Two Problems in Spinoza's Theory of Mind

Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Mind 2:337-378 (2022)
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My aim in what follows is to expound and (if possible) resolve two problems in Spinoza’s theory of mind. The first problem is how Spinoza can accept a key premise in Descartes’s argument for dualism—that thought and extension are separately conceivable, “one without the help of the other”—without accepting Descartes’s conclusion that no substance is both thinking and extended. Resolving this problem will require us to consider a crucial ambiguity in the notion of conceiving one thing without another, the credentials of Descartes’s principle that each substance has a principal attribute, and the prospect of neutral monism as a theory of the mind. The second problem is how Spinoza can maintain that each mental event is identical with some physical event (and conversely) while denying that there is ever any causal interaction between mental and physical events. If one mental event causes another and the first is identical with some physical event, must that physical event not cause the mental event? Resolving this problem will require looking into the reach of opacity in Spinoza’s philosophy and considering whether there are ever any legitimate exceptions to Leibniz’s Law.

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James Van Cleve
University of Southern California


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