Saturday, June 26, 2010

Spinoza and Aquinas on the Divine Substance

In this article, two views concerning the nature of the Divine Substance will be explained and compared. First, some key points concerning Benedict (Baruch) Spinoza’s view will be given. After that, the classical view of God will be offered. As the classical view is explained, similarities and differences between the two views will be highlighted.

Benedict (Baruch) Spinoza’s View of Divine Substance

Substance as Self-Sufficient

In his book A Study of Spinoza’s Ethics, Jonathan Bennett outlines five aspects of Spinoza’s thinking that set the stage for his philosophy in general and his view of the Divine Substance in particular. Two of those five aspects will be mentioned here, as they are more pertinent to our discussion of the Divine Substance. The two aspects of his thinking which are relevant to our discussion are his implicit notions of “explanatory rationalism” and “causal rationalism”. Explanatory rationalism refers to the idea that, given a fact, an explanation may be given for that fact. Causal rationalism is an extension of explanatory rationalism. It makes causal relationships strong analogs to logical relationships.

According to Bennett, explanatory rationalism “is the refusal to admit brute facts”. In other words, the explanatory rationalist cannot offer ‘it just is the case’ as an explanation for any given fact. Everything, in principle, must be explainable. Causal rationalism is the refusal to allow a distinction between what is logically necessary and what is causally necessary. The causal rationalist thinks that logical necessity does not merely entail causal necessity; rather, to speak of logical necessity is simply another way of talking about causal necessity. As Bennett states, “When [Spinoza] speaks of ‘the reason or cause why Nature acts’… he thinks he is talking about one relation, not two.”