Discussion Group: Spinoza’s Ethics

Date: Thursday, November 5, 2009
Time: 6:30pm – 9:30pm
Location: On Campus, Room KH B3012
Topic: Disputing Transcendence

Please join us in the next discussion group. We’ll be discussing Spinoza’s Ethics, beginning where Spinoza begins, with metaphysics. If we could discuss two of Spinoza’s critiques against transcendence, as a plausible response to two notorious philosophical problems that are inherited from Descartes’ definition of substance and his latter use (or misuse) of that term. The infamous philosophical problem of Cartesian dualism appears from attempting to explain the interaction between two, purportedly, distinct substances. Spinoza’s analysis develops from taking up seriously Descartes’ first definition of substance, as that what requires nothing but itself to exist, and then just consistently following it through to all of its rational implications. For those of you who are particularly ambitious, you can read the entire text here or you may just click on any of the appropriate links below.

The first critique is of God as the transcendent cause of nature. How can a non-material God interact at all with a material world?
Reading: PART I. Of God.

Prop. XVIII. God is the indwelling and not the transient cause of all things.

Proof.–All things which are, are in God, and must be conceived through God (by Prop. xv.), therefore (by Prop. xvi., Coroll i.) God is the cause of those things which are in him. This is our first point. Further, besides God there can be no substance (by Prop. xiv.), that is nothing in itself external to God. This is our second point. God, therefore, is the indwelling and not the transient cause of all things. Q.E.D

Reading: Appendix. (read if you read nothing else)
Spinoza highlights not only his major moves taking place in Part I, but also lays out some astonishing insights into motivations behind some prejudices and misconceptions we have of our own nature, primarily the propensity of imagining an anthropomorphic God, or in another way, conceiving of Nature as having a goal. This goal we interpret to believe to be for our own sake and form abstract notions for the explanation of the nature of things, such as good and evil, beautiful and ugly, and more of the like. These notions are our imagination and we confused them as proper understanding of true nature. In regards to style, where Nietzsche clears up by way of the hammer, Spinoza makes clear by way of seeing through a polished glass lens.

The second is a critique of minds as the causes of their bodies’ actions. How can the mind that is non-material interact with the world, which is material?
Reading: PART II. & PART III.

Prop. II. Body cannot determine mind to think, neither can mind determine body to motion or rest or any state different from these, if such there be.

Proof.–All modes of thinking have for their cause God, by virtue of his being a thinking thing, and not by virtue of his being displayed under any other attribute (II. vi.). That, therefore, which determines the mind to thought is a mode of thought, and not a mode of extension; that is (II. Def. i.), it is not body. This was our first point. Again, the motion and rest of a body must arise from another body, which has also been determined to a state of motion or rest by a third body, and absolutely everything which takes place in a body must spring from God, in so far as he is regarded as affected by some mode of extension, and not by some mode of thought (II. vi.); that is, it cannot spring from the mind, which is a mode of thought. This was our second point. Therefore body cannot determine mind, &c. Q.E.D.

Notes on the Text: Translated from the Latin by R.H.M. Elwes (1883) This edition of the Ethics utilizes internal hypertext coding to faciilitate the logical analysis of Spinoza’s reasoning; because inferences and explications can be easily scrutinized via clickable links to the definitions, axioms, postulates, and theorems of the system. MTSU Philosophy WebWorks Hypertext Edition © 1997

 

I’ll look forward to seeing you all there! There is a lot of stuff going on in this reading not mentioned that is worth mentioning so please share your thoughts, ask your questions, submit your complaint and post your comment here.

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2 thoughts on “Discussion Group: Spinoza’s Ethics

  1. How can a non-material God interact at all with a material world?The conventional conception of God has been, and still is, as the creator of the natural world. In this model, God is understood as a subject, the creator, and the universe, as an object, both distinct from each other. We tend to think of a cause as preceding its effect in time, from which it would follow that if God caused the natural world then God must exist prior to the natural world. Consequently, we come to understand the universe as being dependent on God for its existence as a transitive action, carried from the subject to the object. However, Spinoza does not think of God being the cause of the natural world in this transitive way. He contest this view in Part I Proposition XVIII that, “God is the immanent, not the transitive, cause of all things”. By an immanent cause, or sometimes translated as an indwelling cause, Spinoza means a cause that is inseparable from its effect. He thinks of the relation between cause and effect not as temporal but rather logically inseparable, in the sense that the number two causes it to be a prime number. The number two does not temporally come prior to it being prime; it is something that necessarily follows from it and by virtue of what it means to be the number two and what it means to be a prime number.

  2. How can the mind that is non-material interact with the world, which is material?Traditionally, Human beings are under the impression that they are special and unlike any other entities, since they possess minds and these minds cause the body to act. Spinoza says that, “We conceive man to be situated in nature as a kingdom within a kingdom: for they believe that he disturbs rather than follows nature's order, that he has absolute control over his actions, and that he is determined solely by himself ”. This distinction can also be traced to Descartes where he claims that we are both non-material thinking substance and material extended substance. He uses the word substance not strictly here as before but as analogous since he asserts that we could conceive of each independently. In addition, Descartes claims that we are in essence, a thinking thing, having power over its extended body. This analogous use of substance leaves use mystified for many reasons. Foremost is the second use Descartes has for the word substance, since how can their be a mental substance or a physical substance if we have already defined that only God can be a substance since everything is dependant on God for its existence. Even if there were more than one substances such as mental and physical, they would thus be by their nature totally independent and not interact in any way with each other. But as Descartes also endorses the common view that it is the mind that controls the body, then another problem arises of exactly how can the mind that is non-material interact with the world, which is material? Spinoza, again, extracts the rational inference in Part III Scholium II that the, “Body cannot determine mind to think, neither can mind determine body to motion…” Furthermore, Spinoza states besides everything, both mental and physical, having for its cause God, but that more accurately, “all modes of thinking have for their cause God, by virtue of his being a thinking thing, and not by virtue of his being displayed under any other attribute. That, therefore, which determines the mind to thought is a mode of thought, and not a mode of extension; that is, it is not body”. So for Spinoza, we can speak of us being thinking minds and extended bodies, but we it would be more accurate to say, “that mind and body are one and the same thing, conceived first under the attribute of thought, secondly, under the attribute of extension”. Therefore, you can’t explain one attribute by appealing to another attribute.

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