“But the creator is Himself knowledge, the knower and the object known. His knowledge does not arise from His directing His thoughts to things outside of Him, since in comprehending and knowing Himself, He comprehends and knows everything that exists.” – Moses Cordovero, A Garden of Pomegranates.1
On our journey to define the many human conceptions of ultimate reality, we have worked through the scientific understanding and last time finished our review of the ancient Western philosophical tradition ending on Plotinus who was active in the third century C.E. In the West for the next 14 centuries, philosophy is submerged within Christian theology (theological understandings of ultimate reality or God make up the third portion of the section on Ultimate Reality and the Meaningful Life) until we arrive at Baruch De Spinoza (later Benedict Spinoza), the first strictly philosophical thinker in this area since antiquity.
In his opus magnum, The Ethics, Spinoza attempts to create a metaphysics of certainty using geometric-like axioms and proofs to support his positions. While his presentation is not entirely convincing and at times seemingly confused, we can extract a speculative position wherein he appears to pick up from Aristotle with ‘substance’ as ultimate reality. However unlike Aristotle, Spinoza believes there is only one substance in the sense of a genuinely individual thing with intelligibility and not derived from other things. Its existence follows from its essence, not an act of creation rather that of which the laws of Nature are the operation. In other words, God is Nature!
All other things in the universe are finite modes of the one substance which itself has an infinite number of attributes. However we are only aware of physical and mental attributes of substances due to our limitations. In addition all finite things are united by the feature of conatus or striving to exist. Spinoza believes the laws of Nature are all-governing, hence prior conditions determine subsequent events, thus humans have no free will. Our sense of free will derives from an intense conatus opposed to external influences.2
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1 Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972. Volume 7, page 534.
2Honderich, Ted, The Oxford Guide to Philosophy. Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-19-534093-8 pages 888-892.