A Map Through the Ethics: Spinoza’s Geometric Vision of Liberation

A Map Through the Ethics: Spinoza’s Geometric Vision of Liberation

Four Tuesdays, December 1-22, 2020, 6-8pm EST (US+Canada). Online via Zoom.

John Paetsch

Excommunicated from Amsterdam’s Jewish community for his heretical ideas, condemned alike by Protestants and Catholics, Baruch Spinoza is still considered to be one of the most radical and relevant of all the 17th-century philosophers—so much so that his ideas have come to eclipse those of Hobbes, Descartes, and even (gasp!) Leibniz. His rather severe texts have inspired currents of autonomist Marxism, relational feminism, and deviant anarchism. What makes Spinoza “the philosopher of the future”? Is it his anti-dualist monism? His thorough-going “scientific” naturalism? His identification of God and Nature (deus, sive natura)? His vision of communal autonomy? His anticipatory critique of Liberal political theory?

Spinoza’s Ethics (1677)—a relentlessly metaphysical text that promises collective liberation—was banned before it was even published. His anonymously-published (1670) Tractatus Theologico-Politicus(Theological-Political Treatise) was called “a book forged in hell.”

What are we to make of these works today? Why does the Ethics “prove” its batteries of propositions “in a geometrical manner” (more geometrico demonstrata)? Why does so “practical” a philosopher, directing us always to look at our life and consider the actual effects of things upon it, promise something as extravagant as “eternal” life? How can we hope to comprehend Nature, if Spinoza implants everywhere within it an “absolutely infinite” productive power? Merely skimming the 5 parts of the Ethics is enough to detect an alien atmosphere. Could we ever acclimate ourselves to it?

We’ll approach the Ethics by first reading sections of Spinoza’s earlier works: the Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect (1662), the Theological-Political Treatise (1670), and the (unfinished) Political Treatise (1675). These works illuminate at once the means and the ends of the Ethics—respectively, its curious “geometrical” method and collective liberation. Once we grasp the ground from which it springs and the emancipatory horizon towards which it tends we’ll be ready to dive into the Ethics itself, this fascinating, frustrating, aesthetically-pleasing, and above all enlivening text. Nothing is more Spinozist than a collective inquiry that would confront the antinomies animating the Ethics, sound its central currents, and reckon its effects upon us. Throughout, we’ll also consider some contemporary elaborations of Spinoza’s thought, vis a vis such interlocutors as Antonio Negri, Gilles Deleuze, Pierre Macherey, Genevieve Lloyd, Sylvère Lotringer, Étienne Balibar, and Alexander Matheron.

Who knows but this Spinozist voice that speaks, if not to us directly, then along myriad subterranean channels informing our lives, might draw us towards a more “powerful” life ….

Primary Readings (PDFs will be provided on the Eventbrite page prior to the seminar):

Week 1: (12/1)

  • Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect (1662) – sections 18-25; 40-47; 91-102 

Week 2: (12/8)

  • Ethics – Part 1, definitions, axioms, and propositions 1-18, 33-36

Week 3: (12/15)

  • Ethics – Part 2, 3, and 4 (selections)

Week 4: (12/22)

  • Theological-Political Treatise (1770) – Chapter 16
  • Political Treatise – Chapter 2

Facilitator: John Paetsch received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Georgia. His dissertation—The Texture of Foliated Time—explores why Gilles Deleuze, Henri Bergson, and G.W. Leibniz all entwine “continuity” with “heterogeneity”—whether considering how a life dissipates time or a body diffuses force. Sad to say, it spares neither philosophy nor aesthetics nor physics nor mathematics—blame his confidante, O.B. Bassler! Portions of it have appeared in Deleuze and Guattari Studies. He is presently translating the rudely neglected essays of the philosopher-mathematician Gilles Châtelet for Urbanomic. He has published anomalous poetry with Hiding Press, Gauss PDF and Make Now Books. He teaches at Temple University.

Time: Four Tuesdays, December 1-22, 6-8pm. Online via Zoom.


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