Metaphysics – ontology

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 22 November 2016

Metaphysics – ontology

“I think therefore I am-Descartes;” “All noble things are as difficult as they are rare- Spinoza. ” Decorates and Spinoza are unique; they are like nothing this class has studied previous. They focus on nature, existence and power as the fundamental building blocks to their unique philosophies. The beauty of these two men’s philosophies is not only in their contrasts but in all the ideas the students can draw from their logically thinking strategies; ultimately creating an individual philosophy and bettering ones own life from it. They both use logic but the use of language is the “wild card” that allows the real questioning to happen.

Spinoza and Decorates are masters at using concrete facts and twisting them in such a way so as to question their existence entirely. Almost like one is pressing the reset button on life and starting fresh. The best example I can give is our day-to-day class discussion. Previously our tangents have been focused and connected. But with Spinoza and Decorates they have been different. They have become sporadic, wide spread, and eye opening. Yes the focus has and will always remain to be on the ideals that these men present; but the beauty in these philosophies are not restricted to just their points.

The beauty lies within what the student (since we are all students’ not philosophy kings yet) can question and provide. This paper will discuss all the points crucial to these two men’s philosophies; however, throughout the paper the tangents I will draw will reveal my own conclusions that I have been taking note off from our class discussion in order to shed some light on the impact these philosophies have had to myself and philosophy itself. First thing that this paper will cover, and the biggest topic of debate between the two is the dialectic about the mind and body.

Descartes is a substance duelist. He believes substance is divided into two things: mind substance and body substance. They are also independent entities in his eyes. In the second meditation he concludes that doubt is possible about the existence of the body but there can be no doubt as to the existence of the thinking mind; the mind simply cannot doubt the existence of thinking, since even the doubt itself would require thinking to exist (this concept itself is confusing and brilliant at the same time basically embodying who Descartes is in a one thought).

Therefore Descartes is able to conclude that since there is doubt about the existence of the body, the mind can think without the use of the body. Thus independence is the only logical result. After all of that, duality in substances is born and realized. On the contrary, Spinoza believes mind and body are the same substance. Mind is dependent of the body and vice versa. “The mind is united to the body because the body is the object of the mind” (Ethics 2, prop 21). However one does not determine the other: “The body cannot determine the mind to think, nor the mind the body to remain in motion or at rest (Ethics 3, 2).

” Simply put, it is illogical to believe that one act causes the other act to happen. The mind is in place to insure the survival of the body. He rejects the idea of substances that Descartes suggests. Spinoza believes that there is only infinite substance, and no finite substance; which is a contradiction and a double negative (proving a statement false with false evidence). Each thing, mind and body, is both a thought and an extension. The thought is what is known through ideas and the extension is what exists and is sensed physically. Therefore thought is mental and extension is physical.

For Spinoza, the mind and body act as a mirror image of each other; neither has any freedom from the other; dependence is therefore born. Then the role of infinite substance is introduced. Spinoza argues that God is the only infinite substance in nature. There can be only one substance that satisfies the idea difference between the two philosophers and that is that Spinoza views thought and extension as inseparable not having independent extensions. While in Descartes’ philosophy there are two distinct extensions. The mind substance is further divided into infinite and finite thinking.

The infinite is God, the finite is each individual mind and soul. There is only one infinite thinking substance and that is God. Thinking is not a physical action (it is a behavior). It is an individual act that only the individual can control. One doesn’t have to think a normal way, Descartes would argue. This connects to his views on education and how it can sometimes “cloud” individuals from their true passions and loves in life. Thinking with a clear mind is something that goes hand in hand with self-knowledge; learning from experience through one’s own paths and mistakes.

Accepting that one cannot control everything (only one’s thoughts and physical actions) and understanding the necessity for an open mind to nature. Only then when this is all applied is it possible to live an active life; living life to the fullest and embracing all it has to offer. This leads into Spinoza’s definition of affect. He defines it as “the modifications of the body whereby the active power of the said body is increased or diminished, aided or constrained, and also the ideas of such modification (Ethics, prop 130). ” Simply put, that which is affected does not exist; meaning the only thing that can possibly exist is God.

Everything is dependent on something in order for it to survive; a book, a tree, a person, is dependent on something else for its survival. One could argue (and will now) that the mind has the ability to affect too. The only thing that can affect the mind is the mind itself. But the mind can be deceiving. Overthinking or over analyzing can change our perception of what reality is. Emotions and senses also add to the deception the mind can cause. A smell could lead somebody to not eat a meal; hearing somebody’s voice can be appealing or completely “turn off” the individual from furthering the conversation.

The mind can also cause passive moments. Being passive is a huge part of nonexistence to Spinoza. Although the passive moments in ones life are inevitable, Spinoza suggests that we must attempt to control them in order obtain maximum freedom in life. Freedom is that in which someone lives an active life (living in the moment, embracing all that life can offer). By developing good habits, living actively, one can limit the passive moments and bounce back (not fall too far down the divided line). The goal in life is to live the most active life and experience nature to the fullest.

Descartes believes in the exact opposite. He beliefs that mind and body are two separate substances that don’t rely on each other. Therefore the mind cannot affect the body and the body cannot affect the mind. Thus all that Spinoza would suggest is a “waste. ” The four cores of life are sadness, joy, weakness and power. Each person will experience one in his or her lifetime (if one does not then their alien [interesting what an alien is or is not]). The key, Spinoza would argue is that one experiences the cores in their own way. The question he would ask is: “will you live your life or the way others tell you too.

” God is the key answer to this question. What does it mean to say that God is substance and that everything else is “in” God? Spinoza suggests that rocks, tables, chairs, birds, mountains, rivers and human beings are all properties of God. Thus all we are is a creation off God. It’s crazy to think that we are merely just part of an image of some other higher substance. When a person feels pain, sadness and joy; does it follow that all the emotions are ultimately just a property of God, therefore suggesting that God feels it too (chills run down*).

This is the gut of Spinoza’s philosophy as he devotes the first 15 proportions to defining God and all that he does. Descartes is similar on his view with God. God’s existence is inferred, simply because of existence. For example, God is not an extended thing but only a thinking thing; God exists in a higher form, and he and only he can cause its existence. The idea of God is the idea of an infinite substance. Since a finite substance is less real than an infinite substance. A finite substance does not have enough reality to be the cause of its own idea.

But the idea must have come from something. So that something is God, which must be an infinite substance. Therefore, God exists as the only possible cause of this idea. These comparisons that the two philosophers naturally bring to the table lead the mind to wonder. The possibilities are endless when it comes to questions and conclusions. The beauty lies within these questions. It is up to the individual, as Spinoza would say, to stop living a passive life and “attack” these philosophers in order to create something beautiful.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 22 November 2016

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