The Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften: EventsThursday, 30 June 2022, 11:00
Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften, Am Wingertsberg 4, 61348 Bad Homburg
Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften of Goethe University
Michael A. Rosenthal (University of Toronto)
»The Model of Human Nature as a ›Being of Reason‹ (Ens Rationis)«
In the preface to Part IV of the Ethics, Spinoza says that despite the fact that our ideas of good and evil »indicate nothing positive in things« and are just »modes of thinking,« we must »still retain these words«, because »we desire to form an idea of man, as a model of human nature which we may look to« [II/208/8-20]. Some commentators have argued that this model is based on a rational idea of human nature and is exemplified in the idea of the »free man,« which is found in a series of propositions near the end of Part IV (Nadler 2015; Kisner 2011; Youpa 2010). Others have claimed that not only is the idea of the free man incoherent but also the model of human nature is a remnant from the earlier works and is not required (Bennett 1984; Garber 2004). Both assume that the model of human nature is a rational (or adequate idea).
In this paper, I shall argue that the model of human nature is: (i) indeed an idea taken from Spinoza’s earlier works; (ii) it is not a rational idea but an imaginative one, which Spinoza somewhat awkwardly calls a »being of reason«; and (iii) that it is indispensable to understanding the ethical theory of part IV. Like the ethical terms related to it, the model of human nature is a »mode of thinking,« or, in more contemporary terms, a kind of necessary fiction (Gatens 2009; Rosenthal 2019). This does not mean that it does not bear any relation to something real. I shall also explore the question whether there is anything that really is a »human nature.« Certainly in the context of the Preface to Part IV (and elsewhere; see the Short Treatise, part 2, chapter IV [I/58]), the idea of human is closer to what Locke thought was a »forensic« term, related to our public life and the basis for moral judgment and legal liability. Moreover, as the example of the house at the beginning of Preface illustrates, the model is a part of a teleological theory of action based in the imagination in the sense that it is the end towards which we strive (Garrett 1999). Hence, it is part of a practical stance—one structured by the conatus and interpreted by our associations of ideas. But the question of course arises whether there is a metaphysical basis of this idea (Steinberg 1984; Renz 2018). Even if there is one, the model of human nature, to the extent that it is an imaginative universal, bears only an analogical and contingent relation to what is real. The interpretation of a model of human nature as a »being of reason« sets important limits on how the philosopher can use this idea in the quest for rational knowledge of his or her nature.
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