Subjective Atheism

April 16, 2014

Abraham and Issac2I am writing this lecture in response to Martin’s lecture on atheism the week before last. In one sense, Martin and I stand in the same corner, we are both atheists, but in other sense, we are, to mix a metaphor, poles apart. If I were to describe Martin (and of course in the end he must speak for himself), I would say that he is an objective atheist, whereas I would say I am an subjective atheist. This difference between an objective atheist and subjective one is mirrored in those who have a religious belief (mentioning that word that Martin did not want to be mentioned, ‘religion’). There are those, I think, who believe objectively and those who do so subjectively. Because of this cross-over, I think, strangely enough, that there is more in common with subjective believers and subjective atheists, than there is between objective and subjective atheists, and thereby more in common with objective atheists and objective believers. What subjective atheists and subjective believers have in common is uncertainty and doubt (what I would call faith). Whereas, what objective atheists and objective believers have in common is certainty and conviction (what I would call fundamentalism). This is why when you listen to a fundamentalist religious believer and a fundamentalist atheist (like Richard Dawkins, or Christopher Hitchens), they sound, to me at least, the same.

What is at the heart of objective atheism is a certain conviction about science. That science, as Martin, tells us is what is real. The opposite side of this conviction is that religion is a falsehood, because religion tells us that there are fairies at the end of the garden, when clearly there are not, or that Santa Claus exists, when clearly he does not. There are two ways to respond to this accusation. Firstly, this is a very positivist view of science. Positivism is the assertion that there are only true facts about the world are empirical, that science is the only method that can investigate these facts, and as science progresses we are getting closer and closer to what reality is. There are no doubt many people who believe this, and indeed there are many scientists who do (Brian Cox being currently the most famous of its adherents). This would mean that art, literature (which is what Martin does), philosophy and all the other activities that human beings engage in that are not science, would have nothing true to say about the world at all, which would be rather extraordinary. Yet what most people don’t notice about the assertion ‘only science can tell us what reality is’, is that it is not in fact a scientific statement at all (how would you empirically prove this?), but a matter of belief. To believe that only science can tell you what is true is not science but scientism, and scientism is a conviction, a fundamental belief. Scientific theories themselves, like quantum mechanics or evolution, are remarkable open and uncertain (that is they allow for anomalies that cannot be explained), otherwise they would not be able to function as theories that set the boundaries for what we see as normal science. Scientism is in fact normal science raised to the status of objective belief and that is why objective atheists tend to become indiscernible from objective believers. They both believe that they have an iron grasp of what truth and certainty might be. One of course sees it in their equations and the other in their sacred texts.

Secondly, however, and even if Martin were right to think that science tells us what reality is (and I don’t think he is), this should not make a difference to anyone who has a religious belief (I am pretty certain that no one who entered the lecture hall with a religious belief came out of it suddenly having lost it). This is because I do think there is any conflict between science and religion because they are totally different discourses. Even though I am sceptical that science could ever come up with a definite answer to the question about what the nature of reality is (which would be pretty bad for science anyway since it would have come to an end), I still think that it is about the external world. If I wanted to know what a tree is, then I would ask a scientist. Religion, on the contrary is not about the external world but the internal one. If I want to know about my internal world, then it would be better to ask a priest, and if I don’t like priests, then it would be better to ask an artist, like for example Camus, who Martin actually quotes (who I would say is a subjective atheist like me, and not an objective one like Martin).

I know that the clever ones amongst you will say to me that science surely can now tell us about our internal world and we don’t need religion and art anymore. Does not neuroscience tell us how our brains work, and aren’t our brains just who we are? I think the claims that some neuroscientists make are pretty absurd, and if you talk to any of the serious ones, they will tell you that we hardly know anything about how the brain works, but even if we did, nothing that science says externally about the function of the brain, allows one to make the jump from an objective description to the meaning of subjective experience (and ‘meaning’ is the key word here). Sometimes you here people speaking about how their brain does this and that . Their brain opens the door, their brain drives their car, their brain loves their children, and so on and so on. But of course a brain does not do any of those things. It would be pretty messy if it did. We know really that it is a metaphor when someone speaks of their brain opening a door, but this metaphor hides a lot of metaphysics that gets surreptitiously sneaked in so we don’t have to think about it. Someone who thinks that brains open doors, drives cars, kisses children on the forehead, is like someone who thinks that programme that they are watching on the TV or the book they are reading in their hand is to be explained by the objective description of the TV (the wires and electronics that make it up) or the book (the paper, ink and binding), which of course doesn’t. What explains the programme or the book is the subjective meaning and not the objective description.

So having said that what is common to a subjective atheist and subjective believer is uncertainty and faith, I am now going to say something categorical: there can never be an objective description of a subjective meaning, not because we lack knowledge, but what is subjective is never open to an objective description. This is why I would say that if you want to know what the meaning of love is then read literature. Knowing which part of your brain ‘lights up’ when you are in love is not going to tell anything at all, even though it might be objectively true and in itself very interesting.

So what is common to an objective atheist and an objective believer is both of them reject subjective experience, though they do so in very different ways. Now I don’t think it is very difficult to understand why an objective atheist might do so, since the positivist image of science would impel then to do so, even though I think they are wrong, but what is difficult to see is how anyone religious has managed to get themselves in the confusion that their religion is objectively true and needs to be so, when everything that we know about the world tells us that it cannot be so. Why would anyone think, for example, that there is a conflict between a belief in God and evolution? One is subjective and the other objective. Why would anyone think that what is written in a sacred text like the bible is literally true since these are historical documents written by people like us with subjective experiences shaped by the societies they lived in? This does not mean that these documents still cannot speaks to us, but so does Shakespeare, but we do not have to think that these are literally true. The answer to these questions are probably political, and that as usual, fundamentalism is all about power and control. What better way to dominate others that to get them to deny the reality of their subjective experience through objective ideologies? But such a fundamentalism is just as possible in science as it is in religion, and no more true of religion than it is of science.

I am going to end this lecture with a writer who I have been reading for some time, Soren Kierkegaard. He is someone perhaps some of you have heard of. He is said to have been the inventor of the philosophy that Martin himself mentioned last week, existentialism, but that is not of course, how he would have seen himself. He saw himself as a religious writer, indeed a deeply troubled and uncertain one. No doubt what he had to say about religion affected other more philosophical writers (like Heidegger, for example), but that is not what would have interested him. What mattered to him was what it meant to become a Christian, and it is important that it was becoming a Christian that concerned him, because religion is a philosophical abstraction, whereas, he would argue, becoming a Christian is not.

So the key question for Kierkegaard is how does one become a Christian (or even how does one not become one). Whatever one’s answer to this question might be, he was certain that at the heart of it was the issue of what it means to be a self. In other words, there is no objective answer to this question (including whether God exists objectively or not). To exist as a self is an accomplishment and a task and not something that one simply is. It is possible to describe one’s existence objectively, and this is what science does. In that way, you and I do not exist any differently than a stone or the Big Bang that began the universe. This is why some people worry whether God is necessary for such an existence, or some that he is not, and to suggest so is to be superstitious. But this is not where Kierkegaard thinks the absence or presence of God is.

How can we say that the matter of my existence is different from that of a stone? Because I can lose it. Again you might reply, the stone too can lose its existence. It can be annihilated by the hammer as I can by the bullet. But that is not the loss that Kierkegaard is talking about. He says that we can lose our existence simply by not being ourselves, by thinking and acting in the same way as everyone else. To be objectively is actually quite easy; one simply is. But to be subjectively, now that is really very hard indeed. Becoming or not becoming a Christian has to do with that. How one decides to live one’s life. Now of course, this is a very difficult decision, so we like falling back onto objective reasons why we should or should not be a Christian. The fundamentalist falls back onto his sacred texts or culture and history, the objective atheist onto science and logic. Yet these are objective answers to a subjective question, and so miss what is stake completely.

Why is the subjective question more difficult than the objective one? It is not because it requires more or less knowledge, but rather the opposite. It is because it can only be answered in uncertainty. At the very moment that I think that I am being most true to myself, I could be betraying myself, and vice versa. Nothing objective could make you become a Christian as a matter of faith. No-one becomes a Christian through the proofs of the existence of God, even if these arguments were truly objectively. On the contrary faith is not a matter of reason for Kierkegaard but a subjective decision and it would be an ontological error to measure the latter by the former (as though faith were irrational in relation to the rationality of reason). An ‘objective acceptance of Christianity,’ Kierkegaard writes, ‘is paganism or thoughtlessness’ (Kierkegaard 2009, p.108). What is ‘thoughtless’ here is not that one has made an objective mistake, but one has confused the subjective with the objective.

The objective justifies itself in the face of the universal (rules, reasons, and axioms – what Martin calls science), but the subjective in the face of the absolute. This mistake is to think that the absolute and the universal are one and the same, but they are not. In Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard retells the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. From the outside, he is either a murderer or a man of faith, but if he is a man of faith, then what he does makes no sense at all (one might imagine Martin standing at the bottom of the mountain berating Abraham for his foolishness and superstition). No judgement from the outside can compare with the inner anguish and torment of Abraham’s acceptance of God’s command to sacrifice his son and his long journey up the mountain. Our judgement of him would pale in comparison. For he knows that there is no reason to listen to this voice, no scientific, no logical, indeed not even religious, in the objective sense, and yet he does. How would he know if what he was doing was right or not? He could not be certain. His faith could only be subjective. You might reply to me. Haven’t religious people always done terrible things in the name of a God that speaks to them? But they do so through certainty, and not through a subjective God that they do not even know exists. Even Jesus, Kierkegaard says, doubted whether God existed or not, how much more so should a Christian live in doubt. But even if they think they are acting objectively they are wrong. They are doing so subjectively. Every certainty has its roots in a uncertainty that it forgets and represses. What I am saying in hold onto the uncertainty subjectively, whether you are an atheist or a believer.

Abraham acts the way he does because he believes in God. From the outside this does not make any sense at all. We should be appalled by it, and Kierkegaard wants to us to be horrified by it and worst still would be disgusted by those who would use this story objectively to prove the existence in God. From the inside, the whole story changes. He acts because he believes in God. His trial is not to commit the act, but not not to commit it. Objectively God might not exist, and then he is a murderer. Or objectively God might exist (though this makes no sense to Kierkegaard), then he is a man of faith, but subjectively this makes no difference. He acts because he believes.

I do not believe, but I do not do so objectively like Martin does, but anxiously in the face of the absolute whose absence I feel with a passion. To me there is something banal about filling in this absence with facts about chimpanzees and super novae, however wonderful both may be. I want to face the terror of the absence of God with the same horror that must have seized Abraham when he thought he heard the voice of God tell him to sacrifice his son. If some feel the subjective need for God, then they already in a relation with God. Nothing that anyone says objectively about God is going to make any difference at all. Of course, you can also feel the subjective absence of God, but I do not think that this is an objective decision. That would be to confuse what is at stake here. An atheist who comes to their atheism objectively is not really an atheist at all (or perhaps it is better to say that they are confused about their atheism, for anything that matters to us, even scientific understanding of the universe, is subjective, for without subjectivity there is no passion). But equally, anyone who thinks there are objective grounds to be religious, whether in the universe, or in their sacred texts, is at best stupid, and at worse dangerous.


The Vision of Necessity and the Intellectual Love of God in Spinoza – Lecture 12

April 15, 2014

BaruchSpinoza4Part 5 is perhaps the hardest part of the Ethics, and not because it is impossible to understand the words we read. Such an interpretative difficult probably belongs to the book as a whole. Rather, even if we can understand the words, do we really know what Spinoza means by the intellectual love of God? Is it possible to have such an experience? It reminds me of some of the stories in Plato’s dialogues which are there to explain the ultimate end of philosophy. I can read the words of the Symposium that describe the ‘ascent to the beautiful’, but can I really know what this means if I have never had such an experience, which as Spinoza writes at the last sentence of the Ethics, is as beautiful as it is rare? Sometimes we confuse knowing about philosophy with being a philosopher, and they are not always the same thing at all.

What is the highest wisdom of philosophy? Plato and Spinoza are one is this regard: to teach you not to fear death. As Spinoza writes in the scholium to proposition 38:

From this we understand what I touched on in IVP39S, and what I promised to explain in this part, namely that death is less harmful to us, the greater the mind’s clear and distinct knowledge, and hence, the more the mind loves God.

But how do we get to this sanguine state so that we no longer fear death, which is probably the greatest fear we all have? We do so by reaching what Spinoza calls the third level of knowledge. It has already introduced us to this level in the second part of the Ethics (IIP40), and it is worthwhile here to remind ourselves what the three levels of knowledge are. The first level is the stage that most people are at. It is the knowledge of opinion and belief, which is motivated by fear and hope. This level is not really knowledge at all, but ignorance and unawareness of the world around you and the network of infinite series of causes and effects that determine one’s existence. The second level is a little more difficult, but is knowledge proper. It involves, Spinoza argues, common notions and the adequate ideas of things. Thus, he will write in the second part of the Ethics that there are universal properties of bodies that are recognised by all (IIP38). These common notions are adequate ideas of things and form the basis of our scientific understanding of the universe, but not only this understanding as we shall see later. Now we would think that this would be the end of the matter: the distinction between knowledge and opinion, but it is not. Spinoza says that there is a third level of knowledge, which is the intuitive knowledge of God. It is this knowledge that is the proper knowledge of the philosopher, or the wise human being, which is the same thing, and is the purpose of the Ethics to convince us both that it exists and is possible, and finally can enable us to free ourselves from the worse effects of our affects.

What is this intuitive knowledge of God, or what Spinoza will call, in Part 5, the ‘intellectual love of God’, and how does it differ from the second level of knowledge? The first thing to underline, as Lloyd stresses, is that we should not confuse this with any kind of mystical or supernatural knowledge (Lloyd 1996, p.110). There is no transcendence in Spinoza, no reality beyond this reality, no being beyond being. The second kind of knowledge is an understanding of things through the parallelism of the order and connection of ideas and the order and connection of things, but the third kind of knowledge is an immediate understanding of myself and my place within the universe, or to use Spinoza’s language, my place within God. My understanding of this produces the highest affect of joy in my mind (for we have to remember that there is no division between reason and affects for Spinoza), which is what he calls ‘blessedness’. However this immediate joyful wisdom is not be confused with mysticism or irrationalism.

At the end of his lectures on Spinoza, Deleuze explains these different types of knowledge in terms of swimming (he is adamant that we should not take mathematics as the model of adequate knowledge, but just as one example) (Deleuze 1978). What does it mean to know how to swim? Perhaps the best way to understand this is to think about what it means not to know how to swim. Not to know how to swim means to be at the mercy of the waves such that if one entered the ocean one might drown. To be at the mercy of the waves is inadequate knowledge, for one has a passive relation to external elements about which one only knows the effects (‘I am drowning’) and not the causes, which would be precisely to know how not to drown, and which is the same as knowing how to swim (learn to float, learn to shut one’s mouth so the water does choke you, and so on). Now as the waves crash over me, depending on what happens, I might cry out in joy or shock. Such are my affects or passions, to use Spinoza’s language, and they are always related to external relations to an external body. The waves on my body, which might be nice, but also could be quite dangerous (these are the screams and shouts one hears on the beach all day, which generally one takes to be an expression of happiness, but there is always the threat of tragedy on the horizon, otherwise there would be no lifeguard). But what does it mean to know how to swim? How come that is not the same? It does not mean, Deleuze says, that I have to have a mathematical or physical understanding of wave mechanics. That would be going too far. Rather, as they say in French, one has a savoir faire of the wave. Instead of fighting against the wave, one goes with it, one has rhythm. In the sense one knows how to compose one’s body with the body of the wave. One knows the right moment to jump in, when to dive, to surface, to use the wave to propel one along, and so on. It is important not to think that the second level is mathematical. Mathematics is kind of second level knowledge, but it isn’t what this knowledge is tout court.

Just as one can speak of knowing how to swim, Deleuze says, one can speak of knowing how to love. How does someone love inadequately? Just as in the case of the wave, one who does not know how to swim, one is at the mercy of external effects of which one does not know the causes. Whereas to know how to love is to know how to compose one’s body and mind with another. This is a strange kind of happiness, Deleuze says, but no-one would confuse it with mathematics or physics.

What then is the third kind of knowledge? It hardly seems possible that such a thing could exist. It does so because the other two are relations to external bodies and not to essences. I either know how to compose with another body, or I do not, but neither the relation of composition or decomposition is an essence. What is an essence Spinoza? It is a degree of power. To have the third level of knowledge is to know (or to intuit, to use Spinoza’s word, so as to distinguish it from the second level of knowledge) what makes up one’s own degree of power and what makes up the other’s degree of power. For every degree of power that is given there is always a degree of power stronger, since the totality of Nature would be infinite degree of power, and no singular thing could be the same as infinite Nature, as this would be to confuse a mode with a substance. Now if we were to view this relation between essences externally, then we would say that the weaker essence would be destroyed by the stronger one (the hand crushes the fly), but if this were the case, Deleuze says the whole of Spinozism would collapse, for it would mean that there would only be inadequate relation between essences. How can we think of the relation between essences in a different way?

The key he says is proposition 37 of part 5, for it explains that the axiom in part 4 that describes the relation between essences as one destroying another only has to do with singular essences in a determinate time and place. What does it mean to think of something in this way? It means to think of it in terms of existence. What does it mean for something to pass into existence at a certain time or place? It means that a body is determined from the outside by other external bodies. I have an essence, you have an essence, each essence is singular, but to exist is to be determined from the outside by other bodies (I cannot exist without food, water and air, for example). To exist is to have a time and a place, and to have a time and place is to exist in relation to other external bodies that determine one from the outside. Until such point that these external bodies enter a different relation, then I exist.

At this level, everything exists at the level of opposition. I kill the pig to eat its meat, but the next day, I die of botulism, and so on. In this case, one might speak of a stronger power destroying a weaker one. Such is the risk of death, which is the inevitable and necessary event that external relations that sustain my body enter a different relationship (which is what we mean by disease). My essence, however, is not the same as the external relations that I have with other bodies. A degree of power describes an intrinsic and not only an extrinsic relation and for this reason it makes no sense for Spinoza to say one degree of power destroys another degree of power, just as much as it does not make any sense to say that the colour red is redder than green. Intensive magnitudes cannot be compared extensively.

What then does it mean for Spinoza to say that one is eternal? It is not a declaration of belief, as if by that one means that one is immortal, for eternity and immortality are not the same. To think that one is immortal is simply to take one’s finite existence and to imagine that it would continue for every, which contradicts the very fact of death. An experience of eternity, on the contrary, Deleuze says, can only be felt as a kind of intensity. It would be to understand that one’s death, as the relation of a body to other external bodies, was insignificant and did not matter, because as intensive parts, singular essences, we all degrees of the infinite power of God.

What matters, what is important, is not the duration of our lives (how long we live), but the actualisation of one’s essence. If one laments a premature death, it is just because they did not live long enough, or that they didn’t actualise what they could have become? Equally, we might think someone who had a lived a long life in years but did not do everything with their lives that they could, might also have lived a sad life. It is perfectly possible to live a short life, as Spinoza did, but intensively as though one where eternal. Intensity, then, would be the measure of the third level of knowledge.

Many find the end of the Ethics incoherent and a contradiction of the overall message of the book. The most notorious of these is Bennett, who pretty much gives up on it altogether. Sometimes one thinks that Bennett doesn’t like Spinoza at all, and one wonders why he is reading him, since most of the time, in his opinion, Spinoza is wrong (Bennett 1984, pp.329–75).[1] I think, however, that Lloyd is absolutely right in stressing that this third level of knowledge is not religious at all, but is merely a taking on board, in terms of our lives and our experiences, what is taught abstractly through definitions and axioms in part one that God is the totality of the universe of which we are an intrinsic part, rather than an element separate from it sustained by a fictional personal God, who in reality is nothing else than a projection of our absurd pride that the universe could have been created for us in the first place (Lloyd 1996, pp.112–13).

One way that people imagine that they have a special and unique place with the universe, rather than just a finite mode of an infinite substance, is to believe that there is immortality of our lives after death. To overcome our fear of death, we imagine that our personality and consciousness continue after we have disappeared. This is not possible for Spinoza, because my sense of myself is only possible because I have a body. My mind, as we learnt from part 2, is an idea of my body, and my body is not an idea of my mind. Without my body I wouldn’t have a mind at all, and any sense of duration, and time would cease to exist. Immortality is based on the false idea that minds can exist without bodies, and no one suggest that bodies are eternal. Combined with this false idea is the confusion of eternity with infinite duration, so that I imagine myself living together as I am now but just for an infinite time.

Eternity does not mean for Spinoza time going on forever, but something quite different. This is why he can say that even though there is no immortality in the way that religions have imagined it, there is part of my mind which is eternal. This seems to be very strange since it implies that the mind can exist without the body, and this cannot be what Spinoza is saying since it would contradict the fact that the mind is the idea of the body. The contradiction exists for us, because we still viewing eternity in terms of duration. We are imagining that mind would continue to exist in the same way as it endures whilst the body exists.

Again the best way to understand the eternity of the mind, as Lloyd suggests, is in relation to the third kind of knowledge (Lloyd 1996, p.121). I only understand myself through the affections of my body, but it is impossible that I could know the infinite network of causes and effects that lead up to this affections. I can know, however, the true status of myself as mode of infinite substance. How would this knowledge, Lloyd asks, overcome my fear of death? Not through the knowledge gained by simply reading the first part of the Ethics, but something more subtle:

What is new is the understanding of the truth of finite modes in relation to particular bodily modifications, and to ourselves as ideas of these modifications. (Lloyd 1996, p.121)

Lloyd continues to explain that is not a matter of ascending to a transcendent vision of the universal, like Plato’s ascent to the beautiful and the vision of the one, but of understanding the ‘actual existence of these affections’ (Deleuze would have said the singular essences). For all that exists for Spinoza are singular things and substance, or the being of singular things. To understand singular things as the expression of substance is different from understanding them in relation to other singular things, which is the basis of the 2nd level of knowledge, which compares one thing with others. This kind of knowledge, though adequate, can never be complete. As Lloyd concludes, ‘we know that we are in God, and are conceived through God; we understand ourselves through God’s essence as involving existence’ (Lloyd 1996, p.122) Having seen this, I can understand that dying is of no consequence to me, since, in understanding myself in relation to substance which is eternal, the greater part of my mind is given over to what is eternal, rather than to what is individual and perishable in me, my imagination and memories.

Works Cited

Bennett, J., 1984. A Study of Spinoza’s Ethics, [Indianapolis, IN]: Hackett Pub. Co.

Deleuze, G., 1978. Les Cours de Gilles Deleuze. Sur Spinoza. Available at: http://www.webdeleuze.com/php/texte.php?cle=14&groupe=Spinoza&langue=2 [Accessed September 30, 2012].

Lloyd, G., 1996. Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Spinoza and the Ethics, London; New York: Routledge.

Zizek, S., 2004. Organs without Bodies : On Deleuze and Consequences, New York; London: Routledge.

 


[1]. Surely there is a better way of reading philosophy which isn’t so sad. Perhaps Deleuze’s advice, as quoted by Žižek, is more joyful: ‘Trust the author you are studying. Proceed by feeling your way […]. You must silence the voices of objection with you. You must let him speak for himself, analyse the frequency of his words, the style of his obsessions.’(2004, p.47)


Spinoza and Truth – Lecture 11

March 30, 2014

20120322_Gartenberg1What does Spinoza mean by truth? When we think about truth normally in philosophy then we think about the agreement between a statement and a state of affairs in the world, but this can’t be what Spinoza means by truth, at least not in any simply way. Why is this? Because for Spinoza truth cannot be the agreement between two different attributes, since attributes can have no causal relation to one another. Thus the idea of ‘tree’ cannot be true because it agrees with an object called a ‘tree’, rather an idea is true because it is true in itself and not because it ‘represents’ something else. What then does it mean to say that an idea is true in itself?

In one sense, Spinoza is repeating the story of truth that we have heard since Plato: perception is not sufficient to explain truth. This is because, as we know, perception does not tell me truth about things at all. Indeed if all I had were perceptions, then I probably wouldn’t have a very good idea of reality at all. One of the basis premises of the new modern science is what common sense tells us about nature (which we might say is the Aristotelian starting point) can only lead us astray. Common sense might tell me that the earth is at the centre of the universe, because that is how it appears to me, but I know in fact that this is not the case. What is true is not what my senses tell me, but what true knowledge does, and true knowledge is not perception, as Plato would have already told us, but mathematics. Copernicus does not disagree with Ptolemy because he saw something different in the heavens, but he postulated a different mathematical model and that is why he saw the heavens in a different way. It might be the case that Galileo did see something different in his telescope, but he wouldn’t have seen what he was looking for unless he had already agreed with Copernicus’s mathematical revolution.

If an idea is not true because it agrees with what I see with my eyes, then why is it true? Here we have to make a difference between the psychological event of having an idea and the content of the idea itself. I might be thinking of a circle because I see a circle. Or I might be thinking of circle because I associate it with something else. Perhaps I have being thinking about bears and then the idea ‘circle’ just pops in my mind. Or, I might be thinking about circle, but I have completely the wrong idea of circle in my mind. I might think lines drawn from the centre of the circle are not equal. None of the instances of thinking of the idea circle would make the idea true. The occasion of thinking the idea does not make the idea true (and this is really the reason why perception cannot be the source of the truth of ideas, since it psychologises them, and would make truth subjective). What is true is the objective content of the idea itself, which can be thought by anyone (or anything if it capable of thinking true ideas).

In proposition 35 of the second part of the Ethics, Spinoza explains how such an error is possible. There is no positive idea of falsehood. Strictly speaking there are no false ideas in themselves, because every idea is an idea of something that exists. Rather there are confused ideas. To have an ignorant idea is to have an idea of a positive thing, but in a confused way. The example that Spinoza gives in the scholium is the idea of freedom. Why is it that people falsely believe they are free? The answer is because they are ignorant of the causes that make them act the way they do. Because they are ignorant, they therefore think they are free. The cause of false ideas is not a real idea, but ignorance on our behalf, and this ignorance is always ignorance about causes. To use the other example that Spinoza gives in this scholium. I believe that the sun is 200 hundred feet away from me because I am ignorant of the true distance. Even though I know that the sun is further away than it seems. Because the distance that it appears from me is caused by the relation of my body to the sun, I might still fall under the error that the sun is closer than the actual distance. Of course I can also understand why it is that the sun appears in the way it does to me (I can understand for example that the sun really doesn’t get larger at sunset or change from yellow to red, but this is the effect of light in the Earth’s atmosphere), but that means I have to have a true idea of what the sun is and what the my body is and how they interact.

Because of our limited knowledge, Spinoza thinks that is very easy for us to have inadequate of idea of things, but does he think that we can have adequate idea? It would surprise us if he said ‘no’ to this questions, since Spinoza is an exponent of the new modern science. He is a realist. He does not think that our scientific theories are just our way of understanding what reality is, but are true picture of what is. Indeed Newton’s laws would be true, even if there were no human being to think them.

The difference is between understanding a particular thing as a mode or as an expression of substance. Let say I look at a stretch of water that is in front of me. I could just describe the water as I see it, perhaps in the way that I writer might describe it in a story, or painter paint it. Or I could describe it in terms of substance. Not just this stretch of water in front of me, but through an attribute that expresses not just this part of reality, but the whole of reality. Isn’t this just what science does? Science does not explain this or that particular instance or occasion of water, but the reality of water as such, which for Spinoza would be explained in the current scientific explanation of nature through the general laws of physics. This would be to have an adequate, as opposed to an inadequate understanding of water, because I would be understanding its true cause, which is substance explained in this case through the attribute extension.

The laws of physics are what Spinoza calls ‘common notions’. The occasion for us to have ideas is our bodies, for this nothing in our minds that does not come via our bodies. Thus if we didn’t have eyes to see the sun, then we wouldn’t have the idea of sun. The error, then is not think that the ‘truth’ of the idea of the sun somehow has its origin in us. We can think the true idea of the sun, because the true idea of the sun corresponds (or is the same as) as the causal relation between the mode and substance. There cannot be any other idea of the sun that is true because nature cannot be any different than what it is, otherwise substance would be lacking that different reality and therefore would not be infinite.

How can we escape the confused ideas of the realm of sensations and affections? We can only do so when we understand ideas internally and not externally. To understand ideas internally means to know the necessary order and connections of ideas themselves and not how they are encountered through affections. Yet even though I might know the difference between the two, how do I take the step from one to the other? It is probably wrong to say that Spinoza rejects imagination, because this would be argue that he rejects the body, but as we know, for Spinoza, only through the body can I know the world. There must then be a route from inadequate to adequate knowledge, and the key is ‘common notions’.

Inadequate knowledge only tells me about my individual encounters with things. What Spinoza calls duration. How something appears to me at a certain time and place, and which I might subsequently remember and associate with other things. But I can, through duration, leap out of duration. I can recognise what is ‘common to all things’. In so doing, I am understanding the mode through substance and not through another modes, which I can only have a limited knowledge of. It is possible to understand the causal relation between substance and modes. It is not possible to understand the infinite causal relation between modes (it is this inadequate understanding we have seen, for example, that produces the error of free will).

It is very important not to confuse common notions with universals. In IIP40S1, Spinoza disputes the existence of universals precisely because they are not common notions. I can have an adequate idea of scientific laws of nature that are common to all bodies, but what I cannot have is the idea of all horses that would be common to the universal ‘Horse’. The latter is merely a word, whereas the former is a true idea. This is why we differ in what we mean by the word ‘horse’, but we do not differ when we understand what is common to all things (like extension and the laws of nature that follow immediately from it), because this is common to nature as such, and not just a use of words. When we understand the universe, we understand it as it is in reality, and our understanding cannot be any different from God’s (what the universe is in reality in terms of truth), because there couldn’t be any other understanding. There is no mysterious transcendent cause, nor any distinctive human understanding (as there is in Kant for example) that would be any different from truth of what is actually in reality, which would be true whether we knew it or not.

It is possible to have adequate ideas because it is possible to know the causes of things. Of course as finite beings, it is not possible to for us to know the cause of everything, but that does not mean that we know nothing. It is possible for us to understand the essence of God for example, for Spinoza. It is possible for us to understand the idea of a triangle, though it is not possible for us to have the idea of every triangle that has ever existed. To have an adequate idea is to understand something through its cause rather than its effects. Thus to have an adequate idea of the sun is to understanding why it makes my skin feels warm and appears closer than it is in reality, as opposed to an inadequate idea, which starts with effects, my warm skin, the appearance of the sun and the sky, and argues backwards towards the cause. The sun is close to me in the sky because it is circling the earth; the sun warms the my skin because it was created by God to benefit human beings. Both these arguments are false because they argue from effects rather than causes. To understand the effects of the sun through its cause is to follow the order of reality itself. It is to go from substance as it expressed through its attributes and then to modes. Rather than to start with modes and to try and get back to attributes and from there to substance.

We have only distinguished between inadequate and adequate knowledge in this lecture, but there is third level of knowledge that Spinoza describes in IIP40S2, which he calls ‘intuitive’. We will have to wait to Part 5 of the Ethics to find out what this.


Spinoza’s Materialism – Lecture 10

March 18, 2014

human-proportions-for-artistsSo far, in relation to part 2 of the Ethics, we have only spoken about the mind and not the body (and the mind in relation to the attribute of thought). The particular nature of human beings, however, is that they are the union of a mind and a body. What, then, is the relation between the mind and the body? First of, unlike Descartes, Spinoza begins with the body not the mind. If we are going to understand the nature of the human mind, we first of all have to understand the nature of the human body. This quite is different from Descartes who believes that the union of the body and the mind must be thought from the vantage point of the mind and not the body, and the mind is the truth of the body and not the other way around.

When we are thinking about Spinoza’s parallelism we are thinking about the relation between human thought and the attribute thought. For Spinoza the true ideas of thought are independent from us. These are necessary truths belonging to the causality of thought and not to whom or what thinks them. When we are thinking, however, about the nature of human thought itself, and not just its relation to the attribute thought, then we have to think of the relation between our bodies and our minds, because this is the kind of beings that we are. We already saw from last week’s lecture that the idea for Spinoza has two sides: one side is the idea itself, which Spinoza calls its formal reality, and the other side, is the object that it represents, which Spinoza, following general practice, calls its objective reality. No idea can be defined without these two sides. When we thinking about the nature of thought itself, and not just the human mind, then we are thinking just about the formal reality of ideas, the necessary causality of thought. When we are thinking about just the human mind, though, we focus on the objective reality of ideas. We have to ask ourselves ‘What is it that the human mind represents?’ Spinoza answer to this question is that the human mind represents the human body. We have to be very clear about what this answer means. It means that body is the essence, definition, or content of the mind. What the mind represents is the body, and not itself. Without the body, the mind would be nothing at all; it would have no objective reality. Thus in the scholium to P13, Spinoza will say that the complexity of the human mind, as opposed, for example to the mind of a dolphin, is to do with the complexity of the human body, and not with human mind. It is because our bodies can feel, experience, sense more that our minds are more complex than other animals, and not the other way around. We do not have complex bodies because we have complex minds, but we have complex minds because we have complex bodies.[1] As Spinoza writes in the scholium to P13,

In proportion as a body is more capable than others of doing many things at once, or being acted upon on in many ways at once, so its mind is more capable than others of perceiving many things at once.

This explains why the next section of Part 2 has to do with the general nature of bodies. If we are to understand the human mind through the human body, then we have to understand the nature of the human body first. The human body, of course, is acted upon as any other body is in nature. To put it within a modern context, to understand human psychology we first of all have to understand physics and biology. For Spinoza’s interests in the Ethics is human happiness, then the central idea in this excursus, as Curley indicates, is the idea of the composite body, which is a body that can be acted upon by many external bodies without losing its identity (Curley 1988, p.76).

There are many different bodies in nature: basic chemical elements, simple material objects, simple organisms, and more and more complex forms of life. For Spinoza, the human being is a very complex living organism that is made up of many individual bodies, and is affected by many other bodies, in very many complex ways. What we can or are able to know for Spinoza, is directly related to the complexity of our body to be affected: everything that we know, from the simplest and most basic, to the most complex and extraordinary, first has to come to through the experience of our bodies.

The relation of the mind to the body also explains the limitations of the human knowledge, and the possibility of inadequate ideas. If we have inadequate ideas, then it is because we have a confused or distorted understanding of the body. Thus a false idea, or an inadequate idea, is not false at the level of the mode of thought or mode of extension, but in the relation between them. To understand this relation we have to understand how the human mind comes to inadequate ideas of things.

For human beings, our perception of things, which is the first level of knowledge for Spinoza, is mediated by our human body, as he states in IIP26:

The human mind does not perceive any external body as actually existing, except through the idea of the affections of its own body.

Our perception of things at this level, therefore, tells us more about the condition and nature of our own bodies, rather than the nature of external things themselves. Thus if I am short sighted things will be blurred and small, but this is true for human nature in general, since we can only perceive external things in the way that they affect our bodies, and we cannot perceive them in any other way.[2] In Spinoza’s terminology this fundamental relation between the idea and the object mediated by the body is called imagination. When I see something for Spinoza, I am imagining it. This does mean that I am making it up; rather I have an image of it in my mind, whose origin is mediated by the affects of the body. The image is the correlate of the sensations. We should, however, be very careful about what Spinoza means by the word ‘image’ here. An idea is certainly not a picture (as Spinoza makes very clear in IIP43S), if one imagines a picture to be some kind of thing which is a copy of a real thing, as though in the mind there existed images which corresponded to actual things; rather an idea is always a mode of the attribute thought. Error does not happen because I have the image of something in my mind which is wrong; rather error happens because my mind lacks the idea that excludes the existence of the thing that I imagine to be present. Thus, to use Spinoza’s example, when the young child imagines the existence of a winged horse, it is not the image of the ‘winged horse’ that is in error, but the child lacks the knowledge that would tell him or her that this image could not possibly exist. So there is nothing wrong with the imagination in itself, as Spinoza writes in the scholium to IIP17:

For if the mind, while it imagined nonexistent things as present to it, at the same time knew that those things did not exist, it would, of course, attribute this power of imagining to a virtue of its nature, not to a vice.

Inadequate ideas are those ideas which are caused from outside of my mind. This is only a partial knowledge of an object, whereas adequate ideas, within the internal necessity of the order and connection of ideas, are a complete or whole conception of the object. If we only remained within the external relations of the mind to objects, then we would only have a partial and mutilated understanding of the universe. But why is this understanding only partial and mutilated? This is because the body has a negative impact on the causality of ideas, if we assume that we only know things through perception. Thus, I am affected by the rays of the sun as it warms my face. There is nothing in common between me and the sun, and therefore, at this level, I cannot have an adequate idea of the sun. Rather, as we have already said, this relation tells me more about the body affected (in this case myself) than the body which is the cause of the affection. As Deleuze says in his lectures on Spinoza, a fly would be affected by the sun in a different way (Deleuze 1978). The reason why this is inadequate knowledge is that I only know the sun in terms of its effects on my body (just as the fly only knows the sun in terms of the effects on its body) and not in terms of causes; that is to say, what the cause of the sun and what is the cause of the heat on my face and so on. To know that I would have to know what my body was and what the sun was, and I could not know that simply through the effects of one body on another (it is not through the warmth of the sun against my face that I know that my idea of the sun is adequate and the idea of the sun of the fly is not). Inadequate ideas are therefore representation of effects without the knowledge of causes.

The idea of inadequate ideas will become very important in the rest of Spinoza’s Ethics. For to live at the level of the knowledge of effects, that is to know nothing of the causes of things, is to live a life of encounters only. One sensation follows another sensation, but I have no real understanding of the causes of these sensations. This is the level, unfortunately, that most of us live. When we come to think about our ethical life, this means that we are completely under the control of one feeling following another, like a paper boat buffeted by the mighty waves of the ocean of emotion. If we knew the true cause of these emotions, then we would be in control of them, rather than they in control of us. Knowledge of these true causes is the aim of the rest of the parts of the Ethics.

Works Cited

Curley, E., 1988. Behind the Geometrical Method : a Reading of Spinoza’s Ethics, Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Deleuze, G., 1978. Les Cours de Gilles Deleuze. Sur Spinoza. Available at: http://www.webdeleuze.com/php/texte.php?cle=14&groupe=Spinoza&langue=2 [Accessed September 30, 2012].

Lahn, B.T., 2004. Human Brain Evolution Was a “Special Event.” Available at: http://www.hhmi.org/news/lahn3.html [Accessed November 25, 2012].


[1] Humans have extraordinarily large and complex brains, even when compared with macaques and other non-human primates. The human brain is several times larger than that of the macaque — even after correcting for body size — and “it is far more complicated in terms of structure (Lahn 2004).

[2] We can of course improve our bodies in relation to instruments, but these instruments themselves have to relate to what our bodies can interact with. There is no point having a powerful electronic magnetic microscope if we can’t make available to the human eye the images that it produces.


Spinoza’s Parallelism – Lecture 8

March 2, 2014

spinoza1Having just finished the first part of the Ethics, with all its complexity and difficulty, we now advance into the second part, which is just as difficult and complex. Ostensibly the object of the second part is ourselves, whereas the object of the first part was God. And yet reading the definition and axioms, and the first 13 propositions, we might feel that we haven’t left the topic of God at all. But then we have to understand Spinoza’s perspective. He wants to rid us of any idea that we are somehow apart from the rest of the universe and have a special place within creation, what might be called the anthropomorphic bias of philosophy and religion. We must remember that it is this anthropomorphism which is the true cause of the idea of a personal God separate from the universe He creates (It is this transcendence Spinoza wants to destroy). Rather than seeing ourselves as somehow unique (only God is unique for Spinoza), we must see ourselves as just one element within the universe, or what Spinoza would call modes (and a finite mode at that). Spinoza expresses this beautifully in the preface to part three when he writes that there are some who conceive of human beings as though they were a ‘dominion within a dominion’. Human beings are not substances, but modes for Spinoza; that is to say, they are not transcendent but immanent to the universe, part of its processes and necessary laws.

This is not to say that Spinoza is not interested in human beings. Far from it, this is the only thing he is interested in. For Spinoza, like all great philosophers perhaps, philosophy is not just a clever game and how much one knows, but how one should live one’s life. This is why his book is called the Ethics. He writes, therefore, about metaphysics and physics, not just for their own sake, but for the sake of how we might, as part of this infinite universe, lead a better life.[1] As we saw earlier in this course, this idea of ‘leading a better life’ is not the same as being moral, which we, after thousands of years of Christianity might confuse it with, but begins with our human nature as part of nature as a whole. Morality and the personal God are intimately linked, because both abstract human beings from nature. This is true of Kant, for example, who writes after Spinoza, and who, although he is willing to place human being as natural being with nature, wants us, as moral beings, to be set apart: the moral order of human intentions, has nothing at all to do with the deterministic physical laws of nature.[2]

There is another difficulty facing us in the second part of the Ethics, however. That is on the whole hitherto we have been speaking about the infinite attribute extension. This is because this is the easiest way for us to enter Spinoza’s philosophy, perhaps because most of us have an understanding of modern science, and the Aristotelian universe is something we are unfamiliar with, whereas for his contemporaries it would be the other way round. Modern science already contains the idea that all individual things are in fact modes of the fundamental structure of the material universe which is governed by universal and necessary laws. But extension is only one the attributes of substance, and in fact there must be, as Spinoza writes in IP11, an infinity of attributes since God is an infinite substance consisting of infinite attributes.

When it comes to human beings, we can only speak of two attributes: thought and extension. But how do we think of thought as an infinite attribute of substance? It is easy to imagine each singular objects as the mode of extension (even ourselves when we consider ourselves as physical objects), but it is much harder to think of thought that way, because we think of thought as precisely that which individualises us. Remember this is precisely what Descartes did think. Each individual was a separate individual substance, because they were independent; that is to say, I cannot think the thoughts you are thinking now, and you cannot think the thoughts I am thinking.[3] But it is precisely this way of thinking that Spinoza avoids when he says that there is only one substance, and thought is an attribute, not a separate substance, and moreover every individual thought is a mode of this attribute. This means that it is not I who think thought, but thought that thinks through me, and when I perceive something it is not I who perceive it, but God who perceives it through me. We have to think of thought in exactly the same way that we think about extension, as an infinite autonomous and spontaneous attribute containing infinite modes. It is the universe which thinks for Spinoza and that is why we think, and not the other way around.

God or substance is thought under the attribute thought, such as God or matter is extension under the attribute extension. Thus we have to stop ourselves thinking of thought as something that happens in individual minds, which are modes. Rather it is the other way around. Thoughts are modes which are caused by the attribute thought, which is the same as saying, that they are caused or produced by God as a thinking substance, God under the attribute thought. This is why for Spinoza it is perfectly possible to say that machines could or can think, since thought is not a unique property of human beings, but is an attribute of God or the universe. In fact for Spinoza everything in the universe thinks (or is at least is ‘animate’), and all we can say is that human beings, in terms of thought, simply think in a more complex way than stones, plants or animals. Ideas exist independent of the human mind, and are produced by God under the attribute of thought, in the same way that things are produced under the attribute of extension, so that there is the sun as a thing, and the idea of the sun which are two different modes of two different attributes, extension and thought which are immanent to the same infinite uncreated substance.

Though we have no difficulty of imagining the sun as separate from the human mind or soul as Spinoza calls it, we have great difficulty of thinking of the idea of the sun as being separate from the human mind. Spinoza would say, therefore, that the truth of the idea triangle that all triangle have 3 angles that add up to the sum of two right angles is true in itself and is independent of any human mind that thinks it. Thus, as Woolhouse puts it, what is essential to Spinoza’s idea of ideas is:

The idea of there being real and immutable essences of geometrical figures, essences, which have an existence independent of any instantiation they might have in the corporeal world, and independent of any idea there might be of them in human minds. (Woolhouse, 1993).

This is why, as we said earlier, it is perfectly possible for a machine to think the idea of triangle, for the truth of triangle is not produced by the human mind, but by the universe, which contains an infinity of ideas as it contains an infinity of things. What we have to do then is think the idea of the sun in the same way we think the idea of triangle. As we shall see later, this does not always happen with human beings, because we tend to think the idea of things in terms of the affections of our body, through what Spinoza calls imagination, and not through our minds which can grasp the idea of things in themselves as they are produced by the infinite attribute of thought as it expresses the infinite nature of the universe. So we imagine the idea of the sun is produced in our minds by the external object which has an effect on our body, but this only produces a false and mutilated knowledge for Spinoza.

Again this is very difficult for us to accept because we tend to think a true idea is the adequation of the idea with an object. Thus, if I have the idea of the sun, this idea is true because the idea agrees with the real sun outside in the real world. Now this cannot be possible for Spinoza because attributes are autonomous. This idea of truth as the agreement of the idea and the external object would rest on the mysterious possibility that things could miraculous transform themselves into ideas, that the sun could become the idea of the sun and the object and the idea were one and the same thing, but we cannot think one attribute through another, as Spinoza writes in 1P10.

But it is clear that Spinoza believes that we have true ideas of objects, so how is that possible. His assertion is that there is a parallelism between the order and connection of ideas on the one hand, and the order of the connection of things on the other, that although these two series are absolute autonomous, and they have to be since one is produced through the attribute thought and the other through the attribute extension, that none the less they are absolutely identical, and they are so in themselves and not in the mind that thinks them. This doctrine of parallelism is one of the most difficult notions to explain in Spinoza, but before we can do so, we first of all need to think about what Spinoza thinks an idea is.

As we have already seen for Spinoza, ideas are not produced by human minds, though human minds can think them. Rather, they are produced by the attribute thought which is independent of any other attribute (independent in the sense of self-sufficient not independent in the sense of substance). So we can imagine the universe not only filled with an infinity of modes of extension (trees, plants, animals and human beings to be rather parochial about it), but also filled with an infinity of ideas (the idea of trees, plants, animals and human beings and so on). How do we know that one series agrees with the other, that the idea of the tree is the same as the tree? The answer cannot because we say so, because this is to make the human mind a ‘dominion within a dominion’ and thought dependent on us, rather than us dependent on thought. Ideas are produced by God, or Nature or the Universe or Substance, whatever word you choose.

Ideas are very strange things, and are different from other modes, in that an idea has two different functions (ontologically they exist as one in the idea, we separate them out in terms of analysis), which Spinoza has a special vocabulary to express, though it was a vocabulary that all his contemporaries also used, and which Descartes, for example makes much use of in his Meditations. Ideas are peculiar because they have both a formal and objective reality. Now one of the best explanations of this distinction can be found in Deleuze’s lectures on Spinoza which can be found on the web (Deleuze). An idea is a thought in the sense that it represents an object, so the idea of the sun represents the object ‘sun’. What an idea represents is called the objective reality of an idea. Now this is probably what we all imagine an idea to be and we do not think of anything else, but for Spinoza an idea has another reality which he calls the formal reality of the idea. Now just as much as the objective reality of an idea is something that makes sense to us, then the formal reality of an idea does not. What can an idea be but the representation of an object? Well the idea is just actually what it is as an idea, or as Deleuze puts it, ‘it is the reality of the idea as much as it itself is a thing’. Thus we must separate in our minds what is represented in the idea, which is the object of the idea, and the idea itself which represents the object. So in fact there are not two things: the idea and the object, but three: the idea, the object as it represented in the idea, and the object. Or, the idea sun, the sun as it is represented in the idea of sun, and the sun as an object. Now to the extent that the idea itself is a thing (not of course a thing in the sense of the object, since it falls under the attribute thought, and not under the attribute extension, but still nonetheless a thing for Spinoza, or if one prefers a mode), then I can have an idea of this idea not as an objective reality but as a formal one. I can think the idea of sun as the idea, and not I in terms of what it represents.

It is through this difference between an idea and the idea of an idea that we can begin to understand the parallelism between the order of ideas and the order of things.[4] We begin here because we start with what we are as human beings. We know ourselves and the world through our bodies, but what is peculiar to us (what makes us more complex than stones plants and animals) is that we are capable of reflection; that is, capable of having an idea of an idea. I do not just think of objects but also I can think of ideas; ideas can become an object of another idea. I have an idea of the sun, which represents the sun to me, but I can also just think about this idea in itself. Now it is the idea of an idea that for human beings (not for God) that we can begin to see how truth is possible (or as Spinoza would say we can think adequate ideas), and notice that truth here is between an idea and another idea as the object of this idea; that is to say it is immanent to thought, and does require the agreement between thought and the external world of objects.[5] The idea is the result of the active power of the mind as a mode of the infinite attribute thought. It is not a copy of an object. Therefore an idea cannot be true by pointing to something in the object, for whatever I would be pointing to would itself be an idea, or better the relation between ideas. When I say that truth is the conformity of the object with the idea, then this conformity itself must be an idea, or in Spinoza’s language, an idea of an idea, and this ‘conformity’ cannot itself be an object. The idea itself must be adequate, and it can only be adequate because I can think it as so. The idea is true to the extent that it conforms to the object of the idea, but it does so only because it contains all the causes and reason of that object, which themselves are internal to reason (not human reason, but Reason itself). To have a true idea therefore is know the cause of ideas. The cause of ideas is the necessary relations between them. These necessary relations are not produced by the human mind, but by the power of thought itself.

What we have to understand is that if ideas where only the representation of objects, then there would be no necessary relation between ideas, and if there were no necessary relations between ideas, then there would no possibility of science. What we have to say is, ‘What are the necessary relations between ideas?’ which is the same as saying, ‘what is the causal relation between one idea and another one?’. We have to make this distinction between the idea as a representation and the idea as a cause, and again for Spinoza we cannot say that this necessity of ideas lies in the object, because all attributes are autonomous. We cannot think a thought under the attribute extension, just as much as we cannot think an extended thing under the attribute thought.

To use Gueroult’s example, in his second volume on Spinoza, to have an idea of an idea is to go from this idea back to the knowledge of the order and connection of its cause in thought (Gueroult, 1974). I understand thought A by knowing that it is caused by B and so on. So as to go from the idea of triangle to the idea of the equality of the sum of its angles to two right angles, the mind must first of all think of the idea of the idea of a triangle, so as to understand the cause which results in the idea of the equality of angles, and is so doing it has an adequate idea of the triangle. Through reflection I understand the necessary causal relations between thoughts, which are produced by thought itself and not by my reflection, as Gueroult explains:

La liaison des idées ne dépend pas de la réflexion sur les idées, c’est-à-dire des idées des idées, car les idées sont en soi produites selon l’ordre des causes dans la Pensée, sans qu’interviennent en rien les idées des idées, c’est-à-dire la réflexion (The linkage of ideas does not depend on the reflection upon ideas; that is to say of the ideas of ideas, since ideas are produced in themselves according to the order of causes in Thought, without the ideas of ideas intervening at all; that is to say, reflection). (Gueroult, 1974, p. 71)

Reflection does not produce truth; it only discovers it. It is the discovery through human knowledge of the order of ideas as caused by the attribute Thought.

But how do we get from these necessary causal relations of thought to the necessary causal relations of things, and at the same time understand that they must be identical, without one being the source of the other? The answer to this question is to concentrate on the idea of causality. Both ideas and things are produced simultaneously through their attributes. This means that things, which are the object of ideas, follow the necessity of their attribute, with the same spontaneity and autonomy, as the ideas of these things follows the attribute of thought. If thoughts are connected together by necessary order of connection, then things must also be connected together necessarily, and this necessity must be the same. They are the same not because things determine thoughts, nor thoughts things, but this necessity comes from the infinite nature of the one substance, which these two attributes express. Thus to use Spinoza’s example in IIP7S, the circle and the idea of the circle are other to one another, since they fall under different attributes, though the necessary connection between things and the necessary connection between ideas is identical. It is not that the necessary causality of things determines the causality of thought, but the necessity of substance (this necessity must be the same otherwise there would be as many substances as there would be attributes). In thought the connection between ideas is produced by the necessary causality proper to thought, and this order is the same as the order of things under the attribute extension. They are the same, because both are immanent to the same substance which is infinite and unfolds in a necessary way through each attribute. This does not mean, however, that attributes are fused together in substance. Each attribute is autonomous and so expresses the necessity of substance in its own way. As Gueroult, writes, they are both indissoluble and heterogeneous (Gueroult, 1974, p 90).

Works Cited

1. Ayers, M., & Garber, D. (Eds.). (2003). The Cambridge History of Seventeenth Century Philosophy (Vol. I). Cambridge: CUP.

2. Deleuze, G. (s.d.). Les Cours de Gilles Deleuze: Deleuze/Spinoza, Cours Vincennes 24/10/1978. Consulté le November 5, 2007, sur Webdeleuze: http://www.webdeleuze.com/php/texte.php?cle=14&groupe=Spinoza&langue=2

3. Descartes. (1985). The Philosophical Writings of Descartes (Vol. I). (J. Cottingham, R. Stoothoff, & D. Murdock, Trans.) Cambridge: CUP.

4. Gueroult, M. (1974). Spinoza (Vol. II, L’âme). Paris: Aubier.

5. Kant. (2003). Critique of Pure Reason. (H. Caygill, Ed., & N. K. Smith, Trans.) Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

6. Woolhouse, R. S. (1993). The Concept of Substance in Seventeenth Century Metaphysics. London: Routledge.


[1] And in this sense, he is very different from Descartes who writes philosophy first of all because of science and not ethics, notwithstanding his book on the passions. (Descartes, 1985).

[2] He wants to make room for human freedom. See, for example the preface to the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason (Kant, 2003).

[3] See, (Ayers & Garber, 2003).

[4] Spinoza did not use the word ‘parallelism’ to explain his philosophy. Rather, it was Leibniz.

[5] In other words, truth has nothing at all to do with sensation.


Modes in Spinoza – Lecture 7

February 23, 2014

Spinoza2So far in our discussion of Spinoza’s Ethics, we have only spoken about substance and attributes. This is because we have tried to answer the question ‘why is there only one substance?’ We have seen that to understand Spinoza’s argument we have to see that it progresses from the principles of Descartes’ philosophy. Spinoza is only taking to its logical conclusion what is already implicit in Descartes’ philosophy, which he himself, because he is still caught up in a theological world view, where God is viewed as transcendent in the world, could not see. It is this theological prejudice, this ‘human fiction’ as Spinoza calls it in the appendix to Part 1, which is the source of the separation, distance and split between attributes and substance in Descartes’ thought, and which necessitates the one-to-one correspondence between attributes and substance, such that every attribute must have its corresponding separate substance. Thus, there is not just the thought-attribute, but also thought-substance; there is not just extended substance but also extension-substance. As Curley argues, this doubling up of substance and attribute is caused in Descartes text because he cannot accept that God could also be extension, and therefore he still needs the split between infinite and finite substance.

Spinoza, on the contrary, begins with the idea of infinity (which was already there in Descartes’ definition of God, but is still confused with the more traditional attributes), and deduces the necessity of the existence of one substance from it. This is well explained in Bennett’s, whose tone, however, can be quite confusing, because like most analytic philosophers, he begins with the premise that the philosophy he is studying must be wrong because he could not have been aware of recent modern developments, as though the philosophy progressed like an empirical science, and one would no more read Aristotle to understand the world, than Ptolemy the night sky (Bennett 1984, pp.70–9).

Let us, us therefore, have a closer look at Bennett’s explanation of Spinoza’s monism. The answer to the question, he argues, as to whether Spinoza is a monist, is whether it takes more than one substance to instantiate two attributes. For Descartes, as we have seen, it is clear that two attributes means two substances. The argument for Spinoza’s monist can be seen in 1P14, where Spinoza states that ‘except God, no substance can be conceived’. The proof is that God, as an infinite being, must include every attribute (1D6) and therefore must necessarily exist (1P11). If any other substance exists, then it must be explained in terms of an attribute of God (since every attribute is included in God). This would mean that two substances would exist with the same attribute. Following 1P5, this is absurd and therefore no other substance, other than God, can exist or even be conceived. From this it follows, as shown in the corollaries, that ‘God is one alone’ and that, contrary to Descartes, extension and thought are either attributes or modifications of God.

Bennett explains this proposition in the following way. There must be a substance with infinitely many attributes, and there cannot be two substances with an attribute in common. Therefore there must be one substance. The issue is the first premise: why must there be a substance with infinitely many attributes? The answer to this question, Bennett suggests, is to be found in 1P7 and 1P11. In 1P7, Spinoza argues that substance must exist because a substance cannot be produced by something other than itself, otherwise it would not be independent (this is Spinoza’s version of the ontological argument). It therefore must be its own cause, and its existence is included in its essence. And 1P11 that God is an infinite substance which consists of infinite attributes which necessarily exists.

After Kant and Hume, we might not so easily convinced by the ontological argument, Spinoza or anyone else’s, but Bennett points out, Spinoza’s is peculiar because it goes through the idea of substance which is defined, to use Bennett’s expression, as being ‘entirely self-contained’ (Bennett 1984, p.73). This means that is cannot owe its existence to anything else. We must add to this definition the rationalist insistence that everything that exists must have a reason to exist (of course if one does not believe this then one cannot be a rationalist – as this fundamental belief is what is common to Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz). There can, therefore, be only two possibilities, either substance is caused by itself, or it is caused by something else. It could not be caused by something else otherwise it would not self-sufficient, ‘entirely self-contained’, therefore it must be its own cause. So we have to see that for Spinoza it is because God is a substance that he necessarily exists. It is built into the definition of God that he must have every attribute, and if you link that to 1P5 that two substances cannot have the same attribute, then we are lead necessarily to the conclusion that there can only be one substance.

How then do modes fit into the relationship between substance and attributes in the Ethics? To answer this question we first of all have to remind ourselves that the fundamental distinction is Spinoza’s philosophy is between independence and dependence (Curley 1988, p.20). Attributes and substance are both independent; that is, they are conceived through and exist in themselves (this follows from 1D3 and 1P19)). It is important not to separate attributes and substance, however, since they are nothing but the essence of substance. Modes, on the contrary, are dependent; that is to say, we can only conceive of them through attributes and they exist, to use, Spinoza’s language, in another (1D5). Again we can understand this difference, which is essentially the difference between attributes, which make up the essence of substance, and modes, through Descartes (though as we shall see for Spinoza, his modes are particular things because the way that he conceives of substance). Take, for example, the famous example of the piece of wax in the Mediations. When Descartes first experiences the piece of wax, when he brings it into his room, it smells of flowers, tastes of honey, makes a sound when rapped, is hard and cold to the touch, and it is white, a cube and an inch in diameter. These are obviously all the properties the wax, and if someone where now to ask me what the wax is, I would list them. But now Descartes places the wax near the stove and the action of the heat changes all the properties. So these qualities cannot be the explanation of what the wax is, for the wax is still there, and yet it has completely different properties. It has no fragrance of flowers, no longer tastes of honey, it doesn’t make a sound, it is soft rather than hard, and is no longer white or a cube. There, then, has to be a more fundamental explanation of what the wax is, which explains these changes of properties in relation to the action of heat, and this is the attribute of extension, which for Descartes is ‘matter in motion’; that is to say it is the interaction of the tiny particles of matter set into motion by the action of heat which explains the change in properties of the wax, which are dependent on them.

The primary law of physics, as Curley explains, for Descartes is the principle of inertia (Curley 1988, p.40). Everything remains the same state unless acted upon by an external cause and every motion is in a straight line so that any deviation must be explained by an external cause. These two laws tells us that there would no change in the universe unless by an external cause. The third law explains the nature of change. If a moving body comes into contact with another body which has more motion that it, then it will not impart any motion to that body, but will change its direction, but if it comes into contact with a body that has less, it will move that body along with itself, and impart as much motion to it as it loses. This means that in the interaction between bodies the total motion of the universe is preserved. From these 3 fundamental laws all the laws of nature can be deduced, and from these laws all secondary qualities can be explained.

Of course we have to ask ourselves why these fundamental laws are not any others. And remember that as a rationalist I am committed to the principle that everything must have a reason to exist, otherwise it wouldn’t. Descartes answer to this question is God. But as we have already seen for Descartes, God and matter cannot be identical. This seems to imply that the eternal and immutable essence of nature is separate from God, and there are therefore two eternities: the eternity of God and the eternity of nature. Descartes gets around this problem by arguing that the eternity of nature, the fundamental laws of physics that underlie all the laws of nature and thus all secondary qualities, are in fact dependent on God’s will. To use Descartes’ metaphor, God has established them as a king establishes laws in his kingdom. They are eternal only because of the eternal will of God, which implies that God could have created the fundamental laws of nature differently. Thus the difference between modes, attributes, finite and infinite substance expresses a hierarchy of being for Descartes, and it is for this reason that he remains trapped within theological vision of the universe, however much he might say the opposite.

It is this hierarchy that Spinoza sees as incoherent. Cartesian physics needs the fundamental laws of physics to eternal and necessary, but at the same time he makes them contingent on the absolute power of God, which would make them utterly arbitrary. Spinoza is as committed as Descartes to the rational view of nature, so in order to preserve the rational explanation of the universe, he has to get rid of the personal God who still inhabits the pages of Descartes’ philosophy, who has the same capricious will as a tyrant (again this is why the appendix of part 1 of the Ethics is so important, for of course the mis-identification of God with the arbitrary power of a king also has a political message). What Spinoza does is identify God with the laws of nature. Every time that we compare Descartes and Spinoza we can see that it is matter of the latter getting rid of the all the divisions and separations that the former still want to hang onto. Spinoza flattens Descartes’ transcendent split between finite and infinite substance, and thus the separation between substance and attributes – attributes are not other than substance, rather they express the essence of substance.

We need to rid ourselves of the anthropomorphism of thinking that nature is created by the arbitrary choice of a God that stands outside of it, and also places us both at the centre and outside of it. God’s essence is nothing else than the eternal and immutable laws of nature. We do not need anything else than the fundamental laws of nature, already explained by Descartes. We do not need to ask why these laws and not any other, because there could be no explanation beyond them. To explain is go from particular to general (just as I do in the example of the wax). There is nothing more general than these laws. To then say that these laws are explained by the arbitrary will of God is to go from the general to the particular, which is not explanation at all, but just a descent into superstition and error. Of course, I can say this and believe it, and there were people in Spinoza’s time who believed it, and may who still do, but this does not make it an explanation however many times that I utter it, and however dogmatically I believe it. Religious belief is not a substitute for scientific explanation, and the kind of religious belief that thinks that it can replace science is nothing but the absurd project of human power onto the universe, where we think we are separate, rather than just one more part of the whole (this separation is perhaps the true psychological origin of all religion – the fact that the human species cannot conceive of itself except as an extraordinary exception).

Everything follows from the universal and necessary laws that are inscribed within the attributes, which do not need any more explanation since attributes can only be conceived through and exist in themselves. From these laws follow all the individual things and properties that we see in the universe, which are what Spinoza call modes. Modes themselves are distinguished by Spinoza as either infinite or finite. Infinite modes follow immediately from the attribute. Thus motion and rest are infinite modes that follow immediately from extension, and these laws in turn explain finite modes; that is particular individual things. Infinite modes are infinite because they apply to all of nature at any time and any place, and are eternal in the sense that they are necessary. They are not infinite and eternal, however in the same sense, as attributes, since they are dependent on these attributes, whereas attributes, as we know, are entirely self-contained.

The difference between finite and infinite modes is that former do not follow unconditionally from the attributes. It is for this very reason that they are finite and not infinite. Any particular thing comes into existence and passes away. Thus to explain why two bodies interact completely we would not only need the fundamental laws of physics, but also a complete description of the history of these two bodies circumstances and why they met in this place and at this time. This complete explanation is not possible, because we would have to know the infinite series of causes and effects which brought about this encounter, which we cannot know (and we remember from our reading of Part Three that this is the source of inadequate ideas).

We do, however, need to be to be careful here. This does not mean that Spinoza is letting chance make the universe. It is not that the encounter is unpredictable; it is just that we cannot know the infinite series. The universe is utterly deterministic for Spinoza; that is, everything follows, whether immediately or mediately from the essence of God. Contingency does not belong to the structure of the universe; rather it arises, as Spinoza states in 1P33S1, as a ‘defect of our knowledge’. Such determinism is utterly important to understand Spinoza’s ethics which follows from his physics and metaphysics. For the human fiction of morality is based upon the idea of human freedom, which of course is merely magnified, is the image of the transcendent and hysterical God, which is equally loved by both the tyrant and the slave.

Works Cited

Bennett, J., 1984. A Study of Spinoza’s Ethics, [Indianapolis, IN]: Hackett Pub. Co.

Curley, E., 1988. Behind the Geometrical Method : a Reading of Spinoza’s Ethics, Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press.


Heidegger and the Philosophy of Science – Lecture 7

January 27, 2014

HeideggerWe have thought about science as being different from religion. Science has to do with facts, and religion with beliefs. Increasingly, as we have gone through the different views of what science might be, this simple opposition has become less and less believable. For a start off, it is not at all clear that science has to do with facts, if we mean by that that facts are simply lying around for a scientist to construct a theory from. On the contrary, facts are theory dependent. What is taken to be a relevant fact is given by a scientific theory, and this theory cannot be justified by appeal to them alone otherwise we would be lost in a circular argument. Is it possible then to define science simply by theories alone without recourse to facts outside of them? Popper certainly attempts to do so through this principle of falsifiability in his initial starting point. What makes a theory scientific as opposed to non-scientific, and thus what distinguishes science from religion, is that it can be falsified whereas non scientific theories cannot. But when we examine the falsifiability theory in detail, it is very difficult to show, in concrete terms, how they are falsified. Rather than anomalies causing scientific theories to collapse, they seem quite happily to carry on regardless, and because scientific theories are so complex, it is difficult to discern which hypothesis has to be falsified in order for the theory itself as whole to be so. In other words, the fact problem still rears its end, but now at the point of falsification rather than at the point of the construction of a theory. Because of these problems, philosophers of science like Kuhn will argue that we shouldn’t be arguing about science as such, or the ideal nature of science, but investigating what scientists themselves do. What we find then is not a smooth progress of science from one theory to the next getting ever nearer to the truth, but a discontinuous series of revolutions that he called ‘paradigms’.

Although we can speak of different paradigms, surely it is the same reality that is beneath them all? The question of reality is particularly pressing in science because the basis of modern scientific theories, since Galileo and Newton, is unobservable phenomena. If science of the 16th and 17 century posited nature as made of tiny particles of matter in motion of which all that we observed we its effects, this did not mean that anyone could see such corpuscles. How then did we now that such a theory was real? The whole of Descartes philosophy was to answer this question, and his answer, which not many philosophers after him were satisfied, was that it was God’s justice than ensured that what our theories said was real was in fact what reality was, even though we could not see it. The whole debate between realists and anti-realists in the philosophy of science is whether we can commit to such a reality or not without God or any other transcendent guarantee (or indeed whether it matters or not, whether it can be proved to be real).

At the end of the discussion of realism and anti-realism, I introduced the philosophy of Heidegger. Many will argue that he does not have a philosophy of science, but I don’t think that is right at all. Indeed, one could say that the whole of his philosophy is a sustained debate with science (Glazebrook 2000). For Heidegger, science is a restricted not a full account of experience. We take science to be describing the way that things are, but for Heidegger, it is only a certain way of approaching things, and not necessarily the truest. In Being and Time, he distinguishes between the present-to-hand, and the ready-to-hand (Heidegger 1962). Science, which has its roots in a certain metaphysics, relates to things as present-to-hand, but this is not how we relate to the world that is nearest to us. Our fundamental relation to things is ready-to-hand. We use them. We open the door to enter the room, we enter the room and sit at the chair, we place the books on the table, we look at the screen on which a picture has been projected, or we look at the words written on the board, or down at the book in our hands, and so on. What we do not look at, is little particles of matter, or atoms. Why, Heidegger, would we take this world not to be real, and the scientific world to be more real?

When we related to things as ready-to-hand, as opposed to present-to-hand, then it is clear to us that these things relate to our world. The world is the context is which making use of things makes sense (there is the world of the classroom, and this world is part of bigger world in which something like a classroom makes sense). This world is not a thing. It is not a container in which something is enclosed (like water in a glass, to use Heidegger’s example). Rather, it names the cultural context or background in which something like sitting in classrooms and listening to lecture’s makes sense. Even the activity of science itself, with its abstract picture of things, is not possible without this world, since science is something that human beings do, and can only occur where this activity already has a meaning.

In section 3 of Being and Time, ‘The Ontological Priority of the Question of Being’, Heidegger speaks explicitly about science. He says that every science has its own area of things that it studies. Thus physics studies matter, chemistry, elements, and biology, life, and so on. Yet for any of these sciences to function, they have to take for granted that the things they study actually exist. Thus, Heidegger says they all presuppose a understanding of being that they do not question. The physicist accepts that matter exists, the chemist, elements, the biologist, life. If they did question the existence of these things, then they could not actual do science at all, because they would come to a stop at the threshold of the investigation and never get any further. If I don’t accept that these things exist, then how could I do physics, chemistry or biology? What Heidegger here calls a ‘regional ontology’ is similar to what Kuhn calls a paradigm, the ‘ontical questioning of positive science’ to normal science. It is only when a science goes into a crisis does the ontology that it presupposes come into question. This is when, again in Kuhn’s vocabulary, does the existence of the very fundamental nature of the objects of a science become doubtful and only at this point does science have to turn to philosophy for its answer.

What philosophy discovers is that science is a projection onto nature. This does not mean that nature does not exist for Heidegger (if human beings ceased to exist, there would be still planets, but there would not be Newton’s laws of motion). What modern science projects onto nature is mathematics. Nature is only what can be described mathematically. Galileo and Newton onwards, this is understood in terms of efficient causality rather than final causality. For Aristotle, nature is defined teleologically. Nature has a purpose, goal and direction, whereas in modern science it does not. This is why for Heidegger technology is the essence of modern science, because it means, through its mathematical projection, nature is totally subsumed to human purpose. Because nature has no purpose or value in itself, its only value is for the sake of us. It becomes, to use Heidegger’s phrase, a ‘standing reserve’. The big difference between Kuhn and Heidegger, is though both understand science historically, Heidegger does not think that the image of nature in Newton and Galileo is that fundamentally different from that in quantum physics. Though they are a different mathematics, nonetheless both view nature mathematically. The fundamental split them is between final causality of Aristotle and the efficient causality of modern science that culminates in technology.

For Heidegger, the basis of mathematical projection of science is the experiment. It is therefore a fundamental misunderstanding of science that it simply experiences things as they are and then comes up with a picture of the world (a picture which is meant to be what things really are). On the contrary, through the experiment, the scientist already interprets experience mathematically. It is the mathematical model that gives meaning to the experience and not experience meaning to the mathematical model. This again is the big difference between Aristotelian and modern science. For Aristotle, science is based on experience, for modern science it is not. Mathematics is first, not experience, but we still speak about science as though it was about experience, and somehow the things that we directly experience around us were the diminished and restrictive one, and not science. As though we were living in the abstract world and the mathematical projection of science were the full blooded one.

That meaning is the subject of science is what the history of science teaches us. We see that the world of Aristotle, Newton and Einstein, is not one and the same world a series of ruptures, breaks and discontinuities. Although the reference of these theories is one and the same, the meaning of the reality they refer to is not. What mass means in Newton, therefore, is not the same as what it means in Einstein. To use Kuhn’s word these worlds are incommensurable, since there is not a perfect translation between one and the other. You will only think that objectivity is threatened by this picture, if you believe in a metaphysical reality that is beyond human experience but which at the same time we can know. Reality is not outside of us, it is something that we construct through our institutions and discourses. The difference between astrology and astronomy is not in terms of a method, as Popper might have us believe, that one is tested by facts and the other is not, since when we investigate the history of science, we see that a theory will ignore those facts that do not fit its paradigm, but it does not have the virtues or practice of objectivity. The problem with astrology is that it explains too much and not too little. Truth, if we might put it this way, is a practice, a way of being, rather than a mirror to a reality that stands outside of us eternally the same. It is the creation of concepts to problems that are forever changing, and it is through problems that we grasp reality.

Rather than grand narratives, the study of the history of science concerns the details. What scientists say and do. For this reason we cannot impose an image of science on its own reality. What we discover is that reality is not identical through time but constructed from different aspects that are only relatively stable and which can always dissolve into a new regularity that might take elements from the previous paradigm but would transform their meaning by placing them in different relationships. It is not reality which explains how science changes, but the changes in science that explain reality, just as it is not the chair that defines sitting, but sitting the chair. The correct question is therefore not what reality is, but how do we understand and interpret reality. What changed in the nature of scientific experimentation such that reality was perceived in a different way? What changes is not reality, but how we perceive and understand, and what changes this perception is the practice of science itself, its discrete methods and discourse that would be only visible to us through historical investigation. The subject of such a history is what scientists do. We reject the idea of hidden telos, as though all scientific activity were heading in the same direction that reveals a reality that had already been there from the beginning but simply unknown by us. Science is made up of actions of scientists and nothing more. The meaning of reality does not belong to some intrinsic definition but to a practice that leads to a certain and definite objectivity over a period of time, but which can subsequently dissolve as a new objectivity emerges. Reality is only a correlate of a practice and only has a meaning as such in relation to it. We can therefore distinguish between the practice of science and non-science, but there is no absolute ahistorical meaning of science, and still less a reality that is eternal and unchanging. Science is not about reality per se, but problems.

What Heidegger calls ‘projection’ Feyerabend calls a ‘belief’ (Feyerabend, 2010, 10). We think that science is just an explanation of what common sense already knows. But the opposite is the case. Science, since Galileo, moves in in another direction than common sense. It is by moving in the opposite direction to ‘contemporary reason’, that the new science develops new instruments and new experiments. If it had not done so, if it stuck by the old rules and methods, it would not have developed such a new way of looking at and understanding reality. It is only subsequent to the emergent of the new beliefs that evidence can be found to support them. We tend to think the opposite. That the new beliefs emerged because the evidence demonstrated their truth, but the opposite is the case: it is the new beliefs that made the evidence even visible. This is why subsequently we can say that ‘Galileo was on the right track’, because now there is enough evidence to support the theory, but if we had waited for the evidence before hand, the theory would never have got off the ground. As Feyerabend continues:

Theories become clear and ‘reasonable’ only after incoherent parts of them have been used for a long time. Such unreasonable, nonsensical, unmethodical foreplay thus turns out to be an unavoidable precondition of clarity and of empirical success. (2010, 11).


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 335 other followers