Tuesday, March 3, 2009

two wacky ideas

Here are two quick thoughts about Spinoza before dinner.

The students find Spinoza both interesting and wacky.

I’ve posted a few other items in this blog about what I find interesting in Spinoza.

Here’s something I find wacky... Spinoza is a necessitarian, which is to say, he believes that all events that occur are not only necessitated by the past but also necessary.

Take any proposition P about an event where some attribute is exemplified by a particular. What explains P? If you’re a red-blooded rationalist, then you’re going to cite another proposition Q that explains P. “Explains” means.... what? Maybe it means that given the history of the world, including the physical laws up to that point, P is necessitated by Q, plus the operative laws at that slice of the universe. “Necessitated” means... what? If we limit the description to the previous sentence, then it just means that P was inevitable given the history of the world. So... “necessitated” in this context means inevitable.

But... to say that P is necessitated is not the same as saying P is necessary.

Spinoza is really clear that he believes P, along with any proposition describing an event, is necessary.

Here’s one way to get to the necessity of P. Take the entire series of explanatory propositions of any given event: R, S, T1...Tn, where each in the series explains the prior one. Then, make a massive conjunction of them all; call it C.

Ask yourself, what explains C? Or alternately, why did C obtain?

Nothing from inside the series can do so. For Spinoza, nothing contingent outside of the series can explain C, since there aren’t any contingencies.

The question cannot be answered. This, however, is a fate worse than death to a red-blooded rationalist like Spinoza. The only other alternative is that somehow the very nature of the series is such that it is self-necessitating.

So... on to the first wacky thing: This is wacky in exactly the same way that it’s wacky to say that it’s God’s nature to be a necessary being. What’s wacky is to think that this delivers some item of meaningful knowledge (my empiricist tendencies shine through, eh?). Musing on this in this way, however, does help me see another angle on why Spinoza would (refer to previous post) use a locution like: “God, or in other words, Nature.”

On to the second wacky thing: Even really dull students of philosophy get what I’m about to say, and so I’m almost ashamed to put it to paper, since it’s rather like pronouncing that “water is wet.” But here goes... Believing that this is the only possible world is tantamount to claiming that nothing (that is in fact) false is possible (or possibly true). Wow, that’s nuts.

Regardless, I still love Spinoza and wish I had one-hundredth of his intellect.
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