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The Fantasm of the Point: Vico, Plotinus, Campanella and even Badiou

(ca. 204-270 AD) 

To return to the diagram of my last post on Plotinus I want to think along with a confluence of ideas that condense upon the very center of it, the infintesmal locus of “matter” which exists merely as a private, yet also which alternately can be considered as a radiating center (under a different analogy).

The direction I want to go in this is a rumination that first starts from Badiouian notion that Being is not of the One, or “the One is not,” and that mathematics in a sense speaks Being,  pronouncing what is expressible of being-qua-being. The principle that the non-numerical One is beyond Being is of course one that Plotinus holds at the pinacle of his Ontology, for Being starts with the varigated particularization of the Nous. It is there that the predication of Being takes hold. The way that Plotinus tells it, the Nous is produced by the plentitude/emptiness of The One, and necessarily breaks it apart into a kind of representation which divides it into parts. The reason that Plotinus gives for this division into likenesses is interesting. It is that the Nous struggles with the fact that it has no control over that upon which it ultimately depends, a control which expresses itself in the desire to preserve:

The hypostasis of the Intellect [Nous] cannot maintain its vision of the One in primal unity, but “being being unable to preserve the power which it was procuring, it broke it up and made the one [power] that it might bear it part by part [katà méros]” (6.7 [38] 15.20-22). In so doing, Intellect constitutes itself as an imitation of the Good, as a many-hued and varigated Good (agathòn poíkilon).

F.M. Schroeder, citing Plotinus in Form and Transformation

Now there is a great and dissatisfying danger of simply reading these particularizations as mere abstractions of an esoteric philosophy, the most gripless of metaphysics, but Plotinus’s reasoning as to why the Nous indeed breaks up the One has strong affective, phenomenological correlates. It is the very dependency of the unity of the Nous upon what lies beyond it, and inclusive of it, that generates a corresponding particularization. In drawing power from what is outside, the inside distinguishes itself. If we turn to the simple figure of a circle (for millenia a favorite of philosophers, and think in terms of systems theory, we understand that whatever system there is, it necessarily is less complex than its environment. This is to say, as all systems (the inside) depends upon a more complex outside, the very inside/outside boundary issue of dependency drives the very divisions of the inside in regard to what lies beyond it. If we allow the observations of evolutary theory, life has moved from less to more complex, and with this increase of internal divisions (differences that make differences) it has relatively gained a greater role in the preservation of the power upon which it depends (and, notably, which it is also an expression). Plotinus’s story of the Nous serves as a metaphysical directionality which prescribes how any person (organism) might orient themselves to conditions which are beyond it, like the Nous with totalizes these relations, the move is towards a complexification of differences that make differences.

For Plotinus, this process of particularization comes from what he calls “beholding” or “witnessing”. Whereas the first particularization beholds the One/the Expressed, those of Soul and Sensation are even more narrow in what they behold, all the way down to matter, which simply exists as a non-existent privation. A speck of darkness.

A Retreat to Vico’s Conception of Mathematics: the ficta of points (1668 – 1744)

I find this speck of nothingness interesting because its very non-divisibilty division reflects something of mathematics, the way in which points or numbers are non-existent distinctions that operate as a kind of limit. What I have in mind is Giambattista Vico’s interpretation of mathematics as the most divine of human acts, because in the invention of the point and the unit human beings act just a God did, creating something out of nothing in imitation of divinity, scientia humana divinae sit imitatrix. For Vico, a forerunner to some themes found in Kant, human beings cannot truly know things that they have not created. Only God truly knows what is created. The reason why human beings can have perfect knowledge of mathematics is that its creation is wholely their own. In a sense, mathematics operates “within” the circle of human articulation.

To quote some Vico, and then a commentator, to give perspective on his position:

…man defines the names themselves, and on the model of God with no underlying thing he creates (creat) the point, line and surface as if from nothing, as if they were things…to establish (condidit) for himself a certain world of forms and numbers, which he embraces within himself: and by producing, shortening, or composing lines, by adding, substracting, or reckoning numbers, he effects infinite works because he knows infinite truths within himself

But the point of the human imagination is not the point we draw with a pencil: “the point, when you draw it, is not a point: the one, when you multiply it, is no longer fully one.”

“man, containing within himself an imaginary world of lines and numbers, operates in it with his abstractions, just as God does in the universe with reality.”

With something of Plotinus’s reasoning, the very imaginary abstraction that human beings creates is a coping mechanism for that which lies beyond them and upon which they depend. Here Robert Miner provides a good overview of Vico’s approach to the knowing of human understanding:

Abstraction is the mind’s way of coping with its estrangement from things. Because he cannot possess ‘the elementa rerum by which things themselves exist with certainty,’ he resorts to the fabrication (confingere) of elementa verborum, elements which, despite their unreality, are able to ‘stimulate ideas with no controversy.'”

Vico has described human truth as a factum that is arrived at through a synthesis of elements that are only partially grasped, because they exist outside the mind which grasps them. If the human mind is essentially outside the elementa rerum, how does it manage to grasp even their outside edges? Vico proceeds to answer this question: “God knows everything, because he contains within himself the elements from which all things are composed; man seeks to know these elements by a process of dividing (dividendo).”

What is the relation of “dividing” to making? Is dividendo creative or destructive? Vico’s answer is “both.” De antiquissima 1.2 begins with an homage to the fecundity of dissection. The “anatomy of nature’s works” gives birth to a range of human scientiae. It does so by inventing their objects. One can divide man into body and spirit. From body, human science has “picked out (excerpsit) or, as men say, abstracted figure and motion, and from these, as well as from all other things, it has extracted (extulit) being and unity.” The objects obtained through abstraction give rise to the human scientiae metaphysics (whose proper object is ens), arithmetic (unum), geometry (figura), mechanics (motus from the edge), physics (motion from the center), medicine (corpus), logic (ratio), and ethics (voluntas).

The fecundity of dissection comes at a cost. Man creates the human scientiae by fragmenting, and therefore destroying, the whole…The entities created by abstraction – being, unity, figure, motion, shape, intellect, will – are “one thing in God, in whom they are one, and another thing in man, in whom they are divided.” Ripped from the whole in which they have life, humanly obtained elements are disiecta membra. “In God they live, in man they perish.” Our efforts to understand nature by cutting it up supplies us with theories rather than works: “in nobis sunt ratiocina, in Deo sunt opera.” All that man acquires through dividing the whole, is like man himself, nihil prae Deo; all finite and created beings are nothing but disposita entis infiniti ac aeterni. Etymology confirms the connection between division and diminution: Vico asserts that minuere means both “to lessen” and “to separate.”

The limitations of abstraction ensure that we have access only to the extrema of the elementa rerum. In what is likely to be an illusion to Lucretius, Vico declares that when man starts to investigate the nature of things (naturam rerum vestigabundus), he finds that “he does not have within himself the elements from which composite things exist.” This lack (brevitas) is not a morally neutral feature of the human condition, but a “vice of the mind” (mentis vicium). It is an effect of fallenness, a decline from a primordeal state in which mind and nature where integrated. (Vico uses nefas to characterize physicists who think they can provide real defintions of things.) Man responds to this condition by turning the mentis vicium to good use, by performing an operation that relies solely upon the mind and bypasses, as it were, the material world. “By abstraction, as they say, he fabricates (configit) two things for himself: the point that can be drawn and the unit that can be multiplied.” The association of abstractio and configere suggests that abstraction is creative. The suggestion is confirmed in the Prima Riposta, where Vico writes that mathematics [move to quotes on mathematics].

Truth in Making, Robert Miner

The Terminus Point of Nonbeing: Campanella (1568 – 1639 )

 

There is another evocative figure of radiating being, that which Campanella uses to characterize how each thing is but a point from which non-Being radiates, a kind of photographic negative of Plotinus’s conception:

 What we are concerned with is something that has an actual bearing on the existential order [not “relative nothingnesss” (nihilum secundum quid), the essence of a thing prior to existence], i.e., the composition of an infinite nonbeing with a finite being in existing realities. This is the point at issue, and this Campanella tries to illustrate by means of an analogy. Just as we can conceive a line stretching from the center of the earth beyond the circumfrence of the sky in infinitum, so, he says, man, like any other creature, is but a little dot where infinite nonbeing is terminated. Man is in effect the negation of an infinite number of other things and of God himself, being surrounded, as he is, by an infinite nonbeing (Bonansea, Tommaso Campanella, citing Met, II, 6, 3, 7)

In this Campanella presents something very close to Spinoza’s letter 21 claim that “all determination is negation,” something that Hegel made quite a bit of. Only in Spinoza any particular determination/negation is not a negation of God/Substance, but rather its Substance (Campanella always heretically veering towards collapsing God and Creation into one panpsychic whole, like Spinoza, but careful to walk the line).

What I am inspired to say about these circular analogies for Being and coherence of action, with their distinct and performative inside/outside designations, is that somehow mathematics in coming out of the pure fictiveness of human creation, in inventing the Non-Being of the immaterial point, somehow grasps whole the entire matrix of radiating conceptions, and is able to map out with great fecundity the very Oneness which is beyond Being (in a Plotinian sense). Weaving out the very absence, the infintesmal (as my wife tells me, what is the decimal point which divides the infinitely large from the infinitely small, made of?), we get a glimpse of the very varigatedness that Plotinus attributes to Nous likeness taking.  The whole thing is sutured closed, or at least remotely closed, for one imagines that there are many kinds of mappings that can be woven from the nothingness of the point.

Further though, even in its appropriation of the infinite nothingness, mathematics owes Alfred Korzybski’s adage “The map is not the territory,” while keeping in mind that mapping, and map-following is itself part of the territory (one hunts through the map, as one hunts through the territory). All organisms seem to in some form follow Plotinus’s thoughts on why the Nous mirrored the One, being unable to preserve that upon which they depend. The semiotic relations that make up an organisms internal relations, and then thus relations to other organisms, are not only performances, but also are duplications (not necessarily representations), “picking out” (intelligere, to choose out) certain aspects of the world, and it is always a tension between picking out the most important, valued features, and sheer numericity, since these two are intimately related. In a certain sense, mathematics too needs to be seen as a vast material organism/organization, as material as any map, appendage to the human species.

Ten White Horses

A Brief Biographical Sketch of Campanella: For Those Unfamiliar

Tommaso Campanella had nearly given up when he wrote:

I fear that to die is not to improve
The human state, for this I do not die:
So great and wide is this miserable nest,
That, so long in change, there’s no escape.

“The Caucasus Sonnet” lines 1-4

It was July, 1604. He had five years before helped foment an uprising against secular Spanish authority in his native Calabria. After a series of trials and interrogations he had endured torture at the hands of the mind-stealing la veglia, and proven his insanity by law. He had through his courage survived and in fact resolved himself. An attempted and failed escape from the Castel Nuovo, now had him thrown into the near-lightless dungeon of the fortress San Elmo, where he scribbled out poems as a last hope, carrying on a Job-like doubting dialogue with God. In this aptly-titled poem, he contemplates suicide, yet sees that even this will not save him or others. Deprived of the rays of the Sun that symbolized his God, turning within, he finds a rebirth. The revolutionary Dominican friar would become a prophet, a man whose ideas would bridge the Renaissance to the Age of Reason, and a man whose power of conviction still casts an illuminating light.

Born on the September 5th, 1568, in Stilo, Calabria, son to an illiterate cobbler, in his youth he would exhibit the first signs of the insatiable intellect and prodigious memory that would later sustain him throughout twenty-seven years of a life in prison. A local myth would rise up of how, too impoverished to pay for schooling, he would listen at the school’s window and aid his friends when they stumbled in their recitations through whispers. It was a Calabria to which he would return a decade later, having taken the vows of the Dominican Order, and nourished himself on the forward-thinking Neapolitan ideas of the Della Porta brothers and their Academy. A combination of empiricism, Hermetic thought and Telesian cosmology had fused in him to form a single and magical vision within which the world and the soul were of one substance. His anti-Aristotlean writings had already earned him trials, interrogations, imprisonments and censure by the Church, so by the time that he returned at his hometown he was walking the fine line of a philosophical dissident at a historic time of little tolerance.

Armed with the concept of the mutazione, a non-ideological “comprehensive shift” involving “astronomy and the heavens,”  apocalyptic associations of the impending millennium year of 1600, and a witness to the crushing weight of poverty upon the peasants of his native town, it was not long before he was preaching in the church of Stilo about “the imminence of grave, worldly upheavals”. Forcibly removed from the Stilo church he continued in the square and over time a circle of men grew around him. His followers included those who did attempt to involve the Turkish fleet in an organized and timed revolt, but the swelling movement was betrayed to the Spanish public prosecutor by two defectors. His dream of presenting a Calabrian state to a unifying papal authority, his moment of political revolution, was over, as Campanella and the others were lead two-by-two in a chain of 156 co-conspirators to be shipped to Naples where they would be judged and sentenced by the secular government.

On April 2nd, 1599 Campanella set fire to the things in his cell in an attempt to feign insanity. He had already been subject to the tortures of the coccodillo, a seven-day, entombed solitary confinement, and of the polledro, designed to tear vein and tissue. His defense that as a Dominican friar he meant catholic Spain no harm did not hold. Various charges and fabrications of the behalf collaborators had made him a target of the investigation. A year after Giordano Bruno had been burned at the stake for heresy, Campanella would be forced to prove his insanity at the hands of the la veglia, ‘the wakener”. Ironically, only “insanity” would spare him from execution because of his status of relapsus before the Church. For forty-eight hours, thirty-six of them without a break, he was suspended from his arms tied behind his back over a chair of razor-sharp spikes meant to tear into his flesh. He shouted, “I am slaughtered!,” “The soul is immortal,” “Ten white horses!” as is recorded by the still-surviving transcript of the ordeal. Later he would claim that it was St. Chyrstom’s homily, “No one is harmed, except by themselves”, that saved him. When he emerged from the torture chamber and defiantly muttered, “Do they really think that I would be enough of a blockhead to speak?,” he did not know that it was not until some years later, in the pit of the San Elmo dungeon, cut off from every contact with the outside world and with no hint of the possibility of freedom, that his soul would finally face and overcome the extinguishing of its hope.

Blessed with a near-photographic memory, Campanella set his reborn soul to the written expression of his ideal of a theocratic state that embraced empirical discovery. From the various prisons to which he would be transferred, under conditions that unpredictably shifted with the tides of political happenstance – shot through with painful glimpses at promised, yet ever-delayed, release – he wrote endlessly, treatise after treatise, describing a single and inspired vision wherein man, political order, science and God were one. His City of the Sun  and A Defense of Galileo  stand alone in history as remarkable amalgams of forward thinking and religious faith. Little did he see that the coming science he championed would severe itself from the Church, that Descartes’ impending “I think therefore I am” would supplant his own philosophical bedrock “to know is to be,” a subtle shift that would define the new Age.

In perhaps the oddest twist of a remarkable life, after many decades of prison and dungeon he ended up in Paris as a kind of flavor of the day intellectual curiosity, the great “Neapolitean Magus-Philosopher,” where his star rose incandescently and then fell quickly dimmed. Through Richelieu’s intervention Campanella was given to cast the natal horoscope of the just born King Louis XIV, and on two occasions Campanella examined the infant King placed on a table. (I cannot resist the idea that the physically huge Italian held him in his hands.) The prediction was unspectacularly neutral in content, but in January 1639 appeared in print his Latin Eclogue in celebration of the birth: he imagined that, through the brilliance of the minister Richelieu the building of his City of the Sun state had been inaugurated by the newborn King. But as it would be told, not Solar City but Solar King, such are the folds of history. And, it is said that history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Graham Harman’s La-deigger and Hei-tour

The Synthesis of Heidegger and Latour

Recommended is Graham Harman’s introductory November 29th, 2007 lecture on how Heidegger’s tool-oriented, human-centered conception of Being is strengthened by de-centralization of Latour‘s panoplies of actor networks (human and non-human), and Latour’s pure ontology of relations (an occasionalism), is deepened by Heidegger’s Four Fold Substance cryptology (pictured signficantly below).

Any Latourian actor (entity) in a Network is also claimed to have these four Heideggerian “dimensions”

The lecture mp3: “On Actors, Networks, and Plasma: Heidegger vs. Latour vs. Heidegger” [provided by Anthem]

PDF of the slides for the Lecture

To give a few immediate responses to the ideas presented: I was quite surprised by the points of correspondence between Harman’s Heidegger-Latour Synthesis, and my own attempt to expand Spinoza through the cybernetic potential of Campanella’s pansensism, and a dialectic with Davidson’s notion of epistemic Triangulation. Like Floris van der Burg’s treatment of Spinoza and Davidson in which Spinoza is used to deepen Davidson through a metaphysical appeal beneath description, Latour is seen here to be deepened in relationship to Heidegger’s notion of hiddenness. In both cases Substance provides a ground for real articulation.

There were some off hand homologies. Latour’s “any two things are always linked by a third thing”, something that Harman finds to be one of the most original of Latour’s thoughts, is in my opinion enlightened by Davidsons rational triangulation, which he grounds through regularities of response to regularities of stimuli, only confirmed through a third set of regularities. For this reason it is my intution that Spinoza’s imaginary triangulation of the world through the imitations of the affects (by which I mean to open up Davidson’s rationalism of translation and objectivity) fits neatly into this essential Latourian triangulation (“its the third actor that has to say its the same thing”). Further it is of interest that not only does Latour alleviate Heidegger’s human-centricism, but Spinoza would as well. In this Latour and Spinoza share. In this vien, Harman’s “tool analysis” post-human reading of Heidegger’s Being and Time, reflects quite well on the product of my proposed application of Campanella’s “cognoscere est esse” (to know is to be) to Spinoza’s bodies in epistemic composition, in an ontology of constructed freedom.

An apex of the lecture perhaps comes to the quandary Harman finds in Latours occasionalism, as he says, “If a thing is defined solely by its relations, I just don’t see any way to move from one step to the next”. The mode of becoming (which I believe he argues would just become another actor), is missing. It is not clear how Heidegger’s Four-Fold view of Being at all helps Latour answer this question though. Harman regularly returns to Leibniz, in his journey into pre-Kantian waters, but I cannot help but think that it is not Leibniz that would aid him, so much as Spinoza. It is Spinoza’s vectorial notion of Being, that is, an immanent Being of degrees that is played out on the register of knowledge which would provide dimension to the flat networks, not to mention an additional ethical texture. At times Harman approaches this principle of greater reality in his lecture, but it is not linked directly to the Spinozist principle of self-causation, freedom through the understanding (and embodiment) of cause. That is to say, Spinoza reads the change of things through a contant striving, the conatus, manifested directly as a capacity to act, which is itself a bodily affirmation. Networks in this way themselves persist through self-affirmations of their relations. What differentiates networks and the actors within them, and propells them to the next moment, from a Spinozist pov is the striving of God itself, expressed in degrees of freedom, along the fluxuations of action itself. Harman tells us that Latour knows that something called Plasma exists because networks collapse. One might ask, how is this Plasma differentiated from Spinoza’s Substance, other than to say that it has no formal Attributes (which are collapsed to the level of networks, in matter and the semiotic). It strikes me that Latour’s actor networks are simply the modal expressions of Spinoza(semiotic/material matching the mental and the physical in Davidson), without the depth of Substance. Much as how Harman sees Latour enriched by Heidegger, it strikes me that he would be even further fortified by an engagement with a cybernetic Spinoza, one in which all bodies are seen to be bodies in knowing assemblage, exercised on degrees of freedom.

This being said, Harman’s points about Latour’s networks do something rather signficant to Spinoza’s notion of bodily idenity (a shadow thought inherent in many of Spinoza’s positions). Because Spinoza defines a body as a particular communicative ratio of parts (something we might call a network of actors), and because Substance is one great consummate ratio of parts in communication, any notion of absolute identity, aside from a fleeting essence/conatus, must be denied. The networks extends out, and the bodies in communication do not cease.

I would add as well that Harman’s excellent unveiling of Heidegger’s notion of tool (unbroken and broken, like Spinoza’s adequate and inadequate idea), dovetails wonderfully into a Spinozist sense of bodies that are continually in assemblage (causes always being horizontally displayed toward the external, for nothing but Substance is the cause of itself), a cybernetic view of perception through combination with other bodies upon which we must depend (and thus mutually express in combination). Spinoza too, I feel, is tool-oriented in his metaphysical construction (as he even compares the development of thoughts to the making of tools), in which the limits of a human body’s capacity to act cannot be separated out from the tools used and engaged. In a symmetry to Harman’s metaphysical correction to a purely logical pragmatist reading of Heidegger (the use of tools does not fully reveal them, any more than theory does),  Spinoza’s often disembodied rationalist metaphysics needs to be re-embodied along tool-combination, lived-relation of bodies in combination as pragmatism, where pragmatism is understood to be an ideational expression of material power.

I am unsure though why Harman resists panpsychism, from which he distances himself at several points. But perhaps Spinoza’s panpsychism would prove more palatable to his project of deepening actor networks, or perhaps Campanella’s pansensism.

Harman’s Prince of Networks  forthcoming

Mark Fisher’s somewhat helpful, somewhat world-weary commentary on Harman’s Latour for Frieze magazine: “Clearing the Air

Tommaso Campanella et Benedict Spinoza

…this unity [of knower and known] is only possible if the subject and object, the knower and the known, are of the same nature; they must be members and parts of one and the same vital complex. Every sensory perception is an act of fusion and reunification. We perceive the object, we grasp it in its proper, genuine being only when we feel in it the same life, the same kind of movement and animation that is immediately given and present to us in the experience of our same Ego. From this, Panpsychism emerges as a simple corollary to [Campanella’s] theory of knowledge.

Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy

When a number of bodies of the same or different magnitude form close contact with one another through the pressure of other bodies upon them, or if they are moving at the same or different rates of speed so as to preserve an unvarying relation of movement among themselves, these bodies are said to be united with one another and all together to form one body or individual thing, which is distinguished from other things through this union of bodies

Spinoza, Ethics 2 p13 a2 d)

 A Comparison of Seldolm Considered Affinities

Spinoza

 

Campanella

Panpsychism

Panpsychism
Two Attributes of Extension and Thought which are expressed modally, the essence each is a conatus

Three Primalities of Potentia, Sapientia, Amor
All determination is negation: (letter 50)

All limitation is non-being
Ideas participate in otherness; the affective imagination

To know is to be: cognoscere est esse
Universals are confused knowledge

Universals are confused knowledge
The power to act is a degree of Being (the General Definition of the Affects)

A Plotinian Aristotelianism, degree of Being
Passions involve a confused idea of external cause Illate knowledge (of other things) confuses the soul’s innate knowledge

Falsity as privation; Theory of Affects; affectuum imitatio

Cognoscere est esse; Amor est esse; Operari est esse
Perception is belief; Intellect and Will are one action

Sensation is both a perception and a judgment of a passion
Aristotle’s potency and act collapsed into vector of Being

The principle of Being and the principle of operation collapsed
Use of Scotus’s formal distinction to delineate the Attributes

 

Use of Scotus’s formal distinction to delineate the Primalities
Potientia means power, not just capacity

Potentia means power, not just capacity
Substance’s essence includes existence, modal essences do not

God’s essence includes existence, modal essences exist ab extrinseco
The immanent/transitive causal distinction: God and the modes

Immanent/transitive causal distinction; self vs. other
Power understood as both the capacity to affect and be affected

Potentia activa, potentia passiva/receptiva
The perfection/imperfect distinction essendi

Potentia essendi
All things expressed in Thought and Extension The difference of sensation is not one of essence, but by mode

To love is the increase in perfection accompanied by the idea of an external cause

To love is to be: amor est esse
Object of the mind vs. external determination

   

The mind does not measure but is measured
Self-knowledge is expressive in ideas of varying adequacy, all which have the body as their object

Self-knowledge is the nature of Being and Truth (Augustine)
The object of the mind is the body; a body is a communication ratio of parts; self and the other (must) form a ratio, and thus share an essence/conatus

In knowing, the knower becomes the known through the sharing of an essence
The world is determined

No contingency of accidents to substance
The false is privation

Evil is privation (Augustine)
All ideas true in the mind of God All ideas true in the mind of God
   
   
   

The above is a brief conceptual juxtaposition of some of the features of the thought of Campanella and Spinoza, meant as points of departure for an eventual theorization (some preliminary thoughts toward which put forward here and here). I do not find all of these points of convergence equally fruitful. Some of them reach back into a shared reference to Scholasticism (the divisins in which both thinkers attempted to synthesize), and some extend into the roots of a Augustinian/Plotinian Neoplatonism of Being. The crossbeams of the crux of Campanella’s potential contribution to the analysis of Spinoza’s thought are, a.) A comparison of Campanella’s Three Primalities and Spinoza Two Attributes and conatus, and b.) the application of Campanella’s assimulative cognoscere est esse  to Spinoza’s affectuum imitatio and his communitarian, bodily assemblage concept of knowledge. If to know something is to become that something, and sociability is grounded in the experiential, shared affectio  of “a thing like us” and the forming of composite, affective bodies, Campanella’s sapientia transformations are Spinoza’s epistemic increases in power.

Spinoza, Davidson and Conceptual Dualism…Only Two?

Tim Thornton’s Question

In Floris van der Burg’s excellent study of the conceptual similarities between the work of contemporary philosopher Donald Davidson (a favorite of mine) and Baruch Spinoza, in which he fruitfully uses each philosopher to critique the other…Davidson to apply the linguistic turn to Spinoza and Spinoza to re-articulate the largely unstated metaphysical bias of Scientific materialism in Davidson, I found a powerful footnote and it has been tugging on me since I read the book over a year ago.

Van der Burg is exploring Davidson’s un-Spinozist collapse of metaphysical Substance into matter, while retaining a conceptual dualism, the mental and the physical which corresponds to Spinoza’s Attributes of Thought and Extension. Mentioned in passing is a criticism put to Davidson by a Wittgensteinian friend of the author:

Here I want to refer to my friend and former colleague at Warwick University Tim Thornton, a Wittgensteinian. He told me years ago that he never understood why Davidson was a conceptual dualist. Why stop at two conceptual spheres or modes of description? Why is the distinction between the mental and the physical so much more compelling than any other way that we can think of to describe the world? Would it not be sensible to say that all situations can, in some way, be described as moral? Tim Thornton thought that conceptual pluralism made more, Wittgensteinian, sense. (footnote, p. 27, Davidson and Spinoza: Mind, Matter and Morality, Floris van der Berg)

The Hidden Third Attribute?

This remark is I believe far more cutting than it would seem at first glance, for it extends beyond Davidson, revealing the very architecture of Spinoza’s re-division of a Scholastic inheritance. When the question is turned to Spinoza, in light of a comparison to Campanella’s Three Primalities discussed here in my last post, we see that Spinoza has turned one traditional division of Being, what both Campanella and Augustine called Amore, into a conatus driven, epistemologically grounded, expression of power (and not a conceptual Attribute). For Spinoza, modal essences (conatus) are striven in two Attributes, across epistemic states of relative power and Being. Tim Thornton’s Wittgensteian question opens up the very nature of the distinction Spinoza is attempting to make. There is a sense in which Spinoza has taken the third Attribute of Augustine’s esse, nosse, amore [to be, to know, to love] (transfigured in Campanella as potentia, sapientia, amor), and displaced it along a vector which distinguishes the modes. It can be argued that buried in this transfiguration of amore are the distinctions that allow Spinoza to turn his ontology into an Ethica. This is an interesting move from three to two, in particular because Spinoza tells us that there are not only Two Attributes, but an infinite number, only two of which our intellect can discern. What is the result of this transformation, in particular in view of Thornton’s question?

It is my intuition that by restoring the trinity of concepts as primalities of Being, in an analytic maneuver, the full constitutive relationship of rationality and the imagination that we find in Spinoza’s arguments toward sociability (part IV of the Ethics), (and Davidson’s ethical advisment that prescription proceeds description), are recast in a panpsychism of sense (the void of the lower orders implicit in Spinoza’s architecture of Being are made more explicit: is the relative passivity of trees due to their holding of inadequate ideas?). Tim Thornton’s question to Davidson, though designed to point to conceptual pluralism, opens up the possibility of an Attribute of the moral.

Augustine’s esse, nosse, amore, come from the base questions What? How? Why? in The City of God (xi, 26) and corresponding to the classical categories of the Natural, the Logical, and the Moral (vii, 4), in Spinoza and Davidson, are played out through a dualism of concept, in history, for Spinoza in Extension, Thought and Joy. The question remains, what are the metaphysical commitments that lie beneath this play of history, even for Davidson, who wished to shrug off the metaphysical. And does the trinity of concepts then enliven even further Spinoza’s panpsychism of supposedly sensing, imagining, ideating confused bodies, in continual assemblage?

Campanella’s Prison Song to his God: New Year

Lyric Strain

 

 

As Tommaso Campanella counts it, his imprisonment began in 1591/2, with his first Neopolitan trial. By July 1604 he had been transferred from a more comfortable prison to the dank, nearly lightless dungeons of San Elmo. There he would remain for four years continously manicled and chained, and in which he would undergo a conversion of a kind acceptance in 1606. (Transfered to better conditions in 1608, he returned again to the “belly” from 1614-1618). Far from the abstract alegory of a cave, dreamed up by that great Greek philosopher, Campanella lived the rock-hewn reality of a human bodily, political limit, as his photographic memory-aided mind reached out beyond that limit. What his poetry surely lacks in elegance or sophistication, it makes up with prodigious emotional content and primordial situtation, inscribing his dolorous hopes and glints of light in an utter bleakness of condition. Nearly the whole of his adult life will have been spent in prison when he was finally released by the Spanish in 1628.

 

I cannot help but think how these words, before translation, existed on difficult to procure scraps of paper, held in manicled hands, tipped to the angle of the sun in high window, light for only a few hours a day, and yet now exist floating across an ethernet into your eyes. When he says, I’m “tortured in chains within a pit for Thee” what might be a heavy-handed poetic trope suddenly turns leaden when you hear the sound of links that tink as he writes and turns. Even if you care nothing for the poem, there is something to the redemption of that moment, when his words find your eyes, the impossibility that those thoughts could ever reach their compliment, not only beyond the powers of the Spanish monarchy and Papal authority that contrained him, but also across the four vast centuries intervening, in which the memory of the man and his writings has nearly been swallowed whole, something to this moment that speaks to what a New Year is.

 

Prisons are mulitfarious. But not nearly so as their voices. One wonders what inspires one to rhyme, in prison. Is there an apophanic limit to Plea?

 

 

Orazioni ire in Salmodia Metafisicak congiunte insieme

 

I
Almighty God! what though the laws of Fate
Invincible, and this long misery,
Proving my prayers not merely spent in vain
But heard and granted crosswise, banish me
Far from Thy sight,-still humbly obstinate
I turn to Thee. No other hopes remain.
Were there another God with vows to gain,
To Him for succour I would surely go :
Nor could I be called impious, if I turned
In this great agony from one who spurned,
To one who bade me come and cured my woe.
Nay, Lord! I babble vainly. Help ! I cry,
Before the temple where Thy reason burned,
Become a mosque of imbecility!

II.
Well know I that there are no words which can
Move Thee to favour him for whom Thy grace
Was not reserved from all eternity.
Repentance in Thy counsel finds no place:
Nor can the eloquence of mortal man
Bend Thee to mercy, when Thy sure decree
Hath stablished that this frame of mine should be
Rent by these pangs that flesh and spirit tire.
Nay if the whole world knows my martyrdom-
Heaven, earth, and all that in them have their home-
Why tell the tale to Thee, their Lord and Sire?
And if all change is death or some such state,
Thou deathless God, to whom for help I come,
How shall I make Thee change, to change my fate?

III.
Nathless for grace I once more sue to Thee,
Spurred on by anguish sore and deep distress:-
Yet have I neither art nor voice to plead
Before Thy judgment-seat of righteousness.
It is not faith, it is not charity,
Nor hope that fails me in my hour of need;
And if, as some men teach, the soul is freed
From sin and quickened to deserve Thy grace
By torments suffered on this earth below,
The Alps have neither ice, I ween, nor snow
To match my purity before Thy face!
For prisons fifty, tortures seven, twelve years
Of want and injury and woe-
These have I borne, and still I stand ringed round with fears.

IV.
We lay all wrapped with darkness: for some slept
The sleep of ignorance, and players played
Music to sweeten that vile sleep for gold:
While others waked, and hands of rapine laid
On honours, wealth, and blood; or sexless crept
Into the place of harlots, basely bold.-
I lit a light:-like swarming bees, behold !
Stripped of their sheltering gloom, on me
Sleepers and wakers rush to wreak their spite:
Their wounds, their brutal joys disturbed by light,
Their broken bestial sleep fill them with jealousy.-
Thus with the wolves the silly sheep agreed
Against the valiant dogs to fight;
Then fell the prey of their false friends’ insatiate greed.

V.
Help, mighty Shepherd! Save Thy lamp, Thy hound,
From wolves that ravin and from thieves that prey!
Make known the whole truth to the witless crowd!
For if my light, my voice, are cast away-
If sinfulness in these Thy gifts be found-
The sun that rules in heaven is disallowed.
Thou knowest without wings I cannot fly :
Give me the wings of grace to speed my flight!
Mine eyes are always turned to greet Thy light:
Is it my crime if still it pass me by?
Thou didst free Bocca and Gilardo; these,
Worthless, are made the angels of Thy might.-
Hast Thou lost counsel? Shall Thine empire cease?

VI.
With Thee I speak: Lord, thou dost understand!
Nor mind I how mad tongues my life reprove.
Full well I know the world is ‘neath Thine eye,
And to each part thereof belongs Thy love :
But for the general welfare wisely planned
The parts must suffer change;-they do not die,
For nature ebbs and flows eternally;-
But to such change we give the name of Death
Or Evil, whensoe’er we feel the strife
Which for the universe is joy and life,
Though for each part it seems mere lack of breath.-
So in my body every part I see
With lives and deaths alternate rife,
All tending to its vital unity.

VII.
Thus then the Universe grieves not, and I
Mid woes innumerable languish still
To cheer the whole and every happier part.-
Yet, if each part is suffered by Thy will
To call for aid-as Thou art God most High,
Who to all beings wilt Thy strength impart;
Who smoothest every change by secret art,
With fond care tempering the force of fate,
Necessity and concord, power and thought,
And love divine through all things subtly wrought-
I am persuaded, when I iterate
My prayers to Thee, some comfort I must find
For these pangs poison-fraught,
Or leave the sweet sharp lust of life behind.

VIII.
The Universe hath nought that changes not,
Nor in its change feels not the pangs of pain,
Nor prays not unto God to ease that woe.
Mid these are many who the grace obtain
Of aid from Thee :-thus Thou didst rule their lot:
And many who without Thy help must go.
How shall I tell toward whom Thy favours flow,
Seeing I sat not at Thy council-board?
One argument at least doth hearten me
To hope those prayers may not unanswered be,
Which reason and pure thoughts to me afford:
Since often, if not always, Thou dost will
In Thy deep wisdom, Lord,
Best laboured soil with fairest fruits to fill.

IX.
The tilth of this my field by plough and hoe
Yields me good hope-but more the fostering sun
Of Sense divine that quickens me within,
Whose rays those many minor stars outshone-
That it is destined in high heaven to show
Mercy, and grant my prayer; so I may win
The end Thy gifts betoken, enter in
The realm reserved for me from earliest time.
Christ prayed but’ If it may be,’ knowing well
He might not shun that cup so terrible:
His angel answered, that the law sublime
Ordained his death. I prayed not thus, and mine-
Was mine then sent from Hell?– ‘ .
Made answer diverse from that voice divine.

X.
Go song, go tell my Lord-‘ Lo! he who lies
Tortured in chains within a pit for Thee,
Cries, how can flight be free
Wingless?-Send Thy word down, or Thou
Show that fate’s wheel turns not iniquity,
And that in heaven there is no lip that lies.’-
Yet, song, too boldly flies
Thy shaft; stay yet for this that follows now!

trans. John Addington Symonds 

Tommaso Campanella’s Poems, original language 

Symond’s Translation of the Sonnets

Campanella and Vico, very briefly

Two very important (and under considered) epistemolary dicti written on truth and knowing:

Campanella: To know is to be, cognoscere est esse  (1638).

Vico: The true and the made are transposable (Or…The true is the made), verum et factum convertuntur.  (1710).

The first of these communicates the objective transmutation and assimulation that occurs through coming to know something, the second circumscribes truth within the horizon of made criteria. The first expresses an affective immanence under a panpsychic view of assimilation, the second, historical contingency within a human truth. I believe only an embrace of both these views respectably fulfills the scope of both knowing and truth, as we have come to read them. We are transmuted into the very thing we come to know, founding a cybernetic exercise of power; we know something to be objectively true through reference to criteria we as human beings have created.

Other thoughts  on Vico

Virtual City of the Sun

How Philosophies Stand Citied

The City of the Solarians

Here we find a virtual model of Campanella’s utopian City of the Sun (1602), written of in the year that he received his life sentence for a leadership role in a local failed revolution in Calabria, apparently with the anticipated help of the Turkish fleet, (not to mention astrological, millenial confluence). Bruno had been burned at the stake two years before (Campo de’ Fiori, Feburary 17th), an event which for some marked the end of the Renaissance, and the birth of Modern times. Campanella, not relegated to the heretical flames, rather employed a legal strategy of feigned insanity, the endurance of torture, and then decades of imprisonment, inspired writings to forward his quest for religio-political “mutatione”. The city is taken to be a blueprint for the kind of communitarian state Campanella hoped to help establish in impoverished Calabria.

What I am taken by, as I have recently been thinking about the prescriptions for society that tend to flow from Lacanian inspired analysts, is how each and every philosophical complex, as it seeks to explain the world coherently, and fulfills what Walter Benjamin called its Representational role, cannot help but enter a citadel dimension…that is, carve out a conceptual space in which we are meant to live.

Campanella conceived his city, archetecturally, as a Representation of the Universe. A Representation, and an expression. In a kind of sympathetic magic the 7 walls represented the 7 circuits of the planets. Further though, on each of the walls were fresco depictions of knowledge from every science so that the entire city, and its inhabitants manifested the discourses that shaped them:

As one traveled a circuit of a wall, one enacted a planetary course, absorbed a degree of knowledge. It is in particular the nature of these heavily defensive walls, the representive, expressional nature of them that fascinates me.

Rorty pointed out that to a great degree the ontological is a product of a fundamental ontology/epistemology divide, one governed by a primary metaphor of reflection. What we can and do know is supposed to be a mirror of, a corresponding aspect of what IS. And once this metaphor is given up, so is something of the ontological question. One is then left with either just epistemology, or just ontology, but not both.

This is only partly right. Much as in Campanella’s walls, the discourse of knowledge assumes an ontological dimension which Causes what we hold to be the case. Any theory works as a witness, engaged in the world, bringing it into relief, and organizing our place within it. The “walls” of any theory (its internal coherence), didactically tell us how the world is (ideologically), manifest essential aspects of the world (participating in its expression), and buttress the space they have created (coherence). It is a community of visions for those that inhabit it. The phraseologies, deductions, defintions all circulate to establish a civic realm. It is u-topia, in the sense that it is No-place, in particular, even if it is given an address in history. The ontologies of even the most post-structural and avant gaurde, are expressed not only in their ontological commitments, but if their very causal connection to the shared world. Even multiplicites stand carved and frescoed.

How many times have you traversed a text (Semper’s textile), passed your eye back and forth as you crossed it, on your way, aware of where you were, and were going, yet pleasurably puzzled over the signification, this figure of a phrase, this nexus of a meaning-logic, positioned on a city-scape on a landscape, knowing that others pass beside you?

There is a sense, in philosophy, where the invitation is ever…here, live in this world, Heideggerian, Foucaultian, Fregian, Lacanian, Wittgensteinian, Spinozist, Nietzschean, Sartean, Kantian, Augustinian, Deleuzian, Humean, Whiteheadian, Lucretian etc., etc., etc. It is not that philosophy is LIKE city-building, or architecture, or that the products of philosophy are helpfully applied to ways of living, modes of social building. It is likely best to say that philosophy is borne of the architectural impulse, the very space-organizing, living conceptions that first orient the species-organism. Philosophy is a kind of compass-work and an οἶκος. 

We might say as well that Tommaso Campanella in his commitment to legal insanity and utopian closure, enacted the very limit at which the philosopher operates. Architecturally outside of what she/he is inscribing, seeking to express herself/himself within what causes the inscription. Prescriptions to lives and society are immanent to the walls of structure and connection. The philosophical impulse is territorial.

And who is to build the City of the Lunarians? Where do you wish to live?

English Text of Campanella’s City of the Sun

From its end:

Sea Captain: [Speaking of Catholic Spainish power in the New World]…They sought new regions for lust of gold and riches, but God works to a higher end. The sun strives to burn up the earth, not to produce plants and men, but God guides the battle to great issues. His the praise, to Him the glory!

Grand Master: Oh, if you knew what our astrologers say of the coming age, and of our age, that has in it more history within 100 years than all the world had in 4,000 years before! of the wonderful inventions of printing and guns, and the use of the magnet, and how it all comes of Mercury, Mars, the Moon, and the Scorpion!

Sea Captain: Ah, well! God gives all in His good time. They astrologize too much.

 

Panpsychism in the West: From There to Here

Panpsychism: The position that all things, to some degree, think, or cogitate, or experience, or feel

I neglected to note the spur of my interest for the post Spinoza’s Degrees of Being: A History. For some time I had been tracking the sources of Spinoz’a conception of degreess of privation and power, and when I came to read David Skrbina’s Panpsychism in the West I was pleasantly surprised to find such an informing history. In it professor Skrbina attempts to locate all historical Western Panpsychic positions, and to show their relation to each other, up to contemporary times.

What was missing in his story I thought was the vital link between Plotinus and Augustine (he would I believe agree), which helped bridge Scholasticism to Neo-Platonism, until Plotinus was retranslated by Ficino in the early Renaissance. This period of history simply remained under-addressed. In my thinking it really is this Plotinus-Augustinian connection which puts Campanella and Spinoza into conceptual relation, and more so, it is the epistemological answer, in particular how the skeptical question is resolved in degrees of being, as degrees of power, that provides the fulcrum of most panpsychic approaches.

The book is highly recommended for those interested in the position of panpsychism, as there really is no contemporary example of such a study. Of note he characterizes the existing contemporary positions to be:

1) Process Philosophy (stemming from Bergson and Whitehead: Hartschorne, Griffin, DeQuincy and Clarke).

2) Quantum Physics approach (Bohm, Hameroff).

3) Information Theory (Bateson, Wheeler and Chalmers).

4) Part-whole hierarchy (Cardano, Koestler, Wilber).

5) Non-linear Dynamics (inspired by Peirce: Skrbina).

6) Real Physicalism (Strawson).

To these I would add a seventh:

7). Neo-Spinozist, Onto-politicism (Deleuze and Guattari, Negri, Hardt, Balibar, Montag, Gatens).

 

A Worm in Cheese

Campanella and Spinoza On Perspective

It has long been my suspicion that Spinoza had read, and has a debt to the much forgotten Tommaso Campanella. There is evidence that Descartes’ most central contributions have in some way be under this influence, and Spinoza’s position indeed is in many ways a response to Cartesianism. But it more than this. There is in the thought of Campanella a particular panpsychic, and cybernetic understanding of what is epistemological, and power, which reads open, and corrects, the overly rationalistic reductive reading of Spinoza’s many propositions.

Here I take up only a tangential connection, one that moves from the sharing of a single, (if common), trope. It does not prove the influence of the one on the other, but at the very least it operates as a happy coincidence, or even an expression of a continuity of Geist, (however delineated), between thinkers and times. This is the figure of the “worm in cheese”.

It was a prevalent image Headly tells us, a part of the “folk culture” of the Late Renaissance, the cosmological idea that we are all severely limited in our perceptions and knowledge, locked within a localization of understanding, surrounded by our food source, on which we blindly feed. But Campanella lifts this picture of the world up to larger purposes, sharpening it to both epistemological and political effect, drawing forth the consequences of such an instructive image.

First, there is his famous sent letter to the Emperor of China. It should be known at first that Campanella really was in a worm-in-cheese predicament. He had endured acute torture at the hands of the Spanish authorities, in which he had to feign, and therefore prove his “madness”, and thus avoid an inquisitional burning at the stake as heretic. And then he had suffered multiple years locked away in the worst dungeon of Italy, chained and manacled in a nearly lightless cell of the formidable Castel San Elmo, where he worked would work free sonnets on bits of paper, and access his prodigious, certainly photographic memory, sketching out his metaphysics. It is a story I really do have write, but it is the not purpose here. Rather, only, if anyone knew what a worm in cheese was, Campanella had a sort of privileged view of the condition.

But back to the letter to the Emperor. Campanella was fast on the idea of restoring in the papacy some sort of universal, indeed Catholic, governance, one that put the whole world into communication with itself, so that there were to be a free flowing of knowledge and sciences that would help liberate men from their ignorance. Ming China, by Campanella’s understanding, had cut itself off from outside influences, and turned itself inward. This is something extraordinary that gives us a piece of the so-called “volcanic” mind of Campanella, that a monk of no importance, under years of imprisonment, would even concern himself with the notion of a world history, and take it upon himself to compose such a letter.

Campanella writes to the Emperor:

Those men [your subjects] are lacking in aspiration; they seem like men but like worms born inside a cheese, who reckon nothing more or better there to be in the world beyond their own cheese from which they are nourished, sustained, hidden, or as worms born in a man’s stomach who know nothing of man, nor his mind, but cocooned away, complacent, not wanting to be disturbed, jealous of their remove. So, oh King, [the monarch of China], you seem to us… Stick your head out beyond your cheese, beyond the stomach of your land (TC-QR, 221).

It is a powerful call somehow, extending far beyond the prison walls, and the walls of history, into history. Campanellla makes use of a similar worm-image, to a different effect in his utopian vision “The City of the Sun”. Here, describing the conceptions of the people of La Cità del Sole, ones who live in a kind of blissful perfection of knowledge, in a city that is shaped with concentric ramparts so that it is the shape of the Solar System:

They [the Solarians] assert two principles of the physics of things below, namely, that the sun is the father, and the earth the mother; the air is an impure part of the heavens; all fire is derived from the sun. The sea is the sweat of earth, or the fluid of earth combusted, and fused within its bowels, but is the bond of union between air and earth, as the blood is of the spirit and flesh of animals. The world is a great animal, and we live within it as worms live within us. Therefore we do not belong to the system of stars, sun, and earth, but to God only; for in respect to them which seek only to amplify themselves, we are born and live by chance; but in respect to God, whose instruments we are, we are formed by prescience and design, and for a high end.

Here we have the more benign, and perfecting simile of the world as an immense and sensate animal, with we but like parasitic worms, feeding on it, but also part of its expression, its system. And lastly, in concert with Campanella’s notion the importance of empirical knowledge, direct experience, the testings of science and observation, come from his study of Telsio, we have another use of the worm-in-cheese metaphor, that expressing the historical linking of observations, the importance of communicability:

Just as namely, through individual perceptions, the mind adds to truth, so too with what belongs to others. Otherwise one would be like a worm in cheese, knowing nothing, except those parts of cheese that touch it. Every narrator, whether by letter, or in mouth stretched, or in movements, a historian is.

And lastly, we come to the worm of Spinoza. Memorably, after writing to the founding secretary of the Royal Society, Henry Oldenburg, about his arguments and notions of God, as being both a totality and expression of parts, all of which fit together. If we, in our experience on thing or part as a complete entity, this is a kind of selecting out of the whole, from a perspective of ignorance. This he compares to the kind of knowledge that a worm in the blood of the body has, as it goes about bumping into something so vast it has no possibility of understanding. One has to keep mind that Spinoza was an early maker of microscope lenses (attested to be of rather high quality), and it is perhaps likely that he had stared into lenses, looking at blood and the what must have seemed infinitesimally small forms therein.

This was an extraordinary time, when the smallest and the most distant were coming into view (Spinoza would become a companion of Christiaan Huygens, the discoverer of the rings of Saturn, and it is imagined to be likely that he would then look through his telescope too, when they spent time together at Huygens’ country estate). It is said by Colerus, his first biographer, than he would lift his magnifying glass and stare at mosquitoes and flies. All the vastness was opening itself up, and closing in.

Let us imagine, with your permission, a little worm, living in the blood¹, able to distinguish by sight the particles of blood, lymph, &c., and to reflect on the manner in which each particle, on meeting with another particle, either is repulsed, or communicates a portion of its own motion. This little worm would live in the blood, in the same way as we live in a part of the universe, and would consider each particle of blood, not as a part, but as a whole. He would be unable to determine, how all the parts are modified by the general nature of blood, and are compelled by it to adapt themselves, so as to stand in a fixed relation to one another. For, if we imagine that there are no causes external to the blood, which could communicate fresh movements to it, nor any space beyond the blood, nor any bodies whereto the particles of blood could communicate their motion, it is certain that the blood would always remain in the same state, and its particles would undergo no modifications, save those which may be conceived as arising from the relations of motion existing between the lymph, the chyle, &c. The blood would then always have to be considered as a whole, not as a part. But, as there exist, as a matter of fact, very many causes which modify, in a given manner, the nature of the blood, and are, in turn, modified thereby, it follows that other motions and other relations arise in the blood, springing not from the mutual relations of its parts only, but from the mutual relations between the blood as a whole and external causes. Thus the blood comes to be regarded as a part, not as a whole. So much for the whole and the part.

Letter 15 (32), 1662

There are obvious wide-sweeping parallels, none of which create an argument of influence: comparison to worms living in the body, and the locality of perceptions which seal each person off from the rest of existence, and contingency of our immediate sense knowledge. And there is the political character of communications itself, the sharing of descriptions across countries and the globe, and the kind of epistemic building (albeit from a difference in emphasis or even process: Spinoza looked for a rational grasp of “common notions” which joined bodies and minds, Campanella appraised observation and a species of synthetic becoming what one observed), by grasping the larger and larger wholes, of which one is participating. At the very least there is something shared; it is that animate sense that one is within a psychic, sensate thing, when one is in the world, and that knowledge consists in identifying with, and constructing epistemic conjoinings, as part of an over-arching, and yet un-understood entirety. And in this service, a catholic freedom of exchange becomes the nexus for that building of communications, a Renaissance notion of political and ideal creation.

1. A notable annex to this comparison of worms in cheese and worms in blood is Kircher’s microscopic observation that the blood of fever victims was worm-filled:

The “dust” on old cheese was found to be not dust at all but little animals, and swarms of minute worms were discovered tumbling about in vinager (Fontana 1646, Borel 1656, Kircher 1646). Kircher announced that the blood of fever victims also teemed with worms, and there was talk that they infested sores and lurked in the pustules of smallpox and scabies. (Ruestow, 38).

This is likely the main triggering thought in Spinoza’s mind – though I have never seen it noted by scholars – as Oldenburg mentions the very same Kircher’s later work Subterranean World in the previous letter which Spinoza is answering.

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