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Shawn
post Jan 23, 2003, 05:48 PM
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hello everyone,

there's so much to talk about in philosophy, but first we should talk about getting started.  Perhaps we could start in broad strokes, just listing some important, influential philosophers and their key ideas.  

I've always found Spinoza's geometric approach to Nature/God, as well as his geometric presentation in the Ethics, to be very inspirational and interesting, and I'm wondering whether other people have regarded him in a similar way.  Or what about Nietzsche, or Berkeley, or Schopenhauer?

looking forward to some replies.

Shawn
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ErikCSA
post Jun 16, 2003, 09:26 AM
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hello,

Ahh I am a young beginner at philosophy, and i personally love Spinoza!! The first time I read about him in a neat little book Story of Philosophy by Will Durant, I was amazed by how so many later ideas in psychology can be traced back to him, not to Freud, as I once thought. It also seems that the latest advances in physics are confirming his meta-physic (maybe its not a meta-physic anymore?).
I started reading about Spinoza at the beginning of my senior year in high school and was inspired enough that I've tried to follow his geometric style in many of my own papers, the last of which I posted at http://groups.msn.com/TheHeadMonksKookyKri.../godandman.msnw , anyways I was wondering what a more experienced scholar thinks about my paper, since it's too late in the year to get my teacher's opinion before graduation.
The paper should be interesting: much of Spinoza's God, and an attempt at arriving at a universal moral code for mankind by Spinoza's great "conatus sese preservandi." It may be a bit clunky, I had to write it in class and had no time to edit.
I would love some input
                                       A beginner,
                                              Erik
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Shawn
post Jun 16, 2003, 10:59 AM
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hello Erik,

it's great to have you here with us.  I'm not going to get into Spinoza here and now, because I just got in from work and am tired, but I did want to welcome you here to our forum, and to let you know that I also came across Spinoza for the first time, when I was very young, by reading "Story of Philosophy" by Will Durant.   I thought that book was magical, what was said about Schopenhauer, Spinoza, and others.   Will Durant's treatment of Schopenhauer turned me off to him at a young age (Durant more or less dismisses Schopenhauer as a pessimist and seems to overly-emphasize Schopenhauer's weaker points), which is unfortunate because Schopenhauer is pure genius, and it wasn't until years later that I began his "World as Will and Representation" in earnest, and appreciated how remarkable this man's thoughts were.  Will Durant treats Spinoza very nicely, in a positive light, in his "Story of Philosophy".  I remember that soon after reading Durant's book, I went out and got Spinoza's "Ethics" and his "Improvement on the Understanding".  I enjoyed both books very much, but the "Ethics" is his true masterpiece, and is a work that I still re-read even today.   Einstein once said that he believed in Spinoza's God.   Given Einstein's genius, I think we should take his words seriously and give careful thought and consideration to what exactly Spinoza's God is.   Spinoza defines God as the one substance whose essence necessarily involves existence, and is characterized by his infinite attributes (of which thought and extension are but two).   Spinoza also refers to God as Total Affirmation.   Nothing is denied to God.    A very interesting conception of God.   Many people characterize Spinoza as a mystic, but the extent to which he was a mystic in the Eastern philosophical sense (as in the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads mystical union with god, aka Atman, aka Brahman) is something I'm still looking into.   In particular, I'm still deciding what sort of mind-set Spinoza was in, and what sort of mystical experience, if any, that he experienced.

Btw, I love his geometrical presentation in his "Ethics".   Even though axiomatic systems are inherently limited (by Godel's Incompleteness Theorem), nonetheless, axiomatic presentations are very conducive to my mind, which makes reading his "Ethics" a genuine pleasure.

Namaste,
Shawn
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ErikCSA
post Jun 16, 2003, 06:39 PM
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Thank you very much for your reply Shawn,

I shall definitely look into Schopenhauer, and I am pleasantly surprised at finding another person with interest in Spinoza. I often have a hard time introducing him to friends. I find many dismiss him simply because his pantheism at its face value may seem too mystical. I interpret Spinoza's God to be much like the paper a picture is drawn on, the picture being the universe, and that God is not to be thought of as some supernatural spirit inside all things, rather the substance, or better, the essence of the thing itself.
By the way, I plan on reading "Ethics" before I begin college. I was wondering if anyone has read "Looking for Spinoza" by Damasio, I'm very interested in getting that.
But anyways, thanks for the recommendation of Shopenhauer (any reading suggestions if not "story of philosophy"?), and I am very interested in finding how the God of the Eastern philosophies compares to Spinoza's.

In my opinion, Spinoza's mind-set was caused by being so very isolated from the rest of humankind, and as such it was his greatest desire to unite himself with God, the universe, and the chain of events in nature. But I think his greatest characteristic was his aim at unifying all these areas of thought that were considered by many to be completely separate: God and nature, mind and body, science and math. This is what draws me so near to him.
I am also very interested in Kant, but I am having trouble understanding Will Durant's interpretation of Critique of Pure Reason in his "Story of Philosophy." I was turned off to Berkeley after my teacher described him as believing that everything we see is only an illusion from our minds or God, maybe I got the wrong idea. maybe I speak of too many things in one post!

Ah, with "Ethics" I am looking forword to a very mentally challenging summer.

Thank you,
Erik
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Shawn
post Jun 16, 2003, 10:40 PM
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thank you, too, Erik, for your reply.   I don't remember Will Durant's treatment of Kant in his "Story of Philosophy", which probably means that it didn't leave much impression on me at the time.   Berkeley ("Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge", which can be found at http://eserver.org/18th/berkeley.txt ) , who I didn't read until I was an undergrad, left quite an impression on me, but not so much as Nietzsche ("Thus Spoke Zarathustra", which can be found at http://brainmeta.com/zara0.html ), Spinoza ("Ethics", some of which can be found at http://brainmeta.com/EthicsPartI.html ) , and Schopenhauer ("World as Will and Representation", which I haven't been able to find online, but have a hardcopy of the Payne translation from Dover Publishing).    And then, of course, there's the wealth of the Eastern philosophies (found in the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, Hua Hu Ching, Dhammapada, etc....), which tend to focus on the subjective in a similar manner as Berkeley, though in an altogether different style and with different results.

I know of Spinoza's biography and of his isolation from humankind.   This sort of isolation is relatively commonly found (but of course, not always found) among great intellectual geniuses (Newton, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, etc...), but I don't think you can infer any of their mindsets (and they all had different mindsets) from the fact of their isolation alone.    Spinoza seems mathematically-minded, or that his mind was of a mathematical nature; precise, quantitative, extremely abstract, rational.    The question is whether he actually experienced the transcendent mystical states that are described in various Eastern philosophies as samadhi or nirvana, the mystical states in which all dualities are dissolved, including the subject/object duality, and also all forms of reflective consciousness.    Neither Spinoza's isolation, nor his mathematical mind, compel me to believe that he experienced these things, and so one must turn to his works, and the content of his writings, particular as found in his "Ethics".   Here, he describes an "intellectual love" of God, equates Nature with God, and praises "intuition" over mere knowledge, but I'm still left wondering whether he'd experienced anything truly mystical in the manner that I described above.   Without further consideration, I'm swayed to say 'No', but further consideration is certainly needed before one can make such a pronouncement on this great mind.

take care,
Shawn
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Timothy_417
post Jun 17, 2003, 12:05 PM
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I am inclined to believe with Russell that philosophy an intricate and unbroken weave of thought and counter-thought expressed as a historigraphical dialogue--"philosophy is the study of itself."  As such, I tend to believe that any isolated attempt to understand any of the major philosophers is invariably incomplete although undoubtedly still of some worth.  For western philosophy, you really have to start with Thales, progress to the atomists and the sceptics, Plato and Aristotle.  You have to understand the cultural significance of the fall of Rome, the development of fuedalism, the Papacy and the debate between faith and reason, and the immergence or the scientific method, rationalism and humanism.  Almost every philosopher builds upon ideas that can be traced all the way back to before Plato and Aristotle, but without this history it is very difficult to really understand the importance of any given philosopher's arguments.

My experience to date has been primarily with the classical and medieval philosophers, with enlightenment, modern and postmodern thinkers studied sporadically.  I have no knowledge of the eastern thinkers and I suppose that tradition involves another historigraphical dialogue.
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seanf
post Jun 18, 2003, 11:25 PM
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Jumping back a bit here, Spinoza's God sounds a lot like Brahman or Ether to me. Shawn, do you equate Spinoza's God to your idea of the Self, the I which we =? (My own knowledge of philosophy comes from bits and pieces I've picked up all over the place, as well as my own thinking. The only 'philosophy books' I've read fully are Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder, which introduced my to the whole concept when I was 12 or 13, and which I have re-read with increasing understanding several times, and Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell, which I read recently).
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Shawn
post Jun 19, 2003, 05:53 AM
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it's a very good observation you made, Sean.  I'm still trying to determine the relation between Spinoza's God and Brahman, though here are some of my thoughts so far:  I don't think they're the same.   One of the central claims of the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita is that Brahman = Atman; that is, that the Ultimate Reality is this higher Self called Atman.   Hence, Ultimate Reality is consciousness.  The Yoga Vasistha reinforces this interpretation by it's repetitous claim that only infinite consciousness exists.  However, for Spinoza, consciousness is merely a single 'attribute' of God.   According to Spinoza, God has infinitely many attributes, of which consciousness and extension are merely two (and which begs the question of what these other 'mysterious' attributes are).   Hence, Brahman, to the extent that he's identified with infinite consciousness, is seen here as merely a single attribute of Spinoza's God.  

I'm fairly certain that Spinoza did not come into contact with eastern philosophical works since I can't find any mention of them in his works.  I'm still debating with myself whether he actually experienced transcendent experiences described as nirvana or samadhi in eastern philosophy, though I'm inclined to think that he did not.  Does this matter for his philosophy, or in any way invalidate his notion of God?   No.   It would have been nice if he did experience transcendent experiences because I'm curious to see how it would've effected his philosophical outlook and his notion of God.   But even in the absence of such transcendent experiences, Spinoza's notion of God still stands separate from the eastern philosophical notion of Brahman (or, at least in the sense that Brahman, or infinite consciousness, is merely a single attribute of Spinoza's God), and his notion of God serves as a reminder that the eastern philosophical notion of everything being a part of infinite consciousness may very well be in error, and hence, we should exercise caution regarding what we define as God, and that simple notions of God as infinite consciousness may be insufficient, and may in fact, be outright wrong.

Do we have a basis for deciding between Spinoza's God and Brahman?  It's tough to say.   I need to cogitate on this more.   We can't appeal to science here, because these matters go beyond the ability of science to offer any help here.  We might appeal to pragmatism.  Namely, that deciding between Spinoza's God and Brahman is a question of which concept is more useful for us.    Personally, I'm not sure, currently, which concept is more useful, but like I said above, this is a matter that I'm still cogitating on, and that I'm still letting various ideas incubate in the recesses of my mind, waiting for something to emerge from the depths of (sub)consciousness, an 'Aha' experience.   Thus, I'll have to get back to you on this one.  

Timothy, that's an interesting idea from Russell.  I've always been inclined to read philosophies as unintentional autobiographies of philosophers.  Philosophers can only write about things that they experience and (try to) understand, and hence, their philosophies are limited by their life's experiences, unless we start reading in meanings into a philosophy that the particular philosopher had never intended.  I mean, it's possible to read Christ's teachings from an eastern philosophical/mystical perspective, but is this really what he intended, is this really what he experienced?  Perhaps.

namaste,
Shawn
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seanf
post Jun 21, 2003, 08:46 PM
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I'm more inclined to choose Spinoza's God (on the basis of how you have described it) - why limit existence to consciousness simply because we are so limited - in our present state of existence (probably) wink.gif
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