Haven't had enough Spinoza? Watch a panel of Spinoza scholars weigh in via a two-hour Philoctetes Center roundtable.
The video is configured so that I can't embed it here; check it out on youtube here: http://youtu.be/v29FVZ0rry8
The discussion is rambling and badly needs editing. The panelists all monologuize (worse than we do on the podcast) and (particularly near the beginning of the discussion) barely respond to each other (or when they do, it's often 20 minutes later, so you've lost the thread). So use your progress bar on this one to jump ahead (skip the first 3.5 minutes, for one; there's nothing interesting there) and check out each of the speakers, who include:
-The moderator Akeel Bilgrami (from Columbia), who is cogent (well, they all are, of course), but talks so slowly and seems more concerned with historical trends than philosophical meat (e.g. which philosophers should be considered responsible for Englightenment secularism?), so you may want to just skip over his portions.
-Steven Nader, who (at minute 23 or so) elaborates some of his positions already introduced in this video, e.g. that Spinoza is not really a pantheist.
-Jonathan Israel (Princeton), i.e. the British, bald, sour-looking guy ("one of the greatest enemies of analytic philosophy around," he calls himself), who has some interesting back-and-forth with Nadler re. whether Spinoza should be considered a materialist or a dualist (about an hour in) and makes several points about Spinoza's reputation through the history of philosophical teaching.
-Catherine Wilson (CUNY), who (at 1:07, i.e. one hour 7 minutes) gives Spinoza's position in the tradition of materialists and (around 1:38) makes a brief, interesting argument against traditional views of Descartes as a dualist.
-Joel Whitebook (Columbia), Richard Kind impersonator, who's a last minute fill-in and talks almost exclusively about the connections between Spinoza and Freud.
Overall, following Bilgrami's initial focus on the history involved, there's some interesting information here about the place of "Spinozism" in history, as a common slur, unlike Locke, who (according to Israel) was often brought out to defend the status quo in ongoing political and cultural debates.
Around 1:20, the discussion tries to turn to the emotion and neuroscience, but Bilgrami pulls it right back to politics and history. Maimonides fans, jump to around 1:58, and the most focused discussion of Spinoza as an ethicist takes place in the last 10 minutes of the discussion. Plus, Leibniz cookies!
By: Mark Linsenmayer
Ken Suwa says
I hope someday I can make a girl like Catherine happy. Compared to her control and poise I am quite the barbarous foul.
A. Bilgrami on the other hand I felt was very calculating in his expression, asked good questions and made really interesting comments in passing, and his “rhetorical” skill, while he kept himself civilized, was impressive to me. He might not have expounded “true” philosophical insight but there were subtleties that (in my opinion) made him the most “philosophical.”
Joel Whitebook – I wish I were more acquainted wth Freud. I could not help but feel like he was there to be a hidden psycho-analyst trying to figure out something.
Steven Nadler – I have had the opportunity to read his biography on Spinoza. Although his perspective (in the book) gave me a lot of insight, as well as his writing style and organization was easy to read, I was a bit dissappointed with the book. As far as the discussion, he obviously “knew” a lot, but I could not help but feel that he lacked a depth in personality.
Jonathan Israel – (I choose not to say anything about him)
As far as my own opinions on Spinoza: Since I am an American citizen (ie: from the American perspective), I unfortunately am becoming slowly much more of an antiSpinozist. I think Spinoza had great intension for why he wrote the TTP. But in following with some of L. Struass’s critique of Spinoza, I think Spinoza’s future trust in “human rationality” to liberate creatures who are superstitious, did away with some of the “usefulness” of religious mythology. Spinoza and the secular enlightenment did away (gradually) with the tradition of questioning the ontological status of such notions of “Heaven and Hell” or “Judement at the end of days.” All were just imaginative superstitions, putting “fear” in the creatures as to be more easily dominated and oppressed by the Catholic authorities as well as some of the Monarchs.
Ironically, in America there is a different type of superstitious belief that is in my opinion ailing a good part of America. Simply put: “non-selective-consermerism and hedonism.” Due to America’s inheritied traditions (such as our dependancy on secular-science and the separation of the Church and State), self-concious “morality” has dissapeared. Even “if” Spinoza is right, that religious teachings about a “superstitious-sense” towards a belief in an omniscient God judging us for our moral behavior, and that when we die we might go to Hell, is complete non-sense and can be overcome by rationality, “can anyone argue” that in the near future (20-30 years from now, or sooner) religious “superstitious-imagination” in the populace might be useful for the moral fabric of certain sectors of America?
Mark Linsenmayer says
Freud anticipated your question re. the utility of “superstitious beliefs” for social morality and devotes some chunk of his “Future of an Illusion” to it. Check it out!