Spinoza: Mind of the Modern

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Baruch Spinoza

Like golden mist, the west lights up

The window. The diligent manuscript

Awaits, already laden with infinity.

Someone is building God in the twilight.

A man engenders God. He is a Jew

Of sad eyes and citrine skin.

Time carries him as the river carries

A leaf in the downstream water.

No matter. The enchanted one insists

And shapes God with delicate geometry.

Since his illness, since his birth,

He goes on constructing God with the word.

The mighties love was granted him

Love that does not expect to be loved.

— Jorge Luis Borges,

translated by Yirmiyahu Yovel

from Spinoza and other Heretics: The Marrano of Reason by Yirmiyahu Yovel, Princeton, 1989

Spinoza lives…

spinoza

Spinoza

Not only lives but lurks in the near background of many of our conversations — on God and science, for instance, and political freedom, toleration, dissent, the pursuit of happiness and the good life. The outcast sage of 17th Century Amsterdam is a favorite of many of our favorites — including P. G. Wodehouse, Einstein, the brain scientist Antonio Damasio and the omni-critic Harold Bloom.

Wodehouse’s “mentally negligible” Bertie Wooster was forever interrupting his brilliant valet Jeeves with lines like: “I know you like to read Spinoza in a leafy glade… but I wonder if you could spare me a moment of your valuable time?”

Proust’s favorite metaphysician Henri Bergson (1859 – 1941) thought “every philosopher has two philosophies, his own and Spinoza’s.”

Bertrand Russell called Spinoza “the noblest and most lovable of the great philosophers.” Bloom concurs to the extent that Spinoza “was surely one of the most exemplary human beings ever to have lived,” though Bloom also finds “an icy sublimity” in Spinoza. “He was greatly cold and coldly great.” It’s part of the problem, surely, that Bloom has been haunted for more than half a century, he says, by Spinoza’s admonition that “It is necessary that we learn to love God without ever expecting that he will love us in return.”

At the core of one big conundrum is Spinoza’s formulation (Propositions 14 and 15 in his Ethics) that: “Except God no substance can be granted or conceived,” and “Whatever is, is in God, and nothing can exist or be conceived without God.” To 19th Century Romantics Spinoza seemed a “God-intoxicated man,” fathering a religion of nature. In his time and ours, the hyper-rationalist philosopher who gave the intellect at work a virtually sacramental standing has also been deemed a pantheist and an atheist for “disappearing” God into His natural creation. Hence the most famous of the Einstein anecdotes, well told by the Harvard historian Gerald Holton:

In 1929, Boston’s Cardinal O’Connell branded Einstein’s theory of relativity as “befogged speculation producing universal doubt about God and His Creation,” and as implying “the ghastly apparition of atheism.” In alarm, New York’s Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein asked Einstein by telegram: “Do you believe in God? Stop. Answer paid 50 words.” In his response, for which Einstein needed but twenty-five (German) words, he stated his beliefs succinctly: “I believe in Spinoza’s God, Who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God Who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.” The rabbi cited this as evidence that Einstein was not an atheist, and further declared that “Einstein’s theory, if carried to its logical conclusion, would bring to mankind a scientific formula for monotheism.” Einstein wisely remained silent on that point.

Gerald Holton, Einstein’s Third Paradise, 2003

In Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain Antonio Damasio, mapping the neural pathways of human emotion, rediscovered Spinoza’s virtually Euclidian geometry of human feelings and reclaimed Spinoza as a modern bridge over the age-old Mind/Body gap.

Damasio walked the alleys and canals of Amsterdam in search of Spinoza’s spirit, and brought him back alive for many of us amateurs. “Spinoza’s God was everywhere, could not be spoken to, did not respond if prayed to, was very much in every particle of the universe, without beginning and without end. Buried and unburied, Jewish and not, Portuguese but not really, Dutch but not quite, Spinoza belonged nowhere and everywhere.”

Rebecca Goldstein’s new book Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity establishes not least that Spinoza belongs at the center of Open Sourcery. Goldstein’s search here is for the Jewish foundations under the thinking of a man most famously expelled from the Amsterdam Synagogue, who saw no divinity in the Hebrew or Christian Bibles, who foreswore the Jewish love of Jewish history, and who minimized the value of “identity” of any kind — national, tribal, religious or individual. Does his thinking represent, in effect, a flight, Goldstein asks, from “the awful dilemmas of Jewish identity”?

And if this is so, then Spinoza is something of a Jewish thinker after all. He is, paradoxically, Jewish at the core, a core that necessitated, for him, the denial of such a thing as a Jewish core. For what can be more characteristic of a Jewish thinker than to use the Jewish experience as a conduit to universality?

Rebecca Goldstein, Betraying Spinoza, p. 178

The story of Spinoza the Jew — descended from Spanish “marranos” or forced converts to Catholicism, who reclaimed their faith and practice in the Dutch Republic — has been much discussed in reviews and the blogosphere. It is but one way into a multi-dimensionally alluring man who who said his project in life had been to “discover and acquire the faculty of enjoying throughout eternity continual supreme happiness.” Where shall we begin with this wonderfully heretical believer who wrote:

He who rightly knows that all things follow from the necessity of the divine nature, and happen according to the eternal laws and rules of Nature, will surely find nothing worthy of hate, mockery, or disdain, or anyone whom he will pity. Instead he will strive, as far as human virtue allows, to act well, as they say, and rejoice.

Spinoza in his posthumous Ethics.

Rebecca Goldstein

Fellow, Radcliffe Institute

Author, Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity Schocken, 2006

Antonio Damasio

Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology, University of Southern California

Author, Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain Harcourt, 2003

Extra Credit Reading

Timothy Garton Ash, Islam in Europe, New York Review of Books, October 5, 2006: “One question that preoccupies Buruma in Murder in Amsterdam, a characteristically vivid and astute combination of essay and reportage, is: Whatever happened to the tolerant, civilized country that I remember from my childhood? (He left Holland in 1975, at the age of twenty-three.) What’s become of the land of Spinoza and Johan Huizinga, who claimed in an essay of 1934 that if the Dutch ever became extremist, theirs would be a moderate extremism?”

Pascal Bruckner, Enlightenment fundamentalism or racism of the anti-racists?, SignandSight.com, January 27, 2007: “Ayaan Hirsi Ali doesn’t only look beautiful, she also invokes Voltaire. This is too much for Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash, who call her an ‘Enlightenment fundamentalist.’ But their idea of multiculturalism amounts to legal apartheid.”

Shlomo Leib, Speaking of Spinoza, The Sentimental Heretic, January 30, 2007: “As a result of this unintended language barrier, we have some who believe that Spinoza was a mystic and others, like myself, find Spinoza to be a refreshing and definitive expression of materialism and determinism, much like philosophical Taoism was to eastern thought, but with the added features of rationalism and circular reasoning.”

Hugo, From Sudoku to Spinoza: The Hedonistic Side of Reasoning, AlphaPsi, January 30, 2007: “Spinoza is probably the epitome of philosophers who tried to built their entire system on pure reason. One of the reasons for this might be the strength of the hedonistic value reasoning had for him”

Carl Schroeder, Kalalau’s Korner, Spinoza, Galludet, and I, October 23, 2006: “I am a Spinoza guy, and I am also a Gallaudetian. Yes, I do crave such systems, and I act as if I know them. But they are impossible. Both Spinoza and Gallaudet are fascinating as the philosophical and educational, respectively, claims of the past, I also realized that, although such words of theirs may inspire me to no end, their work to encompass human knowledge in their categories can never be correct.”

6:12

I was taught that Spinoza’s grand metaphysical schemes — trying to deduce the nature of reality through pure reason alone, eschewing science and empircal observation — that this was delusion, that this was metaphysics in the worst sense of the word.

Rebecca Goldstein

11:16

There is this recognition of the reality of our biology . . . This man is, to a certain degree, what I would like to call a “protobiologist.” At a time when biology was in its infancy, he was able to think like a biologist.

Antonio Damasio

20:14

He always expressed dismay when he was described as an atheist.

Rebecca Goldstein

31:07

The very important concept of conatus — that this striving, this endeavor for each organism to maintain itself and to flourish in the world — there’s a dark side to that, also, that Spinoza emphasizes. One of the things that Spinoza is most concerned with is false beliefs . . . His burning concern was religious intolerance, and how the religion of reason that he was proposing could defang relgious intolerance. To the extent that we’re rational, we’re all going to agree, we’re all going to partake. It’s the same universe, the same eternal universe that we’ll be contemplating. That’s what our minds will be constituted of . . . to some extent we’ll all have exactly the same mind.

Rebecca Goldstein

40:13

This respect for reasoning and truth in oneself, together with the benefits of the democratic society in which you are inserted, are in fact paths for salvation in Spinoza. In other words there is a very sort of complex level of salvation that will come when you are really in that immense contemplation of God in his view. But it really passes through an earlier level that includes contains the democratic state, which protects you, and this enormous respect for reason and truth. And you cannot achieve salvation without those.

Antonio Damasio

47:53

There are many creatures behind this man, which correspond to his actually rather short life . . . and I don’t think we’re doing at all a disservice by enquiring about who he was and where he lived and how he lived.

Antonio Damasio

Comments

151 thoughts on “Spinoza: Mind of the Modern

  1. What a surprise! In “Tractatus Theologico-Politicus,” Ch. 5, Spinoza said common people believe God most clearly displays His power by extraordinary events. They think that while God merely observes the world, it works on its own, like a machine, in accordance with natural law. But the masses believe God occasionally suspends natural law to brings about the aforesaid extraordinary events, which evidently would include miracles. After reading this (I never got around to the other content in the Tractatus), I never forgot it. Eventually I realized that Spinoza actually drew the same conclusion I did, and evidently also David Hume: that there’s something naive in the idea of God occasionally intervening in the world. Hume told us that to establish the reality of a miracle would require providing proof exceeding that establishing the law of nature the miracle purports to violate. “The power of prayer” is just another way of stating Spinoza’s observation. Since Spinoza put his finger on such a critical spot, exposing the rest of his thinking seems like a great idea.

  2. They say that Judaism actively encourages us to question. This has to be a good thing if for no other purpose than to broaden the mind. The hair splitting accuracy of the dialectical method of arriving at “the truth,” as Alan Dershowitz points out was for him [Yeshiva] “preparation for law school.” Interestingly, he and Noam Chomsky among others are also disdained by members of the religious community.

    Christians are not the only ones who suffer from excessive anthropomorphic literalism. In Judaism, it is expounded that we cannot possibly know or attempt to understand the mind of God, but yet we speak as if we know so much about what he wants. How is it possible to understand the language of the deity if we are in fact incapable of speaking that language? The usual answer is that he communicates with us in “symbolic terms,” and then we do our level best to figure out what he means.

    It is true that the very logic we use needs to be wrapped in some sort of package, some garment, to humanize the process of a debate, lest we plunder into a dark abyss of the spirit; an Oriental-like hive mentality. OK so they got that one right. We are warned however that there are four levels of scriptural interpretation. The literalistic male ego forgoes the harmony of the Matriarch and the Virgin Mother. Spinoza sought to destroy any differentiation of The Spirit that is based on the cultural underpinnings of the ego. He was a pacifist, a thinker, even a liberal, but not a nation builder. Like so many of us in his time and in ours, he lived and articulated the pain he felt caused by the intolerance of his particular culture. His excommunication amounts to the idea that his ˜thoughts” were “idolatrous.” That’s insane. God is not a communist!

    We all live under the same roof. Culture and tradition on the one hand can be a vehicle through which we grow into ourselves while perhaps learning to respect others, or it can capture and mold the ego into a selfish and sometimes destructive force. Both of these forces are at play in the universe with an almost even distribution. Progress is slow, but it is, nevertheless, progress.

  3. Doesn’t discussing Spinoza make us part of the War On Christmas?

    Though much admired today by all the best thinkers, Spinoza still couldn’t get elected nationally, sing on Country radio, or pass muster with Fox News. I guess he’ll have to wait a few more centuries.

  4. I have two questions:

    1) Do you have other reading recommendations beyond these two:

    Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain

    Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity

    that would help up us become familiar with Spinoza and the appropriate philosophic/cultural context within which to interpret him?

    2) Will you give us time to do this reading?

    Thanks,

    Allison

  5. Finally, a show on Spinoza! For such an important character he would have had some mention sooner. I am interested in Spinoza influence on actual political movements and figure in modern history. Specifically, David Ben Gurion reading Spinoza as a proto Zionist and his (Ben Gurion’s) repeated attempts to have the Chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel overturn his Ban from the Jewish Community after the creation of the state. Also worth noting, Spinoza was basically the last philosopher of the Medial Jewish Philosophy period, which included other philosophers such as Rambam (Maimonides), Judah Halevi, Solomon ibn Gabirol Gersonides as well as the influential Arab philosophers such as Al Farabi. Spinoza in certain ways simply canonized the progressive thought of the aforementioned.

  6. allison: For a good brief intro to Spinoza, have a look at the relevant chapter in Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Philosophy, which includes the terrifying writ of cherem or excommunication made against him. Memo to ROS: the cherem one of the most chilling, vindictive thngs I’ve ever read; you might give a thought to quoting it on air.

  7. Spinoza personally lived and suffered the pain of Jewish religious intolerance. He was caught in the middle of two irreconcilable cultures, one Christian, one Jewish. He could not lose himself in the light of modernity because modernity did not as yet exist. He had to create it. Nor would he short circuit medieval duality by some philosophical trickery. He was for real and he wanted something permanent. He had to invent what Yovel calls a “Third kind of knowledge”, or simply a ‘synthesis’: a distillation of the otherwise isolated world views of the time. He “Minimized the value of identity” because he chose to depart radically from the ‘overwhelming distance’ (which is itself radical) placed between people by religion and tradition. He gave others the benefit of the doubt and chose not to hold them to pre proscribed notions of religion, culture, and nationality. He proved by the force of reason that people can love and respect one another in spite of their heritage. Instead of belonging at “The center of Open Sorcery”, our philosopher of pain would be more comfortable sitting at the center of ‘democracy’, wherever it may be. We still love you Baruch.

    Daniel

  8. For a thorough biography of Spinoza, I recommend Colerus. For an understanding of Spinoza’s impact, I recommend Jonathan Israel’s recent book, Radical Enlightenment. For a full understanding of Spinoza’s place in intellectual history, I recommend Constantin Brunner’s works, most of which are in German. There is, however, the English compilation Science, Spirit, Superstition which provides a good introduction. For a recent article by Rebecca Goldstein, try this: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/29/opinion/29goldstein.html (NYT reg. req.).

  9. Using the “Jewish experience as a conduit to universality” is nothing new. It is however a secular motif hijacked by religious Jews to “reel in” Jews who they believe “left the flock” or are “lost”. In The Satanizing of The Jews, 1992, Joel Carmichael characterized Jewish universality as “Disembodied intransigence”, P. 143. Also referring to it as a “Practical boundlessness” and on the next page inserts a quote by Leon Trotsky. When asked if he defined himself as a Russian or Jew, Trotsky answered “Neither, I am a Social Democrat”. In short, the physical and spiritual homelessness experienced by Jews upon fleeing the fascism of Europe, culminating on American shores in the New School tradition of Horace Kallen and John Dewey, was transformed into an industry of ideas: a ‘business’ of “cultural pluralism”, without any notion of loyalty to the land that gave them refuge.

    Herein the Spinoza legacy can be utilized in two very distinct ways. First, we can think of him as a sort of “spiritual forefather” of the liberal tradition. Or we can think of him as the philosopher magnifique of personal pain: for those of us who can relate to how and why he shunned Jewish orthodoxy.

    At this point it branches out into a more complex system of who and what is Western, and who and what isn’t, and how technology (which was not an issue in Spinoza’s day) has enabled those of like mind to act quickly to any threat to their way of life, and needless to say to their survival. Suffice it to say that it is possible to appreciate Judaism, be a conservative American, and an admirer of Spinoza not for his liberalism, but for his protest against the intolerance of orthodoxy, all at once.

    Once again, Spinoza does not belong at “The center of Open Sorcery”, which is after all a euphemism for those who failed the test of the Enlightenment, but rather at the center of the Judeo-Christian ethic and democracy.

    Daniel: BramGolah@gmail.com

  10. Though Spinoza was much more than his ethno-cultural background, this should not be overlooked any more than it should be over-stressed.

    That said, here is a link to a symposium “dedicated to exploring the historical reasons, and current implications, of what many scholars consider the most notorious and repercussive excommunication in all of Jewish history.”

    http://www.cjh.org/programs/programarchives.php

    Here is a link to an interview with Rebecca Goldstein on her book Betraying Spinoza

    http://www.nextbook.org/cultural/feature.html?id=263

    Both the symposium discussions and the interview can be listened to with an mp3 player.

  11. An Oriental-like hive mentality. ‘Communism’ … where the history and spirit of the West is washed away under the weight of a mechanized system: Lenin, Trotsky, Mao Tse-tung, even Rudolf Steiner. Simply, a totalitarian system under which the ability and creativity of the individual is crushed by some state machinery (or Putin-like mafia, or despot); a machinery similar to the one threatening to consume the judiciary in our country.

  12. I assume Sidewinder is blissfully asleep (or just getting ready to wake up) in Japan, but I suspect his puzzlement had to do with the use of the “Oriental-like” modifier, rather than with “hive mentality” standing on its own.

  13. sideWALKER is blissfully awake now. Thanks Sutter for pointing out my concern.

    ChaseEmDown, care to try again?

    Btw, would the US military industry also be an example of what you are talking about? Speaking of hive mentality, they use Hummers, don’t they? Also, there was an Operation Swarmer in Iraq, and military robots use swarm intelligence.

    ROS, sorry to go off topic.

  14. Sutter answers ChaseEmDown’s response to Sidewalker. Sidewalker does not “confirm” Sutter’s suspicions, he simply thanks him for “Pointing out my concern”.

    Far be it for me to complain about moral relativism. Someone may accuse me of being “opinionated”. ‘Then’ what will I do? The fickle crowd gathers to tear at the flesh of their own mortality. What a wreck.

    ChaseEmDown … when someone tries to have a “conversation” this way, by “speaking” through other people, they usually are up to no good. This is called ‘vicarious obfuscation’.

    Daniel

  15. A recent book is The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World by Matthew Stewart.

    I wonder what people think of the proposition that Spinoza’s metaphysical instincts were uncannily sound but his attempt to “logicize” his system in the Ethics is nearly a complete failure. Has anyone ever gotten through even a fraction of book 1 without wanting to hurl the book against a wall?

  16. I’m about 1/3 of the way through Goldstein’s book, and have now dabbled in Russell’s and (later today) Durant’s write-ups, and I have to say this: While Spinoza may be a favorite of ROS’s favorites, and while I’m a novice, there actually seems to be some significant tension between Spinoza’s urge to universality and ROS’s own urge toward what might be called “thick pluralism.” Don’t get me wrong — I don’t see Spinoza as advocating a Stepford society of indistinguishable automatons. But if I’m reading the sources correctly (and no, I haven’t tried reading Spinoza in the original), Spinoza appears to believe that that which is most critical is universal — i.e., unencumbered reason, not inflected at all by the contingencies of history or culture. That’s a fine view, but it seems to be at odds with the ethos of this show (and maybe of this community?), which in my view believes that it is fruitless — and perhaps deeply harmful — to extract away such particularities. Put differently, I see ROS as celebrating pluralism, and thus far, I see Spinoza as cautioning somewhat against such celebration.

  17. Spinoza’s reason’(ing) was itself an escape from the oppressive intolerance of both Judaism and Catholicism. Some people have been known to become addicted to the reasoning process itself as a means of escape from reality. This can take many forms: reading (non-fiction only), games (Chess), math puzzles, or, as in our case: the formulation of ideas; ideas that exalt intellectually and emotionally which set the individual apart from the force driving him in that direction. Just like your favorite teacher once smiled at you at just the right moment before a test, there is a certain intimacy and romance attached to the ‘thing’ one chooses to embrace in the same way albeit more sublimely, than the ‘thing’ that has become the object of ones rejection. It is rejected not out of distain per say, but out of a desire to protect it from destruction.

    They say that fish and company stink after three days. It is the same with pluralism. Pluralism is a necessary condition of modernity. A kind of pluralism is arguably a prerequisite for economic prosperity. “Pluralism” with respect not only to others, but to ones self and ones country is just as important. It is important to respect ones own history, culture, and sovereignty. And yes, to die for it if necessary.

    It is imperative however that we keep in mind that neither Spinoza nor his fellow Jews had the luxury of “defending the land”. The “land” was not theirs i.e. they were homeless until 1948. Under those conditions only ‘ideas’ could be defended, not people. It is thus naïve to think that Spinoza and the Jews were subject to the same “Contingencies of history or culture” that, say, Catholic Europe was subject to.

    Daniel

  18. But you have fallen right into the Spinozaist trap. I.e., from Spiniza’s perspective (i.e., the view from eternity), Sponoza’s perspective (and that of his fellow dispossessed Jews) is irrelevant. To claim otherwise is to acknowledge the importance of contingency and context — of empirical evidence as opposed to pure reason — in rendering ethical judgment. This acknowledgement (at least based on my very brief acquaintance with his work) seems to defy Spinoza’s arguments.

  19. As I mentioned earlier, Spinoza was using reason as a means of escape from reality; effectively claiming that reality “doesn’t count” because ‘he’ chooses to ignore it. OK, so ‘he’ spits in the face of reality. What about his contemporaries? What about the Jewish masses? What Spinoza thought and how he dealt with reality worked for Spinoza, the individual. That is not to say that those who could seek solace in some lofty system of thought did or did not. This loftiness or ‘universality’ as the case may be does not carry over to how governments (or even religions) behave toward one another. Mahatma Gandhi preached peace through non-violent resistance, but yet India and pakistan went to war in 1971. I don’t see how Spinoza’s aesthetics and the fate of the world are necessarily connected.

    The Jewish suffering in Spinoza’s time was not “irrelevant” if you were Jewish. There is not one “absolute reality” that people must subscribe to. Perhaps a Reconstructionist or someone with an anti-Jewish agenda, or Spinoza himself would choose to short circuit reality in such a manner. Let’s not forget, please, that we are here referring to an ‘aesthetic value’, not some omniscient notion of the nature of “true reality”. There is a huge difference between how Spinoza dealt with the reality of his time on a personal level, and [key] whether or not his philosophy was a viable alternative to the conflicts of his day. However, his legacy is a strong one.

    In connection to the Dutch settlers (and other progressive Protestant strands of thought) Spinoza’s philosophy of pluralism was strong enough to make it to the mass market, but not strong enough to create total peace everywhere.

    It is too easy for Christians to make the mistake of judging too harshly (as they sometimes have a tendency to judge too harshly the prophets of the Old Testament) those Jews who claim to be able to “relate to Spinoza”, yet not for his ‘reasoning prowess’, but for the [Jewish/intramural] pain caused by his being shunned (excommunicated) by orthodoxy.

    Daniel: BramGolah@gmail.com

  20. GodzillavsBambi (a Monty Python reference?) says: The Jewish suffering in Spinoza’s time was not “irrelevant” if you were Jewish. There is not one “absolute reality” that people must subscribe to.

    Given the use of quotes, I take it this is in reponse to what I said above (the rest of what you’ve written appears to be in reference to something other than what I wrote, so I will leave others to respond). Regarding your first sentence, you’ve taken me completely out of context: I didn’t say it was irrelevant generally, I said it was irrelevant, for Spinoza, from the perspective of deriving ethical dictates. Your second sentence suggests that those dictates will not be useful or compelling to those who believe in the salience of the historical particulars. I agree, and my point above was that I think this is an underlying belief of ROS itself.

    Finally, I’m curious what you mean by this statement, in an earlier post: Once again, Spinoza does not belong at “The center of Open Sorcery”, which is after all a euphemism for those who failed the test of the Enlightenment, but rather at the center of the Judeo-Christian ethic and democracy.

  21. Just to clarify — and perhaps rescue a bad pun — I have corrected the spelling above, putting Spinoza where so many have welcomed him: at the center of Open Sourcery.

  22. Sutter. You are correct. You were not speaking in general terms, neither was I quoting you (in the ‘following’ paragraph) when I put the one word “irrelevant”, in quotes. It could also read: from a mathematical perspective Spinoza’s aesthetics are useless or perhaps even antagonistic when it comes to defending Jewish dignity or Jewish life. The last paragraph is important. It cannot be overstressed that Christians use the prophets of the Old Testament to browbeat Jews and Israel. In the same way I feel some Christians browbeat Jews also for admiring Spinoza, but for the wrong reasons. I (‘we’ Jews) admire Spinoza not necessarily for what he thought, but for the personal pain caused by Jewish orthodoxy who justifies theologically their intolerance towards others.

    Does not belong at “The center of Open Sorcery”. It is true, he does not. And this claim that he does is an example of Jewish religious intolerance causing pain (in my heart at least) and showing that some people, among others, ‘failed the test of the Enlightenment’, because they refused to accept the fact that their world view lost out to someone else’s. In the end all they can do is pedal dope in a attempt to “win souls” to resurrect the carcass of their weltanschauung.

    Daniel: BramGolah@gmail.com

  23. GvB, my curiosity re: your response to “Open Sorcery” has to do, I think, with Chris’s clarification above. Chris intended it to mean “at the center of what we here at Open Source” do — a play on words (“sorcery” vs. open “sourcery”). He’s saying (if I may take some license) that Spinoza’s rationalism is closely linked to ROS’s attempt to cut through mysticism and to see reality. (Thus, he has since changed to “Open Sourcery” to clarify.) I think he’s right (though as noted above, I think ROS takes a more pluralist, empirical turn whereas Spinoza takes the other fork, toward the centrality of pure reason). I get the sense you thought he meant “sorcery” in its dictionary sense — i.e., that he is accusing Spinoza himself of mysticism. But that wasn’t the intent, as I read it.

    Tell me, though, if I’ve misread you.

  24. I did not recognize Chris’s misspelling (intentional or not) of the word “Sourcery”. Chris said that Goldstein’s new book “Establishes not least that Spinoza belongs at the center of Open Sourcery”. Surely Chris is not suggesting that Goldstein’s book is intentionally promoting the show Open Source. On the other hand if ‘typos’ are any indication of the misreading of historical events, then I commend Chris for leaving himself a way out. And lastly, if you guys intentionally misspell words here and there I don’t see any harm in that.

    What ‘exactly’ do I mean by ‘failed the test of the Enlightenment’?

    Goldstein starts off on the wrong foot by hijacking secular terminology to peruse a hidden religious agenda. Her finely calibrated arrogance is in full swing when she suggests that Spinoza’s coldness and aloofness are “responses against Jewish suffering”. She cannot for one moment even contemplate the possibility that Baruch de Spinoza – our philosopher of pain – spoke out against the spiritual communism of Jewish orthodoxy.

    About one hundred years after his death Spinoza was to become one of the forefathers of the Jewish Enlightenment: the Haskalah. A short time later in the early 1800’s in Germany an organised movement against Jewish orthodoxy gave birth to The Reform Movement. Some were ‘enlightened’, and others fell by the waistside to the forces of modernity and into the trash heep of histories losers. And they’ve been crying about it ever since.

    Daniel: BramGolah@gmail.com

  25. By the way, Spinoza is very popular in Israel because of the strong Sephardic lineage there. An enormously popular Israeli philosopher by the name of Yeshayahu Leibovitz, who partially promulgated the Spinozian tradition, who died in 1992, was vilified there by Ashkenazi Jews of Polish and German origin. Why? Because in the 1970’s he claimed that [The West Bank] would become “An untenable burden for the Jewish state”. Therefore the fundamentalists went out of their way to ruin his reputation.

    When Leibovitz was up for the Israel Prize, a prestigious lifetime achievement award for writers, a certain fundamentalist sect, the Haredi, raised such a ruckus by blocking traffic and throwing stones at cars, that Leibovitz declined the award to make peace. It is to ‘this’ intolerance, ‘this’ sickness, ‘this’ anachronism that Baruch de Spinoza’s legacy must be kept alive, and cherished. Do not for one moment believe the Jewish fundamentalist propaganda coming out of New York. Life is completely different in Israel.

    Daniel: BramGolah@gmail.com

  26. Einstein, when pressed on the subject of whether or not he believed in God, finally answered that he believed in Spinoza’s God.

    As an atheist, if I were pressed on the subject of what God I believed to be actually possible in this universe of ours, I would have to answer much the same: I do not believe in Spinoza’s God, but that God is the only one that I find remotely plausible.

    What a great subject for Open Source! I can’t wait for the show to air.

  27. I recommend, too, looking at the European left’s turn to Spinoza. For example, Tony Negri, better known in the US for Empire, wrote an amazing Spinoza book while in prison, The Savage Anomaly. The Power of Spinoza’s Metaphysics and Politics. Gilles Deleuze wrote two books on Spinoza, and the latter appears throughout his other works, including the collaborations with Felix Guattari.

    The New Spinoza (Stoltze, Ted and Warren Montag, eds.) is a good intro to this angle.

  28. [I apologize if this is long…feel free to skip.]

    To clarify a point: I think that what may be overlooked in the very thrust of the discussion is precisely what makes Spinoza a modern, or better, an archetypal modern. Perhaps what ties all modern thinkers together is their mutual distaste for useless and meaningless “metaphysics,” and “religion” and the desire to redefine “philosophy” as “politics”. In other words, the sphere of politics gains preeminence sometime between the 16th and 20th centuries, and it is precisely Spinoza’s task to effect that end, once and for all.

    There seems to be two facets to his thinking which confirm the above point: first in the “Theologico-Political Treatise” (I have no texts here at work, so no citations…) the hermeneutical framework which he employs serves to de-contextualize sacred texts, thereby enabling a scientific (objective) and political (earthly end, as opposed to divine) interpretation of all such texts. What makes this move radical is the assertion from the outset that all divine texts are to be comprehended solely within the sphere of politics. This move simultaneously renders all sacred texts as the same (insofar as they are merely normative political statements), and therefore, all religions as merely one set of political statements among others. We need go no further to see that this is an essentially modern goal and notion.

    The second facet to his thought that determines his modernity is what can only be called his “metaphysical” framework. This can be understood simply as the theory of reality that underpins the rest of his thought. As Nietzsche (and Heidegger) would point out, a metaphysics that seeks to undermine all metaphysics is still metaphysics. Spinoza is in this sense no different: his theory of reality guarantees that the totality of reality is the proper object of sciences. (I realize that I am skipping steps, but it’s been a while since I’ve read the Ethics) Since God is defined as Substance, and since all of nature is, properly speaking, in God, and since all of nature follows the laws of inertial motion….physics (the study of movement proper) has the sole claim to reality. All other sciences must remain subordinated to this preeminent science. Mathematics figures into this as well, but I’m pretty sure it is conceived as the foundation of physics. In any case, it is sufficient for our purposes to note that Spinoza justified metaphysically (in statements about how reality is) what he otherwise asserted in a political context: that religion (and all un-scientific endeavors) have no claim to reality, and therefore no claim to make normative (ethical) statements. The “Ethics” as a work is both an ethics proper, that is, it makes normative statements (or at least provides a framework within which to make them), and is a metaphysics. So it becomes clear that Spinoza comprehends ethics as metaphysics, and this is meant to produce a practical end. Medieval realpolitik…

    In any case, what should light up is that modernity is less about the miracles of refrigeration, computers, and new political systems—and more about a distinct interpretation of humanity—stoic and compassionate, patiently bearing all slings and arrows, master of his own destiny. “Yes!” we say “That is us!” But don’t forget what Zarathustra was greeted with when he spoke to the people of the last man. They replied: “Show us this Last Man!”

    Could Spinoza’s legacy be precisely what led to Nietzsche’s invective against modernity? Could Spinoza even recognize us as his legacy? Is the intoxicating power of the common sense (the democratic will-to-truth of the people) simply too much to allow us to even speak of “religion” and “faith” and “politics” and “science” in the same space without equivocation? Is equivocation precisely what was meant (religion, that is to say, politics)?

    None of the foregoing was meant to be an answer.

  29. There are all kinds of Jews, but the only sect I have found that indulges in psychological proselytizing and the actual theft of another’s soul, are the fundamentalists from Brooklyn. Certain authors and thinkers believe that if they communicate their own personal experience from secularism to religion in an intellectual way they can bring “lost Jews” back to the flock. They think: how could they not possibly relate to the path I took that led me back to or into religious Judaism. And then if the person does not embrace for himself the personal journey conveyed by the author, he is labeled as “shallow” or “Pagan”. This is a case of judging others by ones own standards. What works for one does not necessarily work for another. If you make it clear to these soul seekers that a religious lifestyle is not to your taste their whole demeanor and attitude changes. If you maintain or pretend to maintain interest in religious Judaism, you get smiles, phone numbers, favors, event planning and the works. But if for one moment one should cease to exhibit interest in things religious, not only will one no longer receive the positive feedback mentioned above, but one will no longer receive even eye contact.

    The bottom line is that they will no longer treat you with the same respect they gave you during the time you expressed interest. Aside from failing the Enlightenment, this is the tragedy of religious Judaism. My Spinoza understood this. He couldn’t bare the hermetic environment of his heritage. He wanted to assimilate. He saw progress and he wanted to be a part of it. He wanted to be friendly to all people ‘without’ being chastised or ostracized by his own people. He wanted to share the “light” that his religion claims to possess. “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people”, Isaiah 56:7. Spinoza opened a door to that house, but the occupants weren’t ready. So they excommunicated him for it. This is the pain that Rebecca Goldstein will never understand. And this is the pain that our philosopher of pain understood. Spinoza was himself suffering, but his cries fell on deaf ears.

    Daniel: BramGolah@gmail.com

  30. In effect, Spinoza said:

    Spirituality reveals itself in the order in which all things exist

    One must renounce the self to see the order.

    The order is a gestalt: the ‘way in which’ spirituality is revealed.

  31. The reason how we know Spinoza suffered is because he spent most of his life designing a system to end suffering that is caused by religious intolerance. He had to endure the pain to figure out how to cure it. He cured it for himself and for others of rational bent.

    Admittingly, the sacred geometry of Spinoza’s thought is not for everyone because it is devoid of the familiar Judeo-Christian imagery that permeated every aspect of life in those days, or even in our time. However, he was successful in illustrating that salvation can be attained through reason, and without the approval of others. Aut viam inveniam aut faciam … Baruch de Spinoza!

    Daniel: BramGolah@gmail.com

  32. Godzilla:

    “However, he was successful in illustrating that salvation can be attained through reason, and without the approval of others.”

    This is precisely the meaning and intent of the Enlightenment project. I should say, in the interest of precision, that “salvation” is gained through the use of reason, but culminating in a political reality. This salvation is thus nothing individual or private, but rather has an entirely cosmopolitan thrust. It appears that one of the reasons for this discussion thread is to determine the extent to which this state of affairs has come about. Of course, we already know the answer: we are most certainly not living in a utopia. We must not forget that every single destructive and diabolical idiology in history has touted the advent of a paradise on earth. (Hugo Chavez being a current, second-rate example??)

    With regard to the purported ‘individualistic spirituality,’ or whatever you might call it, that would seem to be at the heart of Spinoza’s thought: I believe that he would regard that kind of spiritual freedom as truly secondary to the freedom of reason to exercise the will rationally. Since evil is defined as the presence of suffering, and falsehood, the privation of truth, it can only be the use of reason (through the sciences) that can systematically and carefully bring about the alleviation of suffering. This has absolutely nothing to do with one’s right to have an opinion and religious choice precisely because holding such beliefs can cause pain and the dissemination of falsehood. The freedoms and benefits of and enlightened democracy are only able to safeguard religious freedom only if those beliefs can are bereft of any true import–remove the teeth, as it were, from religion. Of course, the upshot of carving out a space for religion is that it ceases to mean anything at all, since it structurally cannot have anything to do with life.

    Truth (and universal pleasure), it seems, would take on a monolithic aspect. The authority to determine the truth and to afford pleasure and remove suffering would have to be delegated to whatever body is deemed the most rational–presumably the world would be goverened by scientists. This, of course, is nothing other than the general desire of the Enlightenment project–the removal of all supernatural motives from human action, and the replacement of those motives with the rational. Spinoza seemed to have attempted to infuse rationality with the gravitas of spirituality, thereby satisfying all of our needs.

    The question is now: what is the state of this legacy?

  33. The reason Spinoza is relevant today is that we are still trying to solve the problem of integrating the order of a free and rational individual mind with the seemingly irrational collective consciousness of humanity.

    The potential for this ever happening is limited. In physics there are laws for small objects (the individual) and laws for large object (the masses). Until string theory is proven true, the laws governing small and large objects will not be integrated.

    The attempt to make progress ordering the chaos of human existence is a cornerstone of Western thought and an ongoing process.

    Ps. The enlightenment ended badly because there was no way to decide who would be the final arbiter of the contract between the individual and society. Again, which small object would have the decision power over the large objects?

  34. An interesting approach to a thinker is to analyze each sentence separately, decide whether it is true, false, unknown, or unprovable — and then to move on to the next sentence. I once spent two days doing this with a relatively small selection of Spinoza (it was a Great Books excerpt). Examined at this extreme micro level, sentence after sentence made no sense or was demonstrably ridiculous. Has anyone else used this micro approach? I (frankly) gave up Spinoza as a total moron or a poet drifting in generalities, unable to clearly put a simple sentence down. It would be interesting (and this is NOT the venue) to go through a selection, sentence by sentence, examining and discussing each before moving on to the next sentence. (Unfortunately, the Great Books discussion quickly degenerated into a non-analytical ‘what I think/feel’ discussion, and all refused to engage in a micro-analysis of the text at the level of detail I would have been interested in….)

  35. There have been some great comments and even better questions.

    Spinoza’s substance monism is considered by many to be the Western expression of philosophical Taoism. Compare the first stanzas of the Tao Te Ching with the first of Spinoza’s propositions and a stark similarity appears. From there, however, they part company in method and implication. Lao Tzu will tell you that not everything is as it seems to be, and Spinoza, considering his dualist-moralist audience, wants everyone to know that things are exactly as they appear.

    I don’t know exactly what is meant by ‘modernity’, and I cannot say what effects Spinoza did or did not have on it. With the exception of Leibniz and his perversion-plagiarism of Spinoza, Spinozism didn’t see much daylight until 150 years after his death, and even then, only among scholars. On could say that Spinoza was part of a chain of ‘modernity’ among the likes of Galileo, Da Vinci, Bruno, Uriel de Costa, and many others whose legacies and ideas likely disappeared during the Inquisition. To say that Spinoza had a marked effect would be true, but the strongest? No. I think Galileo gets that honor.

    Spinoza wanted to change the langauge of religion, and thus of human ethics, from one of moral judgment (holy vs. evil) to natural ethic (good vs. bad). He used the story of Adam and Eve as a metaphor for this. “Had Adam”, Spinoza claims, “seen the apple as bad i.e. poison to his physical body (rather than as evil), then there would have no possible way for anyone to convice him to eat from it.” Now to break down the moral aspect one has to address the alleged source of morality, which was the common Judeo-Christian understanding of God.

    Spinoza’s Judaism taught him that God is Infinite, Eternal, and yet, in spite of It’s expansive nature, takes a very personal and specific interest in human affairs. Spinoza was also taught that suffering and pain was part of Judaism, but that God had a plan which would lead to a Messianic Era and reward in the hereafter. Like Uriel de Costa before him, and with whom everyone is pretty sure Spinoza befriended at some point, the questions of national or personal suffering versus the loving and protecting God of Israel likely weighed heavy on the minds of many a Marranno. I imagine that a Spinoza would have asked many of the same questions we do today in terms of why bad things happen to good people, vice versa, or as to how Providence and free will coexist. A lot of conflict there to resolve.

    Spinoza also took a more positive attitude regarding humanity. He posited a ‘positive freedom’ which he called ‘self determinism”. Today, we might call it ‘self empowerment’ or some other self-esteem boosting slogan. The secret to this self-determinism is awareness that comes through what he calls the “adequate idea”. I would sum it up into “Know the thing, know its effects, and know its source.” This is where Spinoza sees morality as hindering freedom, because a moral assumption does not consider evident cause and effects, it merely assumes an effect based upon an ‘opinion’, which Spinoza considers to be the lowest form of human understanding. In self-determinism, I know full well that I am being influenced by things beyond my control, yet the adequate idea allows my own degree of influence to increase in proportion to the adequacy of the idea held. (Think Social Cognitive Theory or Reciprocal Determinism of Albert Bandura.)

    Spiritualists and philosophers today look to QM and Relativity as the apex of human understanding and possibilty, while trying to shove some philosophical or religious framework into modern science (Fritjof Capra is a good example.) For Spinoza, the highest science of his day, available to him, was Euclid. I bet that he had one question on his mind that plagued him to no end. It is a simple question at which many balk, but I think it was the most profound dilemma he encountered. The $64,000 question is ; “What must God be in order to be God?” This is where Euclid came in. Judaism itself gave Spinoza no tools to amswer that problem, and even the Kabala, which I believe he was exposed to early on, only provides a Platonic-hermetic apparatus for expanding the idea without ever directly addressing that question.

    If I were asked to sum up my view of Spinoza in a sentence, it would be “If it isn’t natural, then it isn’t at all. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

    Deus sive Natura!

    (immoralism, naturalism, determinism, atheism)

  36. Modern should be defined in terms of Western Culture.

    Western culture has moved towards the rights of the individual.

    Inherent in that movement is one of the cornerstones of western culture: progress.

    Most historians see progress interims of waves or movements and not individuals.

    You can find this said about Spinoza:

    “He is now seen as having prepared the way for the 18th century Enlightenment,…”

    What about others from the Age of Reason:

    Descartes, Hobbes, Pascal

    It is amusing how humans seek the absolute, pure, exclusive, one:

    one god, one religion, one spouse, and etc.

    In nature, it is integration that guarantees survival – not “oneness”

  37. Re: towards the rights of the individual

    Yes, but only in theory. It’s a nice idea though.

    Re: Descartes, Hobbes, Pascal

    Well of course they count among the major influences. I was speaking more specifically in terms of science and naturalism. The name I should have also included, but did not, was NEWTON.

    Re: integration

    “That”, as Spinoza might say, “is a matter of necessity.” One is born out of integration.

    Re: preparing the way

    Not to downplay Spinoza, but do you think there may have been more powerful social and economic factors that allowed those ideas to spread? Maybe we are putting “Descartes before the horse” sort of speak. The diminishing power of the monarchy and the Church is likely the passive cause of the Enlightenment, which simply filled the subsequent void for many people.

    That struggle is evident in Holland during Spinoza’s time. With the murder of the DeWitts, the conservative government cracked down on philosophy big time.

    It would be nice to say that ideal and principles drive humanity and that we have the great thinkers to thank for progress, but I know too many people for whom BF Skinner would be very interested in studying. Most people operate from the practical, not the cerebral.

  38. mt said: “salvation” is gained through the use of reason, but culminating in a political reality.

    This is right about when the Trickster shows up. Lest one be a scoundrel … “Salvation” has nothing to do with globalism, utopianism, communism, liberalism, or as some seem to be suggesting here and elsewhere with Spinoza’s ‘cosmopolitanism’. Himalayan monks achieve salvation without cosmopolitanism.

    We all know that salvation can be attained through reason. The thing with Spinoza is that his system is mathematical and totalitarian in nature. If misunderstood it can lead to all sorts of “Universalist” notions and so forth (as mentioned elsewhere on this thread): “Disembodied intransigence”, as it relates for example to the homelessness of pre-Zionist Judaism; providing some contemporary authors with a starting point to *entice* the common psychological motif of the “dispossessed Jew” and the “Diaspora”. This is more a matter of propaganda than anything else.

    The point. There is no problem when an ‘individual’ uses Spinoza’s geometry in seeking and perhaps in finding salvation. But if this personal salvation is turned ‘outward’, then we run into all sorts of problems. It is only then that we are faced with questions of national identity, sovereignty, and ‘politics’. Such dilution of personhood and individual potential culminating into some sort of “collective”, or ‘state machinery’ such as communism, is a bad thing, I think. So what is to stop the ‘individual’ from gaining salvation through this method? Absolutely nothing. Salvation and the affairs of the State are mutually exclusive.

    There seems to be an urge for absolutism on this thread i.e. an incessant need to apply mathematical formula to guide or interpret human events. There are absolutes when mixing potassium nitrate, sulfur, and charcoal. But there are no absolutes when dealing with human experience. Then again nobody’s perfect.

    Daniel: BramGolah@gmail.com

  39. Great comments!

    Re: We all know that salvation can be attained through reason.

    (Really?)

    Re: The thing with Spinoza is that his system is mathematical and totalitarian in nature.

    (Not mathematical, but logically derived through a few basic principles of plane geometry, something a simple carpenter like myself can grasp. Well, I think I got the question right at least. Totalitarian? That you would have to explain to me. Please.)

    Re: If misunderstood it can lead to all sorts of “Universalist” notions and so forth.

    (Agreed somewhat. I would say the mistake is thinking that Spinoza was a mystic or even a pantheist.)

    Re: But if this personal salvation is turned ‘outward’, then we run into all sorts of problems.

    (Good point that politics is the outward expression of our psychology, but I disagree with your conclusion here. Spinoza, as far as politics goes, sees his version of salvation (self-determinism moving toward intellectual love of God/Nature) as most available and probable in an environment where the power of the individual to reason and act exists. In oppressive societies, the weight or influence of government censorship offers added hindrances to personal ‘salvation’. Spinoza would rather live in world that promotes and acts from reason. ML King wasn’t the only man with a dream.)

    Re: Absolutes in human hehavior

    (Is this your way of rejecting Spinoza’s determinism? Even if one were to reject his determinism based upon QM or wave theory, human psychology and behavior is still quite predictable and does follow relatively absolute patterns. History has been a good teacher of that lesson.)

    Deus sive Natura!

  40. ShlomoLeib Says: Re: We all know that salvation can be attained through reason.

    (Really?)

    OK, my bad. I should have said: I am ‘guessing’ that the people who frequent this site are aware of the possibility that salvation can be attained through reason. I did not mean to suggest that they have “done it”, but just to say that they are aware that it is possible, within the context of Spinoza’s geometry. I was giving people the benefit of the doubt.

    ShlomoLeib Says: logically derived through a few basic principles of plane geometry.

    Totalitarian: in the sense that Spinoza’s (selective) geometry bypasses some facets of existence. In other words no distinction is made between immanence and transcendence. If one believes in creationism this distinction must be acknowledged and also embraced, not cut in half. To him it’s all the same. He thus short circuits transcendence (upon which those ‘irrational’ components of human consciousness is based), not least of which amounts to the Judaeo-Christian construct of religious aestheticism. He simply rules it out while laying the groundwork for the separation of church and state, secularism, or other variations such as atheism and fascism. Clearly this occurs ONLY when his precepts are turned outward, while we beat people over the head to adopt his views. The salvation works ONLY if we choose not to judge others by our own standards. Let’s change “Totalitarian” to ‘authoritarian’.

    ShlomoLeib Says Re: Absolutes in human behavior (Is this your way of rejecting Spinoza’s determinism?

    Yes. I recognize changes in context. I do not seek to impose my will on others or on the state, or to have the state impose its will on me. Positivists believe that logical precepts are constants without recognition to changes in context. However, there must be some convention with which to weigh ethical dilemmas against the notion of what is moral other than ‘sense perception’! Natural Law is a way to objectify intolerance. It allows the accuser to impose his own subjective view of reality by objectifying his own irrationality and holding others to that standard. Spinoza was a Natural Law theorist of sorts. I myself do not subscribe to Natural Law, or Positivism.

    ShlomoLeib Says: Spinoza would rather live in world that promotes and acts from reason.

    The problem with this is that different states may have different ideas (aesthetics) on what is ‘reasonable’ and what isn’t. Again … personal “salvation” is not dependent on the affairs of the state. This is not to suggest that “salvation” is unavailable from the state. It all depends on the seeker. Please recognize the difference between the state and the individual within the context of seeking “salvation”. The two are not synonymous.

    ShlomoLeib Says: Good point that politics is the outward expression of our psychology.

    I never said that! I did however say that once we begin to look outward i.e. to apply our newly acquired “salvation” in an outward fashion, onto other people, or worse onto other states, needless to say, we then IMPOSE OUR WILL into the situation through persuasion and perhaps violence, which in the end serves only as a self destructive mechanism because everyone is doing it to everyone else. Can you see the futility of such a system?

    ShlomoLeib Says: In oppressive societies, the weight or influence of government censorship offers added hindrances to personal ’salvation’.

    Too loose. I would point to Russian, Chinese, and Indian culture, or even to Islam. What is “oppressive” to one may be comfortable for another. Besides, one countries comfortableness, or oppression, or lack thereof has absolutely nothing to do with someone else in another country finding or not finding “salvation”.

    Daniel: BramGolah@gmail.com

  41. ///Natural Law is a way to objectify intolerance. It allows the accuser to impose his own subjective view of reality by objectifying his own irrationality.\\\

    Galileo concluded that the human mind was above or outside nature -he came to this conclusion as a way to objectify his experiments.

    Neurobiologists have concluded that the human brain has evolved and the mind is therefore part of nature.

    As a part of nature, the human mind is ‘contextualizing’ the way natural systems do in order to survive. Natural law is the only rational view because any other view would be anti-survival or irrational.

  42. First of all, let me thank you for taking the time and effort to respond. Excellent comments as always. Secondly, forgive me for misunderstanding your postion here. I had thought perhaps you were explaining rather than critiquing (or maybe both?) In either case, I am happy to delve into this subject a little bit more. It also helps to clarify my own understanding.

    re:selective geometry

    I don’t know what you mean by ‘selective’. Even if one argues that Spinoza’s method is lacking since it is limited to Euclidean geometry, the later development of a non-Euclidean system does not change the basis for Spinoza’s thesis; that a thing must have properties or characteristics that distinguish it from other things and have, by necessity, certain effects associated with its nature. The Mobius Strip, delicious as it is, changed nothing regarding Spinoza’s initial assertion.

    re:no distinction is made between immanence and transcendence

    Not exactly. Better put, Spinoza rejects transcendence as fantasy or at least as a distinction without a difference. If this God/Nature/Substance thing is everywhere, then there can be, by necessity, nowhere where it isn’t. And, if its Nature is Infinite, then by definition, that nasty ‘necessity’ once again, there is no longer the need for speaking in ‘heres or theres’. This is an ontological argument or tautology, I’ll grant you that, but to dismiss it would be to question whether or not we are here at all.

    re:If one believes in creationism this distinction must be acknowledged and also embraced, not cut in half.

    Interesting question. Can we assume that Spinoza was a creationist or enamationist? After all, what else would be have been? Did he even address the issue? It’s likely that he never considered the problem of beginnings, as Lao Tzu didn’t either and nobody pestered him about it. So I don’t know the answer to your question. I have my own answer, but I won’t presume to know how a Spinoza would respond. He speaks to the process, however, in terms of natura naturans (active creativity) and natura naturata (passive or secondary reshaping). Simply put “Nature natures naturally.”

    re: Positivists believe that logical precepts are constants without recognition to changes in context.

    You probably meant ‘Kantians’. Positivists worked within the framework of the scientific method. I am part positivist.

    re: there must be some convention with which to weigh ethical dilemmas against the notion of what is moral other than ‘sense perception’!

    Exactly right. This is why Spinoza calls for reason. Reason raises human knowing from the level of mere opinion to the ‘adequate idea’. Call it an ‘educated opinion’ if you wish.

    re: Spinoza was a Natural Law theorist of sorts.

    I dunno. Never thought about it that way. Spinoza considers man a capably rational and reasoning creature. So it would be ‘natural’ to have rationally based laws. This also depends on your defintion of Natural Law. Cicero saw natural law as a transcendent source of intuitive undertanding of rights and wrong, in line with Stoic/Cynic ethics and physics. Spinoza saw reason as the most ‘natural’ thing for a human to use. Teamwork, the social basis for our survival and success in the most basic evolutionary sense, depends on agreed upon principles of behavior for the betterment of the group. Spinoza asserts a system dictated by reason brings the greatest good to the greatest number by virtue of our being rational reasoning beings. Good for you, good for me, good for everybody, so lets do it.

    I understand the slippery slope argument and the fear of totalitarianism, but I can assure you, a legal system based upon rational inquiry and reason is not one that you have to fear, unless your irrational views and behaviors become so distinct as to disrupt the others. You would find outlandish behavior isn’t tolerated anywhere. Besides, we already have a system now in the US that does the quite the opposite, attacking reason out of self-interest and fundamental religious dogma. I look forward someday to live in a world where the only thing anyone has to fear is behaving irrationally. I would gladly take my chances in Spinoza’s fantasy world.

    re:we then IMPOSE OUR WILL into the situation through persuasion and perhaps violence, which in the end serves only as a self destructive mechanism because everyone is doing it to everyone else. Can you see the futility of such a system?

    You just described every government, school board, labor union, and corporate board ever conceived. To govern means to control, and to control implies an imposition of will enforced if necessary through the use of force. I am not even tempted by anarchy or extreme libertarianism, in spite of their purist natures, which I tend to admire. Government by reason is to prevent goverment by irrationality and selfishness, in other words, applied reason in personal and communal affairs as a buffer to the less communally inclined tendencies of our ‘passions’, as Spinoza calls them.

    Also, I am not doing democratic socialism or representative democracy TO you. I would be doing it WITH you.

    re: What is “oppressive” to one may be comfortable for another.

    Some make the same argument about spousal abuse. (Not to imply that you would.) Ultimately, whatever individuals feels regarding whatever it is they endure has no bearing on the consequences of suffering for most under its yoke. Humans find a way of coping as a matter of survival, and their ability to ‘transcend’ a given situation i.e. poverty does not sanction the situation as a sort of moral necessity i.e. vow of poverty. There is no virtue in oppression or poverty except in the religious irrational mind.

    I am finding age and gravity to be particularly ‘oppressive’ these days.

    re: salvation

    Since the discussion seems to be centered around or toward salvation, let’s define what Spinoza means by it. Spinoza speaks of ‘blessedness’ which is the state on content that one reaches through the rational and intuitive understanding of the interplay of things. In this sense he kind of matches the Roman Stoic coping mechanism developed through a surrender to Providence. Maybe the Zen Budhist would call this sartori. Salvation for Spinoza is not salvation FROM, but a salvation WITHIN the entire framework of the determined physical universe. There is no escape. Reason is not messianic.

    This takes us back to governments. The Age of Reason was the time reason became appreciated and valued so much, that societies made it almost mandatory to partake in it! A government’s role, and as a devout progressive I say this, is to make the best things possible for its citizens. This, I believe, is Spinoza’s dream.

    What age are we in now?

    Good discussion. Thanks.

  43. ShlomoLeib Says: I don’t know what you mean by ’selective’.

    Selective: within the context of circumventing transcendence. Spinoza got the immanence and the existentialism down pat, but when it comes to the aesthetics of Judaeo-Christian imagery he gets an F. Because we are human we must acknowledge that we are – at least to some extent – wired for faith, which is, essentially, irrational. Most philosophies take into account this irrational aspect of the human condition. Spinoza simply waves his wand and wishes it goodbye. It is therefore incomplete as a philosophical system, but, nevertheless, another possible path on the road to salvation.

    ShlomoLeib Says: the later development of a non-Euclidean system does not change the basis for Spinoza’s thesis.

    Nor did the Reformation prevent certain religious types from shunning The Age of Reason One Hundred and Fifty or so years later. One thing has nothing to do with the other.

    ShlomoLeib Says: This is an ontological argument or tautology, I’ll grant you that, but to dismiss it would be to question whether or not we are here at all.

    My point exactly.

    ShlomoLeib Says: re: If one believes in creationism this distinction must be acknowledged and also embraced, not cut in half. “Interesting question”.

    It’s not a question. It’s a statement.

    ShlomoLeib Says: re: It’s likely that he never considered the problem of beginnings, as Lao Tzu didn’t either and nobody pestered him about it.

    If I was an Orientalist my conception of time would be quite un-Western to begin with. So forget about in six days I did such and such, Adam’s rib, Eve blames the snake, and there were Devils in my head and Angels in my eyes. Hell … this is how we measure time: by the birth of Jesus Christ, and in linear fashion at that. In any event, if Lao Tzu helps you along the path of “salvation”, be my guest. Take a wack at it why don’t ya. But don’t forget to mark the trail on the way in.

    ShlomoLeib Says: This is why Spinoza calls for reason. Reason raises human knowing from the level of mere opinion to the ‘adequate idea’. Call it an ‘educated opinion’ if you wish.

    True. However, no amount of reason can help you morn the death of a loved one. No amount of reason can “prove” that you love them. When asking God for forgiveness, one does not think in terms of geometry or the intellectual love of same. Reason cannot wipe clean the slate of human memory either. We are who we are. ‘Tis possible to become addicted to the reasoning process old friend, ‘tis highly possible that it can take from you your humanity!

    To reiterate. Spinoza’s metaphysics severs transcendence, denying to us our aesthetic (Judaeo-Christian) appreciation of the divine. Or if not “denying it”, certainly assigning it to an insignificant roll in human affairs.

    ShlomoLeib Says: an imposition of will enforced if necessary through the use of force.

    Hitler, now that’s force. Mao Zedong, Lenin, Pol Pot, Juan Peron, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, etc. Take a look at English history from Magna Carta to the present. Is there not what seems to be an historical progression (dare I say an ‘organic historical process’) from beating each other over the head to constitutional democracy and the rule of law? But if I were an historical revisionist for example, or moral relativist, i.e. a Spinozist, I wouldn’t have to concern myself with such prosaic dribble drabble. I would just keep on looking for The Golden Bough.

    ShlomoLeib Says: There is no virtue in oppression or poverty except in the religious irrational mind.

    Then you admit that even under such harsh conditions “salvation” is possible? It is well known that in times of tribulation a person, or a people can seek solace, comfort, and hope in that most irrational of texts, the Bible. I am proud to be a descendant of those who invented hope. What a lofty notion. How abstract. OK so we (Jews) get credit for that.

    ShlomoLeib Says: a government’s role, and as a devout progressive I say this, is to make the best things possible for its citizens. This, I believe, is Spinoza’s dream.

    Spinoza was a sort of secularist. For him an individual’s identity was unimportant: we all just blend into some (rational) state machinery. Our memories, individual and collective, were also of no real consequence to him. He walked in between the raindrops and ignored mans quest to unite with his deity. Was his system a “Universalist” notion? Perhaps. To borrow a word from Joel Carmichael once more, he and his people were … “Disembodied”, that is, from the ‘land’, and therefore decidedly unqualified to dictate to the indigenous population how they should live.

    I do not admire Spinoza for what he thought. I admire him as a symbol against Jewish religious intolerance.

    Thanks.

    Daniel: BramGolah@gmail.com

  44. re: aesthetics of Judaeo-Christian imagery

    Translated properly, that phrase should read “vivid imagination”.

    re: wired for faith

    I, too, have a very healthy imagination. Yet, I also have the ability to verify, via my senses and reason, if the imagined thing is real or fanciful. Now I might say that part of our emotional security comes from trusting, which is much different than faith. Trust is reliance that comes from experience. Faith is wishful thinking. I am amazed at how often the two are confused. Faith and denial are two sides of the same emotional coin.

    For example, I do not have faith in the conclusions of science. I have TRUST in the method that science uses. Why? Because it has been proven relatively reliable, certainly enough to earn my trust. Thor, Isis, Jehovah, Mithras, or Zeus haven’t done much for me lately.

    re: It’s not a question. It’s a statement.

    No. It’s a question.

    re: beginnings

    “Nature does not work with an end in view.For the eternal and infinite Being, which we call God or Nature, acts by the same necessity as that whereby it exists. . . . Therefore, as he does not exist for the sake of an end, so neither does he act for the sake of an end; of his existence and of his action there is neither origin nor end.” If God/nature has no beginning or end, neither does anything else. So, why bring up the subject?

    re: no amount of reason can help you mourn the death of a loved one.

    Really? I find reason to have quite a sobering effect on the passions. My father was very ill before he passed on. His passing was easier for me because I knew he was ill, and calculated, albeit as a projection of what it might feel like, that his suffering was now over. Reason allows me to put each event in proper perspective without having to engage the assistance of any imaginary sky-fairies.

    It works wonders and it works everywhere. No trail of crumbs necessary.

    “The mind understands all things to be necessary and to be determined to existence and operation by an infinite chain of causes, therefore . . . it thus far brings it about, that it is less subject to the emotions arising therefrom, and feels less emotion towards the things themselves. [v.6]”

    re: No amount of reason can “prove” that you love them

    If your significant other is demanding ‘proof’ of love, dump them now. Love is a chemical reaction initiated by pleasurable thoughts of trust, good feeling, and security drawn from contact with another human being. Either you feel it or you don’t. This is also why people continue to believe that gods are real, because they have emotions that mimic those that occur through normal everyday human interactions. The emotion is real, but the source is not. same reason that a person can love someone who doesn’t or cannot love them back.(I’ve been there.)

    Spinoza categorically denies the ability for God/Nature to love anyone.

    re:When asking God for forgiveness

    You know what they say “It’s always easier to beg forgiveness than it is to ask permission.”

    re:Reason cannot

    It appears you have unrealistic expectations of Spinoza’s notion of reason and salvation. Read the Spinoza’s Ethics and Emandation of the Intellect.

    re: Spinoza’s metaphysics severs transcendence, denying to us our aesthetic (Judaeo-Christian) appreciation of the divine.

    Something else to be thankful for I guess.

    re: moral relativist, i.e. a Spinozist

    You’re mistaken. Spinoza is an immoralist. He rejects morality for positive based ethics rooted in cause and effects. The danger of morality is that it asserts rules without tracing the effects. A good example is a matter of taste.

    A king decides that he hates the color orange and word spreads of the king’s color preferences. Ministers now know that to gain the king’s ear they must never wear orange. Word spreads that the king hates orange and his armies also abandon the donning of orange uniforms and banners. Soon enough, the color orange comes to stand for anything and everything opposed to the monarchy and the nation. Criminals and social outcasts might even be forced to wear orange insignia as a sign of public shame.

    Here’s the question. Does the color orange possess an intrinsic property that brings about such consequences or does what we think about, and thus behave around, the color orange cause them to happen? No doubt that someone further down the chain might actually believe that the color orange causes sedition! Now the color orange means more than just a color to some. It becomes a color that invokes an emotion based upon the caprice of a personal taste or preference.

    For Spinoza morality is always an act of caprice performed by the one doing or dictating the morality. It has effects because we alter our behavior to please someone’s tastes, but there is no intrisic value to it beyond that. Spinoza believes that morality is not born of reason, but of passions or opinions and thus he rejects morality. (The above mentioned analogy was my own.)

    re:I am proud to be a descendant of those who invented hope. What a lofty notion. How abstract. OK so we (Jews) get credit for that.

    Hope? No. We Jews, like others, have mastered the art of survival at all costs, which is a biological function. I would not be too fast to take credit for what every other human culture has also generated. Jews like to give themselves credit for everything. As a former Chasidic Jew, I can tell you some funny stories about what they claim Jews have done for humanity.

    I do agree with Victor Frankl’s idea that ‘hope’, in terms of goals and desires, gives us the added ‘UMPH’ that we sometimes need to stay focused. Spinoza believes that hope is negative emotion that springs from wishful thinking. I’m not so negative. I buy one lottery ticket per week ‘hoping’ and it doesn’t seem all that bad.

  45. science vs. faith (belief)

    You either have faith or you don’t.

    Science is that which can be disproved. A Western concept, in that disproving leads to progress.

    ///Love is a chemical reaction initiated by pleasurable thoughts of trust, good feeling, and security drawn from contact with another human being. Either you feel it or you don’t. This is also why people continue to believe that gods are real,…\\\

    Love is the constant act of overvaluation – I love nature, but don’t expect anything in return. How Spinozian is that?

  46. What if the King ate something, got sick and then passed a dietary law prohibiting the consumption of that item.

    Years later, we find the illness wasn’t intrinsic to the item. The illness was caused by the storage and preparation of the item.

    So, there was no real Kingly cause and effect, yet many people were saved from illness until the knowledge base improved.

    My point is that humans deploy a number of survival techniques to guarantee the success of the herd – rational thought is only one technique.

    Isn’t Spinoza a modern mind because he questioned relationships?

    Western culture is the dominate culture because it has the greatest insight into the structure of reality. ( Insight is the realization of a relationship.) For Spinoza to be a modern, he must have been actively seeking to understand and challenge the relationships that represented his world.

  47. Lumeire,

    Great comments!

    re: Years later, we find the illness wasn’t intrinsic to the item

    Unintended consequences swing both ways it seems. That would be the best-case scenario.

    re: Isn’t Spinoza a modern mind because he questioned relationships?

    Quite correct. Anyone who approaches the status quo with tough questions fits that mold as well. This is the essence of his Geometric Proof and how it led him to Ethics. Yet it’s not an original method, as it was already mastered by the Pythagoreans and the Archemedians. Spinoza innovated in redefining the common assumptions of WHO or WHAT was involved in the relationships. Until his time no one dared question God, transcendence, or morality; much the same as no one dared bring up the zero, infinity, or irrational numbers to the Greeks until Hippasus and Zeno showed up.

    peace

  48. Shlomo

    Re unity:

    This is the one aspect of Spinoza’s philosophy I find agreeable.

    His unity principle in nature is now called gravity.

    Physicists are trying to resolve the problem of why gravity, an all pervasive force, is so weak.They have come up with Brane Theory (Brane is short for membrane).

    It seems we are on a Brane that is farther away from the heavy gravity Brane. I listened to Lisa Randall give a convoluted example of how this works, but it is quite simply explained if you understand the way a lens works.

    A lens has a plane of sharpest focus -that would be the heavy gravity Brane. As you move farther away from the plane of sharpest focus, the image becomes blurry, soft, or weak. Our universe is in the blurry area, which is why we can jump up and escape gravity even though it controls everything in the universe.

    Do you get the irony here?

    Spinoza was a lens crafter by trade!

  49. Gvb wrote:”“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people”, Isaiah 56:7. Spinoza opened a door to that house, but the occupants weren’t ready. So they excommunicated him for it.”

    GvB, you’ve placed this beautifully in the context of the Jewish experience, both for Spinoza and yourself. Thank you. What you explain about his need to be open to everyone feels very familiar, though I am not Jewish. I have mentioned before on one of these threads, that I find it difficult to connect to a community of spiritual practice, because all too often, the community is closed. In that closure, I feel trapped. I must leave a piece of my self hidden, or the eye contact stops.

    Mt described that what makes Spinoza modern, is that he is trying to transform philosophy into politics. I think this means turning the purpose of a truth-seeking practice upside down – seeing any overarching connective tissue in the universe as a motivation to work for earthly goals, rather seeing the earthly work as a tool for seeking a metaphysical goal. I find that spiritual communities may try to practice their stated ethics in this world, but more for the purpose of protecting their own ‘soul’ than for bettering this world. (after all, aren’t some pushing for Armageddon so that they can chosen?) When that is the motivation, one can transgress and feel that one is only risking oneself. There is not really a concern for the suffering of others.

    So, is it modern to be open to praying/meditating/truth-seeking with anyone? To become comfortable with differences, even embrace them? To want to feel the connective tissue between people that exists no matter what we believe or espouse? And does this modernism include being open to sharing your beliefs and experiences in a community where it is safe to do so? Where you don’t have to feel threatened or unappreciated because parts of you may feel foreign to others? Is it modern to apply this truth-seeking toward the betterment of everyone in this earthly existence simply because that may be the only true joy we experience; the joy of one another? Is devoting your energies to the service of a metaphysical belief simply a spiritual bypass? Is this what Spinoza would embrace?

  50. ShlomoLeib You are partially incorrect with your critique of Spinoza. Here’s what’s missing.

    My aim is not to deride those of mathematical bent, but to show that in certain instances of human experience the mathematical (Euclidian) method does not suffice in revealing certain truths about human behavior, ethics, and drama. The reason why this is so – and Spinoza was well aware of this – is because words themselves take on different variations in meaning according to, and entirely dependent upon ‘context’. What works in one situation may not work in another. This is consequently where Natural Law falls short in advancing human progress: because its standards are pre-set therefore not recognizing such changes.

    “The Spontaneity of Monad (against Spinoza’s Determinism)” can be found here >> http://www.csudh.edu/phenom_studies/western/lect_4.html > http://www.swami-krishnananda.org/com/com_spin.html

  51. Spinoza’s name appears six times on this page. Reading the entire page conveys what is missing in Spinoza’s geometry: the aesthetic beauty of ‘justice’ and its history. Justice ‘is’ the aesthetic value of the Judaeo-Christian ethic. Spinoza simply ignores the ‘activity’ of this [“Monad”, according to Leibnitz] substance.

  52. These principles are rooted in and delineated from the biblical story of Genesis. Principles of conduct and ethical and moral codes cannot be reduced to mathematical equations.

    If “salvation” could be obtained by reading a few mathematical axioms in an afternoon, then the entire drama of human history and the personal experiences of individuals within this history (across time) should have absolutely no effect upon our collective consciousness, because, according to Spinoza, eternity is ‘now’, and the past tense i.e. ‘history’ should have no real meaning in our lives. But yet it does. Why? Because ‘justice’, as delineated from the stories in Genesis, marks the beginnings of progress for man. The very notion of ‘time’ for Spinoza sits outside the idea of ‘substance’.

    Spinoza thought that reason alone provided all the insight that was necessary to understand ‘substance’. Descartes’ ‘clear and distinct’ (idea) has always been a matter of dispute. Spinoza, “Became convinced that the fundamental premises of human knowledge must be established, not by experience but by reason…” Spinoza, Roger Scruton, Past Master Series, P. 29.

    There are certainly times when the deductive method should take precedence over the inductive, but not when it comes to justice, right and wrong, the interpretation of history, and the legal codes and ethics upon which our society is based. “Spinoza’s own Ethics was conceived entirely in geometric terms”, Scruton, P. 30. The deductive method is for ‘science’, not law or ethics. The entire wisdom and collective experience of the human species cannot be reduced to a few (deductive) “Proofs”, as Spinoza called them.

  53. On page thirty Scruton says mathematicians and scientists “Continue to make use of the axiomatic method [but] they are no longer so disposed to believe that the axioms of any science are self-evident’, or that the ‘ideas’ necessary to a science may carry some intrinsic mark of truth”, P. 31.

    “The hidden assumption of Spinoza’s philosophy is that reality and conception coincide”. But, he says, “In the end, is no more than an assumption”. “For Spinoza to say that A causes B is to say that B is dependent on A for its existence and nature”. “The idea of B is dependent on the idea of A if its truth must be established by reference to the idea of A”. “The conclusions of a mathematical proof are therefore ‘dependent’ on the premises”, P.36.

    Knowledge is derived from both empiricism ‘and’ rationalism. But as Scruton says “Spinoza has ‘detached’ causality (as I have mentioned elsewhere on this thread) from the world and attached it instead to our conceptions. But what guarantee do we have that the world ‘is’ as we conceive it”. “Many Cartesian thinkers had assumed substances to be the ultimate constituents of reality, and, as such, self dependent. What they had failed to see was the consequence of these assumptions – namely, that any substance must be causa sui, and therefore necessarily existent”, P.37.

  54. And what does Yirmiyahu Yovel, arguably the world’s foremost authority on Spinoza have to say about him? “Spinoza’s view of Judaism’s place in history is derived from his immanent metaphysics, which denies transcendent forces and entities”, The Dark Riddle, P. 8. Yovel is here echoing what I have been saying throughout: that our philosopher’s metaphysics simply brushes aside the drama of history, human memory and ethics by disregarding the ‘past tense’ with some shallow Oriental protestations on space and time. That “He wished to reduce all historical religions to a popular ‘universal religion’”, (P.9), which now ties in of course with Rebecca Goldstein’s current phraseology “For what can be more characteristic of a Jewish thinker than to use the Jewish experience as a conduit to universality”? I thought we solved the homelessness issue. I guess if you have dual citizenship this is still a burning question. You never know … better update those passports.

  55. And this brings me to some closing comments about Jews and the invention of hope. With motifs such as The Burning Bush, Abraham and Isaac, and Mt. Sinai, among others, the deity was ‘brought down to earth’ (transcendentalized, if you will) so man could struggle up close and personal with the deity. The intent of which is that the deity not remain out of reach to man, or reliant on some abstract notion of right and wrong. Let alone a mathematical equation thought up by some fruitcake philosopher. His family was in the fruit business. And he did move in with that teacher of his. You never know.

    With these motifs in mind, the Jews (although they didn’t know it at the time) were inventing the idea of ‘linear time’. “Under the surface events of this tribal story, new ideas are developing: time is becoming real; a real future is possible”, says Thomas Cahill in Gifts of the Jews, P. 238. That these stories “Makes history real to human consciousness for the first time”… “And because its end is not yet, it is full of hope – and I am free to imagine that it will not be just process but progress”, P. 239. Once again, I am proud to be an ancestor of the people who invented hope!

    Some folk end up using Spinoza’s excommunication as a way to chastise Jews in the same way that some Christian scholars and authors browbeat us with the words of our own prophets. It is possible that some people use Spinoza as a way to widen the division between Christians and Jews and to reinforce certain stereotypes. This would just be a waste of time.

    So how is our philosopher a “Mind of the modern”? Most likely in reference to the current trend of atheism; perhaps peripherally related to the struggle that conservatives are undertaking to save our campuses from second and third generation Leninists and Trotskyites. Within this context it is without question related to the political and economic tension at home and abroad. People are just looking for a quick fix to make them feel better. Spinoza is a pretty quick fix, but in the end he leaves you hanging.

    Daniel: BramGolah@gmail.com

  56. allison Says: GvB, you’ve placed this beautifully in the context of the Jewish experience, both for Spinoza and yourself. Thank you. What you explain about his need to be open to everyone feels very familiar, though I am not Jewish.

    You say you are “Not Jewish” but yet you say I “Placed it beautifully in the context of the Jewish experience”. How is this possible? How would you know? And then you go on to say “For Spinoza and yourself”. How in the world would you know about me and how I think? That’s a good one. It seems to me that I have fed directly into certain preconceived notions and stereotypes you have about Jews and Jewish history. This was not my intention.

    In the same way that (some) Christians chastise Jews with the words of their own Prophets, you have completely misunderstood my meaning.

    You know how when a Jewish comedian tells Jewish jokes he can get away with it, but if the same Jewish comedian tells Catholic jokes it doesn’t quite go over the way it was meant to? This is how the Jewish prophets spoke to ‘The Nation’, of Israel, as its ‘child’, and in some places, “Son” which was misconstrued by Christian theologians, that they chastised us for. This is an intramural topic that doesn’t have the same effect when an outsider tells you what to do. It is in this sense that I was speaking. Sorry if you misunderstood me.

    Daniel: BramGolah@gmail.com

  57. Ok. I’m trying to do a little bit of homework and I’ve started reading the online article by Goldstein. I’m having a reaction to this:

    “One can only marvel at……opponents of genetically modified foods, additives, and pesticide residues who are ignorant of genetics and evolutionary biology.”

    Does she mean to say that if you know about genetics and evolutionary biology you shouldn’t have a problem with genetically modified foods or pesticides? I hope I’m reading this wrong, because I don’t see how you could make this claim and I’m loathe to read further if that is her kind of logic.

  58. I’m gonna take some notes on her shtick at B&N soon. I don’t know what she’s up to, except to put a not so original spin on a tired old theme: Jews and Universalism. I did see her on cspan recently, Book notes or something. I took notes, looking for them now. The thing I object to is when authors hide their intentions. She discusses Universalism as if she invented the concept.

  59. I wrote a review on Michael Goldberg’s Kingdom Coming on Amazon a while back. I kept it up there for as long as I could. Eventually they took it down because it got too personal, but I just couldn’t resist. I ripped into her because she is a crypto Jew who uses secular terminology to camouflage a religious agenda. I hate that. And I know people who know her, so I know what I’m talking about. Its all for the money.

  60. GvB says:”You say you are “Not Jewish” but yet you say I “Placed it beautifully in the context of the Jewish experience”. How is this possible? How would you know? And then you go on to say “For Spinoza and yourself”. How in the world would you know about me and how I think? That’s a good one. It seems to me that I have fed directly into certain preconceived notions and stereotypes you have about Jews and Jewish history. This was not my intention.”

    Well, then I did misinterpret. I thought you had expressed that this was your experience and that you were talking about a Jewish experience. I was responding to this:

    “Certain authors and thinkers believe that if they communicate their own personal experience from secularism to religion in an intellectual way they can bring “lost Jews” back to the flock…..But if for one moment one should cease to exhibit interest in things religious, not only will one no longer receive the positive feedback mentioned above, but one will no longer receive even eye contact.” Which seemed to be you expressing a personal experience in a Jewish community. And this: “Aside from failing the Enlightenment, this is the tragedy of religious Judaism. My Spinoza understood this.” Which seemed to be you explaining Spinoza’s experience in a Jewish community.

    When I said “beautifully” I meant that you words were eloquent – in that I felt something when I read them – not that I felt you had captured something of which I knew. or could confirm. A piece of what you expressed and described as the experience of a Jew was something I felt connected to and was then expressing my own experience – and being sure to clarify that it was outside of sphere of the Jewish community – and asking questions about what “modern” meant in the context of this discussion.

    Just another daft human being, thinking she can make connections.

    (and so daft as not to recognize in my previous post that the text in question was written by someone making an intro, not by Goldstein. my ignorance abounds.)

  61. The only thing I would add here is this. If what I said allowed you to ruminate: see, those Jews will never see the light. Or, what I have been thinking was right all along, and HA! … then this was not the meaning I meant to convey. See the following post/explanation. On the other hand if it caused you to equate some personal experience of yours with that of the Jewish people, then my message was well received.

  62. GVB wrote:

    ///The reason why this is so – and Spinoza was well aware of this – is because words themselves take on different variations in meaning according to, and entirely dependent upon ‘context’. What works in one situation may not work in another. \\\

    I agree (Derrida/Foucault), but enough people have worked with the text to form a collective understanding of the essence of what Spinoza was saying.

    If you want to take that thought further, you could say all of philosophy is corrupted by the reduced role of perception and increased reliance on language as a key attribute of reason.

    The flaw is thus:

    Language only refers to the other senses – it doesn’t take the world in directly.

    For example, if you want to work with a formula, you have to see it on a blackboard, hear it, or touch it in brail.

    If you miss one symbol – what do you get?

    Perception has to be very sharp to facilitate reason.

    “Spinoza therefore recommends a three-step process for the achievement of human knowledge: First, disregard the misleading testimony of the senses and conventional learning.”

    http://www.philosophypages.com/hy/4h.htm

  63. GVB wrote:

    ///Let alone a mathematical equation thought up by some fruitcake philosopher. His family was in the fruit business.\\\

    Fantastic !

    You started with and adequate idea (fruit business) and the deduced the structure of reality by intutiton: cake

    Fruit + cake = fruitcake

    It is easy to see from your reasoning that Spinoza is indeed alive and well.

    Good luck and God bless

  64. GvB says: “With these motifs in mind, the Jews (although they didn’t know it at the time) were inventing the idea of ‘linear time’. “Under the surface events of this tribal story, new ideas are developing: time is becoming real; a real future is possible”, says Thomas Cahill in Gifts of the Jews, P. 238. That these stories “Makes history real to human consciousness for the first time”… “And because its end is not yet, it is full of hope – and I am free to imagine that it will not be just process but progress”, P. 239. Once again, I am proud to be an ancestor of the people who invented hope!”

    Some things are discredited simply due to self-proclamation.

    No one group can claim to have invented hope. Even it were a concept to be attributed to one group, it should be people from outside that group confirming it.

  65. GvB,

    I sincerely desire to continue this discussion with you, but your persistence in offering straw man arguments through misrepresentation of Substance Monism, Spinoza, and His Ethics is becoming a little tiresome. I’ll try again.

    Re: certain instances of human experience the mathematical (Euclidean) method does not suffice in revealing certain truths about human behavior, ethics, and drama.

    Reason is not limited to Euclidean geometry or Talmudic logic, but those were the two systems that Spinoza had available to him. Damasio does a good job in “Looking for Spinoza” of showing just how intuitive Spinoza was without really knowing for sure but merely relying his powers of observation and his keen, structured intellect. I would agree in certain instances that Damasio pushed the envelope a bit, but over all we see that Spinoza was, in fact, able to deduce a comprehensive psychological and behavioral profile of man. It’s right there in the Ethics. Of course, there were important details Spinoza could not have known in terms of psychology, physiology, and neuroscience, but his system of derivation was able to detect patterns of outward causes and effects.

    This ‘pattern recognition’ by the way was not a Spinozian invention. It is something hard-wired into our biology, a clock sort of speak that allows us to track seaons and the associated changes in tides and weather for harvesting or sailing. Without pattern recognition to guide early man, he would not have known when to plant or to hunt, and simply would have no sense of time, place, or planning. Pattern recognition and ‘connecting the dots’ are the baby steps taken in modern scientific inquiry.

    In philosophical Taoism there is a saying that goes “The map is not the territory.” We may study the geography, topography, and other important information gathered about a region, but that will never be the same as walking the actual terrain and meeting its peoples, fauna, and foliage. This is not some ancient unforgotten wisdom I am revealing here. It falls under the domain of “Duh, that’s plain old common sense.” So, if the map cannot offer the same thing as the experience, then why have a map at all? The map prepares us for the trip, offering us the bigger picture and overview so that the patterns and landmarks become easily recognizable. Spinoza never suggests that knowing the map alone is adequate; that is a Cartesian ideal (cogito ergo sum) which Spinoza rejects. Spinoza says “I am a thinking thing, therefore I think.” Mind is connected to biology as is sphincter. Spinoza begins his ‘map’, incidentally, also with cartographer’s instruments.

    A version of this saying I used on my students was “The MATH is not the territory.” Simply because something makes sense on paper or in logic doesn’t make it real. After all, didn’t Zeno of Elea convince everyone with “Achilles v. Tortoise” that motion was impossible? This, even though we knew it from practical experience not to be true? So we do have to be careful when extrapolating from mathematical truth into experiential reality. Ignoring this cautionary alert causes a great deal of speculation and drags mathematics into realms it should not venture i.e. spirituality and religion. As physicist Murray Gell-Mann called it “Quantum Frapdoodle.” Math is important for us because it gives us a guide and allows us to sit in a rocking chair and imagine how it would be of we calculated gravity from zero instead of one and what we could expect to find if we tested it. Then we go out and test the idea seeking evidence. Math makes it easier to hunt.

    Spinoza worked with what he had available in logic and math. His gift was that he assembled an ideal that could be easily confirmed, rechecked, or disproved without any irrational or supernatural claims.

    Peace

  66. Allison,

    I have to clarify the excommunication issue by putting it in context. Some place guilt upon the Amsterdam Jewish community for their actions taken against Spinoza, but I find it justified, if not unavoidable on their part. Jewish excommunication, called Cherem, is a rabbinical decree that cuts off the community from the one being excommunicated, and not the other way around, although it may have the same effect. It means that no one can have contact, offer aid, do business, mourn, or engage in any contract with the excommunicated. He becomes a persona non grata. This institutional and ritual form of ‘shunning’ has been very rarely used in Jewish history. Jews are very much community oriented and have a saying that goes “Kol Yisrael areyvim zeh bazeh” which, loosely translated, means that Jews stand as collateral for each othr and the debt of one becomes the debt of all. It is statement of communal responsibility. To actively cast out a member of the community in such a way is the antithesis of Jewish living, and is a very serious matter.

    In Biblical times, a Spinoza, and there were many dissenters, would have been dragged out into the town square and put to death. In Rabbinic times, he would have had a trial and would likely have reached a similar verdict, especially considering Spinoza’s irreverent and caustic responses to the suppression of his ideas. Though the Amsterdam community had no power to execute him, they did have the power to order others not to have contact with him. The Talmud says that four types of people are considered good as dead, and if you dissect the rabbis statement you find that at the core of each case is loneliness and abandonment. The excommunication was tantamount to this sort of ‘death’ sentence. In a world of Inquisitions and Calvinists, a Spinoza might have nowhere to turn for help, and that door was now closed to him. They were hoping the threat alone would shut him up, but they underestimated his resolve. He begged them to ‘just do it’.

    The community is exempt from judgment on my part because of their time and place. Had this excommunication went off in 1998 at the Temple Beth El of Teaneck N.J., it would really concern me that a modern American Jewish community would feel so threatened by the presence of a Spinoza and go to such great and horrific lengths to distance themselves from him. However, 17th century Amsterdam was still living in the shadow of the Inquisition and most of that community came from Spain or Portugal, having already endured the worst of “Christian Love” and the Inquisitor’s wrath. How many of them lost their fortunes, their loved ones, and their lives? How much fear did this refugee Jewish community still feel while living within the long and powerful reach of Rome? In their recent past, any and all pretexts were used to attack and impoverish the Jewish nation, and the Amsterdam Jews had plenty good reason to fear that a Spinoza, with his atheism, would bring the wrath of both Catholic and Protestant down upon them. I would have been more surprised had they not tried, by whatever means necessary, to shut him up.

    Peace

  67. Is the goal of the Spinoza’s philosophical practice the absence of suffering? And does he posit that the absence of suffering equals joy?

    If we seek the absence of suffering, do we seek to be something other than human? To have a body with nerve endings is to experience suffering. It seems to me that we choose which suffering we prefer. e.g. I prefer to get a few cuts – and risk falling on my head – to climb that tree for that coconut than to be hungry.

    And to be a distinquishable entity – even if we believe that all is God and therefore we are all entities within entity – with the physical limitations of the earthly existence is to live with a certain amount of loneliness. No one can ever know everything you expeience. So, can we eliminate suffering? If we do, what kind of existence are living? An angelic one?

    Is the lack of suffering joy? Or is it simply a neutral experience? Can you find joy through reasoning alone? Can you recognize joy without suffering or do you need the contrast? If the removal of suffering is the ultimate achievement, how come some people embrace suffering? Is something inherently wrong with them? Are they defective humans? Or is it possible that the principle is not really universal? And, if we accept that the removal of suffering is the ‘good’ thing to, it is our ethic, are we obligated to to reduce the suffering of others? (not to impel them to have the same philosophical view we hold, but because it is the ‘good’ thing for society.) Or are we only concerned with ourselves? Does no one else matter?

    So many questions…. They keep pouring out..

  68. Looking at philosophers, not a specific philosophy, I think one would have to say they are compartmentalizing to a degree. The desire to move away from emotions – to find solace in cool, clear, calm thoughts – would in fact be a joy – so your assertion that to be free from suffering would be a joy, is correct.

    A worldview should be inclusive – I find the compartmentalizing somewhat limiting – they would say it was only a device to achieve clarity.

    Theoretically all the thinking moves the envelope out and we are somehow better off – A few weeks ago there were a couple of Greek scholars on Open Source that seemed to come to the conclusion that human consciousness hasn’t changed much in 2500 years.

    Nonetheless, for those that like to think, it is all good…

  69. SchlomoLeib,

    I’m not sure why your post about the justification of the ex-communication is addressed to me. While I can find some level of empathy with Spinoza’s pain and would love an ideal world where no one did this to one another, I have no opinion about the justice of the matter at the time. I certainly hadn’t formed any judgements.

  70. Lumiére says: “to find solace in cool, clear, calm thoughts – would in fact be a joy”

    Would it? I’m not sure. Joy may need to be not just the absence of something but also the presence of something.

  71. People generally don’t like two things:

    To be made to think or be told the truth

    (I could prove this to you in such a way that would leave no doubt.)

    And yet there are people who devote a life to thinking about the truth.

    What kind of inner life makes a person do such a thing?

    The motivation probably centers on conflict – the resolution or suspension of inner conflict, rather than joy or suffering.

    Btw, I think there are only two kinds of people who do this: artists and philosophers

  72. Allison,

    You previously expressed some dismay at being outside or without access to information and insight into the religious Jewish community. I simply offered you both some detail into Jewish law and philosophy regarding excommunication and community policing, in addition to the historical context surrounding those events.

    I am helping you fill in those blanks. Class is in session. Take notes. This information will be helpful later on.

  73. Allison,

    If I was rude or nasty to you in any way please tell me because my only wish is to be fair with people. I don’t want to give you or anyone else up in here a reason to apply certain negative stereotypes. We all like to think of ourselves as “fair minded individuals”, but in certain instances we find it impossible to hide our true colors, no matter how well camouflaged. I thought this was a sort of highbrow site where insight and opinions from ‘all angles’ would be welcome. But the prejudicial rhetoric, poor sportsmanship, and subterfuge (none of it from you Allison) I have encountered came as a disappointment. I had no clue that it would get so cannibalistic. Then again I can be very naïve sometimes. No matter … my heart is pure, and strong!

    By the way, I’m sorry to hear that you were not very good at taking notes. Neither was I.

  74. Allison says: [In reference to Spinoza’s excommunication] “I have no opinion about the justice of the matter at the time. I certainly hadn’t formed any judgments”.

    Forget about “at the time”. What do you think about the ‘justice’ of the situation now? Can you make a decision, as an individual, as to whether or not it was a ‘just thing’ for the Amsterdam Jewish community to excommunicate Spinoza? As far as I can tell, no one was accusing you of “forming any judgments”. That’s what this thread is all about. Isn’t it?

  75. ShlomoLeib Says: I sincerely desire to continue this discussion with you, but your persistence in offering straw man arguments through misrepresentation of Substance Monism, Spinoza, and His Ethics is becoming a little tiresome.

    Dear sir. These are not “my arguments”. The main part of my retort contained, among others, the analysis of a professional philosopher and author: Roger Scruton. However, you did not acknowledge those aspects of Spinoza’s ‘determinism’ which conveniently omit the empiricism of non-Euclidian geometry. Thank you.

  76. GVB,

    I don’t have complaints that you were rude. This is a hard medium to have challenging dialogues. Tones are invoked by the reader that may not come even close to the intention of the writer. People are imperfect in their choice of words and the readers have to choose whether to give them the benefit of the doubt, assume the worst, or inquire. Even the inquiry can be then read as a judgment. It;s all very challenging.

    I did have a reaction to this part of your post addressing me: “How in the world would you know about me and how I think? That’s a good one. It seems to me that I have fed directly into certain preconceived notions and stereotypes you have about Jews and Jewish history. This was not my intention.”

    I felt that I was responding to something you shared and you accused me of assuming to know things about you. The “That’s a good one.” part felt a bit harsh and judgemental. I realized, however, that you hadn’t actually accused me, you said “it seems to me” which was leaving the window open for me to clarify myself. Which I did. At which point, we seemed to be able to move forward. I was perfectly satisfied with that experience. I think that this kind of exchange where we continue to ask each other for clarification is very acceptable. It is best if we assume misunderstanding rather than offense. In person, it might go more quickly than online. In this medium we have to have a lot patience and, dare I say, faith in one another.

    So, no I don’t think you were rude. I did have a reaction. I got over it and chose the path of clarification and it all felt okay to me.

    I appreciate you asking. Thank you.

    I do disagree with the making the claim that any one group ‘invented hope.” ;-D But I am perfectly content to agree to disagree without harboring bad feelings or judgments.

    Take care, Allison

  77. GvB writes:”As far as I can tell, no one was accusing you of “forming any judgments”.

    Yes, you’re right. I thought my exchange with shlomoleib explained my misunderstanding. I was confused as to why shlomoleib felt the need to explain the context of the excommunication to me, particularly. Shlomoleib clarified, I accepted the response.

    As for my judgment now, I don’t feel well enough informed to say I have a full understanding of why they chose to do what they did. I do hold personally, an ideal of allowing people to speak their ideas freely, even if you feel threatened by the ideas. So, in general I do not support the conceprt of excommunication. What I find untenable is the part where no one in the community is allowed to acknowledge the existence of this person. Well, that is asking everyone to participate in a delusion. “Pretend he’s dead.” As a somewhat rational being, I would not be able to accept this. I see a person, I will not say that I don’t. To me, it seems like a very heavy-handed manipulation in order to quelch dissent. As a social creature, one of our biggest fears is having to go it alone. So, the threat excommunication taps into that fear and uses it to control behavior. I’m not a fan of fear-bsed leadership.

    All that said, I withhold any harsh judgment about the community. I gather that after all the Portuguese Jewish community in Holland had gone through, they had a lot of reason to be afraid and to feel a lot of anxiety about cohesion. Did they feel their very survival dependent upon it? And was it the survival of the individuals in the community or the survival of the Jewishishness of the community? These things I cannot know. And they lead to bigger debates about the role of religion in both bringing cohesion and fear to societies. And absolutism that may or may not serve the society. Isn’t this what Spinoza himself is investigating?

  78. Events do not just pop out of nowhere. There is a long chain of causes, effects, presumptions, and other seemingly non-related events that play important roles in the Spinoza saga. Those factors that influence the decisions of the outside players go back a long, long way. So we all know the story, more or less, but why it played out as it did requires context.

    This, at all times, is what I am trying to convey. Spinoza may have been independently-minded (nice word for stubborn jackass), but he could not act independently of or without regard for the greater and very dangerous forces that swirled around him. None of us can. There is no escape, only at best a coping mechanism that reflects concrete reality and not the wishful dreamings of denial or messianic delusion. We can become self determined only through recognition of immanent causes.

  79. Allison says: I do not support the concept of excommunication. What I find untenable is the part where no one in the community is allowed to acknowledge the existence of this person.

    I do not support excommunication either. I think it was a mistake to excommunicate Spinoza. And about others in the community not allowed to acknowledge the person. That’s disgusting. What I really think about that I can’t post in here because they’d throw me off the site.

    Allison says: And absolutism that may or may not serve the society. Isn’t this what Spinoza himself is investigating?

    I believe so. I believe Spinoza lived the pain of religious intolerance from both Judaism and Catholicism. It makes me think that an Enlightenment period was an impending reality: an “organic process” if you will. Modernity short circuits the intolerance, the blood lusting, and all the darkness of the potent mythopoetic forces.

  80. ShlomoLeib Says: He could not act independently or without regard for the greater and very dangerous forces that swirled around him.

    Yes, he was a martyr for free thinkers and the West. That’s why I love America. I once teetered on the edge of a religious life. I even went to Israel for three weeks. Food was terrible, but I brought back some music I couldn’t find in the states, so it wasn’t a total loss.

    ShlomoLeib Says: None of us can. There is no escape, only at best a coping mechanism that reflects concrete reality and not the wishful dreamings of denial or messianic delusion.

    Whoa horsy! Pull back on them reins son. Religion is: a place to go to quite the mind in times of turmoil. Religion is: an irrational system for the weary waking mind to find pockets of relaxation. Religion is: a safety valve, like dreams, to relieve anxiety and stress. Shlomo, the point is not to take it literally (as there are ‘four’ levels of scriptural interpretation, or basic modes of thought anyway), but to add a dose of levity to an otherwise chaotic existence. What you call “messianic delusion” (and incidentally I agree with this characterization), is what has given hope to millions of people. I don’t believe in the divinity of the Jesus, but if others find salvation and peace believing in him, so what? What’s the big deal to me?

    If you can handle it all on a rational basis, more power to you. So can I. The point is not to deny that irrational aspect of consciousness to those who claim they need it. Let them have what they want. There is nothing you can do about it anyway. Do not allow it to control or guide your psychology. No one owns your head. If people are delusional, fine, make a joke out of it or something. But whatever you do, don’t let them make you tense, or bitter. That’s when they win.

  81. If Spinoza is consistent with his own deterministic (fatalistic) belief system, he would say that the concept of justice is subjective (a value judgment) and that his excommunication was necessary and perfect. He would argue that ones’ sense of justice or injustice was due to an incomplete apprehension of the bigger (complex) picture.

    As to whether any past action is just or not is moot. One can only hold a subjective opinion (which is operationally true for them) colored by one’s emotions and belief system. The past doesn’t exist, it is a mental construct, composed of hearsay and beliefs based on hearsay (largely unexamined and unquestioned) and recorded history is the opinionated work of those consciously or unconsciously reflecting their own agenda. The future is an idea construct as well and is subjective projection. There is only NOW. The idea of linear time is a construct (time as one perceives it isn’t real and doesn’t actually exist) that causes many problems, the largest perhaps is the concept of payback – literally the repaying in kind or worse for torts committed “back in time.”

    The concept of justice, retribution, and vengeance all derive from the idea that time “flows” in a linear manner ostensibly from the past into the future instead of the reality that ALL time is one, the omnipresent NOW (if time actually did flow it would be from the future to the past.)

    Spinoza sensed this in his philosophy and this concept of time wasn’t fully comprehended until Einstein formulated his theories (perhaps influenced by him) and is still (today) in his words the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.

    Spinoza was largely correct in his view that there is a single substance (consciousness) underlying everything, which has no causation. What he didn’t quite apprehend was that the substance depending on the observation could have more than 1 attribute or manefestation. Quantum mechanics shows that depending on how one views this substance it may have wave or particular attributes and matter and energy are differing manefestations of the same thing.

    Modern physics has successfully unified 3 of the 4 known forces with only gravity to be explained. When consciousness, along with its other disguises of energy and matter, is discovered to be the underlying substance of everything, ALL will be unified and Spinoza will have been be one of the major founders of this realization.

    Peace to ALL,

    Jazzman

  82. Jazzman,

    If justice, retribution and vengeance all derive from the idea of flowing linear time, and all are mere mental contructs filling in for the ignorance of our minds to the bigger picture, how then could Einstein be said to be “influenced” by Spinoza? It seems to me that if causality exists for one aspect of human relations (influence) it should exist for others (justice and vengeance). Perhaps you should think in terms of levels. Even Einstein admitted that on the level of everyday distance and speed Newtonian Physics and Euclidian Geometry were (or work) just fine. While they may not be accurate reflections of the nature of things on a higher level, they are quite useful for us, just like our ethical constructs. The real question, I think, is where exactly does one level begin and another end, much as it is for those trying to unify the theories of physics.

    Thanks for getting me thinking,

    chuckwadd

  83. Re: he was a martyr for free thinkers and the West

    Spinoza was given ample opportunity to escape his situation, having been offered a position in France. he chose his own path at that point. Even without having become the “Prince of Philosophers”, as Deleuze calls him, we was probably one of the most stubborn and unmovable persons of his day. It is possible that his system grew much from his personality as it did from science, math, and Talmud. He was no martyr.

    Re:point is not to take it literally (as there are ‘four’ levels of scriptural interpretation)

    This is another subject for another time. I have to ask, if they didn’t mean it literally, then why did they say it as such? Why is there no disclaimer at the end of any religious tome that says plainly “Warning! The aforementioned commands, statements, stories, and prophecies are NOT to be taken literally.” Maybe you are suggesting that “Thou shalt not murder” is a metaphor, too?

    Re: if others find salvation and peace believing in him, so what? What’s the big deal to me?

    The big deal occurs when those with irrational beliefs begin to behave irrationally based upon those beliefs, and as a result, they begin to outlaw otherwise innocuous and reasonable behaviors. The ‘rapture’ crowd cares little what happens here and now. As far as they are concerned, Armageddon can’t happen soon enough. this means that they will be war hawks, dragging us down with them in their Apocalyptic nonsense. Honestly, have you ever encountered a religion that kept to itself?

    Re: deterministic (fatalistic) belief system

    I’ll be nitpicky here just so we are all on the same page. Spinoza’s god/nature does not act with an end or goal in mind. His determinism is about the process, not the end. At any time we, as individuals, can alter the process, but never escape it.

    Re:a single substance (consciousness)

    Consciousness is NOT substance. Substance is material and consciousness remains a mysterious undefined unknown.

    Re: Quantum mechanics shows that depending on how one views this substance it may have wave or particular attributes and matter and energy are differing manefestations of the same thing.

    This is essentially the same view Spinoza takes of the mind/body relationship. They become two different languages describing the same reality. The part of QM many still reject is non-causality or randomness.

    Re: It seems to me that if causality exists for one aspect of human relations (influence) it should exist for others (justice and vengeance)While they may not be accurate reflections of the nature of things on a higher level, they are quite useful for us, just like our ethical constructs.

    Absolutely right. Even if on the subatomic level determinism doesn’t operate, in the macro world it clearly does.

    I wish I had more time to delve into more detail. Life is in the way as usual.

    Peace

  84. Chuckwaad,

    While taking a critical look around the planet, what argument would you put forth to make a case that man is ready for the next step?

  85. chuckwadd asks: how then could Einstein be said to be “influenced” by Spinoza?

    As ALL time is one, from which we create our illusion of temporal reality, forming concepts of the past, present and future, (in actuality, time appears to flow due to the interval between the neuron/synapse firing in the brain – consciousness (i.e., the mind) is free of such gaps) all ideas, exist in superposition in the NOW available for one to pick and choose from those with which one is aware and if those ideas comport with one’s belief system or presents novelty that can be integrated into one’s worldview then it is those ideas re-created by the chooser in the NOW that may be said to have influenced one’s worldview.

    No causality is implied as the cause is the effect when one creates the entirely personal conscious/unconscious formulation of beliefs about any concept. This has nothing to do with justice, retribution, or vengeance which are justified by the belief in linear time that a wrong was committed in the past and must be redressed. One could easily say that the same applies to preventative justice to ostensibly stop future undesirable actions from occurring (witness the present violence in Iraq, justified to prevent terrorism in the future.)

    SchlomoLieb says: At any time we, as individuals, can alter the process, but never escape it.

    In a deterministic (fatalistic) belief system (which requires no purpose or end other than necessity) determinism/fatalism by (the lack of free will) by definition prevents the individual from altering the process. My belief system doesn’t happen to subscribe to that theory but I was speaking about my interpretation (creation) of Spinoza’s worldview.

    SchlomoLieb says: Consciousness is NOT substance. Substance is material and consciousness remains a mysterious undefined unknown.

    In your belief system this may be true for you but in my belief system Consciousness=Energy=Matter and are interchangeable, energy was not widely considered material until Einstein and QM.

    As to the causality issue, the non-deterministic aspect apparently due to its statistical predictability was adduced by Heisenberg and the objection to that formulation is largely due to Einstein’s famous assertion that God doesn’t play dice. The only determinism that operates in the macro world are the root assumptions that are agreed upon in the mass reality (physical law) and that which one perceives to be deterministic for operational purposes.

  86. ShlomoLeib Says: Maybe you are suggesting that “Thou shalt not murder” is a metaphor, too?

    I would ‘never’ suggest that, but it seems that the thought now has cause to be by you mentioning it. Within the different levels of Torah, are you suggesting that if one Mitzvah have a literal interpretation that [“therefore”] others do to? This is an extremist/literalist proposition. If I say to you “Its water under the bridge”, you may actually visualize water flowing under a bridge, but is that the “true meaning” of what is being said? Of course not. So why even allude to the idea that something so extreme – murder – should be treated with the same seriousness as, say, using a light switch on Shabbat?

    This is a subject for another time. That’s correct.

    ShlomoLeib Says: The big deal occurs when those with irrational beliefs begin to behave irrationally based upon those beliefs, and as a result, they begin to outlaw otherwise innocuous and reasonable behaviors. The ‘rapture’ crowd cares little what happens here and now. As far as they are concerned, Armageddon can’t happen soon enough. This means that they will be war hawks, dragging us down with them in their apocalyptic nonsense.

    Absolutely correct! Last year I wrote an essay on Islam pointing to the fact that they had never experienced a successful Reformation. (Not my idea originally, just elaborating as such). In short. [Paraphrasing] Islam has troublemakers: religious fundamentalists within their ranks who use violence to achieve their goals. Because of a lack of centralized Arab leadership in the Middle East, it is not possible for them to control these people. They need help from outside sources, such as the United States. I would love to see them pull through this awful moment in their/our history, as they are a majestic and beautiful people, but until then others must protect what’s theirs, right? We don’t want to wipe them out; we want to see them through. Sometimes offering life is just as imperative as taking it.

    It is a ‘big deal’ to innocent bystanders who are effected by their behavior, absolutely, but (and this is a recurring theme in our correspondence) not when it comes to one’s own personal salvation. I maintain that one thing has nothing to do with the other.

    The point. The “rapture crowd” (I like that) must be kept under control. Militias in the US, KKK, Ruby Ridge folk and people who would blow up an abortion clinique; Haredi fundamentalists in Israel and the Temple Mount Lunatics; Antiimperialista in Italy who donate money to the Baath Party in Iraq; and the Islamists themselves. You are correct. All this is apocalyptic nonsense. But will they “drag us down”? No. Why not? Because we won’t let them. Trust me on this.

    ShlomoLeib Says: Honestly, have you ever encountered a religion that kept to itself?

    Yeah, mine. You asked!

    ShlomoLeib Says: His [Spinoza] determinism is about the process, not the end. At any time we, as individuals, can alter the process, but never escape it.

    “The end”: is otherwise known as ‘progress’. To use a phrase I heard a few years ago The Kingdom has been postponed indefinitely. I believe that all the above mentioned religious nonsense has been short circuited by Modernity. Modernity has winners and losers. Fundamentalist Judaism as a Kingdom of God on earth loses; the Pope lost in the early part of the 16th Century, but he forgot. The decline of Papal jurisdiction, in relation to the Remonstrants: the Dutch Republic was the early period when these Protestants *put down* their religious fundamentalism for economic gain; heralding a period of prosperity that is still going strong.

    ShlomoLeib Says: Consciousness is NOT substance.

    You don’t really know that.

    ShlomoLeib Says: Substance is material and consciousness remains a mysterious undefined unknown.

    You don’t know that either!

  87. Re: In a deterministic (fatalistic) belief system (which requires no purpose or end other than necessity) determinism/fatalism by (the lack of free will) by definition prevents the individual from altering the process.

    There is no ‘free will”, meaning no act is committed without predicating causes or influences. We are still, however, fundamentally able to act within a given range of responses. Spinoza’s self-determinism asks us to allow reason to be the predominate influence in our actions. I would ask you to make a list of the things you control and those you cannot, and ask yourself whether in regards to those things beyond or your control if in fact, your will or lack thereof makes any difference at all.

    The Stoics had a similar view. They allowed themselves ‘gods’ but they weren’t taken literally by the philosophers. The gods or fates, to the Stoic, represented ideas and natural events that lay beyond humankind’s understanding and control. Poseidon or Neptune are good examples. If you have ever been adrift in the ocean, you’d know that feeling of both awe and helplessness. The ocean for that moment, becomes your ‘god’.

    Now you cannot control a tornado, but you can do many things to prevent yourself or limit the catastrophe to avoid tornados. By moving out of a Kansas trailer park community, for example, you probably reduce the risk factor by 75%.

    Spinoza’s determinism does not make you a robot unaware that he or she is a robot. You have the choice between passions and reason. Take your pick. Spinoza uses two words to describe ‘will’; conatus, the drive for equilibrium and homeostasis in both animate and inanimate objects, and voluntas, the mental or emotional aspect of will. (It requires more explanation than I have time for at present.)

    Re: the non-deterministic aspect apparently due to its statistical predictability was adduced by Heisenberg and the objection to that formulation

    I assume you are referring to the Heisenberg Principle. The principle states that the position and velocity of a particle cannot be known simultaneously. That is all it says. Amazing what people are able to read into that idea. It means that as far as our ability to know these measurements, we are stuck in a place where, at least for the present, this ability eludes us. One could easily argue that our having to describe it in terms of a wave function or probability has nothing to do with the indeterminate nature of nature, but only our limited capability.

    Re: God does not play dice.

    That comment was made in conversation with Neils Bohr in 1927 at the Solvay conference. Bohr’s answer was “Einstein! Stop telling God what to do!” Properly translated from Einstein into English, the phrase should read, “Nature does not gamble.” Nature doesn’t alter it’s course without ample cause. Einstein based his view on three principles: localism, realism, and determinism.

    Re: consciousness

    Please define it. I keep seeing the word, and I have many ideas and no idea at all as to what it means.

    Peace!

  88. ShlomoLeib Says: Spinoza’s god/nature does not act with an end or goal in mind. His determinism is about the process, not the end. At any time we, as individuals, can alter the process, but never escape it.

    To elaborate. “Process”, within a Spinozian context (as alluded to elsewhere on this thread) is ‘cyclical’. Man repeats the same mistakes year in and year out because he believes he has no control over his destiny i.e. he relies on ‘reason alone’ to see him through that intangible aspect of consciousness which he does not understand. Essentially, he has no faith. The big question now is: how does man step out from the taboo of the forest and make, as I quoted Thomas Cahill a few posts ago, “Progress”? He makes progress by ‘hoping’ that tomorrow will be better than today etc: by not repeating the same mistakes that led to his previous state of misery. Spinoza’s non-empirical Euclidian styled geometry does not contain the formula to solve this problem. And this is why, Shlomo, according to Spinoza, we can never “escape it”.

  89. Shlomo,

    This last post of mine is an additional comment to my 12:45 post. I won’t be able to post again until tomorrow. Later.

  90. GvB,

    Re: Within the different levels of Torah

    You claim there to be four levels, when in fact there are 70 (Shivim Panim L’Torah) but that is not the point to quibble over. The for levels are peshat, remez, drush, and sod which roughly translated are simple meaning, hints, extrapolations, and secrets. These divisions are rabbinic creations that allow for a wide range of interpretations, but these levels and how the distinctions are derived are nowhere to be found within the Scripture itself. One would think that there would be some guidance from Moses at least on how to go about it all, but nothing was said. Maybe nothing was said because nothing is there, and I have no reason to assume anything other than the Bronze Age author of Torah really meant what he said and said what he meant. Later and perhaps more enlightened influences on Jewish culture required these ‘levels’ to reconcile new additions with traditional writings. These ‘levels’ were also required to reconcile conflicts between earlier writings and post Isaiah II additions.

    Modern day Judaism is nothing more than Platonism and Zoroastrianism mixed with the Old Testament characters.

    Re; are you suggesting that if one Mitzvah have a literal interpretation that [“therefore”] others do to?

    Until the Torah itself tells me otherwise, yes. Where do you get the idea that certain things are literal and others not? Who told you not to take “not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk” literally? Did you decide this on your own and on whose authority?

    Re: Yeah, mine. You asked!

    Do tell. I suspect you have already guessed my religion of birth. I am a refugee from Chasidism-Orthodoxy.

  91. Re: Man repeats the same mistakes year in and year out because he believes he has no control over his destiny.

    Spinoza says no such thing. His entire Ethics espouses the opposite; that man has readily available the wherewithal to use reason as a damper on the passions should he choose to make it so and thus not fall prey to the consequences thereof. There is no fatalism about it. Spinoza does not concern himself with destiny, he is concerned for your well-being at the present. For that, Spinoza believes, you must become a thinking person.

    Re: destiny i.e. he relies on ‘reason alone’ to see him through

    Contrary to what you assume here, is not an escape. It is a means/method to an end. Do you have something better to rely on than reason?

    As the saying goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Even in our humor we admit to determinism and causation. We also admit to having some power and control, albeit not too much and quite limited in scope. Want to change things? Change what you are doing.

    Re: intangible aspect of consciousness which he does not understand

    I’ll be honest. I have no idea what you are talking about here. Sometimes when I hear the word ‘intangible’ it means either “imaginary” or “unknown”. I place consciousness by most people’s definitions into the realm of spiritual crypto-zoology along with souls, demons, angels, the tooth fairy, electric ab-tighteners, and chakras. Consciousness, as I see it, is a question of how we know what we know, and the answer comes down to the apparatus of knowing (brain) plus our curiosity (active awareness). Rather than call it by some name no one seems to define (even Dennett), I call it awareness and that’s it.

    I would like very much to hear a definition of consciousness. We are getting stuck here talking past each other probably because I haven’t a clue what you mean. Anybody?

    Re: hope

    Spinoza lists hope in the same category as he does guilt, as a negative and useless passion. “Hope is a joy not constant, arising from the idea of something future or past about the issue of which we sometimes doubt.” He also links fear to hope as “Fear is a sorrow not constant, arising from the idea of something future or past about the issue of which we sometimes doubt.” (Ethics)

    Peace

  92. jazzman writes: “In your belief system this may be true for you but in my belief system Consciousness=Energy=Matter and are interchangeable,”

    Thank you for clarifying that some of your declarations of facts are actually your beliefs. It is important to do so. There are places where we all declare things as facts because we have come to accept them as such. As long as we can admit that these are really our beliefs, a dialogue can continue.

    The concept that all time is NOW, for instance . That may be true. Then again, it may not be. Then again, it may be and not be true at the same time. And we need to be clear that there are different levels of relating to these concepts. It’s all fine and dandy to say that all time exists NOW, but if you’re trying to meetup with someone else for a meeting or an outing, you have to operate in a linear time frame in order to function together. And if we can admit that at some level we must operate this way, we must also admit that within that context we need to work with some constructs of causality. In other words, we can agree to disagree about the more meta-level question of the passage or non-passage of time, and continue to engage the dialogue that engages our operational reality.

  93. Allison says: Thank you for clarifying that some of your declarations of facts are actually your beliefs.

    ALL my declarations are my beliefs – I don’t play devil’s advocate or troll for exercise.

    The nature of facts is slippery; the only uncontestable facts are tautological or a function of a logical system and are so by definition. Everything else is subjective; all experience is processed and apprehended thru our consciousness and filter thru our beliefs.

    When I declare consciousness to be the stuff of which all things are made, that is my belief and while I am not unique in this belief, the mainstream body of science hasn’t yet attempted to investigate its nature preferring to leave such investigations to philosophers or hand wave it aside by deeming it emergent or epiphenomenal. I do not assert it as a fact but a hypothesis.

    When I assert that all time is NOW, I and many other physicists (as well as Einstein) consider it a fact (as you note it may or may not be true but then truth is as slippery (and subjective) as facts) so it is debatable but if correct then causality is meaningless. I can only present my philosophical view and argue it from that vantage.

    If my system of logic comports with another’s to the degree that can support a dialogue and dialectic then we can have a discussion and agree about certain aspects and convince one another to supplant their view with other ideas because they strike a chord and make more sense than the previously held ideas. I only declare things as facts as things that I believe to be unassailable in mutual logic but am always willing to be shown the error of my beliefs. If I am convinced, then I adopt the corrected belief, this is the way all of our belief systems are created.

    Living in society and agreeing to operate as if the surface camouflage which appears to be for all intents and purposes what we collectively call reality makes it easier to get along with everyone else, but I find it more satisfying and meaningful to delve beneath appearances and attempt to allow to others the freedom to broaden their worldviews.

    My main theses are: We form our experience by our beliefs; we are responsible for our experience; ideal ends are never justified by less than ideal means; Absolute Morality is my guiding principle in life.

  94. Jazz:

    ///ideal ends are never justified by less than ideal means\\\

    In The Fog of War, McNamara said:

    “Sometimes we have to do bad things to achieve good.”

    Don’t you think that unavoidable?

  95. jazzman writes: “I can only present my philosophical view and argue it from that vantage.”

    So, I guess we’re here for different reasons. I’m not arguing with anyone. I’m inquiring. I’m not trying to convince and don’t want to be convinced. I’m here to explore and share perspectives and creative ideas. If along the way I learn or experience something that expands my horizons – yippee!!

  96. ShlomoLeib Says: Properly translated from Einstein into English, the phrase should read, “Nature does not gamble.”

    I disagree with this characterization. I believe it should run: There is order in the heavens. The whole quote is: “God does not play dice with the universe”. I don’t see any point in providing only half a quote. I’m sure you would agree that the term “Nature” is here synonymous with the term “God” as in Pantheist, but not Pagan … that this includes all celestial bodies in motion in the observable universe. Yes?

    ShlomoLeib Says: I assume you are referring to the Heisenberg Principle. The principle states that the position and velocity of a particle cannot be known simultaneously.

    I am not referring to the Heisenberg Principle. LOL.

    ShlomoLeib Says: You claim there to be four levels, when in fact there are 70 roughly translated are simple meaning, hints, extrapolations, and secrets.

    I am referring not to the 70 levels (or “faces”) of Torah, but to the four basic stratums that the human mind is able to apprehend Torah. These are ‘modalities’ (of apprehension), not levels in the literal sense. But it is not incorrect to refer to them as “levels”. I am referring to Pardes: the Orchid. You got the names right: Peshat, Remez, Derash, and Sod, but the meanings completely wrong. The meanings are (pulled from the web):

    Peshat = Literal meaning; the contextual, philological level

    Remez = Allegorical meaning; cross-reference to other texts; rational or philosophical level

    Derash = Moral or homiletic meaning; aggadic level; midrashic [= interpretation via derash] level

    Sod = Mystical or anagogic meaning

    Now please admit that you accidentally mischaracterized them, and/or that you are using non-Jewish sources.

    ShlomoLeib Says: One would think that there would be some guidance from Moses at least on how to go about it all

    LOL, no, one would not. If faith came with instructions it wouldn’t be faith, silly. It would be Spinoza.

    ShlomoLeib Says: Modern day Judaism is nothing more than Platonism and Zoroastrianism mixed with the Old Testament characters.

    Not entirely accurate. Normative Judaism coexisted more peacefully with pre-Platonic philosophy and the “cosmological poets” as they were called. Zoroastrianism? Yes but only topically. More importantly, Judaism differs from Zoroastrianism in its conception of good and evil. In Zoroastrianism, as in Christianity, there is an equal balance between the forces of good and evil. In Judaism Samael the Accuser is under God’s control as an ‘aspect’ of creation (created by God himself for the purpose of turning pure light into matter) and therefore not on equal footing with the creator. Samael is always angry, aggressive, jealous, and accusatory. He reminds me of Mel Gibson.

    ShlomoLeib Says: Where do you get the idea that certain things are literal and others not?

    We have thus far agreed that there are 70 levels (or faces) and four modalities, Pardes, of interpretation. You have acknowledged these different modes of interpretation. Are you now saying that there is only one?

    ShlomoLeib Says: Until the Torah itself tells me otherwise, yes.

    Remember when you pointed out that Spinoza discovered “pattern recognition”? Or if he didn’t “discover it” that it is hard wired or something? Well, I agree. Pattern recognition also allows us to detect patterns in Torah, or on a chessboard for that matter. For example. Isaiah 53 means one thing to Jews and something else to Christians. Christians force the reference “son” to Jesus who lived hundreds of years ‘after’ the verse was written. In the original Hebrew Isaiah spoke to ‘the nation of Israel’ as his “son”, as a father would speak to a child. The former is literal (and out of context), the latter is allegory (and within context). You understand what I’m saying Shlomo, or whatever your name is?

    ShlomoLeib Says: Who told you not to take “not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk” literally? Did you decide this on your own and on whose authority?

    Or that “Ye shall take up serpents” … and wind up playing with snakes. LOL, no thank you. Silly question.

    I enjoyed our debate very much, but it is now becoming redundant. Out of respect to others on this thread, I think it would be in good taste to stay on topic. However, you are using circumlocutions and diverting the subject matter on to other topics. This thread is not about (and I am also guilty of this) “the four modalities” or “Oriental analogies”. It isn’t even supposed to be what ‘our’ central debate has been about. Something tells me that if I don’t let you have the last word you’ll just go on and on.

    For the record. You have chosen not to acknowledge the largely unaccounted for empiricism in Spinoza’s geometry. I presented four professional citations that suss out these things, and you have not addressed them directly.

    Also notice that during the course of this debate, I have agreed with you many times and you never agreed with me once. Very revealing. And now, you want to get into another debate about consciousness. Ain’t gonna happen. Not on this thread. I look forward to debating with you in the future. It has been one hell of a challenge and you are one hell of a good writer.

    Thanks. Later.

  97. All “time” may very well be in the “now”. It gets problematic when human memory is taken into account. Human memory is the most accurate measurer of “time”, if there is such a thing. Einstein showed that people perceive “time” differently. Something Allison said about ‘social order’ reminded me that “time” is an artificial construct designed by humans to avoid anarchy. People must agree to do certain things at a certain “time” to avoid chaos. Traffic lights must be synchronized at certain intervals (“timing”) to avoid injury and death. What do these arbitrary numbers on a wristwatch that we humans impose on ourselves and others mean with respect to celestial bodies in motion? Nothing, I think. The sun will rise and set irrespective of what we do. Comets fly around every so often with an ‘impeccable timing’ that inspires awe and beauty. Did some deity put it there? I don’t know. It looks that way, but that doesn’t mean that it is that way. I like jazzman’s version: “Consciousness to be the stuff of which all things are made”. I believe there is a deeper connection between human imagination and the observable universe. I think the two are one and the same.

  98. I was pleased to see Hurley’s recommendation of Will and Ariel Durant’s chapter on Spinoza in The Story of Philosophy ( that old war horse) which I happened to be reading as well and also recommend. The quote, the text of Spinoza’s excommunication was indeed “chilling” and I may find the will to type it out. I was surprised that Jews excommunicated in such a formal way.

    One reason why it chilled me is that I have been shunned by about half of my orthodox Jewish family for marrying someone who is not Jewish. To them it is as though I am dead. This caused me a lot of pain but it gave me my spine. . Maybe they did Spinoza ( and us all) a favor by excommunicating him- perhaps this helped focuse his mind, not that I would wish it on anyone. But one does have to ask oneself “what is this for?” and what is it about. I think Spinoza was wise beyond suffering for his thoughts. Excommunicated, was then free.

    That said I have been told by learned religious relatives ( the ones that do speak to me) that I can never be considered not Jewish, no matter what I believe, or what I do, I will always be considered a Jew. This is more enlightened; it protects Jews as much, if not more, from assimilation/extinction as one is always welcome back to the fold. Judaism itself also grows and is enriched.

    Excommunication comes up again (in a less formal way?) when we talk about Hannah Arendt on ROS topic on Arendt warming up with Amos Elon’s excellent essay The Excommunication of Hannah Arendt

  99. Lumière Says: In The Fog of War, McNamara said: “Sometimes we have to do bad things to achieve good.” Don’t you think that unavoidable?

    No it’s always avoidable and is NEVER justified. This is “the end justifies my means” behavior of a fanatic. A fanatic is one who believes that he/she knows what is right for whatever situation and rather than working peacefully to achieve their goal, does whatever they think is necessary to make it happen ASAP (preferably while they’re alive so their ego can reap the benefits.)

    This philosophy is responsible for ALL the atrocities committed by human beings since Cain killed Abel (metaphorically – not literally.) All committed by people who were pursuing their/or their leader’s vision of the “ideal” and were pessimistic that this could be accomplished peacefully or believed that it would take too long.

    In principle this is NO different than Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Reagan or GW. These leaders believed they were doing the “right” thing for themselves and their cause. Since most of the educated secular world believes in the Darwinistic Model of “Survival of the Fittest” – read dominators of their environment (which presupposes a competitive rather than cooperative paradigm in nature and by extension humankind), it makes it even easier to justify survival at the expense of everything else.

    William James would likely say that this is the true danger of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Daniel Dennett’s musings notwithstanding, that without a “moral” compass, humans are free to behave in any way that they see fit and rationalize that behavior as their “natural” right to enhance the chance of passing on their heritable characteristics (eugenistically speaking.)

    Wars are started by this idea (that the end justifies the means and so war is justified – usually due to FEAR and impatience on the aggressors’ part) and they are stopped by ideas (that peace is desirable and war will not be tolerated.)

    Peace to ALL

  100. ShlomoLieb says: Please explain how you define consciousness and equate that with matter/energy. I am listening.

    Consciousness at its deepest level is an aware indivisible monad and the fundamental property of everything it combines with itself to form the gestalt of ALL THAT IS. Just as matter is energy i.e., “solid light” consciousness manifests as either and itself when the collection of electrons, protons, and neutrons that is here known as ShlomoLieb (sorry about the inserted “c” above in your lovely peaceful handle) is self-aware and reflects on the nature of reality (or anything else.) It manifests as mind, dreams, ideas, the life force, the multidimensional universe and the stuff of which quarks and their stuff is composed, it is the indivisible monad that is common to all things.

    Here is a squib I posted in the Holy Grail of Physics thread

    .

    ALL THAT EXISTS is comprised of a unified field or force that manifest as Consciousness, Energy and Matter (CEM). Consciousness manifests as energy (3 of the 4 forces have been unified: Electromagnetism and the strong and weak forces which are aspects of what we call LIGHT and energy manifests as matter (solid light). Consciousness manifests as elementary particles (quarks), black holes, viruses and humans.

    The phenomenon we call GRAVITY results from the innate gregariousness of consciousness, i.e., the attraction of consciousness to itself. That’s the missing link to a Unified Field Theory but most physicists have a problem with consciousness. Because they haven’t yet figured out a way to measure it with machines (ostensibly to eliminate their own consciousness from contaminating the research but the machines are also composed of consciousness) so many of them ignore it or term it emergent epiphenomenalism and believe it is somehow generated from the complex physical structure called the BRAIN. They use their conscious minds to derive their formulae but deny the mind’s or consciousness’ existence apart from the brain.

    Multidimensional mathematical models such as Everett’s Many Worlds interpretation of QM or string theory may be tailored to comport with observations but any unified theory that ignores consciousness as a fundamental property of everything IMO will fail.

    BTW Heisenberg’s principle is a subset of the theorem which states that when a member of a conjugate pair is precisely quantified that its complementary member’s attributes are unquantifiable. As to Einstein’s localism, Bell’s inequality theorem which has been scientifically verified to be true that “action at a distance” is demonstrable and appears to violate that principle, realism (critical and naïve) and determinism are necessary to support a mechanistic view of physical reality but it ignores non-physical aspects which is where consciousness bridges the gap.

    Peace

  101. allison writes: So, I guess we’re here for different reasons. I’m not arguing with anyone. I’m inquiring. I’m not trying to convince and don’t want to be convinced. I’m here to explore and share perspectives and creative ideas. If along the way I learn or experience something that expands my horizons – yippee!!

    By argument I mean a dialectic by which a thesis is presented and supported (defended logically.) By that definition anytime one presents one’s views on a subject in response to others with whom exception is taken, argument (without its negative connotation) exists. If one is willing to change one’s beliefs and has questions as to the existential nature of phenomena then inquiry is indispensable.

    I can’t believe you don’t want to be convinced if you are presented with ideas that appear intuitively or intellectually “right” and a better fit with your current understanding then I’m sure it would take little convincing for their adoption. If one believes their perspective has merit, it is natural to seek those who share that view and one usually hopes that others would adopt it as well. Here’s to the expansion of everyone’s horizon.

    Peace

  102. Shlomo

    I’m starting to see the logic of Spinoza’ determinism – it avoids unresolvable issues.

    It is amoral not immoral, no?

    If the grain harvest fails, a cow must be eaten.

    A moral Hindu would have to accept death rather than make an exception to get to the next harvest.

  103. No offense meant here at all, especially in light of the time, effort, and brain-power taken to answer, respond, and research. My tone is generally not too subtle, and no one should ever take it personally or assume any condescension on my part. I ask and re-ask the same questions when I don’t believe the answers offered to this point have been sufficient. My father said my head was a ‘shtick holz’. I have no doubt he was right. Also, I would like to apologize for not responding fully to some questions posed in my direction. I was reluctant to get involved here from the beginning because I might not have enough quality time dedicated to the discussion.

    Allow me to post the best operating definition of consciousness that I have found. This does not mean that Jazzman’s or GvB’s ideas don’t deserve consideration, they most certainly do. What I have been trying to ascertain is a basic definition of what those gentlemen consider as consciousness. Consciousness seems to get to the core debate of Spinoza’s world view.

    I spent a couple of years working through Dennett’s heterophenomenology in Consciouness Explained, and I had always wondered why, since Dennett laudibly takes a naturalistic approach to consciousness, that Dennett never mentions Spinoza. Perhaps, it was due to Decartes asking the question and the continued predominance of Dualism in our thinking. As we see form this thread (excellent by the way), dualistic thinking seems to still be alive and well, even (or especially!) in Physics. I will agree that simply to dismiss QM in order to have a simpler system is not a good idea, but that QM has its detractors and should not be portrayed as universally accepted, especially when mixed with TM or, what sounds to me like the channeling of Madame Blavatsky.

    To debate the intricacies of EPR, Bell’s Inequalities, and the various refutations thereof would detract from the thread. It’s too bad, because as a former science teacher, I seldom have the opportunity these days to dialogue with a working physicist.

    I ascribe to Damasio’s definition of consciousness. http://www.architecture-mind.com/damasio.html

    Peace! No War!

  104. Sorry, that should have been ‘subscribe’.

    Lumiere,

    Good question. Spinoza sees morality as arbitrary. His question to the Hindu would be “Who said that eating the cow was wrong in the first place that you should now even have a question as to whether or not to eat it?” It is not the morally relativistic circumstances we may find ourselves in that Spinoza questions. He goes right to the core of the matter, denying by way of reason any value to morality beyond that which is already established as a practical, ethical matter.

    Peace

  105. Lumiere,

    Like with Adam and the apple, should the steak actually turn out to be poisonous (bad) for the physical Hindu, I would advise him not to eat it, as it might otherwise hasten and aggravate an already uncompromising demise.

    Morality leads to falsehoods. It is a stubborn and exaggerated attamept to inculcate a ideal by any means necessary, because the plain truth would debunk the need for such morals from the get-go. Laws concering victimless crimes, anti-gay measures, and medical marijuana are good examples of where lies prevail in order to uphold a moral ‘truth’. One cannot have morality without telling bold-faced lies to support it. If a thing is worthy of doing or not-doing, then the plain truth should suffice in support of it. Spinoza felt that rational honesty was better than opinion.

    I am not a moral man. I know that my tastes, experiences, and thoughts intermingle and the more I am self-aware the less influence they unconsciously assert over my actions. I am a Spinozist.

  106. Shlomo

    This thread is providing more clarity – thanks to you and everyone for taking the time.

    Btw, I think that confrontation leads to insight – that’s my excuse.

  107. Spinoza? Or Shlomo?

    Let’s be clear about this. Spinoza managed to, dare I say, intuit, so much in his day that he could not possibly know from the science available to him. His foresight and genius are indeed remarkable and amazing qualities, but nor he or his philosophy were perfect. It was said of Freud that the biggest problem with his theories were that they were too ‘perfect’ and he had an answer for everything. We know today that Freud’s brilliance and his perseverance in establishing psychoanalysis among the sciences is tainted with some glaring and perhaps even dangerous ideas. And yes, even the great Einstein turned out to be wrong a time or two. Infallibility is for Popes; honest knowledge is the domain of the irreverent and often leaves us feeling a little disappointed.

    There exists a common danger that devout Spinozists, like myself, in an attempt to reconcile Spinoza to all circumstances, will retrofit later mathematical or scientific discoveries into his philosophy. This is a typical trait of religions and religious mind-sets that view their gods or leaders as infallible and all-knowing. When this occurs, it becomes more of a fan club that a real honest-to-goodness acceptance and analysis of ideas. I suspect that I, too, have been guilty a time or two of this mistake. If you spend enough time with an idea, it becomes sort of timeless. You forget when it started and from where it began in relation to context. One could forget that unlike the late 20th or early 21st century biology student, Darwin, Wallace, or Mendel did not have the broader scope of genetic knowledge we possess today. That they were correct as often as they were, without knowing the true depth of their observations, is still truly amazing!

    It is not a brilliant bit of deduction, equation, or experiment that transforms a great thinker into a hero. Our heroes are beloved because they challenged the enforced and regulated status quo of outdated ideas and false beliefs at some danger to their lives and reputations. Men like Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Descartes, Spinoza, Darwin, Freud, Einstein, etc. were not angels or divinely inspired saints, imbued each with intellectual prowess unlike any mankind has ever known previously. There were, in fact, men of greater capability that our heroes used as a foundation for their own endeavors. The distinguishing factor was a curiosity so strong that it simply overwhelmed any reservations brought about by external conditions. They, too, became caught up in the idea, so much so that they forgot their own time and place, thus transcending the existing paradigm to such an extent as to shift the totality of human knowledge from one level to the next, in spite of the danger dissemination of that idea may have posed. That later generations become infatuated with these concepts and their authors is no real dilemma at all. It testifies to the man’s overall devotion to a deeper understanding and the roots of discovery. As far as a love affair goes, one could do a whole lot worse.

    Yet, with ideas, as in romantic love, there may lurk a dangerous blindness caused by infatuation turned habituation. The psychological associations i.e. culture, behavior, science, etc. that I form when reading the Ethics, while having the benefit of modern neuroscience and psychology at my disposal, are not going to necessarily be the same as those of a 17th century Dutch lens grinder. I should be careful not to project what I know now onto what he knew then. As Spinoza himself would have warned, “Caute!” I can imagine (there I go again!) sitting at a greasy spoon with Benedict while chatting about ‘passions and appetites’, where he strongly disagrees with everything I say in reference to and on behalf of his philosophy, if for no other reason than to keep things intellectually honest. At least I hope that’s what he’d do.

    Like a good piece of literature that catches your deepest interests and emotional sensitivity, an idea that takes hold doesn’t easily let go, and those which convey a ‘common sense’ or innovative theory that suits our understanding, can easily transcend time, space, and the accurate, well-placed critique of others. I have to careful to maintain an objectivity and detachment from what Spinoza’s philosophy does for me, as me, from what Spinoza actually said as Spinoza. The question to ask becomes “Is it Spinoza talking here? Or is it Shlomo?” Sometimes we must remind ourselves that heroes can still be heroes and be dead wrong about something very important. We should not instinctively rush to their rescue by changing their meaning or context to suit modern mentalities. That is a job better suited for theologians and fanatical groupies.

    Deus sive Natura!

    “Authenticity matters little, though our willingness to accept legends depends far more upon their expression of concepts we want to believe than upon their plausibility.” (David P. Mikkelson)

  108. Well, having slogged through this blog in one sitting, just wanted to extend my thanks and appreciation to ShlomoLeib for his time and effort and patience. This thread’s been a worthwhile read for me, despite – or rather because of – its mixed-bag status.

    A few explicitly philosophical questions for ShlomoLeib. While I’m grateful for the historical and religious context comprising a good chunk of this thread, I’d like a little more on Spinoza purely as a philosopher (not that this hasn’t been addressed), as a professional in the profession of philosophy, as it were.

    I’m surprised at the scant reference to Descartes in this discussion. It seems to me Spinoza’s monism is in direct reaction to Cartesian dualism. From what I’ve read so far, the only work he published in his lifetime was a treatise on Descartes. How would you describe Descartes’ influence on Spinoza, in its degree and affinity?

    In one of your comments you explicitly reject “pantheism” as a label for Spinoza’s metaphysics. But, insofar as pantheism consists in an identification of God with the universe, how is this not apt? Are there further connotations to the term that give you pause?

    Do you see an intimacy between identity or dual-aspect theory in contemporary philosophy of mind and Spinoza’s metaphysics? Would you say Spinoza is in some way the source of these more recent theories?

    Hmmmmm…had more questions, but they’ve slipped my mind for the moment. Oh, I liked your distinction between “trust” and “faith” in one your posts, by the way. It’s a nice and useful inflection. But you’d have to admit, in loose, everyday, ordinary usage, these terms tend to go hand in hand, if not interchangeably. In personal relations, for instance, “trust” and “faithfulness” are more or less intertwined, no? In the realm of ideas, though, where “faith” does have an explicit religious resonance, your point is very well taken. Thanks again.

  109. In light of Damasio being on the show, just wanted to give a brief, broad sketch of my sense of cognitive science’s interaction with the philosophical tradition, through the contrasting figures of Descartes and Spinoza.

    It’s fashionable, in cognitive science and contemporary philosophy of mind, to take Descartes to task, to bash him, in fact, repeatedly, incessantly, in an effort to divest the study of the brain/mind of the vocabulary and conceptual baggage of Cartesian dualism. Which makes perfect sense. Cognitive science seeks to make the brain-mind relation amenable to scientific investigation. Obviously a philosophy that posits mind and matter as essentially, ontologically distinct, as fundamentally different “stuffs” making up the universe, as Cartesian dualism does, would seem to get in the way of empirical inquiry into how mental phenomena relate to the structure and activity of the brain.

    So, as Descartes is generally considered to be the first modern philosopher, and as the newer discipline of cognitive neuroscience sees most of philosophy of mind, particularly in its Cartesian mode, as wrongheaded, unempirical, speculative nonsense, many have sought to cut the nonsense at its source, with Descartes. I’m putting this a bit bluntly, but I think it’s more or less true. E.O. Wilson pretty well captured this derisive attitude towards philosophy, describing it as merely a series of false models of the brain.

    Now, Damasio, in the attempt maybe to link cognitive science to the deep tradition of philosophy, rather than have it be a pure, clean break, has taken up Spinoza, who was roughly contemporaneous with Descartes, born thirty or so years after him, as an alternative starting point, as the source of a systematically monistic view of the mind, and of the universe more generally.

    But some of what might prove good or useful in Descartes’ philosophy might be hastily thrown out as well. For instance, that what we call the “mind” does seem, intuitively at least, distinct from “matter” as it’s externally observed. That the mental sphere and the physical/physiological sphere, in other words, seem/feel irreducible with respect to one another. Say you attain a complete, exhaustive account of what’s going on in the brain during some mental act, identifying a stimulus on a screen, for instance. Even if all the neural activity is observed and accounted for, something is still left out of the description, namely, the subjective experience itself of seeing the stimulus. A comprehensive, exhaustive account of what’s going on in the brain wouldn’t include, encompass, the experience itself, however much the brain activity may indeed be causing the experience.

    I guess my point is, insofar as the mind-brain relation is to be seriously, thoroughly studied, this difference, or irreducibility, of the subjective and objective, internal and external, has to be acknowledged. And so I’d ask Damasio, given a rejection of Cartesian substance dualism (that mind and matter are fundamentally distinct essences), and the acceptance of some sort of monism (which, I’d imagine, the vast majority of scientists and philosophers do), whether strictly Spinozoan or not, does he admit that these two spheres, the subjective and objective, internal and external, are at least phenomenally distinct? And, if so, what would comprise a unifying account of them both?

    I’m afraid that may have been hopelessly muddled. Tried my best though, given time/space constraints.

    And I’ll throw out the name Benjamin Libet, as a neuroscientist who takes a relatively sympathetic stance towards Descartes. His “Mind-Time” is one of the best cognitive neuroscience books I’ve read.

  110. I must complement you for carrying on as you do. As for freedom of thought, I’m reminded of Shaw’s remark, something like this: -People demand freedom of speech; they already have freedom of thought, whiich they don’t use…. This program is a rare example of the arena of free thought. but how many avail themselves of it?

  111. In the New York Times Sunday Book Review, Harold Bloom says of Betraying Spinoza that Rebecca Goldstein “Argues by inference that his [Spinoza’s] detachment and loftiness were defenses against the sufferings of Jewish history”. When pressed further by Christopher Lydon tonight for an answer on Spinoza’s interpretation of Jewish suffering, she was evasive. She cannot bring herself to acknowledge that Spinoza may have invented his philosophy as a reaction to Jewish (and Catholic) religious intolerance. How do I know that this is possible? Because I live it myself with my own family. And I resent the fact that someone’s pain is being glossed over. That’s just wrong.

    I think Rebecca Goldstein is a respectable scholar and I enjoy hearing women talk the way she does. I want to respect her even more, but I can’t. Why not? It’s the agenda thing. Bloom also says that “She insists upon a Jewish context”. The oppressed cannot claim exclusive rights to the way history has treated them. In fact, they were under the tutelage of the oppressor but didn’t know it. God helps those who help themselves. In the end the best teacher of all is the reflection in the mirror.

  112. GVB- I think Rebecca Goldstein is a respectable scholar and I enjoy hearing women talk the way she does.

    Yes- not bad for a woman.

    Good show- and it inspires me to read ( and think). I feel a connection to Spinoza from all this discussion.

    Thanks for the book recommendations. ( Stuart Hampshire – Rebeccah Goldstein, and Spinoza’ own “Ethics”)

  113. Mynocturama,

    (Sorry I didn’t jump back in sooner. Busy at work.)

    Re: Descartes

    Without Descartes there would be no Spinoza. Descartes made asking good questions, via his methodology, a popular and acceptable pastime. His reputation as a mathematician made people trust in his ideas, major of which was that man is a ‘thinking thing’, that thought defines us, and not necessarily faith. This opened up new chance, perhaps for many that had been eagerly awaiting the opportunity, for thinkers and philosophical dissidents to speak their minds with the waning of the Vatican’s power. Eventually, what Descartes began became his undoing.

    Re: Descartes in discussion

    I agree that Descartes needs a bit more attention here. Yet, I also find many instances when I would expect to find Spinoza and do not, especially in texts or discussions of behavior, rationale, and consciousness. In “Consciousness Explained”, the entire premise, although Dennett rejects it outright, is based in the assumptions of the Cartesian Duality. (Some of the questions you posed later on concerning subjectivity and experience are covered by Dennett.)

    Re: Pantheism

    I could be accused here of making a ‘distinction without a difference’, and I suppose, in all honesty, that a guilty plea is in order. Pleading for mercy from the court, however, allow me justify this best I can.

    The danger in defining Spinoza’s beliefs as pantheistic tend to associate his view of God/Nature with other pantheistic systems that maintain some variance of transcendental or other-worldly attributes to a deity or spiritual essence of some sort. So, to avoid any possible confusion, I refer to it as ‘substance monism’ and, when I wish to be even more specific, would add ‘physical-substance monism’. I would say that Spinoza does not identify God with the Universe, rather the physical universe as THE overwhelming, yet indifferent and morally neutral determining cause. The Roman Stoics shared a similar, though not exact, sentiment regarding the pantheon of gods in their time.

    Re: influence of Spinoza

    To my dismay, I don’t see any influence from Spinoza at all. Damasio may be the first to seriously give any consideration to Spinoza in this regard. As I mentioned before, Dennett does a great job without ever mentioning Spinoza, though I would have enjoyed a reference or two, even if only in critique.

    I think the influence of Spinoza is not as strong as it could or should be because he just doesn’t fit in anywhere he goes. If you are dealing with naturalism, then you have to overcome his bible speak. Some of my fellow naturalist/determinists do not read Spinoza for that reason. Then, when you get to the spiritualists and religious rationalists, his atheism and determinism becomes another insurmountable issue.

    The last problem is one Spinoza created for himself by writing in a language he hadn’t quite mastered (Latin) while trying to convey a radical notion in a manner of speaking (Talmudic logic) that few people, outside of those who wouldn’t read Spinoza for the above-mentioned reasons, would ever grasp. The audiences his method was designed to reach would never touch his stuff. Let’s call it a marketing problem.

    Spinoza’s isolation coupled with the sort of ideas he was positing, created a new nomenclature, as well. As we see from some of the questions posed here, all good by the way, ‘Spinoza’ is a foreign language no matter where you come from.

    Peace (& thanks for joining us!)

  114. During the Spinoza program a question arose about the degree of Einstein’s religiosity. Recently I came across a quote from Einstein on this very subject. It appeared at the top of page one in Lee Cole’s Metaphor, The Season Reflected In What You See and goes like this:

    “The finest emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all art and all true science. Anyone to whom this feeling is alien, who is no longer capable of wonderment and lives in a state of fear is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists and manifests itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, whose primitive forms alone are intelligible to our dull faculties–this knowledge, this feeling… is at the core of true religion.”

    To my mind, this not only illustrates Einstein’s spirituality, but adds clarity to the definitions of mysticism, spirituality, and religion in the best sense of those terms; definitions which are necessarily a supreme challenge given the intangible or existential nature of the subject, yet at the same time a critical challenge if humanity is to evolve from material to spiritual beings. In so doing therefore, it seems to raise Einstein’s status in the realm of metaphysics to something on par with his status as a physicist. In any case the views of both Spinoza and Einstein appear consistent with a principle enunciated by the prophet Baha‘u‘llah, that religion should conform to reason.

    A similarly pleasant surprise was discovering that the psychologist Carl Jung regarded religious belief to be the foundation of mental health. I first came across this assertion by one of Jung’s biographers. While I didn’t doubt the principle intuitively nor that Jung himself would attest to it, I yearned for more concrete evidence than a biographer’s say so. Although not much of a scholar myself, having been mostly a tradesman and artisan prior to developing what could be described as a political disability, I haven’t read much of Jung’s work per se. But I was aware that the field of psychology has typically been quite hostile to religious belief in any size shape or form. In seeking confirmation from people who are well versed in Jung’s writings, they invariably disputed the existence of such an assertion.

    Then in conjunction with a recent MLK day observance, a poster listed a presentation about spirituality in higher education by Art Chickering, Ph.D. who was cited as the author of “Igniting the Fire of Conversation: How To Talk About Hot Topics Without Getting Burned”, which is due out (in the blistering, global-warming heat of) this summer. In the interest of self preservation, I decided to check it out as it sounded about as close to a useful tool for the common man as academia gets. Though informative, it wasn’t quite what I’d hoped, but the organizer turned out to be a psychologist; specifically a drug and alcohol counselor to whom I had the presence of mind to pop the question about Jung. She cited http://www.barefootsword.net/jungletter.html as a source for Jung’s letter to Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson, written only a few months prior to Jung’s passing in 1961.

    To my mind Jung reveals unequivocally where he stands on the issue of religion, albeit not necessarily in the organized sense, and shares his elucidating insights in support of his conclusion. As if that weren’t enough, he also explains why he didn’t attempt to assert such a position in his earlier work; that in attempting to do so he was too often misunderstood and there is a lack of words with which to discuss the topic without ending up in controversy; the sort of controversy that Dr. Chickering’s work is seeking a means to avoid. To illustrate Jung points out that the active agent in both alcohol and religion have the same root, spiritus. He closes by suggesting a simple Latin phrase as a solution that succinctly summarizes the situation. Readers may note that the original typewritten text of his letter is underlined and reads “spiritus contra spiritum” while two inches below that in the bold computer font is “Spiritum contra spiritus”. As slow as I am at reading and comprehending English, it could be years before I figure out which Latin expression is correct, but just below the latter phrase is a discussion of a similar phrase written by Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (121-180 A.D.) which suggests that Jung made a Freudian slip.

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