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Note: Although they can also stand alone, these few notes supplement Spinoza's nature philosophy and consequent ethics (Spinoza's pantheistic world-view).

Criticism of Schweitzer's view of Spinoza's ethics

The relation between Spinoza and Judaism and the ethics of the Greeks. Altruism and egoism.

Spinoza rejects the achievement of modern ethics as influenced by Christianity, viz. the regarding of altruism as something that belongs to the essence of ethics, and confines himself to the thought that in the last resort all ethical action aims at our own interests, though it may be at our highest spiritual ones. In order to avoid thinking anything which is not a necessity of thought, he goes back of his own free will into the captivity in which ancient ethics lives. (Albert Schweitzer, Civilization and Ethics, tr. Campion, 2nd rev. ed. (1929), Chapter 10, p. 118)

But that's precisely the operative word here: "regarding". Whether we say that altruism is essential to ethics or whether we say that it is instead our own interests ("thinking egoism" (ibid. p. 119)) that is the essence of ethics -- either way all are doing is "regarding": that is, those are both ways of looking at things, not questions of fact. It may be very difficult to regard some acts as altruistic, but it would also be very difficult to regard other acts as egoistic -- e.g. sacrificing one's life (i.e. dying) in order to save the life of a stranger or enemy. But if we are going to add "though it may be at our highest spiritual interests", then we are not going to exclude anything from being regarded as a selfish act.

Schweitzer's "the captivity in which ancient ethics lives". Maybe he is correct -- because does thoroughgoing reason allow us go any further than ethics as "care [tendance] of the individual's soul" and the consideration of what the good (in contrast to the bad man) does (which is a conceptual investigation)? But what difference to how man should live his life does it make whether we regard an act as altruistic or not? If that act is what the good man does, then that is what he does, even if the act is a selfish one, which not harming one's soul may sometimes be (loving thy neighbor as thyself, not more than thyself). On the other hand, the Greeks might say that altruism belongs to the specific excellence that is proper to man; indeed Plato does say that in Republic 335d.

Whatever good [man] does to others he never does for their sakes, but always for his own. (Schweitzer, p. 118)

So much then for Spinoza's inheritance from Judaism, because he does what Judaism always refused to do -- namely, to separate love of neighbor from love of God -- by claiming that the good for man consists in loving God (of loving Spinoza's pantheistic God, that is) only. The parable of the merciful Samaritan (Luke 10.25-37) is the highest expression of that inheritance, applying 'neighbor' to the whole of humanity, not only to one's own tribe (thus not "loving only those who also love you"). Schweitzer, indeed, thought that if Spinoza "could let himself go, he would ... conduct a campaign against the morality of love and duty" (p. 118), but Spinoza is cautious not to go that far, already facing thoroughgoing opposition from the civil authorities, theologians and almost every philosopher (p. 118-119).

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