February 12, 2008


Welcome to Spinoza Week at Goat Rope. If this is your first visit, please click on yesterday's post. You'll also find the usual mix of links and comments about current events.

As mentioned yesterday, Spinoza's unorthodox and rationalist views led to his excommunication from the Jewish community. His views on religion and politics, most fully expressed in his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus were very advanced for his time. And maybe ours.

Most controversial at the time was his interpretation of biblical stories as metaphorical and designed to inspire ethical conduct. He wrote that "Scripture does not aim at imparting scientific knowledge," a point lost on fundamentalists of all stripes. He rejected miracles as supernatural events. And his view of God, as we'll discuss later, was fairly pantheistic, meaning that he came pretty close to identifying God with the universe rather than as an anthropomorphic figure outside it.

His work was a plea for religious and philosophical toleration. He wrote

Freedom of thought and speech not only may, without prejudice to piety and the public peace, be granted; but also may not, without danger to piety and the public peace, be withheld


That state is freest whose laws are founded on sound reason, so that every member of it may, if he will, be free; that is, live with full consent under the entire guidance of reason.


Everyone is by absolute natural right the master of his own thoughts, and thus utter failure will attend any attempt in a commonwealth to force men to speak only as prescribed by the sovereign despite their different and opposing opinions.

He was an early defender not only of democracy but of the view that the state had a responsibility to guarantee a degree of economic justice for the poor and disadvantaged. As he wrote in his masterpiece The Ethics

Men, moreover, are won over by open-handedness, especially those who have not the wherewithal to purchase what is necessary for sustaining life. However, to give aid to every poor man is far beyond the power and the advantage of a private man. For the riches of a private man are far too little for such a thing. Moreover, the ability of one man is far too limited for him to be able to unite all men to himself in friendship: for which reason the care of the poor is incumbent on society as a whole, and looks to the general advantage only.

Not too shabby for the 17th century. Or the 21st.

A TIDAL WAVE. This article looks at the massive misery and displacement caused by the Bush administration's unnecessary war in Iraq.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, a new study by the Rand Corporation commissioned by the Pentagon finds "U.S. military intervention and occupation in the Muslim world" is "at best inadequate, at worst counter-productive, and, on the whole, infeasible."

GREEN JOBS, GOOD JOBS. Labor unionists and environmentalists are increasingly working together to promote green jobs to benefit working people and the world they inhabit.

MORTGAGE MESS. The nation's housing and debt crisis is spreading beyond sub-prime loans.

MIMICRY WORKS pretty well when it comes to persuasion.

CAN I HAVE ONE? Scientists have discovered a cute little pterodactyl with a wingspan of about a foot. You gotta click the link to see it. If I can have one, I promise to feed it every day and make sure all the other critters at Goat Rope Farm are nice to it. Except maybe the goats.

PHILOSOPHY AND POPULAR CULTURE are the topic of this essay.


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