Monday, June 11, 2007

Spinoza and the Moderns

Interesting passage from Robert Leventhal's H-Net review of Jonathan Israel's Enlightenment Contested:
I have my doubts about the basic argument of the book, stated on page 867, that the "only kind of philosoph[ies] which could (and can) coherently integrate and hold together such a far-reaching value-condominium in the social, moral, and political world" are "the monist, hylozoic systems of the radical Enlightenment generally labelled 'Spinozist' in the 'long' eighteenth century". One can reasonably advocate all of the values and moral precepts Israel attributes to the Radical Enlightenment on pragmatic grounds and not be a metaphysical monist. In other words, we do not need to believe in Spinoza's metaphysics to believe in democracy, freedom of expression, social justice, equality, fairness, and tolerance. We can, but do not need to, align historical truth with progressive values. We can, but are not required to, adopt a naturalist vision of science and philosophy to be thoughtful and moral citizens. And in fact, that is what "postmodernism," broadly conceived, is all about. Drop the meta-narrative, the epistemological and metaphysical demands, the high-minded requirements of philosophical truth and "rightness" and get on with the important concrete tasks of making the world a better place to live. In a word, as Spinoza himself argued, we don't need to believe the same things or hold the same metaphysical views to do what is urgently needed on the ground to transform society to become more just, more tolerant, more empathetic, and more peaceful.


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