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Spinoza’s expansive naturalism

Spinoza’s expansive naturalism

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Location: Walker Room, Heythrop College

Welcome to the Michaelmas Term's Staff Research Seminar series.  This session will see Marko Fuchs presenting a paper on 'Spinoza’s expansive naturalism'.

The seminar will start at 4 pm with tea and coffee and the presentation will start at 4:30 pm.

Abstract: The Virtue of EcoPhronēsis: Towards an Account

Naturalism is held to be the common conviction of contemporary Anglo-American philosophers. It is based on the idea that what is real can be reduced to one fundamental structure, viz., (material) nature that is investigated by the (natural) sciences. This reduction is supposed to function also when applied to phenomena that seem to be non-material, like for instance conscience or values. However, a growing tendency in modern thought denies the possibility of this kind of reductionism pointing out that phenomena like values or consciousness are not explained by reductionism but simply denied. The claim of this tendency, however, is not that with this kind of reductionism we should drop naturalism at all but that we should develop an ‘Expansive Naturalism’ that can integrate phenomena like conscience and values in a conception of nature as matter. This would avoid losing these phenomena at the one hand, but would also avoid the unsatisfactory idea of dualisms or gaps within reality at the other. In order to develop such an ‘Expansive Naturalism’ one needs to work on a concept of nature that can include the results and methods of natural sciences as well as phenomena like mind or normativity.

During my stay, I will show that and how the paradigmatic philosophy of Spinoza and especially his concept of nature as it can be found in his Ethica more geometrico demonstrata can contribute essential features to this project of an ‘Expansive Naturalism’. Spinoza uses the terms ‘God’ and ‘Nature’ as synonyms, claiming therefore that nature inherits the classical systematic place of the first principle for all reality. At the same time, Spinoza is no reductionist thinker. Phenomena like consciousness or normativity cannot be reduced to material causes but constitute an independent part of nature that at the same time is intimately related to the material side of nature. Either parts or, as Spinoza calls them, ‘attributes’ are distinct and yet just two sides of one and the same reality or nature. By this conception of unity within distinction it is possible to describe material and conscious phenomena according to their specific laws without ending up with a Cartesian dualism or with modern reductionism.

Marko Fuchs teaches philosophy at the University of Bamberg. His research interests include ancient and medieval ethics, especially theories of justice and friendship, Spinoza and his influence on classical German philosophy, and theories of the self. His publications include a book about Sum and Cogito – the Finite Self in Augustine and Descartes (Schöningh, 2008) as well as a book about Justice as a General Virtue (de Gruyter, 2016).

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