Why Should We Read Spinoza?

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by Susan James

Published on 8 Nov 2014

During the twentieth century, Spinoza was allotted a minor role in Anglophone histories of philosophy. Dwarfed by Descartes, Hobbes, Locke and Leibniz, he was widely regarded as an eccentric loner. Recently, however, he has come to be seen as a philosopher of broad contemporary relevance. He has been read as a religious pluralist, a radical democrat, an early defender of dual aspect monism, a metaphysical holist whose ideas anticipate the concerns of contemporary ecologists, and as nothing less than the founder of the Enlightenment. In this lecture I shall ask what this interpretative turnaround tells us about the way we do the history of philosophy. What are we looking for when we study philosophy’s past? And why should we read Spinoza?

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