Archive for April, 2014

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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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.

UPDATE (May 2nd): I’ve moved this to the top to make it easier for people to see the links to all the posts.


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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.

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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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