Sunday, January 27, 2008

Reflections: Thought Exercise

Here is a little mental exercise which may provide some insights into the relationship between Truth and Freedom:

First, consider the epistemological implications of Rebecca Goldstein’s statement concerning the quintessence of Spinoza’s philosophy [the following excerpts are from Goldstein’s book, Betraying Spinoza]:

Reality is ontologically enriched logic.

How does what we are—the conditions of our existence—relate to what we can know?

Next, consider the following excerpt from a letter written by Spinoza in response to the letter of a former tutee, who has converted to Catholicism and subsequently written to Spinoza, condemning Spinoza’s system of thought:

If you ask me in what way I know [that I understand the true philosophy], I answer: In the same way as you know that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles: that this is sufficient, will be denied by no one whose brain is sound, and who does not go dreaming of evil spirits inspiring us with false ideas like the true. For the truth is the index of itself and of what is false.

As explained by Goldstein:

Spinoza is claiming here that since he has relied on nothing but a priori reason to deduce his system, just a mathematics relies on nothing but a priori reason, his conclusions (granted that his deductions are valid) enjoy precisely the same degree of certitude as mathematics. His conclusions, just as those of mathematics, must be necessary truths, those which could not possibly have been otherwise.

Now consider the following statements of D-503, the thoroughly conditioned and indoctrinated narrator/protagonist of Eugene Zamiatin’s fictional dystopia, the United State, in the novel, WE:

The ancient god created ancient man, i.e., the man capable of mistakes; ergo, the ancient god himself made a mistake. The multiplication table is more wise and more absolute than the ancient god, for the multiplication table never (do you understand – never) makes mistakes! There are no more fortunate and happy people than those who live according to the correct, eternal laws of the multiplication table. No hesitation! No errors! There is but one truth, and there is but one path to it; and that truth is: four, and that path is: two times two. Would it not seem preposterous for these happily multiplied twos suddenly to begin thinking of some foolish kind of freedom? – i.e., …of a mistake?

Exercise:

Both Spinoza’s philosophy and the totalitarian doctrine of the United State claim to provide man—in direct opposition to religion—with his only hope of salvation. With this in mind,

1) Compare and contrast the relationship between Spinoza’s philosophy and the totalitarian doctrine of the United State, as expounded in Zamiatin’s novel.

2) If Spinoza’s philosophy cannot be shown to be fundamentally in error, what is the relationship between intellectual freedom and Objective Truth? Does the latter negate the former?

3) Consider the question: If, as is implied by the above, what we normally mean by “freedom” is a logical impossibility, what, then, are the implications for our concept of “free will”?

4) Is political “freedom” actually—if paradoxically—bondage to imaginative error and avoidable contingency?

10 comments:

Brevity said...

"Both Spinoza’s philosophy and the totalitarian doctrine of the United State claim to provide man—in direct opposition to religion—with his only hope of salvation."

Incorrect as far as Spinoza. Spinoza's Ethics is not about man's salvation. His pantheism doesn't allow for anthropomorphic gods and ideas like salvation. By Today's standards he would be considered a naturalist and an idea like salvation is forlorn. Debating his epistemology is one thing but salvation doesn't factor any way into naturalistic philosophy. IMHO.

Rodak said...

Brevity--
Yes, you are correct. The "salvation" of which Goldstein writes with connection to Spinoza's thought is not understood as personal salvation in an eternal afterlife. To Spinoza, salvation meant fully understanding, and therefore rejoicing in, one's place in the objective reality that is both "God" and "Nature."
For D-503 in WE, "salvation" meant perfect acquiescence to the clockwork regimen of the system of the United State, which represented everything with which man need concern himself, subsuming both "God" and "Nature."
The analogy between the two is that each system is founded upon mathematical principles.

Rodak said...

It must be understood that I have based this post on Goldstein's book, which represents only her take on Spinoza. It is not uncontroversial, as this excerpt from Harold Bloom's NY Times shows:

"I wish I could agree with Goldstein, who finds in Spinoza's salvation-through-peace-of-mind a reaction-formation in response to Jewish martyrdom. But he was greatly cold, and coldly great; personally admirable and one of philosophy's rare saints."

Brevity said...

I am not Brevity, I am Daniel Plainview, an oil man!
To say "both god and nature" is inaccurate. There is no distinction between the two. Substance is Being consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses eternal infinite and essence. gos IS nature and there are not two separate things.
Very sneaky.

Rodak said...

Daniel--
Again. No argument. I'll try to be more precise in my word choice in the future. Again, in "WE", both God and Nature are subsumed by (or "in") the United State. And I am contemplating the seeming similarity of the mathematical model of Spinoza's Ethics and that of the fictional dystopia of WE.

Rodak said...

Actually, Daniel, what I said was: "the objective reality that is both 'God' and 'Nature'"
--so my words actually described the unity of substance upon which you insist, under the label "objective reality."
We can argue about whether "objective reality" is the correct term for that Unity. I would say that it is.

Anonymous said...

Please find a quote from the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad:

"It is from the other that fear arises".

Meaning that the moment you conceive or perceive yourself to be separate from any and everything you are automatically possessed by a hell deep fear and trembling.

And what is more the objectified "other" is always your enemy, and you are always at war with the "other".
And you will always strive to control the "other" and inevitably seek to destroy the "other" too.

Collectives work in the same way with spectacularly devastating results.

What are the three operative presumptions of our normal "sanity"?
Particularly for monotheists and the religion of scientism --- which is just THE INEVITABLE development of Christianity, and its drive to total power and control, with the childish god idea (quite rightly) done away with.

1. We are inherently separate from God or Reality. Or put in another way "god" is the always objectified other---the great relation.
The "other" god is thus your enemy and you are always at war with god and effectively trying to control and destroy god.
This is what the enterprise of scientism is about as are all attempts to "prove" the existence of "god" by appeals to reason.

2. The world (and world proces) is entirely other or objective to man.
Therefore the world is your enemy and you are always at war with the world, and seek to control the world---the enterprise of science and "religion" based on "reason".

3. All sentient beings, including of course humans, are other and objectified.
Therefore all other beings are your enemy, and you are always at war with all other beings, and seek to control and ultimately to destroy them.
Done on the collective scale this leads to unspeakable horrors, and is more often than not justified by appeals to "reason" and the "god" of "reason"---divinely justified, via the tribal deity, mass murder and/or genocide.

So altogether we live in a fear saturated world which is inevitably dramatised or projected on to the world stage in and as the horrors of HIS-story.

Much/most/all of the current drama on the world stage is the showdown of two would be world conquering (inherently totalitarian) memes and their drive to control every one and everything. Patriarchal Islam and Christianity.

Any religion that claims to possess the ONLY truth/way/revelation has effectively declared war against ALL other religions and their cultural expressions.
And WILL use whatever means they can to further their agenda of total power and control

Rodak said...

Anonymous--
Rebecca Goldstein is an avowed atheist. Spinoza has been considered an atheist by some, and a pantheist by others. Goldstein's book does what I feel to be a nice job of considering Spinoza within the context of his Jewishness, and his estrangement therefrom.
What you say about patriarchal Christianity and Islam is, unfortunately quite accurate.
Organized--that is, exoteric--religion, in general, is exclusive, and therefore prone to generate distrust, hatred, and, at the extreme, warfare.
The esoteric message of Christianity, which is actually a reaction against--or an evolutionary improvement upon--the tribal Judaism that preceded it, is not essentially dualistic. Jesus would have understood--perhaps did understand (?) the concept "Thou Art That."

Daniel Plainview, Oil Man said...

What are the three operative presumptions of our normal "sanity"?

Sanity is overrated.

1. We are inherently separate from God or Reality.

NOT in Spinoza. Man is not separate from nature, man is nature.

2. The world (and world proces) is entirely other or objective to man.

Again, NOT in Spinoza's pantheism. Spinoza laid out 3 important definitions: Nature, Attribute, and Mode and worked his way from here. Man is not separate from nature.

3. All sentient beings, including of course humans, are other and objectified.

Humans, by definition, can't be objectified in Spinoza's philosophy.

The interesting thing is how evolutionary psychology is beginning to capture this: consciousness is not divine intervention, it is a result of darwinian natural selection just like stereoscopic vision. Hence no separation from nature.

I've often thought of the statement, "god created man in his own image" and immediately felt sorry for god. If this is true, read your newspaper tonight and you will feel sorry for god.

Rodak said...

If this is true, read your newspaper tonight and you will feel sorry for god.

Religion would, of course, reply to this by recounting the Fall, as a result of which the image of Man was distorted by sin.
This brings into the discussion the subject of Free Will.
If Man is one with nature, then how can any individual be said, in any meaningful way, to choose his acts?