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.
At 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,
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.
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
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.
At the the next meeting of the London Spinoza Circle we are pleased to have Julie Klein (Villanova University) who will speak on “Language, Reason,and Intellect in Spinoza” on Friday 10th March, 2 – 4pm (Note change from usual time).
Dreyfus Room, via 26 Russell Square, Birkbeck College, London WC1B 5DT. The Dreyfus Room is on the top floor of the adjacent building.
In this paper, I review Spinoza’s critique of language to show that he thinks words are inadequate for, and may even render us unable to pursue, scientia intuitiva. Coming to terms with Spinoza’s division between language and intellection brings us face to face with a position that separates him from many recent thinkers: he does not take the linguistic turn. Spinoza’s critique of language also raises a difficult question for us as readers: If words are inapt for intellectual knowing, what is the point of a text like the Ethics? The TTP offers us three models of texts: Scripture, Euclid’s Elements, and “the true original text of Scripture,” which Spinoza identifies with the human mind. I argue that the text of the Ethics is not Spinoza’s “philosophy” but rather points us toward it. As linguistic and as rational, the Ethics offers cognitive training to strengthen the mind’s power of inference, but it does not present knowledge of the third kind. This, I argue, is the sense of Spinoza’s claim in Ethics 5p28 that a striving or desire for the third kind of knowing can arise from the second kind of knowing and not the first. In the final section of the paper, I explore the differences between the second and third kinds of knowing and focus on the break between the former and the latter. I argue, ultimately, that the third kind of knowing is distinguished by its immediacy, which radically exceeds both the first and second kinds of knowing.
In this presentation, I identify and articulate three different kinds of critical attitudes toward the epistemic status and application of mathematics that were developed in the eighteenth century. Somewhat surprisingly, I suggest that all three of these can be found in the works of Spinoza and, paradoxically, were further developed in light of Spinoza’s own reliance on a geometric mode of presentation. In addition to the writings of Spinoza, I pay particular attention to works by Mandeville, Hume, and Buffon.
Moses Hess, German Jewish Historical Thought, and Early Nineteenth-Century Radical Politics
This paper will revisit the reception of Spinoza in the early nineteenth century, interpreting it as in relation to attempts to find a new basis for the incorporation of Jews, and of Jewish particularity, within a progressive, universalist schema of broadly ‘Left’ politics. Following some discussion of Hegel’s interpretation of Spinoza, the paper will focus on the close engagement of two Jewish Left Hegelians with Spinoza: Heinrich Heine, and Moses Hess. Closer attention will be given to Hess, who is best known for the proto-Zionism of his Rome and Jerusalem (1862), but who in the late 1830s and early 1840s was an ardently secular and radical disciple of Spinoza (and also a close associate of Karl Marx). This tradition of progressive adulation of Spinoza, which still endures today, is, I will argue, a revealing site for the continual and inconclusive quest to integrate particularism (and Jewish particularism in particular) within a universalist political philosophy.