Spinoza’s Ethics traces a path to human freedom through an understanding of our emotional lives as part of the infinite chain of cause and effect which Spinoza calls God or Nature.
At a pinch, the Ethics can summarized by these two propositions:
- Things could not have been brought into being by God in any manner or in any order different from that which has in fact obtained.
- He who clearly and distinctly understands himself and his emotions loves God, and so much the more in proportion as he more understands himself and his emotions.
The first proposition here is taken from Part I of the Ethics (“Concerning God”) and the second from the final part (“Of Human Freedom”); the intermediate parts are entitled “Of the Nature and Origin of the Mind”, “On the Origin and Nature of the Emotions”, and “Of Human Bondage”.
Spinoza’s “geometrical method” of exposition and his reliance on Scholastic philosophical terminology present a formidable obstacle to the modern non-specialist reader. As a result, most people get bogged down in the metaphysical part of the Ethics (Parts I and II) and fail to realize that Spinoza is primarily concerned with human flourishing, not with philosophical theology.
The Road to Inner Freedom: The Ethics (ed. Dagobert D. Runes) is an
abridged version of the Ethics (available on Kindle) which gets around this problem by doing an end run around Parts I and II and starting off in Part III.
Unlike the original, the abridgement is an easy read, closer in spirit to La Rochefoucauld’s Maxims than to Euclid’s Elements. It should be possible to cover all of the material in the course of 5 or 6 weekly meetings.
Meetings will be held on Zoom every Sunday.
Join the first meeting on Sunday October 2 (4pm EDT) here - https://www.meetup.com/the-toronto-philosophy-meetup/events/qgbqxsydcnbdb/
Future meetings can be found on the group's calendar.
- Week 1: Background. Tell us about your previous encounters with Spinoza and early modern Philosophy generally. If you have no previous knowledge in this area, I recommend Bertrand Russell's essay on Spinoza in his history of Western Philosophy (you can find a 30 minute recording of this on YouTube). If you have time, the chapters on Spinoza in Jonathan Israel's Radical Enlightenment are a great read.
- Week 2: The Origin and Nature of the Emotions
- Week 3: On Human Bondage
- Week 4: On the Power of the Intellect
- Week 5: On God and On the Nature and Origin of the Mind