Spinoza's Theory of the Human Mind: Consciousness, Memory, and Reason

Dissertation, University of Groningen/UQTR (2019)
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Abstract
Spinoza attributes mentality to all things existing in nature. He claims that each thing has a mind that perceives everything that happens in the body. Against this panpsychist background, it is unclear how consciousness relates to the nature of the mind. This study focuses on Spinoza’s account of the conscious mind and its operations. It builds on the hypothesis that Spinoza’s panpsychism can be interpreted as a self-consistent philosophical position. It aims at providing answers to the following questions: what is consciousness, for Spinoza, and what are the causes that determine its presence in nature? How can human and non-human individuals be distinguished on account of their mentality? How can Spinoza conceive of the human mind as consisting entirely of conscious perceptions? And how, according to Spinoza’s mind-body parallelism, is the content of consciousness determined so that it reflects in thought the order and connection of the actions and passions of the body? To address these questions, I first determine what Spinoza’s notion of “consciousness” is and how he uses it. Then, I investigate whether he has a theory of recognition capable of accounting for specifically human behaviour and mentality. Further, I examine his description of memory and the way in which memory shapes the framework of human conscious thought. Finally, I look for an account of discursive reasoning, capable of explaining the existence of activities of the mind that, by operating on the content provided by memory, preserve themselves through time and change.
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