Wednesday, September 14, 2005

On Spinoza and the Eternity of the Human Mind

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews has an article by Prof. Geoffrey Gorham (Philosophy, Wisconsin - Eau Claire) on Early Modern Philosophy: Mind, Matter, and Metaphysics, a collection of "fourteen previously unpublished essays by well known historians of early modern philosophy and science." Fxs

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Catherine Wilson asks the very large question how Spinoza's "severe ontology" can support an ethical program that seems to privilege human nature and promise immortality. Her nuanced discussion leads to a simple answer: it can't. The problem is not unique to Spinoza, but characteristic of much modern philosophy. She suggests that an important lesson of recent moral theory is that we distort our moral understanding when we attempt to view ourselves "from nowhere", or as Spinoza would say, sub specie aeternitatis.

Daniel Garber manages to contribute something new and interesting to the already "enormous amount of speculation" about Spinoza's doctrine of the eternity of the human mind. The idea of the (essence of) the human body is part of the timeless mind of God. In this sense there are eternal minds corresponding to every body, not just human ones. But Spinoza also says that human minds are eternal if they have adequate ideas, since to that extent they share in God's perfectly adequate stock of ideas. Garber notes a tension here, though he does not resolve it: is my mind eternal "warts and all" or only insofar as I have adequate ideas? However, Garber does explain why we should care to achieve eternity through the possession of adequate ideas: when our ideas are adequate we banish fear and sadness (along with hope). But if the aim is really quietude then, as Catherine Wilson observes in her essay, strictly speaking "no metaphysical account of the eternal persistence of the mind would seem to be needed." (92)

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