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Spinoza’s Dream

On Nature and Meaning

Series: Categories, 7
Meaning (significance) and nature are this book’s principal topics. They seem an odd couple, like raisins and numbers, though they elide when meanings of a global sort—ideologies and religions, for example—promote ontologies that subordinate nature. Setting one against the other makes reality contentious. It signifies workmates and a coal face to miners, gluons to physicists, prayer and redemption to priests. Are there many realities, or many perspectives on one? The answer I prefer is the comprehensive naturalism anticipated by Aristotle and Spinoza: "natura naturans, natura naturata." Nature naturing is an array of mutually conditioning material processes in spacetime. Each structure or event—storm clouds forming, nature natured—is self-differentiating, self-stabilizing, and sometimes self-disassembling; each alters or transforms a pre-existing state of affairs. This surmise anticipated discoveries and analyses to which neither thinker had access, though physics and biology confirm their hypothesis beyond reasonable doubt. Hence the question this book considers: Is reality divided:nature vrs. lived experience? Or is experience, with all its meanings and values, the complex expression of natural processes?

Author Information

David Weissman, City College New York, USA.
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