In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Reviewed by:Think Least of Death: Spinoza on How to Live and How to Die by Steven NadlerJohn GreySteven Nadler. Think Least of Death: Spinoza on How to Live and How to Die. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2020. Pp. x + 234. Hardback, $39.95.Think Least of Death is not just an interpretation of Spinoza, but a defense of his philosophy. Nadler develops Spinoza's arguments in ways that are intended (...) both to reflect Spinoza's views and to persuade us that the views in question are true. He uses success language throughout to describe Spinoza's ideas ("What Spinoza discovered, and what he wants us to know, is that..." ) and arguments ("Spinoza... has demonstrated, rigorously and a priori, that..." ). Nadler is not just a Spinoza scholar here; he also thinks that Spinoza basically got it right. It would be a mistake, then, to evaluate Think Least of Death solely on its interpretive merits as a reading of Spinoza's Ethics. It is more fruitful to look at the places where Nadler not only describes, but apparently endorses, Spinoza's views.Following Nadler, I will focus here on the practical philosophy. Briefly put, Spinoza takes the right way of living to consist in adherence to the dictates of reason, which prescribe "that everyone love himself, seek his own advantage... and 'absolutely, that everyone should strive to preserve his own being as far as he can'" (191). These general principles issue in more specific directives based on facts about human nature. For instance, since the nature of the human mind is such that it always benefits from further understanding, reason directs us to strive for further understanding. To the extent that a human being lives in accordance with such dictates of reason, they will feel joyful, be free, and act virtuously. Conversely, when they are driven by their passions rather than reason, they will often feel sorrow, lack autonomy, and do things that are harmful to themselves and others. This is the source of whatever motivating power these directives have: necessarily, following them conduces to our self-interest.A crucial point for Nadler is that these facts about human nature are the same for each human being. This implies that "there is in fact an objective, non-arbitrary determination of what constitutes a more perfect or ideal human being" (28), the ideal that Spinoza variously refers to as the model of human nature or the free man. On Nadler's reading, Spinoza's notion of the free man (which he treats as equivalent to the model of human nature) is not "some creature of the imagination or reflection of personal taste" (29), but a representation of "the ideal state toward which every individual [human] naturally and necessarily... strives" (29). [End Page 708]A signal contribution of the book is to show that the free person's life is a realizable goal rather than an unattainable ideal. The free person is determined to act by reason alone, yes—but this is compatible with him or her also having passions, so long as those passions do not determine his or her behavior. A free person might feel fear at the prospect of death or suffering, but that fear will not determine what he or she does. Instead, the free person's actions will be determined by the guidance of reason and the positive affects (joy, love, self-esteem, and the like).Since the life of the free person is in principle attainable, Nadler proposes that we take the free person's life as a model for how we ourselves should live. For instance, when Spinoza writes that "a free man always acts honestly" (E 4P72), the implication is that we ourselves should always act honestly. Now, there is an apparent inconsistency in this position, nicely articulated by Don Garrett ("'A Free Man Always Acts Honestly, Not Deceptively': Freedom and the Good in Spinoza's Ethics," in Nature and Necessity in Spinoza's Philosophy [New York: Oxford University Press, 2018], 441–61). The free man—living entirely according to the guidance of reason—always acts honestly. Yet reason also guides us to seek our own advantage, and sometimes the... (shrink)
This guide has an introduction and five chapters, one for each of the parts of Spinoza's Ethics. The Introduction includes background material necessary for productive study of the Ethics: advice for working with Spinoza's geometrical method, a biographical sketch of Spinoza, and accounts of important predecessors: Aristotle, Maimonides, and Descartes. The chapters that follow trace the Ethics in detail, including accounts of most of the elements in Spinoza's book and raising questions for further research. Chapter 1, "One Infinite Substance," covers (...) central arguments of Spinoza's substance monism. Chapter 2, "The Idea of the Human Body," follows Spinoza's detailed metaphysics of ordinary objects, his theory of mind, and his epistemology. Chapter 3, "Desire, Joy, and Sadness," works from Spinoza's broad theory of finite activity in the striving to persevere in being to his detailed accounts of human action and passion. Chapter 4, "Bondage to Passion," emphasizes Spinoza's formal theory of value, his intellectualism in ethics, and particular claims about value that follow from these commitments. Chapter 5, "The Power of the Intellect," begins with Spinoza's criticism of Descartes's account of our ability to control passion and moves to Spinoza's own theory, which emphasizes reason, the eternal part of the mind, and human blessedness. (shrink)
Kant makes a striking reference to Spinoza in the 1788 Critique of Practical Reason. This chapter begins by investigating whether Kant directly concerned himself with Spinoza, focusing on Omri Boehm's recent affirmative argument. Kant thinks the objective principle yields radical metaphysical conclusions only in conjunction with further claims about specific conditioning relations. Kant's privileging of Spinozism among realist views seems generally detached from Spinoza's actual thought. The chapter deals with points of convergence or near‐convergence between Kant and Spinoza. It identifies (...) two philosophically interesting points on which Spinoza's and Kant's views come surprisingly close: their arguments for the limitations of our sensory knowledge and their arguments for the timelessness of the mind. Spinoza's official argument for the timelessness of the mind appeals to his doctrines of the body's eternal essence, the parallel between bodies and ideas, and the identity of the human mind with God's idea of the human body. (shrink)
The study deals with the matter of three of the most puzzling doctrines of Baruch Spinoza's system, the so-called 'final doctrines', which are intuitive knowledge, intellectual love of God, and the eternity of the (human) mind. Contrary to many commentators, but also in concordance with many others, this account strives to affirm the utmost importance of these doctrines to Spinoza's system as a whole, but mostly to his ethical theory. Focusing specifically on the cultivation of the human mind, the paper (...) offers partial analyses of the central notions of these doctrines and their conceptual contexts. It is argued that the cultivation of the human mind, i.e., its determination to its perfect activity, should be considered as Spinoza's ultimate ethical goal, and that the mind truly only advances to this goal by means of these cognitive, affective, and intellectual transformations of thinking. (shrink)
From Pulitzer Prize-finalist Steven Nadler, an engaging guide to what Spinoza can teach us about life’s big questions In 1656, after being excommunicated from Amsterdam’s Portuguese-Jewish community for “abominable heresies” and “monstrous deeds,” the young Baruch Spinoza abandoned his family’s import business to dedicate his life to philosophy. He quickly became notorious across Europe for his views on God, the Bible, and miracles, as well as for his uncompromising defense of free thought. Yet the radicalism of Spinoza’s views has long (...) obscured that his primary reason for turning to philosophy was to answer one of humanity’s most urgent questions: How can we lead a good life and enjoy happiness in a world without a providential God? In Think Least of Death, Pulitzer Prize–finalist Steven Nadler connects Spinoza’s ideas with his life and times to offer a compelling account of how the philosopher can provide a guide to living one’s best life. In the Ethics, Spinoza presents his vision of the ideal human being, the “free person” who, motivated by reason, lives a life of joy devoted to what is most important—improving oneself and others. Untroubled by passions such as hate, greed, and envy, free people treat others with benevolence, justice, and charity. Focusing on the rewards of goodness, they enjoy the pleasures of this world, but in moderation. “The free person thinks least of all of death,” Spinoza writes, “and his wisdom is a meditation not on death but on life." An unmatched introduction to Spinoza’s moral philosophy, Think Least of Death shows how his ideas still provide valuable insights about how to live today. (shrink)
Although largely neglected in Schelling scholarship, the concept of bliss assumes central importance throughout Schelling’s oeuvre. Focusing on his 1810–11 texts, the Stuttgart Seminars and the beginning of the Ages of the World, this paper traces the logic of bliss, in its connection with other key concepts such as indifference, the world or the system, at a crucial point in Schelling’s thinking. Bliss is shown, at once, to mark the zero point of the developmental narrative that Schelling constructs here and (...) to interrupt it at every step. As a result, bliss emerges here in its real utopian force but also its all-too-real ambivalence, indifference, and even violence, despite Schelling’s best efforts to theorize it as ‘love’; and Schelling himself emerges, in these texts, as one of modernity’s foremost thinkers not just of nature or freedom, but also of bliss in its modern afterlives. At stake in Schelling’s conception of bliss, I argue, is the very relationship between history and eternity, the not-yet and the already-here, the present, and the eschatological—as well as between Spinozian immanence and the Christian temporality of salvation, so important for modernity —not to mention the complex entanglement of indifference, violence, and love or the ideas of totality, nonproductivity, and nonrelation that Schellingian bliss involves. (shrink)
Spinoza's guiding commitment to the thesis that nothing exists or occurs outside of the scope of nature and its necessary laws makes him one of the great seventeenth-century exemplars of both philosophical naturalism and explanatory rationalism. Nature and Necessity in Spinoza's Philosophy brings together for the first time eighteen of Don Garrett's articles on Spinoza's philosophy, ranging over the fields of metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, ethics, and political philosophy. Taken together, these influential articles provide a comprehensive interpretation of that (...) philosophy, including Spinoza's theories of substance, thought and extension, causation, truth, knowledge, individuation, representation, consciousness, conatus, teleology, emotion, freedom, responsibility, virtue, contract, the state, and eternity-and the deep interrelations among them. Each article aims to resolve significant problems in the understanding of Spinoza's philosophy in such a way as to make evident both his reasons for his views and the enduring value of his ideas. At the same time, Garrett's articles elucidate the relations between his philosophy and those of predecessors and contemporaries like Aristotle, Hobbes, Descartes, Locke, and Leibniz. Lastly, the volume offers important and substantial replies to leading critics on four crucial topics: the necessary existence of God (Nature), substance monism, necessitarianism, and consciousness. (shrink)
Spinoza is commonly perceived as the great metaphysician of coherence. The Euclidean manner in which he presented his philosophy in the _Ethics _has led readers to assume they are facing a strict and consistent philosophical system that necessarily follows from itself. As opposed to the prevailing understanding of Spinoza and his work, _The Role of Contradictions in Spinoza's Philosophy_ explores an array of profound and pervasive contradictions in Spinoza’s system and argues they are deliberate and constitutive of his philosophical thinking (...) and the notion of God at its heart. Relying on a meticulous and careful reading of the _Theological-Political Treatise_ and the _Ethics_, this book reconstructs Spinoza's philosophy of contradictions as a key to the ascending three degrees of knowledge leading to the _Amor intellectualis Dei_. Offering an exciting and clearly-argued interpretation of Spinoza’s philosophy, this book will interest students and scholars of modern philosophy and philosophy of religion, as well as Jewish studies. Yuval Jobani is Assistant Professor at the Department of Hebrew Culture Studies and the School of Education at Tel-Aviv University. (shrink)
This article argues that Spinoza’s account of the eternity of the mind in Part V of the Ethics offers a re-interpretation of the Christian doctrine of eternal life. While Spinoza rejects the orthodox Christian teaching belief in personal immortality and the resurrection of the body, he presents an alternative account of human eternity that retains certain key characteristics of the Johannine doctrine of eternal life, especially as this is articulated in the First Letter of John. The article shows how Spinoza’s (...) account of human eternity reflects two key principles of his philosophy: the ideal of union with God, and the possibility of the human being’s ontological transformation through this union. (shrink)
Philosophers from traditions that are not only entirely different but apparently uninfluenced by each other sometimes show remarkable similarities. In the case of Spinoza and Shankara such similarities include the dual-aspect model according to which the apparent pluralism of the world rests on an inadequate perception of its oneness, and the way the overcoming of that inadequacy is conceived as a liberation from the passions and an achievement of immortality. A significant difference between the two, however, is that Spinoza's explanations (...) are epistemologically conceived while Shankara's are conceived ontologically. Not that Spinoza lacked an ontology or Shankara an epistemology, but rather their explanatory approaches emphasize the differences of the worlds within which they wrote. (shrink)
Spinoza's doctrine of the eternity of the mind is often understood as the claim that the mind has a part that is eternal. I appeal to two principles that Spinoza takes to govern parthood and causation to raise a new problem for this reading. Spinoza takes the composition of one thing from many to require causal interaction among the many. Yet he also holds that eternal things cannot causally interact, without mediation, with things in duration. So the human mind, since (...) it is the idea of a body existing in duration, cannot have an eternal part. In order to solve this problem, I propose an aspectual reading of Spinoza's doctrine of the eternity of the mind: the mind itself is eternal, under one of its aspects. (shrink)
In the essay Spinoza Dies, the Author imagines Spinoza's reflections in the hours preceding his death and uses them to present the philosopher's theories on life, death, suicide and eternity of the mind. These theories require a concept of identity able to answer questions on the essence of life and death, the identity of the dying and of the surviving individual. While some interpreters deny that the eternal mind can be a personal one, the Author argues in complete contrast that (...) the mind truly achieves a personal identity only in the dimension of eternity. (shrink)
Spinoza insists that we can during the course of our lives increase that part of the mind that is constituted by knowledge, but he also calls that part of the mind its eternal part. How can what is eternal increase? I defend an interpretation on which there is a sense in which the eternal part of the mind can become greater without changing intrinsically at all.
" Nous sentons et nous expérimentons que nous sommes éternels. " Cette phrase énigmatique n'est peut-être pas soli-taire : elle appelle - et suppose pour être comprise - toute une problématique spinoziste de l'expérience, peu aperçue mais régissant des pans entiers du système. L'expérience, c'est d'abord la clef de l'itinéraire par lequel, au début de la Réforme de l'entendement, le narrateur arrache à la vie commune les raisons de chercher le vrai Bien. C'est ensuite, dans les champs de l'histoire (lieu (...) de la fortune), de la langue (lieu de l'usage), des passions (lieu de l'ingenium), le signe de tout ce qui paraît échapper à la Raison sans pourtant la contredire. C'est enfin la présence, en tout homme, d'une conscience de la nécessité au sein même de la finitude. Ainsi l'étude de l'expérience permet-elle de voir autrement la Raison elle-même ; de comprendre, aussi, la constitution du système qui apparaît comme une réflexion sur les formes et les moyens de la rationalité. (shrink)
This dissertation deals with Spinoza's notion of adequate ideas. From Spinoza's perspective, the adequate idea as God's essence entails absolute certainty. To know an idea adequately, one must reach the infinite and eternal aspects of God's essence. Only by doing so can one fulfill the criteria of truth, namely truth as coherence and truth as correspondence. A true idea is one which satisfies all the internal marks, and its ideatum as the physical image corresponds to every aspect of the thing. (...) ;I argue that the body plays a constitutive role in cognition. For Spinoza, the body is not subservient to the mind; mind and body are two sides of the same coin. Affects and conatus can both be attributed to the body. ;The late Descartes believes that imagination cannot reach God's infinity. I contend that on account of conatus as the strife for freedom and infinity, the Spinozistic body is capable of perceiving different modes of space and eventually attaining virtue infinity. Thereafter, the intellect can intuit actual infinity as substance. ;As for eternity, I reconstruct Spinoza's theory of belief with the intention to redeem its validity. A belief becomes true when it is objectively real and subjectively veracious. Moreover, I discuss the two laws of association. Conceiving ideas fortuitously and inadequately, the mind follows the natural law of association. As conatus intelligendi and active affects take shape at a later point, the mind relates ideas with necessity and follows the universal law of association. I further claim that in the third kind of knowledge the mind is in touch with two kinds of reality, one temporal and the other eternal. The eternal existence of the thing grounds its temporal existence. ;Knowing God's eternal essence and existence involves grasping the thing's common notions and intuiting its concrete essence. The intuition at issue is an unconditional positing. As such, it grounds all subsequent propositional and conditional positing. I identify this intuition as the experience of God's eternal existence. The problems of eternity and infinity being solved, the knowledge entails absolute certainty. (shrink)
Why was the great philosopher Spinoza expelled from his Portuguese-Jewish community in Amsterdam? Nadler's investigation of this simple question gives fascinating new perspectives on Spinoza's thought and the Jewish religious and philosophical tradition from which it arose.
Nous jouissons d'une eternite immediatement proportionnee au developpement de notre activite mentale: c'est ainsi que se distinguent le sage et l'ignorant... Dans la mesure ou l'eternite produit le salut, chacun trouve donc son chatiment ou sa recompense dans la vie qu'il mene et dans les efforts qu'il deploie: une existence d'imagination ou d'entendement, de passivite ou d'activite, de renoncements ou de realisations est en soi mort ou eternite, si bien que la sanction est immediate de la facon la plus stricte.
In this dissertation, it is argued that Spinoza's assertion of the mind's eternity is not an ad hoc addendum to his metaphysics but rather its necessary culmination. The first four chapters examine the metaphysical foundations of human immortality, tracing the emanative process from God to singular things and addressing key issues such as the God/attribute distinction, the nature of eternity, the status of universals, and the relation between essence and existence. The last chapter develops an interpretation of the mind's eternity (...) with both ontological and epistemological aspects: despite their finite duration, all human minds exist timelessly as a necessary part of the order of nature, but only the few who are aware of their own timeless existence enjoy an eternal self-consciousness and beatitude. (shrink)
Spinoza’s ideas on the eternity of the human mind have sparked much controversy. As opposed to most commentators, I argue that since substance is eternal, and the human mind can only be conceived in substance, the human mind must also be eternal. Only from a finite and partial view can the human mind be conceived of as having duration.
In part I of this paper I argue that on his theory of the mind as the idea of an actually existing body Spinoza is unable to account for the ability of the mind to have adequate knowledge, and I suggest that his theory of the eternity of the mind can be viewed as his solution to this problem. In part II I deal with the question of the meaning of ‘eternity’ in Spinoza, in regard both to God and the (...) human mind, and I sketch a line of thought which I believe may have provided him with further motivation for his theory that a part of the mind is eternal. (shrink)
The final chapter of Spinoza’s Ethics has elicited numerous interpretations, and in this work, I discuss Jonathan Bennett’s and Harry Wolfson’s. Bennett claims that the doctrine of blessedness is unintelligible, while Wolfson claims that Spinoza’s account of blessedness actually defends traditional, medieval views of the immortality of the soul. I find neither of these acceptable accounts for the reasons presented below, and I have a simple alternative explanation for this doctrine. Essentially, I argue that by ‘blessedness’ Spinoza means being happy (...) with being virtuous. In my reading of the Ethics, Spinoza first offers the account that we should help others in order to help ourselves, and then he explains that we should enjoy doing so, and he writes that being happy with this is called ‘blessedness.’. (shrink)