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A Theologico-Political Treatise / A Political Treatise (v. 1)

af Benedict de Spinoza

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2 important works. Spinoza's ""A Theologico-Political Treatise"" presents an eloquent plea for religious liberty, demonstrating that true religion consists of the practice of simple piety, independent of philosophical speculation. In the unfinished ""A Political Treatise,"" the author develops a theory of government founded on common consent.
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A Theologico-Political Treatise (1670)
A Political Treatise (1677)
  LanternLibrary | Oct 16, 2017 |
El tratado político es una descripción de cómo debería ser el Estado ideal, con tres versiones: monárquica, aristocrática y democrática. Desgraciadamente, esta última parte quedó apenas iniciada, porque el texto está inacabado. Por cierto, que el final es precisamente el momento en que Spinoza justifica por qué las mujeres, como los niños o los locos, no deben participar del poder. Con lo que les gusta a algunos "progresistas" citar a este hombre.

El "Tratado teológico-político" dedica la mayor parte del tiempo a hacer exégesis bíblica. Me ha gustado el planteamiento de base: los textos sagrados son religiosos, no históricos, y así hay que interpretarlos. Sin embargo, junto con interpretaciones muy certeras, encontramos justificaciones tomadas por los cabellos.

Por otro lado, para nuestro autor las leyes de la Naturaleza son designios de Dios y, por tanto, ciencia y religión no solo no se oponen sino que convergen. Esto es estupendo. El problema es que de aquí Spinoza deriva una superioridad práctica de la razón humana sobre la voluntad divina y anula la capacidad de actuación de un Dios personal. Muchas personas afirman creer en "el Dios de Spinoza" porque, en realidad, este Dios explica el origen del Universo, pero después ya no hace nada más. Es un Dios cómodo, para Él y para nosotros, porque podemos afirmar su existencia pero ignorarlo por completo. Yo no creo en este Dios, sino en uno que se preocupa por todas y cada una de sus criaturas, un Dios-Madre que, si hace falta, se salta sus propias reglas. Poner las reglas, que en definitiva solo son las reglas que conocemos, por encima de su Creador me parece un grave error. ( )
  caflores | Mar 19, 2017 |
Spinoza: Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, in: The Chief Works of Benedict de Spinoza, Vol. I, George Bell & Sons, London, 2nd Ed. 1891
Translated by R.H.M. Elwes

Much has been written about Spinoza so I will say only a few words:
Spinoza, Dutch of Portuguese Jewish origin, and Vermeer van Delft were exact contemporaries: both born in 1632, they both died young, in their forties, within 2 years of each other.
Spinoza writes in Latin, the lingua franca of the educated at that time; he also does not wish to address the masses ‘for I cannot expect that it contains anything to please them. […] I would rather that [the multitude, and those of like passions with the multitude] should utterly neglect it, than that they should misinterpret it after their wont.’ Of no avail: published anonymously in 1670, the Tractatus raised ‘a storm of angry controversy’ (Elwes).
The work falls into 3 parts: In Chapters 1- 13 Spinoza submits the scriptures to a rational analysis accepting no other source but the scriptures themselves for his critique. He goes back to the Hebrew text to avoid mistranslations and points out ambiguities in the wording. He concludes that the text had many authors and was written over many, perhaps hundreds of years, at times resulting in contradictions and errors. He dismisses miracles as acts of God, but calls them simply phenomena we do not understand but which appeal powerfully to the imagination; he writes: “that we cannot gain knowledge of the existence and providence of God by means of miracles, but “that our knowledge of […] God’s will increases in proportion to our knowledge […] of nature.” (Chap. 6)
In Chapters 16-20 Spinoza discusses various forms of political power in relation to the demands of the scriptures and the duties of all persons towards either and both. In the central and most important section (Chap. 14-15) Spinoza deals with the nature of faith and its relationship to reason: reason seeks truth, faith demands obedience to God’s command to love your neighbour as yourself, two ways to virtue, neither should be subject to the other.
In the rationality of the analysis, though not in his deep religiosity, Spinoza belongs already to the Enlightenment. (III-10)
  MeisterPfriem | Apr 5, 2010 |
Philosophy, the Elite, and the Future

"Men would never be superstitious, if they could govern all their circumstances by set rules, or if they were always favored by fortune..." Thus begins one of the greatest books in the history of philosophy. Spinoza is an esoteric writer; he doesn't shout everything he has to say, though an attentive reader has a chance, however slight, to discern at least part of it. The existence of this philosophical-political esotericism, first adequately described by Leo Strauss (in "Spinoza's Critique of Religion"), is now on the verge of becoming generally accepted. For a very good example of this new, but qualified, acceptance of Spinoza's esotericism from a left/postmodern perspective, check out the recent collection of essays, "The New Spinoza", edited by Montag & Stolze, especially the essay by Andre Tosel.

But the history of Spinoza reception is another story and another review. Many modern readers of Spinoza speak with vague unease about Spinoza's 'elitism', supposing it to be but another slight of the poor, weak and uneducated; we can perhaps begin to gauge the full length, breadth and depth of this philosophical 'elitism', and its true target, in a focused reading of the opening pages of the Preface to the Theologico-Political Treatise. "The human mind is readily swayed this way or that in times of doubt, especially when hope and fear are struggling for the mastery, though usually it is boastful, over-confident, and vain." Thus the problem with Man is not, strictly speaking, merely a lack of knowledge (and therefore the problem is not merely a lack of education) but also, and perhaps most importantly, a lack of self-control.

Immediately, Spinoza follows this sentence by saying, "[t]his as a general fact I suppose everyone knows, though few, I believe, know their own nature..." There is a disconnect not only between knowing and doing but also between 'knowing' in general and knowing oneself. In order to do good how important is it to know yourself? There are several ways to understand this. One possible way is to say that even those ('sainted' elites) that 'know' are, nevertheless, unable to control their emotional behavior. Perhaps it is even this emotiveness that is especially vulnerable to superstition...

But men, "in prosperity, are so over-brimming with wisdom [...] that they take every offer of advice as a personal insult"! Still, we are not surprised to read that "...superstition's chief victims are those persons who greedily covet temporal advantages...". (Note that it is not chiefly ordinary people that 'greedily covet temporal advantages' nor is it said that they are 'in prosperity'.) And, a little later, we learn that these people "are wont with prayers and womanish tears to implore help from God...". Indeed, Spinoza, when giving an example of this despicable behavior under duress turns to no less an exemplar than Alexander the Great - and his superstitious seeking of advice from seers. Now, the use of Alexander in this regard is a vital clue in our attempt to understand Spinoza's esotericism (i.e., his 'political' philosophy). The question is this: If Spinoza is indeed an elitist, exactly what is the position that can look down on not only the common people but also the actual 'elite'; i.e., the religious and political leaders?

Well, of course, Spinoza is a philosopher; indeed he is one of the greatest. This understanding of philosophy, as the heights from which one looks down on everyone, is an old one. See, for instance, Averroes (in the so-called 'Decisive Treatise') for an overt example of the philosophical attempt to control a faction of the medieval elite (i.e., the theologians) with another faction of the medieval elite - the Islamic Jurists. Also, one should of course consider Machiavelli's Prince for a somewhat more circumspect (or covert) example of philosophy attempting to control the direction of politics and the political elite. Spinoza's decision to view politics and theology (or politicians and theologians) as dangers that need to be moderated philosophically is thus not unprecedented. Also, on this line of thought one should perhaps also take into account Nietzsche who, in the 'Genealogy of Morals', seems to go so far as to present history itself as a struggle between priestly and warrior noble castes...

In electing to use Alexander as an example of superstition Spinoza is indicating that philosophy is above both religion and politics. Indeed, Spinoza continues in a (ahem) 'Nietzschean' vein and says, "that prophets have most power among the people, and are most formidable to rulers, precisely at those times when the state is in most peril. I think this is sufficiently plain to all, and will therefore say no more on the subject." Well perhaps not entirely plain; this basically says, for those that have ears to hear: 'Statesman! Either satisfy the common people or forfeit your right to rule to the prophets and their theologians.' Thus the 'war' between priestly and warrior castes was quietly noted, by Spinoza, long before Nietzsche. As an aside I should perhaps note that one also finds oneself (perhaps) nervously asking, at this point, are people today 'satisfied'?

Kojeve, the architect of the most recent apotheosis of the political (i.e., the Universal Homogenous State), seems to confirm this interpretation (in his "Introduction to the Reading of Hegel") by saying that as "long as History continues, or as long as the perfect State is not realized [...] the opposition of these two points of view (the "philosophical" and the religious or theological) is inevitable." Of course Kojeve, following a Hegel that never existed, attempts to convince us that politics and philosophy are exactly the same and that theology was ever nothing. His mistake, from the viewpoint of philosophy, can perhaps be said to be that he took sides in the interminable war between elites. ...But that is another story. However, Kojeve is correct insofar as he is understood to be maintaining that there is an unbridgeable gulf between the political and the religious...

Back to Spinoza. Satisfying the common people seems to be easier said than done. In a terrifyingly memorable passage - that is both a diagnosis and a prophecy - Spinoza writes, "[f]or, as the mass of mankind remains always at about the same pitch of misery, it never assents long to any one remedy, but is always best pleased by a novelty which has not yet proved illusive." Thus, given the perpetual emotional dissatisfaction of the people, Spinoza seems to be indicating that no one ever rules for long. He also seems to be indicating that emotions (at least among the 'mass of mankind') are uncontrollable and that the people are, in the long run, unsatisfiable. (...So exactly what is Enlightenment - and exactly why is Spinoza supporting it? ...Hmmm.)

"Superstition, then, is engendered, preserved and fostered by fear", Spinoza had earlier said. But fear is an opportunity for philosophy, I mean for philosophical intervention. Machiavelli (in 'The Prince', chapter 6), after all, had already confirmed that the oppression, dissatisfaction and dispersal of the people was, above all, an opportunity for the creative One. Spinoza says that, "Prophets have most power among the people, and are most formidable to rulers, precisely at those times when the state is in most peril." The fundamental argument (and struggle), of course, between philosophers and the political-religious elites, seems to be over the exact identity of the creative One. For the religiously inclined the creative one is God and those who act in his name, for the politically 'pious' the creative one is the (hereditary, patriotic or revolutionary) 'Prince'. For Machiavelli, Spinoza, and Nietzsche one suspects that, 'behind the scenes and between the lines', the creative one (the bringer of New Modes and Orders, to quote Machiavelli) can only be the philosopher.

Spinoza continues, quoting Curtius (the historian of Alexander): "The mob has no ruler more potent than superstition," and Spinoza immediately adds, "and is easily led, on the plea of religion, at one moment to adore its kings as gods, and anon to execrate and abjure them as humanity's common bane." Thus 'superstition' would seem potentially to be either a weapon of the religious or the political... This is a warning; but to exactly whom seems to be a bit unclear. I should mention that it is not impossible to read Machiavelli, with his high praise of ancient pagan religion, to be indicating much the same: that is, the necessary permanence of superstition. ...But, exactly what can and can't be done with superstition?

The way out of this (seemingly) unpredictable and uncontrollable mess? One possible solution, according to Spinoza, is given by the 'Turk'. They have instituted a system that invests "religion, whether true or false, with such pomp and ceremony, that it may rise superior to every shock..." Of course, as Spinoza indicates, this absolutism leaves no room for either individual freedom or a thoughtful philosophy. But then Spinoza adds, "yet in a free state no more mischievous expedient could be planned or attempted." So, after discussing (and discounting) the possibility of theocracy (the Turks) Spinoza advocates the system allegedly reigning in Amsterdam: freedom and commerce. (Whew!)

Now, in case some have been asleep for the past 300 years, I will point out that the rise of democracy was not always accomplished peaceably, nor, after its rise, has it been able to always maintain the peace. The test of being able to maintain the peace that Spinoza flings in the face of the Religion of his times can today, with equal appropriateness, be flung in the face of politics. I of course mean all politics. ...But that too is another book and another review.

Spinoza can be said to here begin a process that leads to us. I hope I have begun the process of showing that the target of Spinoza's contempt was not the common people, but the ignorance and weakness of all their tormenters. I also want to note, given both the nature of these elites and also the perpetual suffering of the people, that all solutions are transient. And that the early-modern philosophical turn to the politicos, made in the teeth of ceaseless religious war, was only a maneuver. Over the past century philosophy found itself again in an era of civil wars, revolutions and world wars; - one wonders where philosophy will now turn in its never-ending struggle to moderate elites...

Who will write the next Theologico-Political Treatise that will do to political Ideology what Spinoza here does to religious Revelation? Where is the next 'novelty'? ( )
  pomonomo2003 | Jun 15, 2007 |
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2 important works. Spinoza's ""A Theologico-Political Treatise"" presents an eloquent plea for religious liberty, demonstrating that true religion consists of the practice of simple piety, independent of philosophical speculation. In the unfinished ""A Political Treatise,"" the author develops a theory of government founded on common consent.

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