Benedict de Spinoza was a 17th century Jewish-Dutch philosopher, probably most famous for his pantheistic leanings. Pantheism is the view that reality and God are one and the same. In the past I have read plenty of secondary material about Spinoza, and have for a long time been wanting to read his most famous publication, a book entitled ‘Ethics’. I downloaded the audiobook version of Ethics a few months ago but it’s been gathering virtual dust on my phone. Today I finally got around to giving it a listen.
The audiobook is over eight hours long, and I’m only a couple of hours in, so I may return to write another post about Spinoza’s philosophy in the not-too-distant future when I have a more comprehensive understanding of his thought. For today, I wanted to present a few quotes from the book that really resonated with me, and also a few quotes that I found problematic.
Let’s begin, then, with some phrases from the book that I found particularly compelling. I will present a few quotes, followed by a few brief comments. I don’t need to elaborate on every quotation as I go along, as they are fairly self-explanatory. Please forgive me for being unable to provide page references, but such is the nature of the newfangled world of audiobooks.
Spinoza’s belief that God isn’t embodied:
For all who have in anywise reflected upon the divine nature deny that God has a body. Of this, they find excellent proof in the fact that we understand by body a definite quantity — so long, so broad, so deep, bounded by a certain shape — and it is the height of absurdity to predicate such a thing of God, a being absolutely infinite.
Why God isn’t a substance:
If extended substance is infinite, let it be conceived to be divided into two parts. Each part will then be either finite or infinite. If the former, then infinite substance is composed of two finite parts, which is absurd. If the latter, then one infinite will be twice as large as another infinite, which is also absurd.
Extended substance must necessarily be finite, and consequently cannot appertain to the nature of God.
The Freedom of God:
Without God, nothing can be nor be conceived, but that all things are in God. Wherefore nothing can exist, outside Himself, whereby He can be conditioned or constrained to act. Wherefore God acts solely by the laws of His own nature and is not constrained by anyone.
God is the sole free cause, for God alone exists by the necessity of His nature.
God is not separate from existence:
God is the indwelling and not the transient cause of all things.
All is God:
Individual things are nothing but modifications of the attributes of God, or modes by which the attributes of God are expressed in a fixed and definite manner.
So far, so good! I can really relate to many of Spinoza’s statements concerning the nature of God. For many years now I have believed that God cannot be embodied, because a body would mean God is limited. I mean, think about it. Can you envisage a place where God physically exists, where there is an end to His being? It seems obvious to me that there are no boundaries in existence, and that God must therefore be boundless.
There are also some aspects of Spinoza’s philosophy that I disagree with. He seems to argue that God doesn’t have free will, and that things couldn’t exist in any way that is different to the manner in which they do exist. This is counter-intuitive to me, as I certainly believe creation could have been very different — it all depends on what God freely chooses to manifest.
Although it be granted that will pertains to the essence of God, it nevertheless follows from His perfection that things could not have been by Him created other than they are or in a different order.
And another statement I find difficult to agree with…
Whatsoever we conceive to be in the power of God necessarily exists.
I believe God has infinite power, but it doesn’t logically follow from this that everything within God’s power exists. I believe God could create alternate realities where different aspects of His power are displayed.
All things are predetermined by God, not through His free will or absolute fiat, but from the very nature of God or infinite power.
I disagree with the above quotation because I don’t believe everything is predetermined by God. I see God as living and acting in the eternal now, unfolding all events as He wills in this moment. It’s perfectly possible that God makes plans, but I believe He is also free to improvise and change things depending on what He wills for His creation at any given time. This view of mine seems to be quite different to that of Spinoza.
Everything in nature proceeds from a sort of necessity.
I simply disagree with this. What is it that Spinoza believes is making everything in nature necessarily proceed in the way it does? There is no such constraining force or power. God acts to bring about all events in existence, not by necessity, but by free choice.
As I continue to listen to the remainder of the audiobook, I’m looking forward to learning more about Spinoza’s conception of God, because while I can relate in many ways to his pantheism, I don’t yet feel I fully understand the way in which he views God’s relationship with the unfolding events of reality.
What are your views on pantheism and the quotations from Spinoza presented above? Feel free to leave a comment below. Thank you for reading!