Reflective Knowledge

In Yitzhak Melamed (ed.), A Companion to Spinoza. Wiley Blackwell. pp. 265-275 (2021)
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In this chapter, I first turn to Spinoza’s obscure “ideas of ideas” doctrine and his claim that “as soon as one knows something, one knows that one knows it, and simultaneously knows that one knows that one knows, and so on, to infinity” (E2p21s). On my view, Spinoza, like Descartes, holds that a given idea can be conceived either in terms of what it represents or as an act of thinking: E2p7 (where Spinoza presents his doctrine of the “parallelism” of minds and bodies) primarily concerns the former way of conceiving of an idea while E2p21 primarily concerns the latter. I propose that in E2p21, Spinoza makes a few crucial points about an adequate idea conceived as the “idea of the idea,” or as the activity of thinking: 1) when one has an adequate representation of p, one automatically knows that one is thinking an adequate representation of p, and 2) this reflective knowledge cannot be improved. I then turn to E2p43, “he who has a true idea at the same time knows that he has a true idea, and cannot doubt the truth of the thing." This is a denial of skepticism, but I think we need to be careful. E2p21 and E2p43 rule out the most hyperbolic doubts like those we see in Descartes's Third Meditation (AT VII 36), so it is the case that thinkers need no additional validation for the “adequate ideas of properties of things” and “common notions” employed in "cognition of the second kind," or reason. However, a reasoning thinker might nevertheless be troubled by doubts about the extramental world. As I have argued in other work, we can take Spinoza as following Descartes at least this far: once our reasoning thinker comes to adequate ideas of God and God’s relation to things, their ideas cannot be rendered doubtful. Here I concede that because one can reason to these adequate ideas of God and God's relation to things, scientia intuitiva is not unique in removing doubt. However, scientia intuitiva may still be distinctive in the way it removes doubt.
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