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Journal of Early Modern Studies, Volume 11, issue 2 (Fall 2022): Expression in Spinoza’s Philosophy

COSTA, Emanuele (ed.)


Journal of Early Modern Studies, Volume 11, issue 2 (Fall 2022)

ISSN: 2285-6382 (paperback) / ISSN: 2286-0290 (electronic)




ANDREW BURNSIDE: Spinoza and Descartes on Expression and Ideas: Conception and Ideational Intentionality
I make the case that Spinoza built on Descartes’s conception of what it means for a mind to have an idea by linking it with his concept of expression because ideas express realities in terms of a causation-conception conditional (but not vice versa). Briefly, if an idea is caused by a being, then that being is conceived through that idea. Descartes thinks of our clearly and distinctly possessing an idea as a sufficient ground for our expression of what we understand. I take adequate ideas to be their equivalent. Spinoza links the connection and order of ideas with that of things because conceptualization of what is caused and its causes have to coincide (the causation-conception conditional). Thus, Spinoza’s view must also involve clearly and distinctly possessing an idea as grounds for both expression of its content and the actual existence of a corresponding object of that idea. I stress the intentionality of ideas and discuss what follows from it taken alongside the univocity of being according to Spinoza’s substance monism. Put simply, on both Descartes’s and Spinoza’s views, ideas are always ideas of something. Ideas must express the reality of some corresponding being; in turn, being is itself expressive.

SARAH TROPPER: Expression and the Perfection of Finite Individuals in Spinoza and Leibniz
It is obvious that both Spinoza and Leibniz attach importance to the notion of expression in their philosophical writings and that both do so in a similar fashion: They agree, for example, that the mind expresses the body (although this claim has rather different meanings for each of them). Another – albeit related – use of ‘expression’ that appears in both thinkers provides a deeper insight into some metaphysical similarity as well as difference: The idea that expression is closely connected with the perfection and action of individual things. While this relation is explicit in Leibniz, I will show that it is also in a less straightforward way found in Spinoza and, furthermore, that the relation of expression in regards to perfection is similar in Spinoza and Leibniz as both of them regard individuals as perfect insofar as they express the world and God. But one crucial difference in their accounts lies in the claim that, for Spinoza, what is being expressed and gives rise to perfection can be privative in nature, while such a thing cannot be the object of an expression for Leibniz. As I will argue, this not based merely on their different metaphysical views, but also on a difference in what can serve as content of an expression.

ALEXANDER DOUGLAS: Spinoza’s Theophany: The Expression of God’s Nature by Particular Things
What does Spinoza mean when he claims, as he does several times in the Ethics, that particular things are expressions of God’s nature or attributes? This article interprets these claims as a version of what is called theophany in the Neoplatonist tradition. Theophany is the process by which particular things come to exist as determinate manifestations of a divine nature that is in itself not determinate. Spinoza’s understanding of theophany diverges significantly from that of the Neoplatonist John Scottus Eriugena, largely because he understands the non-determinateness of the divine nature in a very different way. His view is more similar, I argue, to what is presented in the work of Ibn ‘Arabī, under the name “tajallī”.

EMANUELE COSTA: Triadic Metaphysics: Spinoza’s Expression as Structural Ontology
The concept of expression grounds a large portion of Spinoza’s metaphysics, giving further depth to seemingly foundational concepts such as substance, causality, attribute, and essence. Spinoza adopts the term “expression” in crucial contexts such as the definition of attribute, the essential dependence of modes on substance, and the striving or effort of a finite conatus. In this essay, I seek to interpret expression as an instance of relational or structural ontology, escaping the reductionist tendencies that would see it as a mere result or combination of “more fundamental” properties such as causation, inherence, and conception. My interpretation of expression as a descriptive structural lens enriches our understanding of Spinoza’s metaphysics of substance and modes as a primarily structural ontology, which can only be read appropriately if its relata are conceived as ontologically dependent on the structure.

STEPH MARSTON: Expression as Creativity: Exploring Spinoza’s Dynamic of Politics
Deleuze reads Part I of the Ethics as articulating an expressionist philosophy, in which to express (exprimere) is the ontological criterion for existence throughout Spinoza’s metaphysical system. However, he argues that inadequate ideas and passions are non-expressing, such that finite modes express substance only in their adequate ideas. I argue, contra Deleuze, that Spinoza’s account of the workings of the human mind presses us to understand inadequate ideas as genuine expressions of substance which nonetheless are specific to the individuals which form them. On the same textual grounds, I propose that the mind’s expression of substance in inadequate ideas, and thus in virtue of its encounters with other modes, is a source of both creativity and potential instability. I put this insight to work in a reading of Spinoza’s political philosophy, arguing that expression generates a dynamic in which social formations enact and reinforce their own forms of expression, while also being subject to the reimaginations and expression of those who live within them.

FRANCESCA DI POPPA: Libertas Philosophandi as Freedom to Be Human: Government and Freedom in Spinoza’s Political Work
In this paper, I will argue that Spinoza’s notion of libertas philosophandi in Theological Political Treatise is best interpreted as freedom of expression, in the metaphysical sense of expression found in Ethics I. This reading helps understand the role of the Spinozan state in protecting such freedom. Ethics argues that human nature is embodied thought, and its freedom is found both in rational and irreducibly imaginary cognition: imagination is knowledge, and, as such, it is a fundamental aspect of human expression. The last two books of Ethics show that human freedom depends on certain material and intellectual conditions: this clarifies the role of the state as an active participant, rather than a mere watchman, of individual expression.

Book Review:

SANDRINE BERGES: Marie-Frédérique Pellegrin (ed.), Repenser la philosophie du XVIIe siècle. Canons et corpus, Special issue of Dix-septième siècle, no 296, 2022/3, Presses Universitaires de France.

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