Sunday, May 28, 2006

Betraying Spinoza

In a broader context, Spinoza's deconstructionism of identity has interesting parallels with Amartya Sen's recent anti-Huntingtonian thesis, elaborated in his recent books "Identity and Violence" and (to an extent) "The Argumentative Indian." To quote from the former work,
"The same person can be, without any contradiction, an American citizen, of Caribbean origin, with African ancestry, a Christian, a liberal, a woman, a vegetarian, a long-distance runner, a historian, a schoolteacher, a novelist, a feminist, a heterosexual, a believer in gay and lesbian rights, a theater lover, an environmental activist, a tennis fan, a jazz musician," etc.
And unlike Ms. Goldstein, Sen argues that such a world-view - of self as well as of others - is eminently possible and desirable. Posted by Anustup Datta on 05.19.06
The most significant observation of Goldstein is that Spinoza expressed the insight that in order to progress in one's appreciation of the non-physical aspects of the world, one needs to get beyond the constraints imposed by one's personal identity. Although axiomatic in the East it is extremely rare in the West. Another more recent example is Wittgenstein. This insight seems only to come to people in the aftermath of a traumatic experience - in Spinoza's case surely the experience of the excommunication. Because most of our own identity is unconscious it is very difficult to dismantle it without outside help, but it does seem to be the case that a Jewish identity, perhaps because it is so specifically defined in its external aspects, is easier to get beyond than many others.
The other important achievement of Spinoza was to write to Descartes pointing out that Descartes' position did not logically imply dualism. I hope Goldstein brings this out in his book because all the eminent people who write about Descartes/Dualism nowadays seem to be quite unaware of Spinoza's correction. Posted by Euan Hill on 05.19.06

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