Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Carlisle, Clare. "Spinoza, Part 3: What God is Not." GUARDIAN February 21, 2011.

Spinoza's Ethics is divided into five books, and the first of these presents an idiosyncratic philosophical argument about the existence and nature of God. We'll examine this in detail next week, but first we need to look more closely at how the Ethics challenges traditional Judeo-Christian belief in God.

The view that Spinoza wants to reject can be summed up in one word: anthropomorphism. This means attributing human characteristics to something non-human – typically, to plants or animals, or to God. There are several important implications of Spinoza's denial of anthropomorphism. First, he argues that it is wrong to think of God as possessing an intellect and a will. In fact, Spinoza's God is an entirely impersonal power, and this means that he cannot respond to human beings' requests, needs and demands. Such a God neither rewards nor punishes – and this insight rids religious belief of fear and moralism.

Second, God does not act according to reasons or purposes. In refusing this teleological conception of God, Spinoza challenged a fundamental tenet of western thought. The idea that a given phenomenon can be explained and understood with reference to a goal or purpose is a cornerstone of Aristotle's philosophy, and medieval theologians found this fitted very neatly with the biblical narrative of God's creation of the world. Aristotle's teleological account of nature was, then, adapted to the Christian doctrine of a God who made the world according to a certain plan, analogous to a human craftsman who makes artefacts to fulfil certain purposes. Typically, human values and aspirations played a prominent role in these interpretations of divine activity. . . .

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