Topics Worth Investigating

  1. Compare Spinoza's discussion of dreaming with Sigmund Freud's statement, "A dream frequently has the profoundest meaning in the very places where it seems most absurd…." Spinoza mentions that we are unconscious of the causes of our actions, and the causes are, in point of fact, our desires. Do you think that Spinoza's account of human behavior differs significantly from the account Freud advanced over two-and-a-half centuries later?

  2. If the mind can influence the body and the body can influence the mind (cf., the James-Lange theory), how do mind and body interact? Minds, unlike bodies, have no size, shape, or weight. How can something without any physical properties move a material thing? How does a thought of drinking a cup of coffee cause the coffee to be drunk? How does a thought fire a neural network?

  3. If all things, viewed as bodies in motion, or viewed as minds in thought, are necessarily determined, as Spinoza argues, then how could anything have moral qualities, since no one could have done otherwise? Yet, Spinoza writes, "There is no rational life, therefore without intelligence, and things are good only in so far as they assist men to enjoy that life of the mind which is determined by intelligence. Those things alone, on the other hand, we call evil which hinder man from perfecting his reason and enjoying a rational life."[1] Isn't Spinoza caught in the same paradox as the radical behaviorist, such as B.F. Skinner, who believes human behavior (as a dependent variable) is shaped by operant conditioning (stimuli or independent variables)? How, then, can one tend one's own soul, or, as the behaviorist would phrase it, how can one achieve self-directed behavior or a self-managed life-style?

  4. Evaluate Immanuel Kant's criticism in his Lectures on Philosophical Theology of Spinoza's metaphysics: "Fundamentally Spinozism could just as well be called a great fanaticism as a form of atheism. For of God, the one substance, Spinoza affirms two predicates: extension and thought. Every soul, he says, is only a modification of God's thought, and every body is a modification of his extension. Thus Spinoza assumed that everything existing could be found in God. But by making this assumption he fell into crude contradictions. For if only a single substance exists, then either I must be this substance, and consequently I must be God (but this contradicts my dependency); or else I am an accident (but this contradicts the concept of my ego, in which I think myself as an ultimate subject which is not the predicate of any other being)."



The Ethics, Appendix.