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on 6 April 2017
Roger does a good job on Spinoza's biographical details, on the historical and other influences on his thinking and on Spinoza's thoughts on politics. On the other hand, explaining Spinoza's philosophical ideas is a more challenging task for an author, of course, and I don't think Roger has done well in that respect. For example, in his description of the "ontological argument" for the existence of God, which claims to prove the existence of God from the definition of God alone, what if you don't accept the definition? St. Anselm's definition: "a being greater than which cannot be thought" was fine for the saint who, according to Roger felt that "this idea clearly exists in our minds". Maybe that is a valid statement for Roger and Anselm but that idea does not necessarily exist in the minds of agnostics and atheists, for example. What kind of "being" was Anselm talking about? Not a human being, because human beings are not perfect, so what kind of "being", then? When Roger attempts to explain Spinoza's answer to that question, "whatever is, is in God", he really gets tied up in knots. Does that mean that evil (or the devil, or however you wish to describe it) is also "in God"? Roger does not enlighten us on that either.

A final example: on p.31 where Roger is describing the influence of Descartes on Spinoza's thinking, Roger writes: "I can see from the proposition 'p and q" it follows that p, and this, too, is self-evident [...] Descartes would say that the relation between 'p and q' and 'p' is something that I perceive clearly and distinctly, or something of which I have a 'clear and distinct idea'. I hope that gives potential purchasers a foretaste of the kind of "clarification" that they would have to wade through.
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on 23 July 2013
Reading Spinoza alone is quite difficult to decipher, but this introduction really helped me understand what he was saying, and why he was saying it. Ideas such as free will and determinism were clearly explained, which helped me a lot. It would have been good if the book included some details about Hermeticism, which I think would have been one of Spinoza's influences. It was very entertaining to read about Spinoza's life story, which is given in the first part of the book. I recommend this book to anyone wanting to get to grips with his ideas.
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on 10 February 2013
I first came across Spinoza after reading a century of wisdom, and what a true find. Scruton is my new god of explaining the complex man, a fascinating book that again will make you think think think. Read it slowly and totally relish it
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on 10 June 2015
Clear account of the most relevant philosopher today - both spiritual and scientific - panentheism? Sikhism developed with similar thoughts at a similar time
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on 15 February 2015
This is a very clearly written book for someone new to the subject. I was pleasantly surprised given that my previous experience with Scruton was a book on wine that left me scratching my head wondering what he was on about... This one on Spinoza hits the target for me. The newcomer to the subject may still find some aspects abstract and difficult, but in my opinion the explanation is lucid. I particularly liked the summary at the end where Spinoza's take on things is related to our modern world view. I personally found it enlightening and helpful.
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on 31 May 2010
A very short introduction to this great 17th century rationalist philosopher was always going to be a tall order. In the preface, author and philosopher Roger Scruton acknowledges as much when he admits he has been unable to make Spinoza's theory of substance fully accessible, and that chapter 3 will need to be read twice if it is to be understood. As a beginner, I have to say I struggled through parts, but overall found it to be a fairly absorbing and well-structured analysis of Spinoza's key ideas.

Biographical details are for the most part limited to the first chapter, leaving the author free to devote the rest of the book to each theme in a more focused way - a wise decision, given the complexity of many of the areas of discussion. This book was first published in 1986 (like many in the series, it's a reprint of a 'Past Masters' title) which maybe goes some way to explaining why it may be 'Very Short' but it doesn't quite feel like an 'introduction'. That's not a major criticism though - this is still an instructive and worthwhile read.
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on 27 October 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed Roger Scruton's stimulating introduction to the thought of Benedict de Spinoza.

I have yet to read Spinoza first-hand as I have been warned that it is an onerous task. I am however familiar with the work of Roger Scruton, and this guide will undoubtedly help the virgin reader familiarise himself with the challenging concepts that Spinoza wrestled with, before directly venturing into his work, as Scruton is without doubt a first-rate writer and philosopher.

The book takes in some of the very biggest themes in philosophy in a mere fifty-four pages, including free will, the existence of God and epistemological logic, so naturally there is a limitation in detail, if not scope. However, do not let the brevity of the book put you off: there is plenty of food for thought for lay readers and philosophers alike, and Scruton's writing is up to his usual lucid standard.

My overwhelming impression upon completing this work is that Spinoza is someone whom the modern reader can, surprisingly, sit with somewhat comfortably. Indeed his pantheism, if you accept that's what his work amounts to, strikes me as being finely in tune with spiritually hungry westerners, who yearn for the beautiful, the spiritual and the sacred, but who nevertheless find it difficult to sign up to the arcane and dogmatic teachings of organised religion (and who equally struggle with the cold and austere implications of modern science).

It is not clear if Scruton accepts that Spinoza's work amounts to out and out pantheism, but it is clear that he believes him to be a tonic for the modern age. A thoroughly critical appraisal of Spinoza is of course far beyond the reach of an introductory book review, particularly if, like me, you are not directly acquainted with is work. Nevertheless I would venture to comment on some of themes of the book - particularly whether modern readers can find any refuge or consolation in Spinoza (or perhaps Scruton's interpretation of him).

The answer, I think, is yes but alas it is not unequivocally satisfying or convincing. What is consoling about Spinoza, for me, is his pantheistic identification of nature and the divine. In that sense he seems to be inviting us to see the divine in everything - in every atom, leaf, star and child - which has some interesting parallels with modern physics and some Eastern schools of thought, notably Buddhism and Hinduism. There is therefore a kind of inherent poetry in nature on this reading- that we are all composed of stardust.

On this reading it is also striking that the reader must come to the conclusion that God exists. Of course it is too much of a stretch to say that the Christian God, for example, exists, but it is a logical necessity that there is a creator of some sorts, be it the all-powerful God of Judaism or an explosion from nothingness.

However, there is no getting away from the fact that this is a somewhat rose tinted interpretation of nature. For whilst it may be true that we are all indeed composed of stardust, as scientists such as Richard Dawkins and Brian Cox are understandably eager to point out, it is also true that nature is capable of great brutality and injustice.

And therein lays the difficulty for those attempting to navigate this difficult philosophical terrain: there is refuge to be found in the modern world, particularly through thinkers like Spinoza, but is it enough to keep nihilism at bay? Undoubtedly the reader will be required to delve directly into the work of Spinoza in order to have full appreciation of the man and his thought in this context, but this introduction has much to commend it for those prepared to take on the task.
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on 12 April 2016
I great introduction to the "ideas" behind Spinoza. Much easier than reading "the Ethics".
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on 30 January 2002
This is a useful short book for philosophy students or those interested in Spinoza'a philosophy. Although the book lacks Scruton's own criticism of Spinoza's Ethics, he presents the concepts in a fresh and lively way.
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on 11 February 2010
My favourite philosopher and favourite philosophy writer. Spinoza's complex thoughts are so simply explained it makes you wonder why you never thought of them yourself.
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