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  • Spinoza’s Cosmological Argument in the Ethics
  • Mogens Lærke (bio)

1. Introduction

In this paper,1 i discuss Spinoza’s version of the cosmological argument for the existence of God (hereafter CA), specifically as it can be found in EIP11D3.2 By a CA, I broadly understand an argument which infers a posteriori the existence of an independent, necessary being, usually identified as God, from the experience that there exists some other being, often oneself, whose existence is dependent on this independent, necessary being.3 Generally, I will speak of the dependence [End Page 439] relation that any CA relies on in terms of “existential dependence.” Such a dependence relation can be considered as causal, conceptual, or other. Much of the following will be a discussion of what kind of existential dependence relation governs Spinoza’s CA. The CA in EIP11D3, as we shall see, explicitly turns on a relation of “being in” (i.e. the fact that all finite things are in some way in God and that God is in himself). I argue however that the context of the argument makes this “in-relation” inseparable from both Spinoza’s theory of causation and his theory of power, and that it consequently must be understood in the context of what Alexandre Matheron dubbed Spinoza’s “ontology of power.”4

The study attempts to fill a lacuna in the study of Spinoza’s arguments for the existence of God. Don Garret, in his classic “Spinoza’s Ontological Arguments,” and Martin Lin, in his “Spinoza’s Arguments for the Existence of God,” discuss Spinoza’s various arguments for the existence of God.5 None of them, however, consider the passage in EIP11D3 which contains Spinoza’s CA, but focus exclusively on other proofs. There is something to be said for not attaching too much importance to the CA in EIP11D3. Spinoza himself, as we shall see, did not consider it his principal argument for the existence of God. Moreover, there is good reason to think that at least part of Spinoza’s argument in EIP11D3 is unsound. One could then reasonably argue for not giving it any consideration on the grounds that it is both unimportant and unsound.

Nonetheless, studying the argument helps clarify what Spinoza thought in general about the necessary existence of God6 and about the relations between the infinite being, God, and finite beings such as ourselves. There is thus something to add to the existing accounts. Indeed, I believe that when we do include [End Page 440] considerations regarding this argument, we must considerably revise the general metaphysical framework that especially Lin argues underlies Spinoza’s other arguments for the existence of God. Lin’s approach is strongly informed by Michael Della Rocca’s reading of Spinoza, developed in a multitude of articles over the last decade and recently presented in full in Spinoza from 2008. Della Rocca’s work constitutes the broader context and motivation for this article. His book is an impressive and already hugely influential attempt to account for the systematic unity and fundamental principles of Spinoza’s metaphysics. To my mind, however, some of its basic interpretative choices are problematic. I have chosen to discuss the CA and the form it takes in the Ethics as a good point of departure for arguing this and for suggesting what I take to be a better approach. Following Della Rocca’s account, all dependence relations in Spinoza can be reduced to conceptual ones, including the sort of relations that the CA relies on. I maintain to the contrary that Spinoza’s version of the CA is inextricably linked to his theories of causation and power. Thus, the CA in EIP11D3 provides a good example of how Spinoza’s philosophy is an ontology of power grounded in a theory of causation, and not the sort of conceptualist ontology that Della Rocca attributes to him.7

2. The Cosmological Argument in Eip11d3

Before scrutinizing in detail Spinoza’s CA in EIP11D3, it is important to note the subsidiary role of the argument in relation to Spinoza’s various other demonstrations of the existence of God. Contrary to Thomas Aquinas, for example, who denies that a...