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The best way to read this book is to listen to it. If I were to have read it, I would have dwelled excessively on the axioms, definitions and propositions and would have missed the forest for the trees. Don't worry if you don't get the definition as he gives them. You'll be able to pick them up when he uses them latter on. Spinoza is an incredibly good writer. He will tell you what he's going to tell you, tell you and than tell you again. He'll say "in other words" or "take this example" or other such explanatory statements and amplify what he's been telling you while never being 'prolix' (a word he actually uses and I had to look it up. It means tediously long winded with words).
I've often heard people make the expression that they "believe in the God of Spinoza". After having read this book, I seriously would doubt them. What they've done is focused on the Spinoza formulation "that God is Nature and Nature is God" and they like the way that sounds, but they don't really know how Spinoza gets there or what he means by it.
This book is a vibrant defense of Scholasticism (Aristotelian thought) against Descartes' mind body duality. Spinoza creates a system with only one substance (God) but infinite attributes. Two of those attributes are thought and extension (body), but it's clear that God possess infinitely many more. God (or Substance) is the creator of the universe and possess thinking. The God/Nature Nature/God formulation would be pantheistic. But, Spinoza goes beyond that and very well could be 'panentheistic' (God transcends nature), but I can't say for sure based only on this book.
Spinoza uses most of the metaphysics of Aristotle. He believes God is the efficient cause (the mover) of the universe, but he does not believe in Aristotle's final causes, teleology. He believes that God is necessary, and that the universe is determined because from the necessary existence and therefore essence of God everything must follow from cause and effect (i.e. that Free Will is an illusion. Aristotle in his Ethics believes that Free Will does exist, but mostly Spinoza and Aristotle seem to agree. The concept of 'essence' are essential items in each of their systems). Things are only contingent when we don't know enough.
Only the first two sections of the book dealt with God and the Mind. The other three sections deal with emotions and our control. He'll reach some of the same conclusion that Aristotle reaches in his Nicomachean Ethics. Such as, our highest virtue is the contemplative virtue and we need to wake up, stop being distracted by the petty and focus on the universe and our place in it. He'll say we are most divine like when we use our contemplation on higher order matters.
Also, I want to mention that his sections on emotions and human bondage were some of the best formulations of psychology I've ever have come across in my readings. He'll say that it's our desires and our pains and pleasures which determine our emotional well being. The active part of us determines our emotional health and through the passive part is how our passions sneak in. Leading a virtuous life is the best. We should return hate with love or high mindedness for its own sake. He'll even segue into a self help book by saying we should repeat such slogans to ourselves so that when we our prone to hate we will know how to act instead. I can't understand why today's self help books don't do as well as Spinoza does within this book.
This book is a relatively easy read. It's clear that Hegel grabs major parts from Spinoza in his "Phenomenology of Spirit", and Hegel is no way as easy to read as this book is. Spinoza's attributes are determinants (limitations) of the infinite. Hegel makes all determinants negations of the infinite and gives us his dialectics (or movements) based on that. I did notice that Spinoza uses 'vacillate' in the later parts of his book and it seemed to correlate with Hegel's movements. I wish I had read this book before I had read Hegel. He would have made more sense to me if I had.
Never trust the summations you might have heard about this book or any other of the classic philosophical works you may come across. They always seem to get it wrong. This is a good book to read because Spinoza is such a great writer (he's not prolix as my review is!), he has a genuinely interesting take on the world, his psychology sections seem to be as good as any I have ever seen, you'll probably learn to be suspicious of the statement "I believe in the God of Spinoza" because a lot of baggage comes with that statement, and the influence his work has had on others becomes obvious and they would be easier to understand if you read this book before reading them.
(A note: I enjoyed this book so much I've downloaded his previous book "A Theologico Political Treatise" for free from LibriVox because it doesn't seem to be available at Audible).
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
The Ethics is not the easiest book and being able to listen at .75x really helped me take it in. Good performance.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Extremely hard to listen to and focus on. I would recommandeer buying a modern version of the book or a paperback version
1 of 2 people found this review helpful