Hegel's Critique of Spinoza's Concept of Substance

Dissertation, University of Toronto (Canada) (1987)
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Abstract

This thesis evaluates the remark on the philosophy of Spinoza which Hegel makes in the Science of Logic at the end of the discussion of the absolute. Here Hegel asserts that substance's claim to be a determinate unity cannot be sustained because substance lacks a fully articulated principle of self-determination. ;After examining several interpretations of Spinoza's substance, we offer our own account against which Hegel's evaluation can be measured. Substance is defined as absolutely infinite, and is, in consequence, both self-caused and inclusive of all determination. It is both cause and effect. Its infinite creative power has infinite expression, the attributes, and these issue in the modes. Unfortunately, examination reveals that the modes cannot be satisfactorily grounded in substance. Spinoza develops the fact of the finite modes' pointing beyond themselves into an infinite series of transitive causal relations. He does not see, as Hegel does, that the other of the finite, while distinct from it, is equally its estranged self. As such, only Hegel can discover the true infinite in which the finite is present as an ideal moment. Furthermore, the Ethics gives no adequate account of the determination proper to the attributes. We know that this cannot be founded upon limitation or reference to another, yet we are offered no alternate account. Hegel shows that this state of affairs can be remedied by reworking the concepts of essence, determination and infinity so that double negation is at work in them. The attributes and modes can install a determinate content in substance only when the self-sundering, self-reuniting movement of determinate reflection operates in them. In the absence of this, although Spinoza's substance is supposed to be the unity of all determination, it amounts to nothing more than an externally determined abstract identity

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Laura Byrne
University of Ottawa

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