Meaning in Spinoza's Method (review)

Journal of the History of Philosophy 43 (1):118-119 (2005)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Reviewed by:Meaning in Spinoza’s MethodAlan Nelson and Noa SheinAaron V. Garrett. Meaning in Spinoza’s Method. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Pp. xii + 240. Cloth, $60.00.This is a book about some fundamental aspects of Spinoza's mature metaphysics. The principal focus is on Part I of the Ethics concerning infinite substance, and on Part V concerning the intuitive knowledge that is the goal of philosophy. Within this focus, Garrett concentrates on Spinoza's method. Garrett explains how he has been influenced by interpretations that stress the structural parallel between the synthetic, geometrical presentation of the Ethics and the relations among the ideas of the well-ordered mind. The Ethics proceeds by deriving propositions concerning substance's modes from definitions of substance and related notions while the mind, insofar as it is free from emotions, intuitively knows things as following from God. Garrett's distinctive thesis, however, is that Spinozistic enlightenment depends on the process of emending the intellect as described in one of Spinoza's earliest works, the Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect. While this work strongly foreshadows many of Spinoza's mature doctrines, its exposition much more closely resembles the analytic, non-geometric approach of Descartes's Meditations. Spinoza's therapy for the emendation of our "inadequate" ideas closely parallels Descartes's analytic therapy for making what he calls confused ideas "clear and distinct."Garrett is on firm ground in arguing that the process of enlightenment cannot be an unbroken chain of intuitive deductions. For one thing, the definitions and axioms printed in a copy of the Ethics are first sensed by the reader and are not likely to produce immediately the requisite adequate ideas (172). An example of one of Garrett's interesting conclusions is that the definition of God as consisting of an infinity of attributes, the sixth of Part I of the Ethics (1D6), is preliminary and replaced in the process of therapeutic emendation by a definition of God as self caused. It is only after our ideas have become adequate at the end of the process that we are able to fully appreciate 1D6 (171).One might think that Garrett does not go far enough here because his point can be naturally extended. Definitions might assist us in the process of bringing our adequate ideas to light, but our cognitive goal is making these ideas themselves adequate. What then are the ideas we can make most adequate and exactly what distinguishes them from highly refined ideas that are nevertheless more inadequate than these? On one interpretation it is divine essence, that is, the attributes of thought and extension that are individually most adequately conceived after successful therapy. It is tempting to suppose that a single idea of God as both thinking and extended would be more adequate still, but Spinoza holds that our conceptions of these attributes are "really distinct" in a sense analogous to Descartes's(1P10). Spinoza's 1D6 definition of God as a substance consisting of both these attributes (and perhaps other inconceivable ones) thus seems to indicate a subsumption of the attributes we can conceive under the image of some printed or spoken words. Such an idea would be more inadequate than our adequate conceptions of the individual attributes. One is here strongly reminded of Descartes's characterization in Article 63 of the first Part of his Principles of Philosophy, "... we more readily understand extended substance or thinking substance than substance alone."In his seventh and concluding chapter, Garrett tackles the grand problems of intuitive knowledge or knowledge of "the third kind" and the sense in which Spinoza thought a part of the human mind is eternal. The discussion is necessarily complex, but one great advantage of Garrett's treatment is that he realizes intuitive knowledge cannot consist in the explicit deduction of particular things from God. The detailed determination of particular "everyday objects" requires sensory knowledge which is, of course, never perfectly determinate and therefore inherently inadequate. But we can acquire the "second kind" of adequate knowledge by understanding what our minds have in common with other determinate, finite things. This finally enables us to ascend to an appreciation of these...

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Author Profiles

Alan Nelson
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Noa Shein
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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