Thursday, December 1, 2016

633: Spinoza on "Good" and "Evil"

Like many European philosophers in the early modern period, Benedict de Spinoza (1632-1677) developed a moral philosophy
that fused the insights of ancient theories of virtue with a modern conception of humans, their place in nature, and their relationship to God. 
Unlike many other authors in this period, however, Spinoza was strongly opposed to the believe, that man was the center of the universe 
and had no commitment whatsoever to traditional theological views. Let’s draw the picture of man, how Spinoza saw him.
Perhaps the most important metaphysical principle involved in Spinoza’s ethical theory is his view that “Each thing, as far as it can by its own power, strives to persevere in its being”.  
The striving at issue, which was called “conatus” in Latin, is not to be confused with conscious effort, since Spinoza takes the principle to govern objects and bodies as well as minds.  
Spinoza is making the metaphysical claim that each thing is possessed of an inner force, by which it continuously reasserts its own existence.
The power, which drives us are the affects of Desire, Joy and Sadness. This reasserting oneself can be called psychological egoism in this context.
How do we define Good and Evil in relation to this egoism, which is the drive behind all our actions?
In his answer we see, that Spinoza is not committed to any theological view whatsoever indeed. He is, what is called a moral anti-realist.
A moral realist holds that at least some things are good or bad independently of what we desire or believe to be the case. 
Spinoza denies this clearly in the Preface of part 4 of the ethica: “As for the terms good and bad, they indicate no positive quality in things regarded in themselves, 
but are merely modes of thinking, or notions which we form from the comparison of things one with another. 
Thus one and the same thing can be at the same time good, bad, and indifferent. For instance, music is good for him that is melancholy, 
bad for him that mourns; for him that is deaf, it is neither good nor bad.” -end quote-
Thus Spinoza regards good and evil as labels, “modes of thinking,” that human beings apply to things, but which really reveal little about the things to which they are applied.
So, there is nothing good or evil in nature as such? How does Spinoza underpin this claim? Again, very non-theologically.
In the Preface of part 4 of the Ethica we read: “Now we showed in the Appendix to Part I., that Nature does not work with an end in view.”  
And: “The reason or cause why (..) Nature exists, and the reason why it acts, are one and the same. 
Therefore, as it does not exist for the sake of an end, so neither does it act for the sake of an end; of its existence and of its action there is neither origin nor end.”
In other words, Nature, or call it matter, just exist. Just like that.
If moral qualities, like good and evil, were objective, that is… a quality of the object,  then nothing could have contrary moral qualities at one and the same time. 
But many things do have contrary moral qualities at one and the same time, with respect to different observers. 
Spinoza was a rationalist and thence, man is all about mind: the mind’s power of thinking is its perfection; joy is an increase in that power or a passage to a greater perfection
and sadness is a decrease in that power or a passage to a lesser perfection. What we label as good is thus a step nearer to perfection as Spinoza thought.
And here are two contemporary scientists, on the one hand Frans de Waal, the primatologist, who shows that Spinoza is fundamentally wrong in his basic assumptions about man.
And on the other hand we have Antonio Damasio, the neuroscientist, who says that in some respect Spinoza was right and thence his inspiration.
In the coming lectures we’ll investigate this intriguing situation.

The Discussion

[13:21] herman Bergson: Maybe Spinoza is becoming a bit too complicated?
[13:21] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): he is talking about nature of everything?
[13:22] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): and everyone??
[13:22] herman Bergson: yes he is
[13:22] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): so attributes dont matter
[13:22] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): he tries explaining how everything goes together in some way as i get it
[13:22] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): and nature doesn’t have a goal
[13:23] CB Axel: Happiness comes from an increase in the power of our thoughts?
[13:23] herman Bergson: Indeed, except the drive to persevere
[13:24] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): well
[13:24] herman Bergson: and like Hobbes he believes that man only goes for his own personal interests
[13:24] herman Bergson: And there Spinoza like Hobbes are wrong
[13:25] herman Bergson: But we'll  get to that next time
[13:25] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate) GIGGLES!!
[13:25] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): ...LOL...
[13:25] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): ok
[13:26] herman Bergson: And this conclusion is based on very recent scientific insights
[13:26] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): ah that is it
[13:26] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): science changes lots of things
[13:26] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): indeed
[13:26] CB Axel: I'll be interested to hear about that.
[13:27] herman Bergson: yes Gemma...I hope I'll surprise you with that next time
[13:27] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): i think you surprise us all Herman
[13:27] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): YAY! (yay!)
[13:27] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): that will be thursday
[13:27] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako):
[13:27] herman Bergson: Yes...Thursday :-)
[13:28] herman Bergson: the interesting thing today is that there is no good or bad in the world, but our opinion about things as being good or bad
[13:28] herman Bergson: good is not an attribute of matter but a mode of thinking
[13:28] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate) GIGGLES!!
[13:28] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): ...LOL...
[13:28] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): and i do have my opinions
[13:28] CB Axel: I can buy that.
[13:29] herman Bergson: what are your opinions Gemma? :-)
[13:29] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): mostly about everything going on
[13:29] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): killing innocent people by dropping bombs on them can never be a good thing
[13:30] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): thats totally evil to me
[13:30] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): even if nature itself don’t care
[13:30] herman Bergson: But suppose these "innocent" people were heading for your home to kill you, Bejiita?
[13:30] CB Axel: That's how bombing is justified.
[13:31] CB Axel: That doesn't make it good.
[13:31] herman Bergson: YEs CB...we have to face that problem
[13:31] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): hmm i doubt that, most aer good people  think who very well could be my friends if i had a chance to know them
[13:32] herman Bergson: But suppose it is the only way to stop these people from killing you and yor family?
[13:32] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): its chaos over there for sure and i wish it would just stop
[13:33] herman Bergson: An other example then....
[13:33] herman Bergson: suppose a friend knocks on your door and asks you to hide him....
[13:33] CB Axel: I suppose self-defense is justified, but what's going on in Aleppo is not self-defence on either side.
[13:34] herman Bergson: He is hunted by the secret police...just for his opinions...when they catch him he will be executed...
[13:34] herman Bergson: Syria is a dirty war with a lot of war criminals in action
[13:34] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): that happened many times in ww2
[13:34] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): and probably now
[13:34] herman Bergson: a different story
[13:34] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): indeed herman
[13:34] CB Axel: Opinions are not evil. Acting on some opinions can be evil. In my opinion. °͜°
[13:34] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): ah
[13:35] herman Bergson: ok...let's continue the story....the secret police knocks on your door....asks for your LIE....he is not here, you say
[13:35] herman Bergson: but to lie is not good morally...or?
[13:36] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate) GIGGLES!!
[13:36] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): ...LOL...
[13:36] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): or is it
[13:36] herman Bergson: And here  you hear Spinoza....
[13:36] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): depends on the moral code one is following
[13:36] CB Axel: I wouldn't lie. I'd tell them that the evil person they are looking for is not there. °͜°
[13:36] herman Bergson: not speaking the truth is just an is how we label the act that makes it good or bad
[13:37] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): hmm
[13:37] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): i see
[13:37] herman Bergson: they would disagree with you CB :-)
[13:37] CB Axel: Let them.
[13:37] herman Bergson: they are chacing an evil person, they'll say
[13:37] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): then the police will ask you, how do you know that we are looking for a person CB?
[13:37] CB Axel: Because they asked for a person.
[13:38] CB Axel: They asked for a person with evil opinions. I don't know anyone with evil opinions.
[13:38] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): there you go!
[13:38] CB Axel: Besides, for someone's opinion to matter to me, I have to have respect for that person.
[13:40] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): and there is an old saying
[13:40] herman Bergson: I am not so much specialized in Spinoza that I can tell where his point of view leads to in his opinion.....
[13:40] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): alls fair in love an d war
[13:40] herman Bergson: Does it mean that everyone has his own opinion about good and bad?
[13:40] herman Bergson: How can there be law then?
[13:40] CB Axel: Isn't that what Spinoza was saying?
[13:41] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): i guess it has to be agreed on
[13:41] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): Spinoza didn't live long enough to explain to us all that he has written
[13:41] CB Axel: If enough people have the opinion that something is evil, it can be made a law.
[13:41] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): right
[13:41] herman Bergson: Well, Beertje, at least I did not yet find a clear answer to my question indeed
[13:42] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): is there really one
[13:42] herman Bergson: He relates moral good with the increase of joy, the good thing or action brings us....
[13:43] CB Axel: But murdering some people could lead me to great joy. °͜°
[13:43] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): well that i disagree with sometimes we do the moral thing and are furious!!!
[13:43] herman Bergson: You should ask such a question within the context of Spinoza's philosophy, Gemma
[13:43] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): i did it because i had to
[13:43] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): and it brings me no joy
[13:44] herman Bergson: yes....that is more the Kantian approach of morality....
[13:44] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): knew it
[13:44] herman Bergson: Our obligation to do things....but here it do what is right...
[13:44] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): i hope Spinoza was happy
[13:45] herman Bergson: I really have no idea Gemma...
[13:45] herman Bergson: But I wonder....
[13:45] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): me too
[13:46] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): maybe he was, but he had a lot of reasons to be afraid
[13:46] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): perhaps if he had lived longer
[13:46] herman Bergson: He was rational, distant, involved....
[13:46] herman Bergson: Wonder what he did when it was Christmas :-)
[13:47] CB Axel: Probably what I do: enjoy the change of season.
[13:47] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): maybe he had his Saturnalia?
[13:48] herman Bergson: Unfortunately we know little about his personal life
[13:48] herman Bergson: But we know that hte winters in those years were very cold
[13:48] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): ah
[13:49] herman Bergson: that period is called the small Ice age, if I ma not mistaken
[13:49] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): no thermojackets
[13:49] herman Bergson: Painters painted nice winter landscapes in those days
[13:50] CB Axel: Wouldn't skating on the canals help warm a person?
[13:50] herman Bergson: SO I guess it might be time for you to go out in the snow too now :-)
[13:50] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): a bit maybe at least
[13:50] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako):
[13:50] CB Axel: I can work up quite a sweat shovelling snow.
[13:50] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): it is raining like crazy here which is good
[13:50] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): aa thats true, thats heavy indeed
[13:50] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): has not rained in ages
[13:50] herman Bergson: raining....
[13:50] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): ok
[13:50] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): and tomorrow again
[13:50] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): very good
[13:50] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): hmm not too god of it gets to dry
[13:51] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): it has been
[13:51] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): thats why there are so much wildfires
[13:51] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): water reservoirs very low
[13:51] CB Axel: We had some rain recently, but a friend up in Minnesota had slushy snow.
[13:51] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): and we need water to drink as well
[13:51] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): plus to make power
[13:52] herman Bergson: Time to dismiss class :-)
[13:52] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:52] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): see you thursday
[13:52] herman Bergson: Thank you all again for your participation ^_^
[13:52] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): well cu thursday
[13:52] CB Axel: Thank you, Herman.
[13:52] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako):
[[13:52] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): this was good
[13:52] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): bye for now!
[13:52] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): thank you Herman
[13:52] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): hugs all
[13:52] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako):
[13:52] herman Bergson: Bye Bejiita
[13:52] CB Axel: See you all Thursday.
[13:53] bergfrau Apfelbaum: thank you  herman and class!
[13:53] bergfrau Apfelbaum: ***** APPPPPPPLLLLAAAUUUSSSSEEEEEEE***********
[13:53] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): Goodnight

[13:53] bergfrau Apfelbaum: good night :-) Beertje