Meeting 31

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DATE: Tuesday, March 30

TIME: 1 PM Princeton time (EST) / 8 PM Bucharest time (GMT+2)

PANEL: Spinoza on Becoming More Rational

SPEAKERS: Luis Ramos-Alarcón (UACM), Jack Stetter (Loyola University New Orleans), Jacob Zellmer (University of California, San Diego)


Spinoza on Language

Luis Ramos-Alarcón (Autonomous University of Mexico City)

Some scholars have understood that Spinoza’s extreme rationalism, nominalism, and conventionalism make his philosophy incapable to use language for philosophical and scientific purposes; insofar he considered language a source of inadequate knowledge, falsity, and error. Thus Spinoza finds a contradiction in his inevitable use of language to express his philosophy. This paper has four aims: first, propose an explanation on why language is inadequate knowledge for Spinoza; second, present differences between inadequacy, falsity, and language error; third, argue on the Spinozian use of the geometrical method as a solution for the adequate use of language in philosophical and scientific work; finally, show the problems and limits of this solution for metaphysical discussions.

Spinoza’s Reign of Ignorance Thesis

Jack Stetter (Loyola University New Orleans)

The paper interrogates the way Spinoza frequently distinguishes between philosophers and non-philosophers, according to which there are the lucky few who are guided by reason, and then there the rest of us, the vulgus or plebs. For the purposes of this talk, I turn to the manner that we might think Spinoza could try to justify this view in light of his conception of the conditions under which the imagination effectively supports the work of reason. As I see it, the puzzle is to know how Spinoza can maintain that we form fewer ideas of bodily affections in the imagination that support the work of reason than we form ideas of bodily affections in the imagination that impede the work of reason. Turning to Ethics Part 4, I show that the answer comes in the form of Spinoza sorting between the (fewer) number of things he thinks we can conceive insofar as they are “useful” to us or “agree” with us (that is to say, the things we conceive insofar as they share properties in common with human nature) as compared with the (greater) number of things Spinoza thinks we conceive that “disagree” with us and to which we must “accommodate” ourselves. I conclude by speculating that Spinoza may have been ultimately dissatisfied with this arrangement. Thus, I suggest that Spinoza took to writing the Political Treatise as a way of developing a more robust account of how, by means of collective action, the number of things which we conceive insofar as they agree with us can be significantly increased, democracy being the ideal candidate for the development of a more extensive reason-supporting regime of imagination.

Spinoza and the Problem of Imperfect Rationality

Jacob Zellmer (University of California, San Diego)

Some commentators have argued that philosophy for Spinoza can undermine the faith beliefs that are required by most people for virtuous living, that is, Spinoza’s “doctrines of universal faith” (DUF). As such, imperfectly rational persons who venture into philosophy may have their faith destroyed but will not be rational enough to live virtuously by the guidance of reason; they will be left morally adrift by Spinoza’s philosophy. I argue for a way of reading Spinoza that solves this problem. First, Spinoza’s DUF are open to a wide range of interpretation. The doctrines themselves are minimal claims which are neither true nor false. Nevertheless, interpretations of the DUF (i.e., specifications of the content of the DUF) can support a non-anthropomorphic God and so be consistent with Spinoza’s philosophy. Second, a non-anthropomorphic God can be obeyed (i.e., God can be understood as prescribing virtuous living) because the “Word of God” is written on each person’s heart. Third, the motivation to obey does not diminish as one grows more rational. Belief in Spinoza’s “fundamental tenet of theology,” which claims that obedience is sufficient for salvation, provides motivation to continue obeying and living virtuously even while philosophy and theology separately yet cooperatively revise interpretations of the DUF. Putting these arguments together: An imperfectly rational person who is growing more rational will be motivated to revise their interpretations of the DUF without losing faith in the doctrines themselves. Given that obedience requires belief in the DUF, the imperfectly rational person can continue obeying and living virtuously.

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