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Short description: Philosophical system of Baruch Spinoza

Spinozism (also spelled Spinozaism) is the monist philosophical system of Baruch Spinoza that defines "God" as a singular self-subsistent substance, with both matter and thought being attributes of such.[1]

In a letter to Henry Oldenburg, Spinoza wrote: "as to the view of certain people that I identify god with nature (taken as a kind of mass or corporeal matter), they are quite mistaken".[2] For Spinoza, our universe (cosmos) is a mode under infinite attributes, of which we can perceive two: Thought and Extension. God has infinitely many other attributes which are not present in our world. According to German philosopher Karl Jaspers, when Spinoza wrote "Deus sive Natura" ("God or Nature") he meant God was Natura naturans not Natura naturata, that is, "a dynamic nature in action, growing and changing, not a passive or static thing."

Core doctrine

It cannot be overemphasized how the rest of Spinoza's philosophy, his philosophy of mind, epistemology, psychology, moral philosophy, political philosophy, and philosophy of religion – flows more or less directly from the metaphysical underpinnings in Part I of the Ethics.[3]

Early in The Ethics Spinoza argues that there is only one substance, which is absolutely infinite, self-caused, and eternal.[citation needed] Substance causes an infinite number of attributes (the intellect perceiving an abstract concept or essence) and modes (things following from attributes and modes).[clarification needed] He calls this substance "God or Nature". In fact, he takes these two terms to be synonymous (in Latin the phrase he uses is "Deus sive Natura"). During his time, this statement was seen as literally equating the existing world with God - for which he was accused of atheism.[citation needed]

One should, however, remember the neutral monist position. While the natural universe humans experience in the realm of mind and physical reality is part of God, it is only two attributes – thought and extension – that are part of infinite attributes emanating from God.[citation needed]

His philosophy was part of the philosophic debate in Europe during the Enlightenment, along with Cartesianism. Specifically, Spinoza disagreed with Descartes on substance duality, Descartes' views on the will and the intellect, and the subject of free will.[4]

In Spinozism, the concept of a personal relationship with God comes from the position that one is a part of an infinite interdependent "organism." Spinoza argued that everything is a derivative of God, interconnected with all of existence. Although humans experience only thought and extension, what happens to one aspect of existence will affect others. Thus, Spinozism teaches a form of determinism and ecology, and uses these as a basis for morality.[citation needed]

Additionally, a core doctrine of Spinozism is that the universe is essentially deterministic. All that happens or will happen could not have unfolded in any other way. Spinoza claimed that the third kind of knowledge, intuition, is the highest kind. More specifically, he defined intuition as the ability of the human intellect to intuit knowledge based upon its accumulated understanding of the world.[citation needed]


Spinoza defines "substance" as follows:

By substance I understand what is in itself and is conceived through itself, i.e., that whose concept does not require the concept of another thing, from which it must be formed. (E1D3)[5]

This means, essentially, that substance is just whatever can be thought of without relating it to any other idea or thing. For example, if one thinks of a particular object, one thinks of it as a kind of thing, e.g., x is a cat. Substance, on the other hand, is to be conceived of by itself, without understanding it as a particular kind of thing, because it is not a particular thing.


Spinoza defines "attribute" as follows:

By attribute I understand what the intellect perceives of a substance, as constituting its essence. (E1D4)[5]

From this it can be seen that attributes are related to substance. It is not clear, however, even from Spinoza's direct definition, whether attributes are really the way(s) substance is, or attributes are simply ways to understand substance, but not necessarily the ways it really is. Spinoza thinks that there are an infinite number of attributes, but there are two attributes for which Spinoza thinks we can have knowledge, namely: thought and extension.[6]

The attribute of thought is how substance can be understood to be composed of thoughts, i.e., thinking things. When we understand a particular thing through the attribute of thought, we are understanding the mode as an idea of something (either another idea, or an object).[citation needed]

The attribute of extension is how substance can be understood to be physically extended in space. Particular things that occupy space are what is meant by extended. It follows from this that if substance and God are identical, in Spinoza's view, and contrary to the traditional conception, God has extension as one of his attributes.[citation needed]


Modes are particular modifications of substance, i.e., particular things in the world. Spinoza gives the following definition:

By mode I understand the affections of a substance, or that which is in another through which it is also conceived. (E1D5)[5]

Substance monism

The argument for there only being one substance (or, more colloquially, one kind of stuff) in the universe occurs in the first fourteen propositions of The Ethics. The following proposition expresses Spinoza's commitment to substance monism:

Except God, no substance can be or be conceived. (E1P14)[5]

Spinoza takes this proposition to follow directly from everything he says prior to it. Spinoza's monism is contrasted with Descartes' dualism and Leibniz's pluralism. Thus, Spinoza avoids the unsolvable problem of how mind and body interact, which troubled Descartes in his Meditations on First Philosophy. Specifically, how can immaterial mind interface with material body, and vice-versa? They exist in wholly different categories.

Causality and modality

The issue of causality and modality (possibility and necessity) in Spinoza's philosophy is contentious.[7] Spinoza's philosophy is, in one sense, thoroughly deterministic (or necessitarian). This can be seen directly from Axiom 3 of The Ethics:

From a given determinate cause the effect follows necessarily; and conversely, if there is no determinate cause, it is impossible for an effect to follow. (E1A3)[5]

Yet Spinoza seems to make room for a kind of freedom, especially in the fifth and final section of The Ethics, "On the Power of the Intellect, or on Human Freedom":

I pass now to the remaining Part of the Ethics, which concerns the means or way to Freedom. Here, then, I shall treat of the power of reason, showing what it can do against the affects, and what Freedom of Mind, or blessedness, is. (E5, Preface)[5]

So Spinoza certainly has a use for the word "freedom", but he equates "Freedom of Mind" with "blessedness", a notion which is not traditionally associated with freedom of the will at all.

The principle of sufficient reason

Although the principle of sufficient reason (PSR) is most commonly associated with Gottfried Leibniz, it is arguably found in its strongest form in Spinoza's philosophy.[8] Within the context of Spinoza's philosophical system, the PSR can be understood to unify causation and explanation.[9] What this means is that for Spinoza, questions regarding the reason why a given phenomenon is the way it is (or exists) are always answerable, and are always answerable in terms of the relevant cause(s). This constitutes a rejection of teleological, or final causation, except possibly in a more restricted sense for human beings.[5][9] Given this, Spinoza's views regarding causality and modality begin to make much more sense.


Spinoza's philosophy contains as a key proposition the notion that mental and physical (thought and extension) phenomena occur in parallel, but without causal interaction between them. He expresses this proposition as follows:

The order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things. (E2P7)[5]

His proof of this proposition is that:

The knowledge of an effect depends on, and involves, the knowledge of its cause. (E1A4)[5]

The reason Spinoza thinks parallelism follows from this axiom is that, since the idea we have of each thing requires knowledge of its cause, such a cause must be understood under the same attribute. Further, there is only one substance, so whenever we understand some chain of ideas concerning things, we understand that the way the ideas are causally related must be the same as the way the things themselves are related, since the ideas and the things are both God's modes, but pertain to different attributes.

Pantheism controversy

Main page: Philosophy:Pantheism controversy

In 1785, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi published a condemnation of Spinoza's pantheism, after Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was thought to have confessed on his deathbed to being a "Spinozist", which was the equivalent in his time of being called a heretic. Jacobi claimed that Spinoza's doctrine was pure materialism, because all Nature and God are said to be nothing but extended substance. This, for Jacobi, was the result of Enlightenment rationalism and it would finally end in absolute atheism. Moses Mendelssohn disagreed with Jacobi, saying that there is no actual difference between theism and pantheism. The entire issue became a major intellectual and religious concern for European civilization at the time, which Immanuel Kant rejected, as he thought that attempts to conceive of transcendent reality would lead to antinomies (statements that could be proven both right and wrong) in thought.

The attraction of Spinoza's philosophy to late eighteenth-century Europeans was that it provided an alternative to materialism, atheism, and deism. Three of Spinoza's ideas strongly appealed to them:

  • the unity of all that exists;
  • the regularity of all that happens; and
  • the identity of spirit and nature.

For intellectuals of the time, it was also much safer to be a Spinozist than to openly identify as an atheist or a deist, as these things were often criminally punishable and at the very least, would guarantee one's social ostracism.[citation needed]

Spinoza's "God or Nature" [Deus sive Natura] provided a living, natural God, in contrast to the Newtonian mechanical "First Cause" or the dead mechanism of the French "Man Machine." Coleridge and Shelley saw in Spinoza's philosophy a religion of nature[10] and called him the "God-intoxicated Man."[11][12] Spinoza inspired the poet Shelley to write his essay "The Necessity of Atheism."[11]

Spinoza was considered to be an atheist because he used the word "God" [Deus] to signify a concept that was different from that of traditional Judeo–Christian monotheism. "Spinoza expressly denies personality and consciousness to God; he has neither intelligence, feeling, nor will; he does not act according to purpose, but everything follows necessarily from his nature, according to law...."[13] Thus, Spinoza's cool, indifferent God differs from the concept of an anthropomorphic, fatherly God who cares about humanity.[14]

Comparison to Eastern philosophies

Similarities between Spinoza's philosophy and Eastern philosophical traditions have been discussed by many authorities. The 19th-century German Sanskritist Theodore Goldstücker was one of the early figures to notice the similarities between Spinoza's religious conceptions and the Vedanta tradition of India, writing that Spinoza's thought was "... a western system of philosophy which occupies a foremost rank amongst the philosophies of all nations and ages, and which is so exact a representation of the ideas of the Vedanta, that we might have suspected its founder to have borrowed the fundamental principles of his system from the Hindus, did his biography not satisfy us that he was wholly unacquainted with their doctrines... We mean the philosophy of Spinoza, a man whose very life is a picture of that moral purity and intellectual indifference to the transitory charms of this world, which is the constant longing of the true Vedanta philosopher... comparing the fundamental ideas of both we should have no difficulty in proving that, had Spinoza been a Hindu, his system would in all probability mark a last phase of the Vedanta philosophy."[15][16]

It has also been said that Spinozism is similar to the Hindu doctrines of Samkhya and Yoga. Although within the various existing Indian traditions there exist many traditions which astonishingly had such similar doctrines from ages, out of which most similar and well known are the Kashmiri Shaivism and Nath tradition, apart from already existing Samkhya and Yoga.[17]

Max Muller, in his lectures, noted the striking similarities between Vedanta and the system of Spinoza, saying "the Brahman, as conceived in the Upanishads and defined by Sankara, is clearly the same as Spinoza's 'Substantia'."[18] Helena Blavatsky, a founder of the Theosophical Society also compared Spinoza's religious thought to Vedanta, writing in an unfinished essay "As to Spinoza's Deity – natura naturans – conceived in his attributes simply and alone; and the same Deity – as natura naturata or as conceived in the endless series of modifications or correlations, the direct outflowing results from the properties of these attributes, it is the Vedantic Deity pure and simple."[19]

Modern interpretations

German philosopher Karl Jaspers believed that Spinoza, in his philosophical system, did not mean to say that God and Nature are interchangeable terms, but rather that God's transcendence was attested by his infinitely many attributes, and that two attributes known by humans, namely Thought and Extension, signified God's immanence.[20] Even God under the attributes of thought and extension cannot be identified strictly with our world. That world is of course "divisible"; it has parts. But Spinoza insists that "no attribute of a substance can be truly conceived from which it follows that the substance can be divided" (Which means that one cannot conceive an attribute in a way that leads to division of substance), and that "a substance which is absolutely infinite is indivisible" (Ethics, Part I, Propositions 12 and 13).[21]

Following this logic, our world should be considered as a mode under two attributes of thought and extension. Therefore, the pantheist formula "One and All" would apply to Spinoza only if the "One" preserves its transcendence and the "All" were not interpreted as the totality of finite things.[20]

French philosopher Martial Guéroult suggested the term "panentheism", rather than "pantheism" to describe Spinoza's view of the relation between God and the world. The world is not God, but it is, in a strong sense, "in" God. Not only do finite things have God as their cause; they cannot be conceived without God.[21] In other words, the world is a subset of God. American philosopher Charles Hartshorne, on the other hand, suggested the term "classical pantheism" to describe Spinoza's philosophy.[22] In 1978[23] the British philosopher Charles Jarrett[24] published one of the first formalizations of the first part of the Spinoza's Ethics, which used a mix[25] of first-order logic[26] and modal logic in S5.[27]

Speculative realism, a movement in post-continental philosophy, is highly indebted to Spinozaist metaphysics.[28]

See also


  1. Zalta, Edward N., ed (Summer 2020). "Baruch Spinoza: God or Nature". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The Metaphysics Research Lab, Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University. OCLC 643092515. Retrieved 7 August 2021. 
  2. Correspondence of Benedict de Spinoza, Wilder Publications (March 26, 2009), ISBN:1-60459-156-0, letter 73
  3. Della Rocca, Michael. (2008). Spinoza. Routledge., pg. 33.
  4. Michael L. Morgan, ed., Spinoza: Complete Works, translated by Samuel Shirley (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2002), 119n6.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 Curley, Edwin M. (1985). The Collected Works of Spinoza. Princeton University Press.
  8. Della Rocca, Michael. (2008). Spinoza, Routledge.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Della Rocca, Spinoza, 2008.
  10. Anthony Gottlieb. "God Exists, Philosophically (review of "Spinoza: A Life" by Steven Nadler)". The New York Times – Books. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Harold Bloom (book reviewer) (June 16, 2006). "Deciphering Spinoza, the Great Original – Book review of "Betraying Spinoza. The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity." By Rebecca Goldstein". The New York Times. 
  12. Hutchison, Percy (November 20, 1932). "Spinoza, "God-Intoxicated Man"; Three Books Which Mark the Three Hundredth Anniversary of the Philosopher's Birth BLESSED SPINOZA. A Biography. By Lewis Browne. 319 pp. New York: The Macmillan Company. $4. SPINOZA. Liberator of God and Man. By Benjamin De Casseres, 145pp. New York: E. Wickham Sweetland. $2. SPINOZA THE BIOSOPHER. By Frederick Kettner. Introduc- tion by Nicholas Roerich, New Era Library. 255 pp. New York: Roerich Museum Press. $2.50. Spinoza". The New York Times. 
  13. Frank Thilly, A History of Philosophy, § 47, Holt & Co., New York, 1914
  14. "I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings.” These words were spoken by Albert Einstein, upon being asked if he believed in God by Rabbi Herbert Goldstein of the Institutional Synagogue, New York, April 24, 1921, published in the New York Times, April 25, 1929; from Einstein: The Life and Times Ronald W. Clark, New York: World Publishing Co., 1971, p. 413; also cited as a telegram to a Jewish newspaper, 1929, Einstein Archive 33–272, from Alice Calaprice, ed., The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
  15. Literary Remains of the Late Professor Theodore Goldstucker, W. H. Allen, 1879. p32.
  16. The Westminster Review, Volumes 78–79, Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1862. p1862
  17. Disguised and overt Spinozism around 1700 – Page 133
  18. Three Lectures on the Vedanta Philosophy. F. Max Muller. Kessinger Publishing, 2003. p123
  19. H.P Blavatsky's Collected Writings, Volume 13, pages 308–310. Quest Books
  20. 20.0 20.1 Karl Jaspers, Spinoza (Great Philosophers), Harvest Books (October 23, 1974), ISBN:0-15-684730-2, Pages: 14 and 95
  21. 21.0 21.1 Genevieve Lloyd, Routledge Philosophy GuideBook to Spinoza and The Ethics (Routledge Philosophy Guidebooks), Routledge; 1 edition (October 2, 1996), ISBN:0-415-10782-2, Page: 40
  22. Charles Hartshorne and William Reese, "Philosophers Speak of God," Humanity Books, 1953, ch 4.
  23. Jarrett, Charles (1978). "The Logical Structure of Spinoza's Ethics, Part I". Synthese 37 (1): 15–65. doi:10.1007/BF00869440. ISSN 0039-7857. OCLC 5543732160. Retrieved June 8, 2021. 
  24. "Dr. Charles Jarrett Retiring". The State University of New Jersey, Rutgers Camden College of Arts and Science, Department of Philosophy and Religion. June 1, 2012. 
  25. Sierra Marquez, Pablo; Michiel van Lambalgen (August 31, 1990) (pdf). A formalization of Spinoza's Ethics, Part 1: Consequences for interpretation.. University of Amsterdam, Institute for Logic, Language and Computation. p. 5.  (MSc Thesis in Logic)
  26. Jarrett, Charles (1989) (pdf). Spinoza: a Guide for the Perplexed. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-8264-8595-3. OCLC 610149746. "Later thinkers have objected that existence ‘adds nothing’ to the concept of a thing and that ‘exists’ is not a predicate. Modern variations of the argument appear to obviate these objections with the help of modal logic." 
  27. Bennett, Jonathan; van Inwagen, Peter (September 1, 1984). "Reviewed Work(s): The Logical Structure of Spinoza's Ethics, Part I by Charles Jarrett". The Journal of Symbolic Logic (Association for Symbolic Logic) 49 (3): 996–997. doi:10.2307/2274163. 
  28. Harman, Graham (2018). Speculative Realism: an introduction. Hoboken: Wiley. ISBN 978-1-509-51998-9. 


  • Jonathan I. Israel. Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650–1750. 2001.
  • Yitzhak Y. Melamed. “Salomon Maimon and the Rise of Spinozism in German Idealism,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 42 (January 2004), 67–96.
  • Yitzhak Y. Melamed. “Acosmism or Weak Individuals? Hegel, Spinoza, and the Reality of the Finite”, Journal of the History of Philosophy 48 (2010), 77–92.

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