Baruch Spinoza’s Understanding of Method and KnowledgeJune 26, 2021
Spinoza was influenced by Descartes in terms of his understanding of knowledge and method, and he saw the geometric method that Descartes suggested but did not apply as the most solid reasoning on the way to knowledge.
It basically adopted the inference method used in Euclidean geometry. Here, proofs of geometry theorems are made based on some definitions, axioms and postulates. The theorems that have been proved serve as precursors to the demonstration of the next theorems, and thus a whole system of geometry is established. In this conditional-deductive methodological structure, all results are definitely different from each other and a consistent system is reached. In the Ethics, Spinoza tries to apply this sound method to philosophical problems.
The shape of the book is similar to the layout of Euclid’s geometry book. First, a set of definitions and axioms are given, followed by propositions and their proofs. Some notes are added from time to time. Hobbes opposed this method as follows: “It is of course possible to draw consistent conclusions from certain axioms; but since these axioms are chosen arbitrarily, they cannot say anything about reality. However, Spinoza did not accept that his definitions were arbitrary, and said that our rational powers could form ideas and accurately reflect the nature of objects. According to him, “every definition or clear and distinct idea is true.” The application of this method revealed the consistency criterion of accuracy in terms of accuracy in information. A complete and systematic arrangement of true ideas will give us an accurate picture of reality. This is where Spinoza’s famous quote comes into play. “The order and connection of ideas is one and the same as the order and connection of objects.”
Spinoza forms his views on the universe and knowledge in accordance with this geometric scheme. Descartes argued that there are two finite substances in the universe, spirit and matter, and an infinite substance (God) that creates them. The God substance was outside this universe, and its function was to create the spirit and matter substances that reign in the universe. Spinoza abandoned this dualist understanding and argued that the eternal God is the only substance of the universe. According to him, substance is the primary axiom at the very beginning of the system.
According to Spinoza, substance is “that which exists by itself, is grasped by itself, whose concept does not depend on the concept of something else.” The results from this definition are as follows: substance owes its existence to itself, there is no other entity that creates substance. From this it follows that it exists eternally. There is no higher concept than that. We can only understand it from its own concept. According to Spinoza, the only reality that meets this concept is God. So God is the only substance of the universe and everything is derived from this substance. Everything consists of degrees of self-explanation of this substance. Substance, that is, God, reveals himself through his infinite number of attributes (attributa). We humans can perceive and know only two of these infinitely many adjectives; These are matter and spirit. Spinoza defines the term adjective as follows: “What the thought grasps as constituting the essence of substance is the adjective (attributum)”. According to us humans, these two attributes constitute the essence of God, and all events in nature take place in one of these two attributes. They do not interfere with each other, each continues in its own way. There is a parallel between these two adjectives. Each event, object and object in these adjectives is called modus (affect). The infinite mode of the spirit attribute is thinking (cogitatio), and the infinite mode of the matter attribute is extension (extensio). Various finite moduses of its kind are formed on these infinite moduses. Thoughts, ideas are formed on the endless thought mode. Objects and physical events, on the other hand, are formed on the infinite modus of space, primarily in the context of motion and stillness, which are also among the infinite modus of matter. They show a parallel flow to each other. At this point, it is necessary to remember the famous saying that “the order and connection of ideas is one and the same with the order and connection of objects”.
Descartes saw God as infinite, spirit and matter as two separate finite substances. Spinoza abandoned this dualist understanding and argued that God is the only substance, and that spirit and matter are his properties.
According to Spinoza, God is the only substance, spirit and matter are his attributes (attributum), thinking is a mode of the spirit attribute, and space is a modular of the matter attribute.
Spinoza defines modus as “that which can exist in a determination of substance or something else and be grasped by this other thing”. Here the cause of one thing is another, its cause is another, and this goes on until it reaches God. In fact, the connection of all things is God. Because everything comes out of necessity from God. Everything that exists in nature comes out of God’s essence by necessity. God has no free will; everything is formed by overflowing from its being. Thus, everything in the universe occurs in a way determined by each other. All nature is an unfolding of God. In reality, Spinoza often uses the phrase God or Nature (Deus sive Natura) because Nature means the same thing as God. in nature