Book review: Ethics by Benedict Spinoza

Ethics by Benedict Spinoza

Ethics by Benedict Spinoza

“Surprisingly easy to understand.”

This was my first thought when I picked up book by Benedict Spinoza, a Dutch philosopher. “Ethics” was written 1674, but published posthumously. The people did not really like his ideas back then, but the world was so very different. But even today logic is seen an evil force in many religious convictions, sadly, and many believe that there is an inherent conflict between science and religion. It is a notion that became prevalent in intellectual discourse at a time when the very conception of each system of knowledge was far from adequate. For a person who thinks that religion, without science, soon degenerates into superstition and fanaticism, while science without religion becomes merely the instrument of crude materialism, seeking logic and coherence is not evil. But three hundred and fifty years ago Spinoza was really an evil man.

The book consists of axioms, definitions, propositions and demonstrations. When one definition has been proved, then the following propositions build on that. For a modern time engineer this joyful, because everything he says can be reverse engineered logically back to original axioms. He paints a complete picture – a complete thinking framework where all the ideas find its place.

To introduce the book here is a collection of ideas presented in the book.

Proposition 44. Love and desire may be excessive.

One of the themes of the book is to examine what is virtuous.

Proposition 57. The proud man loves the presence of parasites or flatteners, and hates that of the noble-minded.

When reading this I cannot but think about this age of social media, instant and constant gratification, and how people holding up noble character are not the best company.

Proposition 43. Hatred is increased through return of hatred, but may be destroyed by love.

Extremely difficult, but true. All the major religions have the Golden Rule.

Proposition 23. A man cannot be absolutely said to act in conformity with virtue, in so far as he is determined to any action because he has inadequate ideas, but only in so far as he is determined because he understands.

I have constantly found myself admiring the hospitality in the Asian cultures. The Finnish way is very direct and not submissive at all. When you confront higher standard that you yourself possess it raises your understanding of the virtue, but makes you realise that you need to work more to become more worthy of that virtue.

Proposition 72. A free man never acts deceitfully, but always honourably.

The notion of a free man is interesting. A free man is not a captive of his desires, hate, fear, and all that do not set him free.

11. Minds, nevertheless, are not conquered by arms, but by love and generosity.


“12. Above all things it is profitable to men to form communities and to unite themselves to one another by bonds which may make all of them as one man; and absolutely, it is profitable for them to do whatever may tend to strengthen their friendships.” – Benedict Spinoza, “Ethics”


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