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  • Œuvres vol. IV: Ethica/Éthique by Baruch Spinoza
  • Steven Nadler
Baruch Spinoza. Œuvres, vol. IV: Ethica/Éthique. Texte établi par Fokke Akkerman et Piet Steenbakkers. Traduction par Pierre-François Moreau. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2020. Pp. 670. Paper, €29.00.

The world of Spinoza scholarship has seen a number of remarkable achievements in the first two decades of the twenty-first century. There was the publication of an expanded, two-volume edition of Jakob Freudenthal's Die Lebensgeschichte Spinozas (1899) by Manfred Walther and Michael Czelinski in 2006, an indispensable resource for documents related to Spinoza's life and writings. Then there was the stunning discovery by Leen Spruit in 2010 of a manuscript of Spinoza's Ethics in the Vatican Library—the first (and so far only) extant copy.

Most important of all, however, is the project under the general direction of Pierre-François Moreau and the auspices of the Groupe de Recherches Spinozistes, and published by the Presses Universitaires de France (PUF), of a new, truly critical edition of Spinoza's texts (accompanied by French translations on facing pages). The multivolume Œuvres de Spinoza is intended to supplant Carl Gebhardt's four-volume Spinoza Opera. Gebhardt's was the standard edition through the twentieth century, and remains so for Spinoza's works and correspondence not yet produced in the PUF series. Gebhardt's edition had its advantages over the earlier, mostly German editions in the nineteenth century (when the first complete Spinoza editions appeared), including those by Paulus (1802–3), Bruder (1843–46), and (the standard edition for forty years, until Gebhardt) Van Vloten and Land (1882–83). With all due respect to and appreciation for Gebhardt's accomplishment, however, his is not a true critical edition. Moreover, as scholars have long known, it has its flaws. Thus, the new PUF edition will, once completed, be the standard edition for generations. Until now, there were three volumes: I. Premiers Écrits (includes the Tractatus de intellectus emendatione [Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect] and the Korte verhandeling van God, de mensch en deselvs welstand [Short Treatise on God, Man and His Well-Being]); III. Tractatus theologico-politicus (Theological-Political Treatise; TTP); and V. Tractatus politicus (Political Treatise).

For quite some time, scholars have anticipated the volume in the PUF series devoted to the Ethica, Spinoza's most important philosophical work. The wait is now over, and I am happy to report that their patience has been amply rewarded with a magnificent critical edition. The Latin text is established by the late Fokke Akkerman and Piet Steenbakkers; the authoritative, thoughtful French translation is by Moreau.

Spinoza published only two works in his lifetime: his presentation of parts 1 and 2 of Descartes's Principia philosophiae, accompanied by the Cogitata metaphysica (1663), and the TTP (1670, published anonymously). It was not until after—in fact, immediately after—Spinoza's death in February 1677 that his friends set to work preparing his unpublished writings for publication. From the manuscripts they inherited from the philosopher, including his autograph copy of the Ethica, they brought out, in late 1677, the Latin Opera posthuma (OP) and the Dutch De Nagelate Schriften (NS).

There have been quite a few editions of the Latin Ethica since Gebhardt, many of which were based on his text. The problem with all of these editions, whether they took their lead from Gebhardt or went directly to the OP, is that their only source was that OP text, along with the Dutch translation in the NS. They did not have access to the Vatican manuscript, which Spruit and Pina Totaro published in 2011 (the only exception is the second edition of Paolo Cristofolini's bilingual, Latin/Italian Etica [2014]). As Moreau and Steenbakkers (M/S) note in their superb and thorough introduction to this volume, the Vatican copy is of the utmost importance in producing a critical edition of the Ethica, as is a proper understanding of the relationship between the Latin text in the OP and the Dutch version in the NS.

Spinoza began the Ethica sometime between mid-1662 and early 1663. He put what was then a three-part work aside in...


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