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Baruch Spinoza's Theologico-Political­ Treatise

  • Jun 11, 2014 · 7:00 PM
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Barry will be leading us through this intense, highly controversial text of the early modern period at our meet up in June. Followed in July by Kierkegaard's "Fear & Trembling". For a complete list of the upcoming meetups, see the TBC "2014 Reading List" on the Discussions Page (click link in tool bar above).

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  • barry n.

    Hi all: it was good to see you last night, and I enjoyed the discussions : what a great group, and thanks. Also, I would like to have everyone's e-mail to sometimes contact you for coffee, discussions, etc. outside our normal monthly meetings. Mine is [masked]

    June 12, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      good and idea ... molly

      June 24, 2014

  • Lorraine

    I enjoyed reading, thinking and talking about the work of this startlingly original and audacious thinker. Most striking to me was Spinoza’s intellectual integrity and his willingness to follow the path where truth, as it appeared to him, lead him. I would have enjoyed learning more about some aspects of Spinoza’s thought. For instance, is there any scope for human free will in Spinoza’s thought, since everything is determined and even God could not have acted otherwise than he did? Equally interesting to me was Spinoza’s conviction that because the Scriptures teach piety and not philosophy, attempts to understand the Scriptures philosophically, i.e. to make Scriptures conform to philosophy, alter their meaning; however, to discard reason and to take as revelation what he terms the “prejudices of a common people of long ago” is to diminish the light of understanding. I hope that we will have an opportunity in our next round of readings to further explore Spinoza's thought.

    June 12, 2014

    • Robert ("Robaire") N.

      Lorraine... very perceptive questions... answered in the "Ethics". You are correct. In Spinoza all is causally determined. There is no scope for free will, either in man or in God. As for the relationship between reason and revelation in Spinoza? That is for the next round...

      June 12, 2014

    • Lorraine

      It seems to me that Spinoza is distinguishing between philosophy and reason, i.e. there is a ménage-à-trois here: philosophic principles, reason and revelation.

      1 · June 13, 2014

  • Iris

    I enjoyed the book and the interesting discussion. Fun intellectual stimulation with a group that enjoys debate but in kindness.

    June 12, 2014

  • James H.

    Was more sedate than usual as I only had limited time to engage with the material last month. Very much enjoyed listening in to the illuminating discussion on this intriguingly modern writer.

    June 11, 2014

  • Robert ("Robaire") N.

    Another excellent evening of museful discussion (dialectic). Thank you all for your thoughtful comments.

    June 11, 2014

  • Jim A.

    Fine presentation by Barry. Good provocative discussion.

    June 11, 2014

  • Ingeborg

    I found this book fascinating and had to keep reminding myself that it was written in the 1600's and not in the last 50 years! Spinozas condemnation of organized religion echoed my sentiments completely, but I have come to this realization only relatively recently. Unlike some of the other participants who are more philosphically inclined and had to dissect the book as to why and what was behind every thought.. I was willing to accept Spinozas treatise as something that he wrote at a time when it was revolutionary to even think those thoughts never mind write then down. Organized religion has been manipulative and power orientated since the beginning of time, and it was good to see that allready in the 1600's someone had the guts to say so out loud!

    June 11, 2014

  • James H.

    I maybe a few minutes late due to the complexities of being a parent to identical twin boys aged 3 .

    June 11, 2014

  • Kinneret

    As I mentioned earlier, you'll find those who are blindly religious in every faith. They observe without questioning...or maybe they choose to observe after having questioned and coming to terms with what speaks to them personally about why they observe. And being observant doesn't necessarily mean not questioning or analyzing or not being spiritual.

    June 5, 2014

  • barry n.

    Hi all: I consider myself fortunate for having been exposed to Islam and Christianity, and to a lesser extent to Jedaism and Zoroastoriansm and Sufism. What I should have said is that some/many followers of these religions follow their sacred texts blindly, in very absolute/rigid ways, and are completely closed to any discussions, other interpretations, other historical factors, facts, and reason. More at our session next week, but please do comment, share your views and findings for a richer session. Thanks

    June 5, 2014

  • Robert ("Robaire") N.

    PART I
    Barry, I believe you intended your comment for "Robert" (not "Robaire"). I have not commented yet because I have not completed my reading of Spinoza (although I must say, I am finding it both stimulating & provocative).

    Equally provocative, however, is your immoderate comment about Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Zoroastrian believers. Kinneret is right to call you on that. It seems to be indiscreetly "forced" into the comment with little thought. Spinoza is critiquing in particular the sacred texts of Hebrew Scripture and zealous religious leaders. You, on the other hand, appear to be impugning ordinary believers. If, indeed, there is a God - even the "Deus seve Natura" God of Spinoza - surely His ways (or Its ways) are not immediately scrutable. Along with the Treatise, Spinoza wrote a massive tome (the "Ethics") in which he sought to define God as the fundamental, eternal, infinite substance of reality. His language too is at times vague & difficult to understand...

    June 4, 2014

  • Robert ("Robaire") N.

    Part II

    ... Why is that? Because he is tackling with great ardour some of the most profound metaphysical questions that prophets, philosophers, theologians and ordinary folk from diverse backgrounds and traditions have wrestled with for centuries, namely God and sacred revelation, and this exclusively from within a rationalist frame of reference. Thinkers as diverse as his contemporaries Pierre Bayle and Wilhelm Leibniz, and Schelling a century later, took up the challenge laid down by Spinoza, questioning and debating a number of his premises (including his re-definition of substance and mode). But that’s okay. We are, after all, endeavouring to peer behind the metaphysical veil, to understand the very essence of reality and truth. Spinoza’s is one perspective (albeit a very intriguing one…)

    No more from me until I have finished the Treatise. I want to ensure my comments are considered and reflective...

    June 4, 2014

  • Kinneret

    That's a rather broad brush. You must mean your experience with blindly religious people of those faiths. Or are you meaning that in talking to them (Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian), they have acknowledged that their sacred texts are vague, in parts, and that the language is cryptic to discourage the questioning of them? Truly spiritual people, though, will question, but with a healthy scepticism. Those who want to understand the why of their religious texts will never take the written Word at face value; they can embrace a healthy scepticism, yet still be willing to try to understand the why, no matter how cryptic the Word might read. I haven't read Spinoza, so maybe I'm way off base adding a comment here. It's been an interesting discussion.

    June 4, 2014

  • barry n.

    Hi Robaire: Very interesting and enlightening view points, thanks. I believe that skepticism opens the mind and results in a more thorough understanding of issues.
    Also, Spinoza says that using vague/mysterious language in Scripture and in other religious/sacred writings is only an attempt to cover up what does not make sense, is conflicting with evidence/history, is "face saving" (my words), and is ultimately for the purpose of encouraging/forcing blind obedience. My experience with Moslem, Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastorian people totally confirms what he has said, generally.

    June 4, 2014

  • barry n.

    HI: I'd like to stimulate, challenge and entertain us on June 11th: Spinza says" The highest form of knowledge is a thorough understanding of Nature and its ways" ; " The object of "revealed knowledge" is simply obedience"; "prophets were not endowed with more perfect minds than others, but only a more vivid power of imagination"; " knowledge of God consists in philosophical reasoning alone and pure thought"; " God adapted himself to the imagination and preconceived opinions of the prophets". He also says that prophets were moral (or much more so than the rest of us), but says nothing about Moses' command/decree that "false prophets" should be killed! I assume he must have known that Mohammed spread Islam by the force of the sword, but again silence: how could then Moses, Mohammed (and other prophets who have committed/commanded violence be so moral? Continued
    ---------------------------------------------------------

    June 3, 2014

    • Robert

      2) If you care about understanding what is to be communicated, you have to read intuitively when it comes to things like the Gospels. You have to wish to contemplate and live with images. This is a little bit hinted at in Spinoza's use of the term 'imagination'.­ It doesn't mean what George Lucas uses while dreaming up Star Wars aliens. It points back to an older form of cognition. In general, one will get further if one substitutes a phrase like 'higher stage of consciousness and cognition' for 'Kingdom of Heaven' while reading and thinking. Religionists suffer from this problem too.

      June 3, 2014

    • Robert

      3) Another clue, still seeping through from the older language and consciousness is the idea of 'morality', which you've mentioned as Spinoza having pointed out. Here morality does not refer to cultural and temporal morays as you have asked about. Rather it is itself a quality which assists and propels, makes ready for, higher cognition. It is a kind of aware self-cleansing and examining regarding one's thinking and feeling 'en ce moment' -- so it becomes second nature. It's very difficult. That's why so few can do it or understand it. But the initial prerequisite is interest rather than skepticism. Skepticism kills higher cognition before it can seed. Skeptics cannot stomach the idea that there could be any relevancy between morality and perception. Hope you were entertained by this.

      June 3, 2014

  • barry n.

    And last but not least, how can anybody forgive Spinoza for not analyzing the following (with apologies to those who may be sensitive ):

    After a rousing speech and turning the money table at the temple, Jesus stood at the exit door to shake hands with the congregants who had been very touched by him. When the last man was leaving, Jesus took out a $5 bill from his pocket, offered it to the man and said" Hey brother, do you have trwo $10s for this $5?

    Let's remember: laughter is the greatest heeler of all.

    June 3, 2014

  • barry n.

    Spinoza also says things like "God revealed himself" to Moses, Jesus, etc. but does not explain or question how such is possible , especially when he has said that God is Love, Nature, Pure Thought. I have found him extremely sharp, knowledgeable, analytical about Scripture, the Bible, history of the Hebrews, Christians, etc. But at times, he talks about/refers to "god" like any average religious person: lots of inconsistencies.... Continued

    June 3, 2014

  • Robert

    Yes, me too. Can only come to Ottawa once this summer, and I think I prefer the July topic. Till then.

    June 2, 2014

  • Kinneret

    Apologies, but cannot make this meeting. Hope to see you all in July.

    June 2, 2014

  • Robert

    Actually I find chapter 1 pretty interesting already, and pretty key in some ways, for it seeks to lay out a kind of epistemology for things like revelation, prophecy, higher cognition and the like. And this foundation could easily become key to later arguments or positions. I already disagree with Spinoza's postulations in these beginning pages, and part of his remarks relate to your question about Jesus/God communication -- but I prefer to digest more before commenting further.

    May 19, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      Robert, this treatise is not fable, there are no keys :)

      May 20, 2014

    • Robert

      @Vasile -- howdy Vasile. I think you misunderstand my usage of teh word 'key' here.

      May 21, 2014

  • Robert ("Robaire") N.

    Courtesy of Barry:

    Hi all: I have been enjoying Spinoza's Theological-Political Treaties and suggest chapters 3,7,11,12,14,15,and 16. Also:

    1-What does he mean when he says Jesus communicated to/with God based on "mind to mind"?

    2- Why is he so soft/accepting of Jesus and Christianity? Is it because he felt he needed some approval/support given the radical/dangerous nature of what he wrote in this book?

    3- Was he hypocritical regarding Jesus and Christianity?

    4- It appears that he believes in God which I find difficult/illogical given how effectively he rejects "visions', "miracles", "the Bible", and " Scripture". What am I missing?

    5- Whatever "God" he seems to believe in, is not described or differentiated from the "God" of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

    May 19, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      1 That is to be found in Chapter 1. Spinoza found exceptional the God's revelation received by Jesus of Nazareth. Spinoza compared that to revelation of Moses (that spoke with God, face to face), or those of other prophets. Then Spinoza is telling us about the “mind of God”, metaphorically attributed to interpreters of dreams in Old Testament.
      2 That argument was made famous by a 20th century philosopher, Leo Strauss. According to that argument, it was too dangerous for Spinoza to attack the New Testament, even although the Old Testament is extremely important for Christians too. Leo Strauss also argued that the Treatise was addressed to Christian readers that Spinoza wanted to convert to philosophy. That could be a "rhetoric strategy" (Nadler) toward Spinoza's readers. Nevertheless, Spinoza's upbringing made him very knowledgeable into the matters of the Old Testament, when comparing to his knowledge of Christian literature.

      May 19, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      4 In conception of Spinoza, God is a very complex and abstract concept. He refers often to Nature when tries to explain the nature of God. Spinoza indeed is very dismissive when describes the nature of miracles in the books of Old Testament.
      5 The God of Spinoza is for sure not that of theologians, and one purpose of the book is to avoid “the hasty acceptance of human fabrications as divine teachings”( Chapter 7).

      May 20, 2014

  • Jim A.

    While I await my copy of the original to arrive from Amazon, I just started reading an account of the story behind the book called "A Book Forged in Hell" by Steven Nadler. It is a fun read.

    May 19, 2014

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