The OUP Philosophy team has selected Baruch Spinoza (24 November 1632 – 21 February 1677) as their December Philosopher of the Month.
Born in Amsterdam, Spinoza has been called the “Prince of Philosophy” due to his revelatory work in ethics, epistemology, and other fields of philosophy. His works include The Principles of Cartesian Philosophy, Theologico-Political Treatise, and his magnum opus, Ethics.
Spinoza was of Sephardic Jewish descent – his ancestors fled from Portugal to Amsterdam during the Portuguese Inquisition – and he was given a traditional Jewish upbringing. Spinoza’s mother died when he was 6 and his father when he was 22. Spinoza spent his early years as a respected member of his synagogue, running the family business with his brother. However, he was issued a herem at age 23 from the Jewish community. It is not clear what the exact act or event was which caused his excommunication, but it most likely dealt with his radical views on religion and God.
A few years after the banishment, Spinoza left Amsterdam behind. He moved around the Netherlands and finally settled in The Hague. He spent the majority of his time as a private scholar and made a modest living as an optical lens grinder.
Spinoza died at the age of 44 in The Hague, Netherlands most likely due to a lung illness. Although he had a relatively short life, his impact on philosophy was extraordinary. Shortly after his death Opera Postuma was published by his friends, containing the Ethics, one of the major and most influential works of Western philosophy, the unfinished Tractatus Politicus, some lesser works, and some important correspondence. So notorious had Spinoza’s opinions become that they still only gave the name of the author as B. D. S.
His rationalist arguments have influenced leading philosophers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, Friedrich Nietzsche, Gottfried Leibniz, and many more to come.
Featured Image: Amsterdam skyline. Public domain from Pixabay.
He also published a Hebrew Grammar in Latin. It is the only work of his I own, since I am a linguist, not a philosopher.
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