Join Steven Nadler in conversation with Alex Douglas presented by The Philosopher.
The seventeenth-century philosopher Spinoza has long been known for his “heretical” view of God and for the radical determinism he sees governing the cosmos and human freedom. Only recently, however, has he begun to be considered in a serious way as a moral philosopher. In his philosophical masterpiece, the Ethics, after establishing some metaphysical and epistemological foundations, he turns to the “big questions” that so often move one to reflect on, and even change, the values that inform one’s life: What is truly good? What is happiness? What is the relationship between being a good or virtuous person and enjoying happiness and human flourishing? In this conversation with fellow Spinoza scholar Alexander Douglas, Pulitzer Prize-finalist Steven Nadler connects Spinoza’s ideas with his life and times to offer a compelling account of how the philosopher can provide a guide to living one’s best life (and death).
Steven Nadler is the William H. Hay II Professor of Philosophy and Evjue-Bascom Professor in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. One of the world’s leading Spinoza scholars, his new book Think Least of Death: Spinoza on How to Live and How to Die is published in September.
Alexander Douglas is a lecturer in the School of Philosophical, Anthropological, and Film Studies at the University of St Andrews. He studies early modern rationalism, particularly various forms of Cartesianism and especially that of Spinoza. He is also interested in critiques of political economy and is the author of The Philosophy of Debt. axdouglas.com & @alexxdouglas
About the Book
In 1656, after being excommunicated from Amsterdam’s Portuguese-Jewish community for “abominable heresies” and “monstrous deeds,” the young Baruch Spinoza abandoned his family’s import business to dedicate his life to philosophy. He quickly became notorious across Europe for his views on God, the Bible, and miracles, as well as for his uncompromising defense of free thought. Yet the radicalism of Spinoza’s views has long obscured that his primary reason for turning to philosophy was to answer one of humanity’s most urgent questions: How can we lead a good life and enjoy happiness in a world without a providential God? In Think Least of Death, Pulitzer Prize–finalist Steven Nadler connects Spinoza’s ideas with his life and times to offer a compelling account of how the philosopher can provide a guide to living one’s best life.
In the Ethics, Spinoza presents his vision of the ideal human being, the “free person” who, motivated by reason, lives a life of joy devoted to what is most important—improving oneself and others. Untroubled by passions such as hate, greed, and envy, free people treat others with benevolence, justice, and charity. Focusing on the rewards of goodness, they enjoy the pleasures of this world, but in moderation. “The free person thinks least of all of death,” Spinoza writes, “and his wisdom is a meditation not on death but on life.”
An unmatched introduction to Spinoza’s moral philosophy, Think Least of Death shows how his ideas still provide valuable insights about how to live today.