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.
In the second chapter I draw some of the implications of the first chapter. I explain the nature of immanent cause in Spinoza. I discuss and criticize the German Idealists’ acosmist interpretation of Spinoza according to which Spinoza revived the radical monism of the Eleatics and assigned no genuine reality to modes. Finally, I draw a crucial distinction, implicit in Spinoza’s text, between modes of particular attributes, and modes under all attributes.
In the third chapter I address Michael Della Rocca’s recent suggestion that a strict endorsement of the Principle of Sufficient Reason leads to the identification of the relations of inherence, causation, and conception. I argue that (a) we have no textual support indicating that Spinoza endorsed such an identity, and (b) that Della Rocca’s suggestion cannot be considered a legitimate reconstruction of or friendly amendment to Spinoza’s system because it creates several acute and irresolvable problems in the system. At the end of the chapter, I present my own view of the relation among inherence, causation, and conception. I offer a new interpretation of the conceived through relation in Spinoza. I show which of the aforementioned relations are in time, and which are not, and finally I defend the presence of (non-arbitrary) bifurcations at the very center of Spinoza’s system.
The fourth chapter is dedicated to Spinoza’s concept of the infinite modes, apparently the only Spinozist concept that has no equivalent among his predecessors or contemporaries. The issue of the infinite modes is located at a juncture that is crucial for understanding some of the most important doctrines of Spinoza’s metaphysics, such as the flow of the modes from the essence of substance, necessitarianism, the part-whole relation, and the nature of infinity. Unfortunately, our understanding of this important concept is still very limited. I attempt to break new ground in examining the nature of the infinite mode by postponing the discussion of the infinite modes of Extension and Thought, which have been the primary focus of previous studies, and concentrating instead on the structural features of infinite modes in general. I attempt to derive from Spinoza’s text the general features of the infinite modes, regardless of the attribute to which they belong. Then I explain what pressures within his system made Spinoza introduce the concept of infinite modes. At the very end of the chapter I discuss Spinoza’s scattered remarks about the nature of the infinite modes of Extension and Thought in light of the general characteristics of the infinite modes uncovered in the previous parts of the chapter.
In the next two chapters I argue for three major, interrelated theses. (i) In chapter 5 I show that the celebrated Spinozist doctrine commonly termed “the doctrine of parallelism” is in fact a conflation of two separate and independent doctrines of parallelism. (ii) The clarification and setting apart of the two doctrines puts me in a position to present my second major thesis and address one of the most interesting and enduring problems in Spinoza’s metaphysics: How can the attribute of Thought be isomorphic with any other attribute and also with God himself, who has infinitely many attributes? In chapter 6 I present Spinoza’s solution to this problem. I argue that the number and order of modes is the same in all attributes. Yet, modes of Thought, unlike modes of any other attribute, have an infinitely faceted internal structure so that one and the same idea represents infinitely many modes by having infinitely many facets (or aspects). (iii)This new understanding of the inner structure of ideas in Spinoza leads to my third thesis, which solves another old riddle in Spinoza’s metaphysics: his insistence that the human mind cannot know any of God’s infinitely many attributes other than Thought and Extension. Following a discussion of the major ramifications of my new interpretation and of some important objections, I turn, in conclusion, to the philosophical significance of my reading. I explain why Spinoza could not embrace reductive idealism in spite of the preeminence he grants to the attribute of Thought. I argue that Spinoza is a dualist–not a mind-body dualist, as he is commonly conceived to be, but rather a dualist of Thought and Being. I suggest that Spinoza’s position on the mind-body issue breaks with the traditional categories and ways of addressing the subject insofar as he grants clear primacy to Thought without embracing the idealist reduction of bodies to Thought.
If the chief claims presented in this book are right, they should result in a major revision of our understanding of Spinoza’s metaphysics. While the book leaves several problems open (indeed, some of these problems are presented here for the first time), it attempts to break new ground and offer a new understanding of the core of Spinoza’s metaphysics. It is for the readers to judge whether, or to what extent, this attempt is capped with success.