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?
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, 3pm-5pm, on the dates listed below.

We are pleased to confirm the venue for these meetings, and the titles of talks during the autumn term.

Seminars will take place in the Paul Hirst Room, Department of Politics, Birkbeck College, at 10 Gower Street London WC1E 6HJ,

All are welcome and no registration is required.

Seminars during the coming year will be as follows:

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 – Christopher Thomas (University of Aberdeen)

February 15th, 2018 – Prof Yitzhak Melamed (Johns Hopkins University)

March 1st, 2018 – Dr Daniel Whistler (Royal Holloway)

March 22nd, 2018 – Dr Alexander Douglas (St Andrews University)


Programme for 2017/18

Julie Klein on Friday 10th March 2017

 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.

Julie Klein on Friday 10th March 2017

Eric Schliesser on Wednesday 25th January 2017

For our next meeting, we are pleased to have Prof. Eric Schliesser (University of Amsterdam) who will present a paper entitled Spinoza and 18th century anti-mathematicism.

3pm – 5pm, Wednesday (please note!) 25th January 2017 at

Birkbeck, University of London, School of Arts, Room B02, 43 Gordon Square, Kings Cross, London WC1H 0PD.

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.

Eric Schliesser on Wednesday 25th January 2017

Adam Sutcliffe on 3rd November 2016: Abstract

Moses Hess (1812-1875)

Adam Sutcliffe (King’s College London)

Spinoza on the Left:

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.

3pm, Thursday 3rd November 2016.

Venue: Room B01, Birkbeck College, 30 Russell Square, WC1B 5DT  PLEASE NOTE ROOM CHANGE.

Adam Sutcliffe on 3rd November 2016: Abstract

Arrangements for Next Year

We’re still finalising arrangements for the circle next year.

First, please can we thank everyone who participated for making the sessions this year such great occasions. The speakers have all said how much they enjoyed themselves and how much they got out of the sessions.

Next year there will be at least one meeting per term in terms 1 and 2 with the existing format.  There will also be a one day workshop in term 3 at which we’ll hear three or so papers.

Details and dates will follow in due course.

Arrangements for Next Year