February 7, 2007

Spinoza, Line by Line

Spinoza, Line by Line

Does Spinoza make any sense? In a comment about our show on Spinoza, Tom B suggests that we get out our notebooks and analyze him up close to find out:

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.

Tom B, in a comment to Open Source, January 31, 2007

We asked Tom to dig out his notes, and, sportingly, he obliged. Here’s his micro analysis of some sentences from Spinoza’s “Ethics”:

“…everyone has the power of clearly and distinctly understanding himself and his emotions, if not absolutely, at any rate in part, and consequently of bringing it about, that he should become less subject to them.”

Unproven assertion that understanding emotions means one is less subject to them. What’s Spinoza’s proof?

“. . . hence it will come to pass, not only that love, hatred, &c. will be destroyed (V. ii.), but also that the appetites or desires, which are wont to arise from such emotion, will become incapable of being excessive (IV. lxi.).”

If love, hatred, etc. are destroyed, how can the appetites or desires, arising from such emotions, simply become incapable of being excessive. Logically, they should likewise be destroyed, their foundation having been eradicated.

“For it must be especially remarked, that the appetite through which a man is said to be active, and that through which he is said to be passive is one and the same.”

One cause produces two diametrically contradictory effects? So what’s the impinging variable (switch) that turns one on and the other off?

“In like manner all appetites or desires are only passions, in so far as they spring from inadequate ideas; the same results are accredited to virtue, when they are aroused or generated by adequate ideas.”

(1) What makes an idea adequate? Adequate for what? Adequate implies a goal.

(2) Are appetites generated by ideas? I am hungry, not because I’m thinking about food, but because of physiological processes having nothing to do with thoughts.

(3) Isn’t saying all appetites and desires are only passions simply a tautology? Are all passions likewise just appetites and desires?

“For all desires, whereby we are determined to any given action, may arise as much from adequate as from inadequate ideas (IV. lix.).”

All desires MAY arise from etc, etc? How can one test the hypothesis if it is hedged with the qualification MAY? (I’ll pass on how one distinguishes an adequate idea from an inadequate idea.)

Tom Brucia, in an email to Open Source, February 2, 2007.

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