Sam Ghandchiسام قندچي Spinoza's Refutation of Teleology

Sam Ghandchi

اسپینوزا در رد علت غائی

P.S. November 9, 2018: Why Rejection of Final Causes in Spinoza's Philosophy was Discussed:




Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. Causality -- The Philosophical Disputes

III. Teleology vs Rationalism

IV. Psychology of Final Causes

V. Final Causes and Ethics

VI. Spinoza's Alternative

VII. Addendum


"Provident are the clouds, wind, sun, and universe
"So acknowledge your sustenance upon savoring each morsel. [Saadi, Sheikh Mosleheddin (d. 1292), Gulistan (Rose Garden)]"

"...the will of God -- that is, the sanctuary of ignorance. [Spinoza, Baruch, Ethics, Part I, Appendix, E&SL, P.60]"

Note 1: E&SL means Spinoza, Baruch, The Ethics and Selected Letters, ed. S. Feldman and trans. S. Shirley, Hackett Publ Co., Indianapolis, 1982

Note 2: op. cit.  means Wolfson, Harry Austryn, The Philosophy of Spinoza, Two volumes in one, Meridian Books, Inc., New York, 1960



I. Introduction


Spinoza's refutation of teleology is one of the characteristic features of his metaphysics which differentiates him from the Eastern pantheists.  Unfortunately, this fact has not received enough attention from commentators who have tried to compare his philosophy with Eastern pantheism. The first part of this paper focuses on Spinoza's arguments against the main sources of teleology in the thought of Eastern mystics. It is interesting to see how Spinoza's position, gives rise to rationalism, rather than mysticism, in his thought. The next three parts of this paper examine the second, first, and third points of Spinoza's appraisal of final causes. Spinoza writes:

"Now all the prejudices which I intend to mention here turn on this one point, the widespread belief among men that all things in Nature are like themselves in acting with an end in view. Indeed, they hold it as certain that God himself directs everything for man's sake and has made man so that he should worship God.  So this is the first point I shall consider, seeking the reason why most people are victims of this prejudice and why all are so naturally disposed to accept it.  Secondly, I shall demonstrate its falsity; and lastly I shall show how it has been the source of misconceptions about good and bad, right and wrong, praise and blame, order and confusion, beauty and ugliness, and the like [Ibid., p.57]." [my emphasis- S.G.]

The final part of this paper discusses Spinoza's alternative for encountering the philosophical dilemmas which were formerly dealt with by final causes. His doctrine of God's fatalistic necessity is examined in that section.



II. Causality -- The Philosophical Disputes


The philosophical disputes about causality are as old as philosophy itself. Aristotle's formulation of four causes, i.e. material, formal , efficient, and final causes, was the zenith of the Greek heritage, on this subject, for mediaeval philosophy. Aristotle did not recognize God as the material cause of the universe; for him, God was the formal, efficient, and final cause of the world. During the Middle Ages, philosophical disputes about causality were mostly centered around Aristotle's formulation. Scholastic philosophers (as well as the Islamic scholastics, Mutekallemun) essentially agreed with Aristotle in not regarding God as the material cause of the universe.


The first major challenge to this belief was introduced by Islamic pantheists around the ninth century. They, similar to Spinoza, though centuries before him, attributed the material cause of the world as well to God. Another important controversy about Aristotelian causes focused on the efficient and final causes.  Scholastics found an antinomy in believing efficient and final causes as two separate causes: the former meant the priority of cause to effect whereas the latter meant the priority of effect to cause. Overcoming this antinomy in different areas of theology and philosophy comprises a substantial portion of mediaeval philosophy.


I am not going to discuss the philosophical disputes about causality in the Middle Ages, a very long subject in itself. However, a look at the endeavors to reduce efficient causes to final causes, may help us to understand the significance of Spinoza's attempt to eliminate final causes. Although Spinoza resembles pantheists in his recognition of God as the material cause of the world, his reduction of final causes to efficient causes is opposite to the Eastern pantheists' attempts to reduce efficient causes to final causes. This feature makes Spinoza's philosophy a unique pantheism; that is, probably Spinoza's reduction of final causes to efficient causes is the reason his pantheism is rationalistic. In contrast, the Eastern pantheists' efforts to reduce efficient causes to final causes paved the way for their mysticism.


The first alternative to the problem of apparent antinomy between efficient and final causes, in Islamic theology, was introduced by the Mu'tazilites (meaning the people who have left a tradition. This name was given to followers of Hassan al-Basri  who challenged Mutekallemun [Abdol-Hakim, Khalifeh, Rumi's Mysticism, Persian Edition, Tehran, 1975]).   Mu'tazilites were a group of Islamic theologians who, in about the eighth century, revived the Epicurean theory of chance, in opposition to Aristotelian causality, in order to dissolve the basis of the troublesome antinomies. The Mu'tazilites' views soon came under attack by the rationalists of its own ranks. A. Ashari (Ali ibn Isma'il al-Ashari, d.881ADE) belonged to the ranks of the Mu'tazilites until the age of forty, when he turned against their doctrines and, by refuting them the rest of his life, originated a new group of Islamic theologians, i.e. the Ashariya.


The Ashariya, contrary to the Mu'tazilite, believed in nature's complete necessity. Nevertheless, necessity in their eyes was teleological rather than efficient, and God was assumed to have arbitrary will. Spinoza, at the end of proposition 33 (Part I of Ethics) probably is referring to their views, as being more truthful, than another view purported by Maimonides (d.1205, Spinoza's main source of inspiration). Maimonides postulated God's wisdom through which He endeavored for good, as if it was something external to Him (a model). Spinoza considered the second view as being absurd, because of its belief in something external to God, but tried to challenge the first view, i.e. the Asharian view. Spinoza writes:

"I admit that this view which subjects everything to some kind of indifferent will of God and asserts that everything depends on his pleasure, diverges less from the truth than the view of those who hold that God does everything with the good in mind [Spinoza, op. cit., p.56]"

One problem with the Asharian view was in their inability to solve the questions of human ethics. If God had arbitrary will, how could man know His will in order to be able to follow it in his conduct to achieve salvation. Moreover, if man is part of nature, then he should already be acting by pure teleological necessity and there is no basis for judging human conduct. Spinoza, as shown later, proposed the elimination of final causes (God's will) and for God as well as Nature and man, he proposed a uniform Necessity. Contrary to the Ashariya, he upheld efficient causes rather than final causes. Thus, human conduct could be judged from levels of perfection rather than dual positive/negative criteria of will. In order to solve the above dilemmas concerning human conduct, the Ashariya proposed the Kasb (attainment) theory. The major proponent of this theory was Al-Ghazzali [For details of this theory, see Al-Ghazali, Mohammad, Kimia-ya Sa'adat, Persian Edition, Tehran, Undated].


Al-Ghazzali (Imam Mohammed Ghazzali, d. 1111) was a Persian rationalist theologian who propounded the Asharian view of causation more than any other philosopher, though he refuted pantheism and many of the Asharian views that supported the literal interpretation of attributes of God in the Koran. Nevertheless, Al-Ghazzali's views on causation, became the major source for pantheistic mysticism, to such a degree that he was referred to as a sufi, as well as a theologian, by the later mystics.  Al-Ghazzali believed that God was eternal, infinite, and had complete freedom, whereas nature was temporal, finite, and had complete necessity, and man was forced to choose.


The last point was problematic for him, which led him to introduce three psychological classifications of man's actions: natural, volitional, and free.  His definitions of these three classifications was exemplified by the three examples of sinking when standing on water, breathing, and the act of writing, respectively. He thought that man was the stage but that God was the actual player. So even our free action in this sense depended on our knowledge of God and there were about nine stages of knowledge for man to attain the truth, i.e. the theory of Kasb.


The kernel of his whole theory of Kasb, is the belief in human free will as a subjective side of the objective necessity. Later mystics were more explicit in this respect. For example, Jalal-ud-Din Rumi (d. 1273) believed that in the language of God everything is pure necessity whereas in the language of man it is freedom.


Thus, all causation is reduced to final causes and our contrary beliefs are our imaginations due to our superficial knowledge of the final causes. Nonetheless, contrary to the Ashariya, who did not believe in any necessary conditions for things to happen, Al-Ghazzali believed that nothing could occur unless the necessary conditions for it were present, even though he did not consider the prior phenomena as the cause of the subsequent phenomena and in fact, he thought just the reverse. He thought of final causes as the only causes which he deduced from God's absolute power and existence. Persian pantheism in the works of Rumi, Hafiz, Sa'adi, and others has always upheld this reduction of efficient causes to final causes, though their belief in the identity of Nature and God differentiated them from Al-Ghazzali.  Al-Ghazzali was the source of both theologians and the pantheists who opposed them.


Spinoza spends great efforts to refute this doctrine of reduction of efficient causes to final causes by his opposite reduction. I think he has been aware of the presence of this doctrine in Middle Eastern pantheism, and he resembles Middle Eastern pantheists in his opposition to the Scholastics. But, probably he believed that this doctrine has been the cause of their deviation from rationalism and reverting to mysticism. He stresses the opposite doctrine, and thus his philosophy avoids the same fate and facilitates the substantiation of rationalism, as I will discuss in the subsequent sections of this paper. His exact exposure to Middle Eastern pantheism needs more research. Unfortunately, Harry Wolfson, who has studied Spinoza with a fair understanding of Near Eastern philosophy, has had only the Near Eastern Scholastics in mind, rather than the pantheists, their opponents, who preceded Spinoza by centuries, and whose works were translated to Latin before Spinoza's time.


Returning to our subject of Spinoza's refutation of the Asharian view of final causes, Spinoza points out in the Scholium of proposition 17 (Part I, Ethics) that "neither intellect nor will pertains to the nature of God [Ibid., Proposition 17, Scholium, p.44]."   He proclaims that a belief to the contrary contradicts God's omnipotence, because the fact that there is something which God wills debilitates His having absolute power. Spinoza, thus, refutes Al-Ghazzali's position, with his own argument, with respect to freedom for men. If what is freewill for man, is pure necessity in 'the language of God,' then the same can be said for God's will. Al-Ghazzali, using God's absolute power, reduced efficient causes to final causes.  Spinoza, using the same premise, proves the opposite. This is the first move Spinoza makes to refute teleology, and more of his arguments to refute teleology will follow in the next sections.


In short, Spinoza accepts pantheism by his belief in God as the material cause of the universe, nevertheless, dissociates himself from the route of mysticism, by accepting efficient causation as fundamental. On the subject of causality, he enters the philosophical disputes of mediaeval philosophy, with two clear positions: 1) like many Scholastics, he believes in the incompatibility of separate final and efficient causes and 2) supports the reduction of final causes to efficient causes, rather than the Middle Eastern pantheists' reduction of efficient causes to final causes.



III. Teleology vs Rationalism


Harry Wolfson, in his appraisal of Spinoza's contribution to philosophy, writes:

"The laws of nature which are operative in the universe from eternity, he [Spinoza] declares, can never be upset by a power above them for a purpose unknown to us. By denying design and purpose in God,  Spinoza has thus removed the break in the principle of the uniformity of the laws of nature [Wolfson, op. cit., Vol.2, p.335]."

Spinoza knew well how important eliminating teleology was for rationalism. He realized that subordinating the world to an arbitrary will, not only ends in the ethical problems, about which the theologians were concerned, but had devastating consequences for science. Therefore, after challenging the Asharian view of God's arbitrary will, that if God wills, it would contradict Him having absolute power, Spinoza mentions the problems that such view imposes on science. He writes:

"I do not doubt that if they were willing to think that matter over and carefully reflect on our chain of proofs they would in the end reject the kind of freedom which they now attribute to God not only as nonsensical but as a serious obstacle to science [Spinoza, op. cit., Proposition 33, Scholium2, p.55]."

Why does Spinoza think that God's arbitrary will is an obstacle to science? The reason must be that if science's goal is to understand the laws of nature, and if these laws are connected to the arbitrary will of God, then these laws should also be arbitrary. According to Al-Ghazzali, God has arbitrary will whereas Nature has pure necessity. This view makes Al-Ghazzali's doctrine incongruent to rationalist thinking. To make it congruent, Al-Ghazzali would have had to accept pure necessity in God as well as in nature (like Spinoza), or accept Nature and man also as arbitrary like the Epicureans.


Even Epicurean chance theory is more conducive to the development of science, because the randomness is not brought by something external to nature, and the probabilities can be studied in lieu of natural laws. However, if Nature is not arbitrary in itself but is subject to an external source of randomness, i.e. God, then scientific prediction would become impossible. For example, prime numbers are generated randomly in chains of numbers; nevertheless, we can study and predict the possibilities of prime numbers to a certain extent. But if we have a series of numbers and someone just erases some of them leaving some others intact, it is almost impossible to trace their sequence.


Maybe by studying the individual's psychology, we can make some predictions. But if the person is replaced with God who should have *absolute* randomness in his arbitrary will, then it will be impossible to do any scientific work. I think this is the problem that Spinoza is trying to illustrate, i.e. the logical consequences of Ghazzali's claim. Ghazzali knew of the inconsistency in his doctrine and he considered the problem to be something beyond human understanding and left it as a matter of faith. However, I think Spinoza's demonstration of the logical consequences of Ghazzali's doctrine is outstanding. As a rationalist, Spinoza brings this dilemma before reason and concludes that only its elimination can save science.


The second incompatibility between teleology and rationalism is traced in the misconception of actual causality in the world. He writes:

"...from the whole set of proofs I have adduced to show that all things in Nature proceed from an eternal necessity and with supreme perfection. But I will make this additional point, that this doctrine of final causes turns Nature completely upside down, for it regards as an effect that which is in fact a cause, and vice versa [Ibid., Appendix, p.59]."

Maybe Spinoza did not know Al-Ghazzali's open admission of this absurdity, where Al-Ghazzali proclaims it as being beyond human understanding and a matter of faith.  But it is clear as I already showed above, that Al-Ghazzali' openly professes the above doctrine of upside down causation.   And Spinoza tries to show this absurdity as a logical consequence of the belief in final cause, which means to think of effects as prior to causes, as stated in the above quotation.


Finally Spinoza introduces the newest argument of his opponents, and tries to show in this argument, what he believes to be the core of the belief in teleology, i.e. ignorance. Spinoza's final word is "The will of God that is, the sanctuary of ignorance." He writes:

"I must not fail to mention here that the advocates of this doctrine, eager to display their talent in assigning purpose to things, have introduced a new style of argument to prove their doctrine, i.e. a reduction, not to the impossible, but to ignorance, thus revealing the lack of any other argument in its favor. For example, if a stone falls from the roof on somebody's head and kills him, by this method of arguing, they will prove that the stone fell in order to kill the man; for if it had not fallen for this purpose by the will of God, how could so many circumstances (and there are often many coinciding circumstances) have chanced to concur? Perhaps you will reply that the event occurred because the wind was blowing and the man was walking that way. But they will persist in asking why the wind blew...And so they will go on and on asking the causes of causes until you take refuge in the will of God -- that is, the sanctuary of ignorance [Ibid., p.60]." [my emphasis- S.G.]

This is actually Spinoza's main argument against teleology and this is how he opens the way for rationalism. He considers the belief in supernatural as the ignorance of the causes [Ibid.].  In this final argument against teleology, he brings his defense of rationalism and naturalism as well as exposing the theologians. He writes:

"As a result, he who seeks the true causes of miracles and is eager to understand the works of Nature as a scholar, and not just to gape at them like a fool, is universally considered an impious heretic and denounced by those to whom the common people bow down as interpreters of Nature and the gods. For these people know that the dispelling of ignorance would entail the disappearance of that astonishment, which is the one and only support for their argument and for safeguarding their authority [Ibid.]."

In short, Spinoza's refutation of teleology is essentially equating it with ignorance. Spinoza puts teleology before rationalism and concludes its incompatibility with reason. Eastern Pantheists found the same incompatibility but they discarded rationalism in favor of mysticism. Common theologians were never bothered with this incompatibility and actually as Spinoza exposes, profited from it. Because it gave them the role of interpreting God's will at every instance of natural disasters as well as personal mishaps.


To summarize, Spinoza views teleology to be incongruent with rationalism on three accounts:

1. As an obstacle to science.

2. As a misconception of the true order of cause and effect in nature (putting nature upside down).

3. As a haven for ignorance.


IV. Psychology of Final Causes

"What is termed a 'final cause' is nothing but human appetite...Therefore, the need for a habitation insofar as it is considered as a final cause is nothing but this particular urge, which is in reality an efficient cause, and is considered as the prime cause because men are commonly ignorant of the causes of their own urges [Ibid., Part IV, Preface, p.154]."

It is interesting to note that Spinoza, first refuted the proponents of teleology by pointing out the inconsistency of their own thought, then showed final causes as an obstacle to science and equal to ignorance. Nevertheless, he is not satisfied with disproving final causes and like a scientist tries to understand the reasons for people's belief in final causes. In this psychological appraisal of human reasoning, he discovers human desires to be the objective reality of this metaphysical belief and shows it as an efficient cause. He cites the following reasons for the belief in final causes.

1. "Men believe that they are free... because they are ignorant of the causes of their volitions [Ibid., Part I, Appendix, P.57]."

2. "Men act always with an end in view [Ibid., p.58]."

3. "Looking on things as means, they could not believe them to be self-created, but on the analogy of the means which they are accustomed to produce for themselves, they were bound to conclude that there was some governor or governors of Nature, who have attended to all their needs and made everything for their use [Ibid.]."

4.  " seeking to show that Nature does nothing in vain -- that is, nothing that is not to man's advantage -- they seem to have shown only that this Nature and the gods are as crazy as mankind [Ibid.]."

The above analysis is purely physicalistic and can be used not only in explaining the source of the belief in Final Cause, but also the belief in God himself, yet Spinoza does not go that far.


Having established the psychological sources of the belief in final causes, he tries to show the practical problems arising from this psychology. He tries to explain the problems that arise from the belief in final causes, when making inquiries about natural disasters such as earthquakes. He shows that these beliefs disregard the fact "that blessings and disasters befall the godly and ungodly alike [Ibid.]."  He says that the believers in these prejudices do not give up final causes and have "found it easier to regard this fact as one among other mysteries they could not understand and thus maintain their innate condition of ignorance [Ibid.]." Actually the rebuffed approach is Al-Ghazzali's approach (as already mentioned) and that of many other scholastics and even pantheists who took refuge in man's inability to ascertain Divine Will by pure rationalism.


I should only add that Spinoza, as far as believing in God is concerned, he too believed in the incapability of understanding 'higher things', if not for himself but for the common people, where he writes "...Scripture, being particularly adapted to the service of the common people, invariably speaks in merely human fashion, for the common people are incapable of understanding higher things [Spinoza, Baruch, Letter 19, Jan 1665, E&SL, p.218] ."  In other words, if there are 'higher things' that common people cannot understand, why shouldn't there be 'higher higher things' that even the rationalists can't understand? I think as long as Spinoza tried to be pious, he could not be a thoroughgoing rationalist and the same contradiction he recognized in his opponents, is present in his own thought, though at a different level.


In addition to the belief in Divine Purpose, there is a belief in Divine Order that is inseparable from teleology. Spinoza also gives a psychological explanation for this belief. He writes:

"...When things are in such arrangements that, being presented to us through our senses, we can readily picture them and thus readily remember them, we say that they are well arranged; if the contrary, we say that they are ill-arranged, or confused [Spinoza, Baruch, Ethics, Part I, Appendix, E&SL, P.61]."

This means that he finds order as something relative to our imagination and not in Nature itself. Spinoza tries to use this argument against the belief in the predestined order of things, which amounts to a sequence for reaching a purpose. However, this argument again could be used against his own belief in objective necessity. Why couldn't his proposed necessity also be in our imagination? It appears that Spinoza did not follow this chain of argument which would end up with Humian substitution of subjective frequent conjunctions and association of ideas, for objective necessity and causation.


Summarizing, I should say that Spinoza demonstrates the psychological reasons for the belief in final causes to be due to our goal-oriented desires and patterned imaginations. He thinks that these desires and imaginations are problematic, even when they are used only to encounter practical tribulations like disasters. Thus, he elucidates the epistemological basis of teleology and tries to show scientifically the final causes to be nothing more than efficient causes.



V. Final Causes and Ethics


After showing the source of belief in Final Causes to be ignorance, Spinoza tries to reveal the relation between this belief and ethics. He writes:

"When men become convinced that everything that is created is created on their behalf, they were bound to consider as the most important quality in every individual thing that which was most useful to them, and to regard as of the highest excellence all those things by which they were most benefited. Hence they came to form these abstract notions to explain in the nature of things: -- Good, Bad, Order, Confusion, Hot, Cold, Beauty, Ugliness ...[Ibid., p60]."

At this point, Spinoza returns to the psychology of Final Causes, and tries to explain that all these notions are subjective, i.e. 'entities of imagination' rather than 'entities of reason' [Ibid., p62]." He points to popular expressions such as 'so many heads, so many opinions[ Ibid.] as the proof that the notions of Good, Bad, etc. differ from one man to another and says "man's judgment is a function of the brain, and they are guided by imagination rather than intellect [Ibid.]."


The psychological reasoning of Final Cause has its effect on ethics and from there arise all our misconceptions about the world such as recognition of sin, evil, bad, etc. He explains this dilemma more in his correspondence. In 1665 he writes to a friend:

"For my own part, I cannot concede that sin and evil are anything positive, much less that anything can be or come to pass against God's will. On the contrary, I not only assert that sin is not anything positive; I maintain that it is only by speaking improperly or in merely human fashion that we can say that we sin against God, as in the expression that men offend against God [Spinoza, Baruch, Letter 19, E&SL, p.236]."

Spinoza thus believes that all we call bad or evil is only relative to the lack of perfection and has nothing to do with something negative. He gives an example in the same letter to substantiate his argument. He writes:

"...everybody admires in animals what he dislikes and regards with aversion in men, like the warring of bees, the jealousy of doves, and so on. In men such things are despised, yet we esteem animals as more perfect because of them [Ibid., p.237]."

From the above, we can gather how Spinoza tries to connect the belief in Final Causes to ethics. I think he is trying to say that by believing in final causes we are actually setting the imaginations of the religious authorities as standards for perfection and thereby measuring ourselves, because it is the religious authorities who interpret the holy books and inform us of the final causes. Whereas, if we see all final causes as human desires, then the sole ethical judgment would be, to compare these desires and, by our reason, to determine which is the more perfect conduct to choose.

I still do not understand why Spinoza connected final causes to the absolutism of ethics. Even believing in final causes, one could consider Bad or Good as relative stages of perfection. In fact, the pantheistic schools of the East, have mostly believed in a Final Cause, yet also mostly believed in the relativism of ethical values. For example, Rumi writes:

"And if you speak of perfidy, it reeks of piety

"And if you speak of doubt, this doubt turns into faith

"If you speak of crookedness, it reveals straightness

"Oh crookedness, how you, embellish straightness [Rumi, Jalal-ud-Din, Mathnavi, ed. Nicholson, R.A., Persian Edition, undated., Vol..3, verse 3832]"

The absolutist features of ethics shatter, as soon as one discards the priority of formal cause over the material cause in the world. In my opinion, this is the reason why Spinoza and Eastern pantheists, who propounded the material and formal cause of the world to be one and in God, turned to the relativism of ethics. Only Spinoza, who eliminated final causes from his philosophy, tried to find perfection in a rationlistic and materialistic way, whereas the mystics, searched for pefection in a mystical and spiritual way. I think Spinoza is wrong in seeing the elimination of final causes as the reason for his leaning towards a relativistic understanding of ethics.



VI. Spinoza's Alternative


Spinoza, as demonstrated in the previous sections, refuted teleology as a belief stemming from ignorance and defended rationalism. Furthermore, showing the psychological reasons behind the belief in final causes, he reduced all final causes to efficient causes. Finally he tries to show the connection between final causes and ethics.


Spinoza's reduction of final causes to efficient causes made his scheme of efficient causation different from what it was before this reduction. In other words, the tasks that were carried out by fate and fortune in the previous conceptual frameworks, were to be reformulated in the language of efficient causes. This constitutes Spinoza's alternative to teleology. Some Spinoza scholars like Joachim have attributed a Hegelian type of teleology to Spinoza as Spinoza's alternative (see the addendum at the end of this paper). I do not find this acceptable, because the Hegelian 'ideal Reality' as the new final cause, by similar reasoning of Spinoza, could be called more based on "ignorance" than the religious schemes of Divine Purpose, and Spinoza could call them purely 'entities of imagination' (i.e. Hegel's imagination). Therefore, I think we should look to find Spinoza's alternative outside 'teleology.'


Copleston suggests that Spinoza's system is two-faced; 1. "The metaphysic of infinite being manifesting itself in finite beings..." 2. "The theory that all finite beings and the modifications can be explained in terms of causal connections." He concludes, "If one stresses the metaphysical aspect, one will tend to think of Spinoza as a 'pantheist'...If one stresses the 'naturalistic' aspect, one will tend to see...the sketch of a programme for scientific research [Copleston, Frederick, S.J., A History of Western Philosophy, Vol. IV, The Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland, 1960, p.229]". I think Copleston does not see the importance of Spinoza's elimination of final causes as the link between these two aspects of Spinoza's system. Otherwise, Copelston would recognize that Spinoza is after rationalistic pantheism and not a mystical pantheism.. Spinoza did not like to have a dualistic philosophy and he knew that either final causes or efficient causes must be reduced to the other, to make his pantheism consistent. But contrary to most pantheists, he eliminated final causes from his scheme.


Spinoza's alternative system is demonstrated in following paragraph from Short Treatise, I, 6, Epistola 75:

"I want to explain here briefly in what sense I maintain the fatalistic necessity of all things and of all actions. For I do in no way subject God to fate, but I conceive that everything follows with inevitable necessity from the nature of God, just as all conceive that it follows from the nature of God himself that He should understand Himself [Wolfson, op.cit., Vol. I, p.421]."

In other words, there is a fatalistic necessity in the world and to become one with God, is not to understand the final causes by mysticism, but by using rationalism (like doing mathematics) one can align his knowledge to correspond to this objective necessity. Objectively, one always corresponds to this fatalistic necessity, but to be able to do it subjectively, one must use reason. It is like mathematical truisms about equality which do not exist for anything but are and our understanding of a mathematical-relation does not change the reality but makes us happier. He also mentions this allusion in Ethics:

"Mathematics, which is concerned not with ends but only with the essences and properties of figures, revealed to men a different standard of truth [Spinoza, Baruch, Ethics, Part I, Appendix, E&SL, p.58]."

In conclusion, I think Spinoza's alternative to teleology is nothing but a series of disinterested scientific efforts to study metaphysical, ethical, and political problems, as natural sciences are studied, or to be more exact, like the study of mathematics. His metaphysics of fatalistic necessity is but the promise that our efforts will lead to success.


VII. Addendum


The following quote is  Joachim's view of Spinoza's alternative metaphysical scheme.  As I noted in section VI, some Spinoza scholars like Joachim have attributed a Hegelian type of teleology to Spinoza as Spinoza's alternative, and  I do not find their analysis acceptable, because the Hegelian 'ideal Reality' as the new final cause, by similar reasoning of Spinoza, could be called more based on "ignorance," than the religious schemes of Divine Purpose, and Spinoza could call them purely 'entities of imagination' (i.e. Hegel's imagination), and I think we should look to find Spinoza's alternative, as I have shown, outside 'teleology':


"The 'final causes,' which Spinoza contemptuously rejects, are external ends: ideals not yet real, but to be realized. The 'purposive' action which he discredits, is action with a view to the attainment of an unpossessed 'better'. God does not act 'purposively,' from final causes, because that would imply that God is now defective. But the necessary and timeless 'sequence' or coherence of the modes in God is the articulation of the divine nature. It is stamped with God's individuality, and draws its being and significance from the totality of significant being which is God. And in this sense God acts 'purposively;' or the internal-coherence and reciprocal implications of his 'states' are 'teleological' in character. The 'best' is not an ideal towards which God is progressing: still less an archetypal perfection alien to his nature, to which he endeavors to conform. But the complete Reality, which all things conspire timelessly to express, is the 'most perfect being.' The nature of the universe is not the gradual realization of a plan, which God's 'intelligence' has first conceived and which his 'will' puts bit by bit into execution: but it is the timelessly actual manifestation of an ideal Reality, and an ideal Reality which is completely significant as the object of God's intelligence. The modes of God are what they are, and coherence as they cohere, as the necessary expressions of God's individual nature -- as the indispensable means of its eternal self-fulfillment, whilst that individuality is in no sense the 'resultant' of them.  I am aware that this interpretation will seem paradoxical, and I am not prepared to maintain that Spinoza distinctly -- still less, consistently expresses such a view. But I think it is implied in the general tenor of the Ethics, a great deal of which seems to me unintelligible without it. It is wiser, perhaps, in view of Spinoza's own use of the terms, and in order to avoid misunderstanding, not to call God's activity 'teleological' or 'purposive.' It does not much matter, so long as we are clear what the 'geometrical' coherence involves. And -- unless I am mistaken -- it does involve that which, for want of a better name, I have called an 'immanent teleology' [Harold H. Joachim, A Study of the Ethics of Spinoza, pp.232-233]."


Hoping for a democratic and secular futurist republic in Iran,


Sam Ghandchi

May 15, 2005

*The first edition of this paper was written in November 1983.





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