Spinoza: Argument for Divine Nature

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Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2009 07:28 am
How does Spionoza set out his views on the necessity of Divine Nature for the existence of anything? Does this make sense:

Premise One: No substance can be conceived through itself
Premise Two: Substance can only be conceived through Divine Nature/God

Conclusion: Without Divine Nature/God, nothing can be conceived.

How does he support this proposition? Any views would be greatly appreciated.
 
hammersklavier
 
Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2009 08:20 am
@Kooks phil,
I'm starting the Ethics for my philosophy classes next week, so I'll get back to you when I figure it out.
 
VideCorSpoon
 
Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2009 01:23 pm
@hammersklavier,
Spinoza is one of my favorite rationalists. At what point are you in Ethics so I can give you the relative current perspective based on where you are in the book.
 
VideCorSpoon
 
Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2009 04:38 pm
@VideCorSpoon,
First off, the way you phrase Spinoza's conception of "divine nature for the existence of anything" is more complicating than it should be.

In a broad overview of Spinoza The Ethics, it is divided into 5 distinct sections.

Section 1 is on the nature of God.
Section 2 is on the nature and origins of the mind.
Section 3 is on the nature and origins of emotion.
Section 4 is on the power of emotions (i.e. human bondage)
Section 5 is on the human freedom (i.e. power of intellect)

Section 1 deals with the metaphysical aspects of Spinoza's philosophy. His ontology of the universe is essential to everything in both Ethics I and Ethics II. But this brings up a very important point that should always be taken into account before reading Spinoza. Put in the context of Spinoza's predecessor Descartes, Spinoza follows a "Synthetic" approach to his philosophy. Descartes, most importantly in Meditations and Discourse on Method, follows an "analytic" type of philosophy. It should also be noted that these terms (i.e. analytic and synthetic) are official terms recognized in the academic community. Anyway, Descartes follows an analytic philosophy. In the works that I just mentioned written by him, he follows a system not unlike modern scientific method. He breaks everything down (med 1), analyzes down to the simplest components, reconstructs what he knows clearly and distinctly, and renumerates. So Descartes is building from the ground up so to speak. Now Spinoza comes along and does things differently.

Spinoza in Ethics follows an interesting pattern. Look at how he sets up Ethics. The very first section concerns god of course, but look at the format. He starts off with definitions, axioms, and then leads into propositions for the rest of the book. Spinoza, unlike Descartes is building his methodology the other way round by assuming the existence of god first instead of building from the ground up as Descartes had.

Spinoza departs from the form of Descartes' methodology and bases his system on quite the opposite of Descartes, a system based on an initial set of axioms, propositions, and definitions as put down in beginning of The Ethics. These established "provisions" at it were, form the basis for Spinoza's assumptions and deductions in the latter parts of his text. So Spinoza in the first part of The Ethics concerns himself with the properties and nature of God. Spinoza maintains that God is a being who is absolute, is the only substance and also that all other things are modes of God, etc. But throughout all of these derived attributes of God, Spinoza depends on the pre-established sets of axioms and definitions in order to prove his position, namely that of God.

Now coming to your post, I don't follow your syllogism. In Ethicssubstance
 
Kooks phil
 
Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2009 05:00 pm
@VideCorSpoon,
Surely though the assumption that God exists and then building his theory around that assumption is a major flaw in his argument?

For example in prop XV Spinoza argues that 'whatever is, is in God and without God nothing can be, or be conceived'. This is a valid argument, his premises lead to his conclusion, but the prop where he gained his premise that God exists (prop XI) seems to me to be flawed due to assumption of the presence of God. Maybe I am reading this wrong. Perhaps you can help me clarify this for me?
 
VideCorSpoon
 
Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2009 05:22 pm
@Kooks phil,
Kooks wrote:
Surely though the assumption that God exists and then building his theory around that assumption is a major flaw in his argument?


Not really if you put it in the context of the early rationalists. We have to first consider that rationalists like Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Malebranche, etc. may not be entirely right in their conceptions of things, but they are using metaphysical and rationalistic techniques far beyond the conceptions of the scholastics before them. Also, empiricism has not entered the field yet, so we are left with essentially two options, rationalism and scholasticism.

Kooks wrote:
For example in prop XV Spinoza argues that 'whatever is, is in God and without God nothing can be, or be conceived'. This is a valid argument, his premises lead to his conclusion, but the prop where he gained his premise that God exists (prop XI) seems to me to be flawed due to assumption of the presence of God. Maybe I am reading this wrong. Perhaps you can help me clarify this for me?


I would not say that Spinoza's rationalization that God exists and his theory that follows is flawed because his entire argument (indeed his very treatise) is built on that assumption to begin with. Remember, don't look at Spinoza as Spinoza in himself, also put him in context with Descartes before him and Leibniz that follows. God is a self evident truth in many respects to Spinoza, so providing an axiomatic assumption that God exists is natural for him. God is also, and this is a hot topic when discussing Spinoza, the focal point of Spinoza's Principle of Sufficient Reason (a.k.a. PSR).

When you cite proposition 15, it is important to put that in terms of the broader subject of God as the single substance in the universe. When put into the grander context of the argument (which includes most of the definitions, axioms, and a culmination at prop 16), prop 15 essentially imparts that everything is in God and depends on God. Simply, this is an affirmative support for the argument that God is the singular substance in the universe and everything necessarily follows from God (note that this incorporates the notion of PSR later in Ethics
 
Bones-O
 
Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2009 06:08 pm
@Kooks phil,
I too am reading Spinoza at the moment. I'm new to it (and indeed philosophy) so forgive any errors on my part. Look how he defines God by the context in which he uses that term. Spinoza's God is not the God of Descartes. It is not even the God of any known religion. Spinoza's God is deterministically evolving and is the one substance that contains everything else and is no more than that. In, allegedly, the Latin version of Ethics, Spinoza makes God synonymous with Nature, without the prefix 'Divine'.
 
VideCorSpoon
 
Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2009 06:34 pm
@Bones-O,
God is definitely conceived differently for Spinoza than it is for Descartes. But in some ways they share some similarities. Take this excerpt from Descartes Principles.

VideCorSpoon wrote:
"By substance we can understand nothing other than a thing which exists in such a way as to depend on no other thing for its existence. And there is only one substance which can be understood to depend on no other thing whatsoever, namely God. In the case of all other substances, we perceive that they can exist only with the help of God's concurrence" (AT VIIIA 24: CSM I 210)


Substance, which Spinoza takes to be the ultimate form of God (which is a single substance mind you but incorporates pretty much everything), is ontologically independent for Descartes. Only God is substance under this assumption, because only he can exist independently of everything else. This underlines a very interesting premise that Descartes asserts in Meditations which is that everything else is a creation of God (according to Descartes). Everything else depends of God for its own existence. Descartes here is utilizing the notion of PSR and the issue of dependability.

But yeah, you are right to say that the conception of God is drastically different form the conception of God at the time. God is a universal creature to be sure in many conceptions and religions, but I think there is something very dynamic and revolutionary about how Spinoza (who is Jewish by the way) comes to understand God and his acceptance in society (which incidentally, he is banished from his community for upholding dangerous notions which could have endanger the entire community). His history is actually very interesting aside from his philosophical view.
 
Bones-O
 
Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2009 07:18 pm
@VideCorSpoon,
VideCorSpoon wrote:
God is definitely conceived differently for Spinoza than it is for Descartes. But in some ways they share some similarities. Take this excerpt from Descartes Principles.

Substance, which Spinoza takes to be the ultimate form of God (which is a single substance mind you but incorporates pretty much everything), is ontologically independent for Descartes. Only God is substance under this assumption, because only he can exist independently of everything else. This underlines a very interesting premise that Descartes asserts in Meditations which is that everything else is a creation of God (according to Descartes). Everything else depends of God for its own existence. Descartes here is utilizing the notion of PSR and the issue of dependability.

But yeah, you are right to say that the conception of God is drastically different form the conception of God at the time. God is a universal creature to be sure in many conceptions and religions, but I think there is something very dynamic and revolutionary about how Spinoza (who is Jewish by the way) comes to understand God and his acceptance in society (which incidentally, he is banished from his community for upholding dangerous notions which could have endanger the entire community). His history is actually very interesting aside from his philosophical view.


Cheers VCS. Yes, I've read a little on Spinoza himself and know how influenced by Descartes he was. I suppose the similarity here only serves to heighten the difference. Descartes is saying there is only one uncaused substance, God, and all else is caused by he. Spinoza is saying there is only one substance, and that is he. In words, I suppose, it is a trifle but in fact that disparity is huge, especially to a modern reader.
 
boagie
 
Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2009 07:35 pm
@Bones-O,
Yo!Smile

My take on it is that substance is god and as such through extension and modes/manifestions is the totality of all there is. God is the totality. Am I missing something?
 
VideCorSpoon
 
Reply Thu 5 Feb, 2009 08:15 pm
@boagie,
 
hammersklavier
 
Reply Fri 13 Feb, 2009 07:54 am
@Kooks phil,
Spinoza's Ethics is among the most complicated books in the world. The novelty of it makes it interesting at first, but after a while it wears off. I've been reading it too for class, and it's a difficult read. I wonder why he decided to use the geometrical method? Perhaps he considered his ideas so radical that if he published in the analytic the intellectual establishment would just shrug it off as a work of lunatic pseudo-philosophy? Anyways, to Spinoza, everything, and I mean everything, is God. 1 Prop 11 doesn't really convince me (insofar as its logic goes), but other facets of the argument are especially compelling--namely, that substance is inherently infinite and that what we perceive to be matter is simply its mode, and reading it, it sounds an awful lot like Upanishadic thought. That such similar systems would arise in such dissimilar societies gives one pause for thought, no?
 
boagie
 
Reply Fri 13 Feb, 2009 08:08 am
@hammersklavier,
hammersklavier,Smile

Mythology too when compared with other traditions throws light on the commonality of the human psyhe, why not too the thinking in other traditions such a philosophy, it is basically the same terrain of human wonder, and if we have a common psyche, which we do, why would there not be striking similarities. Excellent observation!
 
VideCorSpoon
 
Reply Fri 13 Feb, 2009 08:59 am
@boagie,
I agree, Spinoza's book is a very complicated composition. But it's odd considering Spinoza as a rationalist when, at the time, the rationalists did not consider themselves rationalist themselves. I think that ties in very well with the formation of Ethics. The geometric order that you notice (the synthetic formation) of Ethics is not really novel to Spinoza. In fact, it is very similar to Euclid's Elements which itself begins with axioms and definitions and leads to derivations of those set assumptions. Spinoza may just have been (at least in my opinion) trying to turn out a better version of elements because, if anyone has read through it, it is just a rhythm of theorem one after another. Elements in a sense has no rhythm. Spinoza's EthicsEthics. The conception of God for example is an amalgamation of different combinations of axioms, definitions, and propositions. But what I find really fascinating is that with this system, you can come up with better derivations for the same ideas Spinoza himself has.

I wrote a paper on Spinoza's conception of God a while ago. Here is a part of it detailing how Spinoza went about nailing substantiality to God.

VideCorSpoons's Spinoza Paper wrote:


In first examining Spinoza's claim that there cannot be more than one substance, I believe it is necessary to examine God, because he is the only substance in the universe and the proof as to why there cannot be any more substances other than God stem from his properties and proof that he exists. Among the many different propositions, axioms, and definitions, there are a few that need to be addressed. It seems as though proposition 11 and proposition 14 tie in very closely to what we are looking for, namely Spinoza's claim that there can be only one substance. Though it may not seem enough to examine just these two propositions (i.e. 11 and 14) in particular, other propositions form an intricate logical web that center largely around these two propositions.

In proposition 4, Spinoza makes the claim that, "all things that all things that are, are either in themselves or in something else(Ax.1); that is (Defs. 3 and 5), nothing exists external to the intellect except substances and their affections" (Ethics,130) It seems at this point that Spinoza is trying to establish things that exist, or more specifically, real



But, like I said about what makes Spinoza's format fun, you can come up with different logical derivations for the same thing.

VideCorSpoon's Spinoza Paper wrote:


But this seems a bit too confusing to me. I would think there would be better ways of going about proving God's (substance's) existence. Take for example definition 3. In definition 3, Spinoza states that, "By substance, I mean that which is in itself and is conceived through itself." (Ethics,129) If proposition 7 outlines that fact that, "existence belongs to the nature of substance" (Ethics, 131), then God exists. It seems as though the reduction argument does not specifically debase the proof but confuses it by over complicating the issue.
 
hammersklavier
 
Reply Fri 13 Feb, 2009 03:34 pm
@Kooks phil,
I just did a short answer on that prop! The funny thing is, I threw out his first proof because (the way I read it) it's a restatement of the ontological proof; I threw out the second proof because (again the way I read it) it's a restatement of the teleological proof; and I allowed the third proof to slide although it seems much too slippery to me. Then in class my professor went on and on about how the second proof was deeply intertwined with the Principle of Sufficient Reason...but I can't see what he's getting at through all the lawyerese.

Using his axioms to construct better proofs is not a bad paper idea!
 
VideCorSpoon
 
Reply Fri 13 Feb, 2009 05:00 pm
@hammersklavier,
 
hammersklavier
 
Reply Sun 15 Feb, 2009 03:44 pm
@Kooks phil,
This is going to P.M. ...
 
Labyrinth
 
Reply Wed 17 Jun, 2009 12:13 am
@hammersklavier,
I found this thread helpful as I started this book today. It took me a little while (after reading several propositions) to get my bearings straight so to speak. My first mistake was allowing the terms he used, especially "substance," to bring up pre-conceived ideas in my mind while reading. Its best to flush your brain clean before reading the Ethics; in other words, forget what you think the meanings of the terms he uses are and let him take you through his proofs afresh. I know I'm not even explaining this right as I type, but maybe one will see what I mean after delving into the work. Traditional theists' biggest problem will be that the caring Father gets the boot in favor of the "indifferent Essence." I was quite pleasantly surprised as I was always irked somewhat by a personified God.

Definitely being taken off guard by rationalist opinions. I've been reading Locke for a good month and half before this. Suddenly, reading Leibniz over the weekend and now the Spinoza....I feel like my brain just exploded.
 
VideCorSpoon
 
Reply Wed 17 Jun, 2009 07:16 am
@Kooks phil,
I completely agree when you say you have to flush your mind of all preconceived notions of things like "substance" when reading Spinoza. Descartes had a dualistic approach, Spinoza had a monist approach, and Leibniz had a plural approach. The degrees of substance compared to each of these philosophers to us is so varied that it is hard to see how one leads to another, that is, how Spinoza read Descartes and said "that's good and all, but this is how it really is." But I guess that's why we have to classify these guys according to epistemological ontology, the origins of their own knowledge whether that be a-priori or a-posteriori.

But you are definitely right though, if you read Ethics after MeditationsSpinoza doesn't really care to much about that since he was Jewish, but because he was Jewish, he faced ostracism from his community who feared some sort of reaction from the christian community. From what I remember as well, I believe the Vatican had offered him a position as head librarian or something like that if he converted, which of course he didn't. So Spinoza had a double tough time in his academic career, as well as writing perhaps one of the more complex rationalists accounts of the time before Locke comes around and rejects innate ideas.
 
Labyrinth
 
Reply Wed 1 Jul, 2009 08:44 am
@VideCorSpoon,
Yesterday was automatically a good day because I finished the Ethics. I'm especially pleased because this book is one of the few that has actually helped me immediately in applying its truths.

I was informed that I lost my job on Monday. It was nothing I did; it was simply a financial decision. I'm satisfied with the way I handled it, and I think I caught my superiors off guard in my response to them. I truly know that the events that happened did so as necessary and there is no one at whom to direct any anger, resentment, etc. The "I" of 5 years ago would've reacted very differently.

VCS...I didn't know Leibniz was Jewish...or are you talking about Spinoza? Sometimes I try to imagine what if the church didn't keep such a tight leash over everyone. I think I read from Schweitzer that Spinoza sat on his Ethics and they weren't discovered until about a century after his death. What if all these thinkers just simply let loose all? Or did the church's antagonism catalyze this thought? Its an interesting thing to ponder.

One thing I'm still hung up on is...what about "unnecessary" evils? Did Spinoza say everything was necessary (I think I remember that he actually did) or are there evils unnecessarily committed? For example, a woman was incessantly talking to me about how she was down at Chile where "everyone has swine flu" and she had a cough and a fever. She continues for what seems like eternity to speak unreasonably loudly and coughing in between sentences.

Now I couldn't effectively apply Spinozism here because I saw this as a totally unnecessary "evil"....and so I gave into anger. Now I was descriptive in writing of the event, so it naturally wasn't as intense in reality. I wasn't in a red-faced rage or anything like that, but I caved and suffered a passionate affect. I'm guessing that we are to know that due to the cascading of countless cause-effects around us, these things must also necessarily happen. I wish I didn't have such a short temper :Not-Impressed:
 
 

 
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