Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The independence of the attributes in Spinoza

According to Spinoza, all of reality—namely, deus sive natura and its modes—can be independently understood under each of (at least) two attributes: thought and extension. Under the attribute of thought, we have a world of ideas, and under the attribute of extesion, we have a world of bodies. There is identity between the two worlds: each idea is about a body. We have a beautiful account of the aboutness relation: the idea is identical to the body it is about, but the idea and body are understood under different attributes.

But here is a problem. It seems that to understand an idea, one needs to understand what the idea is about. But this seems to damage the conceptual independence of the attributes of thought and extension, in that one cannot fully understand the aboutness of the ideas without understanding extension.

I am not sure what to do about this.


Adam Myers said...

Where does the aboutness relation come in at all? You say there is identity between the order and connection of ideas and that of bodies, but what makes identity aboutness? If one is going to talk about aboutness, then given Spinoza's doctrine of parallelism (2p7), one is going to have to say that, just as each idea is about a body, then each body is about an idea (without, moreover, suggesting that aboutness implies any kind of causal link between bodies and ideas). But that sounds weird.

Does aboutness imply formal causality? Is the body about which I have an idea the cause of that idea? If so, Spinoza will reject aboutness, given 2p7.

Alexander R Pruss said...

As I read Spinoza, he thinks each idea is an idea *of* (or about) something, and the something is the body that the idea is identical with. The parallelism then works as follows:
1. an idea is about a body
2. a body is described by an idea