Liberal Politms and Moral Excellence in" Spinoza's Political Philosophy GERALD M. MARA I SPINOZA OCCUPIES a unique place in the history of Western political thought.' On the one hand, he provides a firm defense of liberal politics and of the immunity of personal private activity from governmental influence . But he also constructs an ethical theory with close similarities to that developed classically by Plato and Aristotle, especially in the claim that one way of life is demonstrably best for all human beings.~This combination of principles or teachings is an unusual one. Liberal politics has generally coexisted uneasily with claims that different ways of life can be evaluated and compared on a rational (demonstrable, binding) basis. Arguing for the superiority of certain human activities has often spawned the suggestion that government ought to do something to foster them and theretore ought to teach or encourage virtue, the conclusion drawn by both Plato and Aristotle. Conversely, proponents of liberal politics have usually argued that the rational comparison of personal goals and lifestyles is both impossible and undesirable. For all its generality, this description fairly Two anthologies contain many of the recent contributions to Spinoza scholarship in this and related areas. See Marjorie Grene, ed., Spinoza: A Collection of Critical Essays (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1973), and Maurice Mandelbaum and Eugene Freeman, eds., Spinoza: Essays in Interpretation (Lasalle, Ind.: Open Court Press, 1975). ' See especially E. M. Curley, "Spinoza's Moral Philosophy," in Grene, Critical Essays, pp. 354-76- Additional insights can be found in Stuart Hampshire, "Spinoza and the Idea of Freedom," in Grene, Critical Essays, pp. 297-317; and Robert McShea, "Spinoza in the History of Ethical Theory," Philosophical Forum 8 (1978): 59-67. [1291 13o HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY renders the "liberal tradition" as it extends from the sophists to John Rawls and Robert Nozick.~ Consequently, a liberal political philosopher who contends that the best way for human beings to live can be rationally discovered deserves some special attention. This essay has three goals: first, to show how Spinoza combines these moral and political positions, that is, how he proceeds from moral conclusions formally similar to those of Plato and Aristotle to a strikingly different set of political recommendations; second, to assess the strengths and weaknesses of that combination, particularly as compared with the Platonic and Aristotelian models; and third, to use the first two analyses to draw some general implications for issues important in contemporary moral and political theory. My basic contention is that Spinoza supports his liberal politics with a philosophy of human action that describes human beings in radically individualistic terms. This conception of action follows Spinoza's claim that efficient causes explain all natural occurrences and his corresponding rejection of teleology, or explanations by final causes. However, I want to suggest that Spinoza's denial of the sense of all teleological theories of action may not be justified adequately within his philosophy. Moreover, a number of dangerous practical consequences stem from his separation of politics and ethics. The problems inherent in Spinoza's treatment of the relationship between liberalism and human excellence raise some serious questions about many contemporary analyses of liberal politics. They also suggest that a certain kind of teleology may have an indispensable role in moral and political philosophy. II Near the end of the Theological-Political Treatise Spinoza apparently posits a strict connection between ethical, or psychological, truths and political theory : "This [democratic] method of government is undoubtedly best, and least subject to inconveniences; for it is most suited to human nature. TM On 3 This position gets its clearest expression in the works of Rawls and Nozick. But the godfather of this claim at least in the last thirty years is certainly Karl Popper (see The Open Society and Its Enemies, 4th ed., 2 vols. [New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1962]). The classic defense of the sophists as liberals is Eric Havelock, The Liberal Temper in Greek Politics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957). An excellent overview of this conceptual framework as a whole is Stephen Salkever, "Virtue, Obligation and Politics," American Political Science Review 68 (1974): 78-92. 4 Spinoza, The Political Works, ed. and trans. A. G...
Although little known outside of France, Martial Gueroult was an influential historian of philosophy whose genetic and internalist approach to philosophical ‘systems’ was a source of inspiration for many thinkers operating within the loosely defined framework of structuralism. A resolutely apolitical academic, Gueroult taught for many years at Strasbourg and then at the Sorbonne before being elected to the Collège de France in 1951. Gueroult named his position there the ‘Chair in the History and Technology of Philosophical Systems’, and used it to develop a research program that was explicitly opposed to historicist and hermeneutic approaches to philosophy. Shortly after his election to the Collège, Gueroult was involved in a polemic with Ferdinand Alquié over the proper method for studying Descartes. Where Alquié had offered a reading that emphasized the existential trajectory of Descartes’ experience of radical doubt, Gueroult insisted that Descartes must be read ‘according to the order of reasons’, a phrase that provided the subtitle of Gueroult’s own study, which appeared in 1953. In 1968, Gueroult published the first of two volumes on Spinoza, whose content was drawn from his previous teachings at the Collège in the early 1960s. Gueroult’s presentation of Spinozism as an ‘absolute rationalism’ and his deliberate attempt to show the inadequacy of Hegel’s understanding of Spinoza’s concept of determination were a profound influence on the Spinozism of Louis Althusser and Gilles Deleuze. Gueroult’s insistence on reading philosophical systems in a manner which affirmed the primacy and immanent logic of conceptual relations, and which refused all recourse to a figure of consciousness that might be correlated with the subjective experience of the author in question, resonated with the authors of the Cahiers. Such insistence accounts for the inclusion of one of Gueroult’s essays in volume 6 (an essay which tracks the transformation and tensions within the concept of nature between Rousseau and Fichte) and the praise of his method in the editorial introduction to that volume.
In the Cahiers pour l’Analyse
|Martial Gueroult, ‘Nature humaine et état de nature chez Rousseau, Kant et Fichte’, CpA 6.1||[HTML]||[PDF]||[SYN]|
- La Philosophie transcendantale de Salomon Maimon. Paris: Alcan, 1929
- L’Évolution et la structure de la doctrine de la science chez Fichte. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1930.
- Descartes selon l’ordre des raisons. 2 vols. Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1953. Descartes’ Philosophy Interpreted According to the Order of Reasons, trans. Roger Ariew. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984 (vol.1), 1985 (vol. 2).
- ‘Leçon inaugurale’, faite le 4 décembre 1951, Collège de France, chaire d’histoire et de technologie des systèmes philosophiques. Nogent-le-rotrou: Daupeley-Gouverneur, 1952.
- Spinoza I: Dieu. Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1968. Appendix 9, ‘Spinoza’s Letter on the Infinite’, trans. Kathleen McLaughlin. In Spinoza: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Marjorie Grene. New York: Doubleday, 1973.
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