In part 1, “Concerning God,” Spinoza reasons that God and the cosmos are the same; they are two different names for the one essential substance that makes up the whole universe. This substance is infinite but is revealed to us through the two attributes of thought and matter.
The forms in which the one substance comes into being in the world--such as in oak trees and spaniels--are called its modes. Every mode is what it is because that is what it had to be in God’s creation. No end or purpose governs life; all things are simply interconnected manifestations of Nature, or God. Everything is determined by necessity.
Part 2, “Of the Nature and Origin of the Mind,” tries to establish the parallelism between ideas and objects. The mind has no free will, Spinoza says, but is determined by a series of causes that regress to infinity. Knowing this, we should find peace in our understanding that we think what we think, do what we do, out of divine necessity. Furthermore, we should meet all that happens to us with tranquility.
In parts 3 and 4 Spinoza analyzes and defines the emotions. He argues that our human inability to control our emotions is a form of bondage, and that good and bad are but relative terms: To be good is to wish to align our desires with God’s necessity; to be bad is to resist that necessity.
Finally, part 5, “Of Human Freedom,” teaches that whatever power we can exert over our emotions is due to our understanding of divine necessity.
Bennett, Jonathan. A Study of Spinoza’s “Ethics.” Indianapolis: Hackett, 1984. In outline form, expounds Ethics in considerable detail. Raises hard questions of the text; judges the second half of part five to be worthless.
Browne, Lewis. Blessed Spinoza: A Biography of the Philosopher. New York: Macmillan, 1932. A lively, well-written account of Baruch Spinoza’s life by a professional biographer. A good introduction to Spinoza the man. Should be augmented by more current research.
Chappell, Vere, ed. Baruch de Spinoza. New York: Garland, 1992. A very short biography of Spinoza accompanied by a series of essays explaining and discussing his...
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