Spinoza is often conceived as a highly intellectualist philosopher, and it is tempting to read human freedom without attention to its material basis. In this paper, I study Spinoza's claim that the more the body can undergo, the more the mind can know in order to establish Spinoza's view of freedom under the attribute of extension.
In proposition 7 of the second part of the Ethics, Spinoza famously contends that the “order and connection of things is the same as the order and connection of ideas.” On this basis, Spinoza argues in the scholium that thought and extension are different ways of conceiving one and the same substance: “the thinking substance and the extended substance are one and the same substance, which is now comprehended under this attribute, now under that”. Less famously, in the same scholium, (...) Spinoza insists that the relation of thought and extension is not the only issue at stake. He notes that “certain Hebrews” saw, “as if through a cloud,” the unity of God and the world in knowing: “they maintained that God, God’s intellect, and the things understood by him are one and the same.” The cloud is the idea of divine transcendence. Commenting on this passage, Aviezer Ravitzky has observed that Spinoza’s mention of these “certain Hebrews” should inform us about “an inherent problem, about dynamite concealed in the teachings of the Jewish Aristotelians such as Maimonides.” If, as Aristotle argues in the De Anima and Metaphysics, the knower and the known are one in knowing, then the distinction between God and the objects of God’s knowing is undermined. Noetic union is ontological union, for the intellect is its ideas. Thus Aristotelian noesis undermines divine transcendence. E2p7 and its scholium, then, presage the most famous—or infamous—expression of the Ethics, Deus sive Natura. Maimonides qualifies his Aristotelianism with an hierarchical emanationist cosmology, thereby avoiding the implications of noetic union by differentiating between the creator and the creatures and between the agent intellect, the lowest of the celestial spheres and source of the human acquired intellect, and the divine intellect. Gersonides, the fourteenth century giant of the medieval Jewish tradition and its most consistent Aristotelian, endorses the Aristotelian formula, arguing consistently that the intelligible is an intellect and offering a meticulous explanation of “why it is said of non-material things that the intellect, the thinker, and the intelligible are all one.” In this article, I argue that Gersonides’ own highly Averroian position is evoked in E2p7s and that Spinoza extends and radicalizes the Gersonidean inheritance. Beginning from E2p7 and its scholium, I explore the implications of noetic union for the relationship of God and the world and that between thought and extension. (shrink)
"Dreaming with open eyes" is a tagline for Spinoza's critique of Descartes; the dreams in question are principally those of volition and the active imagination. In this article, I compare the Cartesian theory of imagination as an active, but not fully rational, power of the mind and the Cartesian account of the volitional self to Spinoza's views. Descartes's own dreams and theories of dreaming are the focus of the first part of the article. Thereafter I examine Spinoza's critique of Descartes (...) and his alternative account of imagination. Finally, I argue that there is a positive sense of dreaming with open eyes to be recuperated in Spinoza's thought. Construed positively, to dream with open eyes is to understand dreams and imagination as natural phenomena and so to be able to respond constructively to them in ethical and political, as well as epistemological, life. (shrink)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content: Mogens Lærke. Spinoza and the Freedom of Philosophizing. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021. Pp. xviii + 387. Hardback, $115.00. -/- Spinoza's political philosophy, always a subject of attention in Francophone scholarship, has been coming into sharper focus for Anglophone readers in recent years as well. Mogens Lærke—well known for his essays on metaphysics and cognition in Spinoza, for his invaluable book Leibniz lecteur de Spinoza (Paris: Honoré Champion, (...) 2008), and for bridging French and English scholarly communities—has now written a richly contextual treatment of Spinoza's conception of the freedom of philosophizing (libertas philosophandi). His book presents a thoroughly mid- to late seventeenth-century Dutch Spinoza. The expression libertas philosophandi appears in the full title of Spinoza's Theologico-Political Treatise (1670, hereafter TTP). Lærke argues that libertas philosophandi is the key to understanding "Spinoza's attempt to theorize a new republican public sphere" (5). As defined by Spinoza, "the freedom of philosophizing is not for Spinoza an individual right but a collective natural authority constitutive of a particular kind of public sphere" (5)—namely, one constituted by such recognizably republican notions as equality, integrity, virtue, and honor. It depends on citizens "having taken possession of their own free judgment and on their capability and willingness to engage with each other without prejudice and deceit" (234). Far from being "granted," libertas philosophandi is "achieved through civic education and mutual advising in the public sphere" (235). Rather than a formal permission or abstract right, libertas philosophandi is a socially mediated expression of power (or what the Ethics calls conatus, striving and expression): it emerges and is maintained through cultivation, regulation, and identification, and is communal—that is, political. Put another way, libertas philosophandi is a collective form of freedom enacted as a noncoercive exchange of views among equals who agree to search for truth and pursue well-being together. As distinct from the rational and intellectual freedom examined in the Ethics, libertas philosophandi reflects everyone's natural (and so inevitable) power of self-expression and does not depend on rational attainment. The task of politics is inducing as many people as possible to express themselves constructively. Thus, politics depends on motivating people to act as if they were rational. In practice, this means that citizens must commit themselves to friendly mutual advice and teaching rather than to coercive measures, to deliberative structures rather than to secrecy and partiality, and to acceptance of a unified sovereign, whatever the exact form of the government may be. Following the indications of TTP 5 and TTP 16-17, Lærke shows that this commitment can come about either imaginatively [End Page 523] or rationally. For those who do not or cannot—or cannot consistently—comprehend the usefulness of a well-constructed imperium, imaginative myths, such as the revelation at Mount Sinai or the social contract itself, are required. For those for whom the founding myths and codes, such as the principles of universal religion, prove insufficiently binding, state force intervenes. With characteristic erudition, Lærke situates Spinoza in the political, religious, sociocultural, and economic currents of mid- to late seventeenth-century Amsterdam. This contextualization leads to new ways of understanding Spinoza's place in the history of toleration and democratic thought. Lærke pairs this historical-philosophical sleuthing with close attention to Spinoza's exact language and argumentative structure. Most provocatively, Lærke insists on the fundamental continuity of Spinoza's political philosophy against influential readings that suppose a late-life change of heart. Chapters 2–5 explore the meaning of libertas philosophandi. Chapter 2, "Circles and Spheres of Free Philosophizing," retraces the history of the notion; chapter 3, "Philosophizing," presents philosophizing as a broad argumentative style encompassing reasoning from experience and practical or historical reasoning as well as more technical modes of inference and argument. What Spinoza calls the "natural light" and characterizes as "sound reason" is thus common to all, not restricted to intellectuals. Chapter 4, "The Apostolic Styles," studies Spinoza's analysis of the teaching methods exhibited in the Greek Scriptures. Chapter 5, "Authority," draws this part of the book to a... (shrink)
Considered in its seventeenth-century context, Spinoza’s way of thinking about substance and nature is striking for its simultaneous refusal of Cartesian dualism and Hobbesian materialism. Spinoza knew both thinkers’ work well, yet sided with neither. Where Descartes divides substance into thinking and extended substance, and where Hobbes reduces all things to body, Spinoza espouses what is best called a double-aspect or non-reductive monism. The single substance of the Ethics is expressed as an infinity of modes in an infinity of attributes, (...) each infinite in kind. Thought and extension are two of the infinite attributes of substance, and the simultaneous sameness and difference of thought and extension constitutes a major theme of the Ethics. Using exactly parallel demonstrations, Spinoza argues in the second part of the Ethics that substance, or God, or nature is equally a thinking thing and an extended thing. Descartes’ account of matter and extension, in which passive matter is set in motion by God, inspires harsh criticism from Spinoza. (shrink)
Through a close analysis of texts from the Second Objections and Replies to the Meditations, this article addresses the tension between the pursuit of certainty and the preservation of divine transcendence in Descartes’s philosophy. Via a hypothetical “atheist geometer,” the Objectors charge Descartes with pantheism. While the Objectors’ motivations are not clear, the objection raises provocative questions about the relation of the divine and the human mind and about the being of created or dependent entities inDescartes’s metaphysics. Descartes contends that (...) there are real, eternal essences present in the human intellect as innate ideas. I argue that this claim implicates him in pantheism, not merely univocity. In the course of the analysis, I consider recent interpretations by Wells, Marion, and Hatfield. (shrink)
The Ethics of Joy offers reconstructive argument, careful engagement with select literature, and a big-picture presentation of Spinoza’s view of the well-lived human life. Not “convinced that Kantians in ethics are Kantians because of an argument that Kant or Korsgaard makes,” Andrew Youpa urges us to consider Spinoza’s view as “an alternative way of thinking about our lives—an alternative that is illuminating and insightful”. Since “the presentation of an illuminating alternative is arguably the best a philosopher can do”, this is (...) no small task. Youpa argues that Spinozan virtue—human excellence—is defined by our power to care for ourselves and others, not by our accountability. On his reading, power, and... (shrink)
In Ethics 4, Spinoza argues that “A free man thinks of nothing less than of death, and his wisdom is a meditation on life, not on death” (E4p67). Spinoza’s argument for this claim depends on his view of imagination, reason, and scientia intuitiva and on his notion of conatus. I explicate Spinoza’s view of life in terms of power (potentia) and show that Spinozan death amounts to reconfiguration rather than absolute annihilation. I then show that E4p67 reflects Spinoza’s well-known account (...) of the three kinds of knowing. Thinking of death is quintessentially imaginative and passive. The free person of E4p67 is in contrast a rational person. To reason, and as becomes especially clear E5, to experience scientia intuitiva, moreover is to think of things “without any relation to time, but [rather] sub specie aeternatitis”(E2p44c2) and to experience activity To the extent, then, that we are rational, free, and active, death is a non-issue. Indeed, to the extent that we are able to meditate on life sub specie aeternitatis, we actually experience joy, love (E5p20s, p32c), eternity (Sp23s), and “the greatest satisfaction of the Mind” (E5p27). (shrink)
This paper contributes to a special issue on methodology in the history of philosophy. I consider contemporary contextualism and reflect on prospects for an increasingly pluralistic, global, and decolonial historical scholarly practice.
This article discusses the impact of Descartes’s substance-dualism on his account of discursive reason. Taking the presentation of deduction in the Rules as a paradigmatic case of thought’s extension and movement in time, I analyze the relation between intuitive and discursive understanding and that between intellect and imagination. I focus specifically on the mediation of corporeal impressions and of intellectual ideas by ingenium. As intellectual, ingenium is a faculty of understanding; as joining with phantasia, ingenium has access to corporeal affections, (...) images, and memory. Deduction involves both of these aspects of ingenium, and Descartes’s dualism complicates efforts to clarify the operations and nature of ingenium. Thus the dynamics of dualistic psychology account for some of the limitations of deduction in particular and discursive rationality in general. (shrink)
Recent discussions have often associated the theme of political transformation in Spinoza with the phenomenon of revolution, which he analyzes as sometimes inevitable but generally undesirable. In this paper, I look more broadly at the theme of change in Spinoza’s political philosophy and focus the way he conceptualizes political formation as occurring in medias res. From this standpoint, there are isolated or pre-political individuals, and politics is subsumed within nature. Human beings always exist amidst other human beings and are always-already (...) interacting with them, thereby generating order. Thus would-be founders and sovereigns act in always-already formed situations; they are artisans, working with concrete actualities, namely, human beings already shaped in causal environments or networks and producing effects, not creators absolutely de novo. Nor is there some a- or post-political phase of life. The upshot is that Spinozan politics concerns only better and worse orders, not the existence per se of civic order. I explore Spinoza’s emphasis on the affective basis of politics in light of his account of the causal complexity of imagination and its affects, and I consider the ways the art of politics is concerned with managing and shaping imagination in accord with what reason counsel. (shrink)
This admirable volume treats the period from Montaigne to Kant. As the editor, Donald Rutherford, promises in his Introduction, the volume reflects the broadly contextualist consensus among scholars in the field over the last few decades. Neither intellectual history nor abstract conceptual analysis, contextualist scholarship looks at the way philosophical ideas develop in concrete settings, within intellectual horizons, and in response to specific philosophical problems. Thus this Cambridge Companion is committed to the idea that a philosopher’s published works must be (...) read in connection with both his or her correspondences, drafts, and other papers, as well as in connection with the thinkers whose works constitute that philosopher’s intellectual environment and matrix. Simply put, contextualist historians of philosophy deny that philosophical work takes place in a conceptual or historical vacuum. Second, this collection reflects the expanding list of important thinkers, works, and issues in the period. The familiar authors Rutherford terms the “canonical seven” —Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz for the “rationalists” and Locke, Berkeley, Hume for the “empiricists,” all. (shrink)