Meaning in Spinoza's Method

By Aaron V. Garrett | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
A few further basic concepts

This chapter introduces some important concepts in Spinoza's philosophy that will be drawn upon extensively in subsequent chapters. In the Ethics it seems as if every concept is quite literally interconnected with every other concept, and there is no way to explain the part without reference to many other parts and the whole. Trying to understand the Ethics we are in the position of our worm in the previous chapter, trying to make sense of a whole through the parts yet at the same time recognizing that all the parts are interconnected through principles that seem out of our reach.

In order to cope with this problem, many of the best-known works on Spinoza are written as commentaries on the Ethics as a whole. By commenting on the Ethics section by section, Spinoza's terminology and concepts can be introduced in the narrative sequence in which they arise. This is, of course, very advantageous, but it makes it difficult to concentrate on a specific issue like Spinoza's method. For this reason I pursue only two partially satisfactory alternatives. In this chapter I treat a few key concepts in order that discussion of them does not unduly detract from the larger narrative; and then, as the book proceeds, I introduce technical issues and technical problems.

So this excursus into some of Spinoza's concepts does not seem too unmotivated, I will point at the conclusion of the chapter toward their relevance for Spinoza's claim introduced at the end of the last chapter: the human mind is “the infinite power of Nature” in thought “not insofar as it is infinite and perceives the whole of Nature, but insofar as it is finite and perceives only the human Body.” To understand this claim we need to understand Spinoza's take on the infinite. We need to have some background in Spinoza's theory of knowledge. Finally, we will need to know something about Spinoza's ways of thinking about external and internal causes.

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