Spinoza, Ya Cancelled


Baruch Spinoza

1632 -
Exiled and Cancelled from his Amsterdam Jewish home


If we lived on a linear timeline, we could never escape cause and effect. If we hope to escape Determinism, we would have to find a way to remove ourselves from the linear timeline and live outside of causality. Spinoza gives us hope for a release but, before we look for the key to our imprisonment, what exactly imprisons us? If you don't want to drink soda, you can drink water. So how is it the effects of causality bind me?


"A thing is called free when it exists solely by the necessity of its nature, and of which the action is determined by itself alone. On the other hand, a thing is constrained, when it is determined by something external to itself, to a fixed and definite method of existence or action." Ethics. PART I. CONCERNING GOD. VII


I was always fond of the Enlightenment philosopher Baruch Spinoza's rationalization of Free will and Determinism. Spinoza was my go-to man for explaining the mind and body as one. 

He argued the mind was a substance of the body, and the body was a substance of the mind; two peas in a pod. So, too, does he argue that free will and causality are the same; causality is the precursor to the actions of your free will. Nagel Warburton offers an excellent reiteration of Spinoza's argument,

"[In Spinoza's book Ethics], he claims all our actions, and everything that happens in the universe, are determined by prior causes. You picked up this book and are reading it, but on Spinoza's account, your decision was determined by prior decisions, physical events, and so on. Your decision did not arise spontaneously from nowhere, and even it is felt that way." -Niguel Warburton, A Little History of Philosophy.

In our modern age, when you're canceled, you lose your job, but four hundred years ago, it could mean your death!

According to scholars, this event, as shocking as it sounds, may or may not have happened. It could have been the Alvares brothers over money, or fellow parishioners upset with his claims towards the soul, or possibly didn't happen at all.

But, what is certain was how quickly someones dissenting ideas lead to moral banishment and damnation of their soul.

In our modern culture, portions of our society tend to cancel ideas they deem inappropriate or harmful to their community. The views in question are usually battled in a bloody yelling match in the blue arena of darkness called Twitter. Still, at the most, you will lose your job, not your life!

We can be sure that Spinoza's traditional Jewish upbringing led his yeshiva at 17 years old, but by 23, he was excommunicated from his community.

In his posthumously published, Ethics, he claimed that the supernatural God you might be familiar with was nothing more than Nature. The Hebrew Jewish God of the Torah had no passions, no moralistic character, nor the ability to express intention. God possessed no power to move the cosmos, nature, or create the Commandments. We're starting to see why his views would get him kicked out of Sunday brunch.

Another area of contention was Free Will and Casualty. A popular Abrahamic Religious belief is all people are free to choose, A from B, with no restrictions from God. God has reserved the right to select on your behalf in favor of you choosing for yourself.

Spinoza did not have it!

"Every individual, or each thing which is finite and has a determined existence, is not able to exist or to be determined to act unless it is determined to exist and act by another cause which is also finite and which has a determined existence: and again, this further cause is not able to exist or to be determined to act unless it is determined to exist and act by another which is again finite and has a determined existence, and so on to infinity." Bento Spinoza, Ethics

Basically, you have no free will, and due to a series of previous causes, you do not choose how you will live your life. He called the mind a "finite mode," which was a fully determined, non-autonomous being.

You can see how that rattled some cages. But, I will let the court of public - philosophical - opinion weigh on Spinoza.

Does he deserved to be canceled, still four hundred later.

Speaking of which, in 2015, Scholars were called together to put his feet on the flames, and sadly, he remained excommunicated from the Sephardic Talmud Torah Congregation of Amsterdam. Read more about it from Professor Steven Nadler.

Kelly Perez, Adjunct Professor