I read for you SPINOZA – Ethics (1677)

A summary a critical opinion (Frederic LENOIR)


For all those who want to discover the philosophy of Spinoza without throwing on the first lines of its very dry L’Ethique, Frédéric Lenoir’s Miracle Spinoza is welcome. Frédéric Lenoir discovered the philosopher late on; It seems indeed that this major philosopher is not in the program of aggregation! It was a real revelation.
Descartes as a starting point

We discover that if there had not been Descartes (1596-1650), his contemporary, there would not have been Baruch Spinoza. Descartes was (with Montaigne) one of the fathers of modern philosophy, that is to say, a philosophy liberated from theology (scholasticism) which, since ancient times, stifled it. Descartes was the first to doubt everything except his King and his God (At the time, it was not necessary to go beyond certain limits beyond which the scaffold was promised). Descartes decided not to take anything for granted and to ask reason as the sole criterion of truth. By putting everything into question, he arrived at the only indisputable and possible truth:

    I think so I am or cogito Ergo sum. Descartes.

From this point of departure, from a solid, unshakable base, Descartes was ready to rebuild the world.

From Descartes to Spinoza

For Frédéric Lenoir, if Descartes was the first to doubt everything, Spinoza was probably the second (Recall to Frederic Lenoir, for a next book, that the first was in fact the Abbot Meslier, a century earlier). Spinoza set about describing the work of his inspiration in Descartes’ Principles of Philosophy. He took similar paths, staked with the same systematic doubt, but decided to cross the Rubicon, the impassable, questioning his God (he was Jewish) and the sacred texts. This led to the exclusion of his community at first. He began to read the Bible, not as a revealed book (therefore without possible criticism), but as a historical book that should be analyzed, criticized, with reason. A meeting was the catalyst for his heretical spirit: Franciscus van den Enden, a fierce defender of freedom of expression.

Van den Eden was a forerunner of secularism. It was the motto: intus ut libet, foris and moris: « at home to think what you want, outside to obey the usage. » Van den Eden campaigned for equality, democracy, abolition slavery, struggled against the elite and envisioned the education of all. A revolutionary long before letter! He set up a Latin school in Amsterdam where he welcomed Spinoza.

I read for you The miracle Spinoza Frédéric Lenoir

The God of Spinoza

Spinoza was not an atheist. But he had an original conception of divinity, comparable to that found among ancient Greeks like Democritus or Epicurus or Lucretius. For Spinoza, God is not the dusty bearded man who hangs in rags in sacred texts. God is a whole, you, me, stone, tree, gravity, nature … All that exists and holds together is God. God is nature. He uses, according to the passages of the Ethnic, the two terms for him similar: nature and God.

    Deus sive natura (God, that is nature). Spinoza

He departs here from Descartes (and Plato): there is no more: 

  • on one side, the sensible world (accessible by our senses);
  • and, on the other, the world of ideas

    For Spinoza everything is God. Including the man who is a piece of God and who therefore contains a parcel of divinity!

Our soul, in so far as it perceives things in a true way, is a part of the infinite intelligence of God. Baruch Spinoza.

The God of Spinoza has nothing to do with that of the Jews (neither Christians nor Muslims). The God of Spinoza is not a God outside the world, nor a God who existed before the world (and who would have created it). God is the world and has always existed. And we live according to his decrees (he would have fixed the speed of light at 300 000 km / s or the mass of the electron at 9.11×10-31kg).

Spinoza has therefore unified the world. Nature is God. He rejected the infantile vision of sacred texts in which God is a little too much like man: he is angry, jealous, envious, even cruel, human, and even too human (Nietzsche says).

The finally unified man must seek the earthly happiness


After unifying God, Spinoza unified the man. There is no longer, as in Descartes:

  •     on one side the despicable, mortal body, subject to temptations, and

    on the other, the soul, the noble and immortal part.

He thus refuses asceticism or Christian dolorism which consists in hating the body, refusing earthly pleasures for a hypothetical reward after death. For Spinoza, everything is played here and now. The body and the soul are one, the soul needing the body and vice versa. Earthly happiness is therefore a legitimate goal.

Cheerfulness can not be excessive, it is always good. » Baruch Spinoza – Ethics (1677) – Joy is the passage from a lesser perfection to a greater perfection – Ethics (1677)

Religion as an instrument of social cohesion

For Spinoza the cults (masses, religious festivals, baptisms) are a late invention of the clergy who used, since Saint Paul (Paul of Tarsus in the first century), religion as an instrument of submission of the masses. Spinoza retains only one thing from the sacred texts: justice and charity, essential elements for life in society. He has a vision of religious practice close to Protestants: there must be no parasitic intermediaries between man and God. Everyone must be able to access the text which must be written in the language of the people: the vulgate.

A human writing of the Torah

At the time, it was considered that the Torah was dictated by God to Moses around 1200 BC. Spinoza was the first to consider that his writing was made during exile in Babylon (600 BC): the historical landscape could indeed (seen the anachronisms) be that of Moses. Today, this point is no longer disputed.

The prophets

For Spinoza, the prophets were only illuminated subjects of their imagination. For Spinoza, only Jesus Christ is to be remembered: he is the only one to carry a coherent message around justice and charity. But he was rather a sage than an incarnate God.
Spinoza and the Hebrews

God had made an alliance with the chosen people: you surrender and in exchange I give you a promised land. Now, at the time of Spinoza, of promised land there was more. So, there were no more objective reasons to submit.

The negation of free will

The existence of free will or the faculty of freely choosing between good and evil was posited by Christians (St. Augustine) to give the possibility of judging beings and thus keeping them in submission (of poor sinners ). Indeed, if God is only kindness and has created the world how to explain the existence of evil? Did he also create evil? Of course, this is not conceivable in Christian dogma. St. Augustine thus affirmed the existence of free will and therefore the faculty of men to do evil. God created the world and then endowed his creature with freedom. Eve was the first sinner and was punished (expelled from the Garden of Eden). Yet free will does not go without saying: any event having a cause and any cause leading to the same event, one could imagine that everything is determined in advance. For example, if we know the speed of the moon and its direction today, we can deduce its speed and position tomorrow. The same is true of every event, every decision in the world. Spinoza (like Epicurus or the Stoics before him) thinks that everything is determined and that we are not free (although we have the illusion of being). And if we are not free, we are not accountable for our actions.

Men are mistaken when they think they are free; this opinion consists in that they alone are aware of their actions and ignorant of the causes by which they are determined.

A forerunner of Anglo-Saxon utilitarians (Bentham)

To the extent that a thing suits our nature, it is necessarily good. We do not desire anything because we find it good, but on the contrary, we judge that something is good because we desire it. Baruch Spinoza.

A precursor of the social contract

The man seeking above all his advantage (rather than that of his neighbor and, lastly, that of the migrant), only a « social pact » is likely to allow a life in society for the benefit of all. Indeed, in nature, the stronger uses his power to subdue the weaker. Then he can in turn suffer the law of the strongest. The state of nature is a state of perpetual war. Peace therefore requires rules. The man must transfer to the common good (the State), his power of nuisance (the police become the depository of the legal violence) and confer on the law a unique objective: the general interest. Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Locke will not say anything else. In return, the man is protected by society. Spinoza is therefore one of the major precursors of the Enlightenment. Robespierre, whose bedside book was Du contrat social, will remember it (but also Kant and Nietzsche).

I read for you The miracle Spinoza Frédéric Lenoir

The separation of powers


Spinoza was also a great inspiration for Montesquieu (The Spirit of the Laws): he proposed, a century before him, a rule of law based on the separation of powers (to avoid any dictatorship).

Forerunner of psychoanalysis

He also embarked on horizons still unexplored that Freud will approach much later: psychoanalysis. For Spinoza, we are not free. We are ruled by our impulses, our desires. So the woman who wears makeup thinks to do it freely. She actually experiences her nature as a woman who guides her on the path of reproduction. We are therefore driven by our desires and fears of which we are not masters. Here again we find the thoughts of Democritus.

 The desire that arises from joy is stronger than the desire that arises from sadness. Baruch Spinoza.

But it is possible to be happy and this is the good news that Spinoza delivers us. It is necessary to escape the sad passions (hatred, anxiety, jealousy …) that degrade the quality of our being. It is necessary to seek pleasure, here and now, and not to wait in ascetic for an improbable eternal life, as the Christians claim.

Wisdom is not the meditation of death, but the meditation of life. Baruch Spinoza.

The miracle Spinoza (the back cover)

Banished from the Jewish community at 23 for heresy, Baruch Spinoza decides to devote his life to philosophy. His goal ? To discover a real good which would « procure for eternity the enjoyment of a supreme and incessant joy. During the twenty years that remain to him, Spinoza builds a revolutionary work. How could this man, in the middle of the seventeenth century, be the forerunner of the Enlightenment and our modern democracies? The pioneer of a historical and critical reading of the Bible? The founder of the psychology of the depths? The initiator of philology, sociology, and ethology? And above all, the inventor of a philosophy based on desire and joy, which upsets our conception of God, morality and happiness?
In many ways, Spinoza is not only far ahead of his time, but also on ours. This is what I call the « miracle » Spinoza.
« You will understand, dear reader, I deeply love Baruch Spinoza. This man touches me by his authenticity and his profound coherence, by his gentleness and tolerance, by his wounds and his sufferings too, which he has sublimated in his tireless quest for wisdom. I love him too because he is a thinker of affirmation. […] I love Spinoza because he is a generous thinker who wants to help his peers by his philosophy and who is committed to improving the world in which he finds himself. « Frédéric LENOIR
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