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Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity (Jewish Encounters Series) Paperback – August 11, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
This biography of 17th-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) may seem out of place in the Jewish Encounters series, devoted to Jewish thinkers and themes, because Spinoza denied the importance of Jewish identity, and Amsterdam's Jewish community expelled him for heresy. But Goldstein, author of The Mind-Body Problem and Incompleteness and a professor of philosophy, reconstructs Spinoza's life and traces his metaphysics to his efforts to solve the dilemmas of Jewish identity. The philosopher grew up in a community of Jews who had fled the Spanish-Portuguese Inquisition. As Goldstein argues, Spinoza's "determination to think through his community's tragedy in the most universal terms possible compelled him to devise a unique life for himself, insisting on secularism when the concept of it had not yet been conceived." For Spinoza, "salvation" lay in achieving the radical objectivity of pure reason, which dissolves the contingent facts of one's personal history and religious and ethnic identity. Spinoza's effort to live as neither Jew nor Christian nor Muslim was unthinkable in the 17th century, but his arguments for political and religious tolerance were forerunners for the U.S. Constitution. In this admirable biography, Goldstein shows that Spinoza is paradoxically Jewish, "[f]or what can be more characteristic of a Jewish thinker than to use the Jewish experience as a conduit to universality?" (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Beautifully crafted. What seem like separate issues—Spinoza’s pioneering advocacy of complete freedom of thought in religious matters; the turmoil in the Jewish community; the fateful events in Amsterdam in the closing years of Spinoza’s life; the philosophical developments of the seventeenth century; Spinoza’s idea of a philosophical religion utterly purged of all anthropomorphism, even to the extent of denying that God is a ‘person’ in any sense—come together as if by themselves (the sure sign of a fine artist!) to answer my puzzle: how to understand Spinoza the human being, a man for whom reason itself was a kind of salvation.”
—Hilary Putnam, New York Observer
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I was expecting more development of the connection between Spinoza's thought and the Marrano/Jewish tradition. Also, I was looking for more development of her argument that Spinoza played a major role in "giving us modernity".
The connections here were tenuous and more guessed at than established. Goldstein didn't go into enough detail in trying to make her case on either count. We get mostly loose connections between Spinoza and Marranoism. And on Spinoza's contribution to modernity we get even less. We get: Spinoza was influential on modernity because lots of freethinkers flocked to Amsterdam. Spinoza may have influenced Locke because he went to Amsterdam and left with stronger views on rational, tolerant, republican government. Thomas Jefferson owned a copy of Spinoza's work.
Nonetheless, Goldstein does make room for the stronger point of Spinoza's influence on modernity; namely that he was the first to systematically formulate the essence of modernity: reason, individualism, and freedom.
A good book with plenty of information to chew on, but too much speculation (and if one doesn't read the footnotes, one doesn't know she is speculating).
Most recent customer reviews
Goldstein's varied talents -- philosopher, novelist, humanist.