The Issue Of Teleology In Spinoza: A Defence Of The Standard Interpretation
Current scholarship offers two competing accounts of Spinoza’s views on the issue of teleology, which I label Standard Interpretation and Modest Interpretation respectively. Several texts, including Ethics 1 Appendix, support the Standard Interpretation: they make the point that Spinoza rejects all forms of teleology and teleological explanations. A second group of remarks, most of which occur in Part 3 of the Ethics, suggests that the chief claim of the Modest Interpretation is correct: Spinoza seems to accept some meaningful forms of teleology and teleological explanations. In this thesis, I build a new case for the Standard Interpretation. I assess divine causality and human causality in Spinoza and show that, given other Spinozistic assumptions, one and the same activity underlies all of causation. In particular, two metaphysical commitments preclude Spinoza’s endorsement of divine teleology: causal determinism and necessitarianism. These commitments amount to a failure to meet two conditions that Spinoza places on final causation: (i) that an agent has the ability to choose freely, and (ii) that an agent chooses among a range of possible states. I show that Spinoza’s reasons for rejecting teleology in God also apply mutatis mutandis to the activity of singular things. By providing such an account I hope to debunk one of the main assumptions of the Modest Interpretation: namely, that Spinoza’s fundamental distinction between substance and mode gives him the flexibility to deny teleological activity to God but to attribute it to finite beings.
Advisor: LeBuffe, Michael
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: Philosophy
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Spinoza; Teleology; Final Causes; Determinism; Necessitarianism
Research Type: Thesis