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Reviewed by:
  • Spinoza’s Ethics: A Critical Guide ed. by Yitzhak Y. Melamed
  • Andrea Sangiacomo
Yitzhak Y. Melamed, editor. Spinoza’s Ethics: A Critical Guide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Pp. xii + 346. Cloth, $99.99.

This new Cambridge Critical Guide to Spinoza’s Ethics offers an extensive, thought-provoking, and up-to-date state of the scholarly conversation that surrounds one of Spinoza’s most studied masterpieces. The first six chapters address topics mostly related to parts one and two of the Ethics. Don Garrett discusses the identity of the attributes. Warren Zev Harvey suggests that Maimonides’s critique of final causes can be considered as an important source for Spinoza’s treatment of the same topic in the appendix to part one. John Morrison argues that Spinoza’s treatment of the nature of the human mind entails a rejection of the indiscernibility of the identicals. Martin Lin contributes a new interpretation of Spinoza’s mind-body parallelism by stressing the numerical identity of mind and body. Alison Peterman focuses on the ‘physical interlude’ that follows proposition 13 of the second part and argues that instead of providing a sketch of Spinoza’s physics, the text actually entails an attribute-neutral account of individuation and identity. Yitzhak Melamed contends that the belief in free will can be rightly considered a false and yet innate idea, according to Spinoza.

A second block of four chapters focuses on topics from the third part of the Ethics. John Carriero clarifies Spinoza’s conatus argument from both a historical and systematic point of view. Lia Levy provides a close analysis of Spinoza’s definition of desire and its relationship with consciousness by arguing that consciousness can be attributed only to finite and durational beings. Lisa Shapiro offers an analysis of Spinoza’s doctrine of the association of ideas and how its mechanism can support the mind’s ability to reason. Pina Totaro undertakes a detailed historical reconstruction of the terminology that Spinoza uses to deal with the affects and its historical and philosophical significance.

A third block of chapters addresses issues connected with part four. Colin Marshall argues in favor of understanding Spinoza as a moral realist. Samuel Newlands offers a non-axiological and purely metaphysical interpretation of Spinoza’s account of perfection. Beth Lord develops a both systematic and historical interpretation of Spinoza’s remarks about economics and interprets the “free man” as a model to live virtuously in a market society.

Finally, two chapters deal with issues from part five. Kristin Primus advances a new interpretation of intuitive science understood as the kind of knowledge that allows the knower to be certain that her true ideas agree with their objects as they exist outside the human mind. Michael LeBuffe argues that a close analysis of proposition 7 of the fifth part [End Page 373] leads to refining the understanding of Spinoza’s intellectualist ethics by granting that, in certain circumstances, it might be best to cultivate not only adequate but also inadequate ideas.

As this overview shows, this Critical Guide is a rich exploration of both classical issues in Spinoza scholarship (e.g. the doctrine of the attributes, the mind-body relationship, and the theory of knowledge) and a starting point for further investigating some aspects of Spinoza’s Ethics that are relatively less studied (e.g. the details and consequences of Spinoza’s theory of the affects, explored in Shapiro’s chapter). The collection is written mostly from the standpoint of Anglophone analytical scholarship (with only a few contributors who are not affiliated with Anglophone institutions and little discussion of any scholarship published in languages other than English). This fact has the clear advantage of providing a certain degree of homogeneity and cohesion to the different chapters. It also draws an interesting landscape of the open fronts in the contemporary (Anglophone analytical) conversation on Spinoza.

The disadvantage of this relative homogeneity is that the reader risks getting a rather one-sided approach to Spinoza’s work. In this approach, conceptual reconstruction plays a far larger role than a detailed inquiry into historical sources. Moreover, the language of the existing conversation seems to create a barrier to the exchange and discussion...