Spinoza and the Theory of Organism

Journal of the History of Philosophy 3 (1):43-57 (1965)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Spinoza and the Theory of Organism HANS JONAS I CARTESIANDUALISMlanded speculation on the nature of life in an impasse: intelligible as, on principles of mechanics, the correlation of structure and function became within the res extensa, that of structure-plus-function with feeling or experience (modes of the res cogitans) was lost in the bifurcation, and thereby the fact of life itself became unintelligible at the same time that the explanation of its bodily performance seemed to be assured. The impasse became manifest in Occasionalism : its tour de force of an extraneous, divine "synchronization" of the outer and the inner world (the latter denied to animals) not only suffered from its extreme artificiality, the common failing of such ad hoc constructions, but even at so high a cost failed to accomplish its theoretical purpose by its own terms. For the animal machine, like any machine, raises beyond the question of the "how" that of the "what for" of its functioning---of the purpose for which it had thus been constructed by its maker.1 Its performance, however devoid of immanent teleology, must serve an end, and that end must be someone's end. This end may (directly) be itself, as indeed Descartes had implied when declaring self-preservation to be the effect of the functioning of the organic automaton. In that case the existence as such of the machine would be its end--either terminally, or in turn to benefit something else. In the former case, the machine would have to be more than a machine, for a mere machine cannot enioy its existence. But since, by the rigorous conception of the res extensa, it cannot be more than a machine, its function and/or existence must serve something other than itself. Automata in Descartes ' time were mainly for entertainment (rather than work). But the raison d'etre of the living kingdom could not well be seen in God's indulging his mechanical abilities or in the amusement of celestial spectators--especially since mere complexity of arrangement does not create new quality and thus add something to the unrelieved sameness of the simple substratum that might enrich the spectrum of being. For quality, beyond the primitive determinations of the extended per se, is the subjective creature of sensation, the confused representation of quantity in a mind; and thus organisms cannot harbor it because as mere machines they lack mentality, and pure spirits cannot because they lack sensuality, or the privilege of confusion and thereby of illusion with its possible enjoyment. And as to their intellectual enjoyment, even that, deprived of the thrill of discovery by the same token, would pale in the contemplation of what to sufficiently large The concept of "machine," adopted for its strict confinementto efficientcause, is still a finalisticconcept,even thoughthe final cause is no longer internal to the entity, as a mode of its own operation,but external to it as antecedent design. [43] 44 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY intellects is nothing but the ever-repeated exemplification of the same few, elementary (and ultimately trivial) truths. There remained, then, the time-honored--Stoic as well as Christian--idea that plants and animals are for the benefit of Man. Indeed, since the existence of a living world is the necessary condition for the existence of any of its members, the self-justifying nature of at least one such member (= species) would justify the existence of the whole. In Stoicism, Man provided this end by his possession of reason, which makes him the culmination of a terrestrial scale of being that is also self-justifying throughout all its grades (the end as the best of many that are good in degrees) ; in Christianity, by his possession of an immortal soul, which makes him the sole imago Dei in creation (the end as the sole issue at stake) ; and Cartesian dualism radicalized this latter position by making man even the sole possessor of inwardness or "soul" of any kind, thus the only one of whom "end" can meaningfully be predicated as he alone can entertain ends. All other life then, the product of physical necessity, can be considered his means. However, this traditional idea, in its anthropocentric vanity never a...


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