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  2. Spinoza in Twenty-First-Century American and French Philosophy
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2018.02.25

Consequently, Koerbagh was tried and sentenced on charges of blasphemy. During his subsequent imprisonment under squalid conditions Koerbagh became ill. He died soon thereafter in Liberal republicans were dealt a major blow in In this so-called disaster year rampjaar , French troops, under the command of Louis XIV, invaded the United Provinces, capturing a number of Dutch cities Nadler , Grand Pensionary chief statesman and legal advisor Johan de Witt shouldered much of the blame for this military embarrassment.

De Witt was the leader of the States of Holland for much of the republican period that followed the death of Stadholder a quasi-monarchical position held by the House of Orange William II in Shortly afterward he and his brother, Cornelis, were brutally killed by a zealous mob. This incident evoked uncommon anger in Spinoza, who was an admirer of de Witt and the republican ideals for which he stood. Van den Enden was an ex-Jesuit and radical egalitarian with revolutionary tendencies.

He was put to death in after having been found guilty of conspiring to depose Louis XIV in order to establish a free republic in Normandy. Van dan Enden was an anti-clerical democrat who appears to have profoundly influenced Spinoza. We know that Spinoza read De Cive carefully and that it was among his possessions when he died in Here I want to mention the impact of Dutch Hobbesians on Spinoza.

Hobbesian thought was introduced into Dutch political discourse by Lambert van Velthuysen, an anti-clerical, liberal physician Tuck ; Blom Aside from Velthuysen, the other primary Dutch conduits for Hobbesian thought prior to Spinoza were the De la Court brothers Petry ; Kossmann However, because it remains unclear how much Pieter added and how much he took credit for the work his studious younger brother, I will refer to these authors of these writings simply as the De la Courts, so as to avoid attribution problems.

Indeed, De Witt is thought to have written two chapters in the second edition of their book Interest van Holland see Petry , According to them, the aim of the state is to ensure that the interests of rulers are tied to the interests of the ruled, which is possible only if one adopts a series of institutional measures, such as the use of blind balloting, the removal of hereditary posts, and the rotation of offices.

Republics, they argued, will be marked by greater checks against self-interested legislation than monarchies see Blom Spinoza evidently studied these works carefully; his institutional recommendations in the Tractatus Politicus [hereafter: TP] reflect his debt to the De la Courts Petry ; Haitsma Mulier It was likely the writings of the De la Courts that impressed upon Spinoza the perspicacity of Niccolo Machiavelli. The notion of balancing the interests of competing parties was ultimately derived from Machiavelli see Haitsma Mulier , — Machiavelli, The Prince I.

Spinoza, like Machiavelli, understood that prescriptions for improving the governance of a state can be offered only after one has a proper diagnosis of the problems and a proper grasp of human nature see Steinberg a. Collectively, these three claims entail that human behavior, like the behavior of everything else, is fully necessitated by, and explicable through, the immutable—and non-providential—laws of God or Nature. This forms a significant part of the metaphysical backdrop against which Spinoza develops his political theory. This naturalism led him to adopt bold views about the source and status of rights, obligations, and laws that distinguished his work from that of other seventeenth-century political theorists.

This is a direct rebuke not only of defenders of the divine right of kings, but also of most accounts of natural rights as entitlements that were embraced by many seventeenth-century theorists. Moreover, this naturalism also rules out the possibility of a normative order of things, or a way that things should be, distinct from the actual order of things. This undermines the teleological assumptions that form the basis of natural law theory, whether Thomistic or Protestant.

Even those who wished to separate natural law from theology e. According to this view, humans act contrary to nature when they act contrary to the prescriptions of right reason. In both of these passages, Spinoza criticizes the assumption that man is governed by his own set of rational, normative laws, rather than the laws that govern the rest of nature.

In short, by adopting the view that nature is univocal and that man is governed by the same laws as everything else in nature, Spinoza rejects the natural law tradition Curley ; A. Garrett ; for contrasting views, see Kisner and Miller He introduces this concept in TTP 16, where he boldly writes:. In claiming that the right of nature is coextensive with the power of nature and that this applies mutatis mutandis to the individuals in nature, Spinoza is simply rejecting non-naturalism, rather than making a positive normative claim.

In fact, I take it that the coextensivity thesis is not to be understood as offering a new normative standard; rather, it is intended as a denial of any transcendental standard of justice see Curley , ; Balibar , In other words, natural right is the liberty to do anything consistent with the natural law ibid. In short, as A. Specifically, it covers those actions that are not contrary to the law of nature.

Spinoza in Twenty-First-Century American and French Philosophy

In Leviathan , however, Hobbes seems to advance an account of natural right that is apparently not bound by such normative constraints Ch. But while it may seem that in the later work Hobbes strips the concept of natural right of all normative content, even the view expressed in Leviathan may be seen to be at odds with a thoroughgoing naturalism. The difference between Hobbes and Spinoza on right bears directly on their distinct accounts of obligation. Hobbes thinks that we incur binding obligations when we make pledges under the appropriate conditions.

To demand otherwise would be absurd, since men are bound by nature to choose what appears to be the greater good or lesser evil. We are bound by nature to act on our strongest interest and cannot be obligated by previous agreements to break this inviolable psychological law of nature. If a sovereign is to maintain its right, it must legislate wisely, so as not to incite insurrection. But given his naturalism and repudiation of rights and obligations as traditionally understood, one might be left wondering how or whether Spinoza could offer a normative political theory at all.

As Edwin Curley rightly points out, to deny that there is a transcendental standard of justice is not to deny that there is any normative standard by which we can evaluate action Curley And just as the individual ought to do those things that maximize his or her own power or welfare, Spinoza takes it as axiomatic that the state ought to do those things that maximize the power of the people as a whole e.

As indicated above, throughout the seventeenth century the United Provinces were torn apart by disputes concerning, among other things, the political authority of the church. The stated goals of this work were to parry charges of atheism Spinoza was hilariously unsuccessful in this respect , to oppose the prejudices of the theologians, and to defend the freedom to philosophize Epistle My exposition of the political claims of the TTP will focus on the last two goals. This will be followed by an analysis of the role of the social contract in the TTP.

The TTP contains a good deal of what has come to be known as biblical criticism. Through careful linguistic and historical exegesis Spinoza identifies numerous textual inconsistencies, which, with some philosophical buttressing, lead Spinoza to deny the exalted status of prophets, the objective reality of miracles, and ultimately the divine origin of the Pentateuch. Among the politically relevant claims that Spinoza makes in the first fifteen chapters of the work is that Scripture does not compete with philosophy as a source of knowledge; nor do the injunctions of Scripture compete with the commands of civil authorities.

We may call the claim that faith is distinct from reason the separation thesis and the claim that religious law is dependent on and determined by civil law the single authority thesis. And a good deal of the biblical criticism in the TTP can be understood as paving the way for the separation thesis, since in the earlier chapters much of what Spinoza is doing is undermining the claim of Scripture as a source of genuine knowledge.

Rather, it lies in the simple moral truths that Scripture contains, which encourage obedience to the state Ch. The books of Scripture are written for an unsophisticated, uneducated audience and convey information in a way that is suited to such an audience, in the form of fantastical accounts and parables that appeal to the imagination rather than the intellect.

This ethical understanding of religion is reflected in the way that Spinoza re-conceives of several crucial religious concepts.

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For instance, he claims that a text is sacred to the extent that it fosters devotion to God and charity to others e. Since the aim of religion is obedience and good works, and the aim of philosophy is truth, religion and philosophy ought not to be seen as rivals. According to Spinoza, because reason and faith have separate domains, neither is subservient to the other. The separation thesis has profound political import, since by claiming that religion is not, like philosophy, a source of knowledge, Spinoza undercuts the grounds for the theological disputes that were the source of considerable unrest in the Dutch Republic.

The dominant message of the separation thesis is that Scripture is not the source of metaphysical knowledge and so we ought not to treat it as authoritative in these matters. However, since Scripture does have a positive socio-political function in promoting justice and charity, one might wonder how much authority the clergy has in public matters.


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Like Hobbes, he embraces the Erastian position that religious law is realized through the will of the civil authority TTP, Ch. The crux of the single authority thesis is this: the sovereign is the sole civil and religious authority. The obvious, yet important, implication of the single authority thesis is that clerics are at best spiritual advisors with no real claim to political power. The problem of dual allegiances divine and civil is overcome, since the two authorities converge in the form of the sovereign.

The argument against ecclesiastical power here depends upon the supposition that there is no transcendental standard of piety. Of course, a sovereign could delegate authority to religious functionaries, but Spinoza cautions against this, using the case of the Hebrews to illustrate the dangers of priestly authority. The decisive turn that precipitated the decline of the first Hebrew state came with the ascendance of a priestly order. Spinoza punctuates his historical analysis of the Hebrew state by drawing four lessons about the theologico-political problem, three of which are relevant here: 1 civil stability requires the limitation of ecclesiastical power; 2 it is disastrous for religious leaders to govern speculative matters; and 3 the sovereign must remain the sole legislator.

Despite its potential for harm, Spinoza thinks that religion can perform a positive social function. It can help to breed an obedient spirit, making people pliable to civil law—in this way religion plays a role in bolstering the state e. For instance, the ceremonial laws and practices of the Jews helped to foster and preserve cohesion among an ignorant, nomadic populace TTP Ch. Religion also seems to play a crucial role in promoting compliance with the law.

The salutary function of religion is undermined when sectarianism emerges. When groups like the Pharisees begin to regard themselves as special, disparaging and persecuting other groups, civil order is disrupted.

About Spinoza in Twenty-First-Century American and French Philosophy

In order to prevent such fissures, Spinoza puts forth a universal or civil religion that captures the moral core of a plurality of faiths, to which all citizens can subscribe, irrespective of what other private beliefs they hold TTP 14, —3. Like Rousseau after him, Spinoza thought that a universal public religion could bolster civic solidarity, channeling religious passions into social benefits.

Spinoza is often remembered for his contribution to the liberal tradition, due, in large part, to his defense of the freedoms of thought and speech in TTP How can Spinoza be a liberal about religious practice while also defending the view that the state maintains full right over matters of religion TTP, Ch. There are three things worth noting here. Rather, it is essentially a defense of the freedom to philosophize; freedom of worship is at best an incidental byproduct of this primary aim.


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Sovereign authority over religious expression concerns only the former, leaving the latter the domain of the individual, for reasons that we will examine in a moment. Both of these positions can be understood as lending support to the Arminian cause against Calvinist Theocrats Nadler , The sovereign retains full discretion to determine which actions are acceptable and what forms of speech are seditious. Since right is coextensive with power, lacking the power to control beliefs entails lacking the right to do so. However, since Spinoza admits that beliefs can be influenced in myriad ways, even if not fully controlled, this argument amounts to a rather restricted defense of freedom of conscience.

Next, the argument shifts from considering what the sovereign can do to what it would be practical or prudent for a sovereign to do. Spinoza offers a battery of pragmatic reasons in defense of non-interference. Men are naturally inclined to express what they believe ibid. Rosenthal and So, however common attempts to regulate the beliefs, speech, and behavior of others may be, it is politically unstable to do so.

Moreover, Spinoza argues that it is often the least wise and the most obnoxious who initiate moral crusades, and just as it is often the wisest and most peace-loving who are the targets of such campaigns TTP 20, — It is worth noting that these arguments in defense of civil liberties are thoroughly pragmatic; they rely on psychological principles and empirical observations to illustrate the instability and imprudence of oppressive governance see Steinberg b.

Curley generously shared his drafts with colleagues, circulating successive versions of especially the TTP — a practice that gave rise to fertile exchanges that contributed to the final result. Inevitably, there are drawbacks as well. Curley made choices in the first volume, in particular with regard to the preferred text edition, that were difficult to adjust afterwards. This will be explained in more detail below. In addition, the long duration has resulted in some minor flaws.

Thus, there are inconsistencies and obscurities in the references and bibliography. More seriously, basic information for the reader is located in different places. It requires some inventiveness and determination to figure out the meaning of certain sigla and codes. Mignini, trans.

The practice itself is conventional and convenient enough, but often the reader has no clue where to look for the solutions, dispersed as they are among the different sections of the bibliography, or hidden in other parts of the book like the introductions to the particular works. The reader must also hunt to discover the import of some typographical devices that Curley uses to fine-tune semantic niceties.

Curley calls the mark a prime: pp. The explanations are to be found in the Glossary, on pp. But a reader who overlooks that note will be at a loss. Curley did likewise in Volume I, explaining the reason in the General Preface p. In Volume II, there is an extensive discussion and justification of this distinction on pp.

That is a laudable aim, but it overlooks the reader who needs this information in order to interpret the translation correctly: how many people will search in the preface to the Glossary for an explanation of a typographical variant?

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In passing it may be remarked that the phrase Deus seu Natura occurs not only in the preface to Ethics 4, as Curley says on p. It seems, then, that either the long gestation or the sizeable proportions of the book, or both, did have some effects on its manageability and accessibility. That being said, I am not enthusiastic about these typographical devices for another reason. In normal academic use, translations should be able to stand on their own, without such caveats. In the General Preface to the present volume p.

The author of the two scientific treatises was Salomon Dierquens: they had been attributed rashly and on false grounds to Spinoza in the nineteenth century not first by Gebhardt, as is stated on p. Curley now considers revising Volume I, and wants to use that as an opportunity to add portions of the grammar.

He deems a complete translation unnecessary p. It would be a good idea to include the Hebrew grammar lock, stock, and barrel. Curley offers a more extended selection than usual from the epistolary treatise by Jarig Jelles now classified as Letter 48a. It could have done with more annotation, as it was part and parcel of a more extended exercise in self-criticism with which the convert Stensen abjured modern philosophy and science, so as to ingratiate himself with the Roman Catholic Church.

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Given the amount of material now available, and the generally poor quality of the early biographical documents, that tradition is no longer commendable. As yet no English translation of this important document is available, and I am sure it will be highly appreciated if Curley were to incorporate it in an update. Chronological arrangement.

There is a lot to be said in favor of that arrangement, but it has liabilities, too. We do not know the dates of all the works, nor even their relative order, let alone the exact chronology of the letters. One consequence of the chronological arrangement is that the correspondence is cut up in four portions and divided over the two volumes.

Editorial team. Brayton Polka. Lexington Books In Between Philosophy and Religion Volumes I and II, Brayton Polka examines Spinoza's three major works—on religion, politics, and ethics—in order to show that his thought is at once biblical and modern. This book and its companion volume will be essential reading for any scholar of Spinoza. Edit this record. Mark as duplicate. Find it on Scholar. Request removal from index. Revision history. Google Books no proxy Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server Configure custom proxy use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy.

Configure custom resolver. Grant Havers - - Sophia 54 4 Between Philosophy and Religion, Vol. I: Spinoza, the Bible, and Modernity.