Spinoza: Metaphysical Themes

Spinoza: Metaphysical Themes

Spinoza: Metaphysical Themes

Spinoza: Metaphysical Themes


Spinoza's philosophy has an undeserved reputation for being obscure and incomprehensible. But now, in this indispensable collection, Spinoza is portrayed in the manner he deserves--as a brilliant metaphysician who paved the way for an exciting new science. The volume focuses on several important areas, including monism, the concept of conatus, the nature of and the relation between mind and body, and Spinoza's relationship to Descartes and Leibniz. The new physics posed difficult questions about the existence and power of God; however, it was commonplace of seventeenth-century metaphysics to claim that all force was God's. In his philosophy, Spinoza solves this problem, identifying God with nature. But, what happens to individuals after that identification? And what is an individual for Spinoza? How does it act? How are its actions explained? This volume clearly addresses these and other fascinating questions. It explores Spinoza's account of the relationship between mind and body, along with his view on the ontology of values. Spinoza saw the threat of deterministic physics to mind-body interaction. How is it possible that minds act on bodies and vice versa? Furthermore, the volume examines the problem of the nature of values, asking is there room for an independent realm of values in the new philosophy? Finally, the collection investigates problems in the interpretation of Spinoza that stem from Spinoza's debatable place in seventeenth-century philosophy; it is often claimed that Spinoza's ideas evolved from Cartesian doctrines while profoundly influencing Leibniz. With a stellar group of contributors--including Michael Della Rocca, John Carriero, Richard Mason, Steven Barbone, Don Garrett, Olli Koistinen, Richard Manning, Peter Dalton, Charles Jarrett, Charles Huenemann, and Mark Kulstad--this volume serves as an excellent resource and represents the best work of a new generation of Spinoza scholars.


Jonathan Bennett's A Study of Spinoza's Ethics was published about seventeen years ago. In that book Bennett shows convincingly that the problems Spinoza tackled are relevant to our current philosophical concerns and that Spinoza's metaphysics has still much to offer to those who are interested in the ultimate nature of reality. Bennett's book set new standards for philosophical research on Spinoza, and the writers of this book have tried to meet those standards. The essays in this volume are, then, philosophical, rather than merely historical. They highlight our contention that in addition to being a visionary, Spinoza was an acute philosopher who anticipated philosophical problems that still are at the center of attention.

In this volume Spinoza is seen mostly as a metaphysician, but it should be emphasized that his philosophy had a mainly practical aim. Spinoza's ultimate goal in doing philosophy was gaining knowledge not for its own sake but, to put it bluntly, for the sake of his own well-being. In TdIE (C I 7, G II, 5) he writes as follows:

After experience had taught me that all the things which regularly occur in ordinary life are empty and futile, and I saw that all the things which were the cause or object of my fear had nothing of good or bad in themselves, except insofar as [my] mind was moved by them, I resolved at last to try to find out whether there was anything which would be the true good.

Thus, it seems that Spinoza's philosophy was directed not just toward finding the truth but toward finding happiness. Indeed, for Spinoza salvation lies in knowledge, because the mind's eternity depends on knowledge.

Spinoza's philosophy matured in a very stimulating intellectual atmosphere. The new science taught that the world is not what it seems to be. The external world has no perceptible qualities except those postulated by the new physics, such as size, shape, and motion. Colors, sounds, and smells were moved from the external world to the mind of the perceiver. The ancient distinction between appearance and real-

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