In recent years, the notion of relational autonomy has transformed the old debate about the freedom of the individual in society. For Spinoza, individual humans are embedded in natural, social and political circumstances from which they derive their power and freedom. I take this to mean that Spinoza’s is best described as a constitutive theory of relational autonomy. I will show how by defining freedom in terms of power, Spinoza understands individual freedom as irreducibly relational. I propose that Spinoza develops (...) his theory of power to understand how individual power or freedom is limited and enhanced by the power of those around one. For Spinoza, the power of an individual is a function of that individual’s emotions, imaginative conceptions of itself and the world and its appetites. In this paper (1) I will argue that Spinoza reformulates a concept of freedom in terms of power. (2) His mature theory of freedom as power proposes that individual power is determined through social interaction, and is thus best understood as a relational theory of freedom. (3) I will show that as a consequence of Spinoza’s theory, individual power and empowerment relies on those around the individual, and thus, to achieve individual liberation we must pursue collective empowerment. (shrink)
This chapter offers some insight into Spinoza's understanding of the concept of potentia. As is well known amongst scholars, the concept of potentia is fundamental for Spinoza. From ontology, to ethics and politics, the concept of potentia seems to embody the unity of Spinoza's thought. Unlike E1p9, Spinoza focuses on the independence or in the per se nature of the intelligibility of each attribute. The demonstration of the proposition recalls both the definition of the attribute and the definition of substance (...) as explanations. Having more reality, Spinoza states, means having more powers or strength, that is, more potentia to exist. The chapter shows that Spinoza's radical ontology of power emerges in the propositions preparing the consideration of God's necessary existence, namely E1p9–10. (shrink)
This book offers a detailed study of the political philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and Benedict de Spinoza, focussing on their concept of power as potentia, concrete power, rather than power as potestas, authorised power. The focus on power as potentia generates a new conception of popular power. Radical democrats–whether drawing on Hobbes's 'sleeping sovereign' or on Spinoza's 'multitude'–understand popular power as something that transcends ordinary institutional politics, as for instance popular plebsites or mass movements. However, the book argues that these (...) understandings reflect a residual scholasticism which Hobbes and Spinoza ultimately repudiate. Instead, on the book's revisionist conception, a political phenomenon should be said to express popular power when it is both popular (it eliminates oligarchy and encompasses the whole polity), and also powerful (it robustly determines political and social outcomes). Two possible institutional forms that this popular power might take are distinguished: Hobbesian repressive egalitarianism, or Spinozist civic strengthening. But despite divergent institutional proposals, the book argues that both Hobbes and Spinoza share the conviction that there is nothing spontaneously egalitarian or good about human collective existence. From this point of view, the book accuses radical democrats of pernicious romanticism; the slow, meticulous work of organizational design and maintenance is the true centre of popular power. Three minute video summary available via HPBin3. Extended discussion on The Political Theory Review podcast. First chapter open access available via Oxford Scholarship Online. Videos of book talks at National University of Singapore (Centre for Legal Theory) and Universidad de Buenos Aires (Instituto de Investigaciones Gino Germani) available via YouTube. (See links below.). (shrink)
Andrew Youpa offers an original reading of Spinoza's moral philosophy, arguing it is fundamentally an ethics of joy. Unlike approaches to moral philosophy that center on praiseworthiness or blameworthiness, Youpa maintains that Spinoza's moral philosophy is about how to live lovingly and joyously. His reading expands to examinations of the centrality of education and friendship to Spinoza's moral framework, his theory of emotions, and the metaphysical foundation of his moral philosophy.
In this paper, two different ways of thinking about individuality in Spinoza are presented to draw out what is at stake in trying to make sense of what could be described as a double point of view of the degree of the power to act of a singular thing in Spinoza’s Ethics: sometimes it seems to be fixed to a precisely determined degree; sometimes it seems to admit a certain degree of variation. The problem of resolving this apparent contradiction has (...) been responsible for a variety of interpretations among scholars working in the field of Spinoza studies, notably the different interpretations of Spinoza’s theory of relations offered by Pierre Macherey and Gilles Deleuze. Deleuze’s interpretation of the dynamic changes in an individual’s power to act diverges somewhat from that of Macherey. For Macherey, dynamic changes are incorporated by an individual according to the varying degree, or proportion, to which the active expression of its fixed power to act are inhibited or limited. Whereas for Deleuze, an individual’s power to act is open to “metaphysical” or ontological changes. An individual for Deleuze is limited by the passive affections that it experiences in its interactions with other more composite bodies, which, at any given moment, have the potential to limit its further integration, and, therefore, the further development of its power to act, and by consequence, its actual existence. This limit determines the margin of variation, or proportion, of the expression of the given individual’s power to act, which varies from a minimum, below which it would cease to exist (intensity = 0), to a maximum, which would only be limited by the extent to which its power to act is further integrated at any given moment in more composite relations, expressing the affective life of the individual. The paper will examine the implications of this difference to their respective interpretations of Spinoza, with a view to characterising the role that Spinoza plays in Deleuze’s broader project of constructing a philosophy of difference. (shrink)
Vardoulakis argues that the concept of equality is determined by the distinction between three different types of equality in Aristotle. He then shows how Spinoza overcomes the Aristotelian conception by determining equality through a notion of differential power.
Stuart Hampshire's Spinoza depicts Spinoza as having tried to free language from its intimate association with the imagination in order to enable it to convey the clear and distinct ideas of true philosophy. The inaccuracy and insufficiency of this account was pointed out by David Savan in an article in the Philosophical Review in 1958. Savan showed that concerns about language were more deeply and widely woven into Spinoza's thought than Hampshire had noticed; and he argued that, for Spinoza, understanding (...) occurs by a sort of simple mental perception, after we have weaned ourselves from our natural dependence on words and images. Savan's paper appeared in the heyday of linguistic analysis and was articulate... (shrink)
This work examines the unique way in which Benedict de Spinoza combines two significant philosophical principles: that real existence requires causal power and that geometrical objects display exceptionally clearly how things have properties in virtue of their essences. Valtteri Viljanen argues that underlying Spinoza's psychology and ethics is a compelling metaphysical theory according to which each and every genuine thing is an entity of power endowed with an internal structure akin to that of geometrical objects. This allows Spinoza to offer (...) a theory of existence and of action - human and non-human alike - as dynamic striving that takes place with the same kind of necessity and intelligibility that pertain to geometry. This fresh and original study will interest a wide range of readers in Spinoza studies and early modern philosophy more generally. (shrink)
Although Spinoza's formative influence on the cultural ideals of the West is widely recognized, especially with reference to liberal democracy, secular humanism, and naturalistic ethics, little has been written about the educational implications of his philosophy. This article explores the pedagogical tenets that are implicit in Spinoza's writings. I argue (1) that Spinoza's ethics is eudaimonistic, aiming at self‐affirmation, full humanity and wellbeing; (2) that the flourishing of individuals depends on their personal resources, namely, their conatus, power, vitality or capacity (...) to act from their own inner natures; and (3) that the combination of the Spinozian conceptions of humanism, liberal democracy, eudaimonistic ethics, and the enlightened and sovereign individual constitute together the grounds for a comprehensive empowering and liberating pedagogy. (shrink)
Spinoza’s conatus doctrine, the main proposition of which claims, “[e]ach thing, to the extent it is in itself, strives [conatur] to persevere in its being” (E3p6), has been the subject of growing interest. This is understandable, for Spinoza’s psychology and ethics are based on this doctrine. In my paper I shall examine the way Spinoza argues for E3p6 in its demonstration which runs as follows: "For singular things are modes by which God’s attributes are expressed in a certain and determinate (...) way (by 1p25c), i.e. (by 1p34), things that express, in a certain and determinate way, God’s power, by which God is and acts. And no thing has anything in itself by which it can be destroyed, or which takes its existence away (by p4). On the contrary, it is opposed to everything which can take its existence away (by p5). Therefore, to the extent it can, and is in itself, it strives to persevere in its being." This argument has been severely criticized for being defective in many ways. E3p6d contains four items, E1p25c, 1p34, 3p4, and 3p5. Most often, only the two last mentioned are regarded as doing any real work in the demonstration. However, I shall argue that having a proper grasp of Spinoza’s concept of power enables us see that the demonstration’s beginning, built on E1p25c and 1p34, brings forth a certain dynamic framework in which finite things are centers of causal power, capable of producing effects in virtue of their essences. My examination of this framework shows the beginning of the demonstration to be irreplaceable: in the end, conatus is one form of power, and E1p25c and 1p34 not only bring the notion of power into play, but also inform us on how finite things’ power should be understood in the monistic system. So, I disagree with such commentators as Jonathan Bennett, Edwin Curley, Daniel Garber, Michael Della Rocca, and Richard Manning, who see Spinoza as trying to derive the conatus doctrine from E3p4 and 3p5 alone; and I agree with Alexandre Matheron, Henry Allison, and Martin Lin, who stress the importance of E1p25c and 1p34. -/- However, this still leaves us the task of reconstructing the whole derivation and showing how its various ingredients fit together. If E1p25c and 1p34 are so important, could E3p6 not be derived from them alone, as Martin Lin has argued? In other words, why are E3p4 and 3p5 needed at all? To answer these questions I shall provide an interpretation of E3p6d that explains how the argument is supposed to work. E1p25c and 1p34 say that finite things are, in essence, dynamic causers, which, in case of opposition, truly resist opposing factors with their power and do not simply cease their causal activities whenever facing obstacles; in other words, they strive against any opposition. However, this is not enough to guarantee that they could not act self-destructively or restrain their own power, which would make them incapable of self-preservation. But this would go against E3p4, “No thing can be destroyed except through an external cause,” and Spinoza uses it to claim, “no thing has anything in itself by which it can be destroyed, or which takes its existence away.” So all this allows Spinoza to hold that finite things are consistent causers, that is, entities endowed with power and, insofar they cause effects solely in virtue of their essence, they never use their power self-destructively. The significance and role of the final item in the demonstration, E3p5 (“Things are of a contrary nature, i.e., cannot be in the same subject, insofar as one can destroy the other”), still needs to be determined. Indeed, considering its content and the way it is used in the demonstration, it seems to be a surprisingly decisive ingredient in the argument. Namely, what “each thing, to the extent it is in itself,” that is, insofar as any thing is considered disregarding everything external to it, strives to preserve, is its being (esse), not simply its present state. This together with E3p5’s view of subjecthood – which I shall explicate in my paper – suggests that we should rethink what kind of “being” or “existence” is meant in E3p6. Indeed, for Spinoza, each subject has a definable essence from which, as far as the subject in question is in itself, certain properties or effects necessarily follow; consequently a subject’s full being involves not only instantiating a certain essence, but also those properties inferable from the essence-expressing definition. Thus, E3p5 is meant to bring forward that things are not merely non-self-destroyers but subjects from whose definitions properties follow; and as Spinoza thinks to have shown (by E1p25c and 1p34) that finite modifications are entities endowed with power, any subject has true power to produce the properties or effects derivable from its definition, which, Spinoza claims, implies opposing everything harmful. In other words, things exercise power as their definition states, i.e. according to their definitions, and thus bringing in the idea of things as expressers of power enables Spinoza to convert logical oppositions (of E3p5) into real ones (of E3p6). To summarize, Spinoza reasons that each true finite thing is, in itself, an expresser of power (E1p25c, 1p34) that never acts self-destructively (E3p4) but instead strives to drive itself through opponents to produce effects as they follow from the definition of the thing in question (E1p25c, 1p34, and 3p5). Therefore, “each thing, to the extent it is in itself, strives to persevere in its being.” The demonstration of E3p6 has its roots deep in Spinoza’s ontology, and since its concept of power is supposed to provide the metaphysical grounding for real opposition, the importance of E1p25c and 1p34 should not be underestimated just because Spinoza – as often happens – puts his point exceedingly briefly. Moreover, the derivation is basically valid and contains no superfluous elements. Finally, all this tells us something decisive about the meaning of Spinoza’s doctrine: according to it, things are active causers whose “power to exist and act” has conatus character in temporality, amounting not only to striving to prolong the duration of one’s actualization but also to striving to be as active or autonomous as possible, that is, to attain a state determined by the striving subject’s essence alone. (shrink)
In a short piece written most likely in the 1690s and given the title by Loemker of “On Wisdom,” Leibniz says the following: “...we see that happiness, pleasure, love, perfection, being, power, freedom, harmony, order, and beauty are all tied to each other, a truth which is rightly perceived by few.”1 Why is this? That is, why or how are these concepts tied to each other? And, why have so few understood this relation? Historians of philosophy are familiar with the (...) fact that both Spinoza and Leibniz place strong emphasis on the notion of power in giving their accounts of the human passions. But, while many scholars have explicated the relation between power and the passions (especially in Spinoza’s philosophy), there has been considerably less attention given to the nature of perfection and its relation to both power and the passions.2 Consider the following passages from Spinoza and Leibniz in which these two thinkers seem to bring together the issue of perfection and passion. In Ethics IIIp11s, Spinoza says the following: We see, then, that the Mind can undergo great changes, and pass now to a greater, now to a lesser perfection. These passions, indeed, explain to us the affects of Joy and Sadness. By Joy, therefore, I shall understand in what follows that passion by which the Mind passes to a greater perfection. And by Sadness, that passion by which it passes to a lesser perfection. The affect of Joy which is related to the Mind and Body at once I call Pleasure or Cheerfulness, and that of Sadness, Pain or Melancholy.3 And, in the Monadology §49, Leibniz says this: “The creature is said to act externally insofar as it is perfect, and to be acted upon [patir] by another, insofar as it is imperfect.”4 In other words, for Spinoza, the primitive passions of joy and sadness are cases in which a being’s perfection is increasing or decreasing, while, for Leibniz, any passion, it would.. (shrink)
Le système spinoziste comprend une infinité d'expressions de la Nature et offre aux modes finis que nous sommes la possibilité d'appréhender la puissance d'agir sous un angle physique, mental, ou encore psychophysique, selon qu'elle est ...
In this essential rereading of Spinoza's (1632-1677) philosophical and political writings, Negri positions this thinker within the historical context of the development of the modern state and its attendant political economy.
Spinoza shared with his contemporaries the conviction that the passions are, on the whole, unruly and destructive. A life of virtue requires that the passions be controlled, if not entirely vanquished, and the preferred means of imposing this control over the passions is via the power of reason. But there was little agreement in the seventeenth century about just what gives reason its strength and how its power can be brought to bear upon the wayward passions.