Spinoza’s Ethics: A Radical Reorientation of Metaphysics

Organized by Dr. Dr. Timon Boehm and Christopher Hill, MA, MA

Weekly meetings will take place on Tuesdays 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. (US Central Time) beginning on June 18, 2024. There will be 8 seminar sessions.


Baruch de Spinoza (1632-77, in the Netherlands) was a controversial thinker of the early modern period who continues to unsettle readers to this day. His revision of metaphysical terms (e.g., “substance,” “attributes” and “modes”) constitutes a fundamental reorientation in Western philosophy. In particular, he no longer separates man from God or nature, but in his pantheism man is an “expression” of what he calls a single “substance,” which is, for him, identical with God or nature. Partaking in the divine power, man has finite power, called conatus, which forms the base of Spinoza’s ethical considerations: power is, for him, not simply evil, but something one endeavors to enhance via the guidance of reason. One will only orient oneself successfully, he argues, if one critically analyzes one’s affects and frees oneself from the sad passions like hatred, envy, and revenge, in favor of the active affects such as love and joy. For Spinoza, living ethically means understanding the world in accordance with the affective dynamics of power and thereby doing greater justice to the world while increasing joy and love.

However, his pantheistic ethics was not only misunderstood by many, but also faced many hostilities: he was excommunicated, censored, and denounced an atheist. In the dispute concerning Spinoza’s reception, the so-called “pantheism controversy,” Moses Mendelssohn, a Jewish Enlightenment philosopher, tried to mediate and introduced the term of “orientation” into philosophy as a concept for “pausing to think” and deciding between alternatives without final certainties – which formed the very root of Stegmaier’s philosophy of orientation.

In this seminar, we will give an introduction to Spinoza’s main work, his Ethics, and relate it to important concepts of the philosophy of orientation, such as signs, perspectives, critical distancing, moral and ethical orientation, as well as the virtues of orientation. In contrast to today’s increasingly moral polarizations, Spinoza offers an alternative ethical orientation based on radical immanence that emphasizes relations and affects. This seminar is discussion-based; this means that participants are expected to read the assigned passages before the sessions. The seminar is free, but seats may be limited. Please apply by June 13, 2024, via the application form below by briefly explaining 1.) your professional and/or academic background, 2.) your philosophical interests, and 3.) your motivation for joining the seminar (max. 50 words per field).

Recommended Literature:

  • Baruch de Spinoza, A Spinoza Reader: The Ethics and Other works, ed. by Edwin Curley (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994).
  • Werner Stegmaier, What is Orientation? A Philosophical Investigation (Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2019). 

Application Form

    To apply, please send a short text briefly describing: