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.

Y.1.2: Lia suggests that an account of Spinoza’s distinction between the second and third kinds of cognition “may entail some objections” to the view of modes as properties. This sounds interesting, but we need to know precisely which objections she has in mind, and, if I may add, we also need to know which version of the distinction she is referring to, since there are significantly different forms of it in several of Spinoza’s works.

Y.1.3: Addressing my claim that in E1p16d Spinoza presents the modes as God’s propria (qualities that follow necessarily from the essence of a thing), Lia presents several objections. First, she suggests that Spinoza never refers to modes as propria. I respectfully disagree. In E1p16d Spinoza refers to the modes as properties [proprietates] that follow necessarily from the essence (or nature) of God. But these are precisely the characteristics of propria (as presented by Spinoza in TIE §95), which also follow necessarily from the essence of a thing. Specifically, I would like to know how Lia understands the argument of E1p16d, if, as she seems to argue, it does not present modes as God’s propria. Second, Lia points out that in other texts (and I might add that these are both early and late) Spinoza refers to qualities such as necessary existence and uniqueness as God’s propria (see, for example, Ep. 83), and she rightly asks what the relation is between modes and these qualities. I have to admit that I still do not have an answer to this important question. However, as far as I can see, there is strong textual evidence that Spinoza considered both modes and this cluster of qualities (necessary existence, uniqueness, etc.) as God’s propria, and thus, I believe we should disregard neither of the two groups.

Third, Lia claims that “the problems which led to the admission of the concept of propria in the tradition simply do not arise in Spinoza’s philosophy and, if applied to his ontology, would cause a great difficulty.” As far as I know the notion of propria had a very long tradition, going back to Porphyry and Aristotle, but I doubt that this concept had only one role throughout this huge period. Even if this were the case, I do not think that the alleged inapplicability of the philosophical context which traditionally brought about the use of the notion of propria should matter much for Spinoza’s use of the term. Spinoza is a master of reconceptualizing notions. Take, for example, the notion of essence: in scholastic and Aristotelian philosophy, essence is commonly associated with formal and final causation, but Spinoza explicitly and boldly rejects this association and uses the term in quite a different sense (as he openly indicates in E2p10s| II/93/25-29). Of course, we must always consider the history of the concepts used by Spinoza, but I see no reason to assume that he uses them in precisely the same way as his predecessors, or that his concepts fill precisely the same role as in his predecessors. As Spinoza openly says, he uses terms “whose usual meaning is not entirely opposed to the meaning with which I wish to use them” (E3Def.Affec.20e).

Y.1.4: At the beginning of her second post, Lia argues that since Spinoza does not take modes as parts of God, my simple solution to Bayle’s argument about the alleged contradiction among God’s properties (“God quatenus he is Turk is not God quatenus he is Bulgarian”) is not going to work. To this I reply: finite modes are not parts of the substance (since the substance is indivisible), but they are parts of the infinite modes. Thus, “God insofar as he is Turk” and “God insofar as he is Bulgarian,” are just two parts of the same infinite mode of God. Obviously, two parts of the same whole may have opposite qualities without constituting a contradiction.

Y.1.5: Lia writes: “if the modes are ways in which the substance’s being is determined or expresses itself, they cannot be conceived as adding any quality or determination to the essence of the substance of which they are modes, but only as qualifying or determining the substance’s existence (which then exists as this or that).” While I agree that “expression” and “determination” are central terms for Spinoza, I must admit that I am not aware of a satisfying explanation for his use of these two terms (at least not one which absolves him of the charge of equivocation). Specifically, I wonder whether either term refers to causal relation. Thus, in order to answer this argument of Lia’s, I would need to better understand how she understands “expression” and “determination,” and specifically whether or not she thinks that they denote a causal relation. Moreover, for Spinoza the existence (and esse) of mode is different from the existence of substance (the substance’s essence involves existence, but the mode’s doesn’t; see E2p10d). Thus, there is a sense in which the modes “add” to the existence of the substance, i.e., the modes’ existence differs from that of the substance (why are there modes at all and not merely attributes is a difficult question, and I have attempted to address it in another place. See https://www.academia.edu/663652/Why_is_Spinoza_NOT_an_Eleatic_Monist_or_Why_Diversity_Exists).

There are many other important and most valuable points in Lia’s comments, but I hope this response will suffice to get the discussion rolling.

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.

As to the defense of the unorthodox view that God is mutable, it seems to contain an ambiguity. According to Melamed’s reading, what should be considered mutable is Natura Naturata. However, and still following Melamed, God should not be identified with Natura Naturata, but to Natura Naturans. Therefore, stricto sensu, God remains conceived as immutable. In order to sustain that God is mutable, it is then necessary to identify God with the unity of both Natures taken together. This is endorsed by his interpretation insofar as he considers the modes as God’s propria, i.e. as necessary, discriminating and non-essential properties of God.

However, in order to be able to go a step further and claim that God is mutable, it is not enough to establish that (i) He is the substratum of the finite modes and that (ii) each of these modes has a definite duration. It is also necessary to (iii) assume that these properties come into being and perish, i.e. to submit their inherence in God to the distributive form of time and, accordingly, (iv) temporalize the existence of God himself, for change only is intelligible if one can conceive that something gains or loses a property. Now, if the modes are ways in which the substance’s being is determined or expresses itself, they cannot be conceived as adding any quality or determination to the essence of the substance of which they are modes, but only as qualifying or determining the substance’s existence (which then exists as this or that). But even in this case, if we are to conceive change in the existence of a substance, we have to conceive its existence in a dynamic or tensed way, in which modes are continually changing in respect to past, present, and future. Now, this last step is not compatible with Spinoza’s claim that the absolute substance conceived as Natura Naturans is eternal and/or with the one about the sempiternity of the absolute substance conceived as Natura Naturata.

The same objection can also be formulated in terms of modality: in order to argue for the mutability of God, it must be possible to say that the finite modes can be negated from God, i.e., that the being of the mode in God is contingent. But as Melamed himself admits, even if modes are not essential properties, they are necessary properties since they follow necessarily from God’s essence. Therefore, whatever the meaning one ascribes to the notion of the definite duration of finite modes, and no matter whether modes are properties of God, these statements do not necessarily imply that the substance in which they inhere is mutable. Furthermore, since it is not a Spinozian position that modes can be denied from God, even in a qualified manner, it is neither his position that God is mutable.

I would like to conclude affirming once again the outstanding quality of the book and thanking for the kind invitation to participate in this philosophically challenging initiative.




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.

The main purpose of the book is to support a rather innovative interpretation of Spinoza’s metaphysics according to which it proposes a peculiar type of dualism: a dualism between being and thinking. The coextensivity between thinking and existence, however, is not the result of a reduction of existence to conceivability, but of a new view of the nature of existence (viz. of the substance–mode relationship), and of thinking, whose intentionality is thought as possessing an infinitely multifaceted structure.

In order to establish this reading the author goes through a broad range of questions and faces all of them with an equally argumentative vein, which makes any appropriate presentation of his text a very difficult and–in this context certainly impossible–task. Thus, I will limit myself to briefly sketching the strategy of the book, just enough to contextualize the points that I would like to discuss here. Besides, although the critical examination of alternative interpretations is one of the many qualities of the book, the arguments advanced for this purpose will not be considered here.

Y. Melamed builds his interpretation in two steps, each of them dedicated to characterize, respectively, being and thinking. In the former, to which the first four chapters are dedicated, he claims that the substance-mode relationship is irreducibly a relationship of inherence, with its traditional logical counterpart, viz. the relationship of predication, although it is necessarily accompanied by causality and conceivability. As inherence establishes an asymmetrical correlation between the substance and its modifications, he also claims that this asymmetry applies to the two others, yielding the distinctions between types of causality (immanent and transitive) and between types of conception (conceived through and conceived under). Besides clearing up each of these relations and the ways in which they articulate themselves, a last but particularly important task is performed: since his reading depends on the trans-attribute identity of the unity of modes, he discerns the relationship of the modes with the substance from the one they maintain with the attributes which they modify. He then proposes to call ‘aspects’ the modes when they are considered from this second point of view. Finally he advances interesting insights on the question of infinite modes that can only be mentioned here.

After establishing the ontological framework in which thinking should be conceived as an attribute of God, and its ‘aspects’ as modes of God, the two long chapters of the second part are dedicated to provide an appropriate reading of the whole of proposition 7 of the second part of the Ethics, so as to determine that thinking, by its essence–and without ceasing to be one among the infinite attributes of God–is coextensive with the whole nature. As in the first part of the book, all the claims are advocated with argumentative dexterity, extensive knowledge of the texts and of the doctrine, deserving to be assessed thoroughly. However, I will not advance in its presentation, since my interest here is to debate the first part’s main proposal and make a brief critical comment on two of the responses offered to the objections made by Pierre Bayle to Spinoza’s substantial monism.

Y. Melamed aims to assign the most radical meaning to the theory that Spinoza’s unique substance is the subject of inherence (substratum) and the ultimate subject of the predication of the modes–infinite and finite–that necessarily result from it and by which they are conceived. For this purpose he needs to show not only that (a) the concept of Spinoza’s unique substance is compatible with the concepts of substratum and of ultimate subject of predication, but also that (b) his concept of mode matches the requirements of the concepts of quality and property, without rendering ineffective his account of particular things as modes that express the essence of God in a definite and determinate way (E1P25c).

As regards the first step (a), his arguments are very convincing, although he left unanswered a critical question as he 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 logic type to perform the roles of substratum and ultimate subject of predication.

As to the second step, although he is not the first scholar who sustains this view, I am still not convinced and I will list a few doubts concerning Melamed’s arguments.

  1. He correctly points out that the traditional distinction between thing and property is not entirely adequate to Spinoza’s ontology. Also correctly, he concludes that it is not enough to suppose the plausibility of the notion of particular property just because it is conveyed in the contemporary concept of tropes. However, the justification he proposes seems to be more suitable to the inherence between modes than between modes and substance.
  2. The demonstration that modes are properties of God requires accounting for the difference between these properties, whose knowledge constitutes the scientia intuitiva, and the common properties, whose notions constitute the second kind of knowledge. I believe that this account would entail some objections to Melamed’s claim that the modes should be predicated to the substance as its qualities or properties.
  3. Still on the same subject, he does not untangle another of its basic assumptions, for it is not explained in what sense such properties can be considered particular. While the analysis of the weak character of the criteria of individuality and/or singularity is irreprehensible, the examination of the relations between these criteria and the particularity of finite modes is simply absent.
  4. The thesis that modes are properties of God is complemented in his view by the proposal that they are, therefore, God’s propria, since they are necessary, but not essential qualities. This corollary poses at least two difficulties: (i) this concept is explicitly used by Spinoza to refer to other properties of God, such as his infinitude, and–save for a mistake on my part–never to the modes; (ii) the problems which led to the admission of the concept of propria in the tradition simply do not arise in Spinoza’s philosophy and, if applied to his ontology, would cause a great difficulty. Indeed, the propria were seen as criteria for the discrimination of individual substances when one does not yet know their essences. Not only is this problem no part of the framework of substantial monism, but the usage of these criteria is explicitly denied by Spinoza even before the proof of monism, viz. in the famous demonstration that there cannot be two substances with the same attribute. Now, one of the statements of this proof is precisely that the modes, i.e. the propria according to Melamed, do not supply criteria of discrimination between substances.



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.

Continue Reading »

ymcoverStarting this Thursday, we will host an author meets critics event on Yitzhak Melamed’s Spinoza’s Metaphysics: Substance and Thought (Oxford University Press, 2013). The event will feature posts on the book by three critics — Lia LevyAlison Peterman, and Alan Nelson — and responses from the author. All posts will be open for comments.

The first post will be a précis of the book by Yitzhak himself. Next week we will publish his exchange with Lia (two critical posts and one response). In the following weeks we will publish his exchanges with Alison and Alan.

All posts will be linked below as they are published.

UPDATE: This flyer contains a promo code for a 20% discount on the book.


Continue Reading »

Via Daily Nous, I came across this piece by Graham Priest, on the value of the history of philosophy:

Philosophy and its History

If you go into a mathematics class of any university, it’s unlikely that you will find students reading Euclid. If you go into any physics class, it’s unlikely you’ll find students reading Newton. If you go into any economics class, you probably won’t find students reading Keynes. But if you go a philosophy class, it is not unusual to find students reading Plato, Kant, or Wittgenstein. Why? Cynics might say that all this shows is that there is no progress in philosophy. We are still thrashing around in the same morass that we have been thrashing around in for over 2,000 years. No one who understands the situation would be of this view, however.

So why are we still reading the great dead philosophers? Part of the answer is that the history of philosophy is interesting in its own right. It is fascinating, for example, to see how the early Christian philosophers molded the ideas of Plato and Aristotle to the service of their new religion. But that is equally true of the history of mathematics, physics, and economics. There has to be more to it than that—and of course there is.

Just saw this on Dan Garber’s Early Modern listserv, and thought it would be of interest to some of our readers (or their students on the market):

Wellesley College invites applications for a one-year visiting assistant professorship in philosophy. AOS: Early Modern AOC: Metaphysics and Epistemology

Two courses per semester (Introduction to Early Modern Philosophy, Introduction to Metaphysics and Epistemology, a seminar in Early Modern Philosophy and another course in metaphysics. Competitive salary and benefits. Applicants must hold or be about to receive the Ph.D. Wellesley College is especially interested in candidates who can contribute to the diversity and quality of the academic community through their research, teaching, and service. The philosophy department strongly encourages applications from members of groups under-represented in the discipline. Wellesley College is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer, and we are committed to increasing the diversity of the college community and the curriculum. Candidates who believe they can contribute to that goal are encouraged to apply.

A complete application will include: (1) a cover letter that explains the applicant’s AOS and AOC qualifications, research interests, and teaching experience, as well as (2) a cv, (3) a graduate transcript, (4) the names and email addresses of three references (letters of reference will be submitted by your referees), (5) a sample of scholarly work, (6) one or two sample syllabi, and (7) teaching evaluations. Please send these materials to dfeldfab@wellesley.edu by 5/15/14. Please also ask your letter writers to do so.


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