Benedict de Spinoza's Ethics, first published in 1677, constitutes a major systematic critique of the traditional and religious foundations of philosophical thought. In it, Spinoza follows a logical step-by-step format consisting of definitions, axioms, propositions, proofs, and corollaries to create a comprehensive inquiry into the truth about God, nature, and humans' place within the universe. From these broad metaphysical themes, Spinoza derives what he considered to be the highest principles of religion and society and lays out an ethical system in which reason is the supreme value. A seminal contribution to 17th-century rationalism, Spinoza's Ethics refutes the dualism of René Descartes and provides a bridge between religion and modern-day psychology. This edition is the translation by R. H. M. Elwes.
The best way to read this book is to listen to it. If I were to have read it, I would have dwelled excessively on the axioms, definitions and propositions and would have missed the forest for the trees. Don't worry if you don't get the definition as he gives them. You'll be able to pick them up when he uses them latter on. Spinoza is an incredibly good writer. He will tell you what he's going to tell you, tell you and than tell you again. He'll say "in other words" or "take this example" or other such explanatory statements and amplify what he's been telling you while never being 'prolix' (a word he actually uses and I had to look it up. It means tediously long winded with words).
I've often heard people make the expression that they "believe in the God of Spinoza". After having read this book, I seriously would doubt them. What they've done is focused on the Spinoza formulation "that God is Nature and Nature is God" and they like the way that sounds, but they don't really know how Spinoza gets there or what he means by it.
This book is a vibrant defense of Scholasticism (Aristotelian thought) against Descartes' mind body duality. Spinoza creates a system with only one substance (God) but infinite attributes. Two of those attributes are thought and extension (body), but it's clear that God possess infinitely many more. God (or Substance) is the creator of the universe and possess thinking. The God/Nature Nature/God formulation would be pantheistic. But, Spinoza goes beyond that and very well could be 'panentheistic' (God transcends nature), but I can't say for sure based only on this book.
Spinoza uses most of the metaphysics of Aristotle. He believes God is the efficient cause (the mover) of the universe, but he does not believe in Aristotle's final causes, teleology. He believes that God is necessary, and that the universe is determined because from the necessary existence and therefore essence of God everything must follow from cause and effect (i.e. that Free Will is an illusion. Aristotle in his Ethics believes that Free Will does exist, but mostly Spinoza and Aristotle seem to agree. The concept of 'essence' are essential items in each of their systems). Things are only contingent when we don't know enough.
Only the first two sections of the book dealt with God and the Mind. The other three sections deal with emotions and our control. He'll reach some of the same conclusion that Aristotle reaches in his Nicomachean Ethics. Such as, our highest virtue is the contemplative virtue and we need to wake up, stop being distracted by the petty and focus on the universe and our place in it. He'll say we are most divine like when we use our contemplation on higher order matters.
Also, I want to mention that his sections on emotions and human bondage were some of the best formulations of psychology I've ever have come across in my readings. He'll say that it's our desires and our pains and pleasures which determine our emotional well being. The active part of us determines our emotional health and through the passive part is how our passions sneak in. Leading a virtuous life is the best. We should return hate with love or high mindedness for its own sake. He'll even segue into a self help book by saying we should repeat such slogans to ourselves so that when we our prone to hate we will know how to act instead. I can't understand why today's self help books don't do as well as Spinoza does within this book.
This book is a relatively easy read. It's clear that Hegel grabs major parts from Spinoza in his "Phenomenology of Spirit", and Hegel is no way as easy to read as this book is. Spinoza's attributes are determinants (limitations) of the infinite. Hegel makes all determinants negations of the infinite and gives us his dialectics (or movements) based on that. I did notice that Spinoza uses 'vacillate' in the later parts of his book and it seemed to correlate with Hegel's movements. I wish I had read this book before I had read Hegel. He would have made more sense to me if I had.
Never trust the summations you might have heard about this book or any other of the classic philosophical works you may come across. They always seem to get it wrong. This is a good book to read because Spinoza is such a great writer (he's not prolix as my review is!), he has a genuinely interesting take on the world, his psychology sections seem to be as good as any I have ever seen, you'll probably learn to be suspicious of the statement "I believe in the God of Spinoza" because a lot of baggage comes with that statement, and the influence his work has had on others becomes obvious and they would be easier to understand if you read this book before reading them.
(A note: I enjoyed this book so much I've downloaded his previous book "A Theologico Political Treatise" for free from LibriVox because it doesn't seem to be available at Audible).
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The Ethics is not the easiest book and being able to listen at .75x really helped me take it in. Good performance.
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If you could sum up Ethics in three words, what would they be?
Any summary of this work deserves more than three words.
What did you like best about this story?
Spinoza was a true genius, however, the writing style of his time was very dry and drawn out. Antony does as good a job as possible in taking the information and communicating it in a manner that is palatable enough to listen to.
Which scene was your favorite?
There aren't scenes in this book, however, in the beginning I realized Spinoza wasn't talking so much about a deity as he was hypothesizing about energy. This revelation blew my mind in a very positive way.
What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?
Spinoza was as smart as so many have claimed that he was, and that's refreshing.
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I literally slept through half of this book. I put it on at nights and set a sleep timer, and I always without fail fell asleep before 15 minutes was up. I'm not sure I can say I really read this book, but I definitely got a lot out of it.
Interesting but fraught with all kinds of problems. I wasn't at all sure what his source for his understanding of the nature of God. It seemed overall that the system worked within itself, but on what premise was the whole thing based? On the nature of Man, well, so much has been contradicted by research on the brain, that it was hard to tell, of the remainder, what was actually useful. The structure was based on Euclid, which is great for a subject like Geometry which has so little room for doubt and error, but man is not as clear a subject. I was also quite frustrated that so many things were "self evident" or any other possibility could be written off as ridiculous. In those moments, it felt like a real discussion of why he considered it self evident was required even more. Wouldn't bother taking this on again. Once was enough.
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