Centre for Continuing Education

Philosophy Course: Spinoza

Philosophy. Study the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence.

Spinoza was one of the towering philosophers of the 17th century, described by Bertrand Russell as "the noblest and most lovable of all the great philosophers". His work investigates some of the deepest questions of philosophy. He made significant contributions to understanding the human mind, the emotions, moral philosophy and politics.

In this introductory course, we will focus on Spinoza’s ideas and cover all of his major works. The central text for discussion is Ethics, Demonstrated in Geometrical Order, written by Spinoza in 1664. We will also discuss his relationship to the Jewish Sephardic community in Amsterdam where he lived, which is pertinent to his political philosophy. The course will conclude with an assessment of Spinoza’s ideas for the now.

Aims

This course aims to:

  • provide an overview of the origins and complexities of the many theories developed by Spinoza
  • make the connection between Spinoza’s personal history and the development of his ideas on ethics and politics
  • demonstrate the important role played by Spinoza in our understanding of human nature and the human mind
  • demonstrate the substantial contribution which Spinoza made to later philosophy
  • provide an understanding of the complex structure of the internal workings of the emotions.

Outcomes

By the end of the course, you should be able to:

  • discuss the main events of Spinoza’s life and times
  • identify the important concepts in his philosophy
  • relate Spinoza’s theory to personal ethical decisions
  • understand your own emotions in more depth
  • relate Spinoza’s theory to contemporary issues in ethics and politics.

Content

Introduction to concepts

Given that Spinoza was excommunicated for his misbelief in a transcendental God or an afterlife, we will discuss what he means by the word ‘God’. The other central concept to be worked out at this point is his idea of ‘intelligibility’.

Biography

Spinoza (1632-77) was born into the Jewish Sephardic community in Amsterdam. His relationship to this community and Jewish philosophy is complex and underpins many of his views on ethics and politics.

Philosophy of mind

Spinoza’s philosophy of human mental states is rich and well ahead of its time; it influenced many later thinkers. A primary question is – how does the mind represent the world?

Between mind and body

Spinoza is an antidote to Descartes dualism. For Spinoza, the mind is the ‘idea’ of the body. We will examine this complex issue.

Psychology: striving and self-preservation

‘Conatus’ is a linchpin term for Spinoza which entails our striving in the world and the power of acting effectively to achieve self-preservation and flourish.

Emotions: positive and negative

Spinoza has much to say about our emotional states. He considers desire, joy, love, sadness and hate. Joy for him is the transition of the mind to a greater power.

Ethics

Spinoza has been described in many different ways: as a pragmatist, hedonist, egoist, determinist, religious moralist; some of these positions are paradoxical. We will examine his Ethics and work out his theory which encompasses some unusual crossovers.

Ethics and freedom

Spinoza correlates the notion of freedom with the idea of ‘goodness’. His political philosophy and his ethics are dependent on each other.

Politics and the State

Spinoza’s politics were very controversial for his time, and we will discuss that they still are and that we have much to learn from his ideas.

Spinoza now

What does Spinoza still have to say to our time on ethics, religion, politics and psychology?

Intended audience

Anyone with a general interest in philosophy and Spinoza.

Delivery style

Lecture/seminar.

Materials

Handouts are provided in class.

Features

  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Free, expert advice
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

Philosophy Course: Spinoza

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