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Peeling Potatoes or Grinding Lenses

Peeling Potatoes or Grinding Lenses: Spinoza and Young Wittgenstein Converse on Immanence and Its Logic

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 312
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    Peeling Potatoes or Grinding Lenses
    Book Description:

    "I can work best now while peeling potatoes. . . . It is for me what lens-grinding was for Spinoza."-L. WittgensteinMore than 250 years separate the publication of Baruch Spinoza'sEthicsand Ludwig Wittgenstein'sTractatus Logico-Philosophicus.Both are considered monumental philosophical treatises, produced during markedly different times in human history, and notoriously challenging to interpret. InPeeling Potatoes or Grinding Lenses,Aristides Baltas contends that these works bear a striking similarity based on the idea of "radical immanence." Each purports to understand the world, thought, and language from the inside and in a way leading to the dissolution of all philosophy. In that guise, both offer a powerful argument against fundamentalism of all sorts and kinds.

    To Spinoza, God is just Nature. God is not above or separate from the world, humanity, or mere objects for, as Nature, He inheres in everything. To Wittgenstein, logic is not above or separate from language, thought, and the world. The hardness of the logical "must" inheres in states of affairs, facts, thoughts, and linguistic acts. Outside there are no truths or sense-only nonsense.

    Through close readings of the texts based on lessons drawn from radical paradigm change in science, Baltas finds in both works a single-minded purpose, implacable reasoning, and an austerity of style that are rare in the history of philosophy. He analyzes the structure and content of each treatise, the authors' intentions, the limitations and possibilities afforded by scientific discovery in their respective eras, their radical opposition to prevailing philosophical views, and draws out the particulars, as well as the implications, of the arresting match between the two.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7790-2
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Note on References and List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  2. Coordinates of a Conversation
    (pp. 1-22)

    Throughout the following pages I argue that Wittgenstein’sTractatus Logico-Philosphicus(TLP) and Spinoza’sEthics(E) both pursue the same end. We can profitably take each as aiming to establish that there cannot be any position outside the world, thought, and language, that there can be no overarching standpoint from which anyone or anything can encompass the world, thought, and language as wholes, can act on them, regiment them, know them, or make meaningful pronouncements on them. Borrowing Spinoza’s terminology, I call this philosophical perspective the perspective ofradical immanence.

    Spinoza and Wittgenstein worked in very different times. In Spinoza’s time,...

  3. CHAPTER ONE Mutual Introductions
    (pp. 23-39)

    Nietzsche acknowledged that God might well not be the traditional God of monotheism, a superperson endowed with all the proper anthropomorphic attributes elevated to the superlative. He understood perfectly that God is fundamentally atranscending court of ultimate appealand anoverarching positionput there to collect whatever might satisfy humanity’s deep-rooted need for incontestable authority. We today have witnessed how science, progress, the party, the market, or this or that “ism” have been promoted separately or conjointly, concurrently or consecutively, to quasi-transcendent authorities filling God’s position and coming to enjoy therein unmitigated respect and all the appropriate honors. Nietzsche’s...

  4. CHAPTER TWO Purposes and Ends
    (pp. 40-62)

    Whether it is spelled out ontologically, logically, or otherwise, the perspective of radical immanence leaves no room for any higher power to which one can appeal in case of need or any higher authority one can obey in case of doubt. To go on with one’s life, one can work only with what the world at large can provide for the purpose, or more specifically, with what the world at large makes present at hand and, from the world at large, can be made ready to hand.¹

    Since the hands in question are the hands of the self, we might...

  5. CHAPTER THREE Grammar
    (pp. 63-87)

    Almost 300 years of historical distance separates Spinoza from Wittgenstein. Hence the question inevitably surfaces: why are their works so strikingly similar? Were the associated historical changes not important enough, or is the relevant philosophical activity capable of ignoring—or eradicating—historical change? How does it take account, if it does at all, of historical context?

    I have noted some differences distinguishing theEthicsfrom theTractatus, attributing these to disparities in historical context. But it is not enough merely to mark such differences while leaving the striking similarity unquestioned, and this can be understood only on the basis of...

  6. CHAPTER FOUR Strategies
    (pp. 88-112)

    The difference in the philosophical spaces available to Spinoza and Witt-genstein gave Spinoza’s strategy a narrower range of possibilities for unfolding; the wider range Wittgenstein enjoyed let him pursue a more intricate strategy. For this reason, understanding Wittgenstein’s strategy may help in understanding the perspective of radical immanence overall and thus provides a useful starting point. And even if Spinoza’s strategy appears straightforward enough, a consideration of Wittgenstein might allow a second, more incisive look at that strategy, one that lies below the surface of theEthicsand thus provides additional means for situating the constraints that historical context imposed...

  7. CHAPTER FIVE Organizing Content
    (pp. 113-136)

    If the first movement of Wittgenstein’s strategy is subsumed under the second, then the propositions Wittgenstein advances along the first movement should be set forth in a way that makes them all self-destruct when the second movement is completed. Everything identifying and connecting those propositions within the body of that work—the way they are formulated, the way some invoke others, the way each exhibits its “logical importance” through the decimal figure numbering it, the way most function as “comments” to those preceding them in the order of logical importance—should make them all prone to such self-destruction. But the...

  8. CHAPTER SIX Metaphysics
    (pp. 137-173)

    Having seen why both Spinoza and Wittgenstein begin their treatises from ontology, one may feel compelled to ask about the specifics of this beginning. What does ontology amount to for each author? How does each understand and use the metaphysics supporting and structuring this ontology?

    To answer these questions, recall how the scientific upheavals of his day determined how each man set out to accomplish his task. My discussion of this, however, was restricted and in a sense anachronistic: it highlighted only the conceptual and hence grammatical aspects of those upheavals and aimed only at displaying how awareness—sharp in...

  9. CHAPTER SEVEN Matching Content
    (pp. 174-193)

    The minimalist metaphysics we have been examining envisions us as inseparably bonded bodies and minds thrown into a world that consists of other bodies and other minds and, in the last analysis, nothing else. It remains to see how Spinoza and Wittgenstein take account of these absolutely fundamental facts, as well as whether and to what extent their approaches match each other in the corresponding respects. Having landed on Spinoza’s Attributes, it is from here we have to start.

    Spinoza defines what he means by Attribute early in theEthics: “By attribute I mean what the intellect perceives of substance...

  10. CHAPTER EIGHT Matching Form
    (pp. 194-230)

    We just saw how Wittgensteinian facts and their pictures match Spinozistic extended modes and their ideas taken one by one. But Spinoza holds that both extended modes and ideas are “ordered and connected,” with the order and connection identical in the corresponding two Attributes. The task at this juncture is thus to clarify this relationship and to examine whether and to what extent Wittgenstein’s approach includes an analogue. This concern might be broken down into several issues. Is there a Wittgensteinian analogue of order and connection linking facts? Is there one linking thoughts? If such analogues exist, are they identical...

  11. Exodus: Toward History and Its Surprises
    (pp. 231-252)

    Evidence provided by his biographers shows that Spinoza had neither the opportunity nor the inclination to return to theEthicsafter finishing it. As is well known, he had interrupted its composition to write hisTheologico-Political Treatise, and after going back to complete theEthics, he started composing thePolitical Treatise, a work his death interrupted abruptly. I have characterized both these works as more “applied,” implying, among other things, that they do not put the overall philosophical picture provided by theEthicsinto question. Consequently, the fundamentals of Spinoza’s mature philosophy seem to be those put forth by the...