Spinoza's essentialist model of causation

Inquiry 51 (4):412 – 437 (2008)
Spinoza is most often seen as a stern advocate of mechanistic efficient causation, but examining his philosophy in relation to the Aristotelian tradition reveals this view to be misleading: some key passages of the Ethics resemble so much what Surez writes about emanation that it is most natural to situate Spinoza's theory of causation not in the context of the mechanical sciences but in that of a late scholastic doctrine of the emanative causality of the formal cause; as taking a look at the seventeenth-century philosophy of mathematics reveals, this is in consonance also with Spinoza's geometrical cast of mind. Against this background, I examine Spinoza's essentialist model of causation according to which each thing has a formal character determined by the thing's essence and what follows from that essence. In the case of real things this essential causal architecture results in efficacy, i.e. in bringing about real effects, the key idea being that without the essential, formally structured causal thrust there would be no efficacy in the first place. I also explain how this model accounts for efficient causation taking place between finite things
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DOI 10.1080/00201740802166692
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