inconvenient (for us) truths about Spinoza Spinoza was a deeply religious man (this needs to be explained, but is still quite confusing) He believed in a pantheistic God, a god of Nature, who is conscious and omniscient but has no free will or purposes, with no care for us He rejected free will and was a complete determinist. Minds as well as bodies are part of deterministic Nature He distanced himself a very long way from Judaism. We cannot really say that he was “one of us”, although many do say that

Most people find complete determinism to be a very disturbing idea : 

Most people find complete determinism to be a very disturbing idea

Slide 60: 

The one exception we might not mind is romance, where we may feel that we were fated (kismet) to be with some particular person

Spinoza and free will : 

Spinoza and free will We think we have free will but it is an illusion. Everything is predetermined by physics = Nature, which is the same as God Nature = God has no free will of its own All we can control, in a free will sense, is our emotions – to some degree We can change our emotions some by understanding why we feel that way (he was a very early precursor to psychoanalysis)

Spinoza advised an early form of psychoanalysis : 

Spinoza advised an early form of psychoanalysis

Spinoza ideas that shocked his contemporaries : 

Spinoza ideas that shocked his contemporaries Spinoza thought that a mind is that part of God’s mind that is aware of a particular body There is no causal connection between mind and body, just a parallel correlation We are not morally responsible for our actions, since they are determined in advance Both our thoughts and our bodily actions are predetermined

Spinoza would accept this line of thought : 

Spinoza would accept this line of thought

Slide 65: 

This is a rather grim view of the world

Slide 66: 

Spinoza saw that it is a dangerous place out there

Spinoza thought that fear is what keeps most of us from evil deeds : 

Spinoza thought that fear is what keeps most of us from evil deeds

Spinoza considered everyone to be out for themselves : 

Spinoza considered everyone to be out for themselves

Yet Spinoza urged a life of virtue : 

Yet Spinoza urged a life of virtue

Spinoza seemed to have incompatible ideas about how we should live a life of virtue if we also have no free will : 

Spinoza seemed to have incompatible ideas about how we should live a life of virtue if we also have no free will

Slide 71: 

It’s hard to see how living an ethical life can be married to complete determinism

Slide 72: 

Spinoza’s noble impulses were dragged down by the weight of his fatalistic philosophy of complete determinism

Slide 73: 

It’s hard to put a good face on this basic flaw

Spinoza’s thought : 

Spinoza’s thought Spinoza’s thought teeters between bold radical ideas about God, man, free will, ethics, etc. that are clearly expressed, and fuzzy concepts that are supposed to ground everything in the rigor of logical deduction. But without a solid basis his ideas become just very interesting opinions, like much of philosophy through history.

Spinoza’s influence : 

Spinoza’s influence Many writers, artists, scientists and philosophers have been inspired by the boldness of his ideas, his personal courage, and his putting reason as the source of all knowledge His exemplary personal life was one of generosity, humility, frugality, and a kind of “saintly” disposition – a model for many people

Even today Spinoza casts a big shadow : 

Even today Spinoza casts a big shadow

People were starting to hear about Spinoza’s alarming and radical ideas : 

People were starting to hear about Spinoza’s alarming and radical ideas

Certainty from belief in a Holy Book was being attacked : 

Certainty from belief in a Holy Book was being attacked

Slide 79: 

In the Age of Reason, religious certainty was about to take a big plunge

Slide 80: 

Spinoza’s heretical ideas got the authorities very upset

Spinoza was excommunicated in 1656 : 

Spinoza was excommunicated in 1656

Slide 82: 

The Church was also trying to stamp out heresies and the Dutch Jews did not want to offend their Christian host community by tolerating an atheist within the Jewish community

Spinoza’s 3 top heresies : 

Spinoza’s 3 top heresies 1) Angels don’t exist – they are imaginary

2) God is purely material (= Nature) : 

2) God is purely material (= Nature) And is controlled by the laws of physics, just like everything else – which is only natural since god = everything = pantheism

3) The soul dies with the body : 

3) The soul dies with the body

Slide 86: 

The “soul” and the body are somehow different aspects of a single substance. The soul is not “in” the body in a normal location sense, but it is so closely associated with the body that it cannot survive the body’s death. Hence, no afterlife. No heaven or hell.

But Spinoza did not mind being cut off by excommunication, and had left most of Judaism behind : 

But Spinoza did not mind being cut off by excommunication, and had left most of Judaism behind

Slide 88: 

He felt he could no longer fit in the way he would like

For Spinoza the bible was ready for a great fall – and he undertook a radical critique : 

For Spinoza the bible was ready for a great fall – and he undertook a radical critique

Slide 90: 

Today we have critical biblical thinkers like Sonny and Cher, who have benefited from Spinoza’s efforts hundreds of year ago. Or not.

Spinoza took aim at the weaker aspects of the bible, as a document : 

Spinoza took aim at the weaker aspects of the bible, as a document He thought the Torah had been written by Ezra, not Moses, and that it was a purely human inspired work

Slide 92: 

Spinoza read the bible with the same skepticism that we bring to the supermarket tabloids. My favorite tabloid headline = “Skydiver eaten by starving birds” Spinoza was a pioneer in critical biblical scholarship

Slide 93: 

Spinoza was a very brave man, like these strollers here. He boldly and willingly, without any safety net, abandoned both his community and his culture

Spinoza died in 1677 in The Hague, with his main works yet unpublished : 

Spinoza died in 1677 in The Hague, with his main works yet unpublished

Spinoza was a mensch : 

Spinoza was a mensch He won a legal dispute with a stepsister over his father’s estate, yet gave her almost all of it. A close friend wanted to make him sole heir. Spinoza declined and also declined a very large money gift. When the friend died and left him 500 florins, he would only accept 300. He was very widely liked, even by his religious and philosophical opponents

The bleakness of Spinoza’s philosophy is at odds with the warmth and appeal of the man : 

The bleakness of Spinoza’s philosophy is at odds with the warmth and appeal of the man He thought we should seek fulfillment in each other

Slide 97: 

We can help each other towards happiness

Slide 98: 

Spinoza had many good friends, but never married. He was a happy bachelor, married to his ideas

Slide 99: 

Spinoza did not become discouraged or bitter over his ideas about life, like nothingness after death and complete determinism

Slide 100: 

Spinoza had an upbeat spirit that endeared him to his many friends

Like Nietzsche, Spinoza’s thought has been widely misrepresented and very selectively used. : 

Like Nietzsche, Spinoza’s thought has been widely misrepresented and very selectively used. Theists, deists and atheists have all claimed Spinoza as one of their own, by willful misreadings

This can make for some strange bedfellows : 

This can make for some strange bedfellows

Slide 103: 

These days everyone is climbing on board the Spinoza bandwagon, mistakenly or not. The diversity of his thought and his appealing personality have attracted many.

Slide 104: 

We don’t want to use up too much time on this, so that we can still have a discussion

Enough already – The End : 

Enough already – The End

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