Horrible Heresies

Jonathan Rée

  • The Collected Works of Spinoza Vol. II edited and translated by Edwin Curley
    Princeton, 769 pp, £40.95, June 2016, ISBN 978 0 691 16763 3

Baruch Spinoza was fascinated by human follies, and in the Ethica he set out to examine them dispassionately. ‘These turmoils move me neither to laughter nor even to tears,’ he said, ‘but to philosophising.’ With philosophy’s help he cast a cold eye on servitus humana, or ‘human bondage’, arguing that our ‘vices and absurdities’ were not anomalies or aberrations but, like the rest of our ‘affects’, part of the ordinary course of nature. He presented his analysis in terse, impassive Latin, beginning with explicit axioms and definitions, proceeding through numbered propositions and scholia, and drawing conclusions ‘in the geometric style’. Here, for example, is his account of ‘ambition’, or the yearning for public approval:

From the fact that we imagine others to love or hate something, we shall love or hate it too (by P27), i.e. (by P13S), we shall thereby rejoice in or be saddened by its presence; and so (by P28) we shall strive to do whatever we imagine others to love or to look on with joy, etc., QED.

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[*] While Curley was still at work, he was overtaken by the good but comparatively unscholarly Spinoza: The Complete Works, translated by Samuel Shirley et al., edited by Michael L. Morgan (2002).