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Of all the philosophers of the seventeenth-century, perhaps none have more relevance today than Spinoza.Bento (in Hebrew, Baruch; in Latin, Benedictus: all three names mean “blessed”) Spinoza was born in 1632 in Amsterdam.And then, on July 27, 1656, Spinoza was issued the harshest writ of , ban or excommunication, ever pronounced by the Sephardic community of Amsterdam; it was never rescinded.We do not know for certain what Spinoza’s “monstrous deeds” and “abominable heresies” were alleged to have been, but an educated guess comes quite easy.“By substance I understand what is in itself and is conceived through itself”; “By attribute I understand what the intellect perceives of a substance, as constituting its essence”; “By God I understand a being absolutely infinite, i.e., a substance consisting of an infinity of attributes, of which each one expresses an eternal and infinite essence.” The definitions of Part One are, in effect, simply clear concepts that ground the rest of his system.They are followed by a number of axioms that, he assumes, will be regarded as obvious and unproblematic by the philosophically informed (“Whatever is, is either in itself or in another”; “From a given determinate cause the effect follows necessarily”).

It is possible that Spinoza, as he made progress through his studies, was being groomed for a career as a rabbi.

No doubt he was giving utterance to just those ideas that would soon appear in his philosophical treatises.

In those works, Spinoza denies the immortality of the soul; strongly rejects the notion of a transcendent, providential God—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and claims that the Law was neither literally given by God nor any longer binding on Jews.

Can there be any mystery as to why one of history’s boldest and most radical thinkers was sanctioned by an orthodox Jewish community?

To all appearances, Spinoza was content finally to have an excuse for departing from the community and leaving Judaism behind; his faith and religious commitment were, by this point, gone. By the time his extant correspondence begins, in 1661, he is living in Rijnsburg, not far from Leiden.

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