Thursday, October 20, 2011

Steven Nadler's "A Book Forged in Hell"

Steven Nadler is the William H. Hay II Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His books include Rembrandt's Jews, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; Spinoza: A Life, which won the Koret Jewish Book Award; and The Best of All Possible Worlds: A Story of Philosophers, God, and Evil in the Age of Reason.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age, and reported the following:
A Book Forged in Hell is about the Theological-Political Treatise (published in Amsterdam in 1670) by the seventeenth-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677). The Treatise was, without question, regarded by Spinoza's contemporaries all across Europe as the most dangerous book ever published. They perceived it to be full of godless atheism and licentious immorality and bound to corrupt citizens of all ages; theologians, academics, civic leaders, and fellow philosophers (even those of a liberal persuasion) were all lined up against a work that one religious critic called "a book forged in hell by the devil himself." On p. 99, we are right in the middle of Spinoza's discussion of miracles. In the minds of his critics, this was one of the most incendiary parts of the book. Spinoza denied that miracles are possible. According to his metaphysics, there is no God that transcends nature—all there is is nature and whatever is within nature. There is no divine being able to step in and suspend nature's operations for some providential purpose. Therefore, whatever happens in nature is necessitated by nature's own laws, and there can be no exceptions to these laws. The belief in miracles, Spinoza argues, is grounded in ignorance, not piety. It is generated by a lack of understanding of what nature is and what God is, along with the irrational emotions of hope and fear. On p. 99, I discuss how according to Spinoza one does not even have to accept his own idiosyncratic philosophical conception of "God" (as Nature) to see that the traditional religious view of miracles is mere superstition. Spinoza implies that even someone who believes in a providential God should see that the wisdom and power of such a God is best expressed in the ordinary operations of the nature that He has created.
Learn more about A Book Forged in Hell at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Steven Nadler's The Best of All Possible Worlds.

--Marshal Zeringue