- Paperback: 406 pages
- Publisher: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.; Second Printing edition (April 1, 1984)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0915145839
- ISBN-13: 978-0915145836
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,321,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Study of Spinoza's Ethics Second Printing Edition
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With an astonishing erudition . . . and in a direct no-nonsense style, Bennett expounds, compares, and criticizes Spinoza's theses. . . . No one can fail to profit from it. Bennett has succeeded in making Spinoza a philosopher of our time. --W. N. A. Klever, "Studia Spinoza"
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Spinoza closes Ethics with: "If the way that I have shown to lead to this seems to be very arduous, yet it can be discovered. And indeed it must be arduous, since it is found so rarely. For how could it happen that, if salvation were ready at hand and could be found without great labour, it is neglected by almost all? But all excellent things are as difficult as they are rare."
Bennett's book echoes this sentiment.
demanding and probably too difficult for most undergraduates. It should
be required reading for any graduate seminar on the topic. Bennett is
highly critical but at the same time very fair in his analysis. Spinoza's
Ethics is a rigorous and demanding work, and the same could be said for
Bennett's commentary. With this book Spinoza has found a critic he so
Bennett could be a poster boy for 20th century Anglo-American analytical
philosophy. I highly recommend his other works, especially those on
Kant and his magnum opus, Learning From Six Philosophers. The latter
work engages the Big Six of Early Modern Philosophy, Descartes, Spinoza,
Leibniz (the Rationalists) and Locke, Berkeley, and Hume (the Empiricists). Bennett's philosophical writings are sophisticated and penetrating; they are, for lack of better phrasing, keenly analytical. All students of philosophy will profit from his excellent insights.
As the title of Bennett's forthcoming book suggests, his primary interest in a philosopher is not whether he was right in every particular but whether he can be read profitably -- i.e., whether it is worthwhile to engage the philosopher's thought as a means to thinking things through oneself. And happily, Bennett's close and critical reading of Baruch Spinoza's _Ethics_ is carried out in this spirit.
"Happily" because Bennett clearly has major disagreements with Spinoza, and disagreements do not always foster intellectual sympathy. But Bennett insinuates his way very carefully and deliberately into Spinoza's thought, with the skill of a sharp analytical thinker and the ease of one long familiar with his text. This is the sort of disagreement that makes for good philosophy; every philosopher should have a critic of Bennett's caliber.
His exposition of the main lines of Spinoza's thought is clear and (in my opinion) correct. For example, in setting out the essentials of Spinoza's outlook, he makes a nice short argument that Spinoza was not (as is sometimes claimed) an atheist. (This is, by the way, in the context of a fine summary of Spinoza's "rationalism.") I shall not multiply examples in a brief review; suffice it to say that Bennett takes great pains to let Spinoza speak for himself, and even to make arguments for Spinoza that Spinoza did not think to make on his own, before launching into searching criticism and disagreement. (He often begins his replies with remarks like, "This is the very best I can do for Spinoza, but unfortunately it is not good enough.")
And Bennett's disagreements are well-founded even where I disagree with them in turn. For example, he closes the volume with what is undoubtedly a controversial claim: that, based on his close reading, the second half of Chapter Five of the _Ethics_ really has nothing of value to offer the modern reader.
Bennett does not especially like this conclusion and almost wishes that he could have omitted it from the book. Yet he finds himself driven to it by the difficulty -- which even Spinoza's defenders must surely acknowledge -- of finding anything in the passage that admits of any clear interpretation at all. Bennett concludes, with a great deal of justice, that if even Spinoza's keenest expositors descend into feckless handwaving and purple sermonizing when they come to this passage, the view that there is some crucially important meaning in it can hardly be maintained.
Here again, this is just the sort of close, critical analysis to which anyone claiming the title of philosopher should expect to be subjected. (Time and again in reading this work, I am reminded of the tone and manner of C.D. Broad's _Examination of McTaggart's Philosophy_.)
And again, it is clear that Bennett _does_ regard Spinoza's _Ethics_ as profitable reading. This is the sort of approach that helps to keep disparate philosophical "camps" talking to one another.
(And it is a blessed relief from, say, Ayn Rand's nonsensical attacks on Immanuel Kant. Readers of Rand who want to see what genuine philosophical criticism looks like could do worse than to study Bennett. For that matter, some of Rand's shriller _critics_ might well emulate Bennett; though frankly I find Rand a good deal less profitable than Bennett finds Spinoza, it is still a pity that so few critical discussions of Rand's philosophy devote much effort to determining what she said and meant. Then, too, Rand's outlook shared some important features with Spinoza's, and some criticisms of the greater philosopher will therefore apply to the lesser one as well.)
Bennett's work succeeds on several counts, then. Besides being a highly competent dissection of the best-known work of the "saint of rationalism," together with some much-needed critical analysis, it is also a model of how to engage a thinker with whom one has important and perhaps irresoluble disagreements. The enterprise of philosophy can only be strengthened by this sort of thing.
I shall therefore look forward to Bennett's discussions of Leibniz, Berkeley, et alia in his forthcoming book. If they are of this quality, they will be worth reading and rereading.