Historia, as both a type of critical inquiry and a source of information about nature and the human world, is a key category in Spinoza’s Tractatus theologico-politicus. In this work, the Latin word cannot be simply and invariably translated as “history,” not even if we add the proviso that its meaning wavers inevitably between “history” and “story,” for its semantic range is too broad and complex. At the two ends of the semantic spectrum we have the impartial report, on the (...) one hand, and the creations of sheer fantasy, on the other. Historia may therefore denote the detached observation of nature and the philological analysis of a text, but it can also refer to the free exercise of the imagination in a variety of narrative contexts. While Spinoza denies that the inquiry resulting from historia and its products may have true cognitive value, he acknowledges that historia plays a fundamental role in society and politics. The reason is that historia and the imagination are bound up together by a special relationship. This is apparent at all levels of the historical engagement with reality, but is particularly true in the case of religion, moral norms and belief systems, for in this variegated domain the link between imagination and historia functions as the connective tissue that keeps societies united and functioning. This specific nexus of imagination and historia is Spinoza’s original contribution to the early modern notion of “moral certainty.” More importantly, it is only at this level that Spinoza grants a modicum of intelligibility to the ‘historical’ productions of the imagination, be they signa, revelationes, or even nugae. The fact remains, though, that to a certain extent humans keep having a distorted grasp of reality, indeed hallucinate, even when their ‘historical’ accounts of reality are socially and politically productive. Here the key element is the notion of fictional continuity based on a socially constructed trust in narrative accounts of reality: the imagination turns reality into stories, but in so doing it keeps the otherwise constitutively hallucinatory nature of humans at bay and under control. Perceptibilitas, that is, the ability to provide acceptable cognitive solutions between intelligible knowledge and moral certainty, is ultimately what defines the contribution of the imagination to the human work of knowledge. (shrink)
As Jasper Reid argues in his book, there are plenty of reasons for taking More’s philosophy seriously, both as an example of early modern metaphysics and a speculative effort in its own terms. More’s metaphysics was experimental, fictional, and theological at once, for it deliberately and passionately engages with the study of nature, stories of preternatural apparitions and the mysteries of revealed religion. More’s philosophical inquiry feeds on experiments, stories, and visions, and these become an organic part of his metaphysical (...) equipment. This, of course, was a hazardous and edgy undertaking, which no doubt contributed to the bad... (shrink)
Brill's Companion to Medieval and Early Platonism explores the impact exercised by Platonism on philosophy and many other fields of European culture, and the links it established with Christian, Jewish, Byzantine and Arabic traditions of thought during the Middle Ages and the early modern period.