Abstract

It is a view commonly held that within the Jewish rationalist tradition epitomized by Baruch Spinoza the snares of erotic love are something that a rational person would actively seek to avoid. But is love a thing for fools? Is this truly the view of Spinoza and the rationalist tradition in medieval Jewish philosophy that he inherited, or can we find a way to conceive of erotic love that accords with the life of reason? In this article I will attempt to answer these questions within the context of an analysis of Isaac Bashevis Singer's “The Spinoza of Market Street” and by considering the erotic perfectionist ethic as it is expressed primarily in Saadia Gaon's Book of Beliefs and Opinions and Spinoza's Ethics. I will show that the significant points of convergence and divergence between these two thinkers serve to illuminate our thinking about erotic perfectionism. Both Saadia and Spinoza are careful, systematic Jewish thinkers developing ethical theories in which reason plays a pronounced role in cultivating a virtuous life. Consequently, like other ethicists for whom the virtues are key, both Saadia and Spinoza are intent on expressing the ideal human conduct of the moral exemplar. In just what way does erotic love fit into the ideal human life?

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