Jewish Themes in Spinoza's Philosophy by Heidi M. Ravven, Lenn E. Goodman

By Heidi M. Ravven, Lenn E. Goodman

Explores Jewish elements of Spinoza's philosophy from a large choice of views.

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21 But my concern here is not with the ethos Spinoza commends but with his philosophical articulation of Judaic values and insights. He arrays the ideas that he can appropriate from his Judaic heritage in philosophical, indeed geometrical order, not as an apologist but as an inquirer who will trim his engagements to the demands of reason. That was Aristotle’s posture when he asked himself what philosophy could make of received religious ideas (Metaph. Lambda, 1074b 1–14). It was Maimonides’ too, when he argued that one can believe only what one understands—and that even creation would be allegorized, as anthropomorphism is, should reason prove it untenable (Guide I 50, II 25).

My present task is that of a miner, not a pardoner, and a miner needs to distinguish acid from ore. A well-known alternative to ethnic apologues and ripostes has proved more fruitful: to examine Spinoza’s philosophical work against the backdrop of intellectual history. 9 My goal here is quite different. It is not to probe Spinoza’s mixed feelings about Jews and Judaism. 10 Rather, I wish to show, all too schematically, how Spinoza was able, with each of our baker’s dozen of oppositions, to sidestep the familiar dichotomies and frame a synthesis that avoided many of the worst repugnancies of the opposing theses.

43, 75) The fullest elaboration of the monotheistic idea will take normative rather than narrative form. But Spinoza touches on the normative only at its highest generality. He was not a legislator, nor a Talmudist. Metaphysics and philosophical anthropology undergird the ethical part of the Ethics, just as cosmology and ontology undergird what Maimonides archly calls the legal portions of the Mosaic law—and psychology and physiology underlie Maimonidean ethics. 30 Nor would he anchor his metaphysics or cosmology in scriptural authority.

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