Within Reason: A Life of Spinoza

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9780312253585: Within Reason: A Life of Spinoza

Celebrates the life and work of the seventeenth century philosopher who believed that humans were part of nature and that God was synonomous with nature.

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Review:

You would be hard put to find a better, more thorough, more thoughtful biography of Spinoza than this work by Margaret Gullan-Whur. With a precision and logical progression appropriate for such a man of reason, Gullan-Whur inspects all that is known of Spinoza's life, community, and times, fleshing out what made the individual as well as the philosopher, and comparing the concepts of Spinoza's treatises to how he led his life. Though not necessarily an easy read--you need to concentrate to take in all that Gullan-Whur offers--the narrative is riveting.

Gullan-Whur paints a detailed picture of 17th-century Dutch life, from the smoky peat fires used to combat the North Sea chill to the omnipresent tobacco smoke, which was believed to have great medicinal value. She discusses the history of Spanish and Portuguese Jews (marranos) in Amsterdam, the extent to which the marranos assimilated into Dutch culture, and ways in which marrano values may have affected Spinoza. She further describes what is known of Spinoza's family, such as the death of his mother when he was 6 and his father's standing in the Jewish and Dutch communities, and explores the origins of Spinoza's evident misogyny.

Whether you're a Spinoza enthusiast, an informed critic, or are ignorant of all things Spinozan, the results of Gullan-Whur's research and analysis are fascinating, vividly depicting an era, a place, and a man whose theories did not always manifest themselves in his daily practices--despite his great impatience with pretence and false acts of piety. He was an intellectual rebel and did not suffer fools lightly, he treated dogma and hypocrisy with insolence and sarcasm, and he spurned irrational emotion. He alienated the rabbis, and they declared him a heretic. He rejected the lucrative merchant career he'd have inherited from his father and supported himself by grinding lenses. And although he stressed the importance of one's physical and spiritual health--through food, entertainment, and sensual delights--he neglected himself in such matters and died, alone and disheartened, at the age of 45.

Despite the inconsistencies that Spinoza was subject to, his treatises on ethics and the power of reason were born of an alienation and grief not uncommon in our own fragmented society. It is as timely now to study Spinoza's philosophies as it ever was, and thanks to Gullan-Whur's excellent biography, it's also possible to gain some insight into the man who conceived them. --Stephanie Gold

About the Author:

Margaret Gullan-Whur gained a first-class degree in philosophy and critical theory of literature from the University of East Anglia, and a doctorate in the philosophy of Spinoza from University College London.

Cover paintings: Portrait of Spinoza, Dutch School, second half of the 17th century, reproduced courtesy of Haags Historisch Museum, The Hague; detail from The Dam with the New Town Hall under Construction by Johannes Lingelbach reproduced by courtesy of Amsterdams Historisch Museum, Amsterdam.

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Margaret Gullan-Whur
Editorial: St Martins Pr (2000)
ISBN 10: 0312253583 ISBN 13: 9780312253585
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