Tag Archives: modern philosophy

A Dutchman enters the debate

Baruch Spinoza (1632 - 1677) preferred reason to prejudice.

Mr. B. Spinoza of The Hague, Holland writes:

But if the greatest secret of monarchic rule, and its main interest, is to keep men deceived and to disguise in the false name of Religion the fear by which they must be held back, so that they will fight for slavery as much as they  would for freedom, and  think that it is not shameful, but a very honourable achievement, to give their life and blood so that one man may have a basis for boasting, nevertheless, in a free republic nothing more miserable can be imagined or attempted. For, it is completely against common freedom to fill the free judgement of each man with prejudices, or to enchain it in any way.

Not sure what he’s on about but, great quote anyway. Maybe the point Mr Spinoza is making is that if any one person or institution is held to be beyond criticism, and when rational argument is shouted down, then the outcome is tyranny.

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René Descartes — an apology

Recent posts on this blog may have given the unwary reader the impression that Monsieur Descartes was an outdated Platonist with pagan ideas of a  free-floating soul taking up a short-term tenancy in the body during its current incarnation. We may have seemed to imply that Descartes’ dualism means that mind and body are distinct to the extent that their co-occurrence in a single person was little more than a happy coincidence and that as disembodied minds, we are free to desert our bodies at will.

A more careful reading of the Sixth Meditation has now been brought to our attention the following passage:

Nature also teaches me, by these sensations of pain, hunger, thirst and so on, that I am not merely present in my body as a sailor is present in a ship, but that I am very closely joined and , as it were, intermingled with it, so that I and the body form a unit. If this were no so, I , who am nothing but a thinking thing, would not feel pain when the body was was hurt, but would perceive the damage purely by the intellect, just as a sailor perceives by sight if anything in his ship is broken (AT VII 81).

Clearly, this embodied Descartes not merely accepts but asserts the orthodox view (endorsed by the sainted Aquinas) that the body is more than just a vehicle for the soul – this latter view erroneously held by Plato. We can only apologise and lay the blame squarely at the feet of the notorious Cartesian Duellists (sic), a shady terror network that has as its sole aim sowing the seeds of discord and disharmony in a despicable attempt to divide minds from bodies everywhere.

And if further proof were needed that Descartes is not a dualist (in this sense), here is a diagram drawn by Descartes himself, illustrating the connection between perception and action.

Descartes' diagram

Descartes' very non-Cartesian image of the union of mind and body