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Spinoza’ Thoughts on Human Freedom Term Paper

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Updated: Sep 15th, 2021

Introduction

The field of Philosophy had always been determined on analyzing the connections between mind and body: how they impinge on one another or in a sense, how physical states of things affect our mental functioning or vice versa (McGhee, 2002).

Descriprion of Spinoza

In particular, it was deemed that people’s consciousness of an evident unity of mind and body only becomes clear in their experiences with their emotions, something that appear to have both a physical aspect as well as a mental side. Emotions are basically related to how a person act or behave. Also, people’s emotional lives make it clear that the intricacies of mind cannot be separated from that of the body. But before that, a link should be established between emotions and the concept of freedom (McGhee, 2002).

Western philosophers though of the early modern period develop their understanding of the two entities as they saw them, based on a cultural and religious background that emphasize heavily a distinction between the mental and physical side. More accurately, they are coming in from a tradition that discerns the three aspects: the physical, the mental and the spiritual. There is an easing of the spiritual side however because as said, the nature of mind already depends upon the range of our experience and if people’s experiences do not involve anything spiritual, then it would be marginalized (McGhee, 2002).

The human being was once considered of as the Great Amphibian, or the one who can exclusively live in the two worlds, a creature of the physical world and also an inhabitant of the spiritual, just a tad different from angels. But as science developed, it became clearer that human beings, in their material characteristics at least, can be subjected to, just like any other part of the corporeal world to a physical and causal explanation. Therefore to maintain human exclusiveness, most analysis concentrate on a central feature of consciousness, something thought to be just distinctive of humanity: freedom. The mind is not a physical substance but a mental one, and hence not constrained by the causal determinism to which any physical substance is vulnerable of. That said, how the humans conduct themselves and act was the product of a possessing a free and undetermined will (McGhee, 2002).

Nonetheless, the rising success of psychoanalytic explanations reduced the popular idea that all human beings enjoy freedom and that people are just not as free as they thought. Of course, psychoanalysis had it owns group of contesters. Despite these, the development of psychology and evolutionary biology that is quite adept with giving causal explanation of human conduct in an approach that the idea of absolute free human action is becoming less and less plausible (McGhee, 2002).

Maybe though, a different approach to the idea of human freedom is needed. Instead of viewing it as a freedom from determinism or causal explanation, or instead of assuming that mind and body are separate entities because the former is immune from causal explanation. It may follow that the mind is not controlled or cannot be analyzed by several forms of causal explanation but this does not say that it is actually free from any structure of causality at all (McGhee, 2002).

Baruch Spinoza, one of the greatest European philosophers, in fact exemplified this conjecture with his defining of freedom against the backdrop of determinism. For him, being alone is free as determined by one’s own inner necessity. Here, a person is free not because his action is not uncaused but because it is unconstrained. The idea here is that freedom is a commodity to be achieved or earned so that some may be freer than other people and at different levels at different stages of one’s life (McGhee, 2002).

Being constrained does not take place in one way only or physically confined. People can either be constrained physically or mentally. The latter in a sense can clearly tantamount to a loss of freedom. Being mentally constrained can be effected in several ways. One is for a person to have a too narrow view of the world, and one’s place in it. In this case, people feel cramped, and they become uncomfortable and unsatisfied with themselves, compelling them then towards changing. Changing would mean that they make themselves unconstrained and therefore free (McGhee, 2002).

Human emotions are highly involved in how one views the world. It is where most of one’s emotional responses are based. More aptly, emotions are attuned to our predispositions about the world. But, there are features of the world that not everyone can notice and possibly as well, because people are in a certain state or in a grip of some feelings, they are liable to misinterpret the things around him in general or the world, and become deluded. Being deluded constrains one’s being and undermines someone’s freedom to act (McGhee, 2002).

For Spinoza, every being struggles to maintain itself on its own being. Or as far as human beings are concerned, they strive to uphold themselves in their being as they perceived it to be, which people have a tendency to perceive wrongly. There is a sense of subjectivity involved here, as human beings strive to become someone they conceive themselves to be, they tend to be attached to things that reinforces this self-view, and hate those that divert from it. An inherent tension is in the space between how we envisage ourselves and how we really are, because people think their self-view is absolutely accurate and they can not and would not abandon it just so. But what they do not know is that what they are fighting against in these circumstances are those inclinations towards growth that are being stimulated by their life experiences; in particular those experiences that leave them unsatisfied and desiring for change (McGhee, 2002).

Spinoza’s philosophy closed the two key gaps in philosophy, one between the mind and body and the other is between the fact and value gaps. Usually these two gaps have been considered independently, but there are actually significant points of similarity between the two problems. His position about the mind has a deep synergy with the existing judgment about consciousness, embodiment and human subjectivity internally. On one level Spinoza was a hard determinist. For him, every event in nature occur as a consequence of firm necessity and therefore there should not be any contingencies, especially those that involves human choices viewed as fundamental to ethics, and also to conventional theological dogmas alluding to personal responsibilities, sins and praiseworthy behaviours (McGhee, 2002).

According to this renowned philosopher, as predetermined mental and physical entities, people are fended with a sense of double limitation to their freedom, reliance on one’s physical conditions or the body for that matter, and on the causal manipulations of the environment (McGhee, 2002). At the same time, there is an inherent lack in their mental powers when it comes to their thoughts and desires. But he also had a deep notion regarding the possibilities for each person’s freedom, of one’s propensity to liberate oneself from the requirements of nature by employing a heightened understanding of these very requirements (Torrance).

Spinoza specifically emphasizes the likelihood for the mind to be free. People can be mentally constrained with the way their thoughts are ordered. The thing is, they tend to be chaotic due to the fact that they are influenced by the intricacies of their bodies rather than their logic and rationalities. And because people’s bodies are working against an open environment, they become tangled in the absolute causal system of the universe. An example of this lack of freedom in one’s mind because of the workings of the body, picture a man intent on finishing something his mind had set himself to do, but because the mind is not trained properly to be rational, this man’s chain of thinking is regularly interrupted by thoughts of food, rest, or other body and physical desires. As a result, a person’s mental path is thrown off course, and whatever it wants to achieve cannot be done efficiently anymore or even not at all (Torrance).

To resolve this, a person’s cognitive and affective states should be in sync with the proper causal states of the body, the mind and how they mutually interrelate. The philosopher had observed that the ability of one’s mind for logical thought and emotion was usually acutely flawed, but still can be altered to improve. By developing one’s cognitive and affective balance and taking into account one’s own mental and physical limitations, a comparative level of competence can be achieved from people’s ideas and therefore also a relative enhancement in their capabilities for mental self-determination or self-understanding (Torrance).

Spinoza distinguished the mind from the body as aspects of a basic reality. However, he also views the individual mind and the body as interrelated thoroughly. Such that, even though there would be an increase in the mental self-determination as a result of the aforementioned greater capability of the mind, would naturally mean that along with this, an increase in bodily self-determination would also result. For Spinoza, these two facets of a person complement each other, and has joint aspects that works together for the bigger picture, the reality (Torrance).

This idea that the mind and body works mutually and complementarily for progress lies at the core of Spinoza’s philosophy on human freedom or salvation. He perceives mental and physical self-determination in the broadest way possible. He was not limited to seeing this complementary progressing to just the increasing of intellectual and physical dexterity and control. Included in his perception is the improved health and well-being of the individual (Torrance).

Spinoza’s philosophy indicates for a manifestation of increased mental and physical self-determination, people had to reflect on the central importance of being affective competent at the same time with being cognitively understanding. The key here is for the person to experience lively and self enhancing emotions like love, happiness, satisfaction and others rather than those unreceptive and self-constraining emotions like hatred, anger, and jealousy among several (Torrance).

According to the European philosopher, to be able to realize one’s constraints on his or her freedom and to increase the chance to enhance one’s power in relation to these limitations is intrinsically directed towards acting in ways that would reduce being restricted and to increasing one’s freedom. Hence, a competitive understanding of human being’s nature and their place in the natural order of the world is needed. In other words, to fully understand the conditions for being fully independent, people had to act in ways that are in accordance to enhancing one’s capability for autonomy (Torrance).

The autonomy that everyone seeks should incorporate ethical goals as much as personal goals. Each person’s goal of self-determination and the principles it follows towards to achieving this goal should not just be for advancing oneself. Therefore anyone’s conditions for achieving freedom should meet the traditional ethical principles of mutual compassion, integrity and collective autonomy (Torrance).

Spinoza’s notion of freedom resolves also the question of how to merge the widespread idea of conscious experience with the view of the objective natural world as explained by science. According to him, there are two likely ways to consider the phenomenal, first-person, factor in consciousness. Firstly, there is the thin conception, which is the idea that the first-person element is reasonably separate from any other features. There is a possibility to imagine, without any bearing of course, a world very much the same as the one everyone is living in, but which incorporates no phenomenal experiences at all. The possibility of such a world shows that phenomenal consciousness does not possess any essential relations with any physical features of the world.

On the other hand, the second view, the thick conception perceived it as internal to the idea of phenomenal consciousness that it is knowledgeable as a lived, embodied state. This notion tells everyone that the felt, first-person, aspects of phenomenality cannot be disengaged from their embodiment in a physiological or organic being. A look-alike world would be an illogical conception on this latter explanation of phenomenality (Torrance).

For Spinoza, a mindful thought will always have, as its primary content, the condition of the thinker’s body whether these are experienced just through his or her observations, imagination or thought, as having an extra-bodily relation. Also for him, the level of consciousness varies, as it matches with the differing degrees of complexity of individuals in the world. Spinoza view individuals as profoundly organismic in their characters. In a sense, he was the one who provided the first modern rationalization for biological organism, supplemented by terms of an overall cohesive system with several components, probably organic systems as well themselves, which change over time, but still leaving the overall unison of the whole organic system unaltered (Torrance).

The mind is strongly entwined with life according to Spinoza. While he still requires the knowledge that the world today is already enjoying, the power to distinguish between organic from non-organic systems, he had already a concept of a sort of organism that deviate from that of Descartes. Descartes idea of an organic system was fundamentally just a physical engine, a totally split function from the mental. Therefore living things that are non-human are devoid of souls, sense of perception or rationality, and his point of evidence being that they do not possess coherent languages (Torrance).

Opposite this, life, consciousness and the mind are all very much intertwined for Spinoza. All individual beings possess an extent of organic harmony, mind, and of consciousness. Their level of conscious awareness depend on the intricacy of their organic structures with regard to the consciousness they possess which cannot be measured through the language the beings have (Torrance).

From Spinoza’s point of view, an experience is closely tied to the organic unity of a particular being. He presented an observation of phenomenal consciousness that allow for the reconciliation of the dilemma abovementioned. He argued that the consciousness of any human being lies in his physical and organic constitution that is can be explained using scientific methods. But, he still conserved the idea of experiences being unique to an individual only. Therefore for Spinoza, feeling pain or to be hurt is to have a personal awareness of one’s bodily state such that one’s phenomenal state is unavoidably tied with one’s embodiment (Torrance).

With this sort of philosophy, Spinoza’s name had once lived in ill repute. He was deemed Godless, an atheist. Someone who has the nerve to philosophize about denying human freedom, the greatest of divine gifts for those made under God’s image. He did have a lot of friends though since he was seemingly a social man and possesses a pleasant disposition. But with his philosophy, support for it was never extensive, and never made very public. For instance, Leibnitz, the one great philosopher who had encountered Spinoza, used some of the Spinoza’s ideas unmercifully but had still felt the need to constantly publicly criticize him. This is the parody during the 17th century. People generally do this to Spinoza, condemn his “heresy” and brand him devil because that’s what best to do under the circumstances even without fully grasping his perspectives.

At the advent of the 18th century, support for Spinoza hardly increased. This phenomenon was call pantheism in 1705 by the English writer John Toland sympathetically. Spinoza’s pantheism was seen by many as a mere hypocrisy since he present God as being everywhere that in the end it would be in reality seen as existing nowhere (Spiro).

Things for Spinoza’s reputation become looking up at the latter part of the 18th century. A dramatic event caused this resuscitation to his reputation, the Pantheism Conflict that occurred in Germany in 1785. During this period, his philosophy was a source for political liberalism, the eagerness to discredit anthropomorphisms and other religious myths, and the capability to gratify the desire for an idealistic union with nature (Spiro).

Conclusion

Spinoza’s thinking became significant as a respectable blend of the rationalist, atheistic materialism, in an instance, and the celebration of the divine, on another for his late 18th century German disciples. Those who seek for spirituality and for a numinous unification, and along with it, dedicated to the belief of pursuing the truth wherever may be, were now more at peace and satisfied (Spiro).

Spinoza himself had philosophizes about the nature or essence of God. This rehabilitated Spinoza come to be perceived, possibly for the very first instance, as a believer of God. Notably, he was even termed as a “God intoxicated man.” This was indeed a long way from his reputation even during his own lifetime (Spiro).

References

McGhee, Michael. (1992) Freedom Emotion & Mind. Western Buddhist Review. Web.

Spiro, Daniel. Spinoza and the Late 18th/Early 19th Century Germany. The Aegis Press. Web.

Torrance, Steve. Freedom, mind, value: How Spinoza’s thought resolves persisting dilemmas over consciousness and ethic. In I.Smit, W.Wallach and G.Lasker (eds), Cognitive, Emotive And Ethical Aspects Of Decision Making In Humans And In Artificial Intelligence (pp. 115-124), Windsor, Ont.

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