Esta es una versión abreviada y revisada, en 2006, de la primera de dos conferencias sobre Spinoza que Richard Rorty dictara en la Universidad de Ámsterdam en 1997. La versión completa se publicó bajo el título ‘Is it desirable to love truth?’ junto con la segunda conferencia ‘Is ‘post-modernism’ relevant to politics?’ en Truth, politics and ‘post-modernism’ (Ámsterdam, 1997).
If one thinks of philosophy as the love of wisdom, of wisdom as the grasp of truth, and of truth as the accurate representation of an order that exists independently of human language and human history, then may well doubt whether philosophy is possible. Important twentieth-century intellectual movements have denied the existence of such an order. I shall use the term “pragmatism” to characterize this denial, because the alternative—“post-modernism”—has been damaged by profligate overuse.
The quarrel between the pragmatists and their predecessors that has emerged over the last hundred years is something new. It gradually took shape as a result of attempts to resolve an older quarrel—the one that Plato said was between the gods and the giants (that is, between philosophers like Plato himself and materialists like Democritus). That quarrel was about what the natural order is like, not about whether there is such a thing. In what follows, I shall argue that Spinoza’s attempt to overcome Cartesian dualism is the beginning of a train of thought that eventually leads to pragmatism, and thus to the replacement of the old quarrel by a new one.
Plato believed that grasping the natural order of things can bring about blessedness—a kind of happiness of which the animals are incapable, and which results from the realization that something central to human beings is also central to the universe. Blessedness, in this sense, consists in the realization that the intrinsic nature of the universe is on our side.
The materialists also believe that wisdom consists in the grasping of the natural order of things, but they think that no comfort can be derived from contemplating this order. We can derive practical, utilitarian profit from grasping the natural order, but we cannot find consolation in doing so. Mechanistic materialism’s picture of the universe gives us only the sort of cold intellectual satisfaction experienced by Euclid—the kind produced by having successfully brought order to a confusing variety of apparently unrelated items. It cannot produce a sense of harmony between human aspirations and non-human things.
This quarrel was renewed in early modern philosophy when mechanistic accounts of the natural order triumphed over Aristotelian hylomorphic and teleological accounts. In this period, it is exemplified by the opposition between Hobbes and Spinoza. Both men tried to come to terms with an account of the natural order which seems to leaves no place for the kind of happiness that Plato believed human beings might come to have.
Hobbes’s solution was that human beings must use artifice to do what nature cannot do: they must construct a second, political, order, in order to become less fearful and less miserable. Politics, rather than philosophical contemplation, is our only recourse. But Spinoza thought that the new, mechanistic, account of the natural order could be reconciled with Plato’s ambition—the attainment of blessedness through increased knowledge.