Midcoast Senior College Course Syllabus for

 Benedict Spinoza’s Ethics: What The World Is Like According to Philosophy’s Most Consummate Deductive Rationalist

2019 Fall Semester Mondays 9:30-11:30 at Midcoast Senior College, 29 Burbank Ave, Brunswick, ME 04011 

Copyright © 2019 Bruce W. Hauptli

Course Description: Benedict Spinoza is a unique philosopher who has been accused of being both “god-intoxicated” and atheistic. In this course we introduce Spinoza’s philosophical worldview, clarify his unflagging commitment to a deductive conception of rationality and a priori truth, and examine the consequences of his commitments to these.  He is a rather unique philosopher who has been accused of being both “god-intoxicated” and an atheist.  While he grew up in Amsterdam, which had at the time one of the most tolerant European climates, when he was 24 (1656) he was excommunicated from the Jewish Congregation of Amsterdam.  In 1660 the Congregation’s Governing Board petitioned Municipal authorities to denounce him as a “menace to all piety and morals,” and in 1661 he leaves Amsterdam and begins writing his Ethics.  While his book criticizing Descartes could safely be published in 1664, Spinoza had to publish his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670] anonymously (and to protect the publisher from political retribution the title page identified the city of publication as Hamburg and the publisher as Henricus Kunraht).  This book was written in Latin in hopes of avoiding censorship by the secular Dutch authorities though the Calvinist Council of Amsterdam denounced it as a “work forged in Hell by a renegade Jew and the Devil.”  Spinoza’s collected works were published (in both Latin and Dutch editions) by his friends with the title pages containing neither the name of the publisher nor the location of the publisher. 

In this course I plan to introduce the students to Spinoza’s philosophical worldview, clarify his unflagging commitment to a deductive conception of rationality and a priori truth, and examine the consequences of his commitments to these. 

Many students shy away from reading philosophy as they have not done this before.  I do not presume that any of those attending this class have had a prior philosophy course, and intend to use it to provide an introduction to philosophy.  I have a supplement called "What Is Philosophy?" and it does try and give a brief characterization of the activity--I don't plan to cover it in class, but can discuss it if students would like. 

Text: Baruch Spinoza: Ethics, Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect, and Selected Letters, trans. Samuel Shirley (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1992). ISBN 978-0872201309 (Also on Kindle). 

Course Readings from Spinoza’s Ethics--it is recommended that you read these selections from the text prior to the relevant class:

Part I: Read complete Part (including the Appendix). 

Part II: Of The Nature and Origin of the Mind: Read Definitions, Axioms, and Propositions 1-13 (not including the ensuing Lemmas or Postulates), and 31-47;  

Part III: Concerning the Origin and Nature of the Emotions: Read Preface, Definitions, and Propositions 1-11 (including its Scholium);

Part IV: Of Human Bondage, or the Strength of the Emotions: Read Preface, Propositions 1-8, Scholium to Proposition 18, 32-37 (including its two notes), and 62-73 (including its Scholium);

Part V: Of the Power of the Intellect or Of Human Freedom: Read Preface, Propositions 1-4 (including Scholium), and 32-42 (end). 

[Approximately 92 pages.]   

Anticipated Course Schedule:

Week 1--September 9: Introduction: I have a lengthy supplement Introducing Spinoza which I used in my undergraduate course which covered this work and others of the period, and you are encouraged to look at it.  I also recommend reading Seymour Feldman's “Introduction” to our text (pp. 1-20).  There is a more detailed supplement for Spinoza's Ethics which will be the main supplement for the course.  These "supplements" may be viewed before and/or after the class(es) and will remain on the website, they are intended to provide additional information and to put it forward in a more systematic fashion--something which sometimes gets lost in class discussions on these topics.  There is more material covered than will be presented in class.  All the material, however, is  "supplemental," and if you don't find it helpful, please ignore it (or ask questions about it). 

Week 2--September 16: Introduction to Spinoza's Thought Continued and Part I of his Ethics (goal: through the first fourteen propositions)

Week 3--September 23: Part I continued.  

Week 4--September 30: Review Part I,  propositions 11-14, focus on propositions 15-16, and finish Part I, Begin Part II. 

Week 5--October 7: Part II: Definitions and Axioms; and Propositions 1-9,10-13, and 31-47.  Part III: Preface.  

Week 6--October 14: Part III Preface, Definitions, Propositions 1-14; Part IV Preface, Definitions, Axiom, Propositions I-19; 32-35. 

Week 7--October 21: Part IV Proposition 37  & Scholia, Proposition 73, and Appendix (numbers 1-4, 7, 14, and 32.  Part V: Preface, Propositions 1, 3-20,. 211-31 and 32-end.  Please study the second-to-the -last paragraph of Scholium 1 to IV 37 (p. 174) carefully and be prepared to discuss whether Spinoza seems to suffer from a lapse of rational judgment here. 

Week 8--October 28: Part V and critical discussion of Spinoza's theory.  I have added a new introduction to the part, and some new critical comments. 

Midcoast Senior College Website

MSC's Webpage for this Course

Email: hauptli@fiu.edu 

I greatly appreciate comments and corrections--typos and infelicities are all too common and the curse of "auto-correct" plagues me! 

Last revised on 10/26/19