Two Types of Seventeenth Century Naturalistic Ethics

Dissertation, University of California, San Diego (2000)

Michael LeBuffe
University of Otago
Whereas Spinoza's ethics is often thought to be a recasting of Hobbesian ethics, I argue that his theory of motivation is better than Hobbes's, that his theory of value is richer than Hobbes's, and that both are highly distinctive. Edwin Curley and Jonathan Bennett both attribute to Spinoza an ethical theory similar to Hobbes's: all human agents necessarily want to do whatever they think will preserve them, and anything valuable has moral value just because it is a necessary means to what agents necessarily want. In presenting an interpretation of Spinoza under which both of these metaethical claims are false I argue that there are two major types of seventeenth century naturalistic ethics, not just one. ;Under my interpretation of Spinoza's moral psychology, he holds that human agents necessarily want objects in which they anticipate either experiencing laetitia or avoiding its opposite, tristitia. I argue, contrary to Curley and Bennett, that Spinozistic agents might well not desire to preserve themselves. The suicide, for example, might want to die in order to avoid tristitia. Under my interpretation of Spinoza's theory of value, he adopts various theories of value implicit in human practice. Spinoza's Ethics is an attempt neither to found some new theory of value, nor even to revise some traditional theory, but to reveal a common feature of any object which holds value under any of the traditional theories Spinoza finds implicit in human practice: any object which is good under one of these theories will be an object which is useful for preserving oneself.
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