Eternal and expansive super necessitarianism: a new interpretation of Spinoza's metaphysics

Hannibal Jackson
University of Iowa
A key issue concerning the views of Spinoza is whether he is a necessitarian or if he allows for the existence of possibilities. Commentators on Spinoza agree that his metaphysics revolve around, at the very least, a deterministic universe in which the laws of nature, together with all preceding causes, determine everything that occurs. There is also agreement that Spinoza does allow for doxastic possibility, which involves humans being able to imagine different outcomes based on inadequate knowledge of preceding causes. For instance, humans can imagine a particular car existing or not existing. The divide among commentators occurs over the issue of whether Spinoza is a necessitarian or not. For instance, consider the existence of a black car. If Spinoza is a necessitarian, then the car could not be any color other than black; otherwise, the car could have been a different color. Due to Spinoza’s acceptance of a universe based on deterministic laws, the entire causal order would have to be different in order to produce the car in a different color. A major focus of this study, therefore, will be on whether Spinoza allows that the entire causal order could have been different. Views supporting a necessitarian interpretation of Spinoza, those of Garrett and Koistinen, will be examined as well as views supporting a possibilist interpretation of Spinoza, those of Curley and Walski, and Miller. The views of these five commentators will be examined in an attempt to determine their plausibility in regard to Spinoza’s writings as well as their plausibility in regard to the consistency of their arguments. In order to simplify the task of examining the allowance of possibilities other than doxastic in Spinoza’s metaphysics, this study will focus on Miller’s view of nomological possibility. Nomological possibility involves everything that is consistent with the laws of nature when the laws of nature are considered separately from the actual causal order. In the course of this study the shortcomings of the views defending standard necessitarianism will be demonstrated; the problems of the views espousing the allowance of nomological possibilities will also be demonstrated. A major shortcoming of the necessitarian views involves the plausibility of including one particular causal order within God’s essence, while a major shortcoming of the possibilist views will be their inability to handle the parallelism doctrine that Spinoza holds. A major aim of this study is to demonstrate that nomological possibility, when combined with IP17 in the Ethics, yields a result in which all the things consistent with the laws of nature end up actually existing. IP17 declares that “God creates everything that He understands.” If God understands everything consistent with the laws of nature, then He creates everything consistent with the laws of nature. The hybrid view, which is termed “super necessitarianism,” will be examined to sketch a way that it could fit into Spinoza’s metaphysics. The view of super necessitarianism will be considered in three variations, those of eternal, expansive, and concentrated. Eternal super necessitarianism involves all the things consistent with the laws of nature being created over the vast spans of time, while expansive super necessitarianism involves all the things being created over the vast universe. Concentrated super necessitarianism involves all the things being created within the same finite mode but expressed through different attributes. The choice will be made as to which of the three variations of super necessitarianism is most plausible, and finally it will be shown how super necessitarianism avoids some of the problems inherent in the necessitarian and possibilist views.
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