Why Spinoza is Not an Eleatic Monist (Or Why Diversity Exists)

In Philip Goff (ed.), Spinoza on Monism. Palgrave (2011)
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“Why did God create the World?” is one of the traditional questions of theology. In the twentieth century this question was rephrased in a secularized manner as “Why is there something rather than nothing?” While creation - at least in its traditional, temporal, sense - has little place in Spinoza’s system, a variant of the same questions puts Spinoza’s system under significant pressure. According to Spinoza, God, or the substance, has infinitely many modes. This infinity of modes follow from the essence of God. If we ask: “Why must God have modes?,” we seem to be trapped in a real catch. On the one hand, Spinoza’s commitment to thoroughgoing rationalism demands that there must be a reason for the existence of the radical plurality of modes. On the other hand, the asymmetric dependence of modes on the substance seems to imply that the substance does not need the modes, and that it can exist without the modes. But if the substance does not need the modes, then why are there modes at all? Furthermore, Spinoza cannot explain the existence of modes as an arbitrary act of grace on God’s side since Spinoza’s God does not act arbitrarily. Surprisingly, this problem has hardly been addressed in the existing literature on Spinoza’s metaphysics, and it is my primary aim here to draw attention to this problem. In the first part of the paper I will present and explain the problem of justifying the existence of infinite plurality modes in Spinoza’s system. In the second part of the paper I consider the radical solution to the problem according to which modes do not really exist, and show that this solution must be rejected upon consideration. In the third and final part of the paper I will suggest my own solution according to which the essence of God is active and it is this feature of God’s essence which requires the flow of modes from God’s essence. I also suggest that Spinoza considered radical infinity and radical unity to be roughly the same, and that the absolute infinity of what follow from God’s essence is grounded in the absolute infinity of God’s essence itself.



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Yitzhak Melamed
Johns Hopkins University

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