24 febrero, 2014

Spinoza's Legacy / El legado de Spinoza

Richard Rorty

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 blessednessa 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 ambitionthe attainment of blessedness through increased knowledge.

10 febrero, 2014

Spinoza's Metaphysics / La metafísica de Spinoza

Charlie Huenemann

Yitzhak Y. Melamed, Spinoza's Metaphysics: Substance and Thought, Oxford University Press, 2013, 232 pp.

In this book, Yitzhak Melamed engages critically with recent attempts to reinterpret and refortify Spinoza's metaphysics, and contributes his own set of distinctions and spirited defenses to the project. He is concerned especially with presenting a new interpretation of how the various attributes of God relate to the attribute of thought. This leads to attributing a new flavor of dualism to Spinoza -- a dualism not of mind and body, but of ideas and things.

Part I presents a more general interpretation of Spinoza's monism. Melamed's principal aim here is to argue against Edwin Curley's influential interpretation, and at the same time to defend Spinoza from the objections raised early on by Bayle. In his 1969 book, also entitled Spinoza's Metaphysics, Curley argued that the relation between Spinoza's God and finite things is best understood not according to a substance/property model, but as something akin to the relation between laws of nature and particular facts. Melamed argues this leads to several untoward consequences, including not being able to say Spinoza was a pantheist, not being able to make full sense of critical concepts like immanence and inherence, and having to say that Spinoza's God cannot really know anything. I won't closely review these arguments or possible rejoinders to them, since this kind of objection has been raised many times before, and Curley has been able to supply ready defense. The matter always seems to revolve upon which set of problems an interpreter is least unhappy to face. While Melamed argues with deliberate care and precision in this section, it is the part that most reflects the fact that the book grew out of a doctoral dissertation.

Toward the end of Part I, Melamed offers several insights about the nature of Spinoza's infinite modes, entities practically unheard of outside his metaphysics. Melamed deduces what he can from Spinoza's scattered remarks, but is finally forced to conclude that we simply do not have enough information to say much about them. He does however raise a strategic question well worth pursuing: what would go wrong in Spinoza's metaphysics if he hadn't called forth infinite modes? Melamed's answer is that there would be a motley collection of finite modes, which did not possess any unity or exhibit any global regularities governing changes among them. Membership in an infinite mode constrains the behaviors and natures of finite modes in ways that eventually account for the patterns and lawful regularities we observe in the world.