October 27, 2020

Spinoza: Ethics again | Babelia

At the beginning of his splendid edition (and translation) of the Ethical demonstrated according to the geometric order, by Baruch Spinoza, who in addition to the original Latin text provides interesting annexes, its manager, Pedro Lomba, reminds us of the inevitable shadow of strangeness that hangs over this philosopher, who already accompanied him during his brief life (1632-1677) and which It has not stopped growing since then. Something of this rarity is undoubtedly due to his uncompromising opposition to some of Descartes’ fundamental theses, who would end up being the great winner of this chapter in the history of philosophy. But what Spinoza reproaches Descartes is not his rationalism, but quite the opposite: not having carried it to its ultimate consequences. And the radicality of his amendments to Cartesianism, as well as the absolutism with which he bets on the complete identification between reality and reason, sink their roots in deeper lands than those of doctrinal controversy and allow us to better glimpse the reasons for that persistent feeling of rarity.

What this thinker reproaches other rationalists is still the commitment that men like Leibniz, Malebranche or Descartes himself had with his time, in which both personal and political identity were defined above all by belonging to a religious community . Spinoza, a Dutch Jew expelled from the synagogue, whose steps the Inquisition was following with great interest once he found out that he thought “that there was no God but philosophically”, lacks such commitments due to his peculiar situation. His philosophical discourse, like his blurred citizenship, settles in a place that was strictly impossible in his day: the most absolute non-denominational. This is why he can embrace the rationalist rhetoric of the one who looks at the world from the perspective of eternity with much more courage than those who feel tied to their time and who still expect something from it. The Ethics —Definitive version of his metaphysical system— is written from this “inhuman” point of view.

Again ethics

For this reason, those who open its first pages have the feeling that the book (published posthumously and thanks to an anonymous donation) does not have an author and that, simply, as it happens with cause and effect relationships that link bodies to each other, in those pages the ideas are implacably following each other according to the infallible method of the demonstrations of the geometers, without the need for the voice of a contingent and finite being to enunciate them. The titanic effort of formalization (Axioms, Definitions, Corollaries, Propositions, Demonstrations, etc.) that the book articulates contributes to include it in that small collection of writings that, like the Tractatus Wittgenstein’s and a few others seem completely indifferent to their historical context and even to their readers: they start absolutely from scratch, without taking charge of what may have been thought and said before them, unfold without the slightest hesitation about the truth of their conclusions and show no interest in the judgment of posterity on their arguments.

And precisely because settling in non-denominationalism was not entirely possible in the seventeenth century, Spinoza soon became a cursed thinker, who could only be read in secret, banned by all the Churches and quoted only by libertines of the lineage of the Marquis de Sade. People who, in their vast majority, had not even read the Ethics, nor were they in a position to understand it. This earned him the reputation that Gilles Deleuze It glossed in these three adjectives: atheist (because he identified God with nature), materialistic (because he denied the substantial distinction between soul and body) and immoralist (because he rejected religiously inspired morals).

But only by listening to this triplet will the reader have understood that what made him cursed in the 17th and 18th centuries is precisely what has cemented his resurrection in the 19th and 20th centuries: first, to give romanticism a certain metaphysical density; then, so that Marxism could escape from the Hegelian tradition and find a replacement to adapt to the new times; and finally, to underpin Nietzsche’s philosophical revival – who considered Spinoza his precursor – in the 1960s. But this has not made him a more familiar thinker. Although it is understandable the attempt to recover his figure by philosophies that, in one way or another, wanted to revive a secularized theology as a sense of history or as an exaltation of revolutionary creation, after the great wear and tear suffered by these projects today Nothing can eliminate the fact that, as much as he looked like a demon to his contemporaries, Spinoza is a head-to-head theologian, dedicated to demonstrating the existence of God and the immortality of the soul, and who hardly fits into a time that no longer supports that there is God even “philosophically”. He was a stranger in the 17th century for thinking from a place that did not exist in his time. But when that place became possible – to some extent, surely, thanks to his efforts – and his name was recovered, he also became a stranger to us.

This new edition gives us the opportunity to re-read the Ethics and discover that there was someone behind it, someone who is shown in the Appendices and in the Scholios, full of sharp empirical observations, angry indignation against superstition and cautious awareness of the dangers of the abyss between the learned and the vulgar.

Ethical demonstrated according to the geometric order. Baruch Spinoza. Translation and editing by Pedro Lomba. Trotta, 2020. 448 pages. 30 euros.


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