The Causes of Our Belief in Free Will: Spinoza on Necessary, ‘Innate,’ yet False Cognition

In Spinoza’s Ethics: A Critical Guide. Cambridge University Press (2017)
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This chapter will discuss Spinoza’s critique of free will, though our brief study of this topic in the first part of the chapter will aim primarily at preparing us to address the main topic of the chapter, which is Spinoza’s explanation of the reasons which force us to believe in free will. At times, Spinoza seems to come very close to asserting the paradoxical claim that we are not free to avoid belief in free will. In the second part of the chapter I will closely examine Spinoza’s etiological explanation of how we come to form the belief in free will. In the third part, I will raise and respond to a crucial objection to Spinoza’s explanation of the formation of our belief in free will. I will then turn to examine Fichte’s intriguing claim that Spinoza’s position on the issue of free will suffers from an internal contradiction, as evinced in Fichte’s suggestive remark: “Spinoza could not have been convinced of his own philosophy. He could only have thought of it; he could not have believed it [Er konnte seine Philosphie nur denken, nicht sie glauben].”

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Yitzhak Melamed
Johns Hopkins University


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