Truth and Imagination in Spinoza's Metaphysics

Dissertation, The University of Rochester (1998)
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Abstract

For Spinoza, there is but one substance. Everything of which we have everyday experience---tables, chairs, other people, etc.---are only finite modes of that one substance. The goal of this thesis is to provide a new defense of a metaphysical idealist interpretation of finite modes in Spinoza's metaphysical system. Though traditional interpretations take Spinoza to be an idealist with regard to finite modes, a number of more recent commentators have proposed alternative interpretations, which take finite modes to be metaphysically real. I argue that a realist interpretation fails both to account for a number of passages in Spinoza's Ethics and to provide a satisfactory interpretation of the relationship between finite modes and substance. On the other hand, I also take seriously the objections these recent commentators have leveled against previous idealist interpretations. ;I argue that the central passage in this debate is the long scholium following the fifteenth proposition in Part I of Spinoza's Ethics. In this passage, Spinoza distinguishes between two ways of conceiving substance. The first way is via the imagination. In this way, we conceive substance superficially and so conceive it as divisible. The second way we conceive substance is via the intellect, and in this way we conceive of substance as it really is, indivisible, whole, and unique. This passage is the key to my defense of an idealist interpretation of finite modes. ;The traditional idealist interpretations of finite modes have taken finite modes to be illusory. Here I diverge from these other interpretations. Even though the imagination is conceiving of substance superficially, it is still conceiving of substance. For this reason, I think it is mistaken to understand Spinoza as holding that finite modes are illusory. ;Perhaps the most serious objection raised against idealist interpretations is that all ideas of finite modes turn out to be false on such a reading. Unfortunately, those very commentators who have given idealist interpretations suggest this result when they call finite modes 'illusory'. By adopting a coherence theory of truth, I argue that an idealist interpretation need not entail that all ideas of finite modes are false

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