Talk:Philosophy of Baruch Spinoza

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The Complete Overhaul[edit]

I have decided that the previous article simply couldn't be salvaged. Although there were some parts which were okay, the article as a whole just didn't have a properly directed focus, and many things about it were just plain wrong. This is terribly ironic for an article on such a systematic philosophy as Spinoza's. I will create new sections that better reflect the point of Spinoza's work, but will still allow the novice reader to really see the substance, as it were. Philosopher Torin (talk) 05:23, 5 February 2010 (UTC)


We should work to document the influence of Spinoza on other philosophers. Deleuze is one that comes to mind. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Anand011892 (talkcontribs) 01:21, 22 March 2010 (UTC)

That has nothing to do with Spinoza's philosophy. That is something which would be better suited for the main Spinoza article. And anyway, Deleuze's understanding of Spinoza is unclear (I've read the stuff). People like Antonio Damasio, Einstein, Leibniz, Hegel, Jacobi, etc., may be better examples, but again, that has nothing to do with Spinoza's philosophy, which is what this article is for. Philosopher Torin (talk) 14:36, 27 March 2010 (UTC)

Tractatus Theologico-Politicus Publication date[edit]

The TTP was first published in 1670, 7 years before Spinoza died. In fact, the image on the article says 1670 on it, and it is listed as 1670 by all credible sources (including in the introduction to the Hackett edition of the Shirley translation edited by Seymour Feldman), so the edit (and then reversion) to say that it was published posthumously and anonymously is simply wrong. It was published anonymously, but the conjunction is still false.

It was included in the Opera Posthuma, which may be the source of the confusion. Philosopher Torin (talk) 20:53, 11 April 2010 (UTC)

Introductory account[edit]

I wrote the article Philosophy of Spinoza initially on Wikipedia and it lasted for a few months before it got totally overwritten. I worked hard on this effort and felt it was a good introduction to the subject. I chose not to get into an editing battle about this since I was curious about what the new editors would come up with. The current version is good in its own way, covers different topics, looks professional, although it seems somewhat technical sounding. It's geared for graduate students of philosophy. If other WP editors are philosophy students or professors who want to teach Spinoza's philosophy to college students, then my sense is the WP article will work against this purpose; that is, it may discourage students from trying to learn about Spinoza, so that people wanting to teach Spinoza may find few students in their classrooms. One way to improve the WP article would be to expand each section, and possibly try to show how the different concepts interrelate. An overall difficulty with trying to explain Spinoza's philosophy as I think people here know is that Spinoza uses seemingly simple terms (eg substance) with a different, often hard-to-grasp logical sense, and that it takes time to work people into the new senses of the definitions (and I don't think there are any easy ways to do this, unfortunately). So that's why I continue to think an introductory approach to Spinoza's philosophy would be helpful. My knol document is public domain and can be found here: Philosophy of Spinoza: An introduction; feel free to copy chunks of it here into this article, as appropriate, or put links to it, so readers interested in Spinoza can get a sense of the basic terms. Or, if editors are happy with the current version, and accomplishes what they hope it accomplishes, then I won't interfere. I'm also interested in feedback on my knol article from people who are into philosophy.--Tomwsulcer (talk) 01:44, 16 August 2010 (UTC)

Tom, I appreciate that you worked hard on the original article, and that your motives are well-intentioned, but there were, and still are, several issues with the original article, which you have now ported over into a Google format.
The first is simply that it did not have a very clear structure and the examples didn't really seem to me to help explain Spinoza's concepts at all (this is, of course, not what you think, but the real problem with your examples is their interpretive baggage --- which should not be the case in an encyclopedic entry). This is a problem for an article on any technical work, since it provides no conceptual framework for the readers to put their thoughts in order as they search for the information they need.
The second, and more important issue is something which is confirmed in your own words. Above you say that we should "feel free to copy chunks of it [your article] here into this article", but on your personal Wikipedia editor page you say the following: "Instead, I'm writing Google knols. They're cool. I control the content plus get a byline and picture. It's like my own Wikipedia. But they're not FACTS but OPINIONS."
This is bad, Tom. You cannot seriously think that we should be injecting your opinion into Wikipedia articles, even if you did work very hard on it. This is a direct contravention of Wikipedia protocol (and just bad form in general).
Now, the third issue is that your opinion, while fine insofar as it is your opinion, is unfortunately fraught with some serious interpretive issues, which, when I began reading through the original article, I felt could not be corrected without essentially rewriting the entire article. I'm sorry that this was the case, but it is the case. I am glad that you are a fellow Spinoza enthusiast, but I urge you to check out the secondary literature listed at the bottom of the current article, as well as some others that are mentioned in the appendices of those books (Wolfson's text as well as A. Garrett's should both be added to the list on this page). Perhaps by doing this you might come to emend (for the better) your current understanding of Spinoza's philosophy, just as he would have wanted.
As far as the content of the current article being difficult, well, Spinoza's philosophy is difficult. However, it is not fair to say that it is written for graduate students (this would be a fair point about the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy articles on Spinoza, though). Steven Nadler's "Introduction to Spinoza's Ethics" is written for the beginning student of philosophy, and it is far more technical than anything written here.
Philosopher Torin (talk) 02:26, 10 September 2010 (UTC)
Thanks for your reply. Generally I applaud what you have done with the article in terms of contributing your viewpoint and I understand how hard it is to work on these things; please appreciate that a year ago that I was open-minded enough to spare you from the constant edit-warring which would probably have happened after you deleted a whole article like you did with what I considered to have been little justification. I didn't want to turn you off of your whole experience of Wikipedia; it's hard enough getting people to contribute here.Tomwsulcer (talk) 13:01, 10 September 2010 (UTC)
Generally, as perhaps you know, deleting an entire article and replacing it entirely with a different version is bad protocol at Wikipedia since it's a radical extreme shift rather than an incremental change. The best articles at Wikipedia, in my view, are ones where a variety of contributors with different viewpoints comment on the details, whittling out inconsistencies, incrementally improving on the wording, adding references and sometimes opposing viewpoints, growing the creature organically almost over time, and it gets better and better. By your act of substitution, you said, in effect, that your version was right and my version was wrong -- as if it's that simple -- as if there's only one version of truth and you know what it is and there are no shades of gray. I think in any cooperative project, nobody knows everything, and we should all try to learn from each other, and that an excellent way to do that would be to debate individual points.Tomwsulcer (talk) 13:01, 10 September 2010 (UTC)
What I'm saying is that, by wiping out my version, you denied yourself a chance to learn from my thinking. You're cutting yourself off from people such as me who can help you become smarter, more enlightened, better informed. None of us are perfect. We're all learning. In my past, there have been times when I've been extremely arrogant and didn't realize how I was hurting myself. You denied yourself to have a constructive back-and-forth about particular points of Spinoza's philosophy.Tomwsulcer (talk) 13:01, 10 September 2010 (UTC)
Still, at that time of your substitution, I was disillusioned from other experiences at Wikipedia, and didn't want more stuff to wrangle about, so I permitted your deletion without quibbling over details. Plus, I was curious as to what would emerge, and I let your put-downs about my lack of intelligence on other users' talk pages wash like water off of a duck's back. You see, I know what I know. And I always want to know more.Tomwsulcer (talk) 13:01, 10 September 2010 (UTC)
About my Knols. Yes they have opinions. They also have facts. The fact that I MOVED a Wikipedia article I wrote called "Philosophy of Spinoza" article into a Google knol format doesn't mean that it all of a sudden becomes entirely "opinion". For example, I took my section of United States Congress called "Criticism of the United States Congress" (I wrote almost all of this) and moved it into a knol format here because people (congresspersons? aides? who knows?) keep trying to delete it. The article is a SOLID WALL OF FACT. Mainstream secondary sources. New York Times. Wall Street Journal. 60+ references. Because it's in a "knol", therefore, has it all become opinion? Of course not. It's facts. Similarly, I moved my "Philosophy of Spinoza" into a knol format to protect it from people erasing it. Does that mean it's "all opinion"? Of course not. But generally, as you probably know, the line dividing what's "fact" and "opinion" can get very hard to define, particularly in areas such as philosophy where I hope we all agree that it's difficult to decide what's what. So, who's to say what's "fact" and what's "opinion"? I think if you are smart with a trace of humility, you'll agree that this is a tough call. My knol An American's perspective on New Zealand -- ALL opinion, no doubt about that!Tomwsulcer (talk) 13:01, 10 September 2010 (UTC)
Back to your deletion. You probably didn't realize that you deleted much of Steven Nadler's thinking. You can check this by checking my earliest version here -- you'll see extensive references to Nadler's book at the bottom. I used his thinking extensively as the basis for the original Wikipedia article and combined it with other sources (including Allison & Hampshire). The outline, the thinking -- much was Nadler's. When I emailed him and showed him the Wikipedia article, he objected to being quoted so extensively and insisted I use Spinoza as the direct reference. Why? I'm not sure. He never explained. But I obliged his request. I removed references to his book and added references to Elwes (I realize an old translation, but it was the only one available online -- I agree Curley/Shirley are better but I didn't have the books in hand). But overall the article didn't change much substantially. I believe the result was still solid but it didn't perhaps APPEAR to be solid to you or others. It lacked the Nadler sources, and people who may have glanced at my page, saw that I'm a handyman (I am) and therefore concluded quickly that I'm a lightweight thinker and then dismissed it out of hand without really knowing what they were doing. I added pictures to make the article beautiful, to attract readers who can get intimidated by Spinoza, but the pictures may have helped confirm your view of me as being a lightweight non-thinker type. It was a solid article. You deleted it. When I saw what happened, I laughed and laughed and shrugged my shoulders -- more proof that Wikipedia is what it is.Tomwsulcer (talk) 13:01, 10 September 2010 (UTC)
And my sense is that EVERYBODY here at Wikipedia has some sort of agenda, including me and you, and I don't think it helps when people try to pretend that they're agenda-free. I think the best thing here is to try to EXPOSE OUR AGENDAS to help us deal with each other and avoid misunderstandings and (hopefully) work cooperatively. My agendas are: (1) helping humans (almost all of my writings on Google knols and my contributions here at Wikipedia a year ago, reflect this agenda -- for example, my "hottest" Google knol is Mentally healthy mind -- a huge surprise for me since it's beating out my other writings with about 90 readers a week -- and this knol helps humans most over all I think) (2) getting readers -- yes I like it when people read my stuff. Naturally, since Wikipedia has such incredible presence on the web, it will attract people like me, who like to get read. (3) political reform -- I'm a non-partisan who advocates things like citizenship as political participation, democracy, accountability, terrorism prevention, and such. When I contributed on political stuff on WP, I made sure to reference everything with a solid mainstream source.Tomwsulcer (talk) 13:01, 10 September 2010 (UTC)
What is YOUR AGENDA? Is it to enlighten people about Spinoza? Is it to support your view of yourself as a philosopher (based on your handle)? What is it?Tomwsulcer (talk) 13:01, 10 September 2010 (UTC)
IF you are a graduate student in philosophy like you say and hope to someday teach Spinoza, I suggest to you that the current article is intimidating, and will turn off people from exploring Spinoza further -- it might discourage people from considering choosing philosophy as their major. Why not ask people about the current article and get their opinion about it? Ask your students if it's helpful to them. IF you'd like my help on improving it, I'm here, and I'm offering my help, but you have to be open-minded enough to see that other Wikipedians can offer guidance to you..Tomwsulcer (talk) 13:01, 10 September 2010 (UTC)
What I'm saying is that if you do or hope to teach Spinoza someday, the Wikipedia article in its present form has the effect of telling potential students NOT to study Spinoza -- it's a giant billboard steering students elsewhere. My honest sense is you're shooting yourself in the foot, undercutting your own livelihood. I doubt Spinoza will ever be super popular like Nietzsche or existentialism (Spinoza's philosophy is difficult like we both agree) but I believe that some of the key ideas can be introduced by helping students work into them slowly, gradually, working from things they understand to things they don't, using pictures and diagrams which hopefully help people grasp the basics. IF you'd like my guidance about writing, ask. IF you are satisfied with the current article and it helps you with your self-image and meets your needs, then keep it as it is. I urge you to put a link to my knol "Philosophy of Spinoza" at the bottom of the page so that the few readers who do wish to get a basic understanding of the underlying core concepts, can click on it and read it. So, whether or not you see my write-up of Spinoza's philosophy as "facts" or "opinions", can't you see that the whole facts-in-Wikipedia opinions-in-knols compromise works great for everybody? It sidesteps quarreling over what's "fact" or "opinion". My knol says "essay" on top. You see, Wikipedia and Google knol can co-exist peacefully, each doing what it does best. Each has its strong suit. And people who are sincerely interested in studying Spinoza further can find what they need. It helps humans. :) Tomwsulcer (talk) 13:01, 10 September 2010 (UTC)
Tom, it is simply against Wikipedia protocol to advertise one's personal website, web-pages, opinion, and so on. Given this, you ought to stop trying to promote your "Knols" here. This is not a reflection on the quality of your work, but a straightforward claim about the relation between your work and the aims of Wikipedia. Your doubts about whether students or anyone else will be able to follow the content of this article are valid to the extent that it may be true that not everyone can understand even simplified philosophical concepts (which this article certainly is). However, like the myriad articles on complex concepts in the sciences (e.g., quantum physics, electrodynamics, etc.), this article is not intended to serve, by itself, as a teaching tool, it is nothing more or less than an encyclopedic summary of its topic. Your concern about the comprehension skills of the readers is valiant, but, I think, misguided (especially since there is, within Wikipedia's framework, the option to write a "Simple English" version of any article). That is, unless you think that difficult philosophical concepts should be treated differently on Wikipedia than other difficult concepts. I do, however, think that the article as it stands is incomplete. It should not rest as a monolithic effort of a single individual, but be productively edited by those whose expertise can add to the sections with less content than they should have. In any case, continue to admire Spinoza. Philosopher Torin (talk) 02:21, 25 October 2010 (UTC)
Torin, I was trying to find an acceptable way to deal with the problem of wiki-battling here. Remember, you took it upon yourself to DELETE an article that I had started, worked hard on, which had EXCELLENT SOURCES based on leading American scholarship regarding Spinoza, which was well written and comprehensible. I got compliments on this talk page from readers saying "thank you". In my view, you violated Wikipedia policy by your deletion with practically no justification. You replaced my article with something which I bet most readers here won't understand, namely, the current version. Rather than battling with you about your deletion, I moved my version of "Philosophy of Spinoza" to a "knol" where it is protected. It is a public domain document. I don't make money from it. It's not a "personal website". I'm not promoting my knols in violation of Wikipedia policy; I resent your insinuation that this is somehow some type of commercial project. Rather, I'm protecting my work from being deleted. And people can find it on the web if interested. And neither of us have to battle about what's "opinion" and what's "fact". The whole issue is side-stepped. And I think the whole facts-in-Wikipedia opnions-in-knols works to Wikipedia's benefit (and the Wikipedia community is coming around to realizing this).--Tomwsulcer (talk) 03:39, 25 October 2010 (UTC)
Please consider that you were spared the mindlessness and frustration of wiki-battling over contentious issues like which version of Spinoza's philosophy is best -- because of my knol solution. This was my choice. I was nice to you. I think the least you could do is put a link at the bottom of the page pointing to my knol "Philosophy of Spinoza". And let readers decide for themselves what they want. That gives people a choice. In the meantime, I urge you to consider that people are smarter when we work together, collectively and constructively, in an open-minded way.--Tomwsulcer (talk) 03:39, 25 October 2010 (UTC)
Your knol on Spinoza isn't something that I, personally, could in good conscience recommend people to read. We need not discuss at any length why this is the case. I don't mean this in at all an adversarial or mean-spirited manner, but your musings on Spinoza are simply, transparently, not at a level sufficient to qualify as knowledgeable about the subject. If you want to insert a link to your own article yourself, by all means, go for it. I have no desire to spend time removing it over and over. If the quality of this article suffers over time, so be it, and so much the worse for the Wikipedia community. I wish you nothing more than enlightenment of understanding. Philosopher Torin (talk) 20:51, 25 October 2010 (UTC)
I have just read through this and I am shocked that someone would just delete a whole article and then say basically say "you know little of Spinoza", without getting involved in debate. Philosophy is about clear thinking, and it should be easy for a good philosopher to make clear what they think is wrong with an article - an hour's work if you know your subject. Tomwsulcer had run the article by Professor Nadler. (I do not know if he approved it, but he has seen it, which shows a concern to ensure the article was good.) Looking at the present article a lot of is consists of very short headed explanations of key concepts immediately with a lot of emphasis on possible problems with Spinoza's concepts. It also uses a division between ethics, psychology etc which I am not sure is the best reflection of the Ethics, being highly synthetic. The term "subjectist" is applied to this moral philosophy, yet, though from the eternal point of view the term might not be applicable he says "by good I shall understand what we certainly know to be useful to us" - an understanding through the intellect, which can know God. These criticisms are debatable but I am trying to show it is not a done and dusted matter.
I don't have time to debate or work on the article, but I feel that it is hard to find good things about Spinoza and you never find something you agree with entirely. There is a general problem with the quality of philosophy articles on Wikipedia and I don't know if it can be solved. (talk) 22:30, 19 February 2011 (UTC)
Well, there are a couple of issues with what you say that I think I can address. I didn't "just delete a whole article". I read the article as it stood before, and it was simply bad --- partly for reasons I already gave ad nauseam, and for many other reasons besides. There was no need for "debate". I attempted to edit the article to fix mistakes, incoherent and unclear writing, nonsense, and falsehoods, and it simply wasn't feasible. It made far more sense to start from scratch. Such is the reality of Wikipedia. You might think it's bad form or etiquette, but I think it would have been far worse to leave the article as it was originally and spend time and effort trying to convince a clearly mentally "off" character that his writing was not very good.
As for your comments about the content of Spinoza's philosophy, and the interpretation given in the article, well, let's start with your suggested criticism of the "subjectivist" moral interpretation. It's fairly uncontroversial that Spinoza's definitions of "Good" and "Bad" as given are "subjectivist" in the sense I provided. As for the "eternal point of view" (by which I assume you mean "sub specie aeternitatis" or "under an aspect of eternity"), well, there simply is no Good or Bad from that point of view. For Spinoza it's a point of doctrine that nature does not act with an end in view. QED.
As for the problem with the general quality of Wikipedia articles. No, I don't think it's a general problem. It certainly doesn't happen as often with physics articles as it does with philosophy. There's no good reason for this except that more people seem to think themselves qualified to edit philosophical articles than scientific ones. But this is absurd (as I think I made clear somewhere above), since philosophical terminology and conceptual apparatuses can be just as complicated to summarize as any physical theory.Philosopher Torin (talk) 23:33, 28 February 2011 (UTC)
Indeed I said it was a problem with the philosophy articles specifically, though you'd hope it as people learn philosophy they'll develop the critical faculties to see that.
Yes "eternal point of view" wasn't the best choice of phrase. But the knowledge of God through the intellect is certainly "good", what is truly useful to us - the ethics he has demonstrated?
The previous article writer could have begun an edit war and perhaps he would have been reponsive to your critique if it had been approached differently (not to assume he isn't). It could well be argued he had certain rights due to work he had put in where no one else had. I'm very dubious about statements about "mentally off characters". I've said what I wanted to say in any case, right or wrong. (talk) 00:12, 1 March 2011 (UTC)