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I turn now to the comments by Professor Alison Peterman (University of Rochester).

Y.1.6: Alison begins her comments with a genuine confession: “I’ve never liked the infinite modes.” I understand this sensibility, and for a while I was tempted to share it. The infinite modes are probably some of the least understood elements of Spinoza’s ontology. His contemporaries and 18th-century successors barely marked their presence, and when they did, they made trivial and basic errors. Even a sharp mind like Tschirnhaus seems to have had hardly any clue as to how important they were (see Ep. 63). Could it be that the infinite modes are a complete invention of Spinoza scholarship in the late 19th and early 20th century? I do not think so. Spinoza’s reply to Tschirnhaus in Ep. 64, as well as various references to the infinite modes in the Short Treatise and the Ethics, make this suggestion untenable. Still, I believe there are many questions about these entities which have not been adequately answered. My own discussion of the infinite modes (Ch. 4 of the book) was written much later than the rest of the book, because there are many issues related to Spinoza’s mereology which I still find problematic. I noted some of these issues in the footnotes to Chapter 4, and I am still working on a study of Spinoza’s mereology. Nevertheless, since my picture of the infinite modes was very different from the standard account, I thought it would be worth publishing, even though there are several issues I had to leave as open questions.

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Melamed argues that (1) for Spinoza, “[p]arts are prior to their whole, both in nature and in our knowledge” (47).  But he also claims that (2) a finite mode can’t follow directly from God’s attributes considered absolutely, so it can only follow from God as part of an infinite mode (131).  These seem to be in tension, since if it is the infinite mode that follows directly from the absolute nature of God’s attributes, and the finite modes only as parts of that, the infinite mode should be prior in nature.  I’m not sure we need to accept either claim.

Let’s start with (1).  Melamed points to several places where Spinoza simply states that parts are prior to wholes (47-48).  But Spinoza doesn’t elaborate in those passages on what he understands by “part” or “whole” or “prior.”  In the Cogitata Metaphysica I/258 (which Melamed cites at 48n145), Spinoza distinguishes among the ways that one thing can be distinct from another, which suggests there might also be a variety of ways that parts can constitute a whole.  In fact, when Spinoza claims there that parts must be prior to their whole, it is clear that he is discussing only really distinct parts, and he later denies that the parts of nature are really distinct.  I know Melamed has carefully considered Spinoza’s taxonomy of distinctions, so I wonder in light of this in what sense he thinks we can declare that for Spinoza parts are prior to wholes simpliciter.

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I’m so happy to be able to comment on Spinoza’s Metaphysics: Substance and Thought, which exemplifies the Melamedian blend of formidable mastery of Spinoza’s corpus and metaphysical insight.  I wish I could talk more about the specific things I liked, like Chapter 5’s account of Spinoza’s two parallelisms and the ingenious solutions it provides to a swarm of interpretive problems.  But in such a short space, I’ll have to cut to the chase with a confession:

I’ve never liked the infinite modes.  Melamed points out that these modes must be important to Spinoza, since he invents them ex nihilo and invokes them at crucial argumentative junctures.  But I always feel hoodwinked when he does invoke them, and while Melamed’s treatment of the infinite modes taught me very much about their nature, I’m not sure it supports his conclusion that they go “quite a long way” toward solving the problem of Spinoza’s derivation of the finite from the infinite.

That problem arises because, according to Spinoza, only something infinite can follow directly from the “absolute nature of God’s attributes” (EIp21), which are infinite.  But as Melamed shows in Chapter 2, Spinoza does think that there are finite things.  So where do they come from?  According to Melamed, “once we realize that finite modes are parts of infinite modes, we make significant progress in explaining the derivation of the finite modes: they follow from God’s essence as parts of the infinite modes” (131).

I don’t share his sanguine attitude.  Here are a few questions.  Most importantly, what does it mean to say that the finite modes “follow from God’s essence as parts”?  If parts are prior to wholes for Spinoza, as Melamed argues (47), and the finite modes are parts of the infinite modes, then it would seem that the finite modes should follow from God prior to the infinite modes.  This mereological morass will be the topic of my next post.  Here I’ll focus on three other questions.

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Let me begin by thanking my three critics for the thought and time they have invested in their comments. I am very much flattered by the composition of this team, and am greatly indebted to them for their insights, critiques, and challenges. All three raise deep and fundamental issues, and in the following I will attempt to address as many of their arguments as the current forum allows. Let me also admit from the beginning that I do not have solutions to some of the important problems they have raised. I warmly welcome these objections and hope we can explore them together, making whatever progress we can. My ambition in the book was to solve some of the long-standing and fundamental problems in Spinoza’s metaphysics, but not, alas, all of them.

In order to help shape our exchange, I will use the notation of posts and paragraphs, so that future responses can address specific claims by referencing the paragraph instead of repeating the claim. Thus, “Y.1.1” will designate the first paragraph of my first post. For the sake of simplicity, I suggest that we address each other by our given names (as we normally do).

I will begin by addressing the comments by Professor Lia Levy (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil), the author of the important study, L’Automate spirituel: La subjectivé moderne d’après l’Ethique de Spinoza (Van Grocum, 2000).

Y.1.1: Lia provides a very helpful (and generous) outline of the main arguments of the book. She suggests, however, that I “did not consider the hypothesis that the dissociation between the concepts of individual and substance implies that Spinoza’s substance may simply be of the wrong logical type to perform the roles of substratum and ultimate subject of predication.” Now, I do address in detail the “wrong logical type” argument (pp. 40-60 of my book). My argument, in brief, is this: in order to criticize a claim P as confusing the logical type of things, one must either (1) defend and substantiate a theory of logical types (call it “T”) and show that P and T are inconsistent, or (2) show that the same theory of logical types (T) is accepted by the author of P. However, I argue that we have no indication that Spinoza accepted the relevant theory of logical types (on the contrary, we have plenty of evidence that he and his contemporaries drew a very fuzzy boundary – or none at all – between things and qualities). Thus, I do not think that Spinoza is guilty of simple inconsistency with regard to the logical type of modes. Now, one may of course criticize Spinoza for not adopting a theory of logical types (option 1 above), but then the onus of proof is on the critic, i.e., she should convincingly substantiate such a theory. I, for one, am not aware of such a compelling substantiation of the logical types of things, and thus I have no objection to Spinoza’s view of modes as both things and qualities.

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Now, I would like to comment on two of the responses Melamed offers to Pierre Bayle’s objections to Spinoza’s doctrine of substance.

As regards ascribing contradictory properties to God, I think he is being too confident in relying on the conspicuity of the use of reduplicative particles (such as quatenus) as signifying that the predicate is ascribed not to the subject taken absolutely, but to the subject taken under a certain aspect. The logical status of propositions containing reduplicative particles was extensively studied in the Middle Ages and in the Early Modern period, and it was then plainly accepted that this is not the only possible meaning of this logical particle. For instance, it can also mean, among other things, that the predicate shall be attributed not to the subject as a whole, but to one of its parts. And, since Spinoza explicitly refuses the idea that the modes are parts of God, it is Melamed who has the burden of proof.

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It is a great pleasure to accept the invitation to comment on the stimulating book by  Yitzhak Melamed, Spinoza’s Metaphysics: Substance and Thought. It presents in a clear and precise way the result of a decade of dense, careful investigations about some of the most difficult themes in Spinoza’s philosophy. During this period, his already original PhD thesis was gradually improved by discussions with some of the best scholars of the history of early modern philosophy. The final product is a solid ensemble of polemical arguments and consistent defenses of interpretations that reinforce the boldness of Spinoza’s thinking and that certainly cannot be ignored by those who intend to undertake a critical study of the metaphysics of the Dutch thinker. Last, but not least, this is a nice opportunity to take up again the philosophical dialogue that we began a few years ago about a topic to which I also dedicated myself and to reassess my own positions about it.

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Spinoza’s Metaphisics is comprised of two parts. The first four chapters concentrate on the metaphysics of substance, while the last two address Spinoza’s metaphysics of thought. These two parts are closely connected, and several crucial claims in the last two chapters rely on arguments advanced in the first four. I intentionally use the term ‘metaphysics of thought’ rather than ‘philosophy of mind’ for two main reasons. First, the domain of thought in Spinoza is far more extensive than anything associated with human minds, as will become clear by the end of the work. Second, my primary interest in the last two chapters will be in the ontology of thought in Spinoza, rather than in the kinds of questions we associate with the philosophy of mind.

In the first chapter I study the substance-mode relation in Spinoza, and criticize Edwin Curley’s influential interpretation of the nature of this relation. Relying on a variety of texts and considerations, I establish that Spinozist modes both inhere in and are predicated of the substance. I show that Pierre Bayle’s famous critique of Spinoza’s claim that all things inhere in God is based on crucial misunderstandings. I also argue that this claim of Spinoza’s involves no category mistake, and I criticize Curley’s use of the principle of charity to motivate his reading. Finally, I discuss the similarities between Spinoza’s understanding of modes and current trope theories.

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