zaterdag 1 juli 2017

John Caird, Spinoza (1888) - Introduction

Frontspice van John Caird, Spinoza (1888, in de 'Philosophical Classics' van Blackwood).
Hier nog eens gepubliceerd, daar Spinoza er zo fraai mee omlijst is. Zulke versierselen worden niet meer gemaakt.
Cf. blog over John Caird. De heruitgave is te bestellen bij Amazon.
Hieronder neem ik zijn niet onaardige "Introduction"  over:





INTRODUCTION.

A GREAT system of philosophy is exposed to that kind of injustice which arises from the multiplicity of its interpreters, and from the fact that these interpreters are apt to contemplate and criticise it, not from the point of view of its author, but from their own. Critics and commentators of different schools and shades of opinion are naturally desirous to claim for their own views the sanction of a great writer's name, and unconsciously exercise their ingenuity in forcing that sanction when it is not spontaneously yielded. If any ambiguities or inconsistencies lurk in his doctrines, they are sure to be brought to light and exaggerated by the tendency of conflicting schools to fasten on what is most in accordance with their own special principles. And even when a writer is on the whole self-consistent, it is possible for a one-sided expositor so to arrange the lights and shadows, so to give prominence to what is incidental and throw into the shade what is essential, as to make him the advocate of ideas really antagonistic to his own.

More, perhaps, than most systems of philosophy, that of Spinoza has been subjected to this sort of misconstruction. Doctrines the most diversified and contradictory have been extracted from it. Pantheism and atheism, idealism and empiricism, nominalism and realism, a non-theistic naturalism as uncompromising as that of the modern evolutionist, and a supernaturalism or acosmism which makes as little of the world as the Maya of the Buddhist have all alike found a colourable sanction in Spinoza's teaching. A philosophy apparently as exact and logically coherent as the Geometry of Euclid or the Principia of Newton, has proved, in the hands of modern interpreters, as enigmatical as the utterances of the Jewish Kabbala or the mystical theosophy of the Neo-Platonists. To the vision of one observer, it is so pervaded and dominated by the idea of the Infinite, that he can describe its author only as "a God-intoxicated man." To the acute inspection of another, the theistic element in it is only the decorous guise of a scientific empiricism a judicious but unmeaning concession to the theological prejudices of the author's time, or an incongruous dress of medieval scholasticism of which he had not been able wholly to divest himself.

"Whilst some at least of those heterogeneous notions which have been fathered on Spinoza have no other origin than the mistakes of his modern critics, there arc, it must be acknowledged, others which indicate real inconsistencies. It is true, indeed, that the controversies of subsequent times may easily read into the language of an early writer decisions on questions of which he knew nothing. " Philosophers of an earlier age," it has been said, "often contain, in a kind of implicit unity, different aspects or elements of truth, which in a subsequent time become distinguished from and opposed to each other."

They make use, in a general and indeterminate way, of terms which later controversies have stamped with a special significanc ; they may thus seem to answer questions which they never put to themselves, and may easily be got to pronounce seemingly inconsistent opinions on problems which they never thought of solving. The eager controversialist catches at his pet phrase or mot d’ordre, and hastily concludes that the old writer speaks in the distinctive tone of the modern polemic. But obviously the inconsistencies which thus arise are inconsistencies only to the ear. It may be possible to get Spinoza to side in appearance with the modern evolutionist or with the modern spiritualist, to make him an individualist after the fashion of Mill or Spencer, or a universalist who speaks by anticipation with the voice of Schelling. But if such attempts are made, they are mere philosophical anachronisms. The problems which they seem to solve are problems which, when the supposed solutions were given, could not even be propounded.

Yet it is impossible to ascribe the discordancy of Spinoza's modern interpreters only to the necessary ambiguity of their author's language. His philosophy is not a completely homogeneous product. It may rather be said to be the composite result of conflicting tendencies, neither of which is followed out to its utmost logical results. If we say in general terms that philosophy is the search for unity, the effort of thought to gain a point of view from which the contrast variously expressed by the terms the One and the Many, the Universa! and the Individual, the Infinite and the Finite, God and the World, shall be reconciled and harmonised, then we shall look in vain, in the philosophy of Spinoza, for one consistent solution of the problem. No solution can be regarded as satisfactory which suppresses or fails to do justice to either of the extremes, or which, though giving alternate expression to both, leaves them still in merely external combination without being reconciled for thought. Yet, at most, the latter result is all that the philosophy of Spinoza can be said to achieve. There are parts of his system such as the reduction of all finite individuals to modes or accidents of the absolute substance, and the assertion that all determination is negation in which the idea of the infinite is so emphasised as to leave no place for the finite, or to reduce nature and man, all individual existences, to unreality and illusion. There are parts of his system, on the other hand such as his assertion that the individual is the real, his ascription to each finite thing of a conatus in suo esse perseverandi, his rejection of general ideas as mere entia rationis, his polemic against teleology, his use of the term "Nature" as a synonym for "God" which seem to give to the finite an independent reality that leaves no room for the infinite, or reduces it to an expression for the aggregate of finite things. Thus the system of Spinoza contains elements which resist any attempt to classify him either as a pantheist or an atheist, a naturalist or supernaturalist, a nominalist or a realist. As he approaches the problem with which he deals from different sides, the opposite tendencies by which his mind is governed seem to receive alternate expression ; but to the last they remain side by side, with no apparent consciousness of their disharmony, and with no attempt to mediate between them.

But though it may be conceded that the philosophy of Spinoza is not self- consistent, or contains elements which, if not irreconcilable, are unreconciled, it does not follow that the task of the expositor of Spinoza is limited to what is involved in this concession. Inconsistency may arise not so much from incompatible principles as from defective logic. Contradictory elements may have been admitted into a system, not because its author looked at things from different and irreconcilable standpoints, but because he failed to see all that his fundamental standpoint involved; not because he started from different premisses, but because he did not carry out what was for him the only true premiss to its legitimate results. As moral defects assume an altogether different aspect according as they are regarded as the expression of a retrograding or of an advancing moral nature as willing divergences or as involuntary shortcomings from its own ideal so intellectual inconsistencies may mean more or less according to the attitude of the mind from which they proceed. It may be possible to discover, through all a man's thoughts, a dominant idea or general tendency, and to explain his inconsistencies as only unconscious aberrations from it. It may even be possible to discern, underneath apparent contradictions or abrupt transitions from one point of view to another, an implicit unity of aim the guidance of thought by an unconscious logic towards a principle of reconciliation not yet fully grasped. And if any such dominant idea or implicit aim can be detected in a great writer, it cannot fail to throw light on the general character and bearing of his speculations, and it may enable us to pronounce whether and to what extent in his seeming inconsistencies he is only unfaithful to himself, or inadequately representing his own idea.

Now there are various conceivable indications by which we may be aided in detecting this undercurrent of tendency in the mind of a philosophical writer. We may be able, for instance, to learn something of the motive of his speculations to discover in his previous spiritual history what it was that constituted for him, so to speak, the original impulse towards philosophy, and that secretly guided the process by which intellectual satisfaction has been sought. Or again, we may know something of the helps which have been afforded him in the search for truth, of the studies on which his opening intelligence has been fed, of the sources from which he has derived inspiration, of the books or authorities which consciously or unconsciously have moulded the substance or form of his thoughts. Or finally, we may have the means of viewing his system in the making, of watching the working of his mind and the development of his ideas from their earlier and crader shape to the form which they have finally taken. We may be able thus to see which, if any, of the conflicting elements in his thought has gradually tended to prevail over the others, and to which of them therefore, though the victory to the last may be incomplete, the place of the ruling or characteristic principle must be ascribed. We may find it possible in this way to pronounce of the blots which disfigure his system in its final form, that they are not radical inconsistencies, but only irrelevances or excrescences foreign to its essential character.

Now we are not without such helps to the understanding of the Spinozistic philosophy. In the first place, we possess in the preface to the treatise 'Concerning the Improvement of the Understanding ' an autobiographical fragment in which Spinoza narrates what may be termed the origin and development of his spiritual life, and from which we gain a clear insight into the motive and genesis of his philosophical system. In the second place, we have information, direct and indirect, as to Spinoza's early studies in philosophy. From his own testimony, from the internal evidence supplied by his writings, and from other sources, we know something as to the authors he had read, the intellectual atmosphere in which he grew up, the authorities which may have influenced the formation of his opinions. Lastly, we have in Spinoza's earlier works the means of tracing the gradual development of those ideas which took their final systematised form in the ' Ethics.' Especially in the 'Treatise concerning God and Man,' which has been brought to light only in our own time, we possess what may be regarded as an early study for the ' Ethics,' embracing the same subjects and dealing with the same fundamental ideas, but presenting them in a cruder and less coherent form, and exhibiting the conflicting tendencies of the later work in harder and more unmodified opposition to each other. From these various sources some help may be derived towards the right apprehension of Spinoza's philosophy and the explanation of its apparent ambiguities and inconsistencies.

 

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