In the first section of this chapter, I offer an overview of a selected list of Scholastic debates intersecting Spinoza's Cogitata Metaphysica. I highlight how Spinoza consciously intervenes in them, showing a certain awareness of the intricacies of Scholastic discourse. In this first section, I emphasize Spinoza’s interest in three specific problems: the issue of the division of being into “real being” and “being of reason”; the eternity of God and its distinction from duration; and, finally, God’s omnipresence. My aim (...) is to show how Spinoza (at least in the CM) does not completely stray away from the path of the Scholastics. In the second section, I focus on one specific problem, very close to Spinoza’s heart: the issue of the distinction between God’s intellect and God’s will, which is intimately tied to the question of the intentionality of God’s creation. Spinoza’s answer to this problem, as I shall prove, is already fully formed in the CM and remains substantially unchanged in the Ethics, thus emphasizing the continuity between this early work and Spinoza’s more mature system. (shrink)
One of the most peculiar features of Spinoza’s philosophy is his radical interpretation of the notion of freedom. Even though it plays a significant role in his metaethics and political philosophy, freedom is, for Spinoza, a deeply metaphysical notion, rooted in the most fundamental features of his ontology. In this paper, I analyze the internal structure that identifies a being as “free” within Spinoza’s metaphysics. I argue that this structure leads to an internal paradox, entailing that the very component that (...) allows a being its freedom – its essence or nature – is itself externally determined. I further proceed to resolve this issue indicating how Spinoza’s metaphysics of freedom can accommodate this paradox. I conclude by presenting possible solutions for both Natura naturans and Natura naturata, attempting to integrate the notion of metaphysical freedom with more familiar images of ethical and epistemological freedom. (shrink)
Spinoza’s recognition of the unpredictable fortunes of individuals, explicable through the interplay between their intrinsic natures and their susceptibility to external causes, informs his account of political success and – what for him is the same thing – political virtue. Thus, a state may thrive because it has a good constitution (an internal feature), or because it was fortunate not to be surrounded by powerful enemies. Normally, however, it is the combination of both luck and internal qualities that determines the (...) fate of things. What is true about the fate of states holds equally of the fate of other types of individual, both human and non-human. In a sense, even the fate of a theory is determined by the interplay between its intrinsic virtues, and mere historical luck. A quarter century ago, shortly after I began my graduate studies in philosophy at Yale, I started thinking about writing a dissertation on Spinoza’s philosophy. A good and caring friend in my graduate cohort advised me against the idea, which he believed was tantamount to “professional suicide” given the oddity of Spinoza’s thought. Indeed, the environment of analytic philosophy in the mid- and even late-1990s was not particularly auspicious for the academic study of Spinoza. Spinoza was – rightly – considered as having little commitment to commonsense, and commitment to commonsense – the most stubborn of prejudices – was (and still is) considered by many a minimal requirement for entry into the club of “decent” philosophers. Yet, things have changed over the past twenty-five years. So much so, that recently a (non-Spinozist) early modernist colleague of mine complained to me about the futility of changing the description of an event he planned from a ‘Spinoza workshop’ into an ‘early modern philosophy workshop,’ since “one way or another, most of the submitted abstracts are going to deal with Spinoza.” Indeed, in many ways, the interest and intensity of the study of Spinoza’s philosophy in the Anglo-American world has eclipsed that of almost all other early modern philosophers, and we seem to be facing a circumstance in which Spinoza is gradually competing with, if not replacing, Kant as the compass of modern philosophy. One can list many reasons for these dramatic developments: from Spinoza’s radical naturalism, to his dismissal of the fairytales of anthropomorphic and anthropocentric religion – while Kant on these issues could at best be said to kick the ghosts from the front door while inviting them back as ‘ideas’ or ‘postulates of practical reason’ through the back door –- to his unequivocal rejection of the illusions of humanism. Still, we lack a full explanation of the recent Spinozist upheaval in North American philosophy. (shrink)
This article provides an overview of Spinoza's positions on determinism, free will, and freedom framed by an attempt to make sense of a Spinozistic ethical project that simultaneously denies free will as an illusion while advocating the significance of human freedom for the good life. Within this context, other key doctrines in Spinoza's moral psychology are explored including his view of the will, passions, rational activity, and responsibility.
In this essay, I suggest that Spinoza acknowledges a distinction between formal reality that is infinite and timelessly eternal and formal reality that is non-infinite (i. e., finite or indefinite) and non-eternal (i. e., enduring). I also argue that if, in Spinoza’s system, only intelligible causation is genuine causation, then infinite, timelessly eternal formal reality cannot cause non-infinite, non-eternal formal reality. A denial of eternal-durational causation generates a puzzle, however: if no enduring thing – not even the sempiternal, indefinite individual (...) composed of all finite, enduring things – is caused by the infinite, eternal substance, then how can Spinoza consistently hold that the one infinite, eternal substance is the cause of all things and that all things are modes of that substance? At the end of this essay, I sketch how Spinoza could deny eternal-durational causation while still holding that an infinite, eternal God is the cause of all things and that all things are modes. I develop the interpretation more in the companion essay.1 1 In “Spinoza’s Monism II,” in the next issue of this journal. (shrink)
An old question in Spinoza scholarship is how finite, non-eternal things transitively caused by other finite, non-eternal things (i. e., the entities described in propositions like E1p28) are caused by the infinite, eternal substance, given that what follows either directly or indirectly from the divine nature is infinite and eternal (E1p21–23). In “Spinoza’s Monism I,” “Spinoza’s Monism I,” in the previous issue of this journal. I pointed out that most commentators answer this question by invoking entities that are indefinite and (...) sempiternal, but argued that perhaps we should not be so quick to assume that in Spinoza’s system, an infinite and eternal substance could cause such indefinite, sempiternal entities. But if such eternal-durational causation is denied, then it seems harder to see how Spinoza’s system could be coherent: if Spinoza holds that the infinite, eternal substance cannot cause anything that is not infinite and not eternal, then how can he also hold that all things are modes immanently caused by substance (E1p15, E1p18, E1p25)? In this essay, I explain how Spinoza’s system could be understood in light of a denial of eternal-durational causation. On the interpretation I offer, God is the cause of all things and all things are modes because the essences of all things follow from the divine nature and all essences enjoy infinite, eternal reality as modes immanently caused by the infinite, eternal substance. The same non-substantial essences can also be conceived as enjoying non-infinite, non-eternal reality, but so conceived, they are enduring, finite (or sempiternal, indefinite) entities that cannot be conceived as modes caused by and inhering in the one infinite, eternal substance. I conclude by pointing out that if we take this interpretive route, we do have to understand Spinoza as committed to acosmism, or a denial of the reality of the world – at least the world of enduring, finite things. (shrink)
Some recent scholars have argued that Spinoza's conception of causation should be understood in terms of the Aristotelian notion of a formal cause. I argue that while they are right to identify causation in Spinoza as a relation of entailment from an essence, they are mistaken about its philosophical pedigree. I examine three suggested lines of influence: (a) the late scholastic conception of emanation; (b) early modern philosophy of mathematics; and (c) Descartes's notion of the causa sui. In each case, (...) the evidence indicates that causation in Spinoza should be categorized in Aristotelian terms as efficient and not formal. (shrink)
El presente trabajo es un intento por repensar el modo en que ha sido interpretada la primera parte de la Ética de Baruch Spinoza por la tradición. Fundamentalmente, busca alejarse de las interpretaciones que llamamos “ontológicas” -que sostienen que las distinciones conceptuales allí postuladas refieren a diferentes ámbitos de lo real-, para defender una lectura que tenga al factor gnoseológico como principio explicativo de tales distinciones. Se intentará mostrar que mediante esta hipótesis de lectura se accede a aquello que nos (...) parece ser el más auténtico espíritu spinozista: aquel donde la multiplicidad de las perspectivas del conocimiento humano se vuelve coherente con la más absoluta univocidad de lo real. (shrink)
The few passages in Spinoza’s work in which he focuses on the concept of human law have not received as much scholarly attention as passages focused on other themes, but they have still been very well examined. It is true that most of these studies do not directly aim to determine whether Spinoza adopts a normative conception of human law in the political-legal field or, if he does adopt such a conception, what the conditions under which he could do so (...) could be, given the logical-causal necessitarianism and naturalism of his metaphysics, explicitly reaffirmed in paragraph 3 of Chapter IV of the TTP. However, this problem is unavoidable, and it is precisely to this matter that I would like to contribute, in a rather modest way, by examining the answer that Spinoza himself offers in the passage just cited. My purpose is to demonstrate that these four paragraphs clarify how and why Spinoza can introduce a source of regulation of our actions (which is referred to by the expression “ab placito humanum”) that is different from the principles that necessarily follow from our nature without violating the basic tenets of his metaphysics. (shrink)
Mind-body parallelism is the view that mind and body stand in the same “order and connection,” as Spinoza put it, or that corresponding mental and physical states have corresponding causal explanations in terms of other mental and physical states. This dissertation investigates the nature and role of mind-body parallelism, as well as other forms of parallelism, in Spinoza’s philosophy of mind. In doing so, it also considers how Spinoza’s views relate to current discussions. In present-day philosophy of mind, mind-body parallelism (...) is almost never defended. It is seen as a historical dead-end with insurmountable problems. By contrast, I argue that parallelism powerfully responds to the post-Cartesian mind-body problem (which remains with us today) and that it points a way forward in current debates. The dissertation contains five independent chapters. After an introduction that situates parallelism in relation to both Spinoza’s time and to present discussions, Chapter 1 presents an argument for parallelism aimed at a present-day audience. Chapter 2 discusses Spinoza’s own arguments for parallelism. Both chapters help to clarify what parallelism is, in part by distinguishing between several versions of the view. Chapter 3 discusses what is often considered parallelism’s most problematic feature, its rejection of mind-body interaction. I argue that by distinguishing between the post-Cartesian context in which Spinoza wrote and present-day discussions, we can see that parallelism is compatible with mental causation. Chapters 4 and 5, finally, discuss specific ways in which parallelism is at work in Spinoza’s view of the mind. In Chapter 4, I argue that parallelism is at work in Spinoza’s interesting and distinctive positions on the nature of agency and motivation. In Chapter 5, I show the role of parallelism in his representationalist theory of consciousness. A guiding thread throughout the dissertation is that parallelism presents a distinctive and interesting way to combine realism, non-reductionism and naturalism in relation to those features of human self-understanding that seem difficult to fit into a naturalistic worldview. (shrink)
Selfhood is a topic of great interest in early modern philosophy. In this essay, I will discuss Spinoza’s radical position on the topic of selfhood. Whereas for Descartes and Leibniz, there is a manifold of thinking substances, for Spinoza, there is, crucially only one: God. Minds, for Spinoza, do not have substantial status, they are instead merely complexes of ideas, and thus complex modes of the one substance: God. Observations such as these often lead Spinoza’s readers to the conclusion that, (...) whereas for Descartes as for Leibniz, human beings have robust or genuine selves, this is not so for Spinoza. However, this reductionist interpretation is also challenged—in recent times most intriguingly by Koistinen. Koistinen has argued that there are, fundamentally, human selves of whom agency can be predicated in Spinozism. In this paper I discuss to what extent this is true. In section 1, I introduce the reductionist interpretation of selfhood in Spinoza’s thought. In section 2.1, I present and criticize Koistinen’s proposal. In section 2.2, I acknowledge the strength of Koistinen’s view that insofar as human beings act, they are God somehow. In section 3, I propose an alternative reading of human selfhood in terms of witnessing being acted out rather than in terms of being an agent. This view isprima facieparadoxical. In section 4, I nonetheless support it by highlighting that Spinoza seems to have seen practical benefits in knowing oneself to be acted out by God. I conclude the essay by pointing out some comparative directions for future research. (shrink)
My aim in what follows is to expound and (if possible) resolve two problems in Spinoza’s theory of mind. The first problem is how Spinoza can accept a key premise in Descartes’s argument for dualism—that thought and extension are separately conceivable, “one without the help of the other”—without accepting Descartes’s conclusion that no substance is both thinking and extended. Resolving this problem will require us to consider a crucial ambiguity in the notion of conceiving one thing without another, the credentials (...) of Descartes’s principle that each substance has a principal attribute, and the prospect of neutral monism as a theory of the mind. The second problem is how Spinoza can maintain that each mental event is identical with some physical event (and conversely) while denying that there is ever any causal interaction between mental and physical events. If one mental event causes another and the first is identical with some physical event, must that physical event not cause the mental event? Resolving this problem will require looking into the reach of opacity in Spinoza’s philosophy and considering whether there are ever any legitimate exceptions to Leibniz’s Law. (shrink)
In a 1687 letter to Arnauld, Leibniz draws on an argument against mind-body causation that is reminiscent of one from Spinoza’s Ethics. According to this argument, mind-body causation is impossible because of the lack of proportion between thoughts and motions. This paper aims to shed light on Leibniz’s use of Spinoza’s argument by reconstructing both its internal structure and its development in Leibniz’s later works. In particular, the reconstruction focuses on the new version of this argument that Leibniz adopts against (...) Stahl’s vitalism as well as on the change that this new version reveals in Leibniz’s attitude towards occasionalism. The possible influence of Cordemoy is also taken into consideration. The epistemological and metaphysical issues surrounding this argument are an essential part of the history of Leibniz’s psycho-physical parallelism. (shrink)
In this paper I contrast the metaphysical philosophies of Benedict de Spinoza and the ‘sudden enlightenment’ tradition of Chan Buddhism. Spinoza’s expressivist philosophy, in which everything can be conceived via a lineage of finite causes terminating in substance as a metaphysical ground of all things, emphasises the relative sameness of all entities. By contrast, Chan’s philosophy of emptiness, which rests on the dependent co-origination of all entities, renders such comparison fundamentally meaningless. Having no source beyond dependent co-origination to generate a (...) thing’s distinct nature leads to a metaphysics in which, rather than being relatively similar or different, all things are at one and the same time absolutely the same and absolutely distinct. As a result, Spinoza grounds ethics wholly is sameness or similarity, whereas Chan transcends the dichotomy of sameness and difference and offers an environmental ethics grounded simultaneously in absolute sameness and absolute difference. As a result, in Spinoza’s case, the dissimilarity between human beings and the non-human world places limits on our concern for it. In Chan Buddhism, however, insight into the emptiness of all phenomena leads to a concern for all entities in their suchness, regardless of whether they are similar or different to human beings. As such, I argue that Chan is in a better position than Spinoza to develop a robust environmental ethic. (shrink)
The very first line of Spinoza’s magnum opus, the Ethics, states the following surprising definition: By cause of itself I understand that whose essence involves existence, or that whose nature cannot be conceived except as existing [Per causam sui intelligo id, cujus essentia involvit existentiam, sive id, cujus natura non potest concipi, nisi existens]. As we shall shortly see, for many of Spinoza’s contemporaries and predecessors the very notion of causa sui was utterly absurd, akin to a Baron Munchausen attempting (...) to lift himself above a river by pulling his hair up. How can a thing cause itself into existence, if before the causal activity, the cause did not exist at all? Indeed, in one of his earliest works, Spinoza himself claimed: “No thing, considered in itself, has in itself a cause enabling it to destroy itself (if it exists), or to make itself [te konnen maaken] (if it does not exist)” (KV II 26|I/110/14-16). Moreover, in other early works, Spinoza refers to God as an “uncreated thing” (TIE §97) or “uncreated substance” (CM II 1|I/237/20), and not as a cause-of-itself as in the Ethics. What made Spinoza desert the common, traditional, view of God as the uncaused first cause, or uncreated substance, and adopt instead the apparently chimerical notion of God as causa sui? A very likely explanation for this development suggests that Spinoza’s rationalism, his commitment to the principle that everything must have a reason both for its existence and for its non-existence – a commitment stated clearly both in the Ethics (see, for example, E1p8s2 and E1p11d2), and in Spinoza’s other writings (see, for example, Ep. 34 (IV/179/29)) – made him realize that the notion of an uncreated, or uncaused, thing is of no use for him: if everything must have a cause, then the first cause, or the most fundamental being, must be a cause-of-itself. All this is well and good, but we should not let Spinoza off the hook so easily, for the immediate question which arises now is whether Spinoza is not simply cheating his readers. Does Spinoza have a reason – i.e., argument – that could convince us that causa sui is indeed a more adequate characterization of God and not merely an opportunistic and ad hoc façade for the good old uncaused cause? While there are many important questions surrounding Spinoza’s notion of causa sui, it is the last question which will be the focus of this short chapter. In the first part of this chapter, we study, briefly, Descartes’ engagement with the notion of causa sui. In the second part, I show that Spinoza understood the causation of causa sui as efficient, and not formal, causation. The third and final part will attempt to locate precisely the alleged problem with the notion of causa sui, and consider how could Spinoza defend the intelligibility of this notion. Regrettably, limitations of space will force us to leave the examination of Spinoza’s closely related notion of being-conceived. (shrink)
In this article I critically assess Deleuze’s interpretation of Spinoza’s metaphysics of modes. I argue that the conception of modal essence that Deleuze attributes to Spinoza is untenable in terms of Spinoza’s metaphysics. I further show that the idea that modal essences are eternally static degrees of power is incompatible with Spinoza’s ethics, wherein modes strive to increase their power by means of positive interactions with others. I suggest that Deleuze’s interpretation of this crucial aspect of Spinozism runs the risk (...) of reinstating Platonic idealist and moralistic themes, of the kind that both Spinoza and Deleuze are committed to overcoming. (shrink)
There is longstanding interpretive dispute between commentators over Spinoza’s commitment to necessitarianism, the doctrine that all things are metaphysically necessary and none are contingent. Those who affirm Spinoza’s commitment to the doctrine adhere to the necessitarian interpretation whereas those who deny it adhere to what I call the semi-necessitarian interpretation. As things stand, the disagreement between commentators appears to have reached an impasse. Notwithstanding, there seems to be no disagreement among commentators on the question of necessitarianism’s philosophical plausibility as a (...) metaphysical view: the doctrine is wildly untenable. This consensus view is more relevant to the interpretive debate than few have recognized, since leading semi-necessitarian commentators take the doctrine’s alleged absurdity to be one of the most compelling reasons (if not the most compelling reason) to prefer their reading over the necessitarian interpretation: for, as a matter of methodological principle, great philosophers like Spinoza should not be ascribed ridiculous views in the absence of better evidence. -/- This dissertation seeks to defend Spinoza’s commitment to necessitarianism on both the interpretive and philosophical fronts. I argue not only that the necessitarian interpretation of Spinoza is more plausible than the semi-necessitarian interpretation on textual grounds, but that Spinoza’s necessitarianism is a serviceable philosophical view whose tenability has been almost entirely overlooked and perfunctorily rejected. The principal basis upon which I build this defense is Spinoza’s rich and fascinating view of essences—what I simply refer to as his essentialism. Spinoza’s essentialism forms the bedrock of his metaphysics and is significant not least because it underlies and informs doctrines like his necessitarianism. Spinoza’s essentialism supplies resources to answer not just interpretive problems associated with necessitarianism, but philosophical challenges to the plausibility of the doctrine. My defense of Spinoza’s necessitarianism on philosophical grounds also offers a novel way of getting past much of the current interpretive impasse among commentators by effectively undercutting the methodological motivation for the semi-necessitarian reading. In addition to my defense on the interpretive front, then, my defense on the philosophical front provides supplementary reason to a fortiori favor the necessitarian reading of Spinoza. (shrink)
Despite the theoretical uptake of ontological schemas that do not tie agency uniquely to individual humans, these new ontological geographies have had little penetration when it comes to designing institutions to prevent grave wrongs. Moreover, our persistent intuitions tie agency and responsibility to individuals within a figuration of blame. This article seeks to connect new materialist and actor network theories with the design of institutions that seek to prevent torture. It argues that although research into the causes and conditions of (...) torture points to the inadequacy of agent-centric explanations, the preponderance of prevention interventions emphasize the role of individual human agents. New materialist and ANT approaches could afford a rich theoretical underpinning for prevention approaches by addressing the broad ecology of causal factors. Drawing on Spinoza, the article considers the affective impediments to the uptake of understandings and their correlate practices that require moving beyond agent-centric explanations for grave wrongs. So long as anger, indignation and blame colonize the individual and broader institutional spheres, they will almost inevitably bind us to a particular type of inadequate causal analysis and make other types of preventative responses appear as derelictions of our duty to hold wrongdoers responsible for their acts. (shrink)
In this article I provide a Spinozist perspective on popular power. It is written as a blog post for a popular audience, and draws on my book, Potentia: Hobbes and Spinoza on Power and Popular Politics (OUP: 2020).
Medieval and early modern Jewish philosophers developed their thinking in conversation with various bodies of literature. The influence of ancient Greek – primarily Aristotle (and pseudo-Aristotle) – and Arabic sources was fundamental for the very constitution of medieval Jewish philosophical discourse. Toward the late Middle Ages Jewish philosophers also established a critical dialogue with Christian scholastics. Next to these philosophical corpora, Jewish philosophers drew significantly upon Rabbinic sources (Talmud and the numerous Midrashim) and the Hebrew Bible. In order to clarify (...) the unique as well as shared elements in the thought of medieval Jewish philosophers, we will begin this chapter with a brief study of some early Rabbinic sources on the purpose of the world, i.e., why it came to be and why it is sustained in existence. In the second part of this chapter, we will study Maimonides’ critique of the veracity and usefulness of the belief in (anthropocentric) teleology, and the critical reception of his views by later philosophers. The third part will address discussions of divine teleology in Kabbalistic literature. Our exposition will concentrate mostly on a specific early-eighteenth-century text that is one of the most lucid and rigorous presentations of Lurianic Kabbalah. The fourth and final section will elucidate Spinoza’s critique of teleology, its precise target and scope, and its debt to earlier sources discussed in this chapter. (shrink)
"Alexandre Matheron is considered one of the most important interpreters of Spinoza's philosophy in the 20th century. These 20 essays, translated into English for the first time, focus on ontology, knowledge, politics and ethics in Spinoza, his predecessors and his contemporaries."--Publisher description.
In this article, I intervene in a long-standing debate over the alleged assumption and teaching of Spinozist ideas by the Dutch philosopher and scientist Burchard de Volder (1643–1709). I discuss De Volder’s position with respect to three main topics (necessitarianism, substance monism, and biblical interpretation), as well as the use his student Jacob Wittich made of De Volder’s ideas in Wittich’s highly controversial De natura Dei (1711). Eventually, I argue that De Volder was certainly a sympathizer of Spinoza, accepted necessitarianism, (...) and considered Spinoza a reliable interpreter of Descartes in physics, even if he did not accept Spinoza’s monist metaphysics, nor his biblical hermeneutics. (shrink)
I address an apparent conflict between Spinoza’s concepts of immanent causation and acting/doing [agere]. Spinoza apparently holds that an immanent cause undergoes [patitur] whatever it does. Yet according to his stated definition of acting and undergoing in the Ethics, this is impossible; to act is to be an adequate cause, while to undergo is to be merely a partial cause. Spinoza also seems committed to God’s being the adequate cause of all things, and, in a well-known passage, appears to deny (...) categorically that God is capable of undergoing. How then can God also be the immanent cause of all things, as Spinoza claims? On the basis of a close reading of the passage in question, I argue that Spinoza actually distinguishes between two senses of undergoing. An immanent cause undergoes not by being a partial cause but rather by being the metaphysical subject of its effect. While this sense of undergoing has its roots in scholasticism, Spinoza’s willingness to attribute such a capacity to undergo to God is idiosyncratic and reveals important ways in which his understanding of essence, perfection, and causation differs from the scholastic model. (shrink)
In Spinoza’s metaphysics, we encounter many puzzling doctrines that appear to entangle metaphysical notions with cognitive, logical, and epistemic ones. According to him, a substance is that which can be conceived through itself and a mode is that which is conceived through another. Thus, metaphysical notions, substance and mode, are defined through a notion that is either cognitive or logical, being conceived through. He defines an attribute as that which an intellect perceives as constituting the essence of a substance. Intellectual (...) perception, something cognitive, is used to define an attribute, something metaphysical. And he claims that if something exists there is a reason why it exists and if something doesn’t exist there is also a reason why it doesn’t. Thus, a reason, something cognitive or epistemic, is necessary for existence or nonexistence. What are we to make of the intimate connections that Spinoza sees between metaphysical, cognitive, logical, and epistemic notions? Between being and reason? In this book, I argue for what might be called a realist interpretation: although Spinoza is confident that the order of being mirrors the order of reason, he believes that they are two orders, not one. There is inherence over and above conceptual dependence; there is causation in addition to causal explanation; the world has a nature that we can grasp and that our way of grasping it does not interpose an impenetrable conceptual veil between it and us. (shrink)
Material from this paper appears in Chap. 7 of my book Reason and Being, but there is also stuff here that isn't in the book. In particular, it discusses the claims that, for Spinoza, conceiving implies explaining and that existence is identical to or reducible to conceivability. So, if you're interested in those issues, this paper might be worth a read.
My two principal aims in this essay are interconnected. One aim is to provide a new interpretation of the ‘infinite modes’ in Spinoza’s Ethics. I argue that for Spinoza, God, conceived as the one infinite and eternal substance, is not to be understood as causing two kinds of modes, some infinite and eternal and the rest finite and non-eternal. That there cannot be such a bifurcation of divine effects is what I take the ‘infinite mode’ propositions, E1p21–23, to establish; E1p21–23 (...) show that each and every one of the immanent effects of an infinite and eternal God is an infinite and eternal mode. The other aim is to show that these propositions can be understood as part of an extended critical response to Descartes’s infamous doctrine that God creates eternal truths and true and immutable natures. If we have the correct (Spinozan) conceptions of what God is and how God works, we see that an eternal and infinite God can only be understood to cause ‘eternal truths,’ and that these eternal truths are infinite and eternal modes of God. (shrink)
Spinoza’s naturalism is unique. It explains conscious mind, physical behavior, and scientific, cultural, social and political phenomena by recourse to the deductive relation of causes to effects as expressed by Nature itself. This book provides an innovative and original interpretation of the way in which Spinoza achieved this unique vision.
This monograph details the entire scientific thought of an influential natural philosopher whose contributions, unfortunately, have become obscured by the pages of history. Readers will discover an important thinker: Burchard de Volder. He was instrumental in founding the first experimental cabinet at a European University in 1675. The author goes beyond the familiar image of De Volder as a forerunner of Newtonianism in Continental Europe. He consults neglected materials, including handwritten sources, and takes into account new historiographical categories. His investigation (...) maps the thought of an author who did not sit with an univocal philosophical school, but critically dealt with all the ‘major’ philosophers and scientists of his age: from Descartes to Newton, via Spinoza, Boyle, Huygens, Bernoulli, and Leibniz. It explores the way De Volder’s un-systematic thought used, rejected, and re-shaped their theories and approaches. In addition, the title includes transcriptions of De Volder's teaching materials: disputations, dictations, and notes. Insightful analysis combined with a trove of primary source material will help readers gain a new perspective on a thinker so far mostly ignored by scholars. They will find a thoughtful figure who engaged with early modern science and developed a place that fostered experimental philosophy. (shrink)
This chapter takes a fresh look at 3d2 of Spinoza’s Ethics, an absolutely pivotal definition for the ethical theory that ensues. According to it, “we act when something happens, in us or outside us, of which we are the adequate cause,” whereas we are passive “when something happens in us, or something follows from our nature, of which we are only a partial cause.” The definition of activity has puzzled scholars: how can we be an adequate, i.e. complete, cause of (...) an effect outside us (which clearly involves other causal factors as well)? However, the definition of passivity is hardly unproblematic either: how can something follow from the patient’s nature so that the patient can nevertheless be considered only a partial cause? I begin by outlining 3d2 and situating it in the historical context formed by Descartes, Hobbes, and the Aristotelian tradition. Then I show that the existing interpretations do not solve the problem of activity and argue that unraveling the problem requires taking properly into account the distinction between immanent and transeunt causality. In relation to the definition of passivity, I argue that Spinoza’s geometry-inspired theory of essence constitution offers the key to understanding the nature of passions. (shrink)
In this paper, I argue that Spinoza's claim at E1P15 that “Whatever is, is in God, and nothing can be or be conceived without God” remains exegetically troubling. Briefly noting some unresolved difficulties with the two dominant interpretations of Spinoza's account of the relationship between finite modes and God (these being the inherence and causal dependence readings), I move to claim that there is a third, neglected reading available which deserves consideration. I argue that, perhaps surprisingly, Althusser's notion of “structural (...) causality,” putatively derived from Spinoza himself, can be used to construct this reading. Althusser's original notion of “structural causality” is explained and clarified further, its advantages outlined over competing readings of Spinoza, and exegetical evidence for its applicability to Spinoza is then produced. (shrink)
Spinoza’s celebrated doctrine of the conatus asserts that “each thing, as far as it can by its own power, strives to persevere in its being” (E3p6). Shortly thereafter Spinoza makes the further claim that the (human) mind strives to increase its power of acting (E3p12). This latter claim is commonly interpreted as asserting that human beings (and their associations) not only strive to persevere in their existence, but also always strive to increase their power. Spinoza’s justification for E3p12 relies (among (...) others) on E3p6. For this reason, it seems reasonable that we strive to increase our power because having more power is likely to help us persevere in our being. The more power we have, the less likely we are to be out-powered by external causes that may conflict with our striving for persevering in our existence. The logic here is quite sound. Insofar as human beings are mere finite modes, i.e., entities whose existence is not guaranteed by their mere essence, and are distinct from other finite modes with whom we interact in various manners, it would seem that our striving for power should be insatiable. No finite degree of power can ever guarantee the continuation of our existence. On one occasion, Spinoza even defines good and evil as “what increases or diminishes, aids or restrains, our power of acting” (E4p8d). Having this sound logic in mind, we should be taken aback by a brief claim Spinoza makes in passing in the seventh chapter of Political Treatise. In this passage, Spinoza seems to assert that the stability of a state – which is one of the chief political virtues for Spinoza – is a function of having just the right degree of power, not less, but also, not more. The passage seems to imply that having too much power might be detrimental to the state. But how can such a view be consistent with Spinoza’s assertion and approval of our constant “will to power” in the Ethics? In the current paper, I will explain the tension between these two strands in Spinoza’s thought, and attempt to reconcile them. I will begin with a close examination of the passage from the seventh chapter of the TP, and its apparent contrast with Spinoza’s claim in the Ethics about our striving to increase our power of acting. I will then turn, in the second part, to consider whether Spinoza’s claims in TP Ch. 7 – a chapter dedicated to the exploration of the nature of non-tyrannical monarchy – are valid only with regard to a monarchic state, or whether we may generalize the claim that having too much power might be harmful to other forms of the state or even other kinds of individuals. In the third and final part I will attempt to solve the tension between Spinoza’s apparently conflicting claims by looking more closely at Spinoza’s understanding of human power, and its political dimensions. (shrink)
Vittorio Morfino draws out the implications of the dynamic Spinoza-Machiavelli encounter by focusing on the concepts of causality, temporality and politics. This allows him to think through the relationship between ontology and politics, leading to an understanding of history as a complex and plural interweaving of different rhythms.
The way of laws is as much a defining feature of the modern period as the way of ideas; but the way of laws is hardly without its forks. Both before and after Descartes, there are philosophers using the concept to carve out a very different position from his, one that is entirely disconnected from God or God’s will. I argue that Francis Bacon and Baruch Spinoza treat laws as dispositions that derive from a thing’s nature. This reading upends the (...) currently orthodox treatment of Spinoza’s laws as infinite modes, and calls for a re-conception of his metaphysics of causation. (shrink)
In this Spinozist defence of the educational promotion of students’ autonomy I argue for a deterministic position where freedom of will is deemed unrealistic in the metaphysical sense, but important in the sense that it is an undeniable psychological fact. The paper is structured in three parts. The first part investigates the concept of autonomy from different philosophical points of view, looking especially at how education and autonomy intersect. The second part focuses on explicating the philosophical position of causal determinism (...) and it seeks to open up a way to conceive of education for autonomy without relying on the notion of free will in a metaphysical sense. The concluding part attempts to outline a Spinozistic understanding of education for autonomy where autonomy is grounded in the student's acceptance and understanding of the necessary constraints of natural causation rather than processes of self-causation. (shrink)
Spinoza (1632-1677) writes in the fourth proposition of the third part of his masterpiece, the Ethics (1677), the bold statement that self-destruction is impossible. This view seems to be very hard to understand given the fact that in our western world we have recently been confronted with an increasing number of suicides, all of which are - per definition – ―actions of killing oneself deliberately‖. Firstly, this article aims at showing, based on the last chapter of the first part of (...) the Cogitata metaphysica (1661), that Spinoza might have applied the mechanical analogy of a body in motion in his views on life. This interpretation allows to resolve the paradox of suicide in Spinoza. Secondly, this paper gives a new interpretation of one of the three categories of suicide (the ―Seneca category‖), which the Dutch philosopher distinguishes in E4p20s, making a link with his definition 39 of timor. (shrink)
Historians of philosophy are well aware of the limitations of what Butterfield called ‘Whig history’: narratives of historical progress that culminate in an enlightened present. Yet many recent studies retain a somewhat teleological outlook. Why should this be so? To explain it, I propose, we need to take account of the emotional investments that guide our interest in the philosophical past, and the role they play in shaping what we understand as the history of philosophy. As far as I know, (...) this problem is not currently much addressed. However, it is illuminatingly explored in the work of Spinoza. Spinoza aspires to explain the psychological basis of our attachment to histories with a teleological flavour. At the same time, he insists that such histories are epistemologically flawed. To study the history of philosophy in a properly philosophical fashion we must overcome our Whiggish leanings. (shrink)
One vexing strand of Spinozism asserts that God's nature is more expansive than traditionally conceived and includes properties like being extended. In this paper, I argue that prominent early moderns embrace metaphysical principles about causation, mental representation, and modality that pressure their advocates towards such an expansive account of God's nature in similar ways. I further argue that the main early modern escape route, captured in notions like “eminent containment,” fails to adequately relieve the metaphysical pressures towards Spinozism. The upshot (...) is that those sympathetic with these early modern projects must embrace a costlier option if they are to successfully escape the orbit of Spinoza. (shrink)
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.... And one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. in the appendix to the first part of the Ethics, Spinoza famously claims that “all final causes are nothing but human fictions”. From the very beginning of its reception until the (...) present day, supporters of Spinoza’s philosophy commonly praised this attack on final causes. In fact, Spinoza emphatically introduces the Appendix by making clear that a correct... (shrink)
In this paper, I address the problem of generation and destruction in Spinoza’s philosophical system. I approach this problem by providing an account of how Spinoza can maintain that contrary finite modes cannot inhere in the same substance, while substance itself does not change. One must distinguish between the formal essence of a mode and the existence of a mode and how these two entities are “in” substance. Formal essences are eternal and are in substance in a Platonic sense, while (...) existent modes are temporal and are in substance insofar as they are parts of the whole of nature, or facies totius universi. Furthermore, the former are modes understood as pure relations, while the latter are modes understood as finite individuals. Formal essences are relations that specify how finite individuals will behave once they come into existence, while existent modes are individuals that express the relations defined by formal essences, as forces that possess a capacity to act and to be acted upon. According to these distinctions, I maintain that it is possible to develop a coherent account of contrariety and, consequently, of generation and destruction in Spinoza’s system. (shrink)