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Pantheism in Spinoza and the German Idealists

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 February 2009

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In an essay on pantheism Schopenhauer observes that his chief objection against it is that it says nothing, that it simply enriches language with a superfluous synonym of the word “world.” It can hardly be denied that by this remark the great pessimist, who was himself an atheist, scored a real point. For if a philosopher starts off with the physical world and proceeds to call it God, he has not added anything to the world except a label, a label which, if we take into account the ordinary significance of the word “God,” might well appear unnecessary and superfluous: one might just as pertinently say that the world is the world as that the world is God. Neither the Jew nor the Christian nor the Moslem understand by “God” the physical world, so that, if someone calls the physical world God, he cannot be taken to mean that the world is God according to the Jewish or Christian or Moslem understanding of God. Does he mean any more than that the physical world is ultimately self-explanatory, that no Cause external to the world, no transcendent Being is requisite or admissible, i.e. that there is no God? If that were all there is in pantheism, the latter would indeed be indistinguishable from atheism, and those who called Spinoza an atheist would be fully justified.

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Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 1946

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page 42 note 1 I do not say this out of any hostility to Cartesians, long since dead, nor, of course, do I accuse them of any insincerity: their attitude was only natural in view of some consequences which, as Leibniz hints, might seem to follow from Descartes' doctrine.

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