Wednesday, May 30, 2018
It is our good fortune to live in an age when philosophy is thought to be a harmless affair. As the autumn of 1676 approached, however, Baruch de Spinoza had ample reason to fear for his safety. One of his friends had recently been executed, and another had died in prison. His efforts to publish his definitive work, the Ethics, had come to an end amid threats of criminal prosecution. A leading French theologian named him "the most impious and the most dangerous man of the century." A powerful bishop denounced him as "that insane and evil man, who deserves to be covered with chains and whipped with a rod." To the general public, he was known simple as "the atheist Jew."
Among those who seemed eager to bring the infidel philosopher to justice was a young courtier and polymath named Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. In a personal letter to that same French theologian, Leibniz described Spinoza's work as "horrible" and "terrifying." To a famous professor, he called it "intolerably impudent." To a friend he confided, "I deplore that a man of such evident culture should have fallen so low."
-Matthew Steward, Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World