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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?
"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)
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.
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 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.