Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Third Great Man of the Middle 17th

Baruch Spinoza
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Benedictus de Spinoza (November 24, 1632February 21, 1677), named Baruch Spinoza (Hebrew: ברוך שפינוזה) by his synagogue elders, and known as Bento de Espinosa or Bento d'Espiñoza in his native Amsterdam, was a Jewish-Dutch philosopher. He is considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy and, by virtue of his magnum opus the Ethics, one of the definitive ethicists. His writings, like those of his fellow rationalists, reveal considerable mathematical training and facility. Spinoza was a lens crafter by trade, an exciting engineering field at the time because of great discoveries being made by telescopes. The full impact of his work only took effect some time after his death and after the publication of his Opera Posthuma. He is now seen as having prepared the way for the 18th century Enlightenment, and as a founder of modern biblical criticism. 20th century philosopher Gilles Deleuze referred to Spinoza as "The absolute philosopher, whose Ethics is the foremost book on concepts" (Deleuze, 1990).

Life
Following their expulsion from Spain during the Inquisition, many Jews sought refuge in Portugal, only to be instructed to accept Christianity or be banished. Spinoza's parents were arrested, then fled to the Netherlands. Spinoza was born to this family of Sephardic Jews, among the Portuguese Jews of Amsterdam. He had an orthodox Jewish upbringing; however, his critical, curious nature would soon come into conflict with the Jewish community. He initially gained infamy for his positions of pantheism and neutral monism, as well as the fact that his Ethics was written in the form of postulates and definitions, as though it were a geometry treatise. Also, his Theologico-Political Treatise was highly critical of orthodox readings of the Torah and challenged the idea that Jews were a chosen people. In the summer of 1656, he was issued the writ of cherem, (similar to an excommunication)[1] from the Jewish community, because of apostasy for his claims that God is the mechanism of nature and the universe, having no personality, and that the Bible is a metaphorical and allegorical work used to teach the nature of God, both of which were based on a form of Cartesianism (cf. René Descartes). Following his excommunication, he adopted the first name Benedictus (the Latin equivalent of his given name, Baruch). The terms of his cherem were quite severe (see Kasher and Biderman (19nn)) it was never revoked.

Spinoza was reluctant to discuss his excommunication with others. He maintained he left Amsterdam because an attacker had tried to stab him but instead put a hole in his coat. This is a contested viewpoint since an attacker did scar Spinoza's face with a dagger sometime after his excommunication. Spinoza, a pacifist, handled the ordeal badly at first. His shock remained with him for several months.

After his excommunication, Spinoza lived and worked for a while in the school of Franciscus van den Enden, who taught him Latin and may have introduced him to modern philosophy. During this period Spinoza also became acquainted with several Collegiants, members of a non-dogmatic and interdenominational sect with tendencies towards rationalism and Arianism. Spinoza was also in contact with Peter Serrarius, a radical Protestant merchant with whom he corresponded. Serrarius is thought to have been a patron of Spinoza at one point as well. By the beginning of the 1660s, Spinoza's name became more widely known, and eventually Gottfried Leibniz and Henry Oldenburg paid him visits. He corresponded with the latter for the rest of his life. Spinoza's first publication was his Tractatus de intellectus emendatione. In 1665 he notified Oldenburg that he had started to work on a new book, the Theologico-Political Treatise, published in 1670.

It has been suggested that Spinoza was writing prodigiously to offset the pain of his separation from his two siblings.[citation needed] His sister, Rebeka, defended him at first, though she later abandoned him, unable to accept his "apostasy". His brother, Gabriel, moved to an island and changed his surname.

Since the public reactions to the anonymously published Theologico-Political Treatise turned unfavourable to his brand of Cartesianism, Spinoza abstained from publishing more of his works. Wary and independent, he wore a signet ring engraved with his initials, a rose and the word "caute" (Latin for caution). The Ethics and all other works, apart from the Principles of Cartesian Philosophy and the Theologico-Political Treatise, were published after his death in the Opera Postuma edited by his friends.

Spinoza lived in Amsterdam and the surrounding area all of his life, earning a comfortable living from lens-grinding. Certainly the lens-grinding aspect of Spinoza's work is uncontested, but what exact lenses he made is in question. Many have said he produced excellent magnifying glasses, and some historians credit him with being an optician (in the sense of making lenses for eyeglasses). He was also supported by small, but regular donations from close friends. He died in 1677 while still working on a political thesis. His premature death was due to a lung illness and possibly the result of breathing in glass dust from the lenses he ground. Only a year earlier, Spinoza had met with Leibniz at The Hague for a discussion of his principal philosophical work, Ethics, which had been completed in 1676 (Lucas, 1960). Spinoza never married, nor did he father any children.

Overview of his philosophy
After having first subscribed to Descartes's dualistic belief that body and mind are two separate substances, Spinoza later changed his view and asserted that they were not separate, being merely different aspects of one substance. In this, he was influenced by his reading of Malebranche:

[Malebranche] teaches that we see all things in God himself. This is certainly equivalent to explaining something unknown by something even more unknown. Moreover, according to him, we see not only all things in God, but God is also the sole activity therein, so that physical causes are so only apparently; they are merely occasional causes. (Recherches de la vérité, Livre VI, seconde partie, chap. 3.) And so here we have essentially the pantheism of Spinoza who appears to have learned more from Malebranche than from Descartes.
Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena, Vol. I, "Sketch of a History of the Doctrine of the Ideal and the Real"

Spinoza argued that God and Nature were two names for the same reality, namely the single substance (meaning "to stand beneath" rather than "matter") that underlies the universe and of which all lesser "entities" are actually modes or modifications. The argument for this single substance runs as follows:

Substance exists and cannot be dependent on anything else for its existence.

No two substances can share an attribute.

Proof: If they share an attribute, they would be identical. Therefore they can only be individuated by their modes. But then they would depend on their modes for their identity. This would have the substance being dependent on its mode, in violation of premise 1. Therefore, two substances cannot share the same attribute.

3. A substance can only be caused by something similar to itself (something that shares its attribute).
4. Substance cannot be caused.

Proof: Something can only be caused by something which is similar to itself, in other words something that shares its attribute. But according to premise 2, no two substances can share an attribute. Therefore substance cannot be caused.

5. Substance is infinite.
Proof: If substance were not infinite, it would be finite and limited by something. But to be limited by something is to be dependent on it. However, substance cannot be dependent on anything else (premise 1), therefore substance is infinite.
Conclusion: There can only be one substance.
Proof: If there were two infinite substances, they would limit each other. But this would act as a restraint, and they would be dependent on each other. But they cannot be dependent on each other (premise 1), therefore there cannot be two substances.

Spinoza contended that "Deus sive Natura" ("God or Nature") was a being of infinitely many attributes, of which extension and thought were two. His account of the nature of reality, then, seems to treat the physical and mental worlds as two different, parallel "subworlds" that neither overlap nor interact. This formulation is a historically significant panpsychist solution to the mind-body problem known as neutral monism. The consequences of Spinoza's system also envisage a God that does not rule over the universe by providence, but a God which itself is part of the deterministic system of which everything in nature is a part. Thus, God is the natural world and has no personality.

Spinoza was a thoroughgoing determinist who held that absolutely everything that happens occurs through the operation of necessity. For him, even human behaviour is fully determined, with freedom being our capacity to know we are determined and to understand why we act as we do. So freedom is not the possibility to say "no" to what happens to us but the possibility to say "yes" and fully understand why things should necessarily happen that way. By forming more "adequate" ideas about what we do and our emotions or affections, we become the adequate cause of our effects (internal or external), which entails an increase in activity (versus passivity). This means that we become both more free and more like God, as Spinoza argues in the Scholium to Prop. 49, Part II. However, Spinoza also held that everything must necessarily happen the way that it does. Therefore, there is no free will.

Spinoza's philosophy has much in common with Stoicism in as much as both philosophies sought to fulfil a therapeutic role by instructing people how to attain happiness (or eudaimonia, for the Stoics). However, Spinoza differed sharply from the Stoics in one important respect: he utterly rejected their contention that reason could defeat emotion. On the contrary, he contended, an emotion can be displaced or overcome only by a stronger emotion. For him, the crucial distinction was between active and passive emotions, the former being those that are rationally understood and the latter those that are not. He also held that knowledge of true causes of passive emotion can transform it to an active emotion, thus anticipating one of the key ideas of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis.

Some of Spinoza's philosophical positions are:
The natural world is infinite.
There is no real difference between good and evil.
Everything done by humans and other animals is excellent and divine.
All rights are derived from the State.
Animals can be used in any way by people for the benefit of the human race, according to a rational consideration of the benefit as well as the animals' status in nature.[2]

Ethical philosophy
Encapsulated at the start in his Treatise on the Improvement of the Understanding (Tractatus de intellectus emendatione) is the core of Spinoza's ethical philosophy, what he held to be the true and final good. Spinoza held a relativist's position, that nothing is good or bad, except to the extent that it is subjectively perceived to be by the individual. Things are only good or evil in respect that humanity sees it desirable to apply these conceptions to matters. Instead, Spinoza believes in his deterministic universe that, "All things in nature proceed from certain necessity and with the utmost perfection". Therefore, no things happen by chance in Spinoza's world, and reason does not work in terms of contingency. In the universe anything that happens comes from the essential nature of objects, or of God and nature. Perfection therefore abounds according to Spinoza. If circumstances are seen as unfortunate it is only because of our inadequate conception of reality. Spinoza's point is, there is nothing inherent in any thing, to make it either good or bad. From this he concluded that the ethical ventures of other philosophers had been mistaken.

Acts such as altruism and piety should be made by the "mere guidance of reason". Spinoza's system also teaches that the knowledge of God induces us "to do those things which love and piety persuade us". For instance, one person may find roasted peanuts tasty and so for her roasted peanuts are good. But another person may be allergic to nuts and so for him peanuts are bad. Spinoza's point is, there is nothing inherent in any thing, like a nut, to make it either good or bad.


The Pantheism Controversy
In 1785, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi published a condemnation of Spinoza's pantheism, after Lessing was thought to have confessed on his deathbed to being a "Spinozist", which was the equivalent in his time of being called an atheist. Jacobi claimed that Spinoza's doctrine was pure materialism, because all Nature and God are said to be nothing but extended substance. This, for Jacobi, was the result of Enlightenment rationalism and it would finally end in absolute atheism. Moses Mendelssohn disagreed with Jacobi, saying that there is no actual difference between theism and pantheism. The entire issue became a major intellectual and religious concern for European civilization at the time, which Immanuel Kant rejected, as he thought that attempts to conceive of transcendent reality would lead to antinomies in thought.
Spinoza's philosophy was considered to be a religion by the Germans of the late eighteenth century.[citation needed] It seemingly provided an alternative to Materialism, Atheism, and Deism. They did not, however, value Spinoza's geometric form with its logical proofs. Three of Spinoza's ideas strongly appealed to them:
the unity of all that exists;

the regularity of all that happens; and
the identity of spirit and nature.
Spinoza's "God or Nature" provided a living, natural God, in contrast to the Newtonian mechanical First Cause or the dead mechanism of the French "Man Machine."]

Modern relevance
Late twentieth century Europe has demonstrated a greater philosophical interest in Spinoza, often from a left-wing or Marxist perspective. Notable philosophers Gilles Deleuze, Antonio Negri and Étienne Balibar have each written books on Spinoza. Deleuze's doctoral thesis, published in 1968, refers to him as "the prince of philosophers". (Deleuze, 1968). Other philosophers heavily influenced by Spinoza include Constantin Brunner and John David Garcia. Stuart Hampshire wrote a major English language study of Spinoza, though H. H. Joachim's work is equally valuable. Unlike most philosophers, Spinoza and his work were highly regarded by Nietzsche.

Prominent Cambridge philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein also recognized Spinoza's importance. At the suggestion of G. E. Moore, Wittgenstein's first definitive philosophical work was entitled,Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. This was an allusion to Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. Both texts erect complex philosophical arguments starting from basic logical assertions and principles.

Spinoza has had influence beyond the confines of philosophy. Albert Einstein named Spinoza as the philosopher who exerted the most influence on his worldview (Weltanschauung). Spinoza equated God (infinite substance) with Nature, consistent with Einstein's belief in an impersonal deity. In 1929, Einstein was asked in a telegram by Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein whether he believed in God. Einstein responded by telegram "I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings."[1] Spinoza's pantheism has also influenced the environmental theory. Arne Næss, the father of the deep ecology movement, acknowledged Spinoza as an important inspiration.

Spinoza is an important historical figure in the Netherlands, where his portrait was featured prominently on the Dutch 1000-guilder banknote, legal tender until the euro was introduced in 2002. The highest and most prestigious scientific award of the Netherlands is named the Spinozapremie.

17 Comments:

Blogger Esrever said...

Much of Spinoza’s philosophy could make sense, except for the fact that one of his beliefs seemingly contradicts all of his others. This belief is that “No two substances can share an attribute.” Spinoza makes it very clear that even the slightest similarity between two substances makes these substances one in the same, which is why good and evil are the same substance—they both are judgments made from personal belief, making them the same substance. Spinoza then continues to say that “Everything done by humans and other animals is excellent and divine.” If this is the case, then the common attribute between God, humans, and animals is divinity. Thus, because no two substances can share a common attribute, God and all other living creatures would be the same exact substance. Yet another contradiction can be found within his belief that “All rights are derived from the State,” yet he also believes that “Animals can be used in any way by people for the benefit of the human race.” This sounds like a right to me that wasn’t exactly granted by the State. There are always going to be flaws and contradictions found within all philosophies, but some of them are so major that I don’t understand how others can look past them. There are even certain points that I completely agree with, such as the belief in a God who “reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings," yet to believe that all human actions are divine and, therefore, good is absurd. How can there be no difference between good and bad? This means that acts of MURDER and RAPE are DIVINE ACTS! Does this philosophy seem ridiculous to anyone else!?!

3:33 PM  
Blogger AimerVoyage said...

I agree that what Spinoza said doesn't entirely make sense, but I don't think that he's saying that things are divine by nature, just because they exist. He is saying that Good and Evil ARE the same. It is only human perception that makes them "different". To one person, something is good. To another, it is bad. Therefore there is no definite attribute that it has that makes it good or bad. Can we not also perceive something as divine, but what really makes it divine? Divinity is an attribute that can be accounted for. But to say that God and everything else are the same "substance", therefore everything is divine... is God really a substance? Does God have attributes that are even present to be compared to anything else? Spinoza says that he as an infinite number of them, but something infinite can not be limited, therefore none of his attributes are the same as anything else. So by Spinoza's definition God would be one substance. But since each of GOD'S attributes can't be present in something else (he is a DIVINE God, and divinity pertains only to God), they can't all be the same.You can't see God, you can't touch God. To some God is good, to ones that feel "wronged" by him, God is bad. Therefore... God's attributes can, once again, only be determined by perception. Therefore in my opinion, God isn't really a substance at all, he is more of a perception in itself. No one can even prove that he exists at all.

5:58 PM  
Blogger wishlahaylagon said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:26 AM  
Blogger wishlahaylagon said...

It always comes down to perception. Obviously though, perception is what matters. The angle at which a person looks at something makes all the difference. However, the perception of what is right or wrong differs from one person to another according to Spinoza so nothing definite can be decided. While I agree with that to an extent, their has to be a common standard or chaos would ensue. Anyway, I find it peculiar that any once religious man would equate animals to humans in almost any way. In the Age of Faith it would have been quite abnormal. However, I suppose it can be seen as part of the Enlightment. I have a problem with Spinoza saying that animals, humans, and God have the same substance running through them. If they are all equal then how is the right of using animals to benefit man make any sense? The SAME substance implies to me that they are equal, so wouldn't the killing of an animal be the same as killing a human? What differentiate's them? Is it just the "State" that makes man be "above" animals?

6:31 AM  
Blogger FriendofAll said...

I'm not exactly sure about the relationship of the first couple of postulates, but the meaning I got from them was that the universe is composed of a single limitless underpinning, in which the concepts of God/Nature are the same motivating factor. This substance, not matter but an underlying thing from which matter is organized, gives rise to matters that have differing attributes giving them unique qualities. So I understood the first couple of ideas to be just the overall proof of the substance being God/Nature and the original motivater. These first couple of ideas confuse people when they try to apply them to matter, but seem to make sence when applied to this original substance. In responce to aimervoyage's question, the divine/natural substance is not a material concept. It is an infinite construct from which matter arises. That's not to say that matter isn't divine (since it is a consequence of the divine), but that the the forces guiding matter are where divinity is originally found. It's this same reasoning, when coupled with Spinoza's deterministic view that makes all occurences in the universe a divine happening because all things occur due to the necessity of being a consequence of the divine organization. Esrever, your confusion about the human action stuff comes from holding an idea about good/evil that is polarized. Human acts aren't "good" nor are they evil, or anything else. But they are divine since they necessarily occur due to being a consequence of the divine substance which motivates all existance. I hope all this makes sense, or at least follows Spinoza's somewhat convoluted logic.

8:59 AM  
Blogger The Filthy Titan said...

Does anyone else find it funny that while Spinoza copies the "Well, nothing against my religion ever happens- you just don't understand it!" part of Christianity that most people don't like, he never bothers to give God any *good* attributes? I don't care about an impersonal God- why should I? He's *impersonal*. He might as well not exist for all the effect such a god would have on my life.

And if that god is uncaring for my existence, for all of humanity's existence, but is present in nature, than isn't humanity stuck against god? We destroy nature and natural existence- heck, all of science is nothing but an attempt to force nature to do something she would not, under otehr circumstances, do. (That's what science is- forcing nature to do something).

Truth is, the idea of "impersonal gods" is just an excuse for people to not have to worry about their own actions. It's a cop-out, in my view... a way to avoid the entire concept of good and evil. I understand, but do not approve. After all...

Let's consider the judicial implications of Spinoza's theory. All things are perfect, whether we know it or not, and there is no inherently good or evil part of- well, anything. Okay. Then why do we have a justice system?

Don't argue with me by saying "Well, Society would fall apart otherwise." So? All things are perfect and reaching perfection. There is no good or evil- that last is important. No good or evil of *any* kind- not just the Christian viewpoint, but of any viewpoint- means that there is no basis for any judgement. How could you say that society's downfall was bad? Because people would die, get robbed, raped, kidnapped, etc.? Well, the Spinoza answer is that none of that is bad.

Now, he'd argue against it. He'd pull up proof after proof. But the thing is- logically, this is where his system leads. An impersonal god happens to run Nature. And Nature is brutal. It's predator vs. prey, Darwin's nightmare, with only the strongest, fastest, best animals surviving to come out on top. This is the kind of god Spinoza is claiming to exist. He couldn't argue that humans are different- how? Spinoza has a god utterly unconcerned with human beings. So that would indicate that we aren't different in any way from the animals. And so we should, by all rights, live by the law of the jungle.

Down with Society!

Even more, the concept of "no good, no evil" is ridiculous. Even those who pronounce it fiercest have a "good and evil"- to them, thoes who disagree are "evil", those who agree are "good". Good and evil are the most basic concepts in existence, and I say shame on Spinoza for not bothering to think his thoughts through.

I also say that this sheer incompleteness to his thoughts is probably why I'd never heard of him up to this point. He may be famous in his home, but so what? I'm absolutely certain that some people thought of as famous in their homes are unheard of in the world- just think of your local small-town star.

9:16 AM  
Blogger The Filthy Titan said...

To FriendofAll-

Actually, that's kind of the point. Under your thinking, Esrever is still right- murder and rape are divine acts. No good and evil = this result. Of course he holds a view that good and evil are polarized. Even if you only believe that there is "evil", than there exists good- if only as a negative of what is *not* evii.

So, let's look at the connotations of what you are saying- the practical applications, in other words.
(Theory is irrelevance taken to the highest point. Only when it is applied does it matter- otherwise it's just wishful thinking).

You claim that there is no good or evil, per se. Doesn't this prove Esrever's point? Without a concept of what is "bad" and what is "good", then anything goes.
Utter chaos, anarchy, and cannibalism are equated with tolerance, peace, and equality. You can't say one is better- there is no "good" at all!

If anything, this gives every being on the planet the right to do as they wish. Those who preach tolerance of all people are exactly as good and decent as the KKK.

No matter what your viewpoint of good and evil, whether you think homosexuals are okay or not, on abortion, etc., it is still a moral judgement. You are saying that one thing is good and another is evil. To not stretch these things out into an actual philosophy on life is ridiculous- the idea of good and evil is inherent within us. Spinoza himself possessed an idea of good and evil- his beliefs were "good", because as he stated, he thought he was right. So Spinoza was "good", and everyone who did not believe in an impersonal god was "evil", if only in the sense that they were wrong about the nature of reality.

So you see, you both prove Esrever's point and fail to show me that Spinoza did not make everyone's actions utterly equal. I'm interested in your response.

9:35 AM  
Blogger FriendofAll said...

Thanks for the reply, now, where to start. I think I'll lead off with the good/evil thing since it always bothers people and is a crucial part of our world view. I'm not quite sure how to respond to the first paragraph, but here goes. Good/evil is the same thing, since it’s relative to position. Carrying that a little further, good and evil don't exist since they are lacking in an absolute position from which to judge them, a perfect frame of reference if you will. Spinoza would say that murder, rape, and whatnot are results of human action which follow necessarily from the divine, making them also divine. Both esrever and I are making this same connection in Spinoza's logic but my disagreement with him is when he states that the actions of humans ,being divine, must therefore be good. Good doesn't apply to this framework, so that statement is invalid, and based on his own connections between concepts of divinity and good/evil. I'm not totally sure which point of esrever's you thought I was supporting please clarify for me so that I may respond. Until then I'll address the other stuff in question in your response. The actions of human beings, be they pacifist or nazi, or whatever, are equally divine since they occur because of necessity. Necessity being the flow of events that must occur in accordance with the laws of the universe that govern all existence. There is no choice associated with these different actions, therefore no real difference between the people who act them out. This is why all actions are "equal" though I don't like that word in this context. People don't have the right to do as they wish because they have no choice. They're just following the rules of the natural/divine substance that has arranged everything. All actions are equally necessary and equally related to the divine. It's a little weird, since we believe in choice, but Spinoza was hardcore deterministic. All things happened because they had to, since all things are subordinate to the original substance. For example, when you jump you don't choose to fall down, it just happens. Falling down is a natural consequence of jumping in gravity. It's a natural law/phenomenon. You extend this idea of natural consequence to everything that occurs, including human actions, because it all happens in response to the rules set down in the makeup of matter by the divine. Lastly, I'm not sure people have an inborn since of good/evil. It seems to be something that you have to learn. If a kid were raised from birth in the wild, they would have no concept of good/evil, and would be motivated entirely by self preservation/survival. I would supplement this idea with the fact that different cultures can have wildly different ideas of what constitutes good and evil. And many of those things called evil are in some way linked to a desire for self preservation and fear of having some act inflicted on them, such as rules against murder, theft, etc. I could of course be wrong.

12:33 PM  
Blogger FriendofAll said...

Oh, wow. Sorry about the length of that one guys. Narrow columns mess with my head.

12:34 PM  
Blogger Krangor said...

Spinoza's philosophy actually makes sense to me, and kind of fits in with ideas I've been churning around in my head.

Everything is predetermined. Not in a mystical hocus-pocus fate kind of way, but in an everything that happens is a direct result of everything that has happened before it, natural deterministic worldview kind of way. In this I include our actions, as well as the thoughts and feelings that precede those actions: we are products of our environments and genetic dispositions. I was never satisfied with what this actually did to free will, but Spinoza seemed to be saying that freedom comes from this understanding.

It seems the idea of having no free will is at the same time convoluted and almost innately true to me at the same time. How can I say that I have no free will when I have obviously chosen to write this? I can't say the choice wasn't made, but if I look at my motivations (fear of losing points for the assignments, interest in the subject, longing to pour my thoughts out to someone who might just have some interest and enlightening ideas on the subject, among others) I can help but wonder if I was presented the same situation a 1000 times if I wouldn't make the exact same decision a 1000 times.

This leads me to a lot of morality issues, especially the problem of dealing with criminals. If I assume that we do live in a deterministic world, what justification do I have in punishing criminals? Aren't they just along for the ride like me? The best I can come up with so far is it is in my best interest to be in a society where laws protect me from people, so I would obviously want to support such a society. I guess in this worldview issues of morality disappear with the irrelevance of good and evil. Perhaps we are motivated in general to punish criminals as a mass self preservation instinct. I dunno, I still can't completely wrap my head around this.

Gf, I don't think Spinoza's "God" is impersonal, or anything that would really fit your definition of a God or being at all. It would be closer to say that Spinoza's God is everything, the whole of existence. Spinoza's god doesn't not care about us; it simply has no manifestation of a personality to care about anything. In Spinoza's worldview, we are part of nature, and thus part of God. I think part of the confusion is the terminology, and I think most philosophers are guilty of this. Using terms like God and divinity for things that could be only loosely interpreted as a god. The word god conjures up visions of a kind looking, muscular man with a long, flowing, white beard, not the impersonal whole of existence as Spinoza seems to have defined it.

Also Gf, if you think "That's what science is- forcing nature to do something." Then I recommend you take some classes down at Lappin. You'll find that a closer, but very limited definition of Science to be along the lines of; a structured process of observing and learning about the world we live in.

Friendofall, I found your explanation of good and evil to be very spot on for the way I took it. They are relative and useful terms for describing things, but they don't really exist in any quantitative way.

11:22 PM  
Blogger AubergineClementine said...

Although his reasoning drifts in and out of my grasp at times, I like Spinoza's reasoning about nature and God being the same. That is, his reasoning and proof is logical. Very interesting. Now, after that... well, as esrever says, there are some major contradictory flaws and simply some stuff that no one can possibly believe. Except some people do/did, I guess. Animals, humans, and divinity are not in any similar realm of one another. Animals, humans, and divinity are not in any similar realm of one another. Humans commit wrong and right acts, divinity do not, animals, well… we’ll say no on that one too. They’re not the same thing.

8:13 PM  
Blogger Magic Chicken said...

I'm having a little difficulty understanding some of Spinoza's reasoning. I think he is saying that everything is essentially the same substance. If that's the case, then some of his philosophical standpoints listed later in the article, such as “everything done by humans and other animals is excellent and divine” and “animals can be used in any way by people for the benefit of the human race, according to a rational consideration of the benefit as well as the animals' status in nature” don't make very much sense. If everything is the same substance and everything done by this substance is excellent and divine, then what would determine whether something is a benefit or not? Would there even be such a word as “benefit,” seeing as Spinoza also seems to believe in everything being inevitable (fated)? This is essentially what I'm having difficulty understanding. Then again, these points were only briefly mentioned in the article, so I suppose that might be why I'm not understanding this so well.

9:03 PM  
Blogger Willow said...

I think that is really a hit and miss "perception" of what Spinoza's spin is on a "Christian" God. I really don't see how he could support with his philosophy that there could really be a God in the biblical sense. Why??? The answer is quite simple. It all really boils down to good and evil and the fact that there can't be two different substances.

First of all if there is no clear cut definition of right and wrong than how could there be commandments and teaching in the Bible that tell us right from wrong. If there was no need to be saved from evil because it is the same as good then why would we need saving???

Also, the second point dealing with one substance is also disproving of the Christian faith. The main seperation of animals and man is that we have a soul and they do not. If we are all the same than my only question is "how can we be just like an animal?"...

10:17 PM  
Blogger daltonRussell said...

Like others have said before me, I think that what Spinoza is saying all comes down to perception. I have never really thought about things not being either good OR bad. Crimes like rape and theft are bad too me, but what about the person who commits them, dont they see some kind of good in it, even if the good is for their own pleasure? It sounds to me like good can only be defined as something that helps other people in the end. But even things that are seen as good that help other people can be seen as bad by some. Maybe some don't want to give up their free time for a charity. So it all comes down to perception. As far as contradiction was concerned, I got confused about how all humans, animals and nature are divine when divinity seems to me like an opinion that can only be seen as either good or bad by differing individuals. Another thing that was contradictory for me was the fact that by understanding that everything is already going to happen as it will, we are free. It then says that because we understand this freedom we become more like god. Two things can't be alike, so to dispell this contradiction Spinoza throws in a little comment: "oh, we're not really free because we cant make our own decisions, so what I was saying earlier about being free by realizing we cant change our fate was just to confuse everybody!"

10:33 PM  
Blogger thisismyname said...

Wow. Spinoza certainly has some interesting ideas concerning philosophy. His thoughts about there being no differences between good and evil can be understood in a way. Defining something as good or evil is very subjective. What may seem good to one person may seem ultimately evil to another. However, this theory struck me in the same way as Esrever. What about horrific crimes such as murder or rape? Spinoza says “everything done by humans and other animals is excellent and divine.” I think it’s a pretty bold thing to say that everything we as humans do is divine. In Spinoza’s defense, he goes on to say “if circumstances are seen as unfortunate it is only because of our inadequate conception of reality.” In other words, if we see something as bad, we don’t understand the reality of the event. It seems like he doesn’t want to address the heinous acts people can commit. We just don’t understand when confronted with them. Spinoza’s ideas are still interesting to think about, though.

11:20 PM  
Blogger The Filthy Titan said...

To FriendofAll:

But you are missing the point. Good and evil do exist, friend. But not in the concept you are thinking of it as. It's not "Good" as in a God. It's just "Good" as in "what is preferable". Spinoza still has a concept of good and evil. It's a basic concept: What you like and what you don't like. That's the simplest possible definition of good and evil- any form of good and evil, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist- that I can make. Forget Western culture for a minute- Spinoza has a firmly developed sense of good and evil. It's just different from the "tradiitonal" notions.

The point for Esrever is that you prove him right- all actions result from the divine laws of the universe. Henceforth, rape and murder are divine acts. Prove to me that this is not true. I'm not saying rape and murder are "good"- just divine.

So, let's look at Spinoza's God logically. God affects all things- gravity's a good example. Bad people, good people fall down the same way. So do men and women, white people, black people, Native Americans, etc. We all fall the same way.

So let's assume Spinoza is right.

Why is all morality on earth not the same?

We are all based on our original substance. We are all human. Henceforth, we should all look and act and talk the same.

Under his version of determinism, truth be told...

There should be no difference. Or, if there is, then it's based on being from a different substance. And there should be no equality between substances- remember, "no two substances can share an attribute." Do you see the massive possibility for genocide in these arguments? There can be no claim for equality in such an argument, because it's based on things that are absolutely unchangeable. Sorry, buddy, but you are just born the way you are, and nothing can change that.

Please. It's a big world out there. You can't judge on the basis of anything that is not that person. You can't judge based on impersonality in any way, because you can't argue with a God you can't talk to. It's a god based on order, not chaos.

And come on. The world's a big place. I think I'm right, but if Buddha came down and slapped me right now, I'd change my opinion real fast.

12:01 PM  
Blogger FriendofAll said...

Hello. Ok, I thought I gave a sufficient line of reasoning why good and evil don't exist for Spinoza in the last one, but lets clean it up a little. First of all, if good and evil exist, prove it. Can you show me either? We could dance around giving examples and counter examples all day, but in the end you could never find the absolute position necessery to say anything is good or evil in EVERY SINGLE CONTEXT/SITUATION. Good and evil are definitive opposing concepts that cannot be applied to the same object at the same time. But in fact, depending on your relative position, good could be evil and evil good. This negates the entire idea of placing the label good or evil onto anything. As for your use of good being synonymous with preferable, I'm not sure I agree with that, it seems to be a subtle misstep in your concept of good/evil. Like and dislike are relative terms and are can be flung around at will since they are subjective opinions about something. Substituting like/prefer with good and dislike with evil is inaccurate. I would prefer to eat fruit rollups by the cubic foot, but that's almost certainly not a good thing, even if its what I would prefer to do. Spinoza isn't trying to say what he prefers is good, he is only stating what he thinks is the logical state of the universe in accordance with his understanding of it. Other ideas aren't "evil" because they differ, they are, from his perspective, different and probably incorrect. He more than likely thinks his own observations are preferable to those of other philosophies/religions but good and evil never come into the picture.
Thanks for pinpointing your idea of how I'm supporting esrever. I'm not disagreeing with that statement. We are both stating the logical connection of Spinoza that all human acts, no matter what they are, are divine since they come from divine substance. However, he is using this to point out the rediculousness of Spinoza's arguements whereas I am explaining why this idea is logical in the relation to divinity. Noones saying this isn't the case.

Lastly the way to explain differences in people with Spinoza's logic is that these differences arise out of necessity. However you seem to be trying to apply the substance arguement to matter, so that will lead to errant ideas; substance gives rise to matters, substances cannot share attributes, but matters are modifications and can share similarities without being the same. No person can occupy the same exact place as another person or be that other person, so necessarily they must differ somewhat. These differences in position will then lead to differing world views and can result in moralities that are vastly different. Under Spinoza's determinism we are different, in accordance with the divine substance and the way that it shapes us. Does that help you GF? Anywho thanks for taking the time to respond.

9:18 AM  

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