Spinoza's individuals

Christopher P Martin, Purdue University


The purpose of this dissertation is to unearth the ethical individual in Spinoza's metaphysics. Like the Stoics before him, Spinoza thinks human flourishing, which he calls ‘beatitude’ or ‘blessedness’, presupposes and follows from a comprehension of the deepest and most subtle truths, i.e., the metaphysic of Nature. Flourishing arises through the knowing and willful participation of the individual within the whole. To demonstrate this Spinoza first articulates a metaphysic of nature, and then proceeds through a methodical paring down of the subject matter to an account of human beatitude or flourishing. So if we're to grasp the ethical doctrine of Spinoza's thought we need first to locate the ethical individual in his metaphysic of nature. This is what I aim to do in my dissertation. The problem is that Spinoza's metaphysic relegates individuals to adjectival properties or states of a thing rather than things themselves, making the ethical individual particularly elusive. I disentangle several different strands of Spinoza's characterization of these adjectival properties or states. By isolating each strand and relating it back to his broader metaphysic I show how it is that these adjectival properties are more like individuals than states. Specifically, I argue that these adjectival states are ensouled entities which are causally efficacious subjects of change capable of directing themselves toward certain ends and avoiding others. With this improved understanding of the individuality of Spinoza's adjectival states we can locate the ethical subject in his metaphysic of nature, and in doing so point in the direction of a fuller understanding of the relation between Spinoza's metaphysical and ethical projects.




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