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I don't have much philosophical background aside from a couple college classes and stuff I've picked up from general interest.

I'd like to learn Spinoza's philosophy. What is a good starting place? I'm interested in either reading Spinoza's books or books that explain his ideas.

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    In passing, Deleuze has two texts on Spinoza that are well worth a look: Expressionism in Philosophy and Spinoza: Practical Philosophy -- though to be clear these are not exactly introductory materials but rather critical readings that do demand some familiarity with Spinoza already – Joseph Weissman Feb 16 '12 at 18:24
  • Ethics is a good starting point. Just gloss over the demonstrations first, don't mind too much about the formality of the theorems, but go for the introduction/conclusion to each part and the comments in natural language interspersed between the theorems. This is easy reading and will give you 80% of the content for 20% of the effort. I also personally found his correspondence to be interesting. Some letters develop points of his philosophy in accessible manner. Many letters are somewhat irrelevant but give you historical insight i found fascinating. – armand Mar 27 at 0:36
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I personally started with Ethics but my intuition would be after having read the "Short Introduction" genre on other topics, that this will be a good starting place. But it won't hurt to gloss over his main work.

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I understand that this is statistically unlikely to be useful to you, but for the sake of future Googlers:

There is an excellent introduction to Spinoza, written by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss, entitled Det frie menneske. Unfortunately, it has not (yet) been translated into English.

Except for that lamentable limitation, it is exactly what you are looking for: a guide to Spinoza's Ethics, its place in Spinoza's philosophy, and its relevance to contemporary readers, written in a clear, accessible manner, by a man who was a leading philosopher in his own right. It is one of the best entry-level introductions to any philosopher that I know.

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    I really wanted to recommend "Det frie mennesket" as well, but, as you also mentioned, it hasn't been translated to English yet. I hope more of Arne's work gets translated to English, so that it will be more accessible to people around the world! – Leif Apr 13 '12 at 22:34
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    Okay, now I feel like I need to learn Norwegian. Any idea when a English trans. might be expected? – Joseph Weissman Jul 3 '12 at 23:02
  • @JosephWeissman: I haven't heard any rumours, but I'll certainly let you know if I do hear something. – Michael Dorfman Jul 4 '12 at 9:25
  • Arne Naess' paper on Spinoza's Environmental Philosophy is available in English along with a few other lectures. Look on Abe Books or Amazon. CS – Charles M Saunders Mar 28 at 16:05
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Arne Næss, the Norwegian philosopher, has based a lot of his work on Spinoza. In fact, I came to discover Spinoza through Arne's work. His writings presents a more "human and romantic" introduction to Spinoza's work, which, in contrast, is rather" rigid and mathematical."

If I had to choose, then my favourite read from Næss must be "Life's Philosophy: Reason and Feeling in a Deeper World." This sweet little book really helped me understand Spinoza's "Ethics."

Please note that I have never read any Næss in English, only in Norwegian, so I cannot vouch for the translations.

Edit: I just remembered this little book from Oxford University Press. It's also a pretty good "condensed introduction" to Spinoza that's worth checking out.

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You should read his masterpiece "ETHICS" to know his Main Philosophy. And to know his views on Psychology and Political Philosophy, you should read his "Treatise on the improvement of the understanding" and "Theologico- Political Treatise".

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Check Amazon Books and review 'Letters to No One in Particular' by Charles M Saunders. It is a discussion and illustration of Spinoza's "On the Improvement of the Understanding'. This short Treatise holds the key to opening the complexities in the "Ethics". Without an 'adequate' understanding of what Spinoza means by 'idea', which has nothing at all to do with today's usage, the enormity of the uniqueness of Spinoza's Epistemological revolution will go unnoticed. Spinoza is the 'only' thinker to both espouse and explicate the existence and operation of the human mind.

All the Best in your studies

Further suggestions for reading:

The Living Thoughts of Spinoza, by Arnold Zweig-- On Spinoza, by Diane Steinberg

Spinoza, by Roger Scruton-- Spinoza a Life, by Steven Nadler

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