Review: Feser – Part 6

Part1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

The Last Superstition – A Refutation of the New Atheism: Spinoza

According to my all-knowing Kindle ‘Spinoza’ is named three times in Feser’s book; once in a quote from philosopher Pierre Manent among a list of names of philosophers, once in the notes [#9] to Chapter 1 in another list of philosophers and once in the index.

So why do I have a review section just on Spinoza when he isn’t even mentioned? Well somethings are conspicuous by their absence. In this case a philosopher who was also concerned with a rational basis for metaphysics whose metaphysical scheme also rested on god being the thing that underpins the existence of everything else. In Spinoza’s scheme god is the only possible kind of substance and it is god that exists and from that everything else. Spinoza was also concerned with causes, as well as necessity and existence. Like Feser Spinoza also made an appeal to mathematics. Here is the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy again:

Spinoza makes similar appeals to conceptual relations when he invokes geometrical examples to describe the necessity with which other things follow from God:

…all things have necessarily flowed, or always follow, by the same necessity and in the same way as from the nature of a triangle it follows…that its three angles are equal to two right angles (Ip17s).

Spinoza later identifies this same geometrical relationship with the conceptual involvement relation (IIp49). What it is for things to follow from God necessarily is for those things to be (asymmetrically) conceived through God, whose concept involves (the concept of) existence. The necessity of God and the necessity of existing things are equally explained by and grounded in conceptual relations. Spinoza makes this connection emphatic in Ip35, “Whatever we conceive to be in God’s power, necessarily exists.”

So why no Spinoza? Spinoza heads in the exact opposite direction as Dun Scotus and Ockham – it almost like those medieval Franscians anticipate the kind of concept of god that Spinoza will advance. Spinoza’s god is a necessary god – that is essentially a god that is a set of necessary conditions and hence effectively is not an being who thinks and plans and considers courses of action but one that simply is and acts (in so far as it can be can called acting) by necessity and in the only way it can act. Spinoza’s god is like some sort operating system for the universe chugging away through a predetermined code with no external input.

It is an open question whether (and to what extent and in what way) Spinoza was a pantheist but it is easy to see how tying a conception closely both logic and the manner in which things exists on an immediate basis (i.e. not how they were originally created but how they carry on existing rather than just blinking out) starts looking a lot like pantheism.

Consequently – we don’t hear much about Spinoza. Fewer doesn’t want to consider whether the same metaphysical demands might lead in an unwelcome direction. God in Feser’s scheme is the Biblical god in Aristotle’s overcoat not the god of Spinoza.

In Part 7 more on things that aren’t in Feser’s book.


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