Spinoza’s Summum Bonum


Yitzhak Melamed heeft een
artikel naar academia.edu geüpload dat binnenkort gaat verschijnen. “Spinoza
and Some of His Medieval Predecessors on the Summum Bonum. Forthcoming in Nadja
German and Yehuda Halper (eds.), The
Pursuit of Happiness in Medieval Jewish and Islamic Thought

Daarin laat hij zien wat
het begrip 'summum bonum' – het hoogste goed – dat al vroeg in de TIE voorkomt bij
Spinoza betekent en hoe het zich in de Ethica ontwikkelt.

Melamed laat zien hoe
Spinoza, die niet veel van Aristoteles zei te moeten hebben, toch dit centrale
Aristotelische begrip overnam.
Een informatief artikel, waarvan ik het slot
hier overneem.


                Spinoza was no fan of Aristotle. In a letter from
October 1674, he asserts plainly: “To me the authority of Plato, Aristotle, and
Socrates is not worth much.”[1] Still, Spinoza’s
attitude toward Aristotle was not one of complete and unreserved rejection. On
some issues, such as the rejection of the Aristotelian ban on actual infinity,
Spinoza’s attack on Aristotle went far beyond that of most of his contemporaries.[2] Yet, on many other
issues, Spinoza critically adopted, and reinterpreted, key Aristotelean
concepts and doctrines. In this manner Spinoza adopted and heavily employed the
Aristotelian concept of essence while divorcing it from its original and
standard association with teleology. We can discern a similar attitude in
Spinoza’s reception of Aristotelean ethics. Spinoza adopts key doctrines and
concepts from Aristotle and Maimonides, yet at the end of the day these
elements acquire a new, and frequently surprising, meaning.

                A bit more than a third of a century ago, I recall
myself as a child coming across an odd volume in the library of my father’s
Hassidic shul. The title of the book, Sefer ha-Midot (Hebrew: “the Book of
Ethics”), was not the reason for my surprise; most Hassidic libraries contain
books on piety and ethics. The reason for the surprise was, of course, the
author of this specific book of piety, namely, Aristotle.[3]
In his masterly study, Steven Harvey traced the fascinating history of the Jewish
reception of the Nicomachean Ethics from almost complete ignorance and
indifference in the early middle-ages to the early modern period during which
the book became one of the most cited works in rabbinic literature.[4] The terminology of
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is today spread over much of the canonical
rabbinic literature on piety. In many of these works, Aristotelean terms are
put to work in a very original and surprising manner, just as in the works of
our friend, Benedict of Amsterdam.

[1] Spinoza, Ep. 56| IV/261/30.

[2] See my “Hasdai Crescas and Spinoza.” For
the rejection of actual infinity by self-proclaimed early modern
anti-Aristotelians, such as Hobbes and Locke, see my “Eternity in Early Modern
Philosophy,” 137-142.

[3] Most likely, this volume was the 1866 Lemberg reprint of Itzik
Satanow’s 1790/91 edition, Sefer ha-Midot
See Friedberg, Bet Eked Sepharim, II 554.

[4] Harvey, “Influence,” 136-7. Indeed, any cursory search of
Aristotelean moral terminology (such as, ‘hazlaha [happiness],’ or ‘ha-tov
[the highest good]’ in databases of rabbinic literatures will
yield thousands of hits.