Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
A geometric demonstration of ethics is a novelty in the history of thought, but Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics is famous not because of, but in spite of, its novelty of method. The principal advantage of the method is that it reveals Spinoza’s thought as clearly as possible. Although the demonstrations may not satisfy critics who concern themselves only with definitions and logical form, they are strongly persuasive for those who, already committed to the love of the good and of God, need clarity and structure in their thoughts.
Spinoza begins with definitions, proceeds to axioms (unproved but acceptable), and then moves to propositions and demonstrations. If one wishes to find fault with Spinoza’s argument, any place is vulnerable: One can quarrel about the definitions, doubt the truth of the axioms, or question the validity of the demonstrations. To reject the book, however, one would need to question the integrity of Spinoza’s spirit.
It has long been regarded an error in philosophy to attempt to deduce what people ought to do from a study of what people do, but what Spinoza attempts is a deduction of what people ought to do from a study of what must be, according to his definitions and axioms. The primary criticism of his method, then, is not that he errs—although most critics find errors in Spinoza—but that he tries to use logical means to derive ethical truths. The criticism depends on the assumption that ethical truths are...
(The entire section is 2105 words.)
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