chapter  5
11 Pages

Spinoza’s baffling view of biblical morality

ByMichah Gottlieb

The chapter explores Spinoza’s complex attitude towards Judeo-Christian morality, arguing that Spinoza distinguishes between three types of moral teachers in the Bible. The lowest was Moses who established Judaism as a political religion aimed at social stability. As such, its aim was the flourishing of the state and focused on temporal rewards and punishments for obedience or disobedience to the law, not on moral virtue. Above Moses were prophets like Jeremiah and Jesus, who preached actions that accorded with philosophical virtue such as universal ethics and loving one’s enemy. But they did so not because of a deep philosophical understanding of moral virtue but rather because they lived at a time when the Jews lost their state and political necessity required preaching universal ethics and love. At the highest level were Paul and Solomon who taught true philosophical moral virtue focused on peace of mind and inner blessedness of the individual, which they grounded in reason. But because they addressed the masses who were not philosophers, they still upheld as virtues affects like pity, humility and repentance that are vices for the philosopher.