Benedict de Spinoza is one of the most controversial and enigmatic thinkers in the history of philosophy. His greatest work, Ethics (1677), developed a comprehensive philosophical system and argued that God and Nature are identical. His scandalous Theological-Political Treatise (1670) provoked outrage during his lifetime due to its biblical criticism, anticlericalism, and defense of the freedom to philosophize. Together, these works earned Spinoza a reputation as a singularly radical thinker. -/- In this book, Steinberg and Viljanen offer a concise and (...) up-to-date account of Spinoza’s thought and its philosophical legacy. They explore the full range of Spinoza’s ideas, from politics and theology to ontology and epistemology. Drawing broadly on Spinoza’s impressive oeuvre, they have crafted a lucid introduction for readers unfamiliar with this important philosopher, as well as a nuanced and enlightening study for more experienced readers. (shrink)
This work examines the unique way in which Benedict de Spinoza combines two significant philosophical principles: that real existence requires causal power and that geometrical objects display exceptionally clearly how things have properties in virtue of their essences. Valtteri Viljanen argues that underlying Spinoza's psychology and ethics is a compelling metaphysical theory according to which each and every genuine thing is an entity of power endowed with an internal structure akin to that of geometrical objects. This allows Spinoza to offer (...) a theory of existence and of action - human and non-human alike - as dynamic striving that takes place with the same kind of necessity and intelligibility that pertain to geometry. This fresh and original study will interest a wide range of readers in Spinoza studies and early modern philosophy more generally. (shrink)
Spinoza is most often seen as a stern advocate of mechanistic efficient causation, but examining his philosophy in relation to the Aristotelian tradition reveals this view to be misleading: some key passages of the Ethics resemble so much what Surez writes about emanation that it is most natural to situate Spinoza's theory of causation not in the context of the mechanical sciences but in that of a late scholastic doctrine of the emanative causality of the formal cause; as taking a (...) look at the seventeenth-century philosophy of mathematics reveals, this is in consonance also with Spinoza's geometrical cast of mind. Against this background, I examine Spinoza's essentialist model of causation according to which each thing has a formal character determined by the thing's essence and what follows from that essence. In the case of real things this essential causal architecture results in efficacy, i.e. in bringing about real effects, the key idea being that without the essential, formally structured causal thrust there would be no efficacy in the first place. I also explain how this model accounts for efficient causation taking place between finite things. (shrink)
This paper offers a new interpretation of the young Spinoza’s method of distinguishing the true ideas from the false, which shows that his answer to the sceptic is not a failure. This method combines analysis and synthesis as follows: if we can say of the object of an idea which simple things underlie it, how it can be constructed out of simple elements, and what properties it has after it has been produced, doubt concerning the object simply makes no sense. (...) The paper also suggests a way in which this methodology connects to the ontology of the Ethics. (shrink)
Spinoza developed a highly interesting metaphysical theory of nature and individuality. In this paper, I endeavor to bring forward some ideas on how Spinozistic views on extended substance, physical world, and individuality can be approached using the concept of power as the basis of interpretation. Jonathan Bennett's ‘field metaphysical’ interpretation of Spinoza's doctrine of one extended substance has generated much discussion, and forms the other starting point of my paper. I believe that the field metaphysical interpretation enables one to deal (...) with the central questions concerning physical individuation — individuality and the persistence of individual being — in a rather novel way. My main question is this: what follows if physical individuals are seen as parts of a unified field of extended power? (shrink)
Descartes explicitly states that virtue is sufficient for attaining happiness. In this paper I argue that, within the framework he develops, this is not exactly true: more than virtuous action is needed to secure happiness. I begin by analyzing, in Section 2, the Cartesian notion of virtue in order to show the way in which it closely connects to what, for Descartes, forms the very essence of morality – the correct use of our free will. Section 3, in turn, discusses (...) Descartes’s view of happiness and its relation to the highest good. Thereby is laid the foundation for Section 4, which offers a reconstruction of the argument that virtue leads to happiness. Section 5 concludes the discussion by suggesting how and why Descartes leaves a crucial premise – an intellectual insight that consists of three main elements – unmentioned when he claims that virtue is sufficient for happiness. (shrink)
This essay traces the rather consistent essentialist thread that runs through the whole Short Treatise. This allows us not only to better understand the work itself but also to obtain a firmer grasp of the nature of Spinoza’s entire philosophical enterprise. In many ways, the essentialism we find in the Short Treatise is in line with Spinoza’s mature thought; but there are also significant differences, and discerning them throws light on the development of Spinoza’s philosophy.
This paper reconsiders Leibniz’s conception of the nature of possible things and offers a novel interpretation of the actualization of possible substances. This requires analyzing a largely neglected notion, the reality of individual essences. Thus far scholars have tended to construe essences as representational items in God’s intellect. We acknowledge that finite essences have being in the divine intellect but insist that they are also grounded in the infinite essence of God, as limitations of it. Indeed, we show that it (...) is critical to understand that this dependence on God’s essence is prior to the dependence on God through divine ideas. Here it is crucial to distinguish questions concerning the ontological status of essences from questions concerning their reality. This yields a fresh view of Leibniz’s theory of creation, which takes seriously his claim that the same thing is first a mere possibility but after creation an actually existent substance. (shrink)
This paper aims to discern the limits of the highly influential Incorporation Thesis to give proper weight to our sensuous side in Kant’s theory of moral action. I first examine the view of the faculties underpinning the theory, which allows me to outline the passage from natural to rational action. This enables me to designate the factors involved in actual human agency and thereby to show that, contrary to what the Incorporation Thesis may tempt one to believe, we do not (...) always act on maxims. The result is a revised and more balanced view of how Kant sees the character of moral life. (shrink)
Spinoza’s conatus doctrine, the main proposition of which claims, “[e]ach thing, to the extent it is in itself, strives [conatur] to persevere in its being” (E3p6), has been the subject of growing interest. This is understandable, for Spinoza’s psychology and ethics are based on this doctrine. In my paper I shall examine the way Spinoza argues for E3p6 in its demonstration which runs as follows: "For singular things are modes by which God’s attributes are expressed in a certain and determinate (...) way (by 1p25c), i.e. (by 1p34), things that express, in a certain and determinate way, God’s power, by which God is and acts. And no thing has anything in itself by which it can be destroyed, or which takes its existence away (by p4). On the contrary, it is opposed to everything which can take its existence away (by p5). Therefore, to the extent it can, and is in itself, it strives to persevere in its being." This argument has been severely criticized for being defective in many ways. E3p6d contains four items, E1p25c, 1p34, 3p4, and 3p5. Most often, only the two last mentioned are regarded as doing any real work in the demonstration. However, I shall argue that having a proper grasp of Spinoza’s concept of power enables us see that the demonstration’s beginning, built on E1p25c and 1p34, brings forth a certain dynamic framework in which finite things are centers of causal power, capable of producing effects in virtue of their essences. My examination of this framework shows the beginning of the demonstration to be irreplaceable: in the end, conatus is one form of power, and E1p25c and 1p34 not only bring the notion of power into play, but also inform us on how finite things’ power should be understood in the monistic system. So, I disagree with such commentators as Jonathan Bennett, Edwin Curley, Daniel Garber, Michael Della Rocca, and Richard Manning, who see Spinoza as trying to derive the conatus doctrine from E3p4 and 3p5 alone; and I agree with Alexandre Matheron, Henry Allison, and Martin Lin, who stress the importance of E1p25c and 1p34. -/- However, this still leaves us the task of reconstructing the whole derivation and showing how its various ingredients fit together. If E1p25c and 1p34 are so important, could E3p6 not be derived from them alone, as Martin Lin has argued? In other words, why are E3p4 and 3p5 needed at all? To answer these questions I shall provide an interpretation of E3p6d that explains how the argument is supposed to work. E1p25c and 1p34 say that finite things are, in essence, dynamic causers, which, in case of opposition, truly resist opposing factors with their power and do not simply cease their causal activities whenever facing obstacles; in other words, they strive against any opposition. However, this is not enough to guarantee that they could not act self-destructively or restrain their own power, which would make them incapable of self-preservation. But this would go against E3p4, “No thing can be destroyed except through an external cause,” and Spinoza uses it to claim, “no thing has anything in itself by which it can be destroyed, or which takes its existence away.” So all this allows Spinoza to hold that finite things are consistent causers, that is, entities endowed with power and, insofar they cause effects solely in virtue of their essence, they never use their power self-destructively. The significance and role of the final item in the demonstration, E3p5 (“Things are of a contrary nature, i.e., cannot be in the same subject, insofar as one can destroy the other”), still needs to be determined. Indeed, considering its content and the way it is used in the demonstration, it seems to be a surprisingly decisive ingredient in the argument. Namely, what “each thing, to the extent it is in itself,” that is, insofar as any thing is considered disregarding everything external to it, strives to preserve, is its being (esse), not simply its present state. This together with E3p5’s view of subjecthood – which I shall explicate in my paper – suggests that we should rethink what kind of “being” or “existence” is meant in E3p6. Indeed, for Spinoza, each subject has a definable essence from which, as far as the subject in question is in itself, certain properties or effects necessarily follow; consequently a subject’s full being involves not only instantiating a certain essence, but also those properties inferable from the essence-expressing definition. Thus, E3p5 is meant to bring forward that things are not merely non-self-destroyers but subjects from whose definitions properties follow; and as Spinoza thinks to have shown (by E1p25c and 1p34) that finite modifications are entities endowed with power, any subject has true power to produce the properties or effects derivable from its definition, which, Spinoza claims, implies opposing everything harmful. In other words, things exercise power as their definition states, i.e. according to their definitions, and thus bringing in the idea of things as expressers of power enables Spinoza to convert logical oppositions (of E3p5) into real ones (of E3p6). To summarize, Spinoza reasons that each true finite thing is, in itself, an expresser of power (E1p25c, 1p34) that never acts self-destructively (E3p4) but instead strives to drive itself through opponents to produce effects as they follow from the definition of the thing in question (E1p25c, 1p34, and 3p5). Therefore, “each thing, to the extent it is in itself, strives to persevere in its being.” The demonstration of E3p6 has its roots deep in Spinoza’s ontology, and since its concept of power is supposed to provide the metaphysical grounding for real opposition, the importance of E1p25c and 1p34 should not be underestimated just because Spinoza – as often happens – puts his point exceedingly briefly. Moreover, the derivation is basically valid and contains no superfluous elements. Finally, all this tells us something decisive about the meaning of Spinoza’s doctrine: according to it, things are active causers whose “power to exist and act” has conatus character in temporality, amounting not only to striving to prolong the duration of one’s actualization but also to striving to be as active or autonomous as possible, that is, to attain a state determined by the striving subject’s essence alone. (shrink)
This essay offers an in-depth reading of the geometrical illustration of Ethics IIP8S and shows how it can be used to explicate the whole architecture of Spinoza’s system by specifying the way in which all the key structural features of his basic ontology find their analogies in the example. The illustration can also throw light on Spinoza’s ontology of finite things and inform us about what is at stake when we form universal ideas. In general, my reading of IIP8S thus (...) elucidates what it means, for Spinoza, to think geometrically or to consider geometry as a model: fundamentally, geometricity is not a form of exposition but the way in which reality itself is structured. (shrink)
In this essay, I present the basics of Spinoza’s ontology and attempt to go some distance toward clarifying its most pertinent problems. I start by considering the relationship between the concepts of substance and mode; my aim is to show that despite his somewhat peculiar vocabulary there is much here that we should find rather familiar and intelligible, as Spinoza’s understanding of these matters harks back to the traditional distinction of substance and accident, or thing and property. After this I (...) move on to fitting the concept of attribute into Spinoza’s conceptual architecture, and then examine the implications concerning real existents and causation that Spinoza sees these fundamental conceptual commitments as having. The most startling of these implications is of course his monism, according to which there is only one substance. Through this examination it becomes clear that it is only when Spinoza makes the transition from considerations concerning concepts to existential claims that the collision with what was previously commonly accepted becomes inevitable. (shrink)
There can be little disagreement about whether ideas of sense perception are, for Spinoza, to be classed as passions or actions—the former is obviously the correct answer. All this, however, does not mean that sense perception would be, for Spinoza, completely passive. In this essay I argue argues that there is in the Ethics an elaborate—and to my knowledge previously unacknowledged—line of reasoning according to which sense perception of finite things never fails to contain a definite active component. This argument (...) for activity in sense perception consists of two main parts: first, that ideas we form through sense perception have something adequate in them; second, that the adequate component is actively brought about. Discerning this line of thought connects to—and sheds some new light on—Spinoza’s general way of understanding ideas as entities involving activity. (shrink)
This chapter takes a fresh look at 3d2 of Spinoza’s Ethics, an absolutely pivotal definition for the ethical theory that ensues. According to it, “we act when something happens, in us or outside us, of which we are the adequate cause,” whereas we are passive “when something happens in us, or something follows from our nature, of which we are only a partial cause.” The definition of activity has puzzled scholars: how can we be an adequate, i.e. complete, cause of (...) an effect outside us (which clearly involves other causal factors as well)? However, the definition of passivity is hardly unproblematic either: how can something follow from the patient’s nature so that the patient can nevertheless be considered only a partial cause? I begin by outlining 3d2 and situating it in the historical context formed by Descartes, Hobbes, and the Aristotelian tradition. Then I show that the existing interpretations do not solve the problem of activity and argue that unraveling the problem requires taking properly into account the distinction between immanent and transeunt causality. In relation to the definition of passivity, I argue that Spinoza’s geometry-inspired theory of essence constitution offers the key to understanding the nature of passions. (shrink)
The entry on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) for the Cambridge Spinoza Lexicon, edited by Karolina Hübner and Justin Steinberg. This is the second (August 2022) draft; please do not quote, but comments are very welcome.
The goal of this essay is twofold. First, I will explicate the dynamic nature of Spinoza’s doctrine of virtue by discerning his reasons for defining virtuousness in terms of active power. Second, by taking this understanding of virtue as the point of departure, I will suggest a sense in which we can be said to be more or less eternal to the extent that we are virtuous and active. Spinoza’s specific brand of essentialism underpins both his doctrine of virtue and (...) that of eternity, and reaching these goals requires discussing the two kinds of essences which hold a prominent place in the Ethics: the formal and the actual essences. This, in turn, allows us to throw some new light on the relationship between eternal and durational existence, the distinction between which forms the very backbone of Spinoza’s system. (shrink)
The entry on striving (conatus) for the Cambridge Spinoza Lexicon, edited by Karolina Hübner and Justin Steinberg. This is the second (September 2022) draft; please do not quote, but comments are very welcome.
In this paper, I examine some main philosophical positions taken in the admittedly multifarious discussion concerning the possibility of rational evaluation in comparing different forms of life. Most importantly, I will outline a view of rational evaluation that would be as sensitive as possible to the diversity and offerings of various cultural viewpoints.
The entry on Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860) for the Cambridge Spinoza Lexicon, edited by Karolina Hübner and Justin Steinberg. This is the second (August 2022) draft; please do not quote, but comments are very welcome.
In addition to the notion of power (potentia), Spinoza employs the notion of power of acting (agendi potentia), especially in the Ethics. This raises the question, if Spinoza uses both ‘power’ and ‘power of acting’, what is the difference between the two? What else could power be, for Spinoza, but power of acting? What is the relationship between power and activity in his system? This essays aims at giving answers to these questions; thereby emerges what may be called an actualist (...) model of God’s power. (shrink)
In this essay, I will begin by delineating the context of the conatus principle, after which I will provide a reading of the two propositions (EIIIP6 and P7) that contain the very core of the theory. This in turn will enable me to explain how Spinoza’s theory of conatus is connected to his views on desire, activity, and teleology.
[The title in English: "Genealogy as Historical Ontology: On Foucault's Relationship to Nietzsche and Hermeneutics."] Foucault’n genealogiaa voidaan luonnehtia olemistamme konstituoivien valta–tieto-verkostojen määrittämien käytäntöjen historiallisen polveutumisen analyysiksi. Kysyn artikkelissani, miten Foucault’n genealogia määrittyy suhteessa Friedrich Nietzschen (1844–1900) ajatteluun ja hermeneuttiseen käsitykseen tulkinnasta. Tähän vastatakseni aloitan tarkastelemalla genealogian perusteita suhteessa Nietzschen perintöön, ja tässä yhteydessä nostan esiin myös ”perinteisen” historiankirjoituksen kritiikin. Tämän jälkeen käsittelen genealogian suhdetta tulkinnan teemaan, jolloin suhde Martin Heideggerin (1889–1976) jälkeiseen hermeneuttiseen tieteenfilosofiaan nousee keskeiseen asemaan. Samalla täsmentyy genealoginen (...) käsitys historiantutkimuksen luonteesta. Tavoitteenani on siis muotoilla sellainen Nietzscheen ja hermeneutiikkaan suhteutettu tulkinta genealogiasta, jossa toisinaan hajanaisilta vaikuttavat teemat ainakin suurimmaksi osaksi löytäisivät paikkansa. Tätä kautta avautuu myös myöhäisen Foucault’n ajatus genealogiasta filosofian ja historiantutkimuksen välimaastossa sijaitsevana ”historiallisena ontologiana”. (shrink)
[The title in English: "On the Philosophy of Shame."] Viimeaikaisessa filosofianhistoriallisessa tutkimuksessa on kiinnitetty yhä enemmän huomiota siihen, että ainakin osa tunteistamme on muuttunut historian saatossa. Lieneekin ilmeistä, että tunne-elämämme on merkittävässä määrin erilaista kuin esimerkiksi voimakkaasti kristinuskon leimaamalla keskiajalla. Toisinaan näkee väitettävän, että myös suhteemme häpeään olisi muuttunut varsin radikaalisti tai että se olisi jopa kokonaan kadonnut esimerkiksi suomalaisesta nykykulttuurista. Tämä olisi yllättävää, sillä häpeällä on vahvat perinteet kulttuurissamme. Häpeän pitkän historian lisäksi myös sen luonteen filosofinen analyysi antaa viitteitä (...) tunteen itsepintaisuudesta. Lisäksi on huomattava, että se on edelleen vilkkaan keskustelun, myös filosofisen, kohteena. Arvioisinkin väitteet häpeän kuolemasta suuresti ennenaikaisiksi, niin syvälle tämä tunneon meihin sosiaalisina olentoina pureutunut. (shrink)
Our examination explicates not only how Leibniz’s emphasis on force or power squares well with (and most probably largely stems from) his endorsement of certain central Aristotelian tenets, but also how the concept of force is incorporated into his mature idealist metaphysics. That metaphysics, in turn, generates some thorny problems with regard to the concept of passivity; and so we shall also ask whether and how Leibniz’s monadology, emphasizing the activity as much as it does, is able to encompass the (...) passivity of created substances. (shrink)
[The title in English: "The Concept of Life in Spinoza's Philosophy."] Tarkastelen tässä kirjoituksessa elämän käsitteen merkitystä Spinozan filosofian eri vaiheissa, ja selvitän, miksi käsitteellä ei enää hänen Etiikkansa ontologiassa ole keskeistä asemaa. Samalla piirtyy esiin joitakin Spinozan ajattelun olennaisia aspekteja.
Especially in the appendix to the opening part of his Ethics, Spinoza discusses teleology in a manner that has earned him the status of a staunch critic of final causes. Much of the recent lively discussion concerning this complex and difficult issue has revolved around the writings of Jonathan Bennett who maintains that Spinoza does, in fact, reject all teleology. Especially important has been the argument claiming that because of his basic ontology, Spinoza cannot but reject thoughtful teleology, that is, (...) teleology involved in the actions of conscious cognitive beings who have thoughts of future states of affairs. For Spinoza, a particular idea is a modification of the thinking substance the object of which is a certain modification of the extended substance, and Bennett’s central argumentative move is to claim that there is no room in Spinoza’s system for a key ingredient in thoughtful teleology, the tenet that representative content of ideas is causally efficacious. In what follows, I begin by presenting Bennett’s argument. As his position has received much criticism, I then take up the ways in which it has been discussed and found wanting. I think that Bennett’s position really is something that should not be endorsed; however, and despite the lively discussion, it also seems to me that there is more to be said about what is at stake here. Thus, I aim at offering an analysis of the nature of Bennett’s argument and the ensuing discussion with the aim of discerning the philosophical source from which Bennett’s interpretation draws its force. (shrink)
Even if we grant that the concept of force has an important place in Schopenhauer’s view of natural sciences and that we definitely should avoid treating Schopenhauer’s theory of the will as a scientific hypothesis, it still does not follow that dynamic concepts would not be of utmost importance for metaphysics as Schopenhauer conceives it. A careful analysis that takes into account the context provided by early modern thinkers reveals that Schopenhauer’s system is based on an elaborate theory in which (...) the concepts of force and striving play a key role, and that this underpins a line of thought essentially dynamistic in character both with regard to phenomenal and noumenal realms. Understanding Schopenhauer’s twofold dynamism and its conceptual architecture allows us not only to gain insight into the nature of his metaphysical enterprise by designating its place within the context of this book, but also to obtain a better grasp of his view of the relationship between the noumenal and phenomenal realms. I also suggest a reading of Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the phenomenal world in which it is interpreted as a dynamic field of matter. (shrink)