What Advantages Does Spinoza’s Substance Monism Have over Descartes’ Dualism?

Topics: Metaphysics, René Descartes, Ontology Pages: 10 (3470 words) Published: November 4, 2011
Spinoza’s philosophy as espoused in the Ethics was a response to Descartes’ dualism. Through works such as the Ethics, Spinoza seeks to address the main flaws in Descartes’ philosophy. These flaws included but were by no means limited to, proof for the existence of God and the interaction between mind and body. This essay will highlight the advantages of Spinoza’s monism over Descartes’ dualism by looking at Spinoza’s response to these issues. First, in order to consider the advantages of Spinoza’s substance monism over Descartes’ dualism it is necessary to show how each philosopher demonstrates their substance dualism or substance monism. Tim Crane defines monism and dualism as follows: “Monism denies that minds and their bodies are distinct substances. Monists assert that substances are all of one kind. They could say that all substances are mental; or they could say that all substances are bodily […] Dualists hold that minds and bodies are capable of independent existence.” Although the concept of dualism can be traced back to Plato, it is generally recognised that modern versions of substance dualism have their origins in Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, first published in 1641. In the Sixth Meditation Descartes’ states that:

It is true that I may have (or, to anticipate, that I certainly have) a body that is very closely joined to me. But nevertheless, on the one hand I have a clear and distinct idea of myself, in so far as I am simply a thinking, non-extended thing; and on the other hand I have a distinct idea of body, in so far as this is simply an extended, non-thinking thing. Descartes’ distinction here is between two types of substance, extended corporeal substance, res extensa and non-extended thinking substance, res cogitans. If one is to include God in Descartes’ theory on substance, then it could be considered that his ‘dualism’ allows for three substances; or as has been pointed out, God is Descartes’ only substance and mind and body are secondary substances. Spinoza’s substance monism is in opposition with dualism. While Descartes considered that there were two types of substance, extended and non-extended, Spinoza held that there was only one particular substance, which he refers to as Nature, or God. Spinoza’s method in the Ethics has been subject to varying interpretations, however, Della Rocca, in Representation and the Mind-Body Problem in Spinoza, considers that Spinoza sets out his argument for substance monism in five steps: In Nature there cannot be two or more substances of the same nature or attribute (1P5) Here Spinoza is ruling out the overlap of attributes between substances. The next step in setting out his substance monism is:

It pertains to the nature of a substance to exist (1P7)
As, In Nature there cannot be two or more substances of the same nature or attribute (1P5), they cannot cause one another and must be self-caused. This is followed by: God, or a substance consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses eternal and infinite essence, necessarily exists. Dem.: If you deny this, conceive, if you can, that God does not exist. Therefore (by A7) his essence does not involve existence. But this (by P7) is absurd. Therefore God necessarily exists, q.e.d. (1P11 D1) God’s existence is demonstrated by the application of (1P7) to God. As God is a substance it therefore pertains to God’s nature to exist and it cannot be otherwise. By God I understand a being absolutely infinite, that is, a substance consisting of an infinity of attributes, of which each one expresses an eternal and infinite essence. (1D6) Here Spinoza is demonstrating that being of infinite attributes it follows that God has all attributes. The culmination of Spinoza’s rationale for substance monism is (1P14) which states that:

Except God, no substance can be or be conceived (1P14)
As Della Rocca explains: “Since by 1P5, attributes cannot be shared and since God has all...

Bibliography: Benedict Spinoza, The Ethics, Parts One & Two from A Spinoza Reader, Ed. & trans. by Edwin Curley. Princeton Univ. Press, 1984
Secondary sources
Steven Nadler, (2006) Spinoza’s Ethics An Introduction, Cambridge University Press
Michael Della Rocca (1996) Representation and the Mind-Body Problem in Spinoza
_of_substance.pdf
John Cottingham (1992) “Cartesian dualism: theology, metaphysics, and science”, in John Cottingham (Ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Descartes: Cambridge University Press, p236
Alan Woods (2011) “The History of Philosophy” Chapter Five Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz. http://easyweb.easynet.co.uk/~socappeal/philosophy/chapter5.html
Gilbert Ryle, (1955) The Concept of Mind, Hutchinson & Co (Publishers) Ltd
Jonathan Bennett, (1996) “Spinoza’s Metaphysics”, from Cambridge Companion to Spinoza, Ed. by Markku Peltonen, Cambridge
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[ 1 ]. Tim Crane, (2000), Dualism, Monism, Physicalism, originally from Mind and Society (ed. R. Viale), cited from http://web.mac.com/cranetim/Tims_website/Online_papers.html
[ 2 ]
[ 5 ]. Steven Nadler, (2006) Spinoza’s Ethics An Introduction, Cambridge University Press p56
[ 6 ]
[ 9 ]. Edwin M Curley (1996) Spinoza, Life and Works, for the Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy, Blackwell, cited from http://www.sitemaker.umich.edu/emcurley/spinoza
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[ 11 ]. John Cottingham (1992) “Cartesian dualism: theology, metaphysics, and science”, in John Cottingham (Ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Descartes: Cambridge University Press, p236
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[ 15 ]. John Cottingham, (1992) “Cartesian Dualism”, from Cambridge Companion to Descartes. Ed by John Cottingham, Cambridge, p239
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[ 19 ]. Gilbert Ryle, (1955) The Concept of Mind, Hutchinson & Co (Publishers) Ltd, pp15-16
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