Cover image for Spinoza's book of life : freedom and redemption in the ethics
Spinoza's book of life : freedom and redemption in the ethics
Smith, Steven B., 1951-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New Haven : Yale University Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xxvi, 230 pages ; 22 cm
Thinking about the ethics -- Thinking about God -- Thinking about thinking -- Thinking about desire -- Thinking about politics -- Thinking about love -- The authority of reason.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
B3999.F8 S65 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Most readers of Spinoza treat him as a pure metaphysician, a grim determinist, or a stoic moralist, but none of these descriptions captures the author of the Ethics, argues Steven B. Smith in this intriguing book. Offering a new reading of Spinoza's masterpiece, Smith asserts that the Ethics is a celebration of human freedom and its attendant joys and responsibilities and should be placed among the great founding documents of the Enlightenment.

Two aspects of Smith's book distinguish it from other studies. It treats the famous "geometrical method" of the Ethics as a form of moral rhetoric, a model for the construction of individuality. And it presents the Ethics as a companion to Spinoza's major work of political philosophy, the Theologico-Political Treatise, each work helping to explore the problem of freedom. Affirming Spinoza's centrality for both critics and defenders of modernity, the book will be of value to students of political theory, philosophy, and intellectual history.

Author Notes

Steven B. Smith is Alfred Cowles Professor of Political Science at Yale University.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Spinoza addressed his Ethics to readers with philosophical minds equipped for hard going, but it has always had a fascination for ordinary readers because it offers the prospect of a free and good life that we can find for ourselves. Smith (political science, Yale) addresses such readers in clear prose that has a beauty of its own. He shows us why Spinoza thinks reason might set us free and introduce the good life. He confronts the people who think that there are two or more conflicting and confusing books within The Ethics and those who think that Spinoza plays with smoke and mirrors and pretends to set us free while actually admitting that we are tied to a cold, mechanical determinism. There is no single, simple key to The Ethics, but librarians should welcome this readable account of Spinoza as the standard bearer for a rational and emancipated but still Jewish outlook on the world.-Leslie Armour, Univ. of Ottawa (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This book by Smith (political science, Yale) has an easy writing style and adequate biographical comment; it presents wide-ranging excerpts from standard secondary works and makes some clever associative suggestions, e.g., on how creation theology can be compared to Spinoza's God. Yet this reviewer questions the book's central claim that Spinoza is most interested in presenting a philosophy that enhances life through a sort of love. Though this claim may be true in some sense, adequate textual argument to support it is lacking. The self-enemy claim also allows the author to have an overly "romantic" understanding of Spinoza's view of love and to sculpt a Spinoza of his own liking. The book is unjust to the great philosopher, whose main idea is to rigorously extend the logic of the ontological argument. Some of the author's comments about his intentions are ambiguous; further, he accedes to the temptation to be interesting to a popular audience, which breaks the line of exposition, e.g., the intrusion of a discussion of I.B. Singer's short story "The Spinoza of Market Street." Those undertaking a first study of Spinoza might well profit from this book; it has much less to offer serious scholars. ^BSumming Up: Optional. General readers; undergraduate and graduate students. M. A. Bertman Helsinki University