Name: Bob Knob Title: The Impossible Ideal of Spinoza and Rush Link to Syllabus: Grounds of Epistemology – Spinoza Source Material: Song Lyrics of “Tom Sawyer” by Rush



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Name: Bob Knob

Title: The Impossible Ideal of Spinoza and Rush

Link to Syllabus: Grounds of Epistemology – Spinoza

Source Material: Song Lyrics of “Tom Sawyer” by Rush

  1. Introduction

    1. Source Link: “Tom Sawyer”, by the band Rush, proposes an ideal human who accepts and has learned to profit from the logical necessity in which the world operates, similar to the absolute logical necessity of the world proposed by Spinoza.

    2. Research Question: Is it practically possible to live in the mental paradigm proposed by Benedict Spinoza in his Ethics?

    3. Central Idea: Although Spinoza presents an inspiring ideal template for human happiness, it would not be practical for this ideal to be universalized and implemented by the majority of human beings.

    4. Thesis: Spinoza’s ideal requires an acceptance of an absolute determinism that is not compatible with human concepts of action and consequence, nor does it satisfactorily correspond with our experience in the world.

  2. Absolute determinism, like Spinoza’s “logical necessity” of existence, is not a practical and palatable theory to most people.

    1. Spinoza’s theory is based on pantheism and determinism.

      1. Spinoza’s logical necessity states that we are the product of single, indeterminate “God or nature”. (Ethics 4)

      2. Nothing could happen any other way, due to God’s perfection. (Ethics 14)

    2. Humans react against absolute determinism.

      1. “Tom Sawyer” protagonist knows vague truths, not absolutes.

      2. Absolute determinism delegitimizes crime & punishment, effort & achievement.

  3. Our experience as humans seems to be more compatible with empiricism, and our sensory apparatus does not readily support Spinoza’s conclusions.

    1. Spinoza claims that all existence is part of God. (Ethics 5)

    2. Locke, however, purports a belief in a tabula rasa to explain human ideas. (Locke 26)

      1. All knowledge is gained through experience.

      2. This seems compatible with individual human thought and experience.

    3. If you do not accept Spinoza’s ontology, you likely will not accept his determinism.

  4. Conclusion

    1. Kant is probably correct when he says that the key to an ethical theory is if it can be universalized. (Groundwork… 6)

    2. Practically, Spinoza’s theories cannot be universalized, and are therefore insufficient as a practical plan of thought and action.


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