“Clinging Stubbornly to the Antithesis of Assumptions”: On the Difference Between Hegel’s and Spinoza’s Systems of Philosophy

Research in Phenomenology 51 (3):351-371 (2021)


This essay re-examines Hegel’s critique of Spinoza’s Ethics, focusing on the question of method. Are the axioms and definitions unmotivated presuppositions that make the attainment of absolute knowledge impossible in principle, as Hegel charges? This essay develops a new reading of the Ethics to defend it from this critique. I argue that Hegel reads Spinoza as if his system were constructed only according to the mathematical second kind of knowledge, ignoring Spinoza’s clear preference for knowledge of the third kind. The Ethics, I argue, is a book with several layers: it is at once a deductive mathematical system, and a handbook to aid the intuitive power of the active philosophical reader. The letter of each text may be identical, but they have little else in common – Pierre Menard’s rewriting of Don Quixote given systematic philosophical form.

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Daniel J. Smith
University of Memphis

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