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Associate’s Lecture by Susan James (Birkbeck)

When:
September 17, 2018 @ 4:00 pm
2018-09-17T16:00:00-04:00
2018-09-17T16:15:00-04:00
Where:
Gilman 208

Living as a Philosopher:  Spinoza’s Aspirations

1. Living in the Light of our Knowledge:  Spinoza on Fortitude (Sep 17)
2. Emotional Responses to Fiction:  A Spinozist Analysis (Sep 20)
3. Philosophical Self-Transformation and Affective Loss (Sep 21)

Living in the Light of our Knowledge:  Spinoza on Fortitude

To live as well as we can, Spinoza argues, we not only need to do our best to understand ourselves and the world we inhabit; we also need to put our understanding to work.  This is what it is to possess fortitude.

This talk considers Spinoza’s analysis of this virtue and explores some of the traditions on which his account draws.  I argue that he bequeaths us a pertinent though neglected set of questions (particularly relevant in an era of fake news) about the project of living in the light of our knowledge.

Emotional Responses to Fiction:  A Spinozist Analysis

Within contemporary analytical philosophy there is a lively debate about the emotions that we feel for objects we know to be fictional.  We know, for example, that Anna Karenina doesn’t exist; so why, or how, do we feel sad about her death?  Spinoza, I suggest, stands at a helpful distance from these contemporary discussions.  His conception of imagination can help us view our emotional responses to fiction in a different light, and reformulate the questions they pose.

Philosophical Self-Transformation and Affective Loss

It is not uncommon for early-modern philosophers to portray a perfectly philosophical way of life as a condition that approaches the divine.  The philosopher becomes as like God as a human being can, and in doing so experiences unparalleled and unalloyed joy. Spinoza advocates a version of this view and defends it with impressive consistency. I shall argue, however, that his account suppresses a form of loss and sadness integral to his conception of a philosophical life. To elucidate the character of this loss I turn to some examples from recent fiction.