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[Xmca-l] Re: Ilyenkov, Marx, & Spinoza
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- Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Ilyenkov, Marx, & Spinoza
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- Thread-topic: [Xmca-l] Re: Ilyenkov, Marx, & Spinoza
Thanks for your reply. I'm glad we can think out loud together.
I can see that writing my post late at night may not have made me as coherent as I thought I was when I wrote it.
I do agree that Spinoza was building on Descartes's work. But to consider a single substance and how it suggests a non-dual entity, was a object of his inquiry if only because to have a duality did not make sense to him. How can one substance know another?
Sometimes reading Descartes, it feels like a set-up created to obscure what was really going on, and in a kind of language that the weak-minded would not be able to understand. But Spinoza and his great mind could cut through the obscurity like a hot knife through butter. And like many hot knives, he frightened a lot of butter-brains. :)
But to my post, when I said what I did about Spinoza seeing the historical aspect that Descartes did not, I am referring to something (which is vague in my memory at the moment and I can't reference the book which would satisfy my doubt) that Spinoza had written about mankind making tools and which they are able to alter nature, and yet nature alters us as well. To bring this back to the interests of the list, I seem to recall LSV being intrigued by this passage of Spinoza's and that was his way into bridging Spinoza with Marx.
Does anyone else know what I'm trying to recapture in my memory that is failing me at the mo'? Wasn't there discussion of this in that article about LSV's fragments?
I apologize for writing so quickly so late at night and not being more explicit about that passage. It bothers me that I can't remember where I saw this.
What also enamors me with Spinoza is that he was attempting to secure a method by which it would be evident to anyone who followed this method, that what he saw through his inquiry could be seen by another. Maybe I have this wrong, but that is my sense about what he was trying to do *with* his philosophy. He had a vision, but then he had the ornery job of figuring out how to talk about it so that he could share the vision with others, who understood he saw something, but they could not by themselves see it clearly.
Given his life, and the violence and political upheaval he witnessed in his lifetime (of dear friends and then some), I sense that he was determined to find a way of discounting religious and political persecution and mischief through the sheer force of intellectual inquiry, something that is a mainstay of the cultural practice of Science. Such a thing, if perfected, could keep a lot of people from being killed unnecessarily. It is a noble objective.
Spinoza's historical reality, of the era in which he lived, had a lot to do with why he set out on his inquiry. The same with Descartes. What we have done though is gotten so uptight (bound up) about the products of their intellectual labors (that is their writing, their books) that not enough examination is spent upon seeing how their lived histories impacted their thinking and how they were informed by these histories. The same can be said of many great and wonderful thinkers. I am not saying no one has done this, but it seems on the one hand we have their writings over here, and on the other hand we have their biographies over there. It may not be possible to know with exactitude how their histories effected their writing, but we can certainly gain a lot of evidence regarding their development.
In Western thought we call this intellectual examination (which they pursued) capital-R Reason or scientific method or what have you, but in Vedanta, in regards to method of examination of what is real and that which is not real, we would use the word "pramana." This translates "means of knowledge." Advaita Vedanta is a means of knowledge of seeing what is already here (something that it has in common with scientific inquiry), but it is a means of knowledge through the careful handling of words. Which I believe is very much concerned with the precision of thought for which Spinoza was aiming to create in his method. You know... whenever we read "it necessarily follows..." he is crafting a method, by which it always is the case that A follows B, etc.
What is interesting to me, or it used to be, is that Cartesian dualism never accounts for how the two connect, that is, mind and body. Unless you accept the pituitary gland explanation. (Although perhaps the vagus nerve is a better guess, but that is another conversation about not hearts and minds, but rather hearts and brains).
Of course, there is little "scientific" or "objective" vocabulary concerning emotion and intuition and these other processes of thinking-feeling (much to the dismay of artists, poets, and musicians!) The meaning of the word "perezhivanie" reveals the lack of our language on this. Though, unlike Andy, I think Damasio does a good job of showing us that we must feel first before we can think, that that is how we are neurologically wired. We need the "material" of the outside world in order to "make sense" with our biological organs of perception and to map that "material" down within the brain & body in our own individual manner. This also coincides with LSV's "outside first, then inside."
When you cite the quote:
'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."
I trust what he means there is that the idea (as a formal thought) is accurately reflecting what is true in the world, but it need not be the manifest world, it could be of a future world, because the idea is as-if made of the "material" of the world as we know it now. If the idea is true then the idea works in time and space, if not then something is missing about the idea, which creates the doubt of its veracity...though it may have "truthiness" 😊.
What is true is that which cannot be negated. But it's also difficult to chase false negatives, which are weapons of mass destruction, aren't they? Though they certainly make for great Hieronymous Bosch paintings and are the substance of great imaginings of what might happen to us when we die, that perennial mystery.
I love your example of the circle because, as you imply, Spinoza is enacting an actual historical rendering of a circle, how it manifests and develops, and with such precision that nothing but a circle could result.
Like the Spinoza's circle, the clay pot is a "drstantam," which means "a teaching metaphor" or "illustration" in Sanskrit (I could not add the diacriticals so forgive me that, but it is pronounced drishtanam with the "drish" being pronounced as if the "i" were not present).
The clay pot is a frequent metaphor used by Vedanta teachers to explain dependent realities upon absolute ones. There are as-if two things where there is one object, the clay pot. There is the clay, and there is the pot. And they sit in the same place in time and space. But which is independent of the other? The only object independent of the other is the clay. The clay exists despite the form it has. It could be a large pot, a small one, a fat one, or a flat one, it really is of no consequence to the clay; meaning that the shape does nothing to the intrinsic property of the clay, say in the way force upon a piece of coal will turn it into a diamond (as a point of contrast). If clay could be changed intrinsically by the form it was made into, why... that would be the dream of Newton's alchemy.
However the pot IS dependent upon the clay, because if we were to take the clay away, there would be no pot there! So in a sense, we should not even call it "a clay pot" Really, we should call it "a potty clay." This would be more exact to an objective reality. But we don't, because (as I see it, thanks to my understanding of my Vygotskian studies and my marvelous Vygotskian teachers, including you all on this list), we see the pot as having more importance than the clay, and this of course is because of the utility a pot has to us, the meaning of the pot is of more value (because of our activity that involve all kinds of pots) than the meaning of clay, which seems incidental and prosaic. The pot could be brass, plastic, anything that holds water (figuratively and literally!)
This is what is so interesting! Why wouldn't we call it "potty clay"? The only reason seems to have to do with our cultural underpinnings. We elicit the value and status with our language, through our language, and from repetition, we come to forget the substance of the pot, and focus upon its form.
I would say in the same vein, we also have become habituated to ignore the substance of which Spinoza speaks. Because (analogously), we get caught up in the features of the form of the pot. Who made it, when it as-if came into existence, what its monetary value is, was it found intact in an archeological find, say in the tomb of a Pharoah. and so on. It's a never-ending inquiry because names and forms will never stay put in this apparent world.
These discussions are not unworthy ones, but they are not looking at the clay for what it is. We just ignite (or continue) conversations about the pot-ness of the pot. Such discussions are also not examining the relationship of dependency of the pot upon the clay and how it is a *cognitive* effort while looking at a pot to see the clay is so subtly different than to see the pot, because the perceptual data are the same.
So what is happening cognitively? And what is the difference of two minds, one who sees, and one who does not? Are they materially different? It seems to me the matter to pursue is what is the difference between the mind of ignorance and the one of knowledge? What makes them differ?
I don't know if a third thing is necessary for that examination (of clay and pots). Because really there is only one thing there perceptually. A clay pot. They preside in the same location and they cannot be pulled apart. The only thing we could do is break the pot, and then the pot is no more. But the clay will remain, albeit in a different form, which we might call "a broken pot" or "broken shards" but it is no longer a bona fide pot, because its function is no more available to us. Nothing has happened to the clay however, it remains clay, just in a different form, and, a different name.
But getting to a third thing, if I was pressed (And it did seem Alfredo that you were possibly pressing me in a friendly way, of course) it does seem that it is the context that matters.
Are we thinking about clay pots because we are potters throwing pots? Or because we are thirsty and it's a necessary tool by which to drink water, or maybe to carry fine tea off a mountain on the backs of beasts? Or are we just sitting under a tree discussing the nature of the apparent world?
The clay pot, as Vedanta uses it, is an example of explaining the non-dual world. That there is a substance (analogous to the clay) by which all things in the manifest world are dependent upon (analogous to the pot made of clay). Of course, we cannot know this substance like we can know any object in the world. Because we are of the same exact substance.
What I think Spinoza was seeing, getting back to substance (and I'm not sure... did Spinoza call it a monist God, or was that word an invention of Leibniz? In other words, was the word assigned to Spinoza assigned by others, not him?) Spinoza must have felt that it has to be one substance. My sense is that Spinoza was attempting to solve this problem of dualism as set out for him by Descartes. I suggest that he knew Descartes was making a mistake, that intuitively he saw this, but intuition is not a hard ground to stand on, especially back then.
The thing with dualism is, if we were to stop there with this perpetual division that can never be crossed, that it perpetuates hierarchies, it rationalizes status, it supports bigotry based upon difference. You know, class and caste and so on.
But if it is possible to see sameness despite difference, then there is something truly magical before our eyes without changing anything but our attitude toward the world. It is a vision of oneness. A cognition. If we are capable of that cognition, to truly see it for ourselves, we can then celebrate what is me and you without our requirement to be the same (identical) form and expression, difference becomes a wonder, not an abberation. And yet (at the same time) we can also be of a kind because WE ARE of the same substance, which is identical to all other objects which already have been here, are here, and will be here in the future.
There is a most profound freedom in knowing this.
Now getting back to combing the hair of a bald man, I will confess, I'm still not clear what Spinoza meant by extension and what he meant by thought. So I would need some help in his definition of these terms. (Anyone? Anyone?)
Then I might be able to comment better on your comparison of the pot example and Ilyenkov "concept and thing related" as objects. It does seem orthogonal to me. I just am not certain right now...
Thanks for the grist!
Kind regards, as always,