Baruch Spinoza (1632 – 1677)

Excommunicated for heresy from his tightly knit Jewish community, the young Spinoza  made his way to Rijnsberg where he lived a frugal life as a lens grinder.

Working with lenses gave him a valuable perspective and his famous phrase ‘sub specie aeternitatis’  –  ‘seen through the eyes of eternity’ – speaks of a theory that stood back from the world. Spinoza had a mathematical mind and his philosophy was constructed alongside the geometrical principals of Euclid. His theory is both complicated and simple.

Spinoza believed in one substance – God or Nature – the name doesn’t matter. There is nothing that exists outside that substance – neither humans nor their thoughts, or actions. Everything that happens does so because of an endless chain of cause and effect and the choices we think we make are illusory – it was always going to be that way.

All humans need to do is relax and accept God’s will. It is good for us – or bad for us – it doesn’t matter because we are not different to God/Nature out of whom we are born and to whom we return. There is no point in praying because there is no One to pray to. There is only the Eternal will – in whom we have our being. God is not love. God Is and we Are.

Spinoza’s simplicity and his compassion meant that he has gone done in history as something of a saint. Intellectually, he was opposed by followers of Descartes who thought of the world  in dualistic terms, and of course both Christians and Jews to whom his theories were antagonistic. Spinoza denied that the world was created – rather it is an emanation of God. Evil is merely evil to our eyes – seen through the eyes of eternity it pales into something less strong. 

In The Sage Train, Spinoza explains his theory to Green Moses – a travelling merchant who occupies a marginal position within the Jewish community. He is not afraid of the curse that hangs over the young apostate. And he is happy to treat him to a meal in the village ale house while he listens to Spinoza’s ideas.

 Freewill      Determinism     Ontological Argument     Pantheism    Problem of Evil