Baruch Spinoza

Baruch Spinoza Picture

Baruch Spinoza, a renowned Dutch philosopher, whose radical ideologies laid the foundation of the school of Spinozism. Spinoza was ranked among the most influential philosophers and notable rationalists of the 17th century, his masterpiece, “The Ethics”, which questioned the traditional beliefs and conceptions of God, humans, nature, and the entire universe as a whole, firmly established his positions as a prominent influence on Western Philosophy and Thought. His controversial beliefs on theology and moral practices brought him in the midst of broiling conflict and controversy with the Jewish and Christian communities. However, in the 18th and 19th century, his work began garnering praise and approval.

Baruch de Spinoza was born on November 24, 1632, to parents Miguel de Espinoza and Ana Debora in Amsterdam, Dutch Republic. His father worked as a prosperous Portuguese Sephardic Jewish merchant, and Baruch was raised in a traditional Jewish setup. He was enrolled in the Keter Torah Yeshiva for his early education, and was also coached in languages, young Baruch gained proficiency in Portuguese, Hebrew, Spanish, French, Dutch and Latin. Spinoza’s mother passed away when he was only six years old.

Baruch was a brilliant student, and he showed aspirations to become a rabbi. However, the untimely death of his elder brother in 1650, forced him to give up his education and join the family business. In 1653, he resumed his studies, and began taking Latin classes from Frances van den Enden. Frances encouraged Spinoza to engage in free thinking, and welcome the ideas of scholastic and modern philosophy. His father passed away in 1654, Baruch declined his share of the inheritance, which passed on to his sister. He ran the family business for a short period of time, however, he encountered a severe financial crisis during the first Anglo-Dutch war, and he relinquished himself of the cares of the business by declaring himself an orphan. Upon inheriting financial assistance from his mother’s estate, Spinoza devoted his time to philosophical and optical pursuits, and began exploring rationalism and the anti-clerical sect of Remonstrants.

His anti-theologian and radical teachings against the traditional doctrines of the Church led an imposition of a ban on him by the Talmud Torah congregation in 1656. He continued his criticism of the traditional religious practices unfazed, and soon became regarded as the first secular Jew of modern Europe. Eventually, he was exiled from Amsterdam, following which, he stayed in the village of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel for a while. In 1660, he settled in Rinjnsburg, Leiden, and devoted his time to composing most of his highly acclaimed literary work. In 1663, he published his first essay, titled “Short Treatise on God, Man and His Well-Being”, which dealt with his metaphysical, epistemological and moral teachings. He also published his work on Descartes’ “Principles of Philosophy” soon after.

The same year, he moved to Voorburg, where began collaborating with several philosophers, scientists and theologians for the compilation of his latest work, “The Ethics”. Meanwhile, he also provided his services as a lens-grinder and instrument maker in order to earn his daily bread and butter. Simultaneously, he also began working on “Theological Political Treatise”, which analysed secular and constitutional governments was published in 1670. This treatise drew a lot of criticism, and in 1674, it was legally banned.

In 1670, Spinoza moved to The Hague, where he continued working on his political treatise, and other essays including ‘On the Rainbow’ and ‘On the Calculation of Chances’. He also began composing a Dutch translation of the Bible, and another unfinished Hebrew work, which he later destroyed. In 1676, he finished compiling and published his magnum opus, “The Ethics”.

The same year, his health started deteriorating, and it worsened the next year. After a prolonged struggle against lung illness, Baruch Spinoza passed away on February 20, 1677. He was buried in the churchyard of the Christian Nieuwe Kerk in The Hague.

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