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November 24: The Lens Grinder

Lawrence Bush
November 24, 2016
Philosopher Baruch Spinoza was born in the Netherlands on this date in 1632. He made his living as a lens grinder and turned down numerous teaching positions while writing and developing the philosophical outlook that would be explicated (in part through mathematical argument) in Ethics, published after his death in 1677, a book described by Roger Scruton as the “last indisputable Latin masterpiece, and one in which the refined conceptions of medieval philosophy are finally turned against themselves and destroyed entirely.” Spinoza, in rejecting any divine presence that transcends the sacredness of nature, was a pioneer of Enlightenment philosophy, modern humanism, and modern spiritual pantheism. To Spinoza, the universe is deterministic (“Nothing exists from whose nature some effect does not follow,” he wrote); contingencies such as “miracles” simply reveal the incompleteness of human knowledge and apprehension. Joy and sorrow are the two fundamental passions of human life, joy marking our transition to greater perfection, and sadness (and its derivative passions) serving the opposite. These and other perceptions resulted in Spinoza’s excommunication from the Sephardic Jewish community of the Netherlands when he was 23, and the banning of his books by the Church of Rome. “Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.” --Baruch Spinoza

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.