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Spinoza Now$

Dimitris Vardoulakis

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780816672806

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816672806.001.0001

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Toward an Inclusive Universalism: Spinoza’s Ethics of Sustainability

Toward an Inclusive Universalism: Spinoza’s Ethics of Sustainability

Chapter:
(p.99) 5 Toward an Inclusive Universalism: Spinoza’s Ethics of Sustainability
Source:
Spinoza Now
Author(s):

Michael Mack

Publisher:
University of Minnesota Press
DOI:10.5749/minnesota/9780816672806.003.0005

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter addresses Descartes’s and Hobbes’s influence on Spinoza. It shows how it is possible to eschew an absolute universalism in favor of an inclusive universalism. Spinoza is not arguing against theology or religion per se but rather against the politics of domination to which the Cartesian dualism of necessity leads. The reason for this is that there is a line connecting theology with anthropomorphisms and teleology, which only leads to the possibility of one group claiming superiority and domination over another. The chapter analyzes how Spinoza’s Ethics delineates the project of a kind of modernity that offers an alternative to the current Kantian approach toward defining the modern. Additionally, Ethics radicalizes Descartes’s divide between the biological, namely, the natural realm of the body, and the intellectual sphere of the mind.

Keywords:   Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, absolute universalism, inclusive universalism, theology, Cartesian dualism, Ethics, mind

Spinoza and the Critique of Hierarchy

Does the ethology Spinoza advanced in his Ethics have singular significance for the formulation of a viable contemporary social theory? Spinoza’s presence in the thought of divergent twentieth-century thinkers from Louis Althusser via Etienne Balibar and Gilles Deleuze to Antonio Negri’s recent critique of twenty-first-century forms of imperialism (as well as Martha Nussbaum’s work on the intelligence of the emotions) indicates his peculiar contemporaneousness.1

This is not to claim that Spinoza anticipated the social problems that haunt our seemingly inclusive global society. Instead of dislocating Spinoza’s thought from his particular historical setting, this article analyzes how his Ethics delineates the project of a kind of modernity that offers an alternative to the current Kantian approach toward defining the modern. Within the latter part of the eighteenth century—under the immense influence of Kant’s transcendental philosophy—history came to represent modernity: the future of humanity seemed to promise its immanent perfectibility. I have shown elsewhere how these attempts at constructing a “perfect” otherworldly world within this one were premised on the exclusion of worldly imperfections.2 Judaism and the Jews represented these bodily remainders of contingency and political as well as ethical deficiency. It was thought that with the progress of history, worldly (p.100) imperfections would vanish from the world just as Jews and Judaism would cease to exist in the perfect modern state of the future.

For writers who critically confronted this demotion of naturalistic contingency and embodied life, Spinoza’s antiteleological thought became an inspiration for their literary revision of Kant’s idealism. This chapter therefore discusses Spinoza’s writings on politics and ethics as an alternative to a Kantian conception of modernity. It analyses the ways in which Spinoza’s Ethics delineates the blueprint for a nonhierarchical and nonexclusive understanding of human sociability. Accordingly, it takes issue with a recent trend in scholarly literature that attributes a hierarchical framework to Spinoza’s understanding of ethics.3 Recently, Steven B. Smith has thus argued that the Ethics radicalizes Descartes’s divide between the biological, namely, the natural realm of the body, and the intellectual sphere of the mind.4

There is some scholarly disagreement as to how radical the divide was that Descartes established between mind and body. Susan James has taken some critics to task who overemphasize this divisiveness: “By treating The Meditations on First Philosophy as Descartes’s philosophical treatment, scholars have created a one-sided interpretation of Cartesianism in which the division between body and soul is overemphasized and sometimes misunderstood.”5 John Cottingham has abstained from overemphasizing Descartes’s divide between body and mind,6 but he nonetheless acknowledges Spinoza’s striking departure from a Cartesian mind–body dualism: “When Spinoza himself speaks of the mind and body as being ‘united,’ or of their ‘union,’ he emphatically rejects the Cartesian idea of union as an intermingling or joining together; what is meant, rather, is that mind and body are unum et idem, one and the same.”7 Recently, Steven Nadler has confirmed this crucial difference between Descartes’s and Spinoza’s philosophy in relation to their respective writings about mind and body: “For Spinoza, there is a fundamental identity between mind and body—and thus a fundamental unity to the human being—that goes much deeper than any difference there may be between them.”8 According to Smith, however, Spinoza seems to emphasize the difference rather than the unity between the corporal and the cerebral.

Instead of critically questioning this binary opposition between nature and intellect, Spinoza here appears to reaffirm the supremacy (p.101) of the latter over the former. This hierarchy of values results from imputing a certain teleological agenda to the underlying conception and structure of the Ethics. On this view, Spinoza’s denial of teleology on the part of both nature and God only paves the way for his enthronement of humanity as the agent of moral progress in the universe. In this way, Nadler has recently argued that Spinoza’s conatus (i.e., Spinoza’s understanding of self-preservation) is through and through teleological: “Thus, all individuals have a basic kind of teleological behavior, in so far as they strive to do what best preserves their being.”9 Clearly Spinoza’s critique of a certain kind of theology is directed against the elevation of human teleology into a quasi-divine sphere—what Spinoza calls anthropomorphism. This anthropomorphic conception of God–Nature renders absolute human conceptions of teleology that are intrinsically egoistic. According to some strands within recent Spinoza scholarship (i.e., Smith and, to some extent, Nadler), the Ethics ultimately extols rather than questions humanity’s egoistic and teleological superiority over the heteronomy of God– Nature. No wonder, then, that Spinoza emerges as a Kantian avant la lettre.10 We will see that this Kantian view of Spinoza’s conatus is based on a reading of Spinoza as a Hobbesian thinker.

This view argues that the Ethics reaffirms the centrality and superiority of human agency that the Copernican revolution had threatened to overturn. The earth might no longer be the center of the universe. Human epistemology and morality, however, vouch for the supremacy of man’s rational constitution over anything that might be subsumed under the category of the merely natural (the body) or irrational (God). Smith thus argues that Spinoza only undermined teleology to debunk the role of God or nature in the life of the world: “The denial of any sort of natural teleology or divine providence has an ethical corollary. The Ethics deflates the idea that our moral judgments of approval and disapproval have any counterpart in nature.”11 From the perspective of this interpretation, Spinoza indeed anticipates Kant’s further development of Descartes mind–body divide. Spinoza does not question this divide. “Rather,” writes Smith, “Spinoza maintains that there are at least two different and irreducible conceptual vocabularies, a language of bodies in motion and a language of minds with reasons and purposes.”12 Smith conflates Spinoza’s approach with a Cartesian hierarchy that (p.102) subjects the assumed irrationality of the body to the purported purposefulness of the mind to challenge contemporary thought and scientific inquiry.13

Instead of marshalling Spinoza as a bulwark for the defense of an antiquated conception of what should constitute rationality, this chapter follows the approach of the neurologist Antonio Damasio. While having previously discussed the scientific inadequacy of the Cartesian mind–body divide in his study Descartes’ Error, Damasio, in Looking for Spinoza, argues that Spinoza’s Ethics develops a social theory that dovetails with recent scientific findings about the homeostatic relationship between the mind and the body.14 According to Damasio, Spinoza’s antiteleological thought helps advance a nonhierarchical understanding of humanity’s place within nature. In what sense does Spinoza criticize teleology? His philosophy is antiteleological insofar as it refuses to recognize a purposeful design in nature. As a corollary of his critique of teleology, Spinoza abandons a prioritization of the mind over and above the body. This nonhierarchical stance moves his thought into close vicinity of that of Darwin and Freud.15 Following Damasio’s approach, this chapter focuses on Spinoza’s attempt to abandon a mind–body dualism. It is this element in Spinoza’s thought that accounts for his centrality in twentieth-century philosophical discussions such as those of Nussbaum, Negri, and Deleuze.

Not only did Spinoza align the working of the mind with the working of the body; he also established an invariable link between the equilibrium of the individual and that of the society to which he or she belongs. This connection between the biological and the epistemological on the individual scale thus prepares the ground for the larger sphere of intersubjective relations that connect the preservation of the self to the survival of the other. As a neurologist, Damasio emphasizes the scientific validity of Spinoza’s social philosophy. “The biological reality of self-preservation,” writes Damasio, “leads to virtue because in our inalienable need to maintain ourselves we must, of necessity, help preserve other selves.”16 The two related expressions perfection and virtue within the Ethics serve to amplify the signifying field of that concept that describes the future viability of life’s ongoing existence, namely, the central word conatus.

This article thus interprets Spinoza’s notion of perfection not in (p.103) terms of teleology but in terms of sustainability on both an individual and a social scale. The main social significance of this undertaking consists in analyzing how a Spinozan vision of society aims at the prevention of various defensive reactions, which constitute the main cause of racism and other prejudices.17 An analysis of Spinoza’s biological approach toward social theory paves the way for a novel account of human agency that does not prioritize the concerns of the mind over those of the body; rather both entities emerge as being intrinsically interconnected. Bringing a contemporary scientific perspective to bear on philosophical issues does not only help diminish the often assumed divide between the humanities and the sciences; this hybrid approach also has significant repercussions for a novel conception of the relationship between philosophy and social criticism. The aims of this undertaking are accomplished through an analysis of how different communities may come to realize that their respective truth claims are not absolute but rather have a certain narrative element to their foundation. Toward this end, this chapter analyzes Spinoza’s attempt at building a society in which the self and the other are not in competition but are instead dependent on each other. Does this narrative notion of identity deserve to be called relativist? Rather than being a relativist, Spinoza is a realist. He is antirelativist because he criticizes an epistemology that trims down reality to its conception of the world.

A skeptic might, however, object that Spinoza’s philosophy only had revolutionary impact within the self-enclosed field of biblical hermeneutics. The innovative force of Spinoza’s thought was, however, not confined to the realm of Bible criticism. It had a much larger reach. As Jonathan I. Israel has recently pointed out, Spinoza’s revolution “overtly challenged the three principal pillars of medieval and early modern society—monarchy, aristocracy, and the Church—going some way to overturning all three.”18 For an accurate discussion of the religious critique of theology as politics, it is therefore necessary to discuss Spinoza’s ontological critique of all kinds of epistemological mediations, be they theological, economic, sociopolitical, or scientific. At this point, he breaks with Cartesianism. It is therefore worth presenting a brief account of Spinoza’s departure from the epistemological foundations that Descartes inherited from Plato.

(p.104) Spinoza’s Critique of an Absolutist Epistemology

The middle of the seventeenth century witnessed the emergence of a new age. This new era set out to introduce philosophy as the master discourse that would from then on increasingly shape the outlook of Western European society on an all-encompassing level. It would not only have an impact on academic matters but would saliently contribute to new developments in divergent fields such as the applied sciences and economics. In short, from the mid-seventeenth century onward, philosophy attempted to dethrone theology as an intellectual tool that was providing the ideological basis for critical inquiry into all kinds of areas within society.

Whereas Descartes affirmed the validity of the established order in both political and theological matters (as he preeminently did at the opening of his Meditation on the First Philosophy of 1641), Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (1670) advocated the application of a scientific method to the study of biblical texts. In the Ethics (which was published posthumously in 1677), Spinoza would extend Descartes’s rationalist approach from the field of Bible criticism to that of theology, anthropology, politics, and social analysis.

While emphasizing the distinction between philosophy, on one hand, and theology as well as politics, on the other, the metaphorical description with which Descartes characterizes the novelty of his philosophical method nevertheless implies the totalizing potential of his undertaking. In what ways does Descartes’s use of metaphor undercut his seemingly humble self-limitation of philosophy as a self-enclosed entity that pays its respect to the spiritual and worldly powers that be? In his Discourse on Method (1663), Descartes compares his philosophical approach to the pulling down of an old house: “And just as in pulling down an old house we usually preserve the debris to serve in building up another, so in destroying all those opinions which I considered to be ill-founded, I made various observations and acquired many experiences, which have since been of use to me in establishing those which are more certain.”19 The destruction of the old building serves as the foundation for the construction of the new, which promises a more all-encompassing sense of certainty.

A house, however, symbolizes a unified whole made up of particular entities. Descartes is thus at pains to emphasize that the abolition at (p.105) work in his philosophy does not threaten the theological foundations of the body politic. Scholars have in fact analyzed the ways in which Descartes’s writing supports rather than undermines the cultural and social relevance of the Roman Catholic Church. He supports the status of the Church through his adherence to Suarez’s novel theological argument, according to which there is a radical divide between the world of nature and the sphere of divine grace. This theology has been dubbed a theology of pure nature to distinguish it from Augustine’s and Thomas Aquinas’s conception of nature as being capable of receiving the divine gift of grace.

Descartes’s philosophical dualism between body and mind may be the offspring of the theological divide between the realms of pure nature and grace. According to Jean-Luc Marion, Descartes in fact radicalized Suarez’s theology of pure nature. How did he do so? By erasing a certain semantic meaning from the term capacitas: Augustine and Aquinas used this expression not to denote nature’s and humanity’s autonomous capabilities (i.e., nature’s/humanity’s independent power) but its openness toward the receipt of the gift of divine grace. Marion argues that Descartes pushed “the semantic variation until capacitas was de facto understood as a strict synonym of potentia.”20 Potentia, however, describes a purely natural sphere: the realm of nature’s autonomy that Suarez and, following him, Descartes strictly separate from the workings of divine grace. Could it be that Descartes’s rationalist approach is in fact a theological one, one that radically departs from Augustine’s and Aquinas’s theology of grace but nonetheless develops and radicalizes Suarez’s “modern” theology of pure nature?

Descartes endeavored to sever the union between theology and philosophy, as illustrated by his immanent use of the traditionally theological term capacitas. Has his undertaking been successful? Marion polemically asks, “Could Descartes be an unacknowledged theologian of pure nature?”21 This seems to be the case. Marion points out that “starting with Descartes, the relation between man and God is apprehended by modern metaphysics in terms of power (pouvoir) and capacity (puissance),”22 and he argues that this Cartesian development “is in large part thanks to the theology of pure nature.”23 What are the implications of this discussion for a better understanding of Descartes’s revolution? It may well be that Descartes (p.106) attempts to demolish one theological dwelling space (the one built by Augustine and Aquinas when they formulated a theology that allows for nature’s openness toward the gift of divine grace). He preserves its debris, however, to have the necessary materials for the construction of a new one.

Indeed, Descartes avers that the house he is in the process of tearing down has nothing to do with the societal architectonics of both an absolutist monarchy and the Roman Catholic Church’s claim to infallible truth. At the opening of his Meditations on First Philosophy, he thus takes great care to depict the philosophical as a self-enclosed field of inquiry whose critical potential stops short at questioning the political and theological powers that be. He then proceeds to emphasize that his mind–body divide serves as an epistemological bastion in the support of Leo X’s orthodoxy. “As regards the soul,” Descartes argues, “although many have considered that it is not easy to know its nature, and some have even dared to say that human reasons have convinced us that it would perish with the body, and that faith alone could believe the contrary, nevertheless, inasmuch as the Lateran Council held under Leo X (in the eighth session) condemns these tenets, and as Leo expressly ordains Christian philosophers to refute their arguments and to employ all their powers in making known the truth, I have ventured in this treatise to undertake the same task.”24 The supremacy of the mind over the body proves the immortality of the soul and thus reaffirms the social order that divides those who work menially from those who are engaged in nonmental work.

By 1660, however, Spinoza (no doubt spurred by his expulsion from the Jewish community in 1656) abandoned Descartes’s purported differentiation between philosophical discovery, on one hand, and religious as well as social life, on the other. To improve the welfare of humanity, Spinoza argued, the philosopher cannot avoid addressing human issues in their entirety. He thus did away not only with the traditional philosophical–theological dualism between body and mind but also with philosophy’s self-restriction to a limited field of social influence. Spinoza attempted to make philosophy relevant for the life of the people. It was therefore no longer the occupation of a privileged group. Instead, philosophy became a democratic endeavor.25

(p.107) By arguing that the mind cannot fully control the life of the body, Spinoza in fact undermined the societal force of various ideologies that have their foundation in specific epistemological assumptions (be they theological, philosophical, scientific, or economic). In this manner, he opened the way for an understanding of humanity that does not force abstract standards on the specific contexts of human minds and bodies. He therefore did not merely differentiate theology from philosophy. If he had done so, he would simply have followed in Descartes’s footsteps. Crucially, Spinoza marked off philosophical strivings and scientific claims to epistemological certainty from the inevitable uncertainties of embodied social life. Had he only driven a wedge between theology and philosophy, Spinoza would have been close to replacing the monolithic assumptions of the former with those of the latter. Instead, Spinoza questioned the validity of all kinds of human epistemologies, thus affirming the mind’s lack of control over both the individual body and the body politic.

The Spinozan critique of various kinds of intellectual endeavors (not just those of “theology”) thus resulted in a blurring of the boundaries that demarcate the realm of sensuous enjoyment from the realm of cerebral work: “All these things [relating to both bodily enjoyment and cerebral work],” Spinoza argues, “indeed, show clearly that both the decision of the mind and the appetites and the determination of the body by nature exist together—or rather are one and the same thing, which we call a decision when it is considered under, and explained through, the attribute of thought, and which we call determination when it is considered under the attribute of extension and deduced from the laws of motion and rest” (Ethics III, P2).26 As a corollary, Spinoza reveals that “the decisions of the mind” are “nothing but the appetites themselves” (Ethics III, P2). In this way, purposeful, namely, teleological, thought emerges as nothing else but appetitive: “By the end [ finem] for the sake of which we do something [ facimus] I understand appetite [appetitum intellego]” (Ethics IV, D7). Unpacking this short sentence helps us understand the relationship between Spinoza’s critique of teleology and his deconstruction of the Cartesian mind–body divide. The telos of the final (finem) aim itself constitutes the motif force of the appetitive (appetitum). To be able to do something (facimus), we rely on the bodily function of the visceral (appetitum). The geometrical method thus serves as (p.108) an instrument for the self-reflection of the mind (intellego) on its dependence on bodily desire. Self-consciousness can therefore not do without desire, precisely because it is desire’s self-awareness. Spinoza’s philosophical inquiry into the dependence of the mind on the body has crucial consequences for a reanimation of his social and cultural theory. This issue will be discussed in the following section.

The Theological Foundations of Teleological Thought

Critics have so far not sufficiently discussed how Spinoza’s critique of theology works as social criticism. Why does Spinoza broach the issue of anthropomorphism? What exactly is the target of his critical inquiry? He takes issue with the teleological thought inherent in anthropomorphic conceptions of God. According to Spinoza, neither philosophy nor theology exists in a self-enclosed sphere of influence. Rather, any type of epistemology that plays a dominant role in a particular society at a particular time inevitably shapes specific social relations. Significantly, Spinoza discusses theological anthropomorphism in the context of prejudices that permeate different societal fabrics. He analyzes how social prejudices “depend on this one: that men commonly suppose that all natural things act, as men do [homines … ut ipsos], on account of an end; indeed, they maintain as certain that God himself directs all things to some certain end, for they say that God has made all things for man, and man that he might worship God [Deum … ut ipsum]” (Ethics I, Introduction to Ap.). Here Spinoza criticizes not so much the worship of God but human self-adulation. The parallelism between the phrases homines … ut ipsos and Deum … ut ipsum serves to emphasize precisely this point: humans attribute human forms of behavior to God’s nature because they perceive themselves as divine. Spinoza thus reveals religious worship of God as deification of the self.

This adulation of the self by the self hinges on the espousal of teleology as the sine qua non for the definition of what distinguishes the human from the nonhuman and thus the divine from that which lacks divinity. Everything that belongs to the order of nature, as perceived in terms of God’s creation, supposedly strives toward a telos, toward an end. Various social prejudices gain momentum, thanks to the philosophical positing of teleology as the certain criteria by means of which we have to distinguish between logical, namely, theological, (p.109) forms of life and those that are illogical and thus excluded from the order of God’s creation. In this way, social prejudices result from the equation of the rational (and thus Godly) with teleology. Those forms of life alone are worthy of sustenance and evince a goal-oriented structure. The teleological thus functions as the linchpin around which the anthropomorphic conception of God and nature revolves.

Spinoza’s Ethics focuses on how dichotomous ways of thinking are an outcome of perceiving the divine from the perspective of teleology. By enthroning the finality of the goal as the main criterion of rational action, society intellectually justifies all kinds of exploitative power relations. Under Spinoza’s scrutiny, teleology emerges as a cover-up for the pursuit of self-interest that disregards the well-being of the other. The end of purpose-driven action coincides with the single-minded pursuit of one’s advantage in the present, without paying attention to the disadvantageous consequences that might accrue in the future. The anthropomorphic conception of a goal-directed God thus provides theological justification for man’s domination over nature:

It follows, second, that men act always on account of an end [ finem], namely on account of their advantage [utile], which they want…. Hence they [humans] consider all natural things [omnia naturalia] as means to their own advantage…. For after they considered things as means, they could not believe that the things had made themselves [Nam postquam res, ut media, consideraverunt, credere not potuerunt, easdem se ipsas fecisse]; but from the means they were accustomed to prepare for themselves, they had to infer that there was a ruler, or a number of rulers, of Nature [aliquos naturae rectores], endowed with human freedom who had taken care of things for them, and made all things for their use. (Ethics I, Ap. 1)

The end (finem) of human action describes that which the self conceives of as being useful (utile) for itself. Spinoza does not, of course, devalue self-advantage. What he thus criticizes in teleological thought is not self-interest per se; rather he excoriates those modes of perception that represent the self as the center of life. According to Spinoza, it is certainly not wrong that humanity lives on the fruits of nature. He criticizes certain teleological modes of thought, then, for divinizing a utilitarian relationship toward the external (p.110) natural world. Though it is worth emphasizing that Spinoza does not take issue with utilitarianism as such, it is equally important to show how he excoriates both the loss of perspective and the logical fallacies that go along with a self-inflation of humanity. The target of Spinoza’s critique of anthropomorphism is not theology as such but Descartes’s conception of pure nature that subjects the merely mechanical natural world to the power and will of God’s representative on earth: humanity.

Countering the anthropomorphism within the theology of pure nature, Spinoza makes clear how humanity’s will and power (as manifested in teleology) self-destroys itself at the point where it loses track of human limitations. It thus sacrifices the sustainability of life to the quasi-divine power of redemption that posits in the future the attainment of its goals. Spinoza’s rationalism is not hostile to theology as such. Why is this so? Because Spinoza understands by reason a faculty that limits the unlimited reign of the passions and thus curbs the exhilarating presumptions of humanity’s omnipotence and omniscience.27 What Spinoza thus criticizes as theology is that element that endows humanity with the domination over nature. The natural world does not have an independent existence. Instead, nature (omnia naturalia) serves exclusively as means (media) for the self-preservation of humanity. Spinoza therefore unmasks Suarez’s and Descartes’s theology of pure nature as anthropomorphism and teleology.

At this point, self-preservation appears in a rather ambiguous light. Crucially, teleology instantiates an irrational kind of conatus: here the self preserves itself to the detriment of those circumstances and forces that enable the survival of the other, but this exclusive strategy has the potential to hit back, mirroring the flight trajectory of a boomerang. Does Spinoza’s notion of the conatus adumbrate a critique of societal self-destruction? Theodor Adorno has implicitly raised this question while discussing Elias Canetti’s response to the Nazi genocide.28 In an important conversation with Canetti, Adorno has drawn attention to Spinoza’s thought on self-preservation:

Horkheimer and I have in fact analysed the problem of survival in the Dialectic of Enlightenment. In so doing we came upon the realisation that this principle of survival, which you [i.e., Canetti] in your terminology call the moment of survival, namely the situation of (p.111) survival in the succinct sense—as it was for the first time, one could say in a classical manner, formulated by Spinoza—that this motive of survival, transforms itself into a destructive force, into the destructive and always at the same time into the self-destructive force if it turns wild, as it were, if it thus abandons the relationships to those others which stand opposed to it.29

Adorno here astutely points out that Spinoza is careful to emphasize that the will to survival is a social phenomenon. It has to be inclusive of others. If it turns exclusive, it will pave the way for self-destruction, and then the immunity of the individual will disintegrate into autoimmunity. Adorno underscores this point when he says that “this motive of survival, transforms itself into … the destructive and always at the same time into the self-destructive force if it … abandons the relationships to those others which stand opposed to it.” Adorno’s interpretation of Spinoza’s conatus has an illuminating bearing on an accurate understanding of the autoimmunity or self-destruction inherent in some aspects of our contemporary global society. Thus Derrida has recently discussed how autoimmune processes such as “the strange behaviour where a living being, in quasi-suicidal fashion, ‘itself’ works to destroy its own protection”30 invariably refer back to their opposite: to Spinozist attempts at self-preservation. These self-destructive processes result from triumphal declarations of moral, epistemological, military, and spiritual superiority of one societal formation over the one that poses, or is seen to pose, as its enemy. This awareness of one’s own triumph accompanies the perceived increase of one’s power. Spinoza shows how proclamations of one’s own superiority often go hand in hand with a loss of reality.

What causes this societal drift toward unreality? A given society that seeks to establish its supremacy over and above other societies’ claims to significance attempts to make reality conform to its epistemological standards. An inability to engage with epistemologies that differ from that of one’s own conception thus does not evince realism. On the contrary, it indicates relativism, precisely because it does not come to terms with the differing and always changing complexities of diverse social realities. The denial that the external world exists as an inviolable entity—as formulated by Descartes (p.112) in his radicalization of Suarez’s theology of pure nature—justifies political actions that are based on the principle of domination (aliquos rectores).31 This hegemony deprives nature of animation (i.e., Descartes’s mechanical understanding of the nonhuman world), turning it into a zombielike means that does not have a life of its own (nam postquam res, ut media, consideraverunt, credere non potuerunt, easdem se ipsas fecisse).

The anthropomorphic, namely, teleological, conception of God does not only give rise to the ruthless and self-destructive exploitation of nature; it also lays the foundation for violence and ethnocentric discrimination within society itself. Teleological thought pitches the telos of one community against that of another. The difference in religious worship thus furthers war between different social units, each of which deifies its specific way of life that goes along with its specific (anthropomorphic) conception of God. Under this teleological–theological constellation, particularity comes into conflict with universality. Self-preservation mutates to self-destruction at the point at which goal-directed behavior turns exclusive. Within this process, the self ignores that the pursuit of perfection does not coincide with the single-minded attainment of a goal that it set for itself as a selfenclosed entity; rather, perfection has to do with that which enables the sustainability of life, that is to say, with the avoidance of social exclusion and the abandonment of defensive reactions that aim to affirm one’s superiority over another.

Critique as the Self-Reflexive Awareness of Subjective Fictions

A particularity that seeks to realize its goals while defending itself against the aspirations of other particular social as well as cultural units endangers its own survival precisely by focusing exclusively on its own telos. As Etienne Balibar has pointed out, Spinoza employs the term ingenium to denote the singularity not only of individuals but also of ethnic groups.32 The deification of the specific teleology that structures the life of a particular social group eventuates in the war of all against all. Spinoza thus argues, contra Hobbes, that violence does not originate within the state of nature; rather, it is the outcome of confusing those intellectual constructs that serve to represent a singular entity with the expression of reality as such. The real, however, is not only singular but also diverse.

(p.113) Teleological constructions about “all final causes are nothing but human fictions [figmenta]” (Ethics I, Ap. 2). Spinoza does not want to abolish these fictions. If he did, he would be hostile to diversity because it is exactly in the figuration of these figmenta that the imagination shapes the singular cultural formations of different ethnic groups. Instead, Spinoza critiques an inability to detect the fictional elements that underpin human modes of reasoning. He makes teleological forms of thought responsible for a lack of self-awareness. Self-reflexivity makes the self aware of the fictional foundations of what it takes to be the truth (be that nature or God). A social unit that makes absolute its specific teleological conception of the world deifies itself and thus loses self-consciousness of the nonabsolutist, namely, limited, and thus desire-based texture of its epistemes: “So it has happened that each of them [individuals as well as ethnic groups] has thought up from his own temperament different ways of worshiping God, so that God might love him above all the rest [ex suo ingenio excogitaverit, ut Deus eos supra reliquos diligeret], and direct the whole of Nature according to the needs of their blind desire and insatiable greed” (Ethics I, Ap. 1). Here Spinoza analyzes how the teleology qua theology that justifies man’s domination over nature has an immediate impact on the way in which different communities interact with each other. Instead of recognizing the fictional character of their specific social imaginings, each group claims superiority over other groups (ut Deus eos supra reliquos diligeret). This touting of supremacy refers to theology to back up the accuracy of its statements with the absolute authority that only the name of deity seems to be able to provide.

Significantly, Spinoza focuses on the mind (excogitaverit) as the source of this confusion of particular inclination (ex suo ingenio) with the absolute truth value issuing from God. Rather than providing an accurate account of reality as it could be, here the mind will transform potentially peaceful interactions between humanity and nature as well as potential types of cooperation between different ethnic groups into violent encounters in which particular entities destroy themselves while fighting for their predominance.

Critics have so far ignored the way in which Spinoza’s critique of theology as teleology and thus anthropomorphism ironically relates to Descartes’s and Hobbes’s voluntarism. A notable exception (p.114) is Jerome B. Schneewind, who has drawn attention to the fact that Spinoza’s philosophy restored the split, perpetrated by voluntarist natural lawyers, between politics (prefigured by Duns Scotus’s view of God’s unlimited and arbitrary power) and ethics. Spinoza replaced Descartes’s will with a notion of wisdom that strives for both the joyful and the virtuous: “Each increase in perfection is an increase in both our joy and virtue.”33 In contrast to Descartes, Spinoza maintained that virtue was not superimposed on nature by reason, God, or political power; rather, the virtuous coincides with the joyful fulfillment of each individual’s different natural potential.34 This appreciation of an infinite variety of different forms of life makes for the differentia specifica of his understanding of self-preservation (conatus) from that of Hobbes.

Hobbes’s political philosophy is based on a dualism between the state of nature, on one hand, and the politics of reason, on the other. It is this dualistic paradigm that will later form the basis of Kant’s idealism.35 Kant transforms Hobbes’s dualism between status naturalis and status civilis into one between the state of nature and the state of freedom. By freedom, however, Kant understands a radical independence from any reliance on the goods of this world. Kantian rationality, with its unbridgeable gulf between the realms of freedom and nature, sets out to demonstrate the worthlessness of bare life (as pure nature). He thus adheres to Suarez’s and Descartes’s theology of pure nature. Reason dominates and overcomes nature by humiliating desires for objects in the external world. Kant deemed these desires “pathological.” Kant’s famous law of autonomy helped enact such subjugation of the forces of the body to the body politic. Here Hobbes clearly meets Kant.

Both Kant and Hobbes attempt to distill a moral kernel out of the Christian heritage. This moral essence should thus form the basis of their respective political philosophies. Both emphasize, as Leo Strauss has shown, conscience over and against action: “In believing that the moral attitude, conscience, intention, is of more importance than the action, Hobbes is at one with Kant as with the Christian tradition.”36 Spinoza’s ethology, by contrast, focuses on actions and their outcome rather than on the inward sphere of conviction.

In his work on politics and religion, Spinoza, as Leo Strauss has shown, is heavily indebted to Averroes in that he does not completely (p.115) disqualify the religious dimension within political life.37 Why does Spinoza abstain from secular radicalism? He values that aspect in different forms of religion that give rise to actions that are supportive of what he understands by ethics. Hobbes and Kant, however, do not allow for a religious element that would contradict their conviction about the absolute supremacy of the secular state. In this way, Spinoza’s “break with the immediately preceding tradition was much less radical than that of Hobbes.”38 It is to some extent due to Spinoza’s nonhostile attitude toward religion that his understanding of the conatus differs from that of Hobbes. In contrast to Hobbes, Spinoza argues that the self-preservation of a given human community depends on the preservation of the whole of humanity and nature. Spinoza’s is thus a holistic approach. Unlike Hobbes, he does not divide humanity into different groups, differentiating between a state of nature and a state of civilization or between religious communities and those who have attained the state of Hobbes’s rational absolutist monarchy.

Spinoza appreciates a plural world consisting of different social and religious ways of life. As Schneewind put it, “knowledge of God is the highest good, and one person’s possession of that knowledge obviously does not lessen another’s share. We need not compete for the true good. We would not be led into conflict if we all understood this.”39 Spinoza critiques teleology on account of its exclusivity. The mind turns passionate and thus prone to violence if it focuses on the exclusive rather than on the inclusive. By combining virtue with joy, Spinoza bridges the gulf between the universal and the singular as well as the apparent gap that lies between the ethical and the political. Descartes perpetuates this separation between politics and ethics. This is squarely in line with his conception of philosophy as a self-enclosed entity, as discussed earlier.

Whereas Schneewind analyzes the differences between Descartes and Spinoza, Michael Allen Gillespie tends to see both philosophers as representative of the voluntarist heritage with which modernity had to come to terms at its inception in the seventeenth century. As Gillespie (following Hans Blumenberg) has shown, Descartes idealizes the power of the human will to create a bastion that could prove capable of fending off God’s deleterious interference with the workings of the mind.40 The feared potentia absoluta that had been (p.116) a divine prerogative in the voluntaristic theology of Ockham and Duns Scottus became a human attribute in Descartes’s confirmation of the will’s or mind’s superiority over the body:

Ego cogito ergo sum is the bulwark that Descartes raises up against the omnipotent God and the radical skepticism that he engenders. It is his bastion for the defense of human reason and freedom. This principle, however, is not merely a bastion or refuge—it is also the Archimedean point upon which Descartes stands in his attempt to move the world, the basis for the universal science with which he seeks to win back the earth for man by dethroning this arbitrary and irrational God and making man the master and possessor of nature.41

Whether it is the human mind as will or the absolute power of God within teleological constructions, nature always figures as that remainder of imperfection that has to be overcome. Only the subjugation of nature under the willful agency of either the divine (Ockham’s and Scott’s voluntarism) or the human (Descartes’s rationalism) guarantees the implementation of a purposeful scheme of things. Spinoza analyzes the subjective and thus fictional element within either theological or philosophical types (or both) of teleology that profile themselves as objective proofs of nature’s deficiency. His critique of theology thus amounts to a critical inquiry into the fallacy of the mind that takes itself to be absolute and affirms its supremacy over that from which it sees itself separated: be it the body or the external material world.

Spinoza subjects the affects to this style of geometric analysis not to discard the affective. He clearly knows that this would be impossible.42 Instead, the point of his dissection of feelings consists in showing how they are closely tied to the workings of the mind. He thus addresses those who “prefer to curse or laugh at the affects and actions of men, rather than to understand them” (Ethics III, Preface). Anthropological research has shown that laugher functions as symbolic transposition of a feeling of superiority in precisely those contexts in which the one who laughs abandons a relationship of empathetic understanding that can be found in enlightened and thus enlightening forms of humor.43 Laughter at affections in a way that (p.117) precludes comprehension amounts to an assumption of supremacy, which, as we have seen, Spinoza criticizes in anthropomorphic conceptions of God. This touting of superiority accompanies defensive reactions as regards perceived threats either in nature or in the intrahuman social sphere. The effects of these actions are equal to those of aggressive offences: they appear to be defensive to the one who perpetrates them, but they are clearly offensive to the one who has to endure them.

Voluntarism as the Autoimmunity of Teleology

Descartes’s voluntaristic rationalism reinforces the defensive strategies that an anthropomorphic conception of God justifies theologically. Spinoza emphasizes the originality of his appraisal of the affects. Descartes did not pay much attention to the emotive aspects of humanity:

But no one, to my knowledge, has determined the nature and powers of the affects…. The celebrated Descartes, although he too believed that the mind has absolute power over its own actions, nevertheless sought to explain human affects through their first causes, and at the same time to show the way in which the mind can have absolute dominion [absolutum … imperium] over its affects. But in my opinion, he showed nothing but the cleverness of his understanding, as I will show in the proper place [sui ingenii acumen ostendit, ut suo loco demonstrabo]. (Ethics III, Preface)

Spinoza reveals Descartes’s declaration of the absolute dominion (absolutum imperium) of the mind over the affects as nothing else but a sign of subjective preference rather than objective analysis. In a subtle move, he contrasts his perspective (mea sententia) with Descartes’s confirmation of the mind’s absolute domination over arbitrary and merely subjective emotions. The polite style of the preceding excerpt does not diminish the force of its ironic tone. This becomes abundantly clear if one reads the original Latin text. The showiness (ostendit) of Descartes’s intellectualism mirrors the imperial (imperium) gesture with which the mind affirms its supremacy (absolutum) over the affects that it associates with the body. Spinoza praises Descartes’s intellect (acumen) while in the same breath belittling it as a sign of (p.118) a temperamental attitude (sui ingenii) rather than an instrument tobe employed in the quest for objective knowledge.

To be sure, Spinoza does not excoriate individual inclinations and idiosyncratic preferences. What he takes issue with is the endeavor to dress up particular opinions as if they were universally valid truths that make everything that contradicts them or opposes them appear intellectually inferior. As he shows in its proper place (ut suo loco demonstrabo), namely, at the opening of Book V, Descartes’s enthronement of the will as the mind’s absolute control over the body radicalizes a Stoic belief in the intellectual control over the life of the emotions.44 In a quasi-objectivist mode, Descartes locates the headquarter of the mind’s, namely, the will’s, empire in a specific anatomical point, the pineal gland, “by whose aid the mind is aware of all the motions [cujus ope Mens motus omnes] aroused in the body and of external objects, and which the mind can move in various ways simply by willing” (Ethics V, Preface). By pinpointing the source of the will’s power in the specific cerebral location of the pineal gland, Descartes objectifies his subjective theory of voluntarism. Here the brain (of which the pineal gland forms a part) serves as a concrete location by which we can quasi-experimentally fathom the anatomical mechanism that enacts the omnipotent working of the mind (cujus ope Mens motus omnes). In Spinoza’s account, Descartes’s objectivist method mirrors that which it describes: the will’s absolute domination over the inclinations of the body.45 Spinoza characterizes the salient point of his own originality as precisely the abandonment of any teleological opposition between that which is to be dominated and the dominant, the inferior and the superior, the perfect and the imperfect, the goal and the goalless.

By employing a nonprejudicial approach in his analysis of the emotions, Spinoza sets out to question a hierarchical divide between superiority and inferiority that structures philosophical, scientific, and theological forms of teleology. He thus detects in the teleological the structural kernel that shapes superstitious kinds of actions and thoughts. According to Deleuze’s interpretation of the Ethics, “superstition is everything that keeps us cut off from our power of action and continually diminishes it.”46 What, however, is the superstitious in Spinoza’s view? As the preceding discussion has shown, Spinoza defines teleology as the deification and thus universalization, (p.119) namely, objectification, of subjective thoughts and opinions. This making absolute of one’s own will and desire characterizes the anthropomorphic conception of God, which Spinoza criticizes as both theology and superstition. In this way, he unmasks the superstitious foundations of Descartes’s voluntaristic rationalism, which in turn is a secular (i.e., philosophical) translation and transmutation of Ockham’s and Duns Scott’s theological discourse about a voluntaristic God.

Like the teleological, the superstitious thrives on the hierarchical divide between superiority and inferiority. That which opposes the willing subject becomes demoted to the inferior. Countering such supposition of a divide in the sublunar world between what is faulty and what is perfect, Spinoza does away with a terminology that aligns embodied life along a hierarchical horizon. Rather than arguing that particular objects have particular shortcomings, Spinoza affirms the flawless character of each living being. Spinoza makes this point clear in his letter of January 5, 1665, to William van Blyenbergh when he writes that “everything that is, considered in itself, and without regard to anything else, includes perfection, which always extends in each thing as far as does the essence of the thing itself.”47 What may strike us as imperfect amounts in reality to nothing else but an organism’s vulnerability to specific internal as well as external effects. In this way, there is nothing in nature that is evil or poisonous as such. The deleterious effects of any particular substance do not make up its constitutional core; rather, an individual proves destructive not through his or her existence, which we might construe abstractly as the essence of his or her character, but rather by the particular violent turn his or her actions take in any given situation. Likewise, a mushroom is not poisonous as such; otherwise, it would poison itself. Spinoza tries to persuade us that we distinguish between abstract concepts and our understanding of ever-changing particular entities that form a substantial part of our everyday lives. We might be harmed by eating a poisonous mushroom, but Spinoza warns us of taking this effect it has on us as the static character of the plant itself.48 The mushroom in question proves deleterious to our digestive system. It does not, by contrast, damage our sense of eyesight while observing it.

As it is, nature has already come into being within a state of (p.120) perfection. “But my reason is this [Sed mea haec est ratio],” Spinoza affirms, “nothing happens in Nature that can be attributed to any defect in it, for nature is always the same, and its virtue and power of acting are everywhere one and the same, that is, the laws and rules of Nature, according to which all things happen, and change from one form to another, are always and everywhere the same [ex unis formis in alias mutantur, sunt ubique & semper eadem]” (Ethics III, Preface). Thus differentiating his thought from that of Descartes, Spinoza draws the reader’s attention to sociological, political, and medical and psychological factors that vitiate both the well-being of individuals and the welfare of entire societies. Significantly, Spinoza does not frame his analysis in an objectivist style. On the contrary, he opens his remarks by paying attention to the subjective position of his argument (sed mea haec est ratio). There is an apparent paradoxical tension between the subjective formulation of his reasoning and the content of the reasoning itself. For what Spinoza advances in this dense paragraph is not an argument for the separateness of individual subject positions but an affirmation of their intrinsic interconnectedness, of their underlying unity (& ex unis formis in alias mutantur, sunt ubique & semper eadem).

A hierarchical form of teleological thought denies this interrelationship between different subject positions. For it attributes a praiseworthy goal to a single and thus specific entity, whose telos it contrasts with the faultiness of purpose within another social foundation. Teleology as superstition thus sheds light on the destructive passions of the mind. The mind operates via affects at precisely the point at which it turns exclusive. This exclusivity is only seemingly rational. In fact, it not only undermines the welfare of the other, which it sees as either a threat or a competitor; in the end, it destroys the self together with the other because both are intrinsically interconnected. This is why calculation and friendship cannot be separated from each other in Spinoza’s account of intersubjectivity.

From the perspective of self-interest, the defensive reaction of warlike behavior is not an option; rather friendship truly instantiates the dictates of self-preservation (conatus). In striking contradiction to Hobbes’s anthropology, according to which man is a wolf to man, Spinoza argues that we are in need of each other as if we depended on the help of a deity. Once the anthropomorphic conception has (p.121) been abandoned, which gives rise to the exclusivity of teleological thought, we realize that not one of us is able to survive independently. We are all in need of each other. The anthropomorphic conception of God attempts to cover up this needfulness by endowing a specific social and ethnic group with a redemptive teleology (and thus with quasi-divine backing), which it posits as a lack in other human communities.

In this way, Spinoza’s dictum that “man is a God to man” (Ethics IV, P35S) only attains its full significance if one bears in mind Hobbes’s proclamation that man is a wolf to man.49 Spinoza does not deny that humanity sometimes tends to act in a self-destructive manner, as if it were its own carnivore (i.e., a wolf). However, he emphasizes the as-if factor. Destructive, and therefore self-destructive, behavior does not come naturally. Unlike Hobbes, Spinoza does not posit a state of nature that is characterized by unrestrained violence. He does not share Hobbes’s conception of the state of nature as the war of all against all.50 The reason for this is that his understanding of nature is different from Hobbes’s understanding. According to Spinoza, nature is a force that connects rather than divides. Spinoza emphasizes his holistic and nonviolent conception of nature in his letter of October 1665 to Henry Oldenburg: “I do not think it right for me to laugh at nature, much less to weep over it, when I consider that men like the rest, are only part of nature, and that I do not know how each part of nature is connected with the whole of it, and how with the other parts.”51 Rather than being the product of the state of nature, violence is the offspring of a specific cultural formation that shapes a social world in which war and social exclusion are accepted as anthropological givens.

How does it come, then, that human society revolves around violence and exclusivity? In his answer to this crucial question, Spinoza focuses on the autoimmunity of teleology. The telos of a specific group turns, over time, into the cause of its own destruction. Spinoza’s work on the relation between the passions of the mind and the medical phenomenon of autoimmunity has a special significance in the context of contemporary cultural and social theory. Gilles Deleuze has drawn attention to Spinoza’s discussion of autoimmunity in Part IV of the Ethics. Deleuze’s analysis of Spinoza and autoimmunity focuses on death:

(p.122) Death is all the more necessary because it always comes from without. To begin with, there is an average duration of existence: given a relation, there is an average duration in which it can be realized. But, further, accidents and external affections can interrupt its realization at any moment. It is death’s necessity that makes us believe that it is internal to ourselves. But in fact the destruction and decomposition do not concern either our relations in themselves or our essence. They only concern our extensive parts which belong to us for the time being, and then are determined to enter into other relations than our own. This is why the Ethics, in Part IV, attaches a good deal of importance to the apparent phenomenon of self-destruction; in reality what is involved is always a group of parts that are determined to enter into other relations and consequently behave like foreign bodies inside us. This is what occurs with the “autoimmune diseases.” A group of cells whose relation is disturbed by an external agent, typically a virus, will be destroyed by our characteristic (immune) system.52

Deleuze focuses on the way in which autoimmunity blurs the boundaries between self and other and between good (food) and bad (poison): “poison or food?—with all the complications, since a poison can be food for part of the thing considered.”53 According to Deleuze, Spinoza’s discussion of autoimmunity in Part IV of the Ethics thus illustrates the blurring of the subject–object distinction that characterizes Deleuze’s nonsupplementary plane of immanence, where there is “no longer a form, but only relations of velocity between infinitesimal particles of unformed material,” and where there “is no longer a subject, but only individuating affective states of an anonymous force.”54 Spinoza’s discussion of autoimmunity thus questions the existence of autonomous individuals: hidden forces within the self that destroy the self. Clearly this view undermines the commonsense understanding of a distinctly delineated boundary that separates the self from others.55

Spinoza reveals self-destruction as a wish for the destruction of others. The medical boundaries between self and other are fluid, as are the emotional–affective boundaries. Spinoza illustrates this in Part IV of the Ethics when he discusses the case of envy and hate between Peter and Paul (Ethics IV, P34S). This discussion (p.123) illustrates how the affects (i.e., envy and hate) bring about a division between self and other (i.e., between Peter and Paul) in the first place. Without the quasi-autoimmune influence of the affects, Peter’s self-preservation could be identical with that of Paul, and vice versa. According to Spinoza, we are only opposed to each other when we are torn by affects–passions. Spinoza foregrounds his discussion of self-preservation via an analysis of autoimmunity and self-destruction to bring to the fore the potential coincidence of the two elements. In doing so, Spinoza wants to sensitize his readers to the deleterious and truly irrational consequences of such coincidence. At this point, self-preservation mutates into its opposite: into autoimmunity. Derrida has recently analyzed the political and ethical consequence of self-preservation, which has become self-destruction.

As has been discussed in section 3, Derrida has defined “an autoimmunitary process” as “that strange behavior where a living being, in quasi-suicidal fashion, ‘itself’ works to destroy its own protection, to immunize itself against its ‘own’ immunity.”56 Significantly, Derrida put the terms itself and own into quotation marks, thus pointing to the unstable character of this self that tries to preserve itself while working against itself. In his reading, autoimmunity is not only a medical but also a social, political, and economic process that is onedimensional and that, in its one-dimensionality, furthers precisely that against which it sets out to work.

The linearity of teleological reason thus becomes explosive. In this way, “autoimmunitary movements … produce, invent, and feed the monstrosity they claim to overcome.”57 Offering an alternative to social practices that turn suicidal (i.e., autoimmune), Spinoza shows how teleological conceptions of perfection contrast with the perfected state of sustainability. Politicians as well as religious leaders who attempt to set their society on the path toward the establishment of some transcendent and thus nonembodied ideational construct often do so with the concomitant aim of proving the imperfections of neighboring states, depicting these in terms of the devalued body and the merely material. By proclaiming the purported superiority of their own society, they work, however, for its destruction. The insistence on the supremacy of one’s own telos does not only potentially justify the employment of violent means for the attainment of this aim. It also provokes the (p.124) resentment, if not hate, of those over whom one seeks to triumph.

This becomes abundantly clear in Spinoza’s discussion of the passions and, in contrast to them, the third kind of knowledge. Crucially, in his account of the human affects that forms the heart of the discussion of Part IV, Spinoza analyzes the mind’s abstraction in terms of a given society’s passion to triumph over another. Here hierarchy emerges as the tyranny of universal ideas. The mind as driven by passions for distinction and exclusivity constructs an ideal of universality by means of which it passes judgment on nature’s deficiency. Here the end justifies the employment of violent means. Everything that deviates from the model of the universal constitutes imperfection. The term sin describes this deviation. According to Spinoza, the moralistic language of sinfulness gives rise to the hierarchical dichotomy that values that which is perceived as perfect and devalues that which appears as imperfect:

But after men began to form universal ideas, and devise models [exemplaria excogitare] of houses,buildings, towers, and the like, and to prefer some models of things to others, it came about that each one called perfect what he saw agreed with the universal idea he had formed of this kind of thing, and imperfect what he saw agreed less with the model he had conceived [cum concepto], even though its maker thought he had entirely finished it. Nor does there seem to be any other reason why men also commonly call perfect and imperfect natural things, which have not been made by human hands. For they are accustomed to form universal ideas of natural things as much as they do of artificial ones. They regard these universal ideas as models of things, and believe that Nature (which they think does nothing except for the sake of some end) looks to them, and sets them before itself as models. So when they see something happen in Nature which does not agree with the model they have conceived of this kind of thing, they believe [credunt] that Nature itself has failed or sinned, and left the thing imperfect. (Ethics IV, Preface)

As in his critique of theology, in his analysis of teleological reason, Spinoza focuses on the fictional fallacy to which an epistemology that takes its ideational constructs as absolute invariably falls prey. (p.125) The preceding extract opens with human cognition and ends with the uncertainty of belief systems. Societies as well as individuals construct particular models (exemplari excogitari) that give shape to their peculiar preferences and idiosyncratic inclinations. Here again, Spinoza does not take issue with subjectivity as such. Instead, he excoriates a cognitive fallacy that elevates an individual construct into an absolute assessment of reality as it should be. The conceptual (concepto) turns out to be a matter of belief (credunt). Spinoza detects a theological opposition between sin and immaculateness behind the cognitive value judgment that contrasts perfection with imperfection.

The preceding important extract shows how Spinoza analyzes the ways in which theology and teleology meet. Teleological reason in a crucial respect coincides with the anthropomorphic construction of God, which Spinoza critiqued at the opening of the Ethics. Both teleology and Spinoza’s understanding of theology inflate the sense of power with which any given society sees itself endowed. According to teleological reason, a future goal sets those who subscribe to it apart from the rest of the human community in terms of moral and intellectual superiority. This sense of cognitive superiority could then serve as justification for the use of unrivalled military force that could in turn pave the way toward the attainment of a redemptive future.

In a related manner, anthropomorphic conceptions of God commingle the spiritual with the political. In this way, the God of a specific community functions as a device that separates this group from other groups in terms of superiority and inferiority. According to Spinoza, theological conceptions thus serve to trump up rather than to critically reflect on a sense of human omnipotence. The self here merges with the deity it worships. Spinoza sees in this kind of self-preservation turned wild the ultimate cause of different forms of violent conflict. Bloodshed results from the self’s touting of superiority. The self who revels in his or her own supremacy derives joy from the inferiority of the other:

For whenever anyone imagines his own actions, he is affected with joy (by P53), and with greater joy, the more his actions express perfection, and the more distinctly he imagines them, that is (by (p.126) II40S1) the more he can distinguish them from others, and consider them as singular things. So everyone will have the greatest gladness from considering himself, when he considers something in himself which he denies concerning others. (Ethics III, P55S)

True perfection, by contrast, does not separate between the self and the other. This is exactly what Spinoza means by the intellectual love of God, namely, the third kind of knowledge, which guarantees the immortality of the soul:

This love toward God is the highest good which we can want from the dictate of reason [Deum Amor summum bonum est, quod ex dictamine rationis] (by IVP28), and is common to all men [omnibus hominibus commune] (by IVP36); we desire that all should enjoy it (by IV37). And so (by Def. Aff. XXIII), it cannot be stained by an affect of envy, nor (by P18 and the Def. of jealousy, see IIIP35S) by an affect of jealousy. On the contrary (by IIIP31), the more men we imagine to enjoy it, the more it must be encouraged, q.e.d. (Ethics V, P20Pr.)

Here Spinoza explains why the truly rational love of God represents the highest good. The deum amor ex dictamine rationis (the love of God out of the instruction obtained from rational inquiry) enables social and political interactions that are free from violence precisely because they are not accompanied by feelings of envy and jealousy, which, as the previous discussion has shown, arise from touting teleological claims of superiority. The summum bonum thus coincides with that which is common rather than exclusive to the diversity of all peoples (omnibus hominibus commune est).

Communality as the Immortality of the Soul

As corollary of the discussion advanced in this chapter, it becomes clear that it is exactly this communality that Spinoza understands by the eternity of the mind. Critics have often asked why Spinoza subscribed to the concept of the soul’s immortality while at the same time affirming the parallelism between mind and body. How can the soul be immortal if it is intrinsically tied to the decay of the (p.127) body? “To deal with this mess,” Aaron V. Garret has recently argued that according to Spinoza, “only a part of the mind is eternal.”58 This statement might reconcile the apparent contradiction of Spinoza’s writing on the parallelism of body and mind, on one hand, and the immortality of the soul, on the other.

Yet, at the same time, it gives rise to another paradox. How does the separation of the mind into an inferior and thus perishable part and into a superior and thus immortal essence square with Spinoza’s focus on communality and interconnectedness (an element that Garret otherwise emphasizes in his study)?59 Spinoza defines reason as that aspect of the mind that proves capable of understanding the necessary causes of various experiences the body undergoes in communal life. It can thus only operate as part of a bodily entity. What happens if the body to which the mind belongs has perished? As we have seen, the mind, as the rational love of God, does its work in a communal manner. There is not a single body that can rationally claim reason as its exclusive possession; rather it forms part of the whole of humanity in every aspect of its diversity.

The mind, as reason (rather than as affect), asks us to look out for our self-interest. But the “us” in question here does not denote a singular and exclusive group. On the contrary, it describes humanity in its entirety. The mind’s eternal nature thus introduces a novel conception of what it means to be a unity. As unified form, the eternity of the mind at the same time constitutes a plurality. Once a particular body perishes, the mind keeps on living in relation to the diversity of other bodies that are still alive. As unity, it thus inhabits plurality. Rather than being linear and one-dimensional, the mind as rational love of God is ever changing. This continuity of change makes for its eternity. We “live in continuous change,” Spinoza affirms (Ethics V, P39S). Spinoza’s notion of the mind as a plural, sustainable, and ever-changing unity could thus serve as a blueprint for an inclusive universalism that would be truly beneficial for the nonviolent solving of problems that global societies are facing at the dawn of the twenty-first century. (p.128)

Notes

(1) See Louis Althusser, “The Only Materialist Tradition, Part I: Spinoza,” trans. Ted Stolze, in The New Spinoza, ed. Warren Montag and Ted Stolze (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 3–19; Etienne Balibar, Spinoza and Politics, trans. Peter Snowdown (New York: Verso, 1998); Gilles Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Zone Books, 1992), and Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, trans. Robert Hurley (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1988); Antonio Negri, The Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinoza’s Metaphysics and Politics, trans. Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), and more recently, Negri, Subversive Spinoza: (Un) contemporary variations, ed. Timothy S. Murphy, trans. T. S. Murphy, M. Hardt, T. Stolze, and C. T. Wolfe (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2004); Martha C. Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

(2) Michael Mack, German Idealism and the Jew: The Inner Anti-Semitism of Philosophy and German Jewish Responses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).

(3) Cf. Don Garrett, “Teleology in Spinoza and Early Modern Rationalism,” in New Essays on the Rationalists, ed. Rocco J. Gennaro and Charles Huenemann, 310–35 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

(4) Stephen B. Smith, Spinoza’s Book of Life: Freedom and Redemption in the Ethics (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003).

(5) Suzan James, Passion and Action: The Emotions in Seventeenth-century Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 106.

(6) John Cottingham provides the following nuanced account of Descartes’s writings about the relationship between mind and body: “Descartes, though insisting that mind and body are distinct, frequently stresses the unavoidable fact of their interaction: they are ‘so closely conjoined and intermingled as to from a unity,’ he wrote in the Meditations (AT VII. 81; CSM II. 56); and in the correspondence with Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia, he spoke of the idea of the union of mind and body as one of the fundamental notions ‘on which all our other knowledge is patterned’ (AT III. 665; K 457). Spinoza acknowledges that ‘man consists of a mind and (p.129) body,’ and that the ‘human mind is united to the body’ (G II. 96; c. 457). But what he means by this ‘union’ is very different from what Descartes meant. In the preface to Part V of the Ethics he pours scorn on the notion of any sort of ‘interaction’ between mind and brain, of the sort which Descartes envisaged in his account of the role of the pineal gland”; Cottingham, The Rationalists (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 131.

(7) Cottingham, Rationalists, 132.

(8) Steven Nadler, Spinoza’s Ethics: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 135.

(9) Ibid., 199.

(10) In this way, Spinoza’s Ethics seems to anticipate the austerity of Kant’s categorical imperative: “Like Kant’s categorical (moral) imperative, the dictates of reason transcend personal differences and make universal demands on human behaviour.” Ibid., 227.

(11) Smith, Spinoza’s Book of Life, 52.

(12) Ibid., 80.

(13) In the preface, Smith makes clear that this is the agenda of his inquiry: “I am not interested in the Ethics because it helps to confirm contemporary opinions and points of view, but because it challenges them.” Ibid., xii.

(14) Antonio Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (New York: Grosset/Putnam, 1994), and Damasio, Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain (London: Harcourt, 2003).

(15) “Darkly, through the glass of his unsentimental and unvarnished sentences, Spinoza apparently had gleaned an architecture of life regulation along the lines that William James, Claude Bernard, and Sigmund Freud would pursue two centuries later. Moreover, by refusing to recognize a purposeful design in nature, and by conceiving of bodies and minds as made up of components that could be combined in varied patterns across different species, Spinoza was compatible with Charles Darwin’s evolutionary thinking.” Ibid., 13.

(16) Ibid., 171.

(17) For an analysis of racism in terms of defense mechanisms, see Michael P. Levine, “Philosophy and Racism,” in Racism in the Mind, ed. M. P. Levine and T. Pataki, 78–96 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2004).

(p.130)

(18) Shmuel Feiner, The Jewish Enlightenment, trans. Chaya Naor (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 714.

(19) René Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy, ed. David Weissman, with essays by William T. Bluhm, Lou Massa, Thomas Pavel, John F. Post, and Stephen Toulmin (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1996), 19.

(20) Jean-Luc Marion, Cartesian Questions: Method and Metaphysics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 91.

(21) Ibid.

(22) Ibid., 95

(23) Ibid.

(24) Descartes, Discourse on Method, 50.

(25) Jonathan Israel as well as Steven Nadler rightly emphasize Spinoza’s democratic outlook. Nadler argues that Spinoza’s support of democracy is one of the reasons why he originally set out to ensure that a Dutch translation of the Ethics was available: “Despite the difficulties of the book [i.e., the Ethics], Spinoza clearly believed that anyone—and we are all endowed with the same cognitive faculties—with sufficient self-mastery and intellectual attentiveness can perceive the truth to the highest degree. This is probably the reason why he seems from the start to have wanted to make sure that a Dutch translation of the Ethics was available, so that ‘the truth’ would be accessible for many. For it is our natural eudaimonia, our happiness or well-being, that is at stake, and for Spinoza this consists in the knowledge embodied in the propositions of the Ethics.” Steven Nadler, Spinoza: A Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 226–27.

(26) The English edition of the Ethics used here is Spinoza, Ethics, ed. and trans. Edwin Curley, with an introduction by Stuart Hampshire (London: Penguin, 1996). I have also consulted the original Latin in Spinoza, Opera, vol. 2, ed. Carl Gebhardt (Heidelberg, Germany: Carl Winter, 1925).

(27) As Philip Goodchild has recently argued, this sense of human limitation is rational: “For to be rational today is to pay attention to the universal limits of human experience. The truth of common experience is the ecological limit, the suffering of the planet. The truth of the cause of this suffering is the socio-economic limit, the capture of piety by uncontrolled global free-market capitalism.” Goodchild, (p.131) Capitalism and Religion: The Price of Piety (London: Routledge, 2002), 252.

(28) For a detailed discussion of this topic, see Michael Mack, Anthropology as Memory: Elias Canetti’s and Franz Baermann Steiner’s Responses to the Shoah (Tübingen, Germany: Niemeyer, 2001).

(29) Elias Canetti, “Gespräch mit Theodor W. Adorno,” in Aufsätze, Reden, Gespräche (Munich, Germany: Hanser, 2005), 141.

(30) Giovanna Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 94.

(31) Cf. Michael Mack, “The Metaphysics of Eating: Jewish Dietary Law and Hegel’s Social Theory,” Philosophy and Social Criticism 27, no. 5 (2001): 59–88.

(32) Balibar thus points out that “the concept which is used here to differentiate between the individual’s singularity and the singularity of a historically constituted group is the same as that which was earlier used to express the essence of the individual’s singularity (ingenium).” Balibar, Spinoza and Politics, 37.

(33) Jerome B. Schneewind, The Invention of Autonomy: A History of Modern Moral Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 221.

(34) This Spinozan understanding of virtue as not opposed to but as emerging from nature has special significance with respect to the globalization conflict within the twenty-first century. The ideology of morality that governs the discourse of Islamic fundamentalism performs the violent imposition of “the good and thus Godly” onto the perceived depravity of the West’s naturelike materialism.

(35) As Leo Strauss convincingly argues, Hobbes’s political philosophy presupposes dualism: “The idea of civilization presupposes that man, by virtue of his intelligence, can place himself outside nature, can rebel against nature. This dualism is transparent all the way through Hobbes’ philosophy, not least in the antithesis of status naturalis and status civilis.” Strauss, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes: Its Basis and Its Genesis, trans. Elsa M. Sinclair (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952), 168.

(36) Ibid., 23.

(37) “Whereas Spinoza, who is in this respect fully in line with the Averroist tradition, indeed takes the trend of this tradition to the ultimate (p.132) conclusion, could not but recognize religion as an essential means for the maintenance of the state, in Hobbes’ theory of the sate there is no point of union which could serve for a similar defense of religion.” Leo Strauss, Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, trans. E. M. Sinclair (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 101.

(38) Ibid.

(39) Schneewind, Invention of Autonomy, 222.

(40) Blumenberg argues that the nominalism of late Scholasticism distances itself from a biblical understanding of God. It subscribes to Aristotle’s understanding of an “unmoved mover,” whereas the Bible depicts God as always being engaged with humanity. According to Blumenberg, Descartes turns this view of a transcendent absolute into the sphere of immanence. The cogito ergo sum thus instantiates the emergence of the human as the immanent unmoved mover. Against this background, Blumenberg accounts for the two-faced character of the Enlightenment. It is at once teleological (thus clinging to a great design theory that inhabits a certain theological sphere) and atheistic: “The provocation of the transcendent absolute at the point of its extreme radicalization transmutes into the discovery of the immanent absolute…. The Janus face of the Enlightenment—its renewal of a teleological optimism, on the one hand, and its atheistic inclination, on the other—loses its contradictoriness, if one understands it as the unity of the attempt at both human self-affirmation and the rejection of its role in the system of the late Middle Ages.” Hans Blumenberg, Säkularisierung und Selbstbehauptung (Frankfurt, Germany: Suhrkamp, 1974), 209–11; my translation.

(41) Michael Allen Gillespie, Nihilism before Nietzsche (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 33.

(42) Cf. Warren Montag, Bodies, Masses, Power: Spinoza and His Contemporaries (New York: Verson, 1999), and Moira Gatens and Genevieve Lloyd, Collective Imaginings: Spinoza, Past and Present (New York: Routledge, 1999).

(43) For a detailed discussion of this point, see Mack, Anthropology as Memory, 25–29.

(44) In the Preface of Book V of the Ethics, Spinoza emphasizes this philosophical trajectory that connects Descartes with the Stoics as follows: “Here, then, as I have said, I shall treat only of the (p.133) power of the mind, or of reason, and shall show, above all, how great its dominion over the affects is and what kind of dominion it has for restraining and moderating them: For we have already demonstrated above that it does not have an absolute dominion over them: Nevertheless, the Stoics thought that they depend entirely on our will, and that we can command them absolutely: But experience cries out against this, and has forced them, in spite of their principles, to confess that much practice and application are required to restrain and moderate them…. Descartes was rather inclined to this opinion.”

(45) As Damasio has shown, the identification of the brain with the mind in direct opposition to the merely bodily has until recently been the accepted creed as regards the perception of human intelligence: “And so, perhaps for most scientists working on mind and brain, the fact that the mind depends closely on the workings of the brain is no longer in question…. Uncovering a causative nexus from brain to mind, and a dependence of mind on brain, is good news, of course, but we should recognize that we have not yet elucidated the mind–body problem satisfactorily, and that the enterprise faces several hurdles, large and small. At least one of those hurdles could be overcome with a simple change of perspective. The hurdle relates to a curious situation: While the modern scientific coupling of brain and mind is most welcome, it does not do away with the dualistic split between mind and body. It simply shifts the position of the split. In the most popular and current of the modern views, the mind and the brain go together, on one side, and the body (that is, the entire organism minus the brain) goes on the other side.” Damasio, Looking for Spinoza, 190.

(46) Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy, 270.

(47) Spinoza, The Correspondence of Spinoza, trans. and ed. with introduction and annotations by A. Wolf (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1928), 147.

(48) This is why Deleuze, with his Nietzschean opposition between good and bad, might partially reinstate the hierarchical structure that Spinoza critiqued in his analysis of the dichotomy between good and evil. In Deleuze’s account of Spinoza, evil seems to reemerge with the abstract and universal concept of badness: “All evil comes down to badness, and everything that is bad belongs to the category (p.134) that includes poison, indigestion, intoxication.” Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, 72.

(49) As Nadler has pointed out, Spinoza studied “Hobbes’ political writings, especially the Dutch (1667) or Latin (1668) translation of Leviathan” in the early 1670s. Nadler, Spinoza’s Ethics, 244.

(50) Nadler has argued that “like Hobbes’s state of nature, Spinoza’s prepolitical condition is one of unrestrained pursuit of self-interest.” Ibid., 245. It is with such an interpretation of Spinoza’s notion of nature that the current chapter takes issue.

(51) Spinoza, Correspondence of Spinoza, 205.

(52) Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, 42.

(53) Ibid., 126.

(54) Ibid., 128.

(55) As Philip Goodchild has pointed out, this is why Deleuze “attributed to Spinoza the discovery of an unconscious of thought: there is always a thought that acts or thinks, but does not know itself.” Goodchild, Capitalism and Religion, 157.

(56) Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror, 94.

(57) Ibid., 99.

(58) Aaron V. Garret, Meaning in Spinoza’s Method (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 195.

(59) Thus Garret defines interconnectedness as the hallmark of Spinoza’s philosophical approach: “That this is the case, i.e. that apparently unrelated concepts are interconnected in often surprising ways is itself one of the hallmarks of Spinoza’s method.” Ibid., 18.

Notes:

(1) See Louis Althusser, “The Only Materialist Tradition, Part I: Spinoza,” trans. Ted Stolze, in The New Spinoza, ed. Warren Montag and Ted Stolze (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 3–19; Etienne Balibar, Spinoza and Politics, trans. Peter Snowdown (New York: Verso, 1998); Gilles Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Zone Books, 1992), and Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, trans. Robert Hurley (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1988); Antonio Negri, The Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinoza’s Metaphysics and Politics, trans. Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), and more recently, Negri, Subversive Spinoza: (Un) contemporary variations, ed. Timothy S. Murphy, trans. T. S. Murphy, M. Hardt, T. Stolze, and C. T. Wolfe (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2004); Martha C. Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

(2) Michael Mack, German Idealism and the Jew: The Inner Anti-Semitism of Philosophy and German Jewish Responses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).

(3) Cf. Don Garrett, “Teleology in Spinoza and Early Modern Rationalism,” in New Essays on the Rationalists, ed. Rocco J. Gennaro and Charles Huenemann, 310–35 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

(4) Stephen B. Smith, Spinoza’s Book of Life: Freedom and Redemption in the Ethics (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003).

(5) Suzan James, Passion and Action: The Emotions in Seventeenth-century Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 106.

(6) John Cottingham provides the following nuanced account of Descartes’s writings about the relationship between mind and body: “Descartes, though insisting that mind and body are distinct, frequently stresses the unavoidable fact of their interaction: they are ‘so closely conjoined and intermingled as to from a unity,’ he wrote in the Meditations (AT VII. 81; CSM II. 56); and in the correspondence with Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia, he spoke of the idea of the union of mind and body as one of the fundamental notions ‘on which all our other knowledge is patterned’ (AT III. 665; K 457). Spinoza acknowledges that ‘man consists of a mind and (p.129) body,’ and that the ‘human mind is united to the body’ (G II. 96; c. 457). But what he means by this ‘union’ is very different from what Descartes meant. In the preface to Part V of the Ethics he pours scorn on the notion of any sort of ‘interaction’ between mind and brain, of the sort which Descartes envisaged in his account of the role of the pineal gland”; Cottingham, The Rationalists (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 131.

(7) Cottingham, Rationalists, 132.

(8) Steven Nadler, Spinoza’s Ethics: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 135.

(9) Ibid., 199.

(10) In this way, Spinoza’s Ethics seems to anticipate the austerity of Kant’s categorical imperative: “Like Kant’s categorical (moral) imperative, the dictates of reason transcend personal differences and make universal demands on human behaviour.” Ibid., 227.

(11) Smith, Spinoza’s Book of Life, 52.

(12) Ibid., 80.

(13) In the preface, Smith makes clear that this is the agenda of his inquiry: “I am not interested in the Ethics because it helps to confirm contemporary opinions and points of view, but because it challenges them.” Ibid., xii.

(14) Antonio Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (New York: Grosset/Putnam, 1994), and Damasio, Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain (London: Harcourt, 2003).

(15) “Darkly, through the glass of his unsentimental and unvarnished sentences, Spinoza apparently had gleaned an architecture of life regulation along the lines that William James, Claude Bernard, and Sigmund Freud would pursue two centuries later. Moreover, by refusing to recognize a purposeful design in nature, and by conceiving of bodies and minds as made up of components that could be combined in varied patterns across different species, Spinoza was compatible with Charles Darwin’s evolutionary thinking.” Ibid., 13.

(16) Ibid., 171.

(17) For an analysis of racism in terms of defense mechanisms, see Michael P. Levine, “Philosophy and Racism,” in Racism in the Mind, ed. M. P. Levine and T. Pataki, 78–96 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2004).

(18) Shmuel Feiner, The Jewish Enlightenment, trans. Chaya Naor (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 714.

(19) René Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy, ed. David Weissman, with essays by William T. Bluhm, Lou Massa, Thomas Pavel, John F. Post, and Stephen Toulmin (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1996), 19.

(20) Jean-Luc Marion, Cartesian Questions: Method and Metaphysics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 91.

(22) Ibid., 95

(24) Descartes, Discourse on Method, 50.

(25) Jonathan Israel as well as Steven Nadler rightly emphasize Spinoza’s democratic outlook. Nadler argues that Spinoza’s support of democracy is one of the reasons why he originally set out to ensure that a Dutch translation of the Ethics was available: “Despite the difficulties of the book [i.e., the Ethics], Spinoza clearly believed that anyone—and we are all endowed with the same cognitive faculties—with sufficient self-mastery and intellectual attentiveness can perceive the truth to the highest degree. This is probably the reason why he seems from the start to have wanted to make sure that a Dutch translation of the Ethics was available, so that ‘the truth’ would be accessible for many. For it is our natural eudaimonia, our happiness or well-being, that is at stake, and for Spinoza this consists in the knowledge embodied in the propositions of the Ethics.” Steven Nadler, Spinoza: A Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 226–27.

(26) The English edition of the Ethics used here is Spinoza, Ethics, ed. and trans. Edwin Curley, with an introduction by Stuart Hampshire (London: Penguin, 1996). I have also consulted the original Latin in Spinoza, Opera, vol. 2, ed. Carl Gebhardt (Heidelberg, Germany: Carl Winter, 1925).

(27) As Philip Goodchild has recently argued, this sense of human limitation is rational: “For to be rational today is to pay attention to the universal limits of human experience. The truth of common experience is the ecological limit, the suffering of the planet. The truth of the cause of this suffering is the socio-economic limit, the capture of piety by uncontrolled global free-market capitalism.” Goodchild, (p.131) Capitalism and Religion: The Price of Piety (London: Routledge, 2002), 252.

(28) For a detailed discussion of this topic, see Michael Mack, Anthropology as Memory: Elias Canetti’s and Franz Baermann Steiner’s Responses to the Shoah (Tübingen, Germany: Niemeyer, 2001).

(29) Elias Canetti, “Gespräch mit Theodor W. Adorno,” in Aufsätze, Reden, Gespräche (Munich, Germany: Hanser, 2005), 141.

(30) Giovanna Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 94.

(31) Cf. Michael Mack, “The Metaphysics of Eating: Jewish Dietary Law and Hegel’s Social Theory,” Philosophy and Social Criticism 27, no. 5 (2001): 59–88.

(32) Balibar thus points out that “the concept which is used here to differentiate between the individual’s singularity and the singularity of a historically constituted group is the same as that which was earlier used to express the essence of the individual’s singularity (ingenium).” Balibar, Spinoza and Politics, 37.

(33) Jerome B. Schneewind, The Invention of Autonomy: A History of Modern Moral Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 221.

(34) This Spinozan understanding of virtue as not opposed to but as emerging from nature has special significance with respect to the globalization conflict within the twenty-first century. The ideology of morality that governs the discourse of Islamic fundamentalism performs the violent imposition of “the good and thus Godly” onto the perceived depravity of the West’s naturelike materialism.

(35) As Leo Strauss convincingly argues, Hobbes’s political philosophy presupposes dualism: “The idea of civilization presupposes that man, by virtue of his intelligence, can place himself outside nature, can rebel against nature. This dualism is transparent all the way through Hobbes’ philosophy, not least in the antithesis of status naturalis and status civilis.” Strauss, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes: Its Basis and Its Genesis, trans. Elsa M. Sinclair (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952), 168.

(36) Ibid., 23.

(37) “Whereas Spinoza, who is in this respect fully in line with the Averroist tradition, indeed takes the trend of this tradition to the ultimate (p.132) conclusion, could not but recognize religion as an essential means for the maintenance of the state, in Hobbes’ theory of the sate there is no point of union which could serve for a similar defense of religion.” Leo Strauss, Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, trans. E. M. Sinclair (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 101.

(39) Schneewind, Invention of Autonomy, 222.

(40) Blumenberg argues that the nominalism of late Scholasticism distances itself from a biblical understanding of God. It subscribes to Aristotle’s understanding of an “unmoved mover,” whereas the Bible depicts God as always being engaged with humanity. According to Blumenberg, Descartes turns this view of a transcendent absolute into the sphere of immanence. The cogito ergo sum thus instantiates the emergence of the human as the immanent unmoved mover. Against this background, Blumenberg accounts for the two-faced character of the Enlightenment. It is at once teleological (thus clinging to a great design theory that inhabits a certain theological sphere) and atheistic: “The provocation of the transcendent absolute at the point of its extreme radicalization transmutes into the discovery of the immanent absolute…. The Janus face of the Enlightenment—its renewal of a teleological optimism, on the one hand, and its atheistic inclination, on the other—loses its contradictoriness, if one understands it as the unity of the attempt at both human self-affirmation and the rejection of its role in the system of the late Middle Ages.” Hans Blumenberg, Säkularisierung und Selbstbehauptung (Frankfurt, Germany: Suhrkamp, 1974), 209–11; my translation.

(41) Michael Allen Gillespie, Nihilism before Nietzsche (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 33.

(42) Cf. Warren Montag, Bodies, Masses, Power: Spinoza and His Contemporaries (New York: Verson, 1999), and Moira Gatens and Genevieve Lloyd, Collective Imaginings: Spinoza, Past and Present (New York: Routledge, 1999).

(43) For a detailed discussion of this point, see Mack, Anthropology as Memory, 25–29.

(44) In the Preface of Book V of the Ethics, Spinoza emphasizes this philosophical trajectory that connects Descartes with the Stoics as follows: “Here, then, as I have said, I shall treat only of the (p.133) power of the mind, or of reason, and shall show, above all, how great its dominion over the affects is and what kind of dominion it has for restraining and moderating them: For we have already demonstrated above that it does not have an absolute dominion over them: Nevertheless, the Stoics thought that they depend entirely on our will, and that we can command them absolutely: But experience cries out against this, and has forced them, in spite of their principles, to confess that much practice and application are required to restrain and moderate them…. Descartes was rather inclined to this opinion.”

(45) As Damasio has shown, the identification of the brain with the mind in direct opposition to the merely bodily has until recently been the accepted creed as regards the perception of human intelligence: “And so, perhaps for most scientists working on mind and brain, the fact that the mind depends closely on the workings of the brain is no longer in question…. Uncovering a causative nexus from brain to mind, and a dependence of mind on brain, is good news, of course, but we should recognize that we have not yet elucidated the mind–body problem satisfactorily, and that the enterprise faces several hurdles, large and small. At least one of those hurdles could be overcome with a simple change of perspective. The hurdle relates to a curious situation: While the modern scientific coupling of brain and mind is most welcome, it does not do away with the dualistic split between mind and body. It simply shifts the position of the split. In the most popular and current of the modern views, the mind and the brain go together, on one side, and the body (that is, the entire organism minus the brain) goes on the other side.” Damasio, Looking for Spinoza, 190.

(46) Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy, 270.

(47) Spinoza, The Correspondence of Spinoza, trans. and ed. with introduction and annotations by A. Wolf (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1928), 147.

(48) This is why Deleuze, with his Nietzschean opposition between good and bad, might partially reinstate the hierarchical structure that Spinoza critiqued in his analysis of the dichotomy between good and evil. In Deleuze’s account of Spinoza, evil seems to reemerge with the abstract and universal concept of badness: “All evil comes down to badness, and everything that is bad belongs to the category (p.134) that includes poison, indigestion, intoxication.” Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, 72.

(49) As Nadler has pointed out, Spinoza studied “Hobbes’ political writings, especially the Dutch (1667) or Latin (1668) translation of Leviathan” in the early 1670s. Nadler, Spinoza’s Ethics, 244.

(50) Nadler has argued that “like Hobbes’s state of nature, Spinoza’s prepolitical condition is one of unrestrained pursuit of self-interest.” Ibid., 245. It is with such an interpretation of Spinoza’s notion of nature that the current chapter takes issue.

(51) Spinoza, Correspondence of Spinoza, 205.

(52) Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, 42.

(53) Ibid., 126.

(54) Ibid., 128.

(55) As Philip Goodchild has pointed out, this is why Deleuze “attributed to Spinoza the discovery of an unconscious of thought: there is always a thought that acts or thinks, but does not know itself.” Goodchild, Capitalism and Religion, 157.

(56) Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror, 94.

(57) Ibid., 99.

(58) Aaron V. Garret, Meaning in Spinoza’s Method (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 195.

(59) Thus Garret defines interconnectedness as the hallmark of Spinoza’s philosophical approach: “That this is the case, i.e. that apparently unrelated concepts are interconnected in often surprising ways is itself one of the hallmarks of Spinoza’s method.” Ibid., 18.