Thuistezien 202 — 11.03.2021

Beth Lord
Spinoza and the Arts

The last decades and especially in recent years much discussion has been made on the concept of the Anthropocene, as the geological epoch signified by the human impacting the Earth’s geology and ecosystem. It’s been debated what development of human history let it commence, what forms and phenomena characterise the new era, and what the implications are for it if agreed upon. How to deal with the question of the Anthropocene and the doom scenario posed by the increasing data on climate change and stresses on ecosystems? Beth Lord provides a Spinozistic look at the transformation of nature as of today, with speculative perspectives for the future.

The most vital element to proposing any kind of ‘solution’ or insight into possible future interventions for the course that we’re heading in, is an abandonment of the idea that the Anthropocene, Man, is a threat to nature, rather than an expression of it. This Spinozistic outtake entails that Earth is one living organism that regulates itself, and that the human’s role in it is just a consequence of life on Earth. Our being is but one part/individual whose parts vary in infinite ways without any change to the whole ‘individual’ that is nature. This epistemological attitude is indifferent to any kind of morality on nature. There is no ‘harm’ or ‘destroying’ of nature, rather a transforming of itself through and in us.

Spinoza, however, does employ an ethics for Man. He defines the Good as striving for whatever we certainly know to be useful to us. This consists of the flourishing of understanding, health, power, and anything that enables more freedom and security, subsequently preserving and enhancing human/natural functions. Along these lines, the Anthropocene involved great progress for Spinoza’s greatest human good, namely our ability to act, think and understand. Nevertheless, the despair, guilt and doubt about the climate crisis shows a fragmentation where we are seeing ourselves as opposing or seperate to nature, which to Spinoza would imply a weakness of mind. The developed fear of our own power is what is actually detrimental to the preservation of nature (with consequences such as distrust of science, fake news and identity politics). Where the experience of power, as the basis for striving, acting and thinking, is diminished, inadequate ideas get hold through the passions, which eventually perverts into self regard.

Accepting that our actions are simply nature changing itself, business as usual, does not take away responsibility or possibility for the elements within the system to strive for flourishment of that system. Understanding the cause of our sad passions lets it cease to be a passion, since it represents gaining knowledge and wanting to progress. Moreover, we are responsible causally as human beings in the ways that we act contrary to other species trying to preserve themselves. But guilt is a weak basis for ethical action. Rather, an understanding is lacking of where those ‘other species’ are crucially interdependent upon the preservation and advantage of Man. It would be more advantageous, and thereby virtuous, to rethink policy and politics in terms of communities that incorporate non-humans, beyond the civil state, where the goal is the flourishing of all systems that compose them — a ‘Terrestrial politics’ that Spinoza probably did not foresee.

Beth Lord is a Canadian philosopher specialising in the history of philosophy, especially the work and influence of Immanuel Kant and Baruch Spinoza, and contemporary Continental philosophy. She is currently a Professor in the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen, where she has worked since 2013.

Text: Yael Keijzer