Ethics, Part 3: The Origin and Nature of the Emotions

This will be the reading for Saturday, September 21’s meeting.  As usual, we will meet at 4:00 in the meeting room of the Dunkin Donuts outside exit 6 of Gangnam station.

In parts one and two of the Ethics, Spinoza argued for a world governed by cause and effect down to its tiniest details, and made the distinction between free will and determinism obsolete.  Rather, the true conflict is between adequate ideas (which express their causes) and inadequate ideas (which do not express their causes).  In Part 3, Spinoza applies this framework to the emotions.  Emotions are modifications of the body together with the idea of those modifications, and so are subject to the same sort of analysis as bodies and ideas were in the previous chapter.  Part 3 is largely a catalogue of the causes and effects of various emotions; this summary will focus on the logic of emotions.

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Ethics, Part 2: The Origin and Nature of the Mind

This will be the reading for Saturday, September 7th meeting.

In Part 1, Spinoza presented a three tiered ontology. God and nature are synonymous, and everything that exists is an expression of this single substance.  God is expressed in infinite attributes, though humans only perceive two: mind and body, also known as thought and extension.  These attributes are modified into particular things, known as modes.  Part 2 applies this logic to the mind/body problem.  Mind and body are the same thing, a unity of the attributes of thought and extension.  This is essentially the descriptive anthropology which underlies his ethical views.

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Ethics, Part 1: Concerning God

This will be the reading for Saturday, July 27.  A hypertext version of the same translation I used is available here.

The first part of The Ethics presents a sweeping vision of all that exists, and does so in a remarkably modern way.  In Part 1: Concerning God, cause and effect reigns with an iron fist and from a few simple axioms a vision of God and nature that has been claimed by mystics and atheists alike is developed.  What exists in-itself, independent and uncaused, is substance.  Substance expresses itself – that is, causes and conditions – attributes and modes.  Spinoza identifies God with substance, and explains why God does not have free will, and why good and evil are the results of human imagination.

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Why Spinoza Is Worth Reading

 This is not a reading for philosophy club.   It is a pitch to convince you to read the book yourself.

What is a free life? Today, our idle chatter offers us two options. The first and most common answer is the transcendence of religion, in which a creator God endows us with meaning and worth. History is directed towards the ends of this benevolant God, who remains outside history, safely guiding it through his will. Good and evil are defined against a mix of our created nature and the dictates of this God. Freedom is ultimately submission to the will of God. The second option public talk offers us is a kind of smug atheism, in which one finds satisfaction in being free from superstition and religious fervor. As Badiou points out, all that exists is in this view are bodies and language, so freedom becomes entirely identified with sexual permissiveness and free speech.

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