For whatever reasons I do things, I picked up Spinoza’s Ethics again. I have a few tabs and highlights in it, but I gave up on it when he kept saying how absurd things are (referring to what he considered contradictions) and many of his propositions were based on a simple “first cause” argument. However, on review, I see I missed the things that got him in trouble. I would agree with those who say he was not an atheist, but now see more clearly why many said he was, or at least a pantheist.
Without doing a treatise, here’s something from the Appendix of chapter 1, where he is summarizing and “proving” the God he has defined, including tearing down the God he was raised on. In this statement “final cause” is a reference to Aristotle’s concept of the “purpose” of things. He has just spent a paragraph talking about the history of how people learned to fool themselves by assuming the cause of all things must be something like themselves, since they cause things. But Spinoza’s nature doesn’t have reasons, it is based on laws. Those are the cause, not the effect of something else.
“Thus the prejudice developed into superstition, and took deep root in the human mind; and for this reason everyone strove most zealously to understand and explain the final causes of things; but in their endeavor to show that nature does nothing in vain, i.e. nothing which is useless to man, they only seem to have demonstrated that nature, the gods, and men are all mad together.”It’s a sophisticated and dangerous proposition for the mid 17th century. Sadly, it still hasn’t really caught on.