chapter  9
The moral and political philosophy of Spinoza
ByHans W. Blom
Pages 32

Spinoza as a moral and political philosopher was the proponent of a radical and extremely consistent version of seventeenth-century Dutch naturalism. As a consequence of the burgeoning bourgeois self-confidence during the heyday of their Golden Age, Dutch philosophers, attracted by Ciceronian republican moral ideas prepared the way for a philosophy of man and society in which natural processes and mechanisms had an important role to perform. Although they understood themselves as partisans of widely divergent philosophers like Aristotle or Descartes, they shared the conviction that man’s moral predicament should be analysed from a naturalistic point of view, by advocating an almost autonomous position for philosophy separate from religion. They were sure that sufficient attention paid to the natural capabilities of mankind would show the way to overcome human weakness. This philosophical programme, propagated by otherwise conventional Calvinists, was constructed on the basis of a theological notion of means-end relations, but its proponents were unaware that in the end it would turn out to secularize human teleology completely. The most outstanding outcome was to be Adam Smith’s theory of the invisible hand, in which individual and societal teleology are interrelated by means of the laws of human nature. In this perspective, Spinoza’s philosophy of man and society presents itself as an early and thorough attempt to realize the seventeenth-century Dutch naturalistic programme of secularizing the human condition. We shall follow Spinoza in this attempt and develop his moral and political philosophy against its Dutch background, eventually indicating why the response he met with was so critical and hostile.