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Spinoza: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) [Paperback]

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Item Number 160428  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   129
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.5" Width: 4.25" Height: 6.75"
Weight:   0.3 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Aug 29, 2002
Publisher   Oxford University Press
ISBN  0192803166  
EAN  9780192803160  

Availability  2 units.
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Item Description...
Father of the Enlightenment and the last guardian of the medieval world, Spinoza made a brilliant attempt to reconcile the conflicting moral and intellectual demands of his epoch and to present a vision of man as simultaneously bound by necessity and eternally free. Ostracized by the Jewish community in Amsterddam to which he was born, Spinoza developed a political philosophy that set out to justify the secular state ruled by a liberal constitution, and a metaphysics that sought to reconcile human freedom with a belief in scientific explanation. Here, Roger Scruton presents a clear and systematic analysis of Spinoza's thought and shows its relevance to today's intellectual preoccupations.

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More About Roger Scruton

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Roger Scruton is the author of a number of books, including Modern Philosophy and A Short History of Philosophy. Formerly Professor of Aesthetics at Birkbeck College, London University, and a visiting professor at Boston University, he lives in Wiltshire, England.

Roger Scruton currently resides in Wiltshire. Roger Scruton has an academic affiliation as follows - Birkbeck College, University of London (Emeritus) American Enterprise.

Roger Scruton has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Gifford Lectures
  2. Very Short Introductions

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Slash through Spinoza's metaphysical jungle...  Jul 22, 2007
Anyone who has dove into the bowels of Spinoza's most famous work, "The Ethics," without adequate preparation has probably felt similar to a cat thrown into the deep end of a pool. After all, doesn't the title suggest that the book will discuss how to live "ethically?" Instead a tidal wave of abstruse metaphysics washes over the reader of Section One, called "Of God." And what about Spinoza's chosen format? Oh boy. Definitions that lead to propositions and quasi-mathematical conclusions? Not to mention all of those somewhat humorous "Q.E.D.s." A few pages in, the uninitiated may slam the book shut, curse the name of philosophy, and return to the familiar, and almost equally arcane, world of online gaming. So what's the big deal about Spinoza's magnum opus? How could such a strange book, replete with such strange thoughts, survive as a masterpiece of philosophy? Shouldn't such a seeming anachronism have gone the way of alchemy? Or does this poo conceal a golden treasure trove?

For beginners, Roger Scruton's microscopic book, slim as an iPod, goes a long way towards answering such questions. The bulk of its 54 pages focuses on "The Ethics" and concludes with his own interpretations of what this strange book could mean for twenty-first century people. In essence, Scruton characterizes Spinoza's Euclid-inspired work as comprising a system that encompasses all of reality. That's a big claim. Not only that, "The Ethics" does not philosophize for its own sake. Spinoza was a lens grinder, not a professor, and thus not shackled to the "publish or perish" hamster wheel of academia so familiar today. He didn't write "The Ethics" to secure tenure. In fact, it was so controversial that it wasn't even published until he died ("publish and perish" probably describes those religiously volatile times). This bizarre work instead delineates a metaphysical system and then, based on the implications of this system, deduces how humans should live. Only after taking a machete to Spinoza's metaphysical jungle does the work's title become evident. This book helps sharpen the blade.

Scruton delves into Spinoza's definitions, an understanding of which necessitates comprehension of the whole system. He pulls away the goo adhering to such terms as "cause of itself," "finite in its own kind," "substance," "attribute," "mode," and even "God." In under twenty pages the book gives a suitable high-level outline of Spinoza's metaphysics. Of course, given the space limitations, much detail gets ignored. Scruton does not discuss Spinoza's voluminous proofs, for example. After examining the idea that human beings remain finite modes of the self-existing substance ("God"), the discussion turns to Spinoza's theory of knowledge, views on individuality, and free will through internal "conatus" (or essence of being). Human beings, according to these ideas, are deterministic beings constrained by external and internal forces. Since all causation derives from the self-existing substance (again, "God") our "mission" becomes seeking and finding the infinite ("sub specie aeternitatis") amongst the finite ("sub specie durationis"). This unbinds us from the knots of time. Ultimately, reason becomes the prime mover to help human beings achieve both happiness and a sense of the infinite cause. We can do this by mastering our emotions and enhancing our understandings. Don't let impulsive passions predominate. Think. "A free man" recognizes the limitations and determinations of our human nature. Freedom then comes from the realization that we are not free. We find bliss in the rational contemplation of the self-existent, all-causing substance. As such, we have an impassionate relationship with this impassionate substance Spinoza calls "God." This path leads to views of God that contradict our traditional notions, namely, that God neither hates nor loves anything, God feels neither joy nor sorrow. God seems wholly impersonal, but nonetheless the object of our contemplation. No such system has ever existed in the western philosophical tradition. No wonder it wasn't published during his life. Spinoza doubtless remained aware of the dangers of doing so.

The book does not include much detail about Spinoza's life. It does not examine in depth the historical charges of atheism or heresy. Elucidation of Spinoza's philosophical system remains the focus throughout. Scruton summarizes, rather ominously, that "Spinoza undertook what has rarely been attempted, and never so boldly or arrogantly achieved: he gave a description in outline of all that there is, and a guide in detail as to how to live with it." In other words, Spinoza took on the big questions of existence (Scruton depicts post-modernism as the rejection of these questions) and at the very least presented a relatively comprehensible philosophical framework. Though not everyone will agree with the conclusions Scruton draws in the book's final section, the book as a whole nonetheless provides a good introduction to a very notable and unique metaphysical and ethical system.
There is much to learn from this insightful introduction  Mar 3, 2005
Scruton provides an excellent short biography of Spinoza's life and a good description of the world in which he lived. He invokes the biographical memoir of a contemporary and friend of Spinoza, Colerus. Scruton says " From this we learn of the simplicity and naturalness of Spinoza's life and character, and of the high esteem in which he was held by acquaintances and friends. The seclusion of Spinoza's life was necessitated by intense labour and intellectual discipline , and his frugality expressed independence of spirit rather than meanness of self- concern."
Scruton speaks of the magnificence and ambition of the last great Latin masterpiece, Spinoza's 'Ethics'. He has chapters on Spinoza's view of God, of Man, of Freedom,and one on his legacy.
This is a rich work from which much can be learned. As Scruton says for Spinoza "scientific objectivity and divine worship " are the two forms of freedom.
Spinoza for Will Durant was the one philosopher who lived as he wrote. This short work gives evidence of this congruence between work and life.
If this book is so bad why arn't there more used copies?  Dec 25, 2003
If this book is so bad why arn't people selling their used copies at low, low prices on this This author seems to be able to put forward a different point of view that makes people think.Unfortunatly because it is an Introductory book the people who read it seem not to want to do so. Perhaps Roger S. should have saved his thoughts for more enlightened readers.
Luckily, it will not be reprinted  Nov 7, 2003
Roger Scruton's book on Spinoza is a waste of time. As a professor of philosophy Scruton should surely have come up with something better than this. It does not serve to explain Spinoza's thought, and it betrays the point of the series that it belongs to when it obstinately refuses to explicate Spinoza's works. This book should never have been published, and this will no doubt be its final printing. Spinoza is the pivotal philosopher who mediates between early modern philosophy and that of the Enlightenment period, which he belonged to as one of its most important players. Luckily, other modestly priced and thorough accounts of Spinoza already exist: the Cambridge Companion to Spinoza (from which Scruton is noticably absent) and the wonderfully researched biography entitled Spinoza: A Life, by Steven Nadler. This latter book follows in the methodological footseps of the medievalist historian Johan Huizinga, who wrote such benchmark books on intellectual history as Erasmus and the Age of Reformation and The Autumn of the Middle Ages. A third book to consider, one that places elements of Spinoza's philosophy in the proper context of his Enlightenment contemporaries, is Jonathan Israel's book Radical Enlightenment. Spinoza's thought has recently been revived in other countries, most notably in France, and for this reason his work and its influence are currently being taught at the university level in humanities departments as diverse as film studies, literature, and of course philosophy. The essential work to own by Spinoza is his Ethics, edited, translated and annotated by the scholar GHR Parkinson. However, other texts of Spinoza have also attracted increased attention, notably in "The New Spinoza" (U Minnesota P) and Antonio Negri's "Savage Anomaly."
Short Intro? No, long criticism!  Nov 6, 2003
This essay is more about Roger Scruton's ideas about Spinoza's philosophy that about Spinoza's philosophy itself. He spends too much of this short book on criticism of Spinoza's geometric method of presentation and hardly any on his vision.
Typically he says on the last page of the book that "it is no accident that Spinoza should have called forth so sharp an attack from the other false prophet of atheism, Nietzsche," and concludes with a quote from Nietzsche.
If Scruton considers Spinoza a "false prophet of atheism" he has self-confessed an ignorance of Spinoza's work.

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