Meaning in Spinoza's Method

By Aaron V. Garrett | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
A worm in the blood: some central themes
in Spinoza's Ethics

The Emmet's Inch & Eagle's Mile Make Lame Philosophy to smile.

William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

In order to understand why Spinoza embraced the geometrical method in the Ethics it necessary to reflect on the general contours of his philosophy. It is also important to have a sense of what Spinoza's method — geometrical or otherwise — is trying to get at, what Spinoza is seeking to discover with it. The purpose of this chapter and the next is to set the stage for the chapters that follow, while at the same time developing a few basic questions about Spinoza's method. The first section of this chapter provides a brief sketch of Spinoza's Ethics and introduces some of Spinoza's key definitions and concepts. The middle sections will present a problem in Spinoza's Ethics: “What does it mean to be a part of nature?” “Part of nature” is one of Spinoza's most potent concepts but it needs careful interpretation in order not to render it inconsistent with other aspects of Spinoza's philosophy, particularly his criticisms of anthropomorphism and teleology.1 The final section of the chapter will consider Spinoza's system from the “emmet's inch”2 or the bottom-up perspective, as opposed to the “eagle's mile” or top-down perspective of Part I of the Ethics and the first section of this chapter. I will introduce the “bottom-up” perspective through a letter written by Spinoza to his friend Oldenburg describing a “worm” (by which Spinoza understood a small simple particle or being) floating through the bloodstream of a giant being and trying to make

____________________
1
This is an important theme throughout Spinoza's philosophical works. Philosophers “place true happiness solely in virtue and peace of mind, and they strive to conform with nature, not to make nature conform with them; for they are assured that God directs Nature in accordance with the requirements of her universal laws, and not in accordance with the requirements of the particular laws of human nature” (TTP VI, Samuel Shirley (trans.), Theological-Political Treatise [Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1991], 78).
2
“Emmet” is an eighteenth-century word for ant.

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