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  • Some Additional (But Not Final) Words
  • Daniel Garber

i would like to thank Michael Della Rocca for his thoughtful response to my remarks. Needless to say, I am not entirely convinced by everything he says, but I am also sure that he did not think that I would be! The substantive points on which we differ are complex, and deserve careful consideration and argument; this is not the occasion on which to thrash out those differences. But I would like to add a few words about the methodological differences that Della Rocca notes at the end of his contribution.

In rejecting my attribution of a “superhero” methodology to his Spinoza, Della Rocca suggests the following contrast between our approaches:

[P]erhaps the most general and appropriate way to see the methodological difference between Garber and me is perhaps not in terms of Garber’s contrast between oversimplifying superhero approaches and on-the-ground, get-your-hands-dirty, direct grapplings with the texts, but rather in terms of a contrast between more holistic and more atomistic approaches to historical figures in philosophy.1

While I have an idea about why Della Rocca may see the difference in this way, I do not think it is accurate.

So what is the difference between our two approaches? Della Rocca writes that “the real Spinoza is the Spinoza who is (by whatever means) made intelligible—whose actions can (by whatever means) be rationalized.”2 I could not agree more. But there are different ways of making Spinoza intelligible. I see myself as looking for a rich and complicated narrative: finding the problems that motivate a philosopher, which are often multiple, then finding the motivating commitments, which are also often multiple, and tracing, often over time, the process of reasoning that leads, at different times and in different texts, toward a final view. I want to tell a kind of story of seeking, mistakes, and hesitations followed by correction and discovery, something dynamic.3 This gives us a kind of unity and intelligibility, but a kind of unity and intelligibility different from what Della Rocca is seeking. I [End Page 537] see Della Rocca’s method, on the other hand, as looking for the diamond hidden underneath the surface of the Ethics, the perfectly worked out structure that is hidden by the complexities of the surface, like the coherent logical sub-structure that Russell sees hidden behind the apparent irrationalities of the surface of language. Della Rocca is looking for the single key to unlock Spinoza’s philosophy; I am skeptical that there is any such thing. For this reason I am skeptical that you can (or should) bring all of Spinoza’s philosophy back to something as apparently straightforward as the PSR. (In a way, we are echoing the debate between the great French commentators Ferdinand Alquié and Martial Gueroult in the 1950s.) I see Spinoza as a tangle of interconnected commitments that change and evolve from the Short Treatise to the end, realized in different and perhaps incompatible ways in his different writings. Della Rocca wants to penetrate beneath the surface of that tangle and try to find what connects them together in a rigorous way; he wants a kind of doctrinal unity, a kind of single underlying argument and position that pulls things together. I want a reading of Spinoza that is as holistic as Della Rocca’s, but one that preserves the complex motivations behind his philosophical program, and that does not reduce his project to a single impulse, indeed, a single impulse that is rigorously metaphysical: working out the consequences of the PSR in all its ramifications. This, in a way, is the point of the “superheroes” criticism: taking a complex character and flattening him out, making his position intelligible by stripping it of what I see as its depth and complexity. Though it might be characterized as holistic, my objection is to what strikes me as an oversimplified and reductive interpretation.

There may not be an answer to which is the right way of doing the history of philosophy. For different figures, the answer might be different; there is no reason why every philosopher has to be the same...


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pp. 537-539
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