Opera Posthuma. Quorum series post Praefationem exhibetur.

[Amsterdam: Jan Rieuwertsz], 1677.

First edition, and a very fine copy, of Spinoza’s Opera Posthuma which “have served, then and since, with the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, to immortalize his name” (PMM 153). The first work in the volume is “Spinoza’s one indisputable masterpiece, the Ethics” (Bennett, A Study of Spinoza’s Ethics, p. 7).

The first and “principal work in the Opera Posthuma is Spinoza’s Ethics, in which Spinoza bridged the Cartesian duality of body and spirit by maintaining that the universe, including God, constitutes a unified infinite and all-inclusive ‘Substance,’ of which corporeality and spirituality were merely attributes – a unity expressed in the controversial phrase ‘Deus sive Natura’ (God or Nature). Ethics is thus considered the first systematic exposition of pantheism, the philosophy in which God is identified with the entire universe” (Norman 1988).

“Baruch (or Benedictus) Spinoza is one of the most important philosophers - and certainly the most radical - of the early modern period. His thought combines a commitment to Cartesian metaphysical and epistemological principles with elements from ancient Stoicism and medieval Jewish rationalism into a nonetheless highly original system. His extremely naturalistic views on God, the world, the human being and knowledge serve to ground a moral philosophy centered on the control of the passions leading to virtue and happiness. They also lay the foundations for a strongly

democratic political thought and a deep critique of the pretensions of Scripture and sectarian religion. Of all the philosophers of the seventeenth-century, perhaps none have more relevance today than Spinoza” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

“Born in Amsterdam to a distinguished family of Sephardic exiles from Spain, Spinoza (1632-77) early absorbed all the theological and philosophical knowledge that the rabbis of his community were able to impart. Latin he learnt from an eccentric physician of materialistic tendencies, which brought him into contact with Giordano Bruno and Descartes. From this followed his break with Jewish orthodoxy, and the excommunication imposed upon him on 27 July 1656. From then on Spinoza, adopting the Latin form Benedict of his birth name Baruch, led a wandering life. Like all his Jewish contemporaries, he had learnt a handicraft: the grinding of lenses. In this, as in the theory of optics, he showed great ability. His lenses were in considerable demand, and his skill brought him into contact with Huygens and Leibniz: a tract on the rainbow, long thought to be lost, was published as recently as 1862. Thus Spinoza was able to support himself as the guest of a friend, a member of the Collegiants, an Armenian religious community, in the country outside Amsterdam out of reach of his late co-religionists, and to devote himself to concentrated thought and study. There he found himself the centre of a small philosophical club, which, originally meeting to study Cartesian philosophy, eventually parted company with Descartes; it was for them, in all probability, that Spinoza wrote his ‘Ethics’” (PMM).

“[M]ost likely in the spring of 1662, Spinoza took up his pen to begin what would be his philosophical masterpiece, the ‘Ethics’ (Ethica) … [I]n essence, a treatise on “God, man and His Well-Being,” the “Ethics” was an attempt to provide a fuller, clearer, and more systematic layout in “the geometric style” for his grand metaphysical and moral project. He worked on it steadily for a number of years, through his move to Voorburg in 1663 and on into the summer of 1665. He envisioned at this point a three-part work, and seems to have had a fairly substantial draft in hand by June 1665. He felt confident enough of what he had written so far to allow a select few to read it, and there were Latin and even Dutch (translated by Pieter Balling) copies of the manuscript circulating among his friends. We do not know how close to a final product Spinoza considered this draft of the ‘Ethics’ when he put it aside, probably in the fall of 1665 ... At the time he probably saw it as mostly complete but in need of polishing. It would be a good number of years, though, before Spinoza returned to his metaphysical-moral treatise to put the finishing touches on it, which included significant additions and revisions, no doubt in the light of further reading and reflection” (Nadler, Spinoza's Ethics. An Introduction, p. 15).

“In 1675 he contemplated publishing his ‘Ethics,’ but baseless rumours, later idly repeated by Hume, of his atheism, decided him against it. On 20 February 1677 he died of consumption and his funeral was attended by a devoted and distinguished gathering” (PMM).

Immediately after his death, his friends arranged the publication of his Ethics, together with his other unpublished writings, in Opera Posthuma. It was edited by one of Spinoza’s closest friends, Jarig Jelles. The Ethics is followed in the volume by four other works:

Tractatus de intellectus emendatione, a preliminary work to the Ethics, “written probably before Spinoza was thirty years old, is important not only historically, as showing how gradually and consecutively what he had to tell the world was revealed to him, but also for its own intrinsic worth” (Hale-White (translator), Tractatus de intellectus emendation (1895), p. 2). “The Tractatus is an attempt to formulate a philosophical method that would allow the mind to form the clear and distinct ideas that are necessary for its perfection. It contains, in addition, reflection upon the various kinds of knowledge, an extended treatment of definition, and a lengthy analysis of the nature and causes of doubt” (Wikipedia).

The unfinished Tractatus politicus “is a fitting sequel to the Ethics. Whereas the Ethics reveals the path to individual freedom, the Tractatus politicus reveals the extent to which individual freedom depends on civil institutions. We should not be surprised to find Spinoza to be civic-minded. From his earliest writings, he claims that he is concerned not just to perfect his own nature but also “to form a society of the kind that is desirable, so that as many as possible may attain [a flourishing life] as easily and surely as possible.” The Tractatus politicus may be seen as Spinoza's attempt to articulate some of the conditions for the possibility of such a society” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

A collection of 74 Epistolae, letters from and to Spinoza. “The letters are an invaluable source of information about Spinoza’s life, his network of friends and acquaintances, and his works. The reason for writing the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus is explained in Ep. 30, and in many letters Spinoza responds to criticisms or enquiries about his views on religion … The correspondence also reflects how Spinoza’s contemporaries worried about the ethical and religious implications of his philosophy, and documents the variety of subjects that were discussed under the heading of philosophy: planets (Ep. 26), hydrostatics (Ep. 41), nitre (Ep. 6, 13), probability calculus (Ep. 38). Spinoza’s expertise in lens-grinding is apparent in discussions of lenses, telescopes, optics and dioptrics (Ep. 26, 32, 36, 39, 40, 46)” (The Bloomsbury Companion to Spinoza, p. 359).

“The fifth and final work in Spinoza’s Opera Posthuma (with its own title page, pagination, and errata) is a Grammar of the Hebrew Language, Compendium Grammaticus Lingua Hebraeae. Spinoza was one of the first to subject the Bible to critical analysis but demanded that such analysis be rooted in a thorough understanding of the Hebrew language. Then, and only then, Spinoza states, may one turn to ‘the life, the conduct and the pursuits of the author of each book ... [and] the fate of each book: how it was first received, into whose hands it fell, how many different versions there were of it, by whose advice it was received into the Canon, and how all the books now universally accepted as sacred, were united into a single whole’” (jewishvirtuallibrary.org).

See PMM 153; Brunet V, 492; Caillet 10309; Kingma & Offenberg 24; Norman 1988; Van der Linde 22 (apparently lacking the separate half-titles for Ethica and Compendium Grammatices Linguæ Hebrææ, which are present in our copy); Wolf Collection 378.



4to, pp. [40], 614, [34], 112, [8], with woodcut vignette on title. Contemporary vellum, handwritten title to spine. A very fine and fresh copy with no restoration at all. Rare in such good condition.

Item #4364

Price: $17,500.00