- The Collected Works of Spinoza by Benedictus de Spinoza
Edwin Curley published the first volume of his translation of Spinoza's Collected Works more than thirty years ago. It was a landmark that signaled a renewed interest among English-speaking scholars in Spinoza's work. Now, the second volume has appeared, and it too is a monument to scholarship and promises to inspire new research in the field.
It contains new translations of the Theological-Political Treatise and the Political Treatise, as well as the rest of the correspondence, letters 29–84. As in the first volume, Curley has drawn on the important work of European scholars and added much that is new and important. The scholarly apparatus is remarkable. In addition to a general introduction, Curley has provided succinct introductions to each of the major sections of the text, along with a long and fascinating glossary-index that brings us deep into questions of translation and the philosophical significance of Spinoza's vocabulary.
Other good translations of these works now exist, but they do not compare to the depth or importance of the scholarly apparatus that accompanies this one. Curley cares about the language of the text, from the point of view of both accuracy and readability. He has produced several drafts of his translation over the years and has circulated them among scholars. He has constantly improved them on both accounts. As he notes in the introduction, Curley has been influenced by Jonathan Bennett's project to make early modern texts accessible to the current generation of philosophers and students. Curley wants both scholars and non-specialists to engage with the texts.
Like any work, however great its scope and impact, there are some things that can be criticized. One of the most striking omissions is that of Spinoza's Hebrew grammar. While it may be true, as Curley suggests, that most will not want to read the whole of this work, nonetheless, because some passages in it do have "genuine philosophical interest" (xvii), it would have been ideal to also include that text in the collected works. I applaud the [End Page 545] introduction of paragraph numbers in the Theological-Political Treatise from the nineteenth-century Bruder edition in German. Unfortunately, the editors of the new Latin edition have chosen a different system. Although Curley does add a table at the end that correlates the Bruder numbers with those of the new edition, I wish that they could have coordinated their work. The bibliography is quite extensive and useful, but it does not reflect the breadth of work being done on this subject now, even in English.
Any translation involves judgment, and some will find fault with this or that choice in the volume. I would like to mention just two here as examples: 'lovingkindness' (charitas), and 'common people' (vulgus). Curley defends both of these choices in his glossary, and explains that alternatives used by others, such as 'charity' and 'the vulgar,' do not have the meanings in modern English that Spinoza intends these words to have for his readers. Yet, both alternatives seem to preserve some element of the original meaning that is lost in the modern translation. When we consult the entry in the glossary-index, we see that the first case is particularly difficult. Although Curley shows that charitas has a broader sense in Spinoza than just helping the poor, his translation seems to lose some of the original religious connotation—the duty derived from God's commandment to help others—that Spinoza surely wanted to preserve. On the other hand, Curley points out that Spinoza translated the biblical Hebrew word chesed into Latin as charitas, and that the King James version translated the Hebrew word into English as 'lovingkindness.' For readers of the seventeenth-century English Bible, if not for all of us, this word would indeed have had a religious connotation. In the second case, though, the pejorative sense of vulgus, even if not exclusive in the Latin term, is...