Small Creatures

Stuart Hampshire

  • Spinoza by R.J. Delahunty
    Routledge, 317 pp, £25.00, May 1985, ISBN 0 7102 0375 6

In the academic study of philosophy in English-speaking countries Spinoza is not usually considered an indispensable source for the central tradition, on a level with Descartes, Locke, Hume and Kant; and probably he never will be. Even advanced students of philosophy often proceed on their way through the 17th century towards Leibniz and Locke without reading the Ethics, Spinoza’s posthumously published definitive work. There are two principal reasons for this comparative neglect. First, a rebarbative style in unbeautiful Latin, full of scholastic terminology, redolent of the Middle Ages, as if he was living in an intellectual ghetto at a time when he and all Europe could read the new, transparent prose of Pascal and Descartes. There is a knotted gracelessness, an obstinate refusal to please, on the surface of his writing. Secondly, he made no useful contributions either to logic or to the philosophy of language, and these have become the dominant interests within English-speaking philosophy. A third reason is that he was a strangely confident metaphysician who had a complete system of the world and of our place within it, a system that he flatly declared to be demonstrably true. Untouched by a decent scepticism or by the conventions of authorial modesty, he can at times seem slightly crazy in his ambitions, as if he has been invented by Swift.

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