Beyond the Geometrical Method: Nature, Necessity, and Nihilism in Spinoza's Philosophy
This dissertation is a study of Spinoza’s method. I begin with Spinoza’s own views on method. I show that he begins with a largely Cartesian outlook, while acknowledging a debt to Bacon, and adopts a monistic framework which consists of three parts: distinguishing true perceptions from false ones, prioritizing the whole over the parts, and avoiding wearying the mind with useless things. In Chapter 2 I argue for two theses: First, that there is no clear understanding of what Spinoza’s method is, nor of how precisely it fits together with its antecedents. Second, I argue that, while prior accounts have often rightly noted the philosophical debts Spinoza owes to Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, and others, Spinoza’s own view has not been, and indeed cannot be, clearly understood through these previous methodologies. In Chapter 3 I argue that Spinoza is committed to two interpretive principles: Meaning Requires Use (MRU), and Meaning Requires Knowledge (MRK). I suggest that these principles can usefully be applied to our interpretation of Spinoza himself. Next, I employ a database-driven reconstruction of the structure of the Ethics to argue in Chapter 4 that uncited elements constitute a problem for the logical interpretation of Spinoza’s method, which holds that the geometrical order of the text is intended to represent the order of nature. I also argue that even if we do not hold to a strictly logical interpretation of the geometrical order, there is still a problem of interpretation of Spinoza’s Ethics that arises precisely because of his use of that order. Chapter 5 develops the data-driven approach I have taken in the analysis of the geometrical order to arrive at a rather exhaustive account of what appear to be intentional philosophical endpoints of Spinoza’s system, and which can thereby be analyzed for consistency and cogency, and thereby illuminate the core doctrines of Spinoza’s philosophy. In light of the foregoing analysis, in Chapter 6, I consider the threat of nihilism that falls out of Spinoza’s necessitarianism, which underlies his method, and try to determine how Spinoza’s Ethics can be an ethics after all.
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