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Booknotes/review: Spinoza and the Specters of Modernity

July 1st, 2015 · No Comments

Review: Spinoza and the Specters of Modernity: The Hidden Enlightenment of Diversity from Spinoza to Freud (Paperback)
Kantian revolution springs from the need to deal witth the issue of freedom lacking in both Newtonian physics and Spinoza

As the saying goes, ‘nice try’: there is a lesser conspiracy to unseat Kant and replace that figure with Spinoza in an alternate reading of modernity. Somehow the fans of that earlier philosophy seem him as a more suitable foundational nexus that the hard to understand Kantian corpus with some liabilities of its own, and the often obscure character of the Kantian personality. In fact the attempt to do this was/is an interesting experiment, but the result doesn’t work very well because the needed distance from the scientific revolution, its strengths and limits, is missing. Lacking in Spinoza is the Kantian insight into the nature of freedom in the context of Newtonian physics, and this in turn leads to his seminal construction of ethics in the context of a recovered ‘will’ that is able to perform ethical acts.One of the attractions of Spinoza for some is the way he can be a ‘by the book’ simplification as an ideology of scientism, and this kind of causal monism is part of the general trend to reductionist science that is coming to inherit the whole scientific revolution. It is precisely this that Kant saw coming and his preemptive strike is a significant prophecy of the coming of fundamentalist scientism. Kant is a queer fish with some oddball misfires, but even as a trainwreck his corpus of materials is directly relevant to the issues of a culture trying to both embrace and transcend the foundational scientific revolution.

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