The Philosophy of Spinoza: Unfolding the Latent Processes of by Harry A. Wolfson

By Harry A. Wolfson

Essentially the most vital books on Spinoza within the English language; a bit by means of part remark at the Ethics.

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P r e t a t i o n , arriving also at the s a m e conclusions. A r e a d e r who h a d m a s t e r e d a n y of these books in one of these t h r e e languages f o u n d himself treading u p o n familiar g r o u n d when he came to r e a d a n y book in the o t h e r languages W e do n o t k n o w exactly in w h a t l a n g u a g e Spinoza would h a v e w r i t t e n his books h a d the choice of l a n g u a g e been det e r m i n e d by him on the basis of the ease with which he could express himself in it r a t h e r t h a n on the basis of the linguistic e q u i p m e n t of the readers whom he wished to reach Had Spinoza lived in the l a n d of his forefathers, Spain or P o r t u g a l , before the expulsion, or in a n y o t h e r E u r o p e a n c o u n t r y w h e r e Jewish philosophy was c n l t i v a t e d , such as S o u t h e r n F r a n c e or I t a l y , he would h a v e u n d o u b t e d l y w r i t t e n in H e b r e w , for H e b r e w had been the exclusive m e d i u m of expression of J e w ish philosophers and scientists t h r o u g h o u t E u r o p e ever since the d i s a p p e a r a n c e of Jewish life in S o u t h e r n Spain u n d e r M o s l e m rule with the coming of the Almohades in the t w e l f t h c e n t u r y T h e p a r t i c u l a r a t t i t u d e of an a u t h o r t o w a r d the problems of religion was no d e t e r r e n t to his use of H e b r e w , for every shade of opinion, f r o m e x t r e m e adherence ίο tradition to the m o s t daring a d v e n t u r e s into f r e e d o m of t h o u g h t , f o u n d expression in H e b r e w l i t e r a t u r e In the intellectual a u t o n o m y which the J e w s e n j o y e d during the M i d d l e Ages, with the s y s t e m a t i c p u r s u i t of the s t u d y of philosophy a n d the sciences in Jewish schools o u t of H e b r e w books, Jewish thinkers were always assured of appreciative as well as critical readers a m o n g their own people of w h a t e v e r views they chose to express in H e b r e w B u t toward the end of the fifteenth c e n t u r y there appeared Jewish philosophers who, though b r o u g h t u p on H e b r e w philosophic l i t e r a t u r e and themselves writing in H e b r e w , wrote books in non-Jewish languages for non-Jewish readers E l i j a h Delmedigo, b e t t e r known as Helias H e b r a e u s Cretensis (1460-1497), •wrote his 4 ·‫י‬ THE PHILOSOPHY OF SPINOZA Quaestiones Tres and his Adnotationes in Dictis A νerr01s super Libros Physicorum 1 in L a t i n , a n d J o d a h A b r a b a n e l , b e t t e r k n o w n as Leo H e b r a e u s (d 553‫)ז‬,wrote his Dialoghi d'Amore in I t a l i a n 1 I n Spinoza's own time and in the c o m m u n i t y in which he was born, H e b r e w was still used extensively b y his own teachers and schoolmates in their l i t e r a r y works, b u t use was also m a d e by some of them of Spanish and L a t i n H i s teacher M a n a s s e h ben Israel w r o t e on theological problems in H e b r e w , L a t i n , Spanish, and P o r t u g u e s e U n d e r these circumstances, w h a t language Spinoza would h a v e used if he had chosen that in which self-expression was the easiest for him can be only c o n j e c t u r e d ThaL it would not h a v e been L a t i n or D u t c h , in which his books h a p p e n to be w r i t t e n , is q u i t e evident by his own confession.

W h a t is his a u t h o r i t y ' Does he reproduce his a u t h o r i t y correctly or not? If not, w h y does he d e p a r t from 1t ? W h a t are the differences between certain s t a t e m e n t s , a n d can such differences be reduced to other differences, so as to discover in t h e m a common underlying principle ? In order to u n d e r s t a n d Spinoza in full and to u n d e r s t a n d him well, we m u s t familiarize ourselves with his entire literary b a c k g r o u n d W e m u s t place ourselves in the position of s t u d e n t s , who, h a v i n g d o n e the reading assigned in advance, come to sit a t his feet and listen to his c o m m e n t s thereon E v e r y nod and wink and allusion of his will then become intelligible.

A r e a d e r who h a d m a s t e r e d a n y of these books in one of these t h r e e languages f o u n d himself treading u p o n familiar g r o u n d when he came to r e a d a n y book in the o t h e r languages W e do n o t k n o w exactly in w h a t l a n g u a g e Spinoza would h a v e w r i t t e n his books h a d the choice of l a n g u a g e been det e r m i n e d by him on the basis of the ease with which he could express himself in it r a t h e r t h a n on the basis of the linguistic e q u i p m e n t of the readers whom he wished to reach Had Spinoza lived in the l a n d of his forefathers, Spain or P o r t u g a l , before the expulsion, or in a n y o t h e r E u r o p e a n c o u n t r y w h e r e Jewish philosophy was c n l t i v a t e d , such as S o u t h e r n F r a n c e or I t a l y , he would h a v e u n d o u b t e d l y w r i t t e n in H e b r e w , for H e b r e w had been the exclusive m e d i u m of expression of J e w ish philosophers and scientists t h r o u g h o u t E u r o p e ever since the d i s a p p e a r a n c e of Jewish life in S o u t h e r n Spain u n d e r M o s l e m rule with the coming of the Almohades in the t w e l f t h c e n t u r y T h e p a r t i c u l a r a t t i t u d e of an a u t h o r t o w a r d the problems of religion was no d e t e r r e n t to his use of H e b r e w , for every shade of opinion, f r o m e x t r e m e adherence ίο tradition to the m o s t daring a d v e n t u r e s into f r e e d o m of t h o u g h t , f o u n d expression in H e b r e w l i t e r a t u r e In the intellectual a u t o n o m y which the J e w s e n j o y e d during the M i d d l e Ages, with the s y s t e m a t i c p u r s u i t of the s t u d y of philosophy a n d the sciences in Jewish schools o u t of H e b r e w books, Jewish thinkers were always assured of appreciative as well as critical readers a m o n g their own people of w h a t e v e r views they chose to express in H e b r e w B u t toward the end of the fifteenth c e n t u r y there appeared Jewish philosophers who, though b r o u g h t u p on H e b r e w philosophic l i t e r a t u r e and themselves writing in H e b r e w , wrote books in non-Jewish languages for non-Jewish readers E l i j a h Delmedigo, b e t t e r known as Helias H e b r a e u s Cretensis (1460-1497), •wrote his 4 ·‫י‬ THE PHILOSOPHY OF SPINOZA Quaestiones Tres and his Adnotationes in Dictis A νerr01s super Libros Physicorum 1 in L a t i n , a n d J o d a h A b r a b a n e l , b e t t e r k n o w n as Leo H e b r a e u s (d 553‫)ז‬,wrote his Dialoghi d'Amore in I t a l i a n 1 I n Spinoza's own time and in the c o m m u n i t y in which he was born, H e b r e w was still used extensively b y his own teachers and schoolmates in their l i t e r a r y works, b u t use was also m a d e by some of them of Spanish and L a t i n H i s teacher M a n a s s e h ben Israel w r o t e on theological problems in H e b r e w , L a t i n , Spanish, and P o r t u g u e s e U n d e r these circumstances, w h a t language Spinoza would h a v e used if he had chosen that in which self-expression was the easiest for him can be only c o n j e c t u r e d ThaL it would not h a v e been L a t i n or D u t c h , in which his books h a p p e n to be w r i t t e n , is q u i t e evident by his own confession.

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