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Some Rough Thoughts on the Conatus – Spinoza

Michael at Complete Lies asked in a comment on my last post for Spinoza’s take on the conatus, so I thought I should post my brief response over here as well. Perhaps this has some interest for others as well:

The conatus is really central Spinoza’s telling of the world, though perhaps not with the kind of centrality that Schopenhauer would wish. Each and everything in existence has conatus, a striving, which as Spinoza describes it makes up something of its essence as a thing in existence. With almost Neitzschean Will to Power force (sans the implicit normalization of domination), each thing does all it it can to persist, pursuing its Joys, avoiding its sadnesses. But because of modal essences (the essence of “real objects” in Graham’s metaphysics) do not have existence predicated of them, that is, because they are not their own cause of existence, they relie upon the external causes of other things, and concordantly those conatuses as well. So existence becomes a mixed rationalizing, but still Machiavellian game of power negotions with other conatus-driven bodies and minds.

But, this is not a Hobbesian world where there is a primal state of war, “all against all,” which human beings rise up out of by virtue of a mythical contract, because a conatus that has come into existence has done so already in harmony with a cooperation of a mutuality of causes, it is dependent in its finite existence. You can see this same metaphysical fact in Spinoza’s political theory, and the concept that the human affects are organized through the imagination of others. Even strife among human beings, their most powerful negative projections upon each other, are already occurring in a social field wherein each person sees this enemy in some fundamental way “the same” as him (if only the same as a competitor).

For this reason, much as what happens on the metaphysical level of the dependency of strivings upon other strivings, this happens on the social level, a mutuality of conception both supports destructive warrings, but also of course the capacity to find agreement and align.

 

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One response to “Some Rough Thoughts on the Conatus – Spinoza

  1. Barrett Pashak February 18, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    You will find a lot on the conatus in David Bidney’s The Psychology and Ethics of Spinoza. I don’t agree with Bidney in all respects, but this book is extremely useful and informative.

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