Spinoza is today considered the Philosopher of Modern Times, as Aristotle was the Philosopher of Antiquity. In spite of which, he remains the best known and least read of the great thinkers.
The Book of God, one of his earliest works, came to light only a hundred years ago in two slightly varying Dutch manuscripts. Its youthful author lived in turbulent times, when the Western world was torn by civil and religious strife, and bullies, bigots and pseudo-prophets vied for the ear of a fearful people. While Europe was in an uproar over the right church, Spinoza was seeking the right God. This book is the first known report of his findings. Appearing like a draft for his later Ethics, it is a Guide for the Bewildered. Those who see in philosophy no more than an intellectual exercise will have no difficulty dismissing it. But those imbued with the longing for a better and freer life will find here a most rewarding fountain of faith.
Michael L. Morgan provides a general introduction that places Spinoza in Western philosophy and culture and sketches the philosophical, scientific, religious, moral and political dimensions of Spinoza’s thought. Morgan’s brief introductions to each work give a succinct historical, biographical, and philosophical overview. A chronology and index are included.
Sir,—The version of my principles which you have been at pains to make, is so elegant and finished as to lead me to expect that the work will be more generally read in French than in Latin, and better understood. The only apprehension I entertain is lest the title should deter some who have not been brought up to letters, or with whom philosophy is in bad repute, because the kind they were taught has proved unsatisfactory; and this makes me think that it will be useful to add a preface to it for the purpose of showing what the MATTER of the work is, what END I had in view in writing it, and what UTILITY may be derived from it. But although it might be my part to write a preface of this nature, seeing I ought to know those particulars better than any other person, I cannot nevertheless prevail upon myself to do anything more than merely to give a summary of the chief points that fall, as I think, to be discussed in it: and I leave it to your discretion to present to the public such part of them as you shall judge proper.
I should have desired, in the first place, to explain in it what philosophy is, by commencing with the most common matters, as, for example, that the word PHILOSOPHY signifies the study of wisdom, and that by wisdom is to be understood not merely prudence in the management of affairs, but a perfect knowledge of all that man can know, as well for the conduct of his life as for the preservation of his health and the discovery of all the arts, and that knowledge to subserve these ends must necessarily be deduced from first causes; so that in order to study the acquisition of it (which is properly called philosophizing), we must commence with the investigation of those first causes which are called PRINCIPLES. Now these principles must possess TWO CONDITIONS: in the first place, they must be so clear and evident that the human mind, when it attentively considers them, cannot doubt of their truth; in the second place, the knowledge of other things must be so dependent on them as that though the principles themselves may indeed be known apart from what depends on them, the latter cannot nevertheless be known apart from the former. It will accordingly be necessary thereafter to endeavour so to deduce from those principles the knowledge of the things that depend on them, as that there may be nothing in the whole series of deductions which is not perfectly manifest. God is in truth the only being who is absolutely wise, that is, who possesses a perfect knowledge of all things; but we may say that men are more or less wise as their knowledge of the most important truths is greater or less. And I am confident that there is nothing, in what I have now said, in which all the learned do not concur.
In his introduction, Dagobert D. Runes, a life-long student of the philosopher, sheds new light on Spinoza’s private, political and religious life, and exposes and explains the dramatic story of his apostasy.
If the reader despairs of the business of finding his way through Spinoza’s works, here he will find a reliable guide speaking in Spinoza’s own words.
“The grand ideas of Spinoza’s Ethics are brought out clearly in this book: not less than the heroic illusions of this great and passionate man.” —Albert Einstein
This edition includes exclusive commentary and biographical notes written by Dagobert D. Runes.