Inherence of False Beliefs in Spinoza’s Ethics

Society and Politics 10 (2):74-94 (2016)
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In this paper I argue, based on a comparison of Spinoza's and Descartes‟s discussion of error, that beliefs are affirmations of the content of imagination that is not false in itself, only in relation to the object. This interpretation is an improvement both on the winning ideas reading and on the interpretation reading of beliefs. Contrary to the winning ideas reading it is able to explain belief revision concerning the same representation. Also, it does not need the assumption that I misinterpret my otherwise correct ideas as the interpretation reading would have it. In the first section I will provide a brief overview of the notion of inherence and its role in Spinoza‟s discussion of the status of finite minds. Then by examining the relation between Spinoza‟s and Descartes‟ distinction of representations and attitudes, I show that affirmation can be identified with beliefs in Spinoza. Next, I will take a closer look at the identification of intellect and will and argue that Spinoza's identification of the two is based on the fact that Spinoza sees both as the active aspect of the mind. After that, I analyze Spinoza‟s comments on the different scopes of will and intellect, and argue that beliefs are affirmations of the imaginative content of the idea. Finally, through Spinoza‟s example of the utterance of mathematical error, I present my solution to the problem of inherence of false beliefs.

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Oliver Toth
University of Graz


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