Journal of the History of Philosophy 50 (3):365-386 (2012)

Yitzhak Melamed
Johns Hopkins University
Spinoza’s philosophy is bold and rich in challenges to our “common-sense intuitions”, and insofar as it provides powerful arguments to motivate these challenges, I believe that we cannot ask for more. Bold and well-argued philosophy has the indispensable virtue of being able to unsettle and try us, to move us to reconsider what seems natural and obvious, and possibly even to change our most basic beliefs. Indeed, for those who seek to test – rather than confirm - their old and well-fortified intuitions, Spinoza is nothing short of a living spring. My deep support for rigorous, counter-intuitive philosophy notwithstanding, a considerable part of the current paper will be dedicated to an examination and critique of one of the boldest and most fascinating readings of Spinoza of the past few years. In his recent piece, “Rationalism Run Amok: Representation and the Reality of Emotions in Spinoza,” and in his outstanding new book, Michael Della Rocca suggests a strict identification of the relations of inherence, causation, and conception in Spinoza (Della Rocca develops this view partly in response to a position recently articulated by Don Garret). In order to see the striking implications of this claim, one need only realize that, according to Della Rocca, Spinoza holds that insofar as the sun is the (partial) cause of some states of the sunflower, the sunflower (partly) inheres in the sun. Furthermore, insofar as my great-great-grandparents caused me, I inhere in them (though we never co-existed at the same time). The mere oddity of Della Rocca’s claim will play only a limited role, if any, in my discussion below. Della Rocca provides important and interesting arguments to the effect that if we are to accept Spinoza’s radical version of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (henceforth, PSR), we should bite the bullet and accept the odd implications of Spinoza’s alleged view. While I have nothing but admiration for this willingness to read Spinoza in an allegedly consistent and uncompromising manner, I do think that Della Rocca’s argument that a strict endorsement of the PSR leads necessarily to the identification of the relations of inherence, causation and conception is wrong. I will argue that (1) Spinoza never endorsed this identity, and (2) that Della Rocca’s suggestion could not be considered as a legitimate reconstruction or friendly amendment to Spinoza’s system because it creates several severe and irresolvable problems in the system, and for that reason (and not because the threefold identity contravenes common sense) it should be rejected. In the rest of the paper I rely on my analysis of the relations of inherence, causation, and conception, and suggest a new interpretation of core issues in Spinoza’s metaphysics, and particularly of the conceived through and in another relations and the nature of the substance/modes opposition. Against Della Rocca’s claim that the bifurcation of efficient causation (into causation which is, and is not, accompanied by inherence) constitutes an illegitimate brute fact, I will argue that the bifurcation of causation in Spinoza is paralleled by a bifurcation of conception and that the two relations are grounded in the foundational bifurcation of existence into substance and modes. If we are to recognize the reality of modes in Spinoza, we must also acknowledge the bifurcations that result from the bifurcation of existence into substance and modes.
Keywords Causation  Conceivability  Inherence  Spinoza  Time  Eternity
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DOI 10.1353/hph.2012.0048
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Spinoza on Composition, Monism, and Beings of Reason.Róbert Mátyási - 2020 - Journal of Modern Philosophy 2 (1):1-16.
Restricting Spinoza's Causal Axiom.John Morrison - 2015 - Philosophical Quarterly 65 (258):40-63.
Clarke Against Spinoza on the Manifest Diversity of the World.Timothy Yenter - 2014 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 22 (2):260-280.
Reply to Yenter: Spinoza, Number, and Diversity.Galen Barry - 2016 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 24 (2):365-374.

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