Saturday, July 29, 2006
Op-Ed piece in the NY Times about good old Spinoza in the context of religious intolerance (hmm!).
Spinoza’s reaction to the religious intolerance he saw around him was to try to think his way out of all sectarian thinking. He understood the powerful tendency in each of us toward developing a view of the truth that favors the circumstances into which we happened to have been born. Self-aggrandizement can be the invisible scaffolding of religion, politics or ideology.I notice she doesn't say much about how we're not actually free, in Spinoza's metaphysics, but... well, whatever. Go Baruch.
Against this tendency we have no defense but the relentless application of reason. Reason must stand guard against the self-serving false entailments that creep into our thinking, inducing us to believe that we are more cosmically important than we truly are, that we have had bestowed upon us — whether Jew or Christian or Muslim — a privileged position in the narrative of the world’s unfolding.
Spinoza’s system is a long deductive argument for a conclusion as radical in our day as it was in his, namely that to the extent that we are rational, we each partake in exactly the same identity.
Spinoza’s faith in reason as our only hope and redemption is the core of his system, and its consequences reach out in many directions, including the political. Each of us has been endowed with reason, and it is our right, as well as our responsibility, to exercise it. Ceding this faculty to others, to the authorities of either the church or the state, is neither a rational nor an ethical option.
EDIT: SPINOZA AND FREEDOM.
After Paul's reply, I wasn't sure anymore, so I looked it up.
From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Spinoza engages in such a detailed analysis of the composition of the human being because it is essential to his goal of showing how the human being is a part of Nature, existing within the same causal nexuses as other extended and mental beings. This has serious ethical implications. First, it implies that a human being is not endowed with freedom, at least in the ordinary sense of that term. Because our minds and the events in our minds are simply ideas that exist within the causal series of ideas that follows from God's attribute Thought, our actions and volitions are as necessarily determined as any other natural events. "In the Mind there is no absolute, or free, will, but the Mind is determined to will this or that by a cause that is also determined by another, and this again by another, and so to infinity." So, if we try to cut down on what affects us (i.e., passions), we will be more autonomous. But not in the sense that the German idealists would recognize (they think humans certainly can have dominion over external things), and certainly not in the sense that any non-philosopher would recognize. Anyway, so, because of this metaphysical determinism, I've always been a little leery of his political theory. I'd like us to be free all the way down, and merely being ideas of God's isn't enough for me.
What is true of the will (and, of course, of our bodies) is true of all the phenomena of our psychological lives. Spinoza believes that this is something that has not been sufficiently understood by previous thinkers, who seem to have wanted to place the human being on a pedestal outside of (or above) nature.
Most of those who have written about the Affects, and men's way of living, seem to treat, not of natural things, which follow the common laws of nature, but of things that are outside nature. Indeed they seem to conceive man in nature as a dominion within a dominion. For they believe that man disturbs, rather than follows, the order of nature, that he has absolute power over his actions, and that he is determined only by himself. (III, Preface)
Descartes, for example, believed that if the freedom of the human being is to be preserved, the soul must be exempt from the kind of deterministic laws that rule over the material universe.
Spinoza's aim in Parts Three and Four is, as he says in his Preface to Part Three, to restore the human being and his volitional and emotional life into their proper place in nature. For nothing stands outside of nature, not even the human mind.
Nature is always the same, and its virtue and power of acting are everywhere one and the same, i.e., the laws and rules of nature, according to which all things happen, and change from one form to another, are always and everywhere the same. So the way of understanding the nature of anything, of whatever kind, must also be the same, viz. through the universal laws and rules of nature.
Our affects -- our love, anger, hate, envy, pride, jealousy, etc. -- "follow from the same necessity and force of nature as the other singular things". Spinoza, therefore, explains these emotions -- as determined in their occurrence as are a body in motion and the properties of a mathematical figure -- just as he would explain any other things in nature. "I shall treat the nature and power of the Affects, and the power of the Mind over them, by the same Method by which, in the preceding parts, I treated God and the Mind, and I shall consider human actions and appetites just as if it were a Question of lines, planes, and bodies."
Our affects are divided into actions and passions. When the cause of an event lies in our own nature -- more particularly, our knowledge or adequate ideas -- then it is a case of the mind acting. On the other hand, when something happens in us the cause of which lies outside of our nature, then we are passive and being acted upon. Usually what takes place, both when we are acting and when we are being acted upon, is some change in our mental or physical capacities, what Spinoza calls "an increase or decrease in our power of acting" or in our "power to persevere in being". All beings are naturally endowed with such a power or striving. This conatus, a kind of existential inertia, constitutes the "essence" of any being. "Each thing, as far as it can by its own power, strives to persevere in its being." An affect just is any change in this power, for better or for worse. Affects that are actions are changes in this power that have their source (or "adequate cause") in our nature alone; affects that are passions are those changes in this power that originate outside of us.
What we should strive for is to be free from the passions -- or, since this is not absolutely possible, at least to learn how to moderate and restrain them -- and become active, autonomous beings. If we can acheive this, then we will be "free" to the extent that whatever happens to us will result not from our relations with things outside us, but from our own nature (as that follows from, and is ultimately and necessarily determined by the attributes of God of which our minds and bodies are modes). We will, consequently, be truly liberated from the troublesome emotional ups and downs of this life. The way to bring this about is to increase our knowledge, our store of adequate ideas, and eliminate as far as possible our inadequate ideas, which follow not from the nature of the mind alone but from its being an expresssion of how our body is affected by other bodies. In other words, we need to free ourselves from a reliance on the senses and the imagination, since a life of the senses and images is a life being affected and led by the objects around us, and rely as much as we can only on our rational faculties.
Paul said snarkily:
We're free! You just don't understand that true freedom comes in submitting our will to the true understanding of the laws of god, etc, which really is the ultimate freedom. Clearly you haven't read the previous 200 pages of my book if you don't get that. It's in geometrical argument format so it should be clear.And then I denied that Spinoza said we were free. So, Paul's right in that Spinoza says we can attribute some sort of freedom to ourselves, but it's really not even a matter of submitting our wills to the understanding of the law of God. It's that our wills don't matter at all. Just submitting to the law of God would be easy (metaphysically).
Anyway. for Megan: I like bunnies too.
jane 5:37 PM [+]