Baruch Spinoza was a 17th century lens grinder known for his precision optical work. But it was his philosophy that made this Dutch-Jewish thinker famous, then and now. IDEAS host Paul Kennedy explores how Spinoza's thoughts on God, the universe, ethics and politics helped ignite the flame that became the Enlightenment.
Baruch Spinoza was a 17th century Dutch Jewish philosopher (1632-1677). He was known for his radical views on religion and politics. As a young man, he was banned by his own religious community for his scandalous ideas.
He made his living by grinding precision lens for scientists. He died young, at the age of 44, presumably from inhaling glass dust.
Spinoza did not believe that God created the heavens and earth - the universe. For Spinoza, God was equivalent to all of nature. He believed that "false religion" created superstition. A "true religion," on the other hand, was liberating because it allowed freedom of thought.
The Europe of 17th century was a place of stifling religious orthodoxies, strife and war. Spinoza believed in freedom of thought and the principle of religious tolerance.
Spinoza also had radical ideas about the nature of politics. He believed in democracy. He is credited with helping to shape the revolution in human thought known as The Enlightenment.
This program is an introduction to Spinoza's life and thought. It features three Spinoza scholars:
Steven Nadler, The William H. Hay II professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His books include Spinoza: A Life, and A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and The Birth of the Secular Age. A list of his books and publications are available on his website.
Beth Lord, Principal Investigator for the AHRC Spinoza Research Network. University of Dundee, Scotland Author of Spinoza's Ethics: An Edinburgh Philosophical Guide.
Susan James, professor, Department of Philosophy, Birkbeck College, University of London. Author of Spinoza on Philosophy, Religion, and Politics:The Theologico-Political Treatise.