chapter  8
39 Pages

The Aftermath of Spinoza Eight

There have been many great philosophers. And many of them are great in part because they have inspired other, also great, philosophers to develop systems that are in the spirit of these predecessors. Thus, even today, we have any number of philosophers who construct broadly Aristotelean, or broadly Humean, or broadly Kantian philosophical systems. However, Spinoza has not been influential in quite this way. Few top-notch philosophers today would identify themselves as Spinozists. Spinoza has nonetheless had a deep impact on all subsequent philosophy.1 How can this be? Spinoza’s philosophy functions as a challenge: almost all philo-

sophers want to avoid his conclusions. The philosophical challenge, however, is to show how his views can be avoided. Often philosophers have developed their entire systems as direct answers to the kind of challenge that Spinoza presents. Sometimes their answers are more or less explicitly directed to Spinoza. This is certainly the case with Leibniz and, I would say, with Hume. (More on this shortly.) More often, the explicit target is a rationalism of the kind that Spinoza embodies so well. In these cases, Spinoza may or may not be in mind as the target, but nonetheless Spinoza is the most thoroughgoing exponent of the view to be defeated. Spinozism is thus, in many ways, the specter that haunts all

subsequent philosophy. His philosophy has a pervasive, albeit often negative, influence.2 If one of the chief aspirations of philosophersand of people in general-is not to be ignored, then Spinoza has achieved this prevalent goal as splendidly and as thoroughly as any

other philosopher in history. Another chief aspiration of philosophers and non-philosophers alike is the aspiration to be right. Whether Spinoza can be said to have achieved this goal is much less clear, but-as I will argue in the last section of this chapter-there is reason to believe that Spinoza may be right. In order to pave the way for this incipient defense of Spinoza, I want to give an inevitably too-selective and too-broad overview of Spinoza’s influence on later philosophers. This overview will help us to appreciate how much in philosophy is riding on the defense of the PSR. I will begin with Leibniz.