spinoza on children and childhood


  • noa lahav ayalon University of Haifa




childhood, spinoza, human essence, ethics.


Baruch Spinoza, the 17th century philosopher best known for his metaphysical rigor and the radical heterodoxy of his conception of God as Nature, did not say much about children or childhood. Nevertheless, his few mentions of children in his masterpiece, the Ethics, raise fascinating questions of autarky, rationality and mind-body relations as they are perceived in the contrast between children and adults. Generally, philosophical theories of childhood benefit greatly from a strong metaphysical foundation. Spinoza’s philosophy, which has recently been gaining considerable attention by contemporary neuroscientists and psychologists, can serve as stable and fertile ground for developing a strong philosophy of childhood. In this paper I address the Spinozistic conception of a flourishing, happy human and the way this understanding of human excellence reflects on his understanding of children and childhood. I argue that the use of Spinozistic concepts can be valuable in the analysis of children and childhood—especially essence, striving to persevere in being, and the nature of the imagination. Spinoza’s epistemology can explain the unique rationality of children, and provide a metaphysical basis for normative behavior. Moreover, it can help us as caregivers better understand and empathize with children, by explaining the similarities and differences between children and adults.



Author Biography

noa lahav ayalon, University of Haifa

PhD candidtate at University of Haifa Philosophy Department, concentrating on Spinoza and Early Modern Philosophy


Damasio, Antonio. Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain, Orlando: Harcourt, 2003.

de Djin, Herman. "Ethics IV: The Ladder, No the Top: The Provisional Morals of the Philosopher", in Spinoza on Reason and the ‘Free Man’, ed. Yirmiyahu Yovel and Gideon Segal New York: Little Room Press, 2004.

Garber, Daniel. "Dr. Fischelson's Dilemma: Spinoza on Freedom and Sociability", in Spinoza on Reason and the ‘Free Man’, ed. Yirmiyahu Yovel and Gideon Segal, New York: Little Room Press, 2004.

Garrett, Don. "Spinoza's Ethical Theory", in The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Harvey, Warren Zeev. “A Portrait of Spinoza as a Maimonidean.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 19, no. 2 (1981): 151–72.

Jarrett, Charles. "Spinoza's Constructivism", in Essays on Spinoza's Ethical Theory, ed. M. Kisner and A. Youpa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Kisner, Matthew. "Reconsidering Spinoza's Free Man: The Model of Human Nature", Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy 5, 2010.

LeBuffe, Michael. From Bondage to Freedom, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Manzini, Fréderic. Spinoza: une lecture d'Aristote. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2009.

Matthews, Garreth B. “Philosophy and Developmental Psychology: Outgrowing the Deficit Conception of Childhood,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Education, ed. by Harvey Siegel, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 162–76

Moore, M. K., & Meltzoff, A. N. New findings on object permanence: A developmental difference between two types of occlusion. The British journal of developmental psychology, 17(4), 623–644, 1999.

Nadler, Steven. "Spinoza and Consciousness" Mind 117 (467), July 2008.

------------------. “On Spinoza's ‘Free Man.’” Journal of the

American Philosophical Association 1, no. 1, 2015.

Spinoza, Baruch. The Collected Works of Spinoza, vol. I, translated by Edwin Curley, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.

Wolfson, Harry Austryn. The Philosophy of Spinoza: Unfolding the Latent Processes of His Reasoning. New York: Schocken Books, 1969.




How to Cite

ayalon, noa lahav. (2021). spinoza on children and childhood. Childhood & Philosophy, 17, 01–19. https://doi.org/10.12957/childphilo.2021.59537