Friday, February 2, 2018

Publication of Spinoza’s Ethics

In his essay, “The Textual History of Spinoza’s Ethics” (Chapter 1, The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza’s Ethics), Piet Steenbakkers offers an account of the process by which Spinoza’s ethics got published. Spinoza died in The Hague on 21st February, 1677, and within a matter days his publisher received a writing box containing Spinoza’s unpublished writings and correspondence. Spinoza’s friends divided the editorial work among themselves, and within nine months of his demise, in December 1977, the manuscripts got published under the title B.d.S. Opera Posthuma, which contains his major works, including Ethica. The Dutch translation of B.d.S. Opera Posthuma was published in the same period.

Here’s an excerpt from Steenbakkers’s essay:

"Publishing the Ethics was a precarious undertaking. Spinoza himself put the manuscript away in 1675, and when his friends did publish it in the Opera Posthuma, they took safety measures to cover their activities. The book appeared without the publisher’s name (Rieuwertsz), without mentioning the place of publication (Amsterdam), and with the philosopher’s name abbreviated to ‘B.d.S.’ In the correspondence, references to people who were still alive were generally avoided and many factual allusions were discreetly suppressed. This covertness makes it difficult to determine who the editors were and what they did with the manuscripts they had at their disposal."

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