Intros to European Philosophy: Spinoza

BARUCH SPINOZA (1632-1677)

Previously read: zilch

Key texts: Ethics Demonstrated in Geometrical Order and Theologico-Political Treatise

Overall impression: Spinoza is perhaps what I expected Hegel to sound like.  Spinoza was one of the most difficult reads in this series of introductions (in European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche, ed. M. Beardsley) and I’m not sure I slowed down enough to grab much from him.  It was interesting later to see how Hegel (mis?)appropriated him.  But as for Spinoza himself, the man had his own system (Geometrical Ethics…?!) which I couldn’t do much with, nor am I sure that I wish to.  It’s too…self-referential, I suppose for my taste.  Still, I’ll be interested to read of other appropriations of Spinoza later as his influence was largely unknown to me before.

Surprises: how many times one person can speak of ‘substance’ without me ascertaining his meaning fully.  Are we speaking of some acosmist non-world in which God alone exists as substance and nothing else in any meaningful way exists? 

Regardless, these are what jumped out at me:

  • He denied both intellect and will as pertaining to God’s nature (European Philosophers, pp. 154-155).  It’s not so surprising, but it’s problematic for me.  What’s the point of asserting that God exists if He doesn’t will?  It also seems incompatible with any Christian or Muslim faith-expression.  But this relates to my studies in Avicenna and Al-Ghazali (and I’m still trying to get a good grip on these).
  • Oh right, and he’s immutable — does n’t change in any meaningful way (ibidem, p. 157).  Difficult to reconcile with a God who acts in history, though its reiterated as gospel by many uncritically.

“There will now be need of many words to show that Nature has set no end before herself, and that all final causes are nothing but human fictions. (p. 166)”  from Ethics

“The second objection I answer by denying that we have free power of suspending judgment.  For when we say that a person suspends judgment, we only say in other words that he sees that he does not perceive the thing adequately.  The suspension of judgment, therefore, is in truth a perception and not free will. (p. 185)”


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