Spinoza's Deification of Existence

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The aim of this paper is to clarify Spinoza’s views on some of the most fundamental issues of his metaphysics: the nature of God’s attributes, the nature of existence and eternity, and the relation between essence and existence in God. While there is an extensive literature on each of these topics, it seems that the following question was hardly raised so far: What is, for Spinoza, the relation between God’s existence and the divine attributes? Given Spinoza’s claims that there are intimate connections between God’s essence and his existence – “God’s essence and his existence are one and the same”(E1p20) – and between God’s essence and the attributes – “By attribute I understand what the intellect perceives of substance, as constituting its essence” (E1d4), we would naturally expect that by transitivity, there is a significant relation between God’s existence and the attributes. Yet, as far as I know, there is little, if any, attempt in the existing literature to explicate such a relation, and it is one of my aims of this study to both raise the question and answer it. Eventually, I will argue that for Spinoza God is nothing but existence, and that the divine attributes are just fundamental kinds of existence, or, what is the same, as I will later argue, the intellect’s most fundamental and adequate conceptions of existence. In the first part of the paper I provide some background for Spinoza’s brief discussion in the TTP of God’s name and essence by studying the claims of Maimonides in the Guide of the Perplexed that God’s true essence is necessary existence, and that this essence is denoted by the ineffable Hebrew name of God, the Tetragrammaton (YHVH). In the second part of the paper I point out similar claims Spinoza presents in the TTP, and show how they respond to and echo Maimonides’ discussion in the Guide. In the third part, I examine Spinoza’s apparently conflicting claims in the Ethics about the relationship between God’s essence and existence. In some places Spinoza claims that God’s essence and existence are strictly identical (E1p10: “God’s essence his existence are one and the same”), but in other passages he makes the apparently much more modest claim that God’s essence involves existence (E1d1, E1p7d and E1p11d), which may lead one to believe that there is more to God’s essence than mere existence. I show that Spinoza’s understanding of the relation denoted by the Latin ‘involvit’ is consistent with the strict identification of essence and existence in God, and that Spinoza identifies God’s essence with self-necessitated existence, or eternity. Indeed, Spinoza’s understanding of eternity [aeternitas] as self-necessitated existence (E1d8) is one of the very few Spinozistic concepts that has no trace in Descartes. In this part I will also solve the long-standing problem of the sense in which the infinite modes can be called ‘eternal.’ In the fourth part I turn to the relation between the divine attributes and God’s existence and argue that, for Spinoza, the attributes are self-sufficient and adequate conceptions of existence. Finally, I will attempt to explain what brought Spinoza to deify existence. Part I: “In that Day shall God be One, and his Name One”- Maimonides on God’s Name and Essence. 1.1 Before we delve into the texts, let me suggest a few distinctions between various views on the issue of the relation between essence and existence in God. The view I suspect both Maimonides and Spinoza subscribe to can be termed the divine essence-existence Identity Thesis. Identity Thesis (IT): God’s essence is existence and nothing but existence. We should distinguish the Identity Thesis from the much more common view according to which God’s essence contains existence, or (which I take to be roughly the same) that existence is one of the properties or perfections which constitute God’s essence. The latter view allows for the possibility (though it does not demand) that there is more to God’s essence than bare existence (e.g., God’s essence may include omniscience, omnipotence, etc.). I will term this view the divine essence-existence Containment Thesis.
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First archival date: 2011-10-04
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