[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[Xmca-l] Re: Ilyenkov, Marx, & Spinoza

Hi Annalisa, 

like you, I am just a learner on all these venerable matters; and so I am here trying to think aloud with you. 

Concerning your comment on Descartes and Spinoza, I take it that Spinoza in fact built upon much of what Descartes had written before, and indeed defined the notion of 'substance' in exactly the same way. Only that Spinoza saw that from that definition it could and should not follow that there are two types of substances, soul and body. It did not follow either then that there should be reason for Cartesian doubt, that is, to fear that fiction would be confused with true ideas—a fear that could not be escaped from in the Cartesian system. 

Spinoza has it quite straight: 'Doubt, then, never arises in the soul through the thing itself which is the object of doubt. That is, if there should be only one idea in our consciousness, whether true or false, there will be neither doubt nor certainty, but only a certain kind of awareness. For an idea in itself is nothing but a certain awareness. Doubt arises through another idea, which is not so clear and distinct that we can infer from it any certainty as to the thing which is doubted"

I am not sure if all this connects with your characterisation of Spinoza as having seen a 'historical aspect', but I can see grounds to treat it in those terms. Thus, Spinoza was concerned not so much with facts as with necessities and potentialities. So that if for Descartes the relationship between an idea and reality was a problem in and of itself, for Spinoza that relationship was a necessity, or it was not. But if it was a necessity, it was because it 'follows,' which means it is part of a sequence, and not just randomness. And, by contrast to Descartes, this time not a sequence somehow connecting mind with nature, but rather a sequence connecting nature with nature itself. 

Spinoza's thinking here reminds me a little (only a little) to Dewey's notion of Inquiry. Thus, Spinoza writes, 'a true idea is simple or compounded of simple ideas, and ... it shows how and why something is the case, or has been so, and that its ideal effects in the soul correspond to the specific reality of its object." It reminds me to inquiry because Spinoza seems to describe a METHOD of observation that thematises the relation between observing and the object being observed in terms of that METHOD. He then applies this to the idea of defining, which he brilliantly illustrates this way of defining with respect to the idea of the 'circle': 'a circle would have to be defined as follows: a figure described by any line of which one end is fixed and the other movable'. Because he defines the thing in terms of HOW it comes to being, which he calls its 'proximate cause' , he can (and needs) to assert that 'given the definition of the thing, there should remain no room for the question: Does it exist?'

Now, whether all this is best characterised as historical, I don't know. I am guessing that such characterisation belongs more to Hegel's undertaking, which was more concrete (rather than formal and mathematical). But perhaps 'historical' is also a known or common way to describe Spinoza. Hopefully others more knowledgeable can help us. 

I am not familiar enough to Vedanta, and so I can not comment on the analogies you offer between the two, though a quick google search threw lots of entries on such similarities, which means I still have to read lots!

Yet, I tried to follow you on how the 'potness of the pot' and the 'clayness of the clay' example did fit with all of this, but I could not. In fact, it was a bit hard for me not to see the example as precisely illustrating the Cartesian view, when I was expecting you to do the opposite. Perhaps I do not follow because I only see the elaboration partially. But, whatever the case, your question reminded me of question Ilyenkov raises and which I think is very pertinent and may serve us to better understand your metaphor:

Ilyenkov notes, 'when we wish to establish a relation of some sort between two objects, we always compare not the 'specific' qualities that make one object 'syllable A' and the other a 'table', 'steak', or a 'square', but only those properties that express a 'third' something, different from their existence as the things enumerated'. It does not make sense then to raise the question: 'What is the distance between the syllable A and table' simply because distance is not a property common to the essence of tables and Syllables A. So that 'if there is no 'third' in the nature of the two things common to them both, the very differences between them become quite senseless'. Ilyenkov then, addressing the quintessential philosophical questions, wonders, 'In what are such objects as 'concept' ('idea') and 'thing' related?' With regard to the latter question, Spinoza formulated that thought and extension were two attributes of that third thing that is 'real infinite Nature'. In the example of clay and pot, I was having trouble to find this third thing, and so I found only two. 

All this in the hope of learning more,

From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu> on behalf of Annalisa Aguilar <annalisa@unm.edu>
Sent: 31 July 2017 09:23
To: xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu
Subject: [Xmca-l]   Re: Ilyenkov, Marx, & Spinoza


I did my best to follow the thread on Ilyenkov, Marx, & Spinoza and I probably did not read it as closely as I could have, nor did I read the originating article, that is, the one Mike attached as the knot to this thread, but I shall.

Of course being a big fan of Spinoza I had to eye-wig in and see what was to be seen on this here persistent thread.

I would like to make a contribution as a point in contrast, to what is becoming more prominent in my understanding of the non-dual view of the apparent world as seen through Vedanta.

First, and I'm sure I shall be corrected, please note, I see the Western viewpoint (as springing from Descartes) as depicted as a linear rational (and historical) view whereby thought and material are different entities. As I understand, according to Descartes, material comes into being through thought. I think first before I am first. Is this correct?

Spinoza, as I understand, saw that there was a historical aspect that Descartes missed that we actually transform material and it transforms our thought and so on, as they weaves through one another. And so on through time. But how could this happen that if material and thought were of different substances?  (Am I getting this right?)

But he also saw that we are not separate from nature, and are indeed helplessly subject to it, we are nature but nature isn't us. Yet this nature could not be separate from God, and thus with some lens-grinding Spinoza came to see that not only is nature not separate from God, and that nature is not separate from us, but God is also not separate from us because we are of the same "substance" in nature, that we are indeed, as if the same "material."

But then what of free will? Are we merely reacting like mechanical robots, or chemical reactions? or is there choice?

>From my Vedanta studies there are similarities to the monist Sponiza worldview of nature and God being one substance extending through time, transforming through laws of physics and so forth. I'm not clear how Spinoza saw the mind, and it seems that psychology, not having been named/formed/created historically at that point in time, he had to have a different word for that, which seems to have been "spirit," methinks.

So we are at odds at the way translations go not only from one language to another but from one historical moment to another (the way words mind versus spirit are used). But the actual ontology was perhaps the very turtle both psychology's notion of mind and Spinoza's notion of spirit were identically referencing.

Just thinking out loud here.

Now in Vedanta, the cosmology is such that the mind and the body are indeed one substance, if there is a substance at all. And that the perceivable world, is just a beginningless dance of names and forms, whereby one thing becomes another thing, and its name changes, and so on through time and space. That there is an order of consequences through actions and reactions. Understanding the nature of those actions and reactions helps offer choice to the person, as to what actions one hopes to perform to gain a particular (desired) consequence. And such is the importance of karma, to consider one's actions and the consequences that will come of them. It's just science, but a science incorporating the subtle forms not just the gross.

If all that is here is non-dual, as the ancients claimed, then it would have to mean that mind and body are one substance, it seems that quantum physics does show that things are not as solid as we might think, and that the mind is not as unaffected by gross material as we once thought.

So if I am understanding the Vedic view of the mind and body being material, that is, of one substance, this substance must exist in name and form across a spectrum, whereby on the one side we have all that is subtle, and on the other we have all that is gross, again in terms of name and form of said substance.

A metaphor for this concept could be a consideration of the different forms of water. Solid at one temperature, liquid in another, and steam in yet another. If time and space are relative (i.e., Einstein), then let's pretend that they are infinitely stable if seen at an instant in time (like now, the present moment). Then it does seem that ice is a different "material" than water, and also steam. But in reality their substance is identical: H2O.

This is a gross simplification (pun intended), because we have one substance in three forms, but never at the same time, though in the same place. The change is caused by temperature, and we can only see the change of form witnessed through time. But also the name changes too. So there is as if an appearance of a linear change.

W1(ice) must pass through W2(water) to become W3(steam) and back again, through time (with the help of temperature), but W occupies the same space, though the volume might change a little.

OK, thanks for staying with me this far.

As I'm understanding it, there is in the Vedic worldview three gunas (branches, or better "properties") of which the perceivable world consists, these being sattwa (energy, purity, light), rajas (action, movement, heat), and tamas (form, heaviness, inertia, darkness). And every *thing* that can be a *thing* is a unique combination of sattwa, rajas, and tamas. But this is relative. For example a rock as more tamas than a river, which has more rajas than a rock, but the sunlight shining on the rock and the river have more sattwa than either of them. In otherwords, it's all relative. There is tamas and sattva in the river, and rajas and tamas in the sunlight, and sattwa and rajas even in the rock, but those are in smaller ratios than the other dominant properties therein.

If we consider Einstein's theory of relativity, E = mc2, then this might also be seen sattwa = tamas multiplied by the speed of rajas. Put another way, that tamas in its gross form is transformed into sattwa its subtle form through rajas, its movement(activity) through time and space.

This is from the aspect of the material world, as we (humans) can perceive, through physical laws. That there is only one substance here, by metaphor like water, is what Spinoza (I think) was attempting to "see," through a lens of inquiry and curiosity. How might this inquiry transcend the dualism as presented by Descartes?

But I would like to prpose right about now that the dualism as presented by Descartes was "historically invented" as a means to bypass intellectual persecution by the Church fathers (i.e. Galileo). It is not apparent to me that Descartes even believed everything that he wrote, but that it was a story crafted to gift the material world for experimentation (with impunity) to the scientists (so we could really figure out what was going on here in the material world) and to leave the empty carton of the "spiritual" (i.e. the mind) to the Church, which was just like selling the Church a bridge that leads to swampland, really. And it worked!

I digress. Because the mind question really is a material question, but of a subtle nature, and it would have to be that if we assert non-duality, which I am, but you do not have to, as that is your choice! :)

It ends up that much of cognitive science is showing mind as a material question to be the case, for example by its examination of distributed cognition, embodied thinking, and so on, and also in cultural psychology (like wet water) the way culture's soup creates so much of our human experience. It is all relative, which means, to be relative it must be one unified substance. Mind is created through activity and culture, which also creates activity and culture, as woven threads extending out through time and space in all directions.

Substance is a difficult and slippery word, because anything that would be made of this substance couldn't be perceived by us, as we are products of that substance.

It gets a bit Escher here if we could. You know staircases collapsing upon one another, or hands drawing themselves, etc. Kind of Mobius strippy.

But this creates a reality of turtles all the way down, of infinite regression. That does not work.

Spinoza's insight is that there IS a oneness, and that this can be experienced ("seen"), but only through spiritual pursuit of self-examination and inquiry, which was a kind of purification to him. In this sense there is free will, because one is choosing to do this self reflection, but on the other hand there is a necessary result that comes of seeing what is already there, nothing is "produced". Hence the beauty of him being a lensgrinder, is a marvelous metaphor in so many aspects.

My intuition is that LSV was attempting to balance Spinoza's substance with Marx's materialism as a way to bring the two together, with the goal of illustrating that there was a predictable "physics" to the way mind develops as a necessary consequence of culture moving through history (i.e. meaning), and vice versa (culture and history being created in turn by mind).

This is not a linear summation or consequence, but an intermingling of three properties (in relation to one another), light, mass, and energy or as the ancients called them sattwa, rajas, and tamas, and these properties are always in movement and in consequence to one another, but from the aspect of the perceivable world.

>From the aspect of itself, it is static, nothing is changing, and it exists outside of time and space. This is what Spinoza would have called God (or nature), or in Vedanta, "Brahman," which cannot be objectified, but it can be known because it is the only "thing" here, upon which all things depend for existence. Like the pot is dependent upon the clay for its existence.

This metaphor useful here for how the clay still "sees itself" as clay even if it is in the shape of the pot, or a plate, but the pot can only "see itself" as a pot if the form is of a particularly named shape, but is no longer one if the pot-shape is shattered, though the clay remains regardless of the presence of the pot-shape or shard-shape. It is still clay. Relative to the pot, the clay is not changing, outside time and space, relative to the pot, which is changing inside time and space.

When a pot can only see its own potness, then it appears there can be no unifying principle inside time and space. It is a duality. But if pot can see that its true unifying substance is clay, then its clayness stands outside of time and space, and it continues to exist as long as clay is there, just in transformation from the aspect inside time and space, but eternal from the aspect outside of time and space.

Thanks for reading, and thanks also for your commentary. All being food in my pot. :)

Kind regards,