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)”


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”

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”

What is an axiom?

1. In De Corpore, Hobbes writes: ‘A primary proposition is one in which the predicate is a name which explains the subject by means of a number of names.’ The example immediately given is the primary proposition: ‘A human is a rational, animated body’, which progressively reveals multiple determinations or aspects of the single given subject, in this case a human. This, Hobbes tells us, is what it is to be a definition, and the sense of such claims constitute truths that are indemonstrable in principle. He goes on: ‘There are some who add certain other propositions, which they call “primary” or “principles”, namely axioms or common notions. However, they are not really principles, because they can be proved (even if their self-evidence means that they do not need to be proved).’ (Hobbes, De Corpore, §3.9) And yet it is not clear how an axiom or common notion would be proven, since they are neither propositions nor definitions. Continue reading “What is an axiom?”

Place and Expression

This is a response I gave to a paper entitled ‘Leibniz on Place’ by Jen Nguyen at DePaul’s philosophy graduate conference yesterday, 2.11.2017.

Nguyen’s paper raises a fascinating series of issues in the context of Leibniz’s metaphysics, which to my mind come down to this central question: where is a place? In some ways, as she notes, Leibniz’s view on place is commonsensical enough: a place will turn out to be a point of view on the world; this is its intrinsic determination, as opposed to the purely extrinsic or formal definition, according to which a place is a set of coordinates in abstract three-dimensional space. And if this squares with common sense, it’s due to a strange sort of phenomenological intuition, rather like how, to borrow from Wilfrid Sellars’ terminology, we sense an incompleteness in the ‘scientific image’ of the world and supplement it with the ‘manifest image’. We want to say: no, this place, this room, is not defined by the amount of space, the quantitative distance between the walls, the placement of the windows, the positions of these tables and chairs; rather it is a matter of the way we perceive it, what it opens up for us, how we are determined within it, a question of perspective and orientation, affect and delimitation: it is how we express it. Continue reading “Place and Expression”