Alan Nelson’s posts are generous and penetrating, as always. I am very much flattered to read his warm reception of the book. Needless to say, we have been discussing many of the ideas in the book for quite a few years now, and thus I feel vindicated to read his impressions of the final product.
Y.1.9: Many of the joyful and useful disagreements between Alan and me over the years have concentrated in one way or another on Spinoza’s relation to Descartes. Unlike Alan, and many other top scholars of modern philosophy, I tend to see Spinoza as essentially anti-Cartesian. I will not delve into this important issue here, though I imagine that the reader may have discerned my distinct view in this regard.
Y.1.10 In a very gentle and mild rebuke, Alan notes: “I suspect, however that Melamed’s overall interpretation does not provide a sufficient basis for giving due weight to the human standpoint. ” I completely agree with this claim in at least two senses (i.e., at least one sense more than Alan’s original point). First, the focus of the book is indeed not on the human standpoint. Spinoza has much to say about this issue, and I believe I have quite a bit to say about what Spinoza has to say, but this is not indeed the focus of the book. Let me note that much of what Spinoza has to say about the human standpoint is expressed throughout Part II of the Ethics, in what I take to be a systematic attack on the Cartesian point of view.
Second, I think Alan is right to say that Spinoza does not consider man as “the measure of all things.” Indeed, Hegel would enthusiastically endorse the claim that Spinoza failed to give the human standpoint its due place. In fact, I would say that this is one of the best ways to state one of the most fundamental -disagreements between Hegel and Spinoza (the other main point of contention between the two is the (related) issue of self-negation).
Y. 1.11: Alan concludes his first post with a simple and important question: “The question for Melamed’s interpretation, then, is whether it can describe the metaphysics of the relationship between the Latin inscriptions in a copy of the Ethics and human cognition of the attributes and infinite intellect.” The status of language in Spinoza is an important issue which, as far as I can see, has not been adequately explicated thus far. In a valuable piece, David Savan has pointed out that Spinoza’s discussion of the first kind of cognition in E2p40s2 seems to make any cognition involving language imaginary and inadequate (“Spinoza and Language,” Philosophical Review,1958). I believe Savan sensed something right, but I find his conclusion far too strong. A nuanced explication of Spinoza’s view of language is still a desideratum (such an explication should address not only E2p40s2 but also some of Spinoza’s surprising claims in his Compendium of Hebrew Grammar, in which he apparently suggests that one can read metaphysics from the structure of human language).
Let me return to Alan’s question above. As far as I can see, cognition of the attributes does not presuppose language. Spinoza’s bold claim in E2p47s – “God’s infinite essence and his eternity are known to all” – does not seem to be restricted to creatures with linguistic capabilities. Looking at Spinoza’s justification for E2p47, I see no reason to deny that for Spinoza the fish has adequate knowledge of God’s essence. The knowledge of God’s essence, or the attributes of Extension and Thought, is utterly trivial for Spinoza (you cannot fail to know it). To the extent that the fish knows how to move in space, he knows God’s essence: the attribute of extension.
This is not indeed the philosophical knowledge one attains through studying the Ethics (as Alan rightly points out). What we attain by studying the Ethics is a certain meta-ontology, whose specific details are to be filled out by branches of philosophy and science. How is this meta-ontology related to its statement in language? As I have said, in order to understand this we need first to roll up our sleeves and attempt to provide a precise and nuanced account of Spinoza’s understanding of language.
Y.1.12: Alan presses several important issues in his second post. I will address first what I take to be a minor point, and then turn to the major question Alan poses at the very end of his post. Alan notes that, like most commentators, I consider the intellect in E1d4 (Spinoza’s definition of attribute) to be the infinite intellect. Indeed I do, though I am not sure much is at stake here, since for Spinoza, even a finite intellect (as opposed to ‘mind’ [mens]) does not err. I take E1d4 to refer to an infinite intellect, since Spinoza restates E1d4 in the first few lines of E2p7s, and there he explicitly refers to an infinite intellect. I agree with Alan that Spinoza’s reference to the intellect in E1d4 demands an explanation, and I attempt to provide such an explanation in a forthcoming piece (see pp. 25-30 in https://www.academia.edu/977881/The_Building_Blocks_of_Spinozas_Metaphysics_Substance_Attributes_and_Modes).
Y.1.13: Alan concludes his post with the following questions: “How does a human come to think of an infinite intellect whose structure includes unthinkable attributes? How does focusing one’s imagination on a visual or auditory image of, say E1D6, come to be an adequate idea of something involving what is humanly unthinkable?” – We have already discussed the issue of language, so let me concentrate on our lack of knowledge of the other attributes. ‘Elusive objects’ – i.e., objects whose very nature precludes their cognition by us – as Timothy Williamson calls such entities (Philosophy of Philosophy, 17), are indeed intriguing and surprising. Yet, if one shares Spinoza’s conviction that we should not fool ourselves into believing that the world is designed to fit our desires and capacities (physical or mental), then the mere oddness of such objects provides no reason to reject their possibility. Why then does Spinoza believe that God, or Nature, has infinitely many attributes, the vast majority of which are not accessible to our minds? Chapter 6 of my book provides a detailed explication of Spinoza’s perfectly adequate explanation (in Ep. 66) of our in-principle inability to know any attributes beyond Thought and Extension. It remains for us to explain here why Spinoza thinks that God, or nature, has infinitely many attributes. Coincidentally, I have just completed an article explaining Spinoza’s advocacy of actual infinity and – what is relevant for us – his reason for defining God as a substance having infinitely many attributes (the readers can find the entire piece here: https://www.academia.edu/6507803/Hasdai_Crescas_and_Spinoza_on_Actual_Infinity_and_the_Infinity_of_Gods_Attributes). To avoid repetition, I copy below the two pages that are relevant to our discussion:
“The genuine importance of Bennett’s argument against the infinity of attributes lies in the fact that it forces us to elucidate why Spinoza defines God as having infinitely many attributes. Incidentally, Spinoza provides an explicit explanation for his claim in E1p10s:
So it is far from absurd to attribute many attributes to one substance. Indeed, nothing in nature is clearer than that each being must be conceived under some attribute, and the more reality or being [realitas aut esse] it has, the more it has attributes which express necessity, or eternity, and infinity. And consequently there is also nothing clearer than that a being absolutely infinite must be defined (as we taught in D6) as a being that consists of infinite attributes, each of which expresses a certain eternal and infinite essence.
According to this passage, there is a correlation between a thing’s degree of reality and its attributes. Nothingness has no reality and hence no attributes. Finite things have a finite degree of reality, and thus have a finite number of attributes, and the absolutely infinite being is infinitely real, and thus has infinitely many attributes.
Still, one might perhaps argue that the above correlation commits Spinoza to the claim that God has more attributes (and thus is more real) than finite things, but that he need not have infinitely many attributes in order to be more real than all finite things; for this, it would suffice for him to have one attribute more than the most real finite being.
In order to address this argument, we will briefly revisit Crescas’ discussion of the infinity of God’s attributes. Crescas develops his view as an alternative to and critique of Maimonides’ negative theology, with its assertion that one should ascribe no essential attributes to God. Despite his critique of Maimonides’ position, there is one element of Maimonides’ theory which Crescas preserves: the claim that God is incommensurable with finite things. Crescas’ God has infinitely many attributes, but is still incommensurable with finite things, since there is no common measure between the finite and the infinite. Thus, Crescas writes: “It is impossible to be similar to God by having a common measure, since there is no relation [yahas] and measure [erech] between the infinite and the finite.”
If we add the claim that (1) there is no common measure between the finite and the infinite to the claim that (2) the more reality a thing has, the more attributes belong to it (E1p10), we can fully explain Spinoza’s reasons for defining God as having infinitely many attributes. Were God to have any finite number of attributes n that is greater than the number of attributes m belonging to the most real finite being, there would still be a common measure and ratio between God and finite things. In fact, n/m would be the precise representation of the relation between God and the most real finite thing.
Do we have any textual evidence showing that Spinoza accepts the claim that there is no common measure between God and finite things? We do. Spinoza asserts this claim in various formulations in several places, the most explicit of which is Ep. 54. This letter, moreover, belongs to Spinoza’s very late period (its conjectured date is September, 1674), and thus cannot be dismissed as an early, “immature,” claim.
This do I know, that between the finite and the infinite there is no relation [nullam esse proportionem], so that the difference between God and the greatest and most excellent created thing is no other than between God and the least created thing.”
 It is quite rare for Spinoza to try to motivate his definitions.
 This passage is a verbatim quote from Ep. 9 (IV/44-45). Italics added.
 “The more attributes I attribute to a being the more I am compelled to attribute existence to it; that is, the more I conceive it as true. It would be quite the contrary if I had feigned a Chimaera, or something like that” (Ep. 9| IV/45/22-25).
 Cf. Bennett 1984, 76-77.
 Crescas, Or ha-Shem, I, 3, 3; Crescas 1990, 100-106. Cf. Harvey 2010, 88-96.
 Crescas, Or ha-Shem, I, 3, 3; Crescas 1990, 106.
 I take the last paragraph of E1p17s as well as E2p10 to make this point, though establishing this reading demands a close analysis of these texts.
 Spinoza 2002, 899 (IV/253/8-12).