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Spinoza’s Infinite Shortcut to the Contingent Appearance of Things

Sanja Särman

Abstract

Spinoza’s own words seem to commit him to necessitarianism. Nonetheless attempts have been made to make room for contingency in Spinozism. Two impressive arguments of this kind are Curley 1969 and Newlands 2010. Both these arguments appeal to Spinoza’s claim that all finite things are locked in an infinite nexus of causal relations (1p28). The question central to this paper is whether contingency can indeed be derived from an infinity of causal ancestors. The goal of the paper is twofold. First, I aim to present an alternative reading of the relation between infinity and Spinoza’s concept of contingency. On my reading, while the infinity of the causal ancestry of finite things does not ground any objective metaphysical contingency on their part, it is a condition which must obtain if they are to appear as contingent. Second, I aim to challenge the derivations of contingency from infinity mentioned above. I will do so by targeting Curley’s assumption that propositions rather than things are the main bearers of modality. On Newlands’ interpretation, the conceivability of things as either contingent or necessary makes the world more perfect than it would otherwise have been. By drawing upon Spinoza’s analysis of “negative” properties (such as evil), I question whether beliefs about contingency contribute to the perfection of the world in virtue of truly attributing the property of objective contingency to things.

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Published Online: 2021-05-06

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