Tuesday, February 08, 2005


An interesting reading of Spinoza's so-called pantheism came to my attention recently. In spite of the many and vociferous suggestions that his system of absolute substance is tantamount to atheism (as well as fatalism), Hegel notes that the "Eleatic" reading of Spinoza yields just the opposite. By Eleatic, Hegel has in mind Parmenides's fragment: "That which can be spoken and thought needs must be; for it is possible for it, but not for nothing, to be." In other words, by claiming something about an object either in speech or thought, one is asserting the existence of the object. Stating that unicorns do not exist actually implies the existence of unicorns because there could be no way to make this statement without assuming so. Parmenides thinks this because at this point in philosophical history (the presocratic era), the distinction between thoughts and reality had not be drawn. From this point, the Eleatics treat all negations as illusions, because they would otherwise have to be understood as ontological claims about the being of nothing. "There is only the One, and nothing is not at all."

Thus, when Spinoza claims that omnis determinatio est negatio (everthing finite is a limitation or negation of the One, i.e., of absolute substance), Parmenides would claim that all of the negations which define the existence of concrete beings are in fact illusory. Thus, Spinoza cannot be accused of atheism so much as acosmism. It is not clear that any of the finite distinctions which comprise the cosmos can exist because they rely upon nonbeing (negation) for their being. Thus, it is not that God does not "exist" (it is better to say "is not actual" because existence is already ensnared in this problem of negative determination), it is the world that is illusory.


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