Friday, 7 June 2013

Thinking Through Spinoza

'Thinking Through Spinoza: a research symposium' - held at Queen Mary College, University of London, 24th May 2013. Organised by School of Politics; led by Dr Caroline Williams (Notes)

Baruch Spinoza (1632 - 1677) - a Jewish-Dutch philosopher, that opposed Descarte's mind-body dualist philosophy, and instead thought that the mind and body were a single entity, and that there is only one reality. He was a lens grinder, and turned down various rewards, honours and prestigious teaching positions throughout his life, preferring to concentrate on his philosophy.

A well-attended and interesting event.

'Opening Remarks: thinking through Spinoza' - Dr Caroline Williams

TheoryLAB - study of political theory. Political theory is experimental. Laboratory builds connections and has a transformative capacity. Louis Althusser looked at Marxist theory in a laboratory setting. Trying to develop something different. Spinoza's philosophy could be seen to be a type of laboratory. Spinoza's work was often marginalised.

This is first event in this thinking lab - TheoryLab, at Queen Mary College.

'Spinoza's concept of equality' - Dr Beth Lord, Philosophy, Aberdeen
Spinoza upholds notion of equality of person. Each person has the right to do things that are good for them. Moral and political equality.

But Lord thinks that Spinoza's equality notion is ambiguous.

Can be equal in terms of laws of nature, but we can't all live according to laws of nature.

What kind of equality should we aim for?

Look at equality in economic terms? People can't all be equal in wisdom.

In 'The Ethics' Spinoza says that we have equal rights. But that it is a fairly empty concept.

Spinoza - "...the right of nature extents as far as its power extends...each individual thing has the sovereign right to do everything that it can do, or the right of each thing extends so far as its determined power extends." (Theological Political Treatise, 16:2)

Democracy encourages individuals power to be proportionate to the share in the whole. Moral equality is invented by civil law.

Spinoza has a lot to say about equality and inequality in the Hebrew state, Lord said. The Hebrews make it impossible for anyone to become a debt slave. 'Unfree man' - someone who can't pay his debt. 'Debt slavery' - Hebrews prospered because they ruled out debt slaves, Spinoza said. 'Debt slaves' - bad for the state. e.g. interest-bearing loans. A very live issue at the time that Spinoza was writing. Used Old Testament comments to argue against interest-bearing loans.

Credit and debit - should be between equals.

Rational people help each other freely, through mutual aid.

Spinoza gives us a notion of equality - equals are parts of a greater whole.

Spinoza thinks formal essence exists and that humans have common basic capacities, based on formal essence.

Comment from Professor Moira Gatens - women not under men by institution but by their nature, Spinoza said. But Beth Lord thought that was only one comment from Spinoza and should not be taken out of context, and other things he said suggests he thought differently about women. Also, of course, he was writing at a particular time.

'Spinoza's Geometric Ecologies' - Dr Peg Rawes (Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London)
Looking at architecture, maths, trigonometry, geometry.

Spinoza's philosophy based on logic.

Relation between geometry and nature.

God equals Nature

Relating architectural design to Spinoza.

But market drives lot architectural design - this cannot be denied, Rawes admits.

Spinoza's concept of 'substance'. Nature can be related to ecology and rights, in its widest sphere. The well-being of society.

'Vital Materialism: Spinoza after Deleuze' - Professor Rosi Braidotti (Director, Centre for the Humanities, Utrecht)
Decline in humanities and social sciences.

Professor Braidotti has written a book called 'The Posthuman' (Polity Press, 2013)

What is the human and the humanities, she asks?

Humanities are fragments. Explosion of some sort of structure of knowledge.

Can we use Spinoza's ontology to rescue the humanities and the social sciences?

Methodological naturalism and dynamic vitalism.

Vital organistic; whole - more than 'naturalism'.

Transcendetal consciousness.

Commodification of life; recreation of life things; synthetic material. Producing materials for creation of new worlds and for sustainability.

Multilplication of levels of life.

All species are equal for their vulnerability to be capitalised and commodified. Equal for their capacity for extinction. So, a 'negative equality'.

Humans might no longer be at centre of things. Moral panic - don't have a moral system to contain this disaster. Getting out of hand with technology.

Drones - have no human intervention. Just fire on their own. Means - man is not at centre of things. Drone technology - no human agency involved in it, Braidotti said, in the decision to fire. Should we redesign the programmes of this Post-Human technology?

Panic - our inability to deal with what we have produced ourselves.

Trying to moralise the post-human world that we have created.

Is it now - ethics v. morality?

Some try to tell Braidotti that the Humanities is over.

Moving into Study areas, and away from academic areas - e.g. Women's Studies, Death Studies, Food Studies. Seems to be never-ending - the amount of different studies that one can have. Mentality of follow the budget - see who gets the money.

Man spent 4 years looking at whether Austerity measures were right. Found out that the Maths was wrong. But they still did not change the Austerity programme. Austerity measures - a form of extinction; extinguishing/obliterating certain groups of people that are seen to be 'undesirable'.
'Creating a dynamic, resilient world' - topic at World Social Forum.
Need to complexify death, Braidotti said - it is not straightforward.

Comment from Beth Lord - no longer acceptable to be a Sole Researcher. Instead, want collaborative working. Imported from the Sciences, where they work together. Imposition of new-liberal capitalism on our working methods. OK if want to work with others, but might not always want to. Impinging on academic freedom. But need the funding, so have to do collaborative working, researching and writing.

'The symptomatic relationship between law and conflict in Spinoza' - Dr Filippo del Lucchese (Politics, Brunel)

Spinzoa's thoughts include ideas on permanent revolution.

Some good conflict produces good laws. How can relationship between law and conflict be defined?

Parallism - relationship between mind and body - Cartesian. Spinoza says that mind and body are together active. Mind and body on same ontological level. And Spinoza opposed Descarte's mind-body dualism but instead thought they were a single entity. He thought that everything that exists in nature (i.e. everything in the Universe) is one Reality (substance); that there is only one set of rules governing reality.

Conflict - been kept out of much of literature on Spinoza.

'Spinoza and the production of subjectivity (or the 3 kinds of knowledge and the passage between)' - Dr Simon O'Sullivan, Dept of Visual Cultures, Goldsmith)
O'Sullivan has written a book on this topic -
'On the production of subjectivity: five diagrams of the finite/infinite relation' by Simon O'Sullivan, Palgrave MacMillan, 2012

Spinoza's ethics - the 3 kinds of knowledge.

Being in /thrown into the world. Shocks of being thrown into the world. Movement and rest. Bodies and minds are modes; speed and slowness. Modes - moving.

1st kind of knowledge - isolated deposits of knowledge
2nd kind of knowledge - some deposits of knowledge joining together
3rd kind of knowledge - large area; smaller areas within it and deposits of knowledge within these 3 different areas.

O'Sullivan produced some simple but effective diagrams to illustrate these 3 kinds of knowledge.

Through 2nd kind of knowledge - get ethical dimension to ones life. Knowledge of modal essences; God and nature. Essences exist outside space and time. Not tied to the individual. More powerful in effecting the mind. Can 'become what you are' from the 3rd kind of knowledge - relate to Nietzsche.

Spinoza thought - will be part of the Eternal - similar to Nietzsche. 'Eternal return of the Same'

3rd kind of knowledge - can't really be commodified.

'Spinoza and Art' - Professor Moira Gatens (Philosophy, Sydney)
Professor Moira Gatens looked at Spinoza's attitude to the creative arts.

Did Spinoza have a theory of aesthetics?

Is there a place for art in Spinoza's philosophy?

A reconstruction of Spinoza's art might begin with a look at his work on Prophesy, Gatens said. Looked at Prophets - common moral code. Prophets deal with fiction, images, drama. In pictures - can do things that Philosophy can't.

What does Spinoza's Philosophy have to say about goodness?

Spinoza says that imagination is powerful but can get us into trouble.

Spinoza - perfection/imperfection; good/evil. Aesthetic judgement.  How can we agree or disagree with idea of a 'perfect horse' or 'perfect house'?

Spinoza says - 'good', 'evil' are useful words; ideal of the free man. Ethical path to freedom.

The more perfect the individual is, the more his power of acting, in so far as it is understood, through his nature.

Spinoza's philosophical understanding of perfection; the more perfect I am, the more real I am.

Power of thought and mind - to form adequate ideas etc.

The more real I am, the more I am at one with nature.

Spinoza sees reality as perfection.

Joyful path of freedom - have to co-operate with others.

Spinoza wanted to accommodate religion in his own time. Spinoza says there's difference between genuine and false prophets. He wasn't interested in theorising about ideal communities but looking at actual human communities.

Genuine prophets - can decide what is good for humans; a set of rules.

Imaginative insight - so we can live in relative harmony. Imaginatively; grounded knowledge.

Spirit of God - created beautiful works of art.

Enjoy art because it gives us positive feelings.

Therapy, imagination, blessedness. But how much self-awareness does one bring to this state?


N.B. Spinoza's philosophy provided an alternative to materialism, atheism and deism. 3 of his ideas, in particular, had strong appeal:

1. the unity of all that exists
2. the regularity of all that happens
3. the identity of spirit and nature

Karl Max admired Spinoza's materialistic interpretation of the universe.

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