- Paperback: 896 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 1, 1983)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674665953
- ISBN-13: 978-0674665958
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.8 x 8.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #539,278 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Philosophy of Spinoza: Unfolding the Latent Process of His Reasoning (Two Volumes bound as One) Paperback – March 1, 1983
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Wolfson has tracked Spinoza to his lair in a work of scholarship and erudition hard to duplicate. The Philosophy of Spinoza is a commentary, frequently brilliant and revelatory, on every definition, axiom and proposition of the Ethics...He argues his thesis with persuasion and wit...and writes in a style that is a model of clarity. His is a work of first magnitude. (New Republic)
No one will read his book without being stirred to enthusiasm for its rigorous comprehensiveness, its scrupulous lucidity, and the asceticism of its devotion not only to the thought of Spinoza, but to that vast learning to which Spinoza fell heir. (Saturday Review)
When the investigation is of such magistral scholarship and pointed clarity as this longawaited work...it is of moment that it be called to the attention of all laymen with the least pretensions to philosophy. Wolfson's scholarship is just such as to give the reader the help in understanding Spinoza that he needs. (New York Times)
About the Author
Harry Austryn Wolfson was Nathan Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy, Emeritus, Harvard University.
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Locating Spinoza on the cusp between the medieval and the modern worlds, he maintains that Spinoza is at once the last of the medievals and the first of the moderns. Tagging these two aspects of Spinoza's thought "Baruch" and "Benedictus," Wolfson argues that in order to understand what "Benedictus" says, it is necessary to reconstruct what has "passed through the mind of Baruch."
And that is just what Wolfson attempts to do. His work is a systematic and basically self-explanatory presentation of what Spinoza said and thought, with the _Ethics_ naturally taken as the central text in need of explication. With monumental thoroughness, Wolfson dissects Spinoza's writings on numerous matters of philosophy and theology and (most helpfully) compares his thought on many points with that of Moses Maimonides (whom Wolfson names as one of the three dominant influences on Spinoza's thought, the other two being Descartes and -- sometimes indirectly -- Aristotle). And in general, Wolfson's familiarity with relevant Jewish philosophical literature is a tremendous asset put to good use.
Wolfson concludes his examination with a chapter entitled, "What is New in Spinoza?" Here he argues that Spinoza undertook three "acts of daring" by way of repairing breaks within the unity and homogeneity of nature as conceived by his predecessors: he declared that God has the attribute of extension as well as of thought; he denied design and purpose in God; and he insisted on the complete inseparability of the soul from the body. That Spinoza thereby departed from the traditional theologies of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and what implications this departure has for Spinoza's rational theology, is the subject of the remainder of the closing chapter.
In portions of his work, Wolfson tends to rely on psychological rather than philosophical explanation in order to set out why Spinoza holds certain views. This is in some respects a defensible approach (and Wolfson, of course, does defend it). However, Wolfson's work should probably be supplemented by a good commentary on purely philosophical questions. It is too bad H.H. Joachim's _Study of the Ethics of Spinoza_ is no longer in print, for it fills the bill admirably.