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Lecture Notes

PHIL 418

Table of contents
  1. Week 1 Thursday: Introduction
  2. Week 2 Tuesday:

Week 1 Thursday: Introduction

  • Baruch / Beendict Spinoza – born in Amsterdam, 1632, lived in the Netherlands
  • Spinoza was very harshly criticized
  • Excommunication from the Jewish community – “because of heretical ideas”, but also political elements
  • What was so dangerous about Spinoza?
  • Spinoza was a “Jewish devil” – “a Jew first, after a Cartesian, and now an atheist”
  • According to Christian doctrine, Jews are atheist or heretical, cursed, materialistic, don’t embrace the right God, etc.
  • Playing off of an association between Jews and heresy
  • Spinoza linked to his Jewish identity, association with various Jewish ideas.
  • Spinoza / pantheism controversies

Hegel and Spinoza

  • Hegel – philosophy of history and history of philosophy
    • Reality moves and god manifests through history teleologically, the becoming of Christian spirit, materially trhough ideas.
    • Where does Spinoza fit into Hegel’s history?
    • Hegel says that Spinoza’s philosophy is an “echo from Eastern lands”; condemns it for being the “Oriental theory of absolute identity”
    • What’s wrong with the Oriental theory of absolute identity? It disallows for the “agency of Christianity” and the independence of the Christian soul, lacks Western freedom and dynamisticity
    • Spinoza is a “Jew stuck in Oriental immobility”, pure rigidness
    • Hegel builds his project on the hierarchical distinction between the “West” and the “East”
    • “Jews are outside history”
  • Western and Christian philosophy has been fundamental in the reception of Spinoza
  • Hegel has an extractive / colonial view of philosophy
  • Christian supersecessionism
  • The default is Christian philosophy and thought; Hegel’s philosophy is a Eurocentric, white supremacist, Christian project
  • “The beginning point of philosophy is Spinoza” – high regard for Spinoza’s ideas – but by calling it Oriental and Jewish, Hegel is able to take Spinoza’s good ideas (colonial) and make his project better
  • The Hegelian dialectic is Christian supremacist, colonial – Spinoza is pivotal in Hegel’s philosophy
  • The dialectic is built off of Spinozan ideas

History of “Oriental” Philosophies

  • Jewish philosophers drawing from the Jewish tradition – ideas either rejected or only accepted through Baptism
  • Jewish and Islamic philosophy actively censored, burned by Christian Europe
  • Condemnation of 1227 – banning “radical Aristotelianism”
  • Justinian closes the Aristotelian academy in Athens in 529, but the one in Alexandria remains open – very rich culture of Aristotelian philosophy in Muslim lands, which is how Jewish and Muslim philosophers study naturalist and materialist Aristotelian philosophies
  • Really challenges ideas in Christian philosophies
  • “Western” philosophy – constructed upon its “Eastern” others
  • Spinoza is much more influenced by medieval Jewish philosophers who were committed towards a more naturalist Aristotelian philosophy because they were more in dialogue with medieval philosophy
  • Some of Spinoza’s central ideas are indebted to these repressed ideas, and helps us understand why his ideas were so controversial, forceful, dangerous

Spinoza, Ethics

  • Published posthumously
  • Ordinary people imagine God to be totally all-powerful
  • Spinoza says that God is the only substance, and that God is nature
    • “they very often compare God’s power with the power of kings”
    • This is the root of what people get wrong – God is imagined as a king over reality, just like a king is a king over its subjects
    • They impute free will to God – this is a category error
  • God’s power is nothing except active essence
  • Anthropomorphism: taking a human construction and put it onto nature / reality, imagining a God which controls the world just as a king does.
  • God isn’t even free – contingency and freedom.
  • Humans don’t have free will; they think they have free will, and they think that God has free will.
  • God is not above an outside reality.
  • God – absolutely infinite, infinity of attributes
  • There is no God – God is Nature; God is substance
  • Everything that exists is a mode of reality / substance
  • Immanence: God doesn’t transcend reality, it is all that is
  • Spinoza – “the first anti-Cartesian”
  • Spinoza – there is not a multiplicity of substances, there is a total unity of substances – everything isa mode of substance
  • There is no sovereignty or hierarchy in nature – a ‘flat ontology’
  • Everything is equally a mode of substance

Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis

  • A lot of Decartes comes from Augustine
  • Dualism – there is God and World, God creates the World through providence
  • Humans have body and spirit
  • God creates humans with a part outside nature (spirit, will, mind)
  • Human exceptionalism
  • Spinoza denaturalizes sovereignty – it is not natural, against the entire Cartesian & Augustinian view, which is built on a series of hierarchies
  • Extension is equally an attribute of god as thought is
  • Effects are as much part of god as causes
    • Disrupting the axiology of cause / effect
  • “The will cannot be a free cause, but only a necessary one”
  • God does not produce any affect by freedom of the will.

Week 2 Tuesday:

  • Committed to detaching from a prejudice about god as sovereignty
  • Nature denaturalized of sovereignty
  • There is no being outside of reality controlling it
  • Everything is substance, nature, god – everything is a mode of substance, and this produces a democratized flat ontology
  • Radical immanence rather than transcendence
  • This resists what is mainsteam in Western philosophy, through which you have a series of dualisms / hierarchies that structure reality. Part of a dualist Christian worldview
  • Infinite connection of causes; everything that is really is the infinite connection of causes
  • Louis Althusser: ‘the matrix of every theory of ideology’
  • Helping us appreciate the same things common to any number of ideologies, and speaks to the force of power and propaganda.
  • All prejudices presuppose that natural things act on account of an end – all prejudices come from teleological think.
  • What compells people to embrace teleology and to believe that nature acts towards an end?
  • “God has made all things for human, and human that he might worship God” – teleology comes from the idea that God directs everything in reality for their benefit
  • Second prejudice: anthropocentrism
  • We think that reality centers around our needs, and so we think that there is a god directing reality to our benefit.
  • Men think themselves free because they are conscious of their volitions and unconscious of that which they are ignorant of. – a conceit that we humans are “free”
  • Humans look at reality and think that reality centers upon us, but reality can’t make itself; so humans take their conception of who has power and thrusts it upon reality itself.
  • Teleology and anthropocentrism: creating reality in your own image, a notion of a transcendent being
  • The needs of blind desire and insatiable greed – hierarchies beget certain hierarchies
  • Believing sovereignty exists in nature gives rise to more hierarchies
  • You create God in your image, and then you think when things go wrong, God gets angry
  • “if ignorance is taken away, then foolish wonder, the only means of arguing and defending their authority is also taken away”
  • Teleology subsumes what is to a given purpose; the means become subservient to the ends
  • Teleology requires a notion of transcendence
  • If God has free will, he must choose something, but if he chooses something, he must not have something – Spinoza shows that by your own logics, there is no necessary, infinite being – it relies upon something external to itself.
  • Three things about Spinoza’s ontology
    1. Reality is infinite
    2. Reality must be immanent – if there are no bounds, nothing can exist outside of it, so there can be no transcendence. Infinity means no constraints.
    3. Reality is self-caused, causa sui – how does reality come to be? It is self-caused, there is infinite power which causes itself.
  • Substance causes itself; substance is powwer, and it is infinite and indeterminate, existing as its finite determinate modes.
  • Canotus – the essence of everything that exists – their ability to preserve
  • Everything is perfect; nothing can be deficient
  • “There is no potentiality in substance, there is only actuality”
  • Power fluctuates based on affect
  • The boundaries between things are porous
  • We are never in control of ourselves
  • Spinoza literally says “I did not choose to write the sentence I just wrote”
  • We’re driven by desires, but we don’t always choose to, so how do we create the conditions such that we desire it
  • Believes in causal determinism, but not in predeterminisms
  • A course intended by nature, yielding towards a specific purpose
  • Teleology gives us more hierarchies – if you believe progress and history is moving forward, everything else is subsumed under it. This is a way of delegitimizing suffering – saying it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.
  • What happened to the liberalism which gave us progress?
  • Order is merely a relation to imagination
  • The imagination and reason – imagination isn’t merely creation of fantasy, etc. – it’s part language, memory, etc. – humans thrust it onto reality
  • The notion of good and evil – these are human constructs, denaturalization of natural law
  • Undercuts normativity
  • Spinoza’s conception of the affect – what are feelings?
  • We can’t control our feelings, and we’re very driven by our affects, driven by what feels good.
  • Humans consider perfect things which are good for them, but now you have the notion of a universal model; now im/perfection becomes congruence to the model
  • Classifications speak to the rubrics and metrics which they have developed
  • Classifications are teleological – they are based on a notion of a model
  • Not just “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” – it’s that the beholder is the one who creates the model, teleology underwrites these ideologies
  • Forces us to rethink how we think about reality – how we should consider more subtle things like subservience to a telos.
  • Virtue and power are the same – Spinoza says that doing something good is virtuous, and doing something good is the very essence of human beings
  • Back to the conatus doctrine: that everything that exists is a certain kind of power which tries to preserve its being.
  • Most of what I undergo, I don’t choose to undergo
  • It is impossible for a human to not be part of nature
  • We are fundamentally disempowered – there’s no escape from nature, we cannot fully control what happens to us and what we even want ourselves
  • Proposition 18: a desire arising from joy is stronger than one arising from sadness.
  • We are driven by our desires, and we want to feel good; what makes us feel bad, we want to avoid. We are driven by affects, desires (un/&conscious) rather than wills and principles. We’re fundamentally driven by the desire to persist in our beings.
  • There is no good or bad inherently in reality, breaking off with the tradition of a transcendent figure to which we ought to be subservient. So what possibility is there for ethics?
  • Spinoza says that people are driven by self-interest.
  • What makes ethics work is that all things also need and want the same types of things – what makes us feel good is agreement with other modes.
  • This is the principle that makes his ethics immanent rather than transcendent
  • Everything that exists wants to persist in its powerr.
  • Ethics comes in because what is good for me is good for you. And ethics is possible because of that. Good is making agreements with other people.
  • How is it that we have disagreements then?
  • We are driven by all sorts of other things, but at least in principle there can be an ethics which does not yield to a sovereign transcendent being outside of reality. Pirncipally, it is in the nature of everything to want to persist.
  • Later, an attack on Cartesian dualism – independence of the mind and the body, and a free will which supercedes reason
  • Elizabeth of Bohemia – philosopher, regular corresponder with Decartes; Decartes writes Passions of the Soul in responce to her criticisms.