We are planning to hold two meetings this term and are currently organising the schedule for the remainder of the academic year.
Thursday 1st November 2018, 3 – 5pm, Room 501, Birkbeck College, 30 Russell Square, WC1B 5DT
Mogens Lærke (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique)
The Apostolic Style. Spinoza on fraternal advice and the freedom to philosophize.
(The room location may change, so please check closer to the date)
Thursday 6th December 2018, 3 – 5pm, Room number to be confirmed.
Clare Carlisle (King’s College London)
George Eliot’s Spinoza.
No registration is required and meetings are open to all.
At our meeting on Monday 11th June, 3pm – 5pm, we are pleased to have Michael Della Rocca who will speak on
“Perseverence, Power, and Eternity: Purely Positive Essence in Spinoza”
3pm to 5pm, Room 101, Birkbeck College, 30 Russell Square, WC1B 5DT
The alignment of affirmation, essence, and the absence of negation is evident very early on in Spinoza’s Ethics, in the definition of God. In this paper, I seek to show how the purely positive character of essence is a feature not only of God’s essence but also, in some way, of the essences of things in general. I will also argue that appreciating the roles that the conception of essence as purely positive plays in Spinoza’s conatus doctrine offers us a new way into and a new way of defending a reading of Spinoza according to which modes – things that are dependent on God – do not really exist. By endorsing in this new way such an extreme interpretation, I aim to provide new insight into the third kind of knowledge and the eternity of the mind, for Spinoza.
Our next meeting will be on Thursday 7th June when Beth Lord (University of Aberdeen) will speak on Spinoza and the art of reasoning. Details here.
At our meeting on Thursday 7th June, 3pm – 5pm, we are pleased to have Beth Lord, who will speak on
Spinoza and the art of reasoning
Room 629, Birkbeck College Main Building Malet St, London WC1E 7HX. (Entrance from Torrington Square).
For Spinoza, the fiction writer, the artist, and the prophet are skilled at imagining and engaging others in imaginative visions, but the architect is skilled at rational thinking. The architect has less in common with artists than she does with exemplars of reasoning such as the “free man” of Ethics Part IV. Like the free man, the architect deals in adequate ideas: she deduces properties and relations from the essences of geometrical figures, and understands what follows from those properties and relations. She knows how a structure will relate to its human inhabitants, and what physical and social relations it enables. In this sense, the architect’s purpose and “art” is to develop possibilities for human flourishing from geometrical understanding.
This is also the task of the Ethics: Spinoza works from definitions and axioms, in the style of Euclid, to develop propositions that reveal our ethical potentialities. At times, he takes specific geometrical concepts to be foundational for metaphysical, ethical, and political claims. Spinoza appears to believe that designing buildings, relationships, and polities for human flourishing begins in geometry. Yet the nature of the transition from geometry to flourishing is not very clear, and the grounding for such a transition is not well understood. In this paper I will argue that for Spinoza, being highly rational involves practising the “art” of deducing positive human outcomes from geometrical understanding. I will argue that this is indeed an art that involves interpretation, judgment, and design, which can be performed better or worse. This suggests that both the architect and the philosopher are artists of reasoning and designers of structures that augment human relations, and that the best religious and political leaders can be artists in this sense too.
The following meeting will take place on Monday 11 June, when Michael Della Rocca will speak on a topic to be circulated at a later date.
For 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. (Entrance from Torrington Square).
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.
At our next meeting , we are very pleased to have Dr. Daniel Whistler (Royal Holloway, University of London) who will speak on
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_
For 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, Malet St, London WC1E 7HX. (Entrance from Torrington Square).
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.
At 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, Malet St, Bloomsbury, London WC1E 7HX. (Entrance from Torrington Square). – PLEASE NOTE ROOM CHANGE
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.