Baruch Spinoza is considered one of the three great rationalist philosophers of 17th-century philosophy, along with the older René Descartes (b. 1596) and younger Gottfried Leibniz (b. 1646). His great work was the Ethics. Spinoza's God was pantheist, a modern version of the God of the Stoics, for whom God was essentially the same as the laws of Nature. And these laws were necessarily completely determined by God. Nothing is possible but the actions of God, so there are no alternative possibilities to choose between. There is no chance
“in nature there is nothing contingent, but all things have been determined from the necessity of the divine nature to exist and produce an effect in a certain way” (EIp29) “things could have been produced by God in no other way, and in no other order than they have been produced” (EIp33). blockquote>The Stoics had misinterpreted Epicurus on free will, mistakenly claiming that he had identified free will with chance. For Epicurus (and for Aristotle), free will was a third way, neither chance nor necessity, something that is "up to us" Spinoza was called "God-intoxicated" and his belief in a complete determinism, that everything that happens was ordained by a God without intellect or will, working through inviolable laws of nature, was a great model for Albert Einstein. Spinoza's God is not one who could be prayed to or revered. By contrast, our Ergod is to be appreciated as a sort of divine providence and the ultimate source of everything good. The intuition of a providential cosmic creation process may be the reason so many humans independently come up with the idea of God. But a sense of reverence or worship should not extend to a divine agency that has no power to change anything in the world. Like Spinoza's God, laws of Nature are not something to be prayed to. Spinoza believes that new information is never created. "Nothing new under the Sun." Compare Pierre-Simon Laplace's intelligent demon who knows everything about the past and the one possible future, because information is a conserved quantity, like matter and energy.
Spinoza's EpistemologySpinoza's Ethics is based on a trifold analysis of knowledge, briefly imagination (a generalization of experiential knowledge), intellection (the use of reason), and intuition (a sort of mystical insight into the "truth" that all that is real is God or Nature). The first kind or degree of knowledge is acquired from sensory experiences, which Spinoza calls images. This anticipates David Hume's sensory "impressions." Spinoza calls these images inadequate knowledge. It is contingent, full of chance errors. Although Spinoza, like many determinists, denies the existence of ontological chance. Spinoza's chance is epistemological, a consequence of human ignorance, the product of the finite mind of human beings, compared to the infinite mind of God. Like his immediate predecessor René Descartes, Spinoza defines the mind of a human as a thinking thing. The mind contains ideas and is itself an idea.
III. By idea, I understand a conception of the mind which the mind forms because it is a thinking thing. Explanation. — I use the word, conception rather than perception because the name perception seems to indicate that the mind is passive in its relation to the object. But the word conception seems to express the action of the mind. IV. By adequate idea, I understand an idea which, in so far as it is considered in itself, without reference to the object, has all the properties or internal signs (denominationes intrinsecas) of a true idea.In his inadequate knowledge, Spinoza includes human prejudices and superstitions, such as miracles, religious prophecies, and divinely revealed knowledge. Spinoza's second kind or degree of knowledge is based on intellect or reason. He follows Descartes as a modern philosopher, who rejects traditional ideas as our source of knowledge. Again like Descartes, Spinoza marks the beginning of the Enlightenment, where human reason is seen as the guarantor of knowledge, which Spinoza describes as adequate. Although Spinoza sees the finite human mind as inferior to the divine mind, which is "infinite," he thinks that reason can discover the "necessary" laws of Nature, as had the ancient Stoics. Spinoza's third kind or degree of knowledge comes from our intuitions about certain attributes of God. These are the "essences" of all things, established by God as the natural causal order. Spinoza follows Plato in seeing God's "ideas" as the pre-existing and "eternal" essences of merely existent and "ephemeral" things. Twentieth-century existentialism reversed this order of precedence.
Spinoza on Free WillSpinoza says “men are deceived in that they think themselves free [i.e., they think that, of their own free will, they can either do a thing or forbear doing it], an opinion which consists only in this, that they are conscious of their actions and ignorant of the causes by which they are determined” (EIIP35S). He says “men are born ignorant of the causes of things.” (IApp)
PROP. XLVIII/48. — In the mind there is no absolute or free will, but the mind is determined to this or that volition by a' cause, which is also determined by another cause, and this again by another, and so on ad infinitum. Demonst. — The mind is a certain and determinate mode of thought (Prop. 11, pt 2), and therefore (Corol. 2, Prop. 17, pt. 1] it cannot be the free cause of its own actions, or have an absolute faculty of willing or not willing, but must be determined to this or that volition (Prop. 28, pt 1) by a cause which is also determined by another cause, and this again by another, and so on ad infinitum, — Q.E.D. Schol. — In the same manner it is demonstrated that in the mind there exists no absolute faculty of understanding, desiring, loving, &c. These and the like faculties therefore, are either altogether fictitious, or else are nothing but metaphysical or universal entities, which we are in the habit of forming from individual cases.Spinoza anticipates G.W.F.Hegel, in that he sees freedom as obeying a natural and divine necessity. Man is free when he obeys the deterministic laws of Nature.