February 13, 2008


Welcome to Spinoza Week at Goat Rope. You'll find links and comments about current events here, but the guiding thread this week is the thought of that great 17th century philosopher. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

As mentioned previously, Spinoza's unorthodox religious views got him excommunicated from the Jewish community and aroused the ire of many Christians. But those who called him an atheist were sadly mistaken. If anything, the German writer Novalis was right when he called him "a God-intoxicated man." In fact, Spinoza's universe was so full of God that there wasn't room for anything else.

The most complete elaboration of Spinoza's theory of God, the universe, and everything (which were all pretty much of the same in his view) is in his 1677 masterpiece The Ethics.

The thing that hits you right away about the Ethics is its format, which is right out of Euclidean geometry. The book consists of definitions, axioms, corollaries and proofs. One of the first things you run into is his definition of God:

By God I understand a being absolutely infinite, i.e., a substance consisting of an infinity of attributes, of which each one expresses an eternal and infinite essence.

He conceives God as essentially the same as the substance or nature of the universe, both material and mental:

Whatever is, is in God, and nothing can be or be conceived without God.

However, there is nothing anthropomorphic about his view of God:

those who confuse divine with human nature readily attribute human passions to God, more especially if they do not know how passions are produced in the mind.

Rather than being like a person with whims and changeable moods, much less like a granter of wishes or punisher of sinners, God acts eternally from the necessity of "his" nature and "does not act from freedom of the will."

In the universe there exists nothing contingent, but all things are determined by the necessity of the divine nature to exist and operate in a certain way.

This is the God of Spinoza's admirer Albert Einstein, who "doesn't play dice with the world." This is the source of the uniformity of nature's (God's) laws, which could not have been other than they are:

Things could not have been produced by God in any other way or order than that in which they were produced.

In such a world, there is no chaos or chance, but rather

all things were predetermined by God, not through his free will or absolute pleasure, but through his absolute nature or infinite power.

In such a system where even God acts from necessity (even if it is his own), it's not surprising that there's no room for free will for people, although he believed we can become freer by understanding the necessity of things. Surprisingly, however, he wasn't a bad psychologist, but that will--of necessity--have to wait until tomorrow.

PUTTING IT TOGETHER is the Economic Policy Institute with their latest snapshot, which is all about manufacturing.

OWNING TO RENT. Here's progressive economist Dean Baker with a really interesting idea of helping the most vulnerable homeowners through the recession and housing meltdown.

WV ON NPR. This just keeps getting better and better. Here's NPR on John Grisham's latest novel, which was inspired Supreme Court Justice Massey--I mean Blankenship--I mean Benjamin.


VIRTUALLY NOTHING. This item from Business Weeks suggests that current border policy is a flop.

DOH! According to The Week Magazine, a British retail chain had to withdraw a bed targeted for young girls that it called "Lolita." Apparently people at the company were unfamiliar with Vladimir Nabokov's book of the same title. According to a company source, "We had to look it up on Wikipedia."


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