Alexander Douglas on Thursday 22nd March

s200_alexander.douglasFor our next meeting, we are pleased to have Dr Alexander Douglas (University of St. Andrews):

Spinoza and the British Idealists: Acosmism, Determination, and Negation

Thursday 22nd March 2018, 3pm to 5pm

Room 402, Birkbeck College Main Building, Malet St,  London WC1E 7HX

Abstract
I examine the acosmist reading of Spinoza, first proposed by German philosophers and then developed in detail by British Idealist philosophers. According to this reading, Spinoza is implicitly committed to the view that nothing truly exists besides God. The cogency of this reading, as is well-known, depends on what Spinoza means in saying that “determination is negation”. While most scholars have focussed on the meaning of “determination”, I propose an interpretation of “negation” that would Spinoza to avoid the conclusions pushed upon him by the British Idealists. I then speculate on why the British Idealists might have rejected this interpretation.

All welcome and no registration is required.

UPDATE: An earlier draft of the paper is available here.

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Alexander Douglas on Thursday 22nd March

Daniel Whistler on Thursday 1st March

At our next meeting , we are very pleased to have Dr. Daniel Whistler (Royal Holloway, University of London) who will speak on 2ECE5A5C-B3A2-4F65-A880-B86E54E51D90

How to Speak of Eternity? Rhetoric in Ethics V

Thursday 1st March, 3.30pm to 5pm

Room 101, Birkbeck College, 30 Russell Square, WC1B 5DT

(PLEASE NOTE LATER START TIME)

My aim in this paper is to investigate the stylistic idiosyncrasies of Part V of Spinoza’s Ethics by focusing on the experience of the reader encountering this text: what is missed in most accounts of this passage, I argue, is the rhetorical effect of Spinoza’s language on a reader approaching the end of the book. The reader experiences hermeneutic anxiety upon encountering a God who loves, rejoices and glories in a relatively traditional manner after the iconoclastic dismantling of the traditional attributes of God in Parts I to IV. I suggest that such anxiety is intentionally provoked, for it emerges out of a reflective attitude towards the text and its choice of language, and such reflection on language is a means of ‘rhetorical therapy’ that makes the communication of adequate ideas possible.

The paper examines, first, the peculiar rhetorical devices at play in Part V, and, secondly, whether there are good philosophical reasons for such peculiarity. I then use such an analysis to think further about Spinoza’s attitude to language in general, concluding that thinking through the implications of the linguistic signs as affect allows one to posit the existence of a rhetorical therapy in Spinoza’s thinking.

All welcome and no registration is required.

The preliminary draft of this paper is available at https://www.academia.edu/34437092/How_Speak_of_Eternity_Rhetoric_in_Ethics_V_forthcoming_in_Epoch%C4%93_

Daniel Whistler on Thursday 1st March

Yitzhak Melamed: Thursday 15th February

yitzhakmelamed-300x455For our next meeting we are very pleased to have Professor Yitzhak Melamed (John Hopkins University) who will speak on Spinoza’s Mereolgy.

The meeting will take place on Thursday 15th February, 3 to 5pm,  Room 402, Birkbeck College Main Building, 

Mereology and the concept of part has a central role in Spinoza’s metaphysics and is closely related to many of his key notions, such as substance, extension, power, infinity, infinite modes, parallelism, adequacy and inadequacy of ideas, destruction, individuals, and singular things [res singulares]. Arguably, the proper elucidation of Spinoza’s mereology is the key to any discussion of the nature of finite things in Spinoza’s metaphysics. Yet, in spite of its importance, the topic has hardly been studied in the existing literature. Paucity of early modern primary sources discussing mereology was never an issue; most of Spinoza’s works include detailed discussions of part and whole. In fact, one of the major obstacles in the study of Spinoza’s mereology is finding a way to ease and reconcile the tensions among various claims of Spinoza, tensions that could be due to local inconsistencies, equivocal use of ‘part [pars]’, or genuine changes in Spinoza’s understanding of parts and wholes. Spinoza developed his philosophy over a period of almost two decades, and it is clear that he kept revising his views, including, as we shall see, some of his mereological assumptions.

In my paper I will attempt to reconstruct the outline of Spinoza’s mereology. In the first part of this paper, I will begin with a preliminary exploration of Spinoza’s understanding of part and whole and attempt to explain Spinoza’s claim that certain things are indivisible. In the second part, I will study and explain Spinoza’s view on the priority of parts to their wholes, and point out the contrast between the whole-part and substance-mode relationships in Spinoza. In the third part I will investigate the termini of Spinoza’s mereology: the largest wholes and the smallest parts (if there are any). In the fourth part, I will attempt to explain and motivate Spinoza’s claim that mereology cuts across the attributes, i.e., the fact that the parallelism among the attributes preserves the same mereological relations. In order to motivate this claim we will have to clarify the relationship between mereology and causation in Spinoza, and explain his notion of “singular things.”

All are welcome and no registration is required.

Yitzhak Melamed: Thursday 15th February

Christopher Thomas: Thursday 25th January

IMG_2016At the next meeting of the London Spinoza Circle we are pleased to have Dr. Christopher Thomas (Manchester Metropolitan University) who will speak on:

Deriving Culture from Nature: Articulate and Inarticulate Bodies in Spinoza’s Philosophy of Nature.

The meeting will take place on Thursday 25th January, 3pm-5pm in  Room B04, Birkbeck College Main Building,

Spinoza’s philosophy is often criticised for lacking a direct consideration of art. According to commentators one of the reasons for this is his strong naturalism. This paper will argue that rather than see Spinoza’s naturalism as reductive in terms of a theory of art and culture, it actually allows for a novel understanding of the work of art as a particularly ‘articulate’ part of nature.

By turning to the two places that Spinoza mentions art in the Ethics–IIIP2Schol and IVP45Schol respectively–, as well as his theory of the sanctity of Scripture in the Theological-Political Treatise, this paper will develop the theory of art and culture that follows from, and is implicit in, Spinoza’s philosophical naturalism.

All are welcome and no registration is required.

Christopher Thomas: Thursday 25th January

Andrea Sangiacomo on Thursday 30th November

s200_andrea.sangiacomoAt the next meeting of the London Spinoza Circle we are pleased to have Andrea Sangiacomo (University of Groningen) who will speak on Spinoza’s account of common notions and the origin of rational ideas.

The meeting will take place on Thursday 30th November, 3pm-5pm in the Paul Hirst Room, Department of Politics, Birkbeck College, at 10 Gower Street London WC1E 6HJ,

 

Abstract

An everlasting controversy in Spinoza scholarship concerns the origin of rational ideas. Two parties have been opposing each other. According to the empiricist approach, ideas of reason somehow derive from imagination, while innatism holds that they are built upon innate ideas. In this paper, I propose a revised version of the empiricist approach that is capable of fully accounting for Spinoza’s position.I argue that reason and imagination express different ways in which the body interacts with external causes. Imaginative ideas are the mental counterpart of interactions based on some form of disagreement in nature between the human body and external causes, while rational ideas based on common notions are the mental expression of agreement in nature between the human body and external cases. This reading of common notions as an expression of some degree of “agreement in nature” (natura convenire) among things leads to appreciate of the often neglected difference between universal and proper common notions, which in turns enables Spinoza to account for different degrees of generality that rational ideas can have.

All are welcome and no registration is required.

Andrea Sangiacomo on Thursday 30th November

 12 October: Tumult, Indignation…Trump? Spinoza on rebels and reason

 

Our first meeting for the academic year 2017/18 will take place 3.00 – 5.00pm, Thursday 12th October, in the Paul Hirst Room, Department of Politics, Birkbeck College, at 10 Gower Street London WC1E 6HJ,

 

Steph Marston (Birkbeck, University of London) will give a paper entitled

 

 Tumult, Indignation…Trump?
Spinoza
on rebels and reason


Spinoza’s apparent preference for democratic political organisation is often characterised as paradoxical, given his own experiences of populism and political turmoil. Relatedly, some readers of Spinoza have questioned whether his political philosophy has the normative resources to distinguish between good and bad government, or to provide a sound basis for criticism of oppressive rulers.

Della Rocca (2010) has an innovative treatment of this question, looking at Spinoza’s insistence that there is no right to rebel against the state. How can Spinoza unequivocally condemn the rebel as undermining the right of the state, even while conceding that a successful rebel de facto acquires that right, the right to rule, in virtue of her rebellion? His answer lies in an appeal to rationality that entails that each individual acting in accordance with reason should understand things not merely from their own point of view but also from the broader perspective of the state in which they live. In this way individual interests can be contextualised and the pursuit of one’s own interest reconciled with that of the state. The rebel therefore fails to act according to the dictates of reason.


In this paper I raise a problem for Della Rocca’s reading. I show that in the question of failing to take account of the state in determining her own interest, the position of the rebel is saliently similar to that of the dissenting voter in a democracy. On Della Rocca’s thesis, therefore, dissenting voters may justly be condemned on the same basis as the rebel. Yet Spinoza’s condemnation of the rebel sits within the TTP, side by side with his apparent favouring of democratic forms of government.

A potential Spinozistic response might be that the dissident votes according to her affect and not her reason, and as such is not justified. Such arguments are often used to cast doubt on the justifiability of voting decisions even where they have been successful (e.g. the election of the Syriza government in Greece, or Donald Trump in the USA). This should give us cause to question whether such a response is truly Spinozistic – for Spinoza would certainly endorse the right of the victorious dissident electorate.

In this paper I follow Del Lucchese (2015) in arguing that the question of rightness in rebellion or dissent is not one of reason as against affect but one of constitutive power as against constituted power. The rebel or the dissenter can be both acting in accordance with her own right and against the right of the state – whether or not she violates any actual laws. The fact that an individual may find herself in this position is not indicative of a failure of normativity in Spinoza’s political philosophy; rather it is an example that helps us to understand Spinoza’s association between human freedom and living in the state.

 12 October: Tumult, Indignation…Trump? Spinoza on rebels and reason

Programme for 2017/18

In 2017/18 the London Spinoza Circle will continue to meet on Thursday afternoons,  on the dates and times listed below.

All are welcome and no registration is required.
October 12th, 2017 – Steph Marston (University of London)
“Tumult, indignation… Trump?  Spinoza on rebels and reason”

November 30th, 2017 – Dr Andrea Sangiacomo (University of Groningen)
“Spinoza on Reason, Passions and the Supreme Good”
————
January 25th, 2018 – Dr. Christopher Thomas (Manchester Metropolitan University)
Deriving Culture from Nature: Articulate and Inarticulate Bodies in Spinoza’s Philosophy of Nature.”
3pm to 5pm Room B04, Birkbeck College Main Building,

February 15th, 2018 – Prof. Yitzhak Melamed (Johns Hopkins University)
2pm to 5pm,  Room 402, Birkbeck College Main Building,
PLEASE NOTE EARLIER START TIME.

March 1st, 2018 – Dr. Daniel Whistler (Royal Holloway, University of London)
3pm to 5pm,  Room B30, Birkbeck College, 30 Russell Square, WC1B 5DT
.
March 22nd, 2018 – Dr. Alexander Douglas (St Andrews University)
3pm to 5pm,  Room 101, Birkbeck College, 30 Russell Square, WC1B 5DT

 

Programme for 2017/18