Martin Lenz on 6 February 2020

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On Thursday 6th February 2020, 3 – 5pm we are pleased to have Martin Lenz  (University of Groningen) who will speak on:

Biased Beliefs: Spinoza on the Interaction of Ideas


Location
: Birkbeck, University of London, Dreyfus Room, 26 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DQ

All welcome and no registration is required.

Abstract:

Spinoza famously holds that we standardly believe whatever it is that is perceived or goes through our mind, unless we hold stronger beliefs to the contrary. So if you see a winged horse on your lawn, you will also believe that there is a winged horse on the lawn, unless you have strong beliefs excluding the existence of winged horses. Couched in the terminology of the 17th century, Spinoza holds that we cannot merely contemplate ideas, but that every idea involves at least an affirmation. Spinoza’s principle has been well acknowledged in the literature. However, it is rarely considered how this principle is coupled with what could be called the principle of exclusion: we believe something unless a certain thought is excluded by beliefs we already hold. But if we tend to embrace what coheres with previous beliefs, we don’t just believe anything. Rather we might say that our minds are governed by what could be called a constant confirmation bias, i.e. a tendency to confirm existing beliefs. This raises the question of what governs this bias. Why don’t we believe in winged horses? In other words, what is the foundation of including certain beliefs and excluding others?

The exclusion principle, I submit, cannot be understood so long as we merely look at individual minds. Rather, the exclusion principle should be seen as rooted in the assumption that things (and thus also minds) are of a contrary nature. Accordingly, I shall argue that Spinoza’s holds an interactive account of ideas in that their affirmative force is explained in virtue of contrariety. Only when considering opposing ideas (and minds) can we understand why ideas exclude one another in their contrary striving (conatus).

Analysing contrary interactions requires us to focus on the question of what it means for ideas to have a conatus. What does it mean to say that the ideas themselves strive to persevere, rather than the cognitive agents who have ideas? After assessing some individualist answers in the literature (section 1), I will show that it is not any single conatus but the interaction of ideas, set off by contrariety, that governs the striving and determines which beliefs are held. We shall see that the exclusion principle that founds our biases is not a merely logical notion but rooted in the contrary nature of things (section 2). Understanding interaction in terms of contrariety, however, will give rise to a number of objections, the discussion of which will shed some light on the common understanding of the conatus doctrine (section 3). Finally, I will try to situate the emerging account in with a view to current philosophical approaches and show how the exclusion principle lends itself to an understanding of ideas in terms of confirmation bias (section 4).

 

 

 

Martin Lenz on 6 February 2020

Valtteri Viljanen on Thursday 23rd January

valtteri2013At our next meeting on Thursday 23rd January 2020, 3 – 5pm, we are pleased to have Valtteri Viljanen (University of Turku)  who will speak on

Spinoza on Scepticism, Truth, and Method

Location: Birkbeck, University of London, Dreyfus Room, 26 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DQ

 

Abstract:

In this talk, I offer a new interpretation of Spinoza’s method of distinguishing the true ideas from the false, which shows that his answer to the sceptic is not a failure. This method, as presented in the Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect, combines analysis and synthesis as follows: if we can say of the object of an idea (a) which simple things underlie it, (b) how it can be constructed out of simple elements, and (c) what properties it has after it has been produced, doubt concerning the object simply makes no sense. I also discuss the distinction between the intrinsic and the extrinsic denomination of an idea and suggest a way in which the methodology of the Treatise connects to the ontology of the Ethics.

All welcome and no registration is required

 

Valtteri Viljanen on Thursday 23rd January

Programme for Spring and Summer Terms 2020

We are happy to announce a full programme of four meetings for the coming spring and summer terms. All meetings will take place from 3pm to 5pm.

Spring Term

Thursday 23rd January

Valtteri Viljanen (University of Turku)

 

Thursday 6th February

Martin Lenz (University of Groningen)

 

Thursday 19th March

Pina Totaro (Università di Roma Sapienza)

The three meetings above will take place in the Dreyfus Room, Birkbeck, University of London, 26 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DQ.

 

Summer Term

Thursday 25th June

Kristin Primus (UC Berkeley)

Room location to be confirmed

 

The titles of the papers will be announced closer to the date.

Programme for Spring and Summer Terms 2020

London Spinoza Circle Graduate Workshop on Thursday 21st November 2019

Our Graduate Workshop will take place on Thursday 21st November, 9.45am – 5.00pm at Birkbeck, University of London, Dreyfus Room, 26 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DQ.

All are welcome and no registration is required.

Programme

9.45 – 10.00: Welcome

10.00 – 10.30:    Weak Individuals: A Spinozist Perspective – Emanuele Costa, (Birkbeck College and Johns Hopkins University):

10.30 – 11.00   Discussion

 

11.00 – 11.30:     The Second Kind of Knowledge and the Activity of the Ethics – Andrea Ray (University of Chicago)

11.30 – 12.00     Discussion

 

12.00 – 12.30      ‘The Whole Earth is Full of His Glory’: Amor Dei Intellectualis

as Gloria in Ethics V – John Heyderman – (Birkbeck College)

12.30 – 1.00       Discussion

 

1.00 – 2.00          LUNCH BREAK

 

2.00 – 2.30           Hegel and Spinoza on Freedom – Jason Yonover (Johns Hopkins University)

2.30 – 3.00           Discussion

 

3.00 – 3.30           On Laws, Human Nature and Beings of Reason in Spinoza – Kasper Kristensen, Uppsala University

3.30 – 4.00           Discussion

 

4.00 – 4.30           Identity, Agreement and ‘Othering’: Spinoza’s Politics of Recognition –  Steph Marston (Birkbeck College)

4.30 – 5.00       Discussion

 

Abstracts

Emanuele Costa – Weak Individuals

In this paper, I analyse the image of individuals developed in Spinoza’s Letter 32. Through a close reading of this text, I argue – against some of his usual indications – that the individuality of the whole is a reflection of the integration and harmony between the parts, as well as a result of the “nature” of the whole that demands adaptation from the parts. Harmonizing this image with some key texts from the Ethics, I demonstrate that relationality is a fundamental component of what constitutes an individual for Spinoza, and that the relationship between an individual and its environment is crucial for its individuation.

Andrea Ray – The Second Kind of Knowledge and the Activity of the Ethics

In part II of the Ethics, Spinoza identifies reason with the second kind of knowledge, or knowledge from the common notions and adequate ideas. This paper will examine the geometric presentation of the Ethics in light of this concept of reason and its further elaboration in later parts of the Ethics in order to argue that the form of the Ethics is crucial to the work’s aim as a whole and that this aim cannot be achieved (by the Ethics‘ own lights) through another manner of presentation.

John Heyderman – ‘The Whole Earth is Full of His Glory’: Amor Dei Intellectualis as Gloria in Ethics V

The place in Spinoza’s system of the intellectual love of God presents an interesting question: given his claim that this intellectual love is eternal (E VP33), what is its ontological status? Melamed has argued that intellectual love refers to a mediate infinite mode of thought. However it is not obvious how this elusive category applies to a concept encompassing the mind’s love of God, God’s love of man and God’s love of Himself (E VP36C). Yet Spinoza does provide a metaphorical clue when in a cryptic remark, he writes ‘And this love, or blessedness, is called glory in the Sacred Scriptures¾not without reason.’ (E VP36S). Spinoza relates this to his definitions of acquiescentia and gloria. However the definition of gloria in particular, as ‘joy accompanied by the idea of some action which we imagine that others praise’ (E IIIDef.Aff.XXX) seems a strange fit for Spinoza’s passionless God.

This paper explores how light might be shed by earlier Jewish philosophical discussions of the biblical Hebrew word kavod, translated in the Vulgate as gloria. Medieval Jewish philosophers developed a variety of ways of interpreting the term that can be roughly divided into two approaches: those that view it as a created entity distinct from the Godhead and those that see it as an aspect of God made perceptible to human beings.   For example, Saadia Gaon described it as referring to a form created of light while Maimonides interprets kavod in Isaiah 6:3 as describing God’s perfection indicated by the earth, which bears witness to it. I conclude that Spinoza subtly draws on this tradition, using the vocabulary of a ‘social imaginary’, a region of imaginative discourse where the social and the purely rational meet. In employing richly suggestive terms such as gloria, he evokes an intermediary or relational aspect of the Divine that dissolves the boundary between God and man.

Jason Yonover – Hegel and Spinoza on Freedom

Neither Hegel nor Spinoza thinks that we should boast of freedom of choice (Willkür, libera voluntas), and yet freedom (Freiheit, libertas) is central to their thought in each case. In this paper I largely set aside why they dismiss a particular notion of freedom, and focus on their more positive accounts of what it is to be free. I show that there are major parallels in their metaphysical understandings of what freedom really is. For Spinoza, individual freedom is “existing from the necessity of one’s nature”; similarly, for Hegel, it’s “being with oneself in another.” In each case, we see an attempt to unify something internal (one’s nature, oneself) with something external (other causes, another) such that the internal, which is otherwise somehow truncated, can be properly, fully expressed, despite or even with the help of the external. I conclude by hinting at some consequences in Hegel’s and Spinoza’s politics of these closely related notions of freedom.

Kasper Kristensen – On Laws, Human Nature and Beings of Reason in Spinoza

Spinoza´s project of improving human condition is premised on an adequate understanding of human nature. The latter takes as its model the method of geometry where essences of bodies can be defined with precision and their properties deduced from the definitions. This method seems not to be perfectly suitable for describing human nature, as Spinoza never succeeds in giving a real definition of a human being. Nevertheless, Spinoza does not hesitate to use human nature and its laws as key concepts both in the descriptive and prescriptive parts of his thinking.

Commentators point out that Spinoza distinguishes concepts that aim to capture the laws pertaining to human nature, and concepts relating to the passage to greater human perfection. While the concepts in the first category are deduced from the order of nature itself and therefore express necessary laws of nature, the latter concepts are mind-dependent human constructions that Spinoza calls beings of reason. I ask whether this distinction can be maintained. Spinoza often talks about crucial concepts that are meant to capture necessary laws in a manner that links them to the production of beings of reason. In these cases he uses the Latin quatenus, as if inviting the reader to conceive a given thing from a certain limited point of view. Should we think of the conatus and other abstract principles as belonging to the category of beings of reason, rather than that of necessary laws? And if we do so, must we give up the idea that Spinoza´s normative philosophy rests on an adequate conception of human nature?

Steph Marston – Identity, Agreement and ‘Othering’: Spinoza’s Politics of Recognition

An influential strand of interpretation of Spinoza’s political writings suggests that his notion of freedom is one of ‘relational autonomy’ (e.g. Armstrong, 2009;  Kisner, 2011), in which individuals realise and extend their freedom just insofar as they enjoy the right kind of (auspicious) relation to others. Relatedly, Sharp (2011) characterises Spinoza’s politics as actualising recognition among individuals. Building on these readings, Aurelia Armstrong has recently proposed that Spinoza should be understood as holding that the process of cultivating agreement in socio-political contexts is integral to human beings’ increasing their understanding and perfecting their reason (Armstrong, 2017). This interesting line of investigation opens up further interpretive questions: in particular, how does cultivated agreement relate to metaphysical or ontological agreement in nature; and can such cultivated, ‘artificial’ agreement, deliver genuinely enhanced freedom?

Drawing on literature which foregrounds the place of exemplars in Spinoza’s work (Gatens, 2009; Rosenthal, 1997), I show that Spinoza’s treatment of cultural imaginaries reveals them as essentially contrary. On the one hand, they enact elements of genuine agreement in nature. On the other, in enacting and delineating agreement which is only partial, they also generate disagreement, Realising the advantages of likeness, through cultivating some specific identity or agreement in nature entails a process of ‘othering’ towards those who are not recognised as ‘like’. I show that this converse aspect of the liberating strategy of reifying agreement permeates Spinoza’s political writings, from the discussions of law and sovereignty in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus to the structural prescriptions of the Tractatus Politicus. I conclude by arguing that the contrary nature of cultivated agreement is central to Spinoza’s understanding of the state, and significantly differentiates his work from the mainstream of early modern political thought.

 

 

 

 

 

London Spinoza Circle Graduate Workshop on Thursday 21st November 2019

Barnaby Hutchins and Ursula Renz on 10 October 2019

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At our meeting on Thursday 10 October 2019, 3.00 – 5.00pm, we are very pleased to have Barnaby Hutchins (Ghent University) and Ursula Renz, (University of Klagenfurt) who will speak on

Spinoza on Human Subjectivity and the Notion of God’s Intellect
Birkbeck, University of London, Dreyfus Room, 26 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DQ

 

Abstract:

Spinoza’s Ethics is frequently interpreted, especially in recent scholarship, as maintaining that everything, including human subjects, is grounded in God or substance – that substance is the sole fundamental feature of reality. At the same time, the perspective of finite minds seems to play a non-trivial role in the constitution of reality. How can this (seeming) tension between these two positions be reconciled? In our paper, we argue for three claims: (1) both positions are necessary for Spinoza’s metaphysics, but neither is reducible to the other; (2) to account for both of them, given their mutual irreducibility, subjectivity itself must be comprehended as a function of finite beings; (3) the notion of infinite intellect plays a transcendental-philosophical role, and is not a metaphysical description of the nature of God. Through the elaboration of these three claims, we propose a new picture of Spinoza’s metaphysics, according to which human subjectivity is an integral, irreducible, and ineliminable – and thereby fundamental – feature of reality.

All welcome and no registration required.

Barnaby Hutchins and Ursula Renz on 10 October 2019

Edwin Curley on 2nd May 2019

At our meeting on Thursday 2nd May, 3.00 – 5.00pm we are very pleased to have Prof. curleyEdwin Curley (University of Michigan) who will speak on:

Making Sense of Spinoza’s Metaphysics

Birkbeck, University of London, Dreyfus Room, 26 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DQ

Abstract

In this talk I shall revisit number of central themes in Spinoza’s metaphysics including the principle of charity, the difficulties associated with predicative interpretations of the mode-substance relation, the reason for adopting an interpretation that emphasises the laws of nature, and the roots of Spinoza’s theory of laws in Cartesian philosophy of science. My presentation will draw on two recent papers, ‘Spinoza’s Metaphysics Revisited’ and ‘Laws of Nature in Spinoza’.

 

A presentation of the paper ‘Spinoza’s Metaphysics Revisited’ is available here.

 

All welcome and no registration is required.

 

Edwin Curley on 2nd May 2019