Spinoza’s Monism II: A Proposal

Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 105 (3):444-469 (2023)
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An old question in Spinoza scholarship is how finite, non-eternal things transitively caused by other finite, non-eternal things (i. e., the entities described in propositions like E1p28) are caused by the infinite, eternal substance, given that what follows either directly or indirectly from the divine nature is infinite and eternal (E1p21–23). In “Spinoza’s Monism I,” “Spinoza’s Monism I,” in the previous issue of this journal. I pointed out that most commentators answer this question by invoking entities that are indefinite and sempiternal, but argued that perhaps we should not be so quick to assume that in Spinoza’s system, an infinite and eternal substance could cause such indefinite, sempiternal entities. But if such eternal-durational causation is denied, then it seems harder to see how Spinoza’s system could be coherent: if Spinoza holds that the infinite, eternal substance cannot cause anything that is not infinite and not eternal, then how can he also hold that all things are modes immanently caused by substance (E1p15, E1p18, E1p25)? In this essay, I explain how Spinoza’s system could be understood in light of a denial of eternal-durational causation. On the interpretation I offer, God is the cause of all things and all things are modes because the essences of all things follow from the divine nature and all essences enjoy infinite, eternal reality as modes immanently caused by the infinite, eternal substance. The same non-substantial essences can also be conceived as enjoying non-infinite, non-eternal reality, but so conceived, they are enduring, finite (or sempiternal, indefinite) entities that cannot be conceived as modes caused by and inhering in the one infinite, eternal substance. I conclude by pointing out that if we take this interpretive route, we do have to understand Spinoza as committed to acosmism, or a denial of the reality of the world – at least the world of enduring, finite things.

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Kristin Primus
University of California, Berkeley


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