Spinoza Reborn

The antidote to humanism’s delusions

This article is part of The Return of Metaphysics series, and was produced in partnership with the Essentia Foundation.

Spinoza is having a moment. Previously dismissed as a speculative metaphysician, his metaphysical monism has been rehabilitated even in analytic-dominated Anglophone philosophy. But it’s his challenge to humanism and its commitment to human exceptionalism that’s most relevant today, and the hardest to accept, argues Yitzhak Y. Melamed.

 

A few years ago, I took part in a conference at Bochum University, and partly out of respect for the university which hosts the illustrious Hegel-Archiev, I decided to present a paper in which I argued that, not unlike Hegel’s Encyclopedie, one can profitably read Spinoza’s Ethics as a circular text which ends just where it begins. The Q&A session after my talk was lively

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Stuart steinman 20 May 2023

Nevertheless, the path Spinoza is largely correct in "prescribing" for a human's well-being is pretty clearly unique compared with the rest of the living forms. Does it make us superior or "a kingdom within a kingdom"? With respect to the former, I'm not aware of any standard of excellence that we could employ other than the intrinsic qualities which characterize our nature. Honey bees are superior relative to their nature. As to the latter, we seem to be unique in our metacognitive abilities. There is no evidence that any other organism is capable of, say, engaging in philosophical reflection, for example. Does that separate us from the rest of reality? In certain respects it certainly does. But at the same time it is our specific way of being connected to the reality of which we are a part. Honey bees are connected to reality according to their specific nature. When it comes to general philosophical questions it is not usually a great idea to be overly one sided!