ABSTRACTSteven Nadler has argued that Spinoza can, should, and does allow for the possibility of suicide committed as a free and rational action. Given that the conatus is a striving for perfection, Nadler argues, there are cases in which reason guides a person to end her life based on the principle of preferring the lesser evil. If so, Spinoza’s disparaging statements about suicide are intended to apply only to some cases, whereas in others he would grant that suicide is dictated (...) by reason. Here, I object to Nadler’s interpretation by showing that it conflicts with Spinoza’s metaphysical psychology. Even given Nadler’s interpretation of the conatus doctrine, the possibility that reason could guide a person to commit suicide is incompatible with the conatus of the mind. Spinoza holds that the mind cannot contain an adequate idea ‘that excludes the existence of our body’. Yet, as I argue, in order for reason to guide a person voluntarily to end her life, she would need... (shrink)
The title of Roger Ariew’s new book parallels that of his earlier collection of essays, Descartes and the Last Scholastics, published in 1999 and widely regarded as a signal contribution to the study of Descartes’s relationship to his intellectual predecessors. Some of the themes of that work are reflected in the new book as well. In both, Ariew seeks to overthrow the myth of Descartes as staunch opponent of Scholasticism by revealing his affinities to strands of Scholastic thought. Indeed, given (...) the title, it may be surprising that much of Descartes and the First Cartesians focuses on Descartes’s relationship to Scholastic philosophy. The reason is that Ariew’s aim is to show how Descartes’s followers designed.. (shrink)
Spinoza: Moral Philosophy Like many European philosophers in the early modern period, Benedict de Spinoza developed a moral philosophy that fused the insights of ancient theories of virtue with a modern conception of humans, their place in nature, and their relationship to God. Unlike many other authors in this period, however, Spinoza was strongly … Continue reading Spinoza: Moral Philosophy →.
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)
Although Spinoza disagrees with Descartes's claim that animals are mindless, he holds that we may nevertheless treat them as we please because their natures are different from human nature. Margaret Wilson has questioned the validity of Spinoza's argument, since it is not clear why differences in nature should imply differences in ethical status. In this paper, I propose a new interpretation of Spinoza's argument that responds to Wilson's challenge. We have ethical commitments to other humans only because we share the (...) same nature, for this implies that in helping them become more perfect, we also make them more useful to us. However, since animals have different natures than we do, helping them perfect themselves may make them less useful to us. Reason dictates only what it can dictate unconditionally, so it does not guide us to pursue the good of lower animals. Though Spinoza's argument is valid, there is little reason to think it sound; I conclude with a brief criticism of Spinoza's doctrine of human nature, which plays a central role in the argument. (shrink)