“Think Least of Death: Spinoza on How to Live and How to Die” by Steven Nadler— What We Can Learn from Spinoza

Nadler, Steven. “Think Least of Death: Spinoza on How to Live and How to Die”, Princeton University Press, 2020.

What We Can Learn from Spinoza

Amos Lassen

At my Temple, I am often referred to as a Spinoza adherent because I try to maintain that what once caused Spinoza so much trouble has actually come to be. Yet one of the aspects of his philosophy I have never really studied before Steven Nadler’s “Think Least of Death: Spinoza on How to Live and How to Die” are his views on death.

In 1656, Spinoza was excommunicated from Amsterdam’s Portuguese-Jewish community for “abominable heresies” and “monstrous deeds.” He had abandoned his family’s import business to dedicate his life to philosophy. He soon became notorious across Europe for his views on God, the Bible, and miracles, as well as for his total defense of free thought. This “radicalism” of Spinoza’s views has long hidden that his reason for turning to philosophy was to answer one of the most urgent questions of humanity: How can we lead a good life and enjoy happiness in a world without a providential God? Here, Steven Nadler connects Spinoza’s ideas with his life and times to give us a compelling account of how Baruch Spinoza can provide a guide to living one’s best life.

In his “Ethics”, Spinoza gives us his vision of the ideal human being, the “free person” who is motivated by reason and who lives a life of joy devoted to what is most important that is, to oneself and others. Passions such as hate, greed, and envy are of no concern and free people treat others with benevolence, justice, and charity. The focus is on the rewards of goodness and pleasures are enjoyed in moderation. This free person thinks least of all of death and his wisdom is a meditation on life and not death. Nadler shows how Spinoza’s ideas still provide valuable insights about how to live today.

This is an introduction to Spinoza’s moral philosophy and  examines the question of what constitutes a good human life.Here is Spinoza as a moral philosopher along with his often overlooked contributions to traditional ethical subjects like death and suicide.

This book analyzes the core points in Spinoza’s Ethics regarding living as a “free person” and dying as one. Spinoza  advocates the “logical life”, free of outside passions, but since this seems unattainable, he presents the closest mortal counterpart. Nadler focuses on putting Spinoza’s writings into perspective. 

Nadler addresses the paradoxes of Spinoza’s philosophy and presents a look at a philosophical approach that does not reach the non-academic word. The book explores the last three parts of Spinoza’s “Ethics” in whichSpin­oza lays out a pan­the­is­tic con­cep­tion of God, a God who is every­thing and syn­ony­mous with nature. Spinoza’s con­cep­tion of God andnot how we should act in light of that God is the main thrust.

After briefly explain­ing Spinoza’s the­o­log­i­cal frame­work, Nadler explores a num­ber of issues that come out of  it, includ­ing what makes a per­son free, how to live an hon­est life, the nature of a good friend­ship, and the ide­al atti­tude toward death. Even with this, Spin­oza remains dif­fi­cult and so it is important to read this book carefully.  This is an indis­pens­able book for any­one inter­est­ed in learn­ing about Spin­oza and one we can all use to bet­ter under­stand the peo­ple we seek to be and the  lives that we hope we can live.

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