Friday, 12 April 2013

Shaftesbury addendum

Following on from the discussion of Shaftesbury, the following may be of interest: 

Laurent Jaffro and Christian Maurer, 'Reading Shaftesbury's Pathologia: An Illustration and Defence of the Stoic Account of the Emotions', History of European Ideas 39/2 (2013) 207-220.

"The present article is an edition of the Pathologia (1706), a Latin manuscript on the passions by Anthony Ashley Cooper, the third Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713). There are two parts, i) an introduction with commentary (, and ii) an edition of the Latin text with an English translation ( . The Pathologia treats of a series of topics concerning moral psychology, ethics and philology, presenting a reconstruction of the Stoic theory of the emotions that is closely modelled on Cicero and Diogenes Lærtius. It contains a most detailed typology of the passions and affections as well as an analysis of a series of psychological connections, for example between admiration and pride. On the basis of his reconstruction of Stoic moral psychology and ethics, Shaftesbury argues that in one of his phases, Horace should be interpreted as a Stoic rather than as an Epicurean. The translation and the commentary draw attention to the relations between the Pathologia and Shaftesbury's English writings, most importantly Miscellaneous Reflections and the Inquiry Concerning Virtue, or Merit, which sheds light on several features of Shaftesbury's relation to Stoicism."

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Week 10. Shaftesbury on the Philosophical Life

For our final session of the term we turn to Anthony Ashley Cooper, the Third Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713), best know as the author of the three-volume Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, published in 1711, which was in fact a collection of various items he had published previously, including his Inquiry Concerning Virtue or Merit of 1699. 
 Shaftesbury was in many always out of sync with his time, or at least out of sync with our usual narrative of the history of the philosophy of his time. He disliked the approach to philosophy adopted by many of his contemporaries and wanted to replace it with something more worldly. He consciously saw his own philosophy as an attempt to revive a Socratic conception of philosophy as ethical self-transformation. He combined this with a love of Classical literature and was especially drawn to Roman satirists such as Horace, Juvenal, and Persius, all of whom engage in passing with Stoic and Epicurean themes. In many ways Shaftesbury might be compared with Cicero, both being non-technical thinkers and elegant stylists, and both interested in philosophy as a guide to a good life. 
Although he rarely discusses them in his published works, Shaftesbury was thus unsurprisingly a great admirer of the Roman Stoics Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. He wrote extensive textual notes on the Dissertationes of Epictetus and these were drawn on in the commentary in John Upton’s 1739-41 edition of Epictetus. He also kept a pair of notebooks inspired by his reading of these two Roman Stoics in which he addressed a range of topics including natural affection, the self, simplicity, the passions, God, nature, providence, and the nature of philosophy itself.
People have not been sure what to make of these notes. They resemble Marcus’s Meditations in some respects and, like the Meditations, do not straightforwardly articulate a philosophical position. In the light of the work of Pierre Hadot, however, it is now perhaps easier to classify these as Shaftesbury’s ‘spiritual exercises’, his working through practical precepts on paper as a means to digest philosophical ideas. Shaftesbury characterizes his project as ‘care of self’ (SE, p. 195), placing the text in a tradition running from Socrates to Foucault. In these notebooks Shaftesbury is ‘alone with himself, caring for himself, testing, debating with and exhorting himself’ (SE, p. 16).  
These notebooks were examined by Benjamin Rand, who published an edited version of them in 1900 under the title Philosophical Regimen. What Rand did was tidy up the various notes in an attempt to do his best to put the text into publishable form; one might say that he tried to make a book out of them. Ever since then those curious about the text have felt a certain ambivalence towards Rand’s book: thankful that he made the text available at all but frustrated that his text might not be a full and accurate account of what Shaftesbury actually wrote down in his notebooks. In 1993 Laurent Jaffro published a French translation based on a fresh inspection of the notebooks, following the text as Shaftesbury had left it. This has been well received but for the last two decades it has put English-speaking scholars in the odd position of turning to a French translation for the most reliable discussion and account of an English text. Recently an excellent new critical edition of the original text (under its original title of Askêmata) has been published that solves all these problems once and for all.
One question that the editors of the new edition consider in their introduction is whether these notebook musings on late Stoic themes should lead us to think of Shaftesbury as a Stoic, a topic on which a small literature has grown. They also address the purpose of the text, emphasizing the way in which Shaftesbury is taking inspiration from Epictetus’ advice that one should write down one’s reflections, keep them to hand, and reread them, in order both to comfort and to strengthen oneself (see SE, p. 17, citing Epictetus, Dissertationes 3.24). Even if the final judgement is that Shaftesbury does not adopt a wholehearted Stoicism, it does seem clear that he adopted certain Stoic practices and the wider Stoic approach to philosophy as an art of living.
With these thoughts in mind I propose we focus in on just three short sections. For our present purposes it will be simplest to use the readily available edition by Rand. The first section is devoted to ‘the end’, the second to ‘character and conduct’, and the third to ‘philosophy’. I hope that looking at these will help to bring out the nature of what Shaftesbury is doing.
The End
The section on ‘the end’ seems to offer an interesting blend of Aristotelian and Stoic themes. Much of the discussion is framed around a very Aristotelian account of whether there is a telos of human life. Shaftesbury sees two potential candidates and wants to reconcile them. The first of these is our natural sociability, which Shaftesbury sees embodied in our natural instincts of affection. He discusses affection at length in another section of the work and he seems here to be thinking of the Stoic theory of oikeiôsis. It is our nature to follow these natural instincts of affection.
Distinct from this is the argument concerning what might be the highest good for humans. Shaftesbury considers and rejects the idea of pleasure as the end, in harmony with both Aristotle and the Stoics. He affirms in instead virtue, not least for the fact that it is self-sufficient. It is perhaps worth noting here that again here he follows a Stoic line of argument. (It is also perhaps worth noting that Aristotle ultimately prefers contemplation over practical wisdom because it is more self-sufficient than the latter; Aristotle would not hold that these kinds of virtues are as self-sufficient as either the Stoics or Shaftesbury claim.) Shaftesbury suggests that this virtuous self-sufficiency offers a form of constancy, which brings to mind Lipsius, and the editors of the recent edition report that Shaftesbury owned two copies of Lipsius’s complete works (SE, p. 442).
So we have a natural tendency towards social affection (Stoic) and functional conception of humans that identifies goodness with virtue and rationality (Aristotelian). Shaftesbury thinks it perverse to fight against our natural instincts, and equally perverse to think that nature might have arranged things so that our natural instincts would turn out to be at odds with what is good for us. The individual human being who fulfils his or her function will inevitably possess a range of social virtues and these social virtues will be in complete harmony with our natural instincts to social affection. So we needn’t fight against our own natural instincts when trying to become good. On the contrary, if we want to fulfil our telos then we ought ‘to live according to nature’, which in this context clearly refers to our natural instincts for affection.
Let me make a final comment on this section. In his correspondence Shaftesbury suggests that there are only two real schools of philosophy in antiquity: a hedonist tradition uniting Epicurus and the Cyrenaics, and a Socratic tradition uniting Academics, Peripatetics, and Stoics (Rand, p. 359; cf. SE, p. 15). So for Shaftesbury Aristotle and the Stoics are part of a single Socratic philosophical tradition united by their commitment to virtue (and rejection of pleasure) as the telos. Shaftesbury fleshes this out a little further in a brief genealogy of ancient philosophy in his Soliloquy where he describes Socrates as ‘the philosophical patriarch’ (Klein, pp. 114-15; cf. SE, p. 14). Apparently Shaftesbury planned to write a history of Socratic philosophy and he produced a detailed draft around the same time he was compiling these notebooks (SE, p. 14). So, Shaftesbury’s blend of Stoic and Aristotelian themes in this chapter was probably done very consciously.
Character and Conduct
The next section, ‘character and conduct, is very brief but I think it is worth looking at as an example of the sort of thing that Shaftesbury is doing in these notebooks as a whole. The section opens with a quotation from Epictetus, who is cited a couple of further times as well. The text takes the form of a dialogue with oneself very much inspired by the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. The central theme is the contrast – and perhaps ultimately conflict – between our social persona and our essential nature. We can see Shaftesbury struggling with his social identity and the expectations it forces upon him. Whatever social expectations might demand of him, Shaftesbury reminds himself that he is a man, a human being, the essence of which is reason and a range of virtues (‘humanity, faith, friendship, justice, integrity’). As he develops the theme Shaftesbury approaches the conclusion that the two modes of life, living according to nomos or according to one’s own phusis, are mutually exclusive. To pursue one inevitably involves the sacrifice of the other. So if our goal is a virtuous life following nature then we must accept that we cannot also pursue social advancement. The whole piece really does have the flavour of Marcus Aurelius – someone grappling with the tension between their philosophical ideals and the reality of their social position.
The final section is on philosophy. Here Shaftesbury affirms the idea that philosophy ought to be concerned not with idle speculations but rather with life. The ‘philosophical art’ as he calls it ought to focus on happiness and tranquillity. Whether space is a vacuum or a plenitude is an abstract question he dismisses as uninteresting, and this is a striking echo of those comments in Marcus Aurelius where the Emperor expresses mild indifference as to whether the cosmos is composed of a continuum of matter or of atoms and void.
Shaftesbury goes on to consider three different ways to think about philosophy: i) subtle speculation, which would put it on a par with mathematics and the sciences; ii) the study of happiness, with happiness conceived as something dependent on external goods, and so philosophy itself would be concerned with those external goods; iii) the study of happiness, with happiness conceived as something dependent solely on the mind, as the Stoics taught. Shaftesbury is drawn to the last of these, conceiving philosophy as a psychotherapeutic activity whose aim is to help us overcome ‘disquiet, restlessness, anxiety’.
A little later Shaftesbury picks up the theme of the previous section, suggesting that a wholehearted commitment to philosophy conceived in this way will entail neglecting one’s social position in the world of affairs. Even so he suggests it is the right thing to pursue because it is the truer route to security against fortune – ‘by settling matters within’ rather than by acquiring great reserves of wealth or social contacts. This neatly brings us right back round to where we began with Lipsius – philosophy as an antidote against the vicissitudes of fortune.
(These notes draw in places on a review of the new critical edition of Shaftesbury’s Askêmata forthcoming in the British Journal for the History of Philosophy.)
Klein = Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, Edited by Lawrence E. Klein (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999)  
Rand = The Life, Unpublished Letters, and Philosophical Regimen of Anthony, Early of Shaftesbury, Edited by Benjamin Rand (London: Sawn Sonnenschein, 1900) 
SE = Standard Edition: Complete Works, Correspondence and Posthumous Writings, Edited with German Translations and a Commentary by Wolfram Benda, Christine Jackson-Holzberg, Patrick Müller & Friedrich A. Uehlein, Vol. II,6 Askêmata (Stuttgart / Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 2011)

Friday, 22 March 2013

Week 10 Reading

For our final week this term we shall look at some extracts from Shaftesbury's philosophical notebooks. In the end I have decided on a slightly different selection from the one I originally proposed. We shall still look at the section 'the end', but now follow this with 'character and conduct' and 'philosophy'. There is a new critical edition of the text (see my review here) but for present purposes the older edition by Benjamin Rand should be fine, and is available online here (our sections are pp. 48-52, 189-91, 267-72).

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Week 9. Cudworth and Stoic Fate

The Cambridge Platonist Ralph Cudworth (1617-88) has lots of interesting things to say about Stoicism. Indeed he has lots of interesting things to say about many other ancient philosophies too and his works are packed with quotations from and detailed discussions of a wide range of ancient philosophers to such an extent that he looks somewhat out of place when compared with some of his seventeenth century contemporaries. In some ways it is tempting to call him the last great Renaissance philosopher insofar as his works are shaped by his classical learning and pursue the sorts of philosophical problems that preoccupied Ficino and his contemporaries. But rather than see him merely as an anachronistic anomaly I think he ought to be placed alongside Hobbes and Locke as the third great figure in seventeenth century English philosophy.

Cudworth’s magnum opus is truly a great work: The True Intellectual System of the Universe, published in 1678, fills 900 folio pages. In fact what we have is only the first of three intended parts and is subtitled The First Part, Wherein all the Reason and Philosophy of Atheism is Confuted and its Impossibility Demonstrated. Cudworth’s philosophical project as a whole is threefold – to defend i) the existence of God, ii) the existence of objective moral values, and iii) the existence of free will – and The True Intellectual System of the Universe was conceived in three parts addressing these three topics. But when Cudworth died in 1688 only the first part had been published and the other two were never completed. However numerous notes for the second and third parts survived and some were published posthumously. Material destined for the second part was published in 1731 under the title A Treatise Concerning Eternal and Immutable Morality. Material for the third part survives in a series of manuscripts now in the British Library (BL Add. MS 4978-82) and just one of these manuscripts was edited and published in 1838 under the title of A Treatise of Freewill by the Reverend John Allen, the second chaplain of King’s College London and the first ever Fellow of King’s.

One thing that Cudworth makes clear in the Preface to the published first part, which introduces the whole project, is that the third and final part on free will, or liberty and necessity, was for him the most important part of the whole project. He writes that his initial plan was simply to write about liberty and necessity, and in particular to argue against ‘the fatal necessity of all actions and events’. Of his three enemies – atheism, moral relativism, and determinism – Cudworth thought the last the most serious for on his view determinism not only denied free will but also undermined belief in God and objectivity morality as well. So, ironically, the very short A Treatise of Freewill, which is only an extract from the surviving manuscripts and published 150 years later, is in one respect the most important part of Cudworth’s entire philosophical project.

What is striking about A Treatise of Freewill is the role that the Stoics play in it. Indeed, perhaps we should say the roles they play in it, for they seem to figure twice. (The Stoics also figure twice in the discussion of theism and atheism in the first part of The True Intellectual System.) Cudworth’s principal target in the text is Hobbes (see ch. 2) but, following the approach deployed in the published part of The True Intellectual System, Cudworth traces contemporary philosophical positions back to ancient exponents and then attacks the ancient version, on the assumptions that i) the ancient versions are nobler and ii) if the nobler version is undermined then more recent derivatives of the same will fall with it. So on that basis Cudworth’s polemic against determinism focuses its attention on Stoic determinism (see ch. 3), for Cudworth thinks that Hobbes’ position ‘was stolen from the Stoics’. Cudworth was not alone in connecting Hobbes with the Stoa, and John Bramhall had done the same in his discussions with Hobbes concerning liberty and necessity.

Cudworth points to three errors of the Stoics, as he sees it: i) that everything must have a sufficient cause, and everything with such a cause must necessarily come to pass; ii) that there is a cyclical recurrence of events; iii) God is subject to necessity. In summary we might say that a range of doctrines in Stoic physics undermine belief in the autonomy of human action.

What really stands out in Cudworth’s discussion, though, is that the language he uses to describe his own, alternative view appears at first glance also to draw on the Stoics. In particular he uses a number of Greek terms that we find in the works of the later Stoic Epictetus. These include eph’ hêmin (‘up to us’, ‘in our own power’), proairesis (‘choice’, ‘will’), and hêgeminokon (‘ruling part of the soul’, ‘mind’). The first two are introduced in ch.1; the third in ch. 9. These Greek terms are not unique to Stoicism, of course, but I think it is fair to say that these three are signature concepts of Epictetus. In any case, Cudworth is explicit that he is taking these terms from the Stoics (in ch. 1) when discussing what is up to us or in our choice. It looks as if he wants to turn Stoicism against itself. It has sometimes been claimed that later Stoics like Epictetus with their focus on the role of ‘choice’ or ‘will’ (proairesis) move away from the rigid determinism of the early Stoa. If one were sympathetic to that view then one might say that it looks as if Cudworth is drawing on late Stoic voluntarism and trying to turn it against early Stoic determinism. However I think we would be wrong to put it in those terms. Epictetus’s discussion of ‘choice’ and of what is ‘up to us’ or ‘in our own power’ takes place primarily in a discussion about how to avoid frustration and disappointment, and not in one about the metaphysical problem of free will and determinism. There is no reason to see him as moving away from Stoic determinism at all.

So what is going on in Cudworth’s discussion? The difference between Cudworth and the Stoics in their use of the phrase eph’ hêmin (‘up to us’) is while the Stoics understand in a one-sided causative sense (something is up to me if I make it happen), Cudworth understands it in a two-sided potestative sense (something is up to me if I can choose to do otherwise). So Cudworth is not using this seemingly Stoic terminology in the same way that the Stoics did. It has been suggested that the first person to use this phrase in the two-sided sense that Cudworth follows was the peripatetic Alexander of Aphrodisias, whose De Fato is among other things an extended polemic against Stoic determinism. Given Cudworth’s impressive knowledge of ancient philosophical texts it would be surprising if he was not reading Alexander’s treatise arguing against Stoic determinism when writing his own on the same topic. Indeed, Cudworth mentions Alexander in ch. 6. So it looks as if Cudworth is drawing on Alexander here for his polemic against the Stoics: either silently borrowing arguments from him, or mistakenly applying his sense of these technical term back onto the Stoics, and most likely both.

Let us say for the sake of argument that Cudworth is mistakenly assuming that the Stoics understood ‘up to us’ in a two-sided sense. For him, that is what the debate about free will is all about – being able to act other than we do. It would not seem unreasonable to assume that anyone talking about a free will would be doing so in just that sense. However it has been argued that in fact the two-sided notion of free will was a relatively late innovation. Indeed it makes its very first appearance, it has been suggested, in Alexander’s De Fato. Earlier philosophers simply didn’t think in those terms, just as there was a time when metaphysicians didn’t think in terms of possible worlds. It would be perfectly natural for Cudworth to assume that the Stoics grasped this concepts in exactly the same way that his contemporaries did, and when Alexander’s own treatise, where the notion is introduced, is one of our principal sources for earlier Stoic thinking about determinism, the potential for confusion is great.

(I have discussed Cudworth on Stoic fate further in ‘Stoics Against Stoics in Cudworth’s A Treatise of Freewill’. I have also discussed Cudworth on Stoic theology in The True Intellectual System in ‘Is God a Mindless Vegetable? Cudworth on StoicTheology’. For more on the ancient models of free will in the Stoics and Alexander of Aphrodisias see S. Bobzien, ‘The Inadvertent Conception and LateBirth of the Free-Will Problem’)

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Week 7. Spinoza, Stoicism, Determinism

(The following post is by Alex Douglas.)

Spinoza rarely discusses Stoicism directly. He occasionally quotes from Seneca, Epictetus, and other Stoics, but only as often as he quotes from Tacitus, Curtius, or Aristotle. That Spinoza read Aristotle in some detail has been fairly well established by Frédéric Manzini in Spinoza une lecture d’Aristote. There is no similar evidence that Spinoza read any Stoic philosophers in much detail. Spinoza did not identify with the Neo-Stoic movement, nor, as far as I know, did he even mention it.

I propose that 1) Spinoza, for the most part, disagrees with characteristic Stoic views concerning fate and determinism, and 2) there are far more likely sources of Spinoza’s determinism than the Stoic literature.

1. Stoic Fate and Providence

The Stoics tended to believe that nature is providential. E.g.:

...ipsius vero mundi, qui omnia conplexu suo coërcet et continet, natura non artificiosa solum sed plane artifex ab eodem Zenone dicitur, consultrix et provida utilitatum opportunitatumque omnium.
[...the nature of the world itself, which encloses and contains all things in its embrace, is said by Zeno not only to be like an artificer but really to be an artificer – a prescient provider for the interests and advantages of all things.]
(De Natura Deorum II.xii.58)

This is the kind of claim Spinoza seems to reject in the Appendix to the Part I of the Ethics. Thus A.A. Long:

The Stoics take their cosmic divinity to be identical not only to causality or fate but also to providence, and they take the world, as caused and instantiated by God, to be supremely good, beautiful, and designedly conducive to the benefit of its human inhabitants. Spinoza, by contrast, regards it as an egregious error to suppose, as he puts it, ‘that God himself directs all things to some certain end’

Indeed, Spinoza writes to Oldenburg that the qualities the Stoics typically identify with nature are not its objective qualities at all. Rather, when we ascribe such qualities to nature we are expressing our own feelings:

…me Naturae non tribuere pulchritudinem, deformitatem, ordinem, neque confusionem. Nam res non, nisi respectivè ad nostram imaginationem, possunt dici pulchrae, aut deformes, ordinatae, aut confusae.
[I attribute to Nature neither beauty nor deformity, neither order nor confusion. For things cannot, except relative to our imagination, be called beautiful, deformed, orderly, or confused.]
(Letter 32, G IV.170)

This is not to say that there is no notion of providence in Spinoza’s thinking. In the Short Treatise Spinoza explains providence (Voorzienigheid) as coming in two forms: general (algemeene) and special (bezondere): algemeene is die, door de welke ieder zaak voortgebragt en onderhouden word voor zoo veel zy zyn deelen van de geheele Natuur. De bezondere Voorzienigheid is die poginge, die ieder ding bezonder tot het bewaaren van syn wezen heeft, voor zoo veel ze niet als een deel van de Natuur, maar als een geheel aangemerkt word. Het welke met dit navolgende exempel verklaart word: Alle de leeden van de mensch worden voorzien ende voorzorgt, voor zoo veel zy deelen van de mensch zyn, het welk de algemeene Voorzienigheid is: en de bezondere is die poginge, die ieder bezonder lit (als een geheel, en geen deel van de mensch) tot het bewaaren en onderhouden van syn eigen welstand heeft.
[General [providence] is that through which all things are produced and sustained insofar as they are parts of the whole of Nature. Special providence is the striving that each thing has to retain its being, considered not as a part of Nature but rather regarded as a whole. This is explained by the following example: all the limbs of a man are provided and cared for insofar as they are parts of the man. This is general providence, while special [providence] is the striving of each individual limb (as a whole and not as a part of the man) to preserve and maintain its own wellbeing.]
(Short Treatise I.v, G I.40)

There is a sense in which Spinoza believes in general providence reigning in nature, but this is still defined in terms of the particular ends of individual things, not in terms of some end pursued by nature as a whole. Still, Spinoza believes there to be an intimate interconnectedness in nature, which may be associated with the Stoic way of thinking, which Frede describes as follows:

The heavenly motions are ruled by the same principles that operate on earth: All of nature is administered by the supreme divine reason, and hence there is a global teleological determinism that the Stoics identified with fate. The omnipotence of the active principle explains the Stoic conception of an overall sumpatheia within nature, an inner connection between seemingly quite disparate events. Divination, the study of divine signs and portents, is therefore treated as a science in Stoicism rather than as superstition.

Spinoza has some notion of sumpatheia:

Per partium igitur cohaerentiam nihil aliud intelligo, quàm quòd leges, sive natura unius partis ità sese accommodat legibus, sive naturae alterius, ut quàm minimè sibi contrarientur. Circa totum, & partes considero res eatenus, ut partes alicujus totius, quatenus carum natura invicem se accommodat, ut, quoad fieri potest, inter se consentiant, quatenus verò inter se discrepant, eatenus unaquaeque ideam ab aliis distinctam in nostrâ Mente format, ac proinde, ut totum, non ut pars, consideratur.
[By the coherence of parts, therefore, I understand simply that the laws or nature of one part accommodate themselves to the laws or nature of another, so as to be minimally conflicting. As for whole and parts, I consider things to be parts of some whole insofar as the nature of each of them accommodates itself to that of the others so that they agree among themselves, as far as this is possible. On the other hand, insofar as they disagree among themselves, each of them forms a distinct idea in our Mind, and to this extent is considered as a whole not as a part.]
(Letter 32, G IV.170)

As for divination, in his letter to Pieter Balling Spinoza argues that:

...dico, omnes imaginationis effectùs, quae à corporeis causis procedunt, nunquam rerum futurarum posse esse omina; quia eorundem causae nullas res futuras involvunt. Sed verò imaginationis effectûs, vel imagines, quae originem suam ab Mentis constitutione ducunt, possunt alicujus rei futurae esse omina; quia Mens aliquid, quod futurum est, confusè potest praesentire.
[I say that all the effects of the imagination, proceeding from corporeal causes, can never be omens of future things, since their causes involve no future things. But indeed the effects of the imagination, or images, which have their origin in the constitution of the mind can be omens of some future thing, since the mind can have a confused premonition of something that is to come.]
(Letter 17, G I.77)

He says similar things in his comments on Prophecy in the first few chapters of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. But note that, for Spinoza, part and whole are mere beings of reason:

...deel en geheel geen waare of dadelyke wezens zyn, maar alleen wezens van reeden en dienvolgende en zyn in de Natuur nog geheel nog deelen.
[Part and whole are not true or actual beings, but merely beings of reason, and thus there is in Nature neither whole nor parts.]
(Short Treatise I.ii, G I.24)

This is one reason why Spinoza refuses to ascribe any character to nature as a whole – he does not believe such a whole to exist as a thing distinct from its parts. The one substance, of which all natural things are modes, is certainly not a whole composed of them, as anybody who reads the Ethics must know, for that substance is said repeatedly to have no parts (I.P12, 13, 15, etc.). Thus the ‘whole of nature’, taken as the collection of all the modes, is not substance. Nor is it anything real at all; it is a mere being of reason. By contrast, the Stoics, if I understand them rightly, reify the whole of nature and give it its own characteristic qualities. They also regard it as pursuing its own ends, as distinct from the various and sometimes competing ends of natural things.

2. Spinoza and Reformed Natural Theology

For Spinoza, special providence is the separate striving of each individual thing, while general providence is the way in which each thing is sustained in the system of nature as a whole. But there is another kind of general providence which he is keen to repudiate, whereby each individual thing, in striving for itself, serves a grander purpose. This was a common view in the natural theology tradition pursued by many Reformed theologians in the Dutch Republic, such as Gijsbert Voet (Voetius) and Martin Schoock. Schoock, in discussing the end (finis) of each natural thing comments:

The finis must be considered in two ways: absolutely or relatively. The first way coincides with physical perfection. For a natural body is thought to be physically perfected when it is so disposed as is sufficient for [it to perform] all natural operations appropriate to its species.
...Relatively however, the finis here bears not only on the absolutely ultimate end (finis) or God’s glory, to which all natural things, even the very smallest, are subjected, but also on the mutual end (finis) of natural bodies themselves, which are ordered by a most wise God in a way that they mutually benefit each other both in their being and in their operation. And here, as a centre of Nature, stands man, whom all other natural things are adapted to serve.

Thus there is both special and general providence in Spinoza’s sense and also the ‘ultimate end’ of God’s glory.
Schoock and Voetius were inspired by Late Scholastic philosophers, especially Suarez, and by Protestant natural theologians such as Lambert Danaeu and Hieronymus Zanchius. Both of these groups believed that each thing, in striving for itself, contributed to the overall purpose of nature, which was to render the world orderly and beautiful, and thus to reveal God’s greatness to humanity.
In the course of arguing for substantial forms, for example, Suarez claims that the primary reason for believing in them is their purpose, which is not only their own perfection but also their contribution to the overall perfection of nature:

…ought to be taken from the end of the substantial form, which is to constitute and complete the essence of a natural being. This end or effect is absolutely necessary in the nature of things. Otherwise nothing among physical things would be complete and perfect in its own substantial nature, nor would there be the multitude and variety of substantial species which chiefly constitutes the wonderful order and beauty of the physical world.

Natural things serve man not only by tending to his physical needs, but also, in being themselves admirably provided for, by revealing God’s greatness to humankind. This brings about a worshipful attitude in us that will lead to our salvation. Thus Danaeus’ discussion of the creation is as follows:

…What cause moved God specially to make this worlde, hee himselfe lacking nothing, and dwelling in that everlastinge felicitie, unto which there can bee no encrease of felicitie & immortalitie added, by meanes of al this gret woorke?
…Even his mere goodness, that is to saye, his moste loving good will to communicate the same his felicitie unto certeine thinges, so farre foorth as the nature of those thinges whiche bee created, was able to receive the same. Wherefore, hee created Angels in heaven, and men upon the earth, to the intent hee might make them, after a sort, companions and partakers of his felicitie, being himself most good, moste loving, moste perfect, and also in himselfe and through himselfe most perfectly and wholly blessed.…Wherefore, like as it is written in the 3.chapter to Titus, the 4.verse, that the mere goodness of GOD was the cause of mans salvation: so was it also the cause of mans creation. And if it were the cause of men, doubtlesse it was also the cause of the creation of all other thinges.

The salvation of man was the cause (presumably the final cause) of the creation of all things.
This natural theological tradition existed, to a certain extent, within all Christian confessions. But it was emphasized especially by the Dutch Reformed church. The Belgic Confession, for example, asserts that we know God: the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20.

I find it very likely that this is the view Spinoza is particularly directing his arguments against in Ethics I.App. Those among Spinoza’s immediate neighbours who most loudly ‘say that God has made all things for man, and man that he might worship God’ are the Reformed theologians working in the natural theology tradition.

It is very important for understanding Spinoza’s position to understand that Cartesian natural philosophy was regarded by Voetius and his allies as hostile to this natural theological tradition. Teachers of Cartesian physics, such as Johannes De Raey in Leiden, were keen to deny this. Therefore it is extremely important that in Spinoza’s geometrical presentation of Descartes’ Principles, a work that began with tutorials that Spinoza gave to one of De Raey’s students, he shows precisely how Cartesianism does provide the elements to refute Voetian natural theology.

3. The Cartesian Source of Spinoza’s Determinism

In the first place, Spinoza regards as incoherent the idea that God created the world on account of his goodness. First:

Deus verò dicitur summè bonus, quia omnibus conducit; nempe uniuscujusque esse, quo nihil magis amabile, suo concurs conservando. Malum autem absolutum nullum datur, ut per se est manifestum.
[God is said to be supremely good only because by his concurrence he preserves the being of each thing, than which nothing is more desirable.]
(Metaphysical Thoughts, G I.248)

This view does not seem to have its sources in Cartesian thought. I strongly suspect it comes from the medieval Scholastic tradition with which Spinoza was very familiar. At any rate, I do not think the idea that a thing’s goodness is to be measured by how much it preserves the being of other things is a Stoic idea.
For Spinoza, God cannot be called good prior to creation, since then there were no things for him to preserve, and ‘a thing considered in itself alone cannot be called either good or bad [rem, si in se solâ consideratur, neque bonam, neque malam posse dici].’ Spinoza goes on:

Hoc autem multis absurdum videbitur; sed quâ ratione nescio; multa enim hujus notae attributa Deo tribuimus, quae antequam res crearentur, ipsi non competebant, nisi potentiâ, ut cùm vocatur creator, judex, misericors &c. Quare similia argumenta moram nobis injicere non debent.
[Many will find this absurd, but for what reason I do not know. For we attribute many attributes of this sort to God that belonged to him only potentially before things were created, as when we call him a creator, a judge, merciful, etc. Thus such arguments should not detain us.]

If God did not create the world on account of his goodness, then, why did he create it? Spinoza’s answer is that natural things exist necessarily, following from God’s nature, as can be seen in the Metaphysical Thoughts, I.iii and II.9. In saying this, Spinoza is going against a classic Scholastic view, expressed, for example, by Scotus:

…the divine will, although it cannot have opposite acts (because it is identical with its volition), yet wills in eternity a stone by one single volition and can will in eternity that there is not a stone or can decline to will that there is a stone. [potest in aeternitate velle lapidem non esse vel potest nolle lapidem esse.]

Franco Burgersdijk, who taught natural philosophy at Leiden and whose textbook was still used during Spinoza’s time, insists on the same point:

God forms the world not from the necessity of his nature, nor by natural emanation, but deliberately and freely, … thus it could not be that he produced creatures necessarily.

Yet Spinoza found Scotus’ view absurd:

Nec dicere possumus, illas esse contingentes, quia Deus aliud decrevisse potuit; nam, cùm in aeternitate non detur quando, nec ante, nec post, neque ulla affectio temporis, sequitur, Deum nunquam ante illa decreta extitisse, ut aliud decernere posset.
[Nor can we say that things are contingent because God could have decreed otherwise. For in eternity there is no when, nor before, nor after, nor any affection of time. It follows that God never existed prior to his decrees so as to be able to decree otherwise.]
(Metaphysical Thoughts I.iii, G I.243)

When Spinoza speaks in his own voice, he also argues that it should be regarded as a perfection in God to be unable to omit doing what he does:

...als wy besluyten, dat God niet heeft konnen nalaten te doen, ’t geene hy gedaan heeft, zoo ontleenen wy dat van syne volmaaktheid, dewyle het in God te konnen nalaten ’t geen hy doet, een onvolmaaktheid zoude zyn, zonder nogtans in God te stellen een minvoornaam-beginnende oorzaak, die hem zounde bewogen hebben tot doen, want als dan en waar hy geen God.
[If we conclude that God could not have omitted to do what he has done, we do so from his perfection, for it would be an imperfection in God to be able to omit what he does. We do not, however, suppose there to be some efficient cause in God that moved him to act, for then he would not be God.]
(Short Treatise I.iv, G I.36)

And the view that all things follow necessarily from God’s nature appears in its mature form in I.P16 of the Ethics. Since God’s existence is also necessary, this means that everything is necessary, thus I.P29:

In rerum natura nullum datur contingens, sed omnia ex necessitate divinae naturae determinata sunt ad certo modo existendum et operandum.
[In nature there is nothing contingent, but everything is determined from the necessity of the divine nature to exist and act in a certain way.]
(Ethics I.P29, G II.70)

But, ostensibly at least, Spinoza first makes this point in the context of an exposition of Descartes. This is some evidence that he believes it to be an implication of Descartes’ arguments. I think he is correct to believe this.

For one thing, as Leibniz notes, I.P16 of Spinoza’s Ethics seems like a development of III.47 of Descartes’ Principles, which can be read as implying that ‘matter must successively assume all the forms of which it is capable’. The latter suggests that every possible material object must exist, at some point, and if this is true then it seems to follow that every material object exists necessarily, taking out of consideration the question of when it comes to exist. While Descartes did not directly link this necessary existence of all material objects to God’s necessary existence, such a link is easy to make on his behalf. For he had asserted that matter must take all possible forms ‘by the operation of [the] laws of nature’, and the laws of nature, on his view, follow necessarily from the nature of God.

More importantly, Descartes clearly implies in the replies to the first objections to the Meditations that it is legitimate to infer from the fact that God has the power to give himself every perfection that he actually possesses every perfection. This implies that God’s power can be assumed to be fully exercised, at least in giving himself perfections. But I.P16 simply makes the same assumption with respect to God’s modes: since God has infinite power to exist in an infinity of modes, he must do so, thus the modes (natural things) exist. Indeed, Principles III.47 suggests that the idea that everything must exercise its full power insofar as it is not restrained is a general axiom for Descartes, applying to matter as well as to God. Spinoza simply draws out the implications of this axiom at Ethics I.P16 (he never explicitly states it; the closest statement is I.P36). But, again, there does not seem to be anything particularly Stoic about this Cartesian line of thinking.

Spinoza undermines the natural theological tradition by arguing that the world is not created by God’s exercise of some elective will, for some particular purpose such as to reveal his goodness. Rather, the world proceeds from God’s existence as a matter of necessity. Everything is because it is necessary, not because it serves some grand purpose. Almost every element of this argument seems to come from Descartes, except for the preliminary argument that God cannot be called good prior to creation, which is not a Stoic view. Stoicism seems, in general, an inferior candidate as the source of Spinoza’s deterministic view.

3. Freedom and Determinism

Perhaps, however, Spinoza’s idea of human agency (rejecting a certain kind of free will) is drawn from the Stoics. He may, perhaps, be espousing a Stoic doctrine in claiming that a person’s actions are simply those that follow from the person’s nature rather than from that of external things (III.Def.2).

Genevieve Lloyd, for example, links this view of human agency to that of Chrysippus. Chrysippus (according to Cicero) compares human agency to a cylinder or a top: ‘these cannot begin to move without being pushed, but when this happens, [Chrysippus] thinks that the cylinder continues to roll and the top to spin by their own nature [suapte natura]’ (De Fato, 42). Likewise, a person acts, rather than being merely passive, when his or her actions, though always prompted by external things, follow from his or her nature.

There are some crucial differences, however, between the two views. The cylinder metaphor somewhat implies that the nature of a thing, according to which it acts, is a merely inertial principle. It causes the thing to continue in whatever motion it has been pushed into by something else. But there are many good reasons to suppose that for Spinoza a thing’s actual essence or nature – its conatus (see Ethics III.P7) – is not merely an inertial principle. Rather, it specifies a mode of acting characteristic of that thing. First, as Jonathan Bennett notes, Spinoza often uses the conatus doctrine to demonstrate propositions according to which people actively seek out their advantage, rather than merely continuing in the state they are in. Secondly, part of the demonstration of the conatus doctrine refers to the fact that ‘singular things ... express, in a certain and determinate way, God’s power, by which God is and acts’. Read in context this very much suggests that the essence of a thing, its fundamental striving, is ‘a certain and determinate way’ of being and of acting, fixed by the thing’s specific nature. This is different from a mere tendency to continue acting in whatever way the thing is prompted to act in by external causes. And, finally, as Manzini notes, IV.P21 explicitly identifies a person’s essence with the desire ‘to live blessedly or well, to act blessedly or well, etc.’: ‘Est enim cupiditas ... beate seu bene vivendi, agendi, etc. ipsa hominis essentia’. Thus a person’s essence specifies one’s natural good as a way of acting and living. This is all to say that Spinoza’s view, to this extent, seems far more Aristotelian than it does Stoic.

There is, however, a potentially Stoic element in Spinoza’s discussion of freedom. Lloyd (and, I think, Sue James) supposes that Spinoza is a Stoic in the sense that he believes true freedom to lie in the acceptance of what is necessary. But this concerns Spinoza’s relation to Stoicism with regard to ethical philosophy, which is not my topic.


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