Meaning in Spinoza's Method

By Aaron V. Garrett | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Maimonides and Gersonides

I have now examined the two main early modern sources for Spinoza's method, Hobbes and Descartes. We have seen the importance of synthesis and analysis, the different ways that they could be construed, the different functions ascribed to them, and finally the problems of reconcilingthem in a method not grounded in the imagination. But something is still lacking in this picture, there seems to be much more to the structure of Spinoza's method that has not been discussed: the didactic features of Spinoza's presentation and his attempts to instruct his readers. For Descartes this was, of course, the basic purpose of synthesis, and it was an important part of synthesis for Hobbes and Zabarella as well. In examining Maimonides and Gersonides I will stress some different didactic aspects of Spinoza's method. I would like to say at the outset that I in no way consider Spinoza to be a Maimonidean. I am interested in Maimonides for three reasons. First, part of Spinoza's own method (and I mean method broadly, not just the mos geometricus) seems to be a rejection of Maimonides, so by examining Maimonides we can learn about Spinoza. Second, in rejecting Maimonides, Spinoza still seems to hold on to some basic features of Maimonides' method. Third, Maimonides was also extensively criticized by Gersonides, whose affinities with Spinoza I have already emphasized. There are further affinities with Gersonides to be explored in the final section of this chapter.


QUOTATION AND IRONY

One notable feature of Spinoza's method is the way in which a geometric deduction allows for a process of internal quotation. When I cite a definition or a proposition in the proof of another proposition I am not just usingthe proposition but also mentioning it. This feature is part of any deduction, although not particularly relevant for Descartes and Hobbes. It is clearly important to Spinoza, and he is quite brazen about it. For example, the demonstration of IIP7, one of Spinoza's most important propositions, the

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