“Spinoza’s Ethics” by Benedictus deSpinoza— Spinoza’s Greatest Philosophical Work

deSpinoza, Benedictus. “Spinoza’s Ethics”, edited by Clare Carlisle and translated by George Eliot,  Princeton University Press. 2020..

Spinoza’s Greatest Philosophical Work

Amos Lassen

Marian Evans completed her translation of Spinoza’s “Ethics” in 1856 and this would have become the first edition of Spinoza’s controversial masterpiece in English. However, the translation remained unpublished because of a disagreement with the publisher. Later that year, Evans began writing fiction and by 1859 she had published her first novel under the pseudonym George Eliot. Her translation was put on the back burner.

This new edition of Eliot’s translation of the “Ethics” is now available to today’s readers. It traces Eliot’s deep engagement with Spinoza both before and after she wrote fiction and the novels that earned her a place as one of English literature’s greatest writers.

In her introduction Clare Carlisle places the “Ethics” in its seventeenth-century context and explains the key philosophical claims. She writes od George Eliot’s intellectual formation, her interest in Spinoza, the circumstances of her translation of the “Ethics” and the influence of Spinoza’s ideas on her literary work. We see how Eliot drew on Spinoza’s radical insights on religion, ethics, and human emotions, and sheds light on the similarities between Spinoza’s philosophy and Eliot’s novels.

This edition shows why George Eliot’s translation remains one of the most compelling and philosophically looks of Spinoza’s Latin text. It includes notes that indicate Eliot’s amendments to her manuscript and that discuss her translation decisions alongside more recent English editions.

“Ethics” is a genuine work of philosophy that brings to the fore another kind of Spinozism that has hardly been studied. It is a work of historical scholarship and a genuine work of philosophy. Carlisle provides a concise overview of Spinoza’s philosophy and explores his ideas as they connect to Eliot’s fiction and intellectual life.

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