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Wotton’s Society

Wotton’s Society:
Rabbi Mark Solomon on Spinoza

On Thursday 4th February Wotton’s Society were privileged to welcome Rabbi Mark Solomon to address the society on the topic of ‘Spinoza: A heretic for our time?’ Rabbi Solomon first offered a biography of Baruch Spinoza, providing an exposition of the religious and political ferment in 17th century Holland which would shape his later philosophy. Born of Portuguese immigrants in 1632, Spinoza was to become the champion of the liberal merchants and social leaders who were appealing for a republic against the Dutch reformed Church, the prototype of the modern secular individual.

After an academically promising childhood, Spinoza abandoned the tutelary nature of Judaism and began to accustom religion with science, acquainting himself with the works of Descartes. His philosophical work Tractatus Theologico-Politicus displayed his radical transformation, his emergence as a key proponent of thought and speech against the hellish Dutch reformed Church.

Rabbi Solomon moved on to discuss Spinoza’s magnum opus, The Ethics, with Richard Dawkins’ spiel in mind: that his God is just ‘sexed-up atheism.’ As a heretic for our time, Spinoza’s eradication of the problem of theodicy is an appeal to modern religious ethics, as God is referred to in pantheism: being is being in God, though God himself is not simply the sum of its parts. Spinoza is an absolute determinist, and any freedom man can truly achieve is freedom from the ignorance of our determination: this liberation is, of course, determined. Rabbi Solomon guided his audience through Spinoza’s theories on mankind’s ethical responsibility, his intellectual eternity and the concept of acting within a society. All of these are conveyed as logically and mathematically as possible, with continued citations of previous theses: this is, for Spinoza, the ultimate form of science.

The audience at the society engaged in a high-powered academic discussion with Rabbi Solomon, moving gracefully through the theoretical realms of freewill, the bi-partite soul and the notion of Aristotelian causes. Our thanks to Rabbi Solomon for an erudite and engaging talk.



Alex MacKeith ma OS (RDO-C)


DATE POSTED: 04 February 2010

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