untitled note

Nicholas Chen sunday, february 6, 2022
I've been reading Betraying Spinoza by Rebecca Goldstein. It's really good so far, an interesting combination of describing Spinoza the person biographically, describing his philosophy, and describing the tensions between those two aims.

I haven't enjoyed reading something this much in a while. Usually I struggle to read more than 10 pages of something at a time, but I found this really engaging. Feels like the right level of philosophical sophistication for me right now - the concepts are comprehensible but still challenging and novel, and the biographical element adds a level of allure as well.

It's been rewarding seeing how the more
philosophy I read, the more complex texts I'm able to understand. I think the metaphysics class I'm taking right now has helped illuminate some of the concepts as well.

Thoughts on the book

Spinoza seems to reject the ego in favor of something transcendent - Goldstein claims in Betraying Spinoza that he thinks that as we become more rational, we increasingly have the same identity.

An interesting contrast here, because as Goldstein herself admits, her project aims to understand Spinoza the man, going directly against his radically self effacing philosophy.

Also contrast to
Nietzsche's famous dictum that all philosophy is a kind of personal confession on the part of the philosopher. This certainly seems true to an extent - a lot of biographers think Spinoza built his system out of need to cope with his own loneliness.

I have an instinctive negative reaction against any sort of philosophy that preaches against personal identity/ego. The psychological reason for this is probably that I am a proud person.

However I think I can also provide a principled argument against this "anti-ego/pro-transcendental" (albeit one that is also somewhat psychological). Along the lines of Nietzsche's argument, philosophy is deeply personal, and more often than not it reflects contingencies about the philosopher's personality rather than uncovering deep timeless truths. It seems to be the case that most philosophers who argue in favor of something transcendental and against the "ego" or "personal identity" are self-effacing individuals already. It's not like they'd be giving up much by renouncing their personal identities. Also, it's not particularly impressive for someone who's naturally humble to preach the virtues of humility - in a sense it seems like they're simply deifying aspects of their personality, rather than presenting a principled argument.

I do remember reading somewhere that Nietzsche admired Spinoza, so I'm curious to see how he resolved (or didn't resolve) the tension between his views on
philosophy and Spinoza's.