The Road to Finite Modes in Spinoza's Ethics

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There are many aspects of the Ethics that seem to suggest, or perhaps even require the possibility of deducing finite modes from the infinite substance. Nonetheless, as many have noted even during Spinoza's own time, it is far from clear that such a deduction can be successfully performed. In this chapter I argue that the expectation of a top-down deduction (i.e., one that begins with an attribute and terminates with a finite mode) is unwarranted, and that interestingly enough, it is not only unwarranted with regard to Spinoza but with regard to Descartes as well. I show this by pointing to the crucial role confusion plays for both, noting that our epistemic journey to clear and distinct or adequate knowledge begins with confusion, and that this trajectory is one of emending initially confused ideas. This shows that epistemically a bottom-up trajectory necessarily precedes a top-down one. My claim, however, goes beyond this point regarding the order of discovery. I argue that the state of confusion presupposes a plurality of finite modes, in Spinoza's case, and substances and modes in Descartes's. Confusion, I claim, amounts to an inadequate perception of an amalgam of ideas of a real plurality of things. Recognizing the metaphysical ground of confusion along with its central epistemic role brings to light the artificiality, and indeed ultimately the impossibility of a top-down deduction which is divorced from a preceding bottom-up analysis.
Original languageEnglish GB
Title of host publicationInfinity in Early Modern Philosophy
EditorsOhad Nachtomy, Reed Winegar
Place of PublicationCham
PublisherSpringer International Publishing AG
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-94556-9
StatePublished - 2018


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