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Tag Archives: Michael Della Rocca

Spinoza’s Substance Stripped Bare

Duchamps The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors Even (The Large Glass) (1915-23)

(above Duchamp’s “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even,” 1913 -23)

Just a Blob of nothing, an intellectual Sleight of Hand…?

Levi, over at Larval Subjects has a well-worded summation of the possible difficulties and assumptions contained in Spinoza’s Proposition 5 (Ethics, part I: ) “Proposition Five: Questions of Individuation”, in particular how they reflect upon just what Individation is. He seems to feel that if one accepts this proposition (and its referenced assumptions) one is by the force of logic to accept a great deal of what follows in Spinoza’s philosophy. So he sees this as something of a keystone. If one can effectively challenge it, the entire edifice of Spinoza thinking is threatened to collapse. I can’t say that I agree with this because I read the rationalistic cohension of Spinoza’s Ethics a little differently than most, but he does raise interesting points.

I commented extensively on the posting (much in greater detail than I expected), so it seemed best to re-present the issues here, with a bit more quoted material. I think it worthwhile to dig into this proposition as Levi has given us the lead to do, but in the end I am not sure as to the final spear point of his objection.

First off, let’s give the proposition, and then I’ll post the context of my comments:

In rerum natura non possunt dari duae aut plures substantiae euisdem naturae sive attributi.

In the nature of things they are not able to be granted two or multiple substances of the same nature or attribute.

I provide the Latin and literal translation so one can see the lexical doubling that Spinoza performing, as well as the “of things” individuation which shows the proposition to be an explanation of things we already perceive as distinction, but Curley translates a bit less literally and much more fluidly,

In nature there cannot be two or more substances of the same nature or attribute.

The reason for this that Spinoza puts forth is that it is the attribute itself that tells us exactly what a thing is, its essence. It is the attribute which grounds all our other attributve properties. If there were multiple substances which had the same attribute (the same conceptual manner of distinction), there remains no specific additional qualification which distinguishes them from each other. I will reference and cite Della Rocca’s treatment below, for his presentation is a good clean exposition. And it is his argument I will follow. What Spinoza has in mind here is Descartes’ somewhat unspecified assertion that there actually are two kinds of Substance, the Aristotlelian kind of individual things which are dependent upon other things for their existence, and then the soon-to-be Spinozist kind, the kind that is self-caused. The move that Spinoza is making here is turning against the notion that it is Attributes themselves that distinguish things as individual kinds, but rather it is modal expressions alone. Descartes’ two kinds of Substance simply can’t be rationally supported. Unfortunately for the Christian, this leaves of of creation to be literally part of God. There is no gap between God and the world. Once we remove the unjustified kind of Substance inherited from Aristotle, we are just left with an ultimate and immanent ground.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Anyways, that is where Spinoza is going. But what Levi objects to, after a thorough engagment with the problems with the argument is that there seems to be a kind of non-sensicalness of Substance itself, the way that if we say that an object in the world (and he uses his friend Melanie), is stripped of all her qualities, we really are left with nothing at all. What would remain under Spinoza’s description, is somehow blob-like and indistinct. Spinoza has provided us with a concept that seems to do nothing. Here is a quote from Levi’s post, and my consideration that follows:

Levi: ” Suppose I strip my friend Melanie of all her affections or qualities. In striving to think Melanie as a substance, I ignore all of her physical properties, her quirks of thought, her personal history, her mannerisms, her love of okra, etc., so as to think this hypothetical “Melanie-substance” in and through herself. What am I left with at the end of this exercise? Absolutely nothing!. In other words, a substance subtracted from all of its affections turns out to be nothing but a formless void.”

Kvond:…I’m not sure that I follow exactly your objection here. The complaint that you make as to the blobness of Substance is actually very close to the one that Descartes made against Medieval Aristotelian “Prime Matter”, a completely non-quality “stuff” which is suppose to inertly just be there as a support for inhering form and qualities. As Della Rocca tells it, it was this seeming superfluousness of Prime Matter that got Descartes to just do away with it. Instead, a Substance simply had a form, was defined by its form, which in Descartes was its Principal Attribute.

[inserted from Della Rocca's Spinoza  a selection which lays out Descartes' thinking on Substance and attribute in terms of prime matter]:

But why must all the properties of a substance be subsumed under a fundamental feature? Why can’t there be a feature of substance that does not presuppose the principle attribute of the substance, but is nonetheless a feature of that substance? Thus, for example, why can’t an extended substance also having some thinking features, features that cannot be understood through extension? Descartes does not, as far as I know, explicitly address this question, but its clear what his answer would be: there would be no good account what makes this free-floating thinking feature a feature of this extended substance. What would bind this thinking feature to this extended substance? For Descartes, the conceptual connection provided by an attribute furnishes the link to make a particular property of a given substance. Without the link afforded by an attribute, we cannot see a property as belonging to a substance. In other words, Descartes insists that there be this over-arching feature because otherwise there would be no explanation of why a given feature is a feature of a particular substance.

Because the principle attribute helps us to understand all the properties of a substance, it tells us what kind of thing the substance is, what its essence is. And for this reason, purely formal features of a substance do not count as attributes in this sense. Each substance has features, let us say, of existing and being powerful to some degree. But exitence and power are not principal attributes for Descartes. This is because these features do not tell us what kind of thing a substance is and do not tell us what kinds of more particular properties it has.

In this way we can see that on Descartes ontology of substance and attribute, substances are explanatory engines. Each substance has a nature that can be articulated or explained in terms of its principal attribute, and this principal attribute in turn articulates or explains all the properties of the substance. Thus for Descartes each substance is fully conceivable. Everything about a substance must be capable of being understood and what it is understood in terms of is its principal attribute.

This is, of course, a rationalist dimension of Descarte’s ontology, and we can appreciate this dimension by contrasting Descartes’s view with a broadly Aristotelian account of substance. On the Aristotelian account (or at least on the Aristotelian account as it is developed by medieval philosophers such as Aquinas), a corporeal substance consists of prime matter and a substantial form. The substantial form, is in some ways, like a Cartesian principal attribute: it tells us the nature of a substance and the kinds of properties it can have. But the form is not the only constituent of substance. The substantial form must somehow inhere in the subject and this subject is prime matter, a featureless, bare subject for a substantial form. The prime matter is a thing is some sense, but, precisely because it is featureless, it cannot be articulated or explained. Literally, prime matter is no “kind” of thing, and precisely for this reason Descartes rejects the notion as unintelligible (see CM I 91, 92/AT XI 33, 35). Marleen Rozemond sums up the view here nicely:

“Since Descartes eliminates prime matter from the hylomorphic conception of corporeal substance, the result in Aristotelian terms is that a substance just consists in a substantial form. In Descartes own terms, the result is that substance just consists in a principal attribute” (Spinoza, 2008; 38)

Prime Matter, Begone!

[continuing my response] But as Prime Matter was done away with because it lacked explanatory value, we have to ask the same of Spinoza’s overriding Substance itself. If we strip Melanie of all her qualities are we left with Prime Matter, or with Substance, and what would be the difference?

There are a few ways to proceed. As you know, Substance is what it is because it is the only thing that is its own cause, by virtue of nothing lying “outside” of it (I don’t know if you accept this, but it is fundamental to answering the question). As such, it is the only thing which has existence in its very nature (it does not depend on something other than itself to exist), it must, logically and ontologically exist. So, in a certain sense, the question being asked has something of a non-sequitor in it. Because Substance “exists and acts” through its modal determinations, asking what Melanie is (if merely Substance) without her modal determinations, in a way does not follow. In Spinoza’s universe, Melanie must have certain modal properties, given the state of the rest of the universe, which has determined her to be a certain way.

Now there is a kind of aporia we run into here, for in Spinoza’s framework it is not entirely clear why Melanie when she is five years old and has a cool-aid stain on her mouth, and Melanie when she is 33 and has a broken arm, is the very same thing (has the same essence). It is perfectly conceivable that from moment to moment or stage to stage, there are different essences expressing themselves. It seems that only Spinoza’s definition of a body as a specific ratio of motion in communication between parts that restricts this possibility. And because this “ratio” is unspecified and really unidentifiable, this is a rather tenuous barrier. So there is a very real sense in which Spinoza’s depiction can be read as a kind of Occasionalism.

But generally, when thinking about Melanie, sub specie aeternitatis, what she is in or out of existence, this is a modal “essence”, a certain beingness which depends upon a provisional modal interaction with other modal essences, each bringing each other into being in a kind of co-dependent fashion, what Gatens and Lloyd term “horizontally”.

Is this very close to the blob of Prime Matter? It doesn’t seem so. Because Substance itself is an expressional thing, a thing which by its very nature determines itself to exist, if you do the thought experiment and ask what any one modal expression is without its current state of modal expressiveness, one is left with the explanatory ground of Substance, its very capacity to press forward in existence and acts.

Indistinguishable Melanie

Now is this a bit of a slight of hand? Has Spinoza just made up a buried capacity of a hypothetical under- or over- thing? Perhaps one can say that. But what he has in mind (and one cannot undervalue this), is that things must have an explanatory context for what they are. If you are going to say something like:

“Sure, you tell me that Gravity is some mysterious force which causes this apple to fall with such and such a rate at such and such at time, but what then is this apple-event if stripped of all its qualities, its rate and timing?…It is just a blob of a force called Gravity”

If you take away what is being explained, and then ask what good is the explanation, one might really be dissatisfied with the answer. So in answer to what Melanie is in or out of existence requires that we define what she is in existence. And for Spinoza this answer is a conatus, a striving. She is pure striving (expressed in human beings as either appetite or desire). That is her existential essence. It is the diagnosis of this striving that gives weight to Spinoza’s view of Substance as explanatory. What is Melanie’s striving, her conatus, stripped of all the particular “strivings for”? It is the existential strivings of Substance itself. But there is no blobness to it, for the strivings of Substance must be particularized, that is expressed in determined modal forms. Substance does not collapse on itself, or meld into one great sea of potentiality. It is always particularized in concrete, existential manifestation.

You [Levi] bring this up when you conclude:

[Levi writing]:”However, again, we run into the same problem: Is an attribute such as extension thinkable independent of all spatial determinations (modes)? Again, the thought of space without any spatial things turns out to be the thought of nothing or the absence of all determination. The conclusion then would be that the idea of an affectionless substance- such as Spinoza evokes in 1p5 -is an incoherent idea that functions as a sleight of hand, rather than a genuine concept.”

But seem to have inverted the reasoning. It is precisely because one cannot conceive of space without its spatial determinations that Substance must be an expressive grounds of spatial things, in the Attribute of Extension. It is precisely that there are spatial things, and that they can only be understood fully by understanding their cause, that Substance is what it is. It seems that you have reversed the Explanans and the Explanandum, and argued that the Explanans is meaningless without the Explanandum, but it the requirement of the Explanans due to the existence of the Explanandum [the nature of things], that grants it its coherence. It is the very fact of its explanatory nature that Substance logically must express itself in the concrete things that it is explaining, that gives the argument its force.

Michael Della Rocca, Chair of Philosophy at Yale

Michael Della Rocca, Professor of Philosophy at Yale

To end I would like to reprint a lengthy selection from Della Rocca’s book that deals particularly with 1p5 so as to give immediate context to my points, but also to provide a place of comparison for much of the same ground covered by Levi’s also worthwhile summation. At the very least it will give those unfamiliar with Spinoza’s argument one more clear presentation of the issues at hand in the notions of Substance, Attribute and mode, and their possible objections. Its interesting, but when I first got Della Rocca’s book I was a bit disappointed and distracted from it. It possessed none of the verve of his first book, Representation and the Mind-Body Problem in Spinoza (1996): But as I have turned to it in reference, it really has grown on me. In its quietude one can feel the delicate care of Della Rocca’s mind as he weighs the meanings and implications of Spinoza’s assertions, and is invited to consider them as he does.

Thus let’s take 1p5 first: “In Nature there cannot be two or more substances of the same nature or attribute.” To prove this proposition, Spinoza considers what is required in order to individuate two substances, i.e. what is required in order to explain their non-identity. For Spinoza, the distinctness between two distinct things must be explained by some difference between them, some difference in their properties. In the case of the individuation of substances, this amounts to the claim that they must be individuated via a difference either in their attributes or in their modes. Thus Spinoza says in 1p4d:

“Two or more distinct things are distinguished from one another, either by a difference in the attributes of the substances or by a difference in their affections.”

In 1p5d, he makes clear that such a difference in properties is needed for two things to be “conceived to be” – i.e. explained to be – “distinguished from one another.”

In insisting on some difference in properties between two things, Spinoza endorses the Principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles. This is a principle – more often associated with Leibniz that with Spinoza – that if a and b are indiscernible, i.e. if a and b have all the same properties, then a is identical to b. One can see that this principle turns on the notion of explaining non-identity and, as such, one can see its roots in the PSR [Principle of Sufficient Reason]. Non-identities, by the PSR, require explanation, and the way to explain non-identity is to appeal to some difference in properties.

Thus two substances could be individuated either by a difference in their attrributes or in their modes. Spinoza dismisses right away any differentiation of substances in terms of their attributes because he says we are considering whether two substances can share an attribute. Thus a case in which substances might have different attributes might seem irrelevant to the case at hand. However, as we will see in a moment, this dismissal may be too hasty. Spinoza then considers whether they can be distinguished by their modes. Spinoza eliminates this possibility as well, offering the following argument.

Since a substance is prior to its modes (by 1p1), we are entitled, and indeed obligated, to put the modes to the side when we take up the matter of individuating substances. Thus, with the modes to one side and with the attributes already eliminated as individuators, it turns out that there are no legitimate grounds for individuating substances with the same attribute, for explaining why they are distinct. Thus, since substances with the same attribute cannot legitimately be individuated, there cannot be any sharing of attributes.

Obviously this argument turns crucially on the claim that we should put the modes to one side. But what justifies this claim? Spinoza appeals here to the notion of priority introduced in 1p1. What exactly does this priority amount to? For Spinoza, as well as Descartes, it is a conceptual priority. One can have the idea of a substance without having ideas of its modes.

Thus, we can see why Descartes would have a problem individuatin, say, two extended substances. All Descartes could appeal to in order to individuate the substances is the modes, but given Descartes’ own explanatory notion of substance, according to which all of a substance’s modes are explained through its attributes, such an appeal is illegitimate.

Of course Descartes might at this point simply give up the claim that the non-identity of substance is explicable. Fair enough. After all, Descartes does not explicitly assert the Principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles. But Descartes’s rejection of prime matter is in the spirit of such a principle. For Descartes, there is no way to articulate what prime matter is precisely because it has no qualities. In the same way, there is no way to articulate what the non-identity of a and b consists in because no qualities are available to do the job of individuation. Thus, even on his own terms, Descartes should feel the force of this Spinozistic argument that rules out a multiplicity of substances sharing an attribute.

But even if substances that share an attribute are not individuated by their modes, perhaps such substances are individuated by attributes they do not share. Spinoza does allow, after all, that a substance can have more than one attribute. So why can’t we have the following scenario: substance 1 has attributes X and Y and substance 2 has attributes Y and Z. On this scenario, while the two substances share an attribute (i.e. Y) they differ with regard to other attributes and can thus be individuated after all. So perhaps then, contrary to 1p5, there can be some sharing of attributes by different substances. This objection was first raised by Leibniz, one of the most acute readers of Spinoza.

This objection is harder to answer than the charge that substances that share an attribute can be individuated by their modes, but Spinoza clearly has the resources to handle this objection too. To see why, let’s assume that Leibniz’s scenario is possible. If so, then attribute Y would not enable us to pick out or conceive of one substance in particular. The thought “the substance with attribute Y” would not be a thought of one substance in particular, and thus attribute Y would not by itself enable us conceive of any particular substance. For Spinoza, such a result would contradict the clause in the definition of attribute according to which each attribute constitutes the essence of substance. As Spinoza says in 1p10s, a claim that he clearly sees as following form the definition of attribute, “each [attribute of a substance] expresses the reality or being of substance.” So for Spinoza, if a substance has more than one attribute, each attribute by itself must enable us to conceive of the substance, and this can by the case only if each attribute that a substance has is unique to that substance. Thus Leibniz’s scenario is ruled out (46-48)


How the PSR lifts OOP out of Occasionalism

Experimental Communication

Larval Subjects, in a charitable gesture proposed an experiment of argumentation, that instead of me simply eluding to a certain thinker from the middle of the 17th century, or specific aspects of that thinker’s thought which I imagine to a great degree would help Graham Harman in his project, I should present specific arguments which would somehow prove my point that now-called Object-Oriented Philosophy is in need of the kinds of thinking being done by this remote thinker, S******.

Larval Subjects writes, quoting me:

Also I would humbly suggest this little experiment. You write:

I would respond to your counter-claims against panpsychism, or your guarding of Graham’s conatusagainst my suggestion to him that Spinoza’s ontology at the very least bears strong resemblance to what he is saying, in particular in resolution to his biggest and admitted problems with his own position…

Try making your case without mentioning the name of Spinoza or the terms Spinoza uses at all. Instead of saying “Spinoza solves your problem” (which implicitly says to the person you’re addressing “therefore you have no work to do”), instead simply state your claims and how you think they have a particular solution to problems you discern in the other person’s position.

Aside from the curious nature of this request by someone other than Graham Harman that I address Graham Harman himself (Levi is not privy to at least some of the talk Graham and I have done on the question of S******), this seems like a worthy thing to do…in part, becauseLevi offers this as a kind of compromise in style. I should leave off my usual near-polemical engagements with his oft stated principles, and he might consider my criticisms more deeply; but also in part because it has always struck me as rather obvious that nearly every position that Graham Harman has put forth has a natural correspondent in S******’s ontology, and that at the very least a thorough dialogue between the two positions (Graham’s new and inventive transformation of Heidegger via Latourand Spinoza’s Classical treatment of Substance), would at least be productive, if for no other reason that we could come clear of exactly where Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Philosophy departs from any S******-informed aid, despite the homologies. If I have been vague in my reference to S****** in the past with either Levi or Graham, it has been that I, perhaps wrongly, presumed that the positions I referenced were rather well known, and their beneficent, supporting effect upon the topics considered somewhat obvious. Because I seldom received substantive, argument-centered rejection of my suggestions of homology, I could not tell just at what level my suggestions were dismissed. I will seek to make these connections more clear.

What this has to do withLevi’s own version of Object-Oriented Philosophy, I really have no real idea, since it really is unclear how much he maintains just such a philosophy. It is hard to keep track of his pursuit of affinities with Graham’s OOP, seemingly, as Graham recently commented, to have fallen back onto his own Bergson/Deleuzian tendencies, and possibly, fatally in term of OOP, leaving behind Graham’s corner-stone thought of the retreating essence of objects. In short, aside from a list of Principles, Fallacies and defintions, some of which bear Latourian influence, I am not sure at all just what kind of OOP metaphysics Levi is putting forth. I have been left with only trying to coherently relate the Principles and Fallacies and definitions to each other.

Graham’s Aporia of Objection

In my discussions with Graham over why he resists any informing help from the philosophy of S******, I have received two fundamental objections, only one of which I can systematically approach here. Firstly, and perhaps most insurmountingly, Graham has when pressed simply admitted that his distainfor S****** comes from this thinker’s “fashionable” popularity, with the obvious implication that this popularity is not intellectually justifiable. I can’t tell if he is thinking of the pseudo-S****** exposed by later Deleuze (and Guattari), the BwO kind, or he is simply referring a general Cultural presence. Unfortunately he cites of all people Zizek, the most fashionable of thinkers, who has written a book against the S******-inspired Deleuze, as a confirmation that S****** is merely “in”. It seems that Graham tires of even hearing S******’s name, in the way that many tired of hearing Heidegger’s name. When objection raised is not very much more than, “I just don’t like that style of pants,” there is not much more that one can do (other than just wear that style yourself, try to show how they look pretty good, and ask a person to at least try them on and see how the feel). This may be insurmountable, like so much of fashion.

The other objection that Graham has put forth is that he objects to S******’s determinism and Stoicism, and this can be substantial. By Stoicism I presume that he means his treatment of the affects, the offering of a paththat suggests that we become more active and less re-active the more that we understand how the world is, and how we are. This is an elaborate issue, and I have also creatively struggled with this aspect of S******’s prescription, so at the very least I have some sympathy for how Graham feels. I am a novelist and poet. The last thing I want to be told is that my very path forward which is so rich and significant is somehow fundamentally in error. But I will not address this aspect here as it does not bear upon the specific difficulties Graham has encountered in his own philosophy, a weakness of description which has a particular S****** salve. It is to the question of determinism I turn, the lone remaining substantive objection that seems to have bearing upon Graham’s resistance to help from the 17th century outcast Jew.

Graham’s Problem with his Own Philosophy [the experiment in body]

Workout out a theory of vicarious causation lately, seeking to overcome the difficulties of Latour’s cut-off occasionalism, Graham Harman has been trying to patch up one of the most attractive (for him), but more problematic aspects of his Latourianphilosophy. If nothing “touches” nothing else, and each object/instant is a new one, what is the account for coherent change. His description of Latour’s occasionalism gives context for this problem:

But since these relations shift from moment to moment, the black boxes do not endure for more than an instant, unless we consider them as “trajectories” crossing time across a series of minute transformations. They must also be constantly maintained. This makes Latouran ally of the doctrine of continuous creation, also associated with many of the occasionalists. There is no connection between instants, since each is an absolutely unique event, with nothing enduring automatically from one moment to the next. But occasionalism has an even more powerful implication that we have already mentioned: the inability of any two actors to touch one another directly.

From a draft of the forth-coming Prince of Networks [, this Spring]

Whereas 17th century and earlier Arab theorizers of occasionalism had “God” to be the guarantor of the order of change, Latour presents approvingly a kind of Secular Occasionalism, albeit with the rather large problem of explaining just what does the job that “God” used to do for in prior historical versions. The failure is genetic to his philosophical descendants. It seems, as far as I can tell, Graham has been working very hard on trying to bandaid this rather large hole in the thinking. He is rather drawn to the isolating power of Latour’s occasionalism (perhaps even poetically so), but plagued by the very secularism and localism that also appeal to him. (And he does not want all these occasions to merely be percolating up from some kind of field, a laval mix of intensities in DeLanda or Deleuzian fashion, this would not do justice to the nobility of the object.) To my ear the rather obvious answer is a notion of Substance, not the substance of individuals in the strict Aristotlean sense, and idea which Graham repeatedly orients himself both towards and against, but Secularized Substance in a monism of one world, which expresses itself determinatively (this provides the connective tissue between occasions, this is the “God” of past theories, extended out so abstractly to no longer be “God” per se).

Now this is where Graham will buck. He does not want to see the world as determined. He wants it to be “weird”. The guys of science get to play with all kinds of weird stuff, why not philosophers? They get extra-dimensions, things that pop into and out of existence, crazy and beautiful fractal diagrams, and philosopher get propositions, and “concepts”, like perpetual children they get to play with blocks of ones, twos and threes stacking them in endless but rather dull variety. Who wants a determined world?

But I want to investigate what “determination” means, or what presupposing a “determined world” means. There are quite a few different tacks to take on this, but I want to force forward one. A determined world is merely the presumption which allows for the power of an explanation. That is to say, ifthere is going to a real change in one’s  power, an increase in one’s  capacities to act in the world when one understands the explanation of something, this is because  the world itself is determined. Leave off the great fantasies (or nightmares) of a clock-work universe, clicking like gears, or the unappealing idea that what flavor of icecream  you are going to choose tomorrow at the ice cream shop is already in some sense known. This is not the point of understanding the world to be determined. The point is that when someone explains to you how something works, and you understand this explanation, you and your relationship to the world fundamentally changes. This is the power of explanation.

It may be something as simple as “you have to depress the clutch when starting your car” or more satisfying, the complex reason why this is so; it may be “if you talk to him in a gentle voice, you get better results” or substantively, a detailed reason why this is so either with this person or people in general; it may be “you can only add those two variables under these conditions, because these kinds of equations only work in this way” or, “your disc drive only can hold x amount of data, unless you perform these operations on that data, because…”. The examples are endless, and the changes in power through the comprehension of causes are vital and real (any metaphysics that cannot explain or marginalizes this constitutive power remains marginal to the world). A determined world is one in which explanations have traction. The explanation does not have to be the ultimate or definitive one (in fact, questions must be raised if even such a kind of explanation is a coherent thought). It is rather merely that explanations work. They do work, and they explain work. If you are going to remove the sense-value of a determined world you have to account for the power of explanation, and this is precisely what Graham’s philosophy does remove and then does not do.

If one wants to get a grip on the power of explanation, consider what Michael Della Rocca calls The Principle of Sufficient Reason(PSR). The base assumption of the PSR is this:

Consider first the PSR, the principle according to which each fact, each thing that exists, has an explanation. The explanation of a fact is enough – sufficient – to enable one to see why the fact holds. The explanation of a fact enables us to see the explained fact coming, as it were. If the explanation of the thing were not sufficient in this way, then some aspect of the thing would remain unexplained, unintelligible.

S****** (2008 )

Here we touch on a more enriching aspect of explanation. It is not just that explanation allows us access to what works, but it also allows us to see the facts of “working” coming. It provides the depth of a surface of interactions (occasions) in such a way that our position among them is changed, improved. In fact all metaphysical engagments with the world, either explicitly or implicitly, in the power of the PSR. But the principle does not require that all aspects of a thing are currently being explained in their every degree, but only that they can be explained. This is an important point because here I think Graham would like to have his black hole of the essence of objects forever in retreat from the mind.

First though I would like to take up a foundational aspect of Graham’s OOP, Latour’s so-called Principle of Irreduction. Graham describes the irreducibility/reducibility this way:

Since an actant  cannot be split into durable substance and transient accident, it follows that nothing can be reduced to anything else. Each thing simply is what it is, in utter concreteness. We cannot reduce a thing to some privileged inner core by stripping away its inessential features. But at the same time, anything can be reduced to anything else, provided the proper labor is done. This two-faced principle of irreduction  is less paradoxical than it seems, since both sides result from the same basic insight. To reduce one thing to another is to see it as an effect explainable in terms of a more fundamental layer of reality.

From a draft of the forth-coming Prince of Networks

Hopefully one can see that the second half of the principle, what we can call the Principle of Labored Reduction, rests entirely upon a notion of a determined and explainable world. That is, there is a declared necessity for concrete changes in the world which are specifically traceable, labors, whose accurate description of constitutes the legitimacy of any reduction (such a tracing simply cannot exist in a Secular Occasionalist Universewhere actors simply pass into and out of existence without causation). The very priority of a descriptive labor of translations (the coherent movement from one occasion to another) undermines any strict metaphysical isolation of actors from each other. Instead, causes and the labor of causes must be real and connective chains. There is a determination of translation. Unless one is to do without the second face of the “two-faced” principle (and there is a temptation to fall in love with the postmodernish freedom of the first face), determinations and explanations are essential.

Having granted that there is some determinative power of the explanation, presupposing somelevel of determination in the world, let us return to the hard problem, whether “some aspect [of a fact] would remain unexplained” or unintelligible. The difficulty that Graham might have with this non-missing aspect of fact is resolved if we accept that our finite natures as bodies and minds prevent us from holding completely Adequate, and therefore completely sufficient explanations (Della Rocca as well as myself agree that this is not possible). That is to say, in a Latourian sense, we might have a very good explanation of how automobile parts work together in a car, and how these workings also are expressive in terms of an understanding of thermodynamics, but each of these explanations is a translation of the phenomenae. They are sufficient unto their needs and models, but there is no reason to grant that these explanations capture every aspect of the thing described. In fact, as we search for the completely sufficient explanation, we are pushed ever wider, looking into the conditions of the conditions we are examining. The PSR  becomes an asymptotic limit toward which we head when we attempt to completely understand things. And as we assemble more and more sufficient explanations, creating them materially out of our very position in the world, our position in the world itself changes. What we can grant is that by virtue of the limited nature of our capacities, any description will merely be partial, and that we can only get closer to understanding things, becoming more active in a seemingly contingent, happenstance world, by virtue of our ability to combine with them. 

But there is an additional way in which the PSR  serves Graham’s engagement with Latour, for OOP has difficulty to the way that Latour flattens out the ontology of actors such that a thing is nothing more that its relations to other things. Graham wants to say that the essence of objects stands apart from, or in retreat from all the effects of other object/actors. The essence is the difference that does not make a difference, so to speak. In this way Graham sets Latour’s implied metaphysics in the family of other flatten ontologies such as those of DeLanda and Deleuze, the matrix of a sush of mere intensities (in Latourperhaps Plasma) which suddenly give riseto actors. Graham wants a certain depth below the object, something in surplus to its qualities in effect.

From our perspective we can grant with Latour that manifestations in the world, modal manifestations are utmost and complete (that is, they do not leave anything is reserve). Yet, the PSR directs us to the immanent cause of those concrete and full manifestations, so in keeping with Graham’s need to deepen these postmodern ontologies, grants a ground of Immanent depth. In order to fully appreciate this “save” one has to compare varieties of the idea of an “essence” of an object.

But what of the modal essences that do not involve existence and are contained in the attributes? What do they consist of? Each essence is part of God’s power insofar as the latter is explained by the modal essence [E4p4dem]. S****** always conceived of the modal essences as singular, starting withthe Short Treatise. Hence the texts of the Short Treatise that seem to deny the distinction of essences (ST II, chp. 20, n. 3; app. II, I) actually only deny their extrinsic distinction, which would only imply their existence in duration and the possession of extensive parts. The modal essences are simple and eternal. But they nevertheless have, with respect to the attribute and to each other, another type of distinction which is purely intrinsic (65)

S******: Practical Philosophy, Gilles Deleuze

Here, in the intrinsic distinction of eternal essences which form part of a sufficient explanation of concrete manifestations, lies the depth that Graham Harman wants to add to Latourand others. As to the nature of the depth that Graham wants to give to esssences, it seems to be something between positing entities which are somehow dormant in the way that we are when we sleep (only much, much deeper, something like a coma). They lie in something like a dark sea, but not in any sense of the kinds of flat intensity ridden ontologies of DeLanda or Deleuze. They have something specific to them, something intrinsic, but non-relational. I cannot help but think that the kinds of essences of Substance that PSR  reasoning drives us to, eternal but still not-yet-existent, or just-having-existed intrinsic relations, is very close to what Graham is idiosyncratically and creatively driving towards.

Not S******

Because Graham’s OOP solution the aporia of Occasionalism is not yet completed, one cannot really critically address its possibilities. In as much he has put forth reasons why he will would not appreciate a S****** cueing  of his philosophical problems I am left with either a highly problematic question of the “fashionability” of a thinker, or the strong problem of seeing the world as determined and subject to powerful concrete changes through explanation. If one is going to do away with explanation as a vector of changes in power, what keeps the world from jumbling together into one incoherent saute pan of sauces, and upon what does the demand for the tracings of translation anchor itself?

In the main body of this I have refrained from using S******’s name, even in code, and only have resorted to his terminology at a bare minimum, as Levi has proposed. The violations were be the use of the term “determination” (which is the name of that which Graham objects, a term needing to be explained), and “essence” a term which Graham uses himself, and makes for a necessary correspondence (some words simply have no equivalents). “Modal” as it is found in the Deleuzequotation simply means “particularized way of existing,” something which is both immanently caused and transitively caused. Hopefully I have provided at least sense of how I imagine OOPcan be deepened by a dialogue with a thinker who is perhaps now fashionable. If it is any solace to those that shrink the popularity of this marano, he spent a very long time not being fashionable at all, but rather lived many of these centuries out of joint, either as a dispicable atheist or an out-moded and naive Rationalist. If any thinker’s “essence” retreated from his or her qualities, it was probably this one.

Spinoza and the Metaphoric Rise of the Imagination

Mind Without Metaphor?

Beginning from my last post which opened up a Vician affirmation of metaphor as a constitutive and creative force for the growth of knowledge, it seems a good idea to look closely at the Spinoza system to see if indeed there is room for such a productivity. Prima facie it certainly seems to be the case that Spinoza would hold low esteem for metaphorical use. His entire “mail and mask” more geometrico  seems in defiance of any positive role for metaphors, treating thoughts and feelings literally as if they were planes and lines (falling under the same causal laws). In philosophy there is hardly a systematic document that seems less friendly to the metaphorical than the Ethics. The vast perception is that categorically for Spinoza metaphors are bad (confused), literal truths good (clear and distinct). A wide ranging philosopher like Richard Rorty who professes much admiration for Spinoza except for the perceived antipathy for the metaphor, sums up the impression well:

Though the human body had been redeemed by Galileo’s discoveries of how matter worked, the imagination had not. The human body is redeemed only when seen under the aspect of eternity, as a feature on the face of the whole universe. But the divine mind-the counterpart, under the attribute of thought, of the face of the material universe– has no imagination. It is literal-minded. It has no occasion to speak in metaphors. So, Spinoza thought, the less we humans use metaphors, the greater our chances of blessedness….He says, for example, that when the Bible tells us that God opened the windows of the heavens, all it is really saying is that it rained very hard. (TPT, p. 44) For Spinoza, metaphor has no value. Like the imagination, metaphor is something to be overcome (“Spinoza’s Legacy”).

With respect to Rorty, there is a great difference between something that should be overcome, and something having no value; but it is easy to join Rorty in what seems to be an obviousness, metaphors are confusions and confusions are things that one should try to make clear, a clarity that leads to real, affective Joy. How is one to reconcile the predominant message in Spinoza’s writings with the possibility that metaphors are very real productive, and non-eliminatable modes of increased activity and Joy in the sense that Spinoza thinks of Joy. As to that Joy, even upon repetition the pleasures of metaphors endure, something Davidson calls it their “eternal youth” which he compares to the “surprise” in Hayden’s Symphony 94. The flash of realization moves us to see. Is there room for such revelation in Spinoza?

Perhaps one needs to start with the strict possibility that human beings cannot hold purely adequate ideas at all, but only in their finite minds may asymptotically approach increasing adequacy of ideas. The very path to adequacy it seems would be one in which the imagination has historically played an integral role in the increase in the adequacy of our ideas (like the first blacksmith hammer and tongs, they had to be made from something), and given the fundamental, one might say, existential passivity of the human mind, imagination likely would play a constitutive role in the increase in the adequacy of our ideas, no matter the stage of our development.

Joy: The Increase in the Adequacy of Ideas

In Della Rocca’s new book, and confirmed in generous private exchange, is found the interpretation that human beings are unable to hold completely adequate ideas in the full spectrum of the ways that Spinoza defined them. This is something I long had felt myself. They are likely best seen as a limit upon which we gauge our own knowledge (and Joy). If we accept this the door for a productive use of the imagination in general, and metaphors specifically, is opened up. Gatens and Lloyd wrote an excellent book on Spinoza’s undervalued relationship to the imagination, Collective Imaginings: Spinoza Past, Present and Future. But I would like to dwell on metaphor itself, the unique way that it stirs us with a kind of waxing pleasure, and how this is achieved through an intentional confusion. (As I mentioned in my last post, and then more at length in an earlier article on Donald Davidson and Giambattista Vico, this “confusion” is the cause of a reader or listener to affectively equate two or more objects, that is to feel about the one as one would feel about the other, taking each to be the cause of the same affection, such that one is brought to noticed an unspecified number of similarities between the objects or classes. And this is primarily accomplished through the strict falsehood of the metaphorical statement: “That man is a wolf” is false because wolves are not men.) The effects (affects) of two or more objects are confused so as to produce a pleasurable notification of what is shared.

There can be no doubt that metaphors are pleasurable, in fact, in contemplation, are Joyous. This also is a good place to start. For given Spinoza’s definition of Joy, his parallel postulate and his explicit assertion that activities of the mind ONLY arise from adequate ideas (3p3), one is forced to say that the Joy we feel when we encounter a wonderful metaphor is a Joy that comes from an increase in the adequacy of our ideas (as all Joy). I was happy to find that Professor Della Rocca consents to this understanding of mine as well. Something about good metaphors increases the adequacy of our ideas. What is it, in Spinozist terms, that this something is? It is more than the pleasure of a song or music.

Contrary to many philosophical intuitions, Spinoza is not mute on the benefits of the imagination. In fact, besides the way in which he grounds the social field in the imaginative “imitations of the affects,”  in the fifth part of the Ethics, a part concerned with the achievement of the Intuition of God, he presents a string of propositions on the powers of the image . Whereas earlier in part III he had spoken of the third kind of knowledge, Intuition, as a kind of extension of the Second kind of knowledge, Reason, invoking the example of how merchants can calculate with great speed without walking through the steps of a calculation, here he seems to set up the ultimate intuition of God along side qualifications of the positive effects of the imagination. And while intuitions of God/Substance/Nature are not our aim, these distinctions in terms of images seem ready-made to be applied to the benefits of metaphor use.

 From Memory to Metaphor

First there is a numerical qualification which helps us determine what gives us the strength of an emotion (I use the Shirley translation, but “emotion” should be read as “affect”). An affect’s strength comes from a simultaneous condensation of causes:

5p8 – The greater the number of causes that simultaneously concur in arousing an emotion, the greater the emotion.

This indeed does seem to conceptually orient us to the power of a metaphor. When Homer compares wounds to mouths, or when we are told, “the heavens wept” there is an intensity of simultaneity that seems very much to make up the nature of the effect. The ideas of each object or process are affectively fused, and their causes confluence in a way that no single idea, or its literal expression, would have. And when this is pleasurable, we in our strengthening condition we are able to arrange our mixing affections, undistracted by a Sadness:

5p10 - As long as we are not assailed by emotions that are contrary to our nature, we have the power to arrange and associate affections of the body according to the order of the intellect.

While the effect may be a condensation or confusion of affects, because it is Joyous, our affections are open to clarification. Our very agreement with the effect leads to the possibility of an unfolding of the consequences. The propositions that follow then switch from emotions to images themselves:

5p11 – In proportion as a mental image is related [refertur] to more things, the more frequently does it occur – i.e., the more often it springs to life – and the more it engages the mind.

Proof : In proportion as an image or emotion is related to more things, the more causes there are by which it can be aroused and fostered, all of which the mind, by hypothesis, regards simultaneously as a result of the emotion. And so the emotion thereby occurs more frequently – i.e., springs to life more often – and engages the mind more (5p8).

The very relatability of two or more images as we find in the apt or even beautiful metaphor (again, I solicit a favorite, “…that dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea”), bring together the genealogy of causes to a point where it is not just that the body is affected, but the mind itself. This is an important distinction, one that requires that we turn back to another section where Spinoza speaks of the powers of the imagination, in the second part where a very powerful function of the memory is discussed. Here, instead of the two or more con-fused ideas that are involved in metaphors, it is the images that are born of a contingent simultaneity when we are affected by objects at the same time…that is the trace the coincidence leaves on us:

2p18 – If the human body has once been affected by two or more bodies at the same time, and when the mind afterwards imagines one of them, it will straightaway remember the others too.

2p18, scholium – Hence we clearly understand what memory is. It is simply a linking of ideas involving the nature of things outside the human body, a linking which occurs in the mind parallel to the order and linking of the affections of the human body. I say, firstly, that it is only the linking of those ideas that involve the nature of things outside the human body, not of those that explicate the nature of the said things. For they are in fact (2p16) ideas of the affections of the human body which involve the nature both of the human body and of external bodies. Secondly, my purpose in saying that this linking occurs in accordance with the order and linking of the affections of the human body is to distinguish it from the linking of ideas in accordance with the order of the intellect whereby the mind perceives things through their first causes, and which is the same in all men.

Furthermore, from this we clearly understand why the mind, from thinking of one thing, should straightaway pass onto thinking of another thing which has no likeness to the first. For example, from thinking the word “pomum” [apple] a Roman will straightaway pass onto thinking of the fruit, which has no likeness to that articulate sound nor anything in common with it other than that the man’s body has often been affected by them both; that is, the man has often heard the word “pomum” while seeing the fruit. So everyone will pass on from one thought to another according as habit in each case has arranged the images in his body.

The way that the imaginative memory works, according to Spinoza, is that images are ordered associatively, occurring in correspondence to their coincidence in time, determined by the affections of the human body. The imaginative memory is a kind of ideational associative habit, to be distinguished from the way that the intellect orders thing through its understanding through explanation and cause. This habit contingently links even words and images, and the “linking” is the linking of the affections of the body, not the intellect. In contrast to the memory’s corporeal  “ordering and linking”, if we return to the relative properties of images found in 5p11 where the very numericity of relatedness produces an engagement with the mind, this seems to give the avenue by which metaphorical confusions specifically help to produce an increase in the adequacy of our ideas. The mind is engaged by the causal profusion that produces the strength of the metaphorical affect, aided by the fact that the affect is Joyous and in agreement with our natures, an engagement that is expressed in the very relatability of the two or more images (or ideas, one would assume) that compose the metaphor.

This mental (as 0pposed to a merely bodily) link is further delineated in the next proposition. The most relatable images are those of things which we already understand:

5p12 – Images are more readily associated with those images that are related to things which we clearly and distinctly understand than they are to others.

Proof: Things that are clearly and distinctly understood are either the common properties of things or deductions made from them (see 2p40s2, def of reason) and consequently they are more often before the mind (2p11proof). So it is more likely that we should regard other things in conjunction with these, and consequently (2p18) that they should be more readily associated with these than others.

Spinoza is building an argumentative case for the images which are relatable to our Intuitive understanding of God. Our clarity in a concept of God creates a substantial framework for the relatability of images in general. In a certain sense, far from being radically against the imagination, Reason actual works as its facilitator. Through our understanding of common properties of things, other imagined associations increase. Aside from Spinoza’s argumentative goal, in the case of metaphor production one can see how this also would be so. Metaphors are born atop our primary clarity of understanding. If I can say that the brain is the computer of a body, this metaphor trades upon knowing with some clarity what a brain is and what a computer is. And the metaphor through its illumination suddenly gives us to see certain (yet innumerable) common properties. These leap to life in an apparent increase in our adequacy of idea.

The Polyvalance of Image Relations

Lastly, it is this very associability founded upon numerical and causal connections with produces a temporal increase in the association. This may serve as a very broad framework in which to read the lateralization of metaphors, the way that mouths of rivers and bottle eventually move from unexpected, non-literal metaphor, to simply a new literal use of the word. The causal richness of the word used underwrites a pragmatic sublimation of our imaginary powers.

5p13 - The greater the number of other images which an image is associated, the more often it springs to life.

Proof: The greater the number of images which an image is associated, the more causes there are by which it can be aroused (2p18).

Given this tracing of a Spinozist space for the productive intellectual powers of metaphors, perhaps it is best to ground the favorability back upon the body, from whence it begins. The causal, associative power of metaphorical confusion, if it is to result in real-world empowerment must also be seen as a material gain, a turn toward the possible polyvalence of the body. Here the numerical duplicity of two objects affectively experienced as one is related to a generalized numerical increase in causal openness, the famous “ more ways” definition of “advantage”:

4p38 – That which so disposes the human body that it can be affected in more ways [pluribus modis], or which renders it capable of affecting external bodies in more ways, is advantageous to man, and proportionately more advantageous as the body is thereby rendered more capable of being affected in more ways and of affecting other bodies in more ways. On the other hand, that which renders the body less capable in these respects is harmful.

Metaphors must be read, if we are to embrace them as Spinozist creations of Joy, as increases in the number of ways in which the body is capable of being affected and affecting others. This would be a groundwork assumption.
Let this post be a kind of reasoning-aloud about the conceptual space affordable for the products of the imagination, and in particular the benefits of metaphors. Under such reasoning, contra Rorty, there is indeed a value in the use of metaphor, in fact given our fundamental passivity of mind, an arguably prodigious value. Because more adequate ideas are not immediately available to us at any particular time on any particular subject or need, given the particular historical conditions we might find ourselves in, the creativity of associative thought, the affective conflations that metaphors achieve, can be seen to play a central role in illuminating new aspects of phenomenae of every kind, from objects, to ideas, to relations. It very well may be wanted for us to say, “The Heavens Weep” rather than “It is raining outside”, for the first condensationally draws together a wealth of causal relations, as Deleuze might say virtual relations, which the second would simply occlude in its distinctness. The first may bring us Joy, the second little. Metaphors cause us to notice, in the shimmering light of what is a revelation, what the Greeks thought of as an “uncovering”, what then  can be excavated by the intellect.

I have to say that despite the loose success of this picture, there is one aspect of Spinoza’s argument that troubles me, and I have found this distinction in other writings of his, (for instance his letter to Peter Balling regarding his prophetic imagination of his son). When Spinoza wants to qualify that something is linked only in the body, and not in the intellect, given his parallel postulate I can not rigorously understand the distinction of an ordo  of the body, since each linking in the body MUST be a linking in the mind of God. As events happen in they body, they are also following adequately in the mind. I can perhaps imagine that the ideational linkings of bodily affections read as coincident are perhaps too obtuse for the finite mind to immediately comprehend, and therefore as a shorthand bodily affection associations are to be distinguished from intellectual reference. But I cannot see in principle how these are divided, as the human Mind is nothing more than God thinking in a finite mode. The understandability that even allows affects to be intelligible at all confirs some mental order to them. Even the associations Spinoza regards as contingent, those between the sound of the word “apple” and the image of the apple that comes to your mind is intimately linked to the network of rationally organized beliefs about the world and language use which over and above habit provide the context for interpretability. In a sense, one sees an apple, as an apple, because one knows the word “apple” and understands its concept (how to use the word), and this was learned under causal conceptions with others in a shared world. To be sure, there is a free-flowing connection between images based on personal experiences, but these are shot through with inferential and deductive understandings of the world.

What is a metaphor if not a kind of pirouette

performed by an idea, enabling us to assemble its diverse names or images?

—Paul Valéry

Spinoza’s Confusion of Ideas, and then, Metaphor

Productive Confusion of Objects

Michael Della Rocca has an excellent section in his new book Spinoza (2008 ) in which he discusses Spinoza’s panpsychism in terms of two problems, th0se he calls the Pan and the Pancreas problem. These are the explanatory diffculties that arise in Spinoza’s panpsychic (there are a long of pans here) epistemology that seems to confer “mind” to every thing. If the object of our thoughts is our body, how is it that we are able to form perceptions of external objects, i.e. frying pans; and if our mind is the idea of our body, how is it that we are not readily aware of our most of the changing states of our pancreas? He comes upon a summation of the nature of our confusion, (remember confusion is con-/fusion), is a blurring together of ideas of both states in the world and states of our body. It is that the human condition is one in which any ideas of our body are tied up with (confused with) the ideas of the external bodies that affect them, and the same goes for the ideas of external bodies themselves, as he sums:

Spinoza’s general account of confusion seems to be the following. (This is apparent in his discussion in 2p40s1 of certain universal notions which for him are highly confused.) For Spinoza an idea is confused when it represents, or is about, two separate things and yet the mind is unable to distinguish these things by having an idea which is just of one of the objects and an idea which is just of the other of the objects. In a case where more than one thing is represented, the lack of confusion requires being able to to perceive the things separately. I think that this is a fairly plausible condition to place on being free of confusion…When the body is affected by an outside object and the mind perceives the bodily effect as well as the outside object, all the ingredients for confusion are in place (113).

This descriptive argument cast my eye in another direction – and it is interesting that Della Rocca founds it upon Spinoza’s dismissal of Universals as confused ideas. What comes to mind is something that Spinoza works as hard as possible to distance himself from in most cases, not withstanding his love of Terence and some pointed exceptions…metaphor. Metaphor is the deliberate, and creative perceptual con-fusion of two objects. In a metaphor a literal falsehood is uttered, “That man is a wolf” or one of my favorites, “the dolphin-torn, gong-tormented sea” such that something of an indistinguishability is achieved.  Vico theorized that metaphors were the primative, poetic creation of “imaginative universals”, a way of fusing multiple objects together in the imagination such as to be able to produce something new, an ontology of quality (I write about this in some detail here Davidson’s Razor, Vico’s Magnet ). This kind of collapse is part of what I am sensing. But one must turn to the Cartesian notion of  “clear and distinct” from which Spinoza is operating to get the full sense of what I am after. Clear and distinct is born of optics, a judgment of the quality of image in a lens. Whether one is straining to see a flea leg in a microscope, or the recently discovered fleck of the moon of Saturn, its “clarity” which was its brightness, and its distinctness, which was the ability to distinguish a form from what surrounded it, were as one can imagine braided aspects of a lens’ power. An image had to be bright and distinguishable, and it is was on this demand that Decartes, and then the even more optically practiced lens-maker Spinoza, rhetorically traded. (How interesting that the descriptive of adequate ideas itself begins as a metaphor.)

But as I argue elsewhere, metaphor give us to affectively feel the same about, to confuse, two (0r more) objects in their causal relationship to our internal lives. We are to feel the same way about this man (or if we follow Hobbes, all men) that we feel about wolves. Following Yeats, we are to feel about the sea, its surface, its waves, the same way we feel about things that are tormented, fabric and gongs. And in so doing, something else comes to the surface, something bright and distinguished from what it is not (but still not ideationally clear). It is the living, electric line of a similarity which remains to be delineated in a specific way. Both objects, let us stick with the “man” and the “wolf”, remain distinct as ideas, but these ideas fall back, like the rough, gray penumbra of the outer edge of the magnifying lense. It suddenly is the “wolfiness” of the man — and if we are in a situation where we would be threatened by it it can jut out crag-like at us. And dialectically, there comes to be the counter-infection, the maniness of wolves.

If the confusions of ideas of the body and external objects are indeed born of how Della Rocca argues that Spinoza conceives of them, such that we cannot have a clean idea of external objects that is not in some sense contaminated by our ideas of our bodies, and visa versa, our attempt to clarify our ideas through a separable understanding of objects through their causes that we read as clear and distinct can be seen to be fostered by another confusion, an intentional one, wherein it is not inside and outside that is confused, but two or more external objects are affectively and poetically fused within us, so as to give birth to a shimmering clarity of aspect unseen before. It is engagement with this line, brought up from the ground, that allows us to make greater clarity and distinctness of the ideas that will come to surround it, as we come to seek its causes.

To Hephaestus’ house came Thetis, silver-footed  (Iliad, xviii, 369)

Pythagorian Spinoza?

Leibniz’s Summation

Of some significance, here I post a summation of Spinoza’s philosophy, as passed through the mouth of a loyal friend, Tschirnhaus, and as relayed to Leibniz in 1675, originally published in English by Wim Klever. It draws out some curious Klever might say esoteric aspects of Spinoza’s thinking. Most distinct about it is the notion that Spinoza held a Pythagorian idea of a transmigration of the Mind. Besides the obvious distortions that can be brought about through one man telling another man what someone else believes, there remains the possibility that the account is somehow intentionally colored in details, either to couch Spinoza, or to put him in a personally favorable light:

As Klever relates:

“In spite of Spinoza’s warning that Tschirnhaus should be reluctant in communicating what he had received for private use, we know that Tschirnhaus nonetheless revealed many secrets to the inquisitive Leibniz. This appears from a note written by Leibniz which he must have made shortly after a meeting. I think it worthwhile to quote this note here in full because it enables us to see how Spinoza’s doctrine was perceived, understood, and explained by his friends and followers in or around 1675. A second reason is that this note which is not known by many scholars and iis not yet available otherwise in English contains several interesting points which cannot be found elsewhere and is also for that reason relevant:

Sir Tischirnhaus told me many things about the handwritten book of Spinoza. There is a merchant in Amsterdam, called Gerrit Gilles [Jarig Jelles] I think who supports Spinoza. Spinoza’s book will be about God, mind, happiness or the idea of the perfect man, the recovery of the mind and the recovery of the body. He asserts the demonstration of a number of things about God. The he alone is free. He supposes that freedom exists when the action or determination originates not from an external impact, but only from the nature of the actor. In this sense he justly ascribes freedom to God alone.

According to him the mind itself is in a certain sense a part of God. He thinks that there is a sense in all things to the degrees of their existence. God is defined by him as an absolutely infinite Being, which contains all perfections, i.e. affirmations or realities or what may be conceived. Likewise only God would be substance or a Being which exists in itself, or which can be understood by itself; all creatures are nothing else other than modes. Man is free insofar as he is not determined by any external things. But because this is never the case, man is not free at all, though he participates more in freedom than the bodies.

The mind would be nothing but the idea of the body. He thinks that the unity of the bodies is caused by a certain pressure. Most people’s philosophy starts with creatures, Des Cartes started with the mind, he [Spinoza] starts with God. Extension does not imply divisibility as was unduly supposed by Descartes; although he supposed to see this also clearly, he fell into the error that the mind acts on the body or is acted upon by the body.

He thinks that we will forget most things when we die and retain only those things that we know with the kind of knowledge that he calls intuitive, of which of which only a few are conscious. Because knowledge is either sensual, imaginative, or intuitive. He believes a sort of Pythagorical transmigration, namely that the mind goes from body to body. He says that Christ is the very best philosopher. He thinks that apart from thought and extension there are an infinity of other positive attributes, but that in all of them there is thought like here in extension. How they are constituted cannot be conceived by us but every one is infinite like space here (“Spinoza’s life and works” Cambridge Companion to Spinoza, 46-47)


I posted below some rough thoughts I had some time ago, and their related Spinoza texts. Klever’s evidence of a kind of at least percieved Pythagorian transmigration adds an esoteric meaning to Spinoza’s mathematization. And while I cannot conceive how such a transformation could be understood within the propositions of the Ethics [on what account is the preservation of identity maintained], it does give conceptual context for some of the more difficult to interpret passages on this issue.

Notable as well is the summation’s deviation from Spinoza’s theory of the three knowledges as found in the Ethics. Here, the trinity of “imaginary, rational, intuitive” has become “sensual, imaginary, intuitive”. Assuming an accurate translation of the passage, this may give some clue to the differences of Spinoza’s treatment of the Imaginary and Order (spoken about here, in Spinoza’s Two Concepts of Order). Professor Della Rocca in correspondence had affirmed his belief that Spinoza is somewhat inconsistent in his treatment of “order” in the various parts of the Ethics. What is suggested by the Leibniz summation, perhaps, is that even the rational, propositional conception of true and free in Spinoza is still imaginary; this may be linked to Spinoza’s variation on whether we can or cannot ever have wholly Adequate Ideas.

The Reality of the Affects: Spinoza’s Plotinian Real

In counterbalance to the points made in the post below, I have the following thoughts which stem from Lilli Alanen’s response to Della Rocca:

In reading Alanen’s response to Della Rocca’s “Rationalism Run Amok” I have a few questions. In particular it is her trouble with the idea that all affects are illusionary.

Here is the germ of it:

So existence is not an all or nothing affair but comes in more and less. But then the conclusion that we with our passive affects exist to a much lesser degree than the eternal and infinite God does not seem very startling. It becomes so only if one, as Della Rocca seems to do, sides with idealist Spinoza commentators in thinking that anything less than full intelligibility, and with it full perfection or being, lacks reality.

Do we really need to draw such drastic conclusions? More to the point: do we need to draw these drastic conclusions?

Here’s a worry: There is, Della Rocca argues, a sense in which passive affects are real and fully intelligible, namely qua ideas in God’s mind. The very same ideas which are confused in my mind are distinct and adequate in God’s. This is just a manifestation of what he calls the mind-relativity of content (p. 19). Does this mean affects are fully real in God’s mind? Hardly qua affects, since God’s mind contains only adequate ideas. So are they unreal after all? I’m troubled by mind-relativity here and have a hard time seeing how adequate ideas in God’s mind could be the same as the confused one in ours?

This is the difficulty that I have. Alanen seems to argue that because our intuition tells us that if something exists to some degree, it can be said to exist completely so. That is, because Spinoza grants that affects are idea-expressions of degrees of being, these affects themselves must be said to exist, fully. But isn’t it Spinoza’s entire point that such ideas and affects in so far as they have being, are already perfect (in the mind of God), and in so far as they don’t have being, are imperfect and inadequate? Because Spinoza makes being itself the vector of inadequacy, I don’t see how one can say that affects actually are (despite our intuition, and experience that they are). The way that Spinoza has set it up seems to be that the predicate of being is entirely linked to the degree of adequacy. By insisting that affects are “real” Alanen is insisting something of the order that “degrees of being are real” has full being, and I am not sure how in Spinoza’s system on could do that.

If I put my question a different way, Spinoza in a famous letter to Jellis, denies the being of “negation”:

As to the doctrine that figure is negation and not anything positive, it is plain that the whole of matter considered indefinitely can have no figure, and that figure can only exist in finite and determinate bodies. For he who says, that he perceives a figure, merely indicates thereby, that he conceives a determinate thing, and how it is determinate. This determination, therefore, does not appertain to the thing according to its being, but, on the contrary, is its non-being. As then figure is nothing else than determination, and determination is negation, figure, as has been said, can be nothing but negation.

Letter 50 to Jellis, June 2, 1674

The negation of which a particular figure is composed, pertains only to its non-being. Would one say then that “negation” for Spinoza must have being? Or even that “non-being” for Spinoza, must have “being”? This seems like a similar kind of assertion to the one that Alanen proposes, and it appears to undercut what Spinoza is attempting to say.

A similar problem occurs in the assessment of the Blind Man in his letter to Blijenbergh (Letter 21, Jan 28, 1665). Here Spinoza wants to tell us that a blind man is no less perfect than a stone is perfect:

“I proceed further to the explanation of the terms “Negation” and “Privation”…I say, therefore, that Privation is, not the act of depriving, but only the pure and simple lack, which is itself nothing. Indeed it is only a Being of reason, or mode of thinking, which we form when we compare things with one another. We say, for example, that a blind man is deprived of sight because we easily imagine him as seeing…But when we consider God’s decree, and his nature, we can no more affirm that of man than of a Stone, that he is deprived of vision…God is no more the cause of his not seeing than of the stone’s not seeing, which is pure Negation”

If one replaces “seeing” with “affect” we see that having an affect is only a negation, a negation which is nothing (has no Being). If we connect up any affective being with the Totality of which it is an expression (that is, remove all its negations and border), the affect disappears, because there is no transition in power or degree of being. That is Spinoza’s point, is it not?

The same thing seems to register on the level of epistemology:

E4p1dem: Falsity consists only in the privation of knowledge…”

What Alanen seems to be want to say is that the “privation of knowledge” is real, the “negation of sight” in a blind man (and a stone) is real, that non-being is real. But this seems to undercut a primary embrace of Being, the idea that Being is a plentitude and that negation is an illusion of perspective, comparison, projected ideas and inadequate ideas. Although she critique’s Della Rocca for accepting an Idealist-type conclusion, one that makes the changes in the world to be mere illusions, she seems accept the very thing that Hegel critiqued Spinoza for failing to see, the Reality of the Negation. Rather it seems, Spinoza has to be taken at his word, that degrees of being are exactly that, degrees of being.

I wonder how she would square her interpretation with the clear comments on Negation and Privation taken above?

Closely Related Post: Negation and the Unseeing Stone


Zombies and Monsters of a Philosophy of Mind


This is the thing of significance. Behaviorism has fueled many of the third person approaches to consciousness, Dennett and Wittgenstein come to mind. Behaviorism is often countered by some kind of phenomenal approach to experience. The problem is that “phenomenal” descriptions are often linked to Lockean like empirical conceptions of knowledge, wherein what is experienced is somehow imagined to be a representation of “reality” which it “reflects” with more or less clarity, like a mirror. More sophisticated versions of this conception imagine that there is “Information” out there, and that it has to somehow be replicated, or represented “in here”.

What Davidson’s triangulation approach does is help unseat the Self-World binary which governed philosophy for so long. Philosophy, because it was an extension of religious attempts, one suspects, concentrated on connecting the soul-self-perception-knowledge-representation to the God-reality-world, as Rorty pointed out, in a metaphor of reflection. After the linguistic turn in philosophy, accelerated by Wittgenstein, primary attempts to connect internal states to external reality in any one-to-one fashion, became grafted onto the very process of languaging. This opened up the other (repressed) leg of the Triangle.

But there is something dissatisfying about Behaviorism. It is this third person account of what supposedly is going on “inside”. It is for this reason that a host of ghoulish philosophical thought experiments arise, a race of zombies, deceptive robots and swampmen. The reason for this reaction to behavioral accounts of consciousness are two fold, I believe. One is that they leave out a fundamental aspect of communication itself, and that is the feeling of communication, the very rich affective consquences of communicating with others. When issues of justifcation promote such an affectiveless picture of a process, something seems utterly wrong. This intuition really is the intuition which governs our capacity to interpret others in the first place. When the behavior of others clues us into thinking that they are not what we thought they were, alarm bells go off. When behavor alone seems to be key to justifying truths, the potenital for the same alarm bells sets them shaking, for such behavior could suddenly deviate without explanation or prediction. (This is not to say that Behaviorist arguments are wrong, but perhaps that they are incomplete.) The monsters of philosophical thought experiment are the expression of this potential sense of alarm. The other reason I suspect that monsters are conjured up when we start thinking of consciousness (or theories of meaning) in this different, Behaviorist way, is that such shifts in conception (for instance away from a one-to-one idea of what it means to know the world) promote new ways of interacting and valuing socially. That is, the essential conceptual barriors between ourselves and others, upon which much of our world is organized, are being challenged. And it is right that when a world is threatened that monsters arrive (in the world of philosophy they have appeared). The science fiction of thought experiment is really alerting us to the power of the fiction of new concepts, as they will determined our ways of relating to and valuing others, and the world. Monster is from the Latin monere “to warn”.

Now if someone were to say that behavior and affection are synonymous (as for instance a Spinozist account may allow), I believe that in trianguation what is necessary to complete the behavioral accounts of justification and the resultant theories of meaning and truth (be they Wittgensteinian or Davidsonian), is to understand that affection, that is the imitation of the affects of others, through the recognition of their behavioral responses to a shared environment, is the bodily ground for any conceptual capacity to interpret others. That is, in the kind of perceptual triangulation that Davidson brings to bear there must be a less-than-always-conscious causal realtion between the percieved affects of others, and our own affects, in order to give context for the meaning of our abstract descriptions of behavior itself.

In this way, the intuitional divide between behaviorism (with its cold capacity to allow even robots and zombies into our epistemic midst), and the various appeals to phenomenological experience (leaving behind their accompanied one-to-one representational conceptions of what knowledge is), is thus so to speak, filled in. Behavior is synonymous with affect, in the sense that there is no reading of behavior in triangulating concepts, I would think, without a corresponding causal affective response, one which, on the basis of com-passion creates a community of communications, at the level of the body itself. This does not mean that “qualia” as they are commonly argued for, “exist”.




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