- The Oxford Handbook of Spinoza ed. by Michael Della Rocca
Della Rocca's edited volume offers notable contributions to our understanding of Spinoza and his place in the history of philosophy. It will be a valuable resource for students and scholars alike. Its twenty-seven chapters are impossible to survey in a short review. I will focus here on a few exceptional entries.
Among essays that introduce students to particular topics, Yitzhak Melamed's account of the central notions of Spinoza's metaphysics and Rebecca Newberger Goldstein's contribution on Spinoza's influence on literature stand out. Although there are a number of introductions to substance, attributes, and modes, Melamed has produced here a historically nuanced, philosophically sophisticated, yet still accessible essay, which should [End Page 755] be the first resource for students working to gain a better understanding of the Ethics. Goldstein's contribution is not comprehensive. A discussion of Spinoza's influence on Percy Bysshe Shelly and Mary Shelley, a source of many interesting questions, and currently a focus of an Australian Research Council project, "Spinoza and Literature for Life," would have been welcome. However, Goldstein's discussions of Melville, Eliot, and Borges are sophisticated, detailed, and admirably clear. For students interested in these authors, the essay is an excellent starting point.
Two essays build upon recent books, developing strong arguments for controversial theses. Ursula Renz offers a strikingly original account of Spinoza's conception of finite minds. Frequently, the search for a principle of individuation for finite things in Spinoza focuses on body and the striving for perseverance, especially, of composite bodies like our own. Renz emphasizes, instead, the unity of finite subjects of experience, and defends consequences of this view for Spinoza's metaphysics of mind including, notably, the difference between ideas in a human mind and ideas in God's mind. Omri Boehm defends his contention that Spinoza, not Leibniz, is the target of Kant's third antinomy. His detailed critical investigation of the third antinomy in the first section of the essay (486–501) deserves careful study.
Karolina Hübner, John Carriero, and Don Garrett contribute essays that significantly advance the scholarly debate about teleology in Spinoza. Hübner offers the strongest general case I have read against finding teleology in Spinoza. Spinoza's necessitarianism and his sustained attack on final causes in Ethics 1 Appendix require, Hübner argues, deflationary accounts of striving, will, desire, and value judgment, which Spinoza presents notably at Ethics 3p9s and 3p39s: effectively, we judge good just what we want or find pleasant. Such a view constrains greatly the ethics of the Ethics. This, though, is partly Hübner's point: she presents Spinoza's ethics as an account of what can be truly known about morality once we have genuine knowledge of God and nature. As an argument concerning the ordinary use of value terms (Hübner does not consider the formal definitions that open Ethics 4), the case is convincing.
Carriero's clear and careful essay on perfection in Spinoza complements Hübner's more general discussion. In the tradition that Spinoza responds to, perfection invokes an end: the closer we are to the end, the more perfect we are. Carriero argues that Spinoza offers a non-teleological conception of perfection, on which activity and reality, understood in terms of efficient causation, replace traditional Aristotelian and Thomistic conceptions.
Don Garrett's essay pushes readers in the other direction. Garrett points to an area outside of moral philosophy in which one might find teleology to be essential to the Ethics: it can help us to understand puzzles about Spinoza's theory of perception. For example, a long-standing puzzle, which Garrett credits to Margaret Wilson, concerns sensation. On Spinoza's theory of imagination, a given corporeal image is the product of the body and the external cause with which it interacts. So, suppose that Paul sees Peter: the image of Peter will be the product of the external cause, Peter, and the body, principally the eye and brain perhaps, of Paul. We ought...