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The Charles Singleton Center for the Study of Pre-Modern Europe
The Johns Hopkins University
Gilman Hall 301
Baltimore, MD 21218

Lawrence Principe

Phone (410) 516-5296
Fax (410) 516-7586

Future Events on Pre-Modern Europe at JHU


Descartes and Spinoza Workshop

Sunday, 14 September 2014, 9:30-6:30 ; Location: Gilman 130 D

Organizers: Yitzhak Y. Melamed (Johns Hopkins University), Mogens Laerke (ENS-Lyon/University of Aberdeen), Justin Smith (Paris VII), Dan Garber (Princeton University)

Sponsors: Department of Philosophy and The Charles S. Singleton Center for the
Study of Premodern Europe, Johns Hopkins University; ANR ANTHROPOS, ENS de
Lyon; and Institut d'histoire de la pensée classique, UMR5037, ENS de LyonParis-VII

A common perception in current Anglo-American Spinoza scholarship is that Spinoza
should be considered as working within the Cartesian framework, trying to amend
it from within. In this workshop we will reevaluate the veracity of this view. We will
consider the Descartes-Spinoza nexus from various angles and with regard to various
issues. The workshop will take place on Sunday, September 14th, 2014 at the

Homewood Campus of Johns Hopkins University.

The workshop will be comprised of the following five sessions. Each session will begin
with a brief presentation of research question, followed by 75 minutes of informal

Session 1. 9:30-11:00

Method and Order of Reasons: What are the similarities and differences between the
philosophical methods of both philosophers? What is the significance of the fact that
Descartes claims to follow an analytic order, and Spinoza uses a geometrical style?

What are the ramifications of the fact that Descartes begins with the cogito and Spinoza
with God?

Discussion leaders: Michael Della Rocca (Yale) and Oded Schechter (Chicago)

Session 2: 11:00-12:30

Natural Philosophy and Science: To what extent can we describe Spinoza’s physical
theory (if he has one) as Cartesian? Does Spinoza accept or reject the main features
of Descartes’ physics? What roles do biology, especially human biology play in their
respective systems? What is the relation between metaphysics and physics in both
philosophers? Discussion leaders: Hellen Hattab (Houston) and Alison Peterman

Lunch break

Session 3: 1:30-3:00

Metaphysics and Ontology: To what extent are Spinoza’s chief ontological terms –
Substance, Attribute, and Modes – mere revisions of Descartes? What are the major
similarities and differences between Descartes’ and Spinoza’s understanding of eternity,
duration, and time?

Discussion leaders: Yitzhak Melamed (Johns Hopkins) and Kristin Primus (NYU/

Session 4: 3:00-4:30

Philosophy of Mind and Psychology: What happens to the Cartesian I once it enters
the Spinozist realm? What is the target of Spinoza’s critique of the free will? Why does
Spinoza reject, and Descartes affirm, the substantiality of the I?

Discussion leaders: John Brandau (Johns Hopkins) and Alan Nelson (UNC- Chapel Hill)

Coffee break

Session 5: 5:00-6:30

Religion and Philosophy: What is the role of teleology – divine and natural – in both
philosophers? Can the human mind know God adequately? To what extent do both
philosopher consider anthropomorphic thinking as major threat? Is God a lawgiver, and
if so, in what sense?

Discussion leaders: Mogens Laerke (ENS, Lyon) and Daniel Garber (Princeton)