Not only a great philosopher that shook the foundation of modern philosophy and challenged the most basic thoughts and beliefs, Spinoza had the courage to stand up for what he believed was true, which eventually resulted in his excommunication from his community. His philosophy is radical, brave and ground breaking.
His masterpiece the Ethica is a milestone in modern philosophy and culture. I will humbly try to mention a few ideas that continue to inspire me deeply. In the Ethica, Spinoza challenges the traditional theological understanding of God while presenting a conceptual revolution on the concept of God. Not only does he rule out any sort of a human-like God, but he also denies any understanding of a transcendental God whether different or separated from the world. Spinoza determines that God can not be different from the world – DEUS SIVA NATURA. There is no difference between Nature, Substance or God; they are the infinite chain of necessity.
The substance consists of an infinite number of attributes, of which each one expresses the eternal and infinite essence. Two attributes which humans cognize are extension and thought. Both have ontological equality and express the same world in a different way. With this holistic understanding, the division between body and mind, for example, (that is central to Jewish and Christian theological beliefs as well as Cartesian ideas) is denied. Body and mind are two different expressions of the same essence; hence they are one with no division or separation.
Another inspiring idea of the Ethica was the concept of freedom in relation to a life of reason. Our happiness and well being lie not in the enslaved life of transitory goods and passions; nor does it lie in the ineffective attachment to a superstitious religion. Our well being lies in a life of reason that can lead us to our freedom. Spinoza’s understanding of freedom is different from the popular view, which mostly conceives freedom as freedom of choice. For Spinoza freedom means the recognition of us as a part of an infinite necessity, while understanding our one time mortal and unique link in the eternal chain of necessity.
Although every action is the outcome of the eternal necessity, freedom does not contrast necessity. Freedom means that our action was the outcome of understanding the self essence within the substance. Freedom is a self cause that emerges from the necessity of the active substance; we have the option of understanding the necessity of actions we take part in, and within this capacity we are free. The free man understands his necessity within the eternal essence and understands that he is a unique flash of existence of the substance. The love for the transitory things transforms to the mind’s intellectual love of God (the understanding of the universe, and our specific virtue in the substance.) The free person does not hope for eternal rewards, nor does he fear any eternal punishments. He fully recognizes that his soul is not immortal, but he does have a share in immortality by being an essential link in the eternal chain of necessity.