You Cannot Underestimate Yourself (on Ethics III P26s)

Most of the affects defined in Part III of the Ethics come in pairs: for each affect there tends to be a joyful and a sad variant. Love and hate offer the simplest example of this: love is just joy accompanied by the idea of an external cause; hate is just sadness accompanied by the idea of an external cause. There are more complicated couplets, too. For instance, ‘The striving to do evil to him we hate is called Anger [ira]; and the striving to return an evil done us is called Vengeance [vindicta]’ (IIIP40c2s) — this finds its counterpart in that ‘reciprocal Love, and consequent striving to benefit one who loves us, and strives to benefit us, is called Thankfulness, or Gratitude [gratia seu gratitudo]’ (IIIP41s). In general, affects are ideal relations we form toward ourselves and toward others that involve our imagination; and since these relations can be either joyful or sad, it’s obvious why they would come in pairs. Continue reading “You Cannot Underestimate Yourself (on Ethics III P26s)”

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Spinoza: on potestas and potentia in Ethics V

In a wonderful essay on the question of whether the State is an individual in Spinoza’s sense, Alexandre Matheron notes, almost as an aside, that the distinction between potestas and potentia is not always dispositive. Continue reading “Spinoza: on potestas and potentia in Ethics V”

Leibniz on Death

A friend recently asked me about Leibniz’s position on death. ​​Leibniz is very consistent on this question in his mature metaphysics (from the 1686 Discourse onward). Essentially, he denies death, affirming the immortality of the soul. In part, this is due to his commitment to the substantiality of minds or monads: monads must be individual substances, because there is unity in formed matter, but matter has no principle of unity in itself; and substances are by definition imperishable. (He even says at some point: it’s not so weird to insist that monads are indestructible, with no beginning or end; it’s no different, after all, from what the Gassendists say about their atoms.) Continue reading “Leibniz on Death”

Travails of Translation (Macherey, Hegel, Spinoza)

In Avec Spinoza, Pierre Macherey has a lovely little essay called “Le Spinoza idéaliste de Hegel”. In it he makes some fascinating arguments about the sort of interpretive work the German idealist needed to do in order to make the savage anomaly assimilable into his system, focusing mostly on Hegel’s comments on Spinoza in the third volume of the Lectures on the History of Philosophy. Continue reading “Travails of Translation (Macherey, Hegel, Spinoza)”

Malebranche’s critique of Aristotelian physics

The Search After Truth has many virtues—including scathing, robust critiques of Aristotelian/scholastic/medieval approaches to physics and natural phenomena—but it really can’t be said that brevity and concision are among them. The following is a paragraph-by-paragraph summary of Book Six, Part Two, Chapter Three. Continue reading “Malebranche’s critique of Aristotelian physics”

Hume’s Moral Enquiry

Hume says that we make moral distinctions. That is, we distinguish between right and wrong. Now Hume knows that some people deny that there is such a distinction: there are moral relativists, people who claim that there really is no right and wrong. But Hume says: these people may claim they think this, but they’re either lying to us or are really lying to themselves. At the end of the day, the avowed relativist does think that some things are right and other things are wrong. And Hume’s basic gesture is to say: don’t even engage with these people. You won’t win that argument, and it’s not worth even trying. This is, by the way, not dissimilar to a claim Sartre will make about the anti-semite: trying to have an argument with them is basically a waste of time; you have to respect the rules of debate and discussion, but they don’t. Continue reading “Hume’s Moral Enquiry”