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Spinoza's Three Gods and the Modes of Communication


  • Etienne Balibar

Etienne Balibar

Emeritus Professor of Philosophy

Université de Paris-Ouest



The paper, which retains a hypothetical character, argues that Spinoza's propositions referring to God (or involving the use of the name ‘God’, essentially in the Ethics), can be read in a fruitful manner apart from any pre-established hypothesis concerning his own ‘theological preferences’, as definite descriptions of three ‘ideas of God’ which have the same logical status: one (akin to Jewish Monotheism) which identifies the idea of God with the idea of the Law, one (akin to a heretic ‘Socinian’ version of Christianity) which identifies it with the idea of Human Love, and one (akin to a form of Cosmotheism, rather than ‘Pantheism’) which identifies it with Nature. Evidence of this analytic tripartition can be found in the letter of the texts themselves. If accepted (at least as a thought experiment), it would carry three interesting consequences: 1) to renew our understanding of the theory of the ‘three kinds of knowledge’, which have obvious affinities with the three possible ways of understanding the idea of God; 2) to emphasize the critical move associated by Spinoza with each of the three ideas of God (passing from an anthropomorphic legislator to an impersonal command, passing from an imaginary community of similarities to a practical community of singularities, and passing from a teleological and harmonious idea of nature to a causal, even conflictual, idea of its infinite power); 3) to locate the essential ethical and political questions associated with religion on the ‘vectors’ which lead from one idea to another, and represent themselves practical conatus: obedience, utility, order. It is also assumed that such a reading enhances the relevance of Spinoza's philosophy with respect to contemporary debates about religion and secularism.