Spinozan Meditations on Life and Death

In Life and Death in Early Modern Philosophy. New York, NY, USA: Oxford University Press. pp. 125-156 (2021)
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In Ethics 4, Spinoza argues that “A free man thinks of nothing less than of death, and his wisdom is a meditation on life, not on death” (E4p67). Spinoza’s argument for this claim depends on his view of imagination, reason, and scientia intuitiva and on his notion of conatus. I explicate Spinoza’s view of life in terms of power (potentia) and show that Spinozan death amounts to reconfiguration rather than absolute annihilation. I then show that E4p67 reflects Spinoza’s well-known account of the three kinds of knowing. Thinking of death is quintessentially imaginative and passive. The free person of E4p67 is in contrast a rational person. To reason, and as becomes especially clear E5, to experience scientia intuitiva, moreover is to think of things “without any relation to time, but [rather] sub specie aeternatitis”(E2p44c2) and to experience activity To the extent, then, that we are rational, free, and active, death is a non-issue. Indeed, to the extent that we are able to meditate on life sub specie aeternitatis, we actually experience joy, love (E5p20s, p32c), eternity (Sp23s), and “the greatest satisfaction of the Mind” (E5p27).

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Julie R. Klein
Villanova University


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