Spinoza on Prophetic Certaninty

Osamu Ueno
Osamu UENO (Osaka University) Spinoza on Prophetic Certainty One of the most controversial issues in interpreting Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus is its affirmative treatment of prophetic certainty, and the certainty of salvation in particular. The 'universal faith' that Spinoza puts forward in Chapter 14, which he claims should be accepted by everyone, sets out the dogma: '[A]ll who obey God by following this way of life'-that is, by doing justice and charity-and only those, are
more » ... ly those, are saved'. 1 Does Spinoza mean it? The claim seems at first sight to be relatively implausible, given that Spinoza is a rationalist who identifies God with Nature, and rejects any idea of a God of commandment, and is therefore often regarded as an atheist. Spinoza identifies a dilemma that the readers he has in mind would eventually come to face, which is, 'If we accept this principle [i.e., the dogma of salvation] without reason, blindly, then we too are acting foolishly without judgment; if on the other hand we assert that this fundamental principle can be proved by reason, then theology becomes a part of philosophy, and inseparable from it.' 2 In either case reason decides the issue, and theology that is based on prophetic authority will be dismissed as talking nonsense, or as simply redundant. Is this a sly allusion to the victory of reason over theology? Arguably, no, in that Spinoza, rather startlingly perhaps to those who take him to be an atheist, offers a solution by which theology avoids such a dilemma: To this I reply that I maintain absolutely that this fundamental dogma of theology cannot be investigated by the natural light of reason, or at least that nobody has been successful in proving it, and that therefore it was essential that there should be revelation. Nevertheless, we can use judgment in order to accept with at least moral certainty that which has been revealed. 3 In what follows, we examine the idea of 'moral certainty' ('certitudo moralis') noted here. According to Spinoza, we should accept, with moral certainty, a prophetic doctrine as 'authentic' ('verum'), 4 the truth of which, however, we cannot-and should not be able to-investigate or prove by reason. Spinoza's position here is based on two arguments, one negative and the other positive. The negative argument centers upon a communicational condition in which the prophets had to 'accommodate' their language to common use. The positive argument, on the other hand, deals with the conditions by which the prophets could come to believe in revelation. The certainty in question 1 TTP, pp.177-178.
doi:10.18910/4733 fatcat:mbkamvhv7zhhjcbmrbdmmcn32a