Spinoza’s system, as laid out in The Ethics, presents one of the most ambitious projects in all of Western philosophy. He attempts to deduce not only what the world is like (very different from the way it presents itself to us through our senses), but what our emotional life consists in and where our true happiness and salvation lies–and all of this, he claims, to answer with absolute certainty, not relying on any speculations or inferences or even empirical observation, but rather on rigorous proofs that yield a sort of mathematical necessity. So what is the world like according to Spinoza? It’s one infinite matrix of logical connections that is infinitely self-aware (which means that everything that happens happens necessarily). And what does our emotional life consist in? Our emotional life has got an internal logic of its own, all motivated by each thing’s attempt to persist and to flourish in its own being. And what does our happiness and salvation consist in? It consists in our each seeing, through the operation of our reason, the necessity of all things, deducing the nature of reality and seeing ourselves with complete objectivity in relation to the whole infinite sweep of things. Seeing one’s self with uncompromising objectivity through pure reason, Spinoza argues, effects such a substantial change in the very identity of one’s self that one emerges from the process as if almost remade. In the light of objectivity the personal differences between us shrivel up into near non-existence. The Ethics can be seen as one long argument for a conclusion that is still radical today (how much more so in the seventeenth-century when people were all defined in terms of such group identities as religion and class), namely: to the extent that we are rational we all partake in precisely the same identity. Obviously, such an ethical viewpoint also has political consequences, anti-authoritarian and pro-democratic. . . .A View of the Truth: Spinoza's Faith in Reason International Herald Tribune July 31, 2006:
Spinoza's reaction to the religious intolerance he saw around him was to try to think his way out of all sectarian thinking. He understood the powerful tendency in each of us toward developing a view of the truth that favors the circumstances into which we happened to have been born. Self-aggrandizement can be the invisible scaffolding of religion, politics or ideology. Against this tendency we have no defense but the relentless application of reason. Reason must stand guard against the self-serving false entailments that creep into our thinking, inducing us to believe that we are more cosmically important than we truly are, that we have had bestowed upon us - whether Jew or Christian or Muslim - a privileged position in the narrative of the world's unfolding. Spinoza's system is a long argument for a conclusion as radical in our day as it was in his: that to the extent that we are rational, we each partake in exactly the same identity. Spinoza's faith in reason as our only hope and redemption is the core of his system, and its consequences reach out in many directions, including the political. Each of us has been endowed with reason, and it is our right, as well as our responsibility, to exercise it. Ceding this faculty to others, to the authorities of either the church or the state, is neither a rational nor an ethical option. . . .