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GOV 382M Unique number 38130
Spinoza and the Ethical Basis of Liberal Democracy (Spring 2016)
2-3:30 PM Mon/Wed in Batts 1.104
Professor Thomas L. Pangle Office hours: Tues. 2-5 PM (and by appt.) in Mezes
3.154; office tel. 232 1529 email address: [email protected]
Even a modest reading knowledge of Latin would be very helpful;
students are strongly encouraged to consult the original texts as much as
they are able, especially when they write their papers. Some knowledge of
Hebrew would also be useful, since Spinoza quotes the Hebrew Bible in
the original. An acquaintance with the Bible and the political philosophies
of Hobbes, Plato, and Aristotle will be presumed. Any familiarity with
Maimonides would be useful.
Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise is the first elaboration in history of
the philosophical foundation for what we call "liberal" democracy—that
is, democratic republicanism dedicated to freedom of speech and thought.
Spinoza lays the foundation for this regime by confronting the massive
alternative to political rationalism: the Bible, understood as conveying a
superhuman and supra-rational divine revelation that ought to be the
supreme guide to human existence.
In his Ethics, which presupposes and requires the Theologico-Political
Treatise as a foundation, Spinoza elaborates his strictly rationalist
metaphysical and moral and psychological principles.
In his unfinished Political Treatise. Spinoza further develops or
elaborates political implications—but he died before writing the crucial
section on democracy.
The course will be devoted to study of these works, and especially
the Theologico-Political Treatise, with a view to clarifying—in the light of the
growing contemporary crisis of enlightenment rationalism as it faces
scripturally based politics—the nowadays mostly unknown theologicopolitical grounding of the modern theory of liberal democracy. A key
background theme will be the quarrel between Spinoza’s enlightenment
rationalism (which still reigns—if in ever more ignorant, embattled, and
precarious condition—over our culture) and the profoundly different
rationalism of the classical republican theorists: Socrates, Plato, and
Aristotle—and their medieval reviver, Maimonides (to whom Spinoza
directly responds).
Required Texts (in the order they'll be treated in class):
Spinoza's Theologico-Political Treatise. ("THPT") Trans. Yaffe (Focus). The
only strictly accurate translation.
Syllabus for GOV 382M: Spinoza
The Bible will need to be at your side as you read the THPT, since Sp.
refers to it constantly. (The King James version remains overall the
most literal and accurate, as well as felicitous.)
Spinoza’s Ethics. Trans. Curley, in Penguin Classics; also in Collected
Works of Spinoza, vol. 1. (Princeton).
Spinoza’s (unfinished) Political Treatise. "PT" No strictly accurate
translation available. Trans. Shirley (Hackett) or Wernham, with
facing Latin (Oxford) 199.492 SP47 C1.
Other Spinoza texts (see also bibliography in Yaffe’s trans. of THPT):
Spinoza Opera, 4 vols., ed. Gebhardt (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1925 and
1972 repr.). 199.2 SP4 A1 The standard critical edition of Sp's works.
Tractatus theologico-politicus/ Traité théologique-politique. Ed. Fokke
Akkerman (Paris: Presses Universitaires). Contains annotated Latin
text with some corrections of the Gebhardt edition, with French
translation and notes. The leading scholarly edition of THPT.
The Correspondence of Spinoza. Ed. and trans. Wolf (Dial 1928—199.2 SP4
B1); (Russell 1966—B 3964 E5 W6).
Steven Nadler, Spinoza: A Life (Cambridge). In the author’s words, “most
definitely not an ‘intellectual biography.’” Helpful on the social and
political context in which Spinoza wrote—but inadequate on
understanding how Spinoza as an author responded to that
context. For correction, see:
Arthur Melzer, Philosophy Between the Lines; The Lost History of Esoteric
Writing (U. of Chicago).
Edwin Curley, Behind the Geometric Method: A Reading of Spinoza’s ETHICS
(Princeton). A helpful and stimulating interpretation of the first half
of the Ethics.
Leo Strauss, “How to Study Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise,” in
Persecution and the Art of Writing (U. of Chicago).
_____, Spinoza’s Critique of Religion (U. of Chicago).
Wayne I. Boucher, Spinoza in English: A Bibliography from the Sixteenth
Century to the Present. (Brill, 1991). For other languages, see the
bibliographies listed in Akkerman's ed. above, p. 827.
25% Analytic paper, 12+ pages, elucidating key features of Spinoza's
political theory as presented in chaps 16-20 of TH-PT,
supplemented by PT; perhaps comparison with Hobbes or another
contract theorist. DUE March 21 (day after Spring break ends).
20% Ten weekly one-page papers (2% each), on one of the study questions
handed out the preceding week, or on a portion of Spinoza's text
not yet covered in class. 6 before Spring break, 4 after.
Syllabus for GOV 382M: Spinoza
15% Class participation.
40% EITHER revise and enlarge, for possible publication, previous
analytic paper (integrating some response to secondary lit., etc.) OR
write new 12+ analytic (suggested or model topics will be handed
Students with disabilities may request appropriate academic accommodations from the Division
of Diversity and Community Engagement, Services for Students with Disabilities, 512-4716259,