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Who Was Spinoza and Why Should We Care?

Steven Nadler / University of Wisconsin, Madison

Bento (Baruch) de Spinoza was the most original and radical thinker of his time. His “scandalous” works were widely condemned by civil, academic and ecclesiastic authorities. One overwrought contemporary critic proclaimed that Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise was “a book forged in hell by the devil himself.”  His writings are no easy read. And yet, he remains today perhaps the most relevant thinker from the history of philosophy.

Spinoza rejected the notion of an anthropomorphic, providential God; he argued that miracles are impossible; he demonstrated that the Bible is simply a work of human literature, and he showed that the belief in an afterlife where immortal souls are rewarded or punished is a pernicious superstitious fiction. True religion, he claimed, is nothing but the life of reason devoted to love, justice and charity. Spinoza was also the first to argue in a sustained and serious way for a tolerant, secular and democratic society.

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Steven Nadler is Vilas Research Professor and William H. Hay II Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His latest books are Think Least of Death: Spinoza on How to Live and How to Die (Princeton, 2020) and When Bad Thinking Happens to Good People: How Philosophy Can Save Us from Ourselves (Princeton, 2021). He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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