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Why Spinoza? A Historical, Sociological Argument

Why Study Spinoza? …

The question may arise when considering the work of a philosopher, why should we study him, particularly for those outside of the discipline of philosophy. In the case of Spinoza there are some who have suggested that his importance has lain in his proximity to Descartes both in time and in concept. Under this idea, at least philosophically, we have been living in a largely Cartesian age, one that descends from Descartes’ fundamental dichotomy of Substances – Mind and Body – and has been attempting to heal the respective gap between subject and object ever since. This has been reflected in two main offspring-lines passing through the intermediary bridge of Frege/Brentano, those that wrestled with the problems of reference in the Analytic School, and those that articulated philosophies of Presence in the Continental School. These differences are seen to reflect, or express, large-scale sociological facts, the manner in which we in the West conceptualized and utilized objects of industry, and conditioned ourselves in our bodies in a detached and extra-mental way. In this lineage of thought and action Spinoza can be seen to stand, conceptually, as the path not taken. If we were to allow an analogy from biology, Spinoza’s thinking, born in the generation just after Descartes, represents a species of thought which for a variety of reasons did not come to proliferate here. Spinoza’s is a continent of life unto itself whose capacities for coherence and analysis express powers that Descartes’ and his descendants do not.

Related to this conceptual importance of Spinoza is the quality of the time in which he lived. Spinoza lived at the cusp of modernity. In Amsterdam, as an ostracized member of a marginalized group of Jewish merchants and religious believers, Spinoza witnessed and debated some of the most remarkable human leaps in social growth in the history of the West. During the decades of Spinoza’s life the fledgling Dutch Republic posed experiments in early capitalism, democracy and social tolerance (attended by the shadows and dangers of each), such that the core of his thinking can be regarded as something of a stem-cell of modern capitalist and democratic logic, one that, when examined, may provide us with a grammar of analysis for our own times insofar as they have been long delayed in the development of what remarkably was given birth in mid-17th century Holland. Within this notion of Spinoza as a divergent line of conceptual branching are the hopes and possibilities for what is possible to think, and in thinking, do. While Descartes’ division between Mind and Body may have served the human West well for several centuries, Spinoza’s unification of the two, formulated radically as a correction to Descartes, may provide an even more significant capacity, given our place and time. In short, we may be ready for Spinoza.

human stem cell

human stem cell

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5 responses to “Why Spinoza? A Historical, Sociological Argument

  1. aaron September 20, 2008 at 2:13 am

    These are the kind of posts that make this one of the best blogs out there. As a Spinoza scholar, this website is invaluable.

    Keep up the good work. Really.

  2. kvond September 20, 2008 at 11:06 am

    Much thanks.

    Kevin

  3. Rob September 21, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    “In short, we may be ready for Spinoza.” Yeah, right. “We” will never be “ready” for Spinoza. And Spinoza does not ask us to be “ready” for him or his philosophy. Spinoza only shows us that an individual can achieve joy (certainty) through the intellectual love of God (which is tantamount to couching all understanding in a particular interpretation of infinity that subsequently allows the thinker to avoid error/nihilism and achieve virtue/perfection). However, Spinoza, knows just as well as Nietzsche that “all things are subject to interpretation, whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.”

  4. Pingback: The Bounce of the Being of Beings « Frames /sing

  5. Pingback: immanence - kvond’s Spinoza

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