Spinoza's Monism and Pantheism

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 3/29/2014

Spinoza defines substance as follows: 
By substance I understand what is in itself and is conceived through itself, i.e., that whose concept does not require the concept of another thing, from which it must be formed.
so it follows from the definition that nothing we can conceive (all what we can conceive must be formed from atomic facts or atoms) is a substance so our whole world and the things in it aren't substances.

Spinoza defines attribute as follows:

By attribute I understand what the intellect perceives of a substance, as constituting its essence.
Spinoza says that there are an infinite number of attributes, but only two, we can have knowledge. 
  1. Thought (mind or idea) 
  2. Extension (matter occupy space)
Spinoza defines modes as 
particular modifications of substance, i.e., particular things in the world. 
Then he sets out to prove that God is the only substance and everything is a mode of god. Nature and people are a part of god.
PROP. II. Two substances, whose attributes are different, have nothing in common.
Proof.— For each must exist in itself, and be conceived through itself; if they have similar attributes then each substance can conceive the other which contradicts the definition of a substance. So any substance has a set of identical attributes.
PROP. III. Things which have nothing in common cannot be one the cause of the other.
PROP. V. There cannot exist in the universe two or more substances having the same nature or attribute.
PROP. IV. Two or more distinct things are distinguished one from the other, either by the difference of the attributes of the substances, or by the difference of their modifications.
PROP. VI. One substance cannot be produced by another substance. Corollary.—Hence it follows that a substance cannot be produced by anything external to itself.
PROP. VII. Existence belongs to the nature of substances.
Proof.—Substance cannot be produced by anything external (Corollary, Prop vi. also a result of the definition of substance), it must, therefore, be its own cause—that is, its essence necessarily involves existence, or existence belongs to its nature.
PROP. VIII. Every substance is necessarily infinite.
Proof.—There can only be one substance with an identical attribute, and existence follows from its nature (Prop. vii.); its nature, therefore, involves existence, either as finite or infinite. If it exists as finite, it would then be limited by something else of the same kind, which would also necessarily exist (Prop. vii.); and there would be two substances with an identical attribute, which is absurd (Prop. v.). It therefore exists as infinite. Q.E.D.
PROP. XI. God, or substance, consisting of infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality, necessarily exists.
Proof.—If this be denied, conceive, if possible, that God does not exist: then his essence does not involve existence. But this (Prop. vii.) is absurd, also a result of the definition of substance. Therefore God necessarily exists.
PROP. XII. No attribute of substance can be conceived from which it would follow that substance can be divided.
PROP. XIV. Besides God no substance can be granted or conceived.
PROP. XV. Whatsoever is, is in God, and without God nothing can be, or be conceived.
Proof.—This results from the definition of modes that it needs a substance and since there is only one substance which is god so all modes are in it (everything is in god).

In summary: 

  1. No two substances can share an attribute (from the definition of substance).
  2. It is in the nature of substance to exist (from the definition of substance).
  3. God exists (from 2 and the definition of God).
  4. No other substance than God exists (from 1, 3, and the definition of God).
  5. Everything that exists is either God or a mode of God (from 3, 4, and the definition of mode).
My main problems with Spinoza's thesis are:
  1. He bases all his prepositions based on his definitions with no justification for them, an example is "Two substances, whose attributes are different, have nothing in common", this results from his definition of "substance" which Leibniz objected to saying "Let’s grant that two substances cannot share all of their attributes. But suppose that A has attributes X and Y, while B has attributes Y and Z. Then, it seems, we could conceive of A and B as distinct, even though they share an attribute (namely, Y)".
  2. His "substance" definition mix between two different concepts, for example a substance is either a building block of the universe like a quark or a super-string or something very different from us so it can't be comprehended by our intellectual like god and mixing between these two concepts in his definition led to the mix between our world or nature or humans and god. 
  3. Spinoza's monism supposes that God has infinite attributes including extension? But how can we know if this is true or not? Wittgenstein words ring in my ears now.
  4. Men show imperfections, but if they are modes of God, is God imperfect also?
Spinoza's monism is contrasted with Descartes' dualism and Leibniz's pluralism and as a result of this monism:
  1. It allows Spinoza to avoid the problem of interaction between mind and body, which troubled Descartes in his Meditations on First Philosophy. 
  2. Creation for Spinoza is a natural result from god's attributes : "From God’s supreme power, or infinite nature, an infinite number of things – that is, all things have necessarily flowed forth in an infinite number of ways, or always flow from the same necessity; in the same way as from the nature of a triangle it follows from eternity and for eternity, that its three interior angles are equal to two right angles."
  3. The world is deterministic as Spinoza puts it, "A thing which has been determined by God to produce an effect cannot render itself undetermined". "Of everything whatsoever a cause or reason must be assigned, either for its existence, or for its non—existence". There is no freedom of the will at all.
  4. For Spinoza, our universe (cosmos) is a mode under two attributes of Thought and Extension. God has infinitely many other attributes which are not present in our world and that two attributes known by humans, namely Thought and Extension.
  5. Spinoza treats God and nature as indistinguishable, by knowing things as they are we improve our knowledge of God. Seeing that all things are determined by nature to be as they are, we can achieve the rational tranquility that best promotes our happiness, and liberate ourselves from being driven by our passions. Sensory perception, which Spinoza calls "knowledge of the first kind", is entirely inaccurate, since it reflects how our own bodies work more than how things really are. We can also have a kind of accurate knowledge called "knowledge of the second kind", or "reason". This encompasses knowledge of the features common to all things, and includes principles of physics and geometry. We can also have "knowledge of the third kind", or "intuitive knowledge". This is a sort of knowledge that, somehow, relates particular things to the nature of God.
  6. A better understanding of his own place in the cosmic system and of the place of all the objects of his likes and dislikes, and his insight into the necessity which rules all things, tend to cure him of his resentments, regrets and disappointments. He grows reconciled to things, and wins peace of mind. In this way reason teaches acquiescence in the universal order, and elevates the mind above the turmoil of passion. The active feelings are all of them forms of self-realisation, of heightened activity, of strength of mind, and are therefore always pleasurable. It is the passive feelings (or "passions") which are responsible for all the ills of life, for they are induced largely by things outside us and frequently cause pain. At the lowest stage of knowledge, that of "opinion", man is under the dominant influence of things outside himself, and so is in the bondage of the passions. At the next stage, the stage of "reason", the characteristic feature of the human mind, its intelligence, asserts itself, and helps to free man from the domination of passions. At the highest stage of knowledge, that of "intuitive knowledge", the mind apprehends all things as expressions of the eternal cosmos. It sees all things in God, and God in all things. It feels itself as part of the eternal order, identifying its thoughts with cosmic thought and its interests with cosmic interests. Thereby it becomes eternal as one of the eternal ideas in which the Attribute Thought expresses itself, and attains to that "blessedness" which "is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself", that is, the perfect joy which characterises perfect self-activity. This is not an easy or a common achievement. "But", says Spinoza, "everything excellent is as difficult as it is rare."
The 19th-century German Sanskritist Theodore Goldstücker was one of the early figures to notice the similarities between Spinoza's religious conceptions and the Vedanta tradition of India, writing that Spinoza's thought was "... a western system of philosophy which occupies a foremost rank amongst the philosophies of all nations and ages, and which is so exact a representation of the ideas of the Vedanta,

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