Philosophy 202
Great Traditions of Western Thought
The Modern Period


Discussion Questions for Spinoza's Ethics, Book I

Reading Spinoza's Ethics presents some different problems that those you may have encountered with either Descartes or Locke. The main problem here is that his philosophy is presented as if it were a geometry textbook. In fact, that is precisely how Spinoza wanted his text to read, and he was proud of using the more geometrico. This means, however, that we have to struggle a bit to understand what he's talking about. One piece of advice is to read his notes to various propositions very carefully, for there Spinoza is not limited by his conception of what really belongs in a strict, philosophic presentation of truth.

1. In Prop. XI, Spinoza gives three proofs of God's existence. How do these proofs go? Why do you think he includes all three?

2. In Prop. XVII and its various corollaries, Spinoza proves that God is free. What does he means by "freedom"? Does Spinoza's conception of a free God coincide with what we normally mean by freedom?

3. Why does Spinoza think that "nothing in the universe is contingent" (Prop. XXIX)?

4. In the Appendix to Book I, Spinoza attacks the idea that there are final causes in nature. What does he mean by a final cause? Why does he think this is the wrong way to think about natural occurances?

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