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Subject: Why Spinoza Had No Aesthetics
From: Genevieve Castle Room <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Genevieve Castle Room <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 22 Nov 2016 00:02:29 -0500

text/plain (73 lines)

James Morrison wrote:

>"The reasons for Spinoza's lack of interest in aesthetics are not solely
or primarily due to a merely personal indifference to art and beauty. Nor
does he openly express his reasons for his indifference or hostility to art
and beauty. Rather, his reasons are philosophical and must be inferred from
what he explicitly says. The general character of Spinoza's philosophy, as
well as some of his central doctrines, not only provide no adequate
philosophical basis for an aesthetics but lead to the neglect of aesthetics
altogether. That is, I shall argue that Spinoza's philosophy represents a
certain type of philosophy and "cast of mind" which is fundamentally alien
to, even hostile towards, art and beauty. For Spinoza, works of art do not
constitute a special domain of beings. He regards them merely as physical
objects with physical predicates. Art and beauty belong to the life of
imagination, sense, and passion. If the goal is to free ourselves from
bondage and misery we must turn away from art and beauty, which are
inseparable from them. Nevertheless, Spinoza allows that art and beauty do
have a limited 'medicinal' value."


>"The problem is not just that Spinoza's philosophy offers a 'barren soil'
for cultivating an aesthetics. Rather, the ground it supplies is too hard
and intractable to motivate anyone from even attempting to sow it. In other
words, Spinoza's basic philosophical position, especially what I have
called his naturalism and rationalism, together with their reductionist
implications, provide no motivation for taking art and beauty seriously as
themes of philosophical aesthetics. Naturalism means that works of art have
no special metaphysical status (i.e., are not irreducible to physical
objects) and that beauty is not a real (objective and absolute) quality of
things. Rationalism means that only by thought (not the imagination or
senses) can we know the true nature of things. Now it can be objected that
none of these doctrines *logically implies* that art and beauty cannot be
the subject-matter of a philosophical aesthetics. I am willing to grant
this. But I maintain that when these metaphysical and epistemological
doctrines are *combined* with *moral rationalism* the implications for
aesthetics become more evident. For, as we have seen above, Spinoza's moral
rationalism means that the emotions, which are linked to the imagination
and senses, are the source of unfreedom, vice, and unhappiness. This
implies that the good life is possible only if the passions are mastered;
and this, Spinoza holds, can only be done by reason and the intellect.
Herein lies, I believe, the ultimate basis of Spinoza's philosophical
neglect of aesthetics. For once the good life is *identified* with the life
of reason, and reason is *opposed* to emotion, imagination, and sense.....
art and beauty become suspect. They are regarded as either irrelevant or
hostile to man's highest and deepest interests."

RTWT here:


I see Spinoza's rationalism and materialism favorably and I like his
abstract, non-religious views of God.... But this intellectual appreciation
for his positions does not include subscribing to the impact that taking
rationalism to an extreme has on aesthetics because I'm more on the
Epicurean side, obviously!!

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