Nog eens een review van Paul Wienpahl’s The Radical Spinoza

Al enige tijd ben ik (vaag) van ‘plan’ het boek van Paul Wienpahl, The Radical Spinoza (New York University Press, 1979) dat ik zeven jaar geleden enthousiast besprak [cf. en cf.], weer eens te herlezen. Het komt er almaar niet van, daar ik nog met zoveel andere Spinozana bezig ben. Maar wie weet…

… en wie weet stimuleert me de uitvoerige recensie die Dan Lusthaus, tegenwoordig onderzoeker en docent South Asian Studies aan de Harvard University, in 1990 schreef voor het Journal of Chinese Philosophy [17 (1990) 387-396] en die hij onlangs op zijn pagina bij  plaatste. Het is blijkbaar een scan van een niet zo’n heel duidelijke kopie, want het eindresultaat is niet lekker leesbaar. Daar ik het wel een helder verhaal vond dat mijns inziens ook na ruim 25 jaar nog nuttig is, probeerde ik het met inzet van OCR op te schonen, hetgeen wonderwel lukte.

Ik breng  hierna dit review, inclusief de kleine glossary met Chinese tekens – het was nu eenmaal voor een ander publiek bedoeld. Ik vind het een interessant en aanstekelijke bespreking van een opmerkelijk en uitdagend boek. Dat ik het hier opneem wil niet zeggen dat ik het met alles (van bespreking en boek) eens ben, maar met veel wel. Misschien is het extra van nut voor degenen die Spinoza in samenhang met het Boedhisme bestuderen.


The Radical Spinoza, by Paul Wienpahl, New York University Press, $12.95, Pp. 163 + i-xiii, Appendix (pp. 171-258), Index

In: Journal of Chinese Philosophy 17 (1990) 387-396
Copyright©1990 by Dialogue Publshing  Company, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.

To all interested in comparative philosophy and religion, this book may serve as a model. It intends, along with a wide and yet detailed view of Spinoza's philosophy, to introduce and explain not just another hypothesis on what Spinoza said, but to instruct and guide the reader in how to read Spinoza. As well as being an ingenious and important hermeneutic reading, it also explicitly teaches a hermeneutics of reading (cf. Wienpahl's "On Translating Spinoza", in Speculum Spinozanum 1677-1977, ed. S. Hessing, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977). One might say it operates as a preface to Spinoza's works, a preface which both cautions the reader concerning the critical contours of the terrain ahead and pioneeringly opens that territory to new explorations.

Its author holds credentials both in Western and Sino-Japanese philosophies. His two previous books on Ch'an Buddhism (The Matter of Zen, NYU Press, 1964, and Zen Diary, Harper & Row, 1970. and especially the latter) graphically demonstrated the strengths and limitations of grappling with Eastern thought through Western notions. In The Radical Spinoza Wienpahl has reversed his gaze, drawing on insights gained in his Zen training to uncover and explicate the central vision which Spinoza (hereafter Sp) clothed and expressed in his works, namely non-duality. Wienpahl accomplishes this, not by conflating or comparing terminologies and systems (a practice which frequently glosses or misrepresents the systems being compared), but by letting Sp's philosophy speak for itself. Though explicit references to Chinese philosophy and Buddhism are infrequent, these influences an their centrality to his interpretation will not go unnoticed by Sinologists. This tactic of restraint makes his reading of Sp all the more convincing since it demonstrates the reading is integral to Sp himself and not imported from an external source. [388]

While focusing primarily on the Ethics, Wienpahl throughout incorporates the entire Spinozean corpus expertly, weaving a rich and authoritative interpretation. He points out in the preface that an essential precondition for writing this book was his retranslating all of Sp from the Latin (with reference to the Dutch) — not once but twice. The hermeneutical principles which arose from this endeavor and, in a sense, of which his entire hook is an extension, are significant and convincing. They should prove enlightening, perhaps essential, to all future readers of Sp. The appendix offers his translation of all the definitions, axioms, and propositions of the Ethics with the Latin on facing pages.

Ch. l offers a thumbnail sketch of some major trends in Western thought, from the Greeks through the Middle Ages, as a background or context for Sp. Ch. 2 on Descartes is, even by itself, worth the price of the book. By taking Descartes' method seriously as a meditation, i.e., as a meditative way of investigating and overcoming doubt, Wienpahl gives us a uniquely penetrating and sympathetic reading of Descartes.

The third chapter, "Spinoza and His Works", offers a synopsis not only of Sp's life and works, but also the histories of the various editions and translations (in a variety of languages), while pointing out correlations between all of Sp's works including the often overlooked Hebrew Grammar.

The Grammar gives Wienpahl an important key. In it Sp points out that all Hebrew words, including nouns, have verba for their roots. Thus at the very core of language (one might add, for Sanskrit as well as Hebrew) one finds action, movement, the verb. Nominatives and substantives, when seen in there roots, are adjectival, or better, adverbial. Thus, for instance, Wienpahl asserts, Sp intends never to speak of “a being", but rather of "being", "God" should be understood as a verb, not a noun, so that all attributes and expressions of him should be taken adverbially. Thus, for instance, Wienpahl translates "Per Deurn inteltigo Ens absolute infinitum ." (Ethics bk . 1, definition VI) (which is tranisated by Elwes "By God, I mean a being absolutely infinite…”) as "By means of God I understand Being absolutely infinitely.. ." Wienpahl claims that in Sp "to be" should never be taken as a copula, but always actively. instead of "God is unique" or "God is eternal and infinite", Wienpahl offers "God is uniquely" and "God is eternally and infinitely". [389]

Though perhaps stretching the rules of Latin grammar, this reading is perfectly consonnt with Sp's philosophy, a philosophy which emphatically argues that God (=Nature = Being) is completely active, not passive. In other words, Sp's reality is dynamic, and a language of translation should reflect this. Sp's distinction between God as Natura naturans (Nature naturing) and modes as Natura naturata (Nature natured) addresses this clearly.

The history of interpretations of Sp presents a curious amalgamation of misreadings. He has been called everything including a pantheist, a monist, a monotheist, an atheist, a god-intoxicated man, an idealist, a materialist, etc, and in some quarters these labels are still vigorously argued. In ch. 4, "The Notion of Unity", Wieripald moves past these controversies with the claim that Sp is a non-dualist, "a term we get from Buddhism" (p. 63),

His argurnent in part runs like this: according to .E 1, pV (i.e., Ethics I proposition V), there cannot be two or more substances with the same nature. By E I, p XIV, "Besides God no substance can be given, nor be conceived". Therefore one may cunclude there Is one substance and Sp would be a pantheist or monist, etc. However Wienpahl refers us to Letter L, iri which we read that to say "one" or "single' implies a relation to other numbers, and these others do not apply in the case of God, Sp writes

Since the existence of God is His Being, and of His Being we can form no general idea, it is certain, that he who calls God. one or single has no true idea of God, and speaks of Him improperly,

(Elwes' translation modified)    

Though this notion is common enough in Indian and Chinese philosophy, in the context of Judeao-Christian monotheism it must have been quite startling. (Note, when Sp says "we  can form no general idea" of Cod's Being or essence, the critical word is "general", not ‘”dea”, i.e. we can have the idea of God in fact in some sense all ideas are ideas of and in God; cf. EII, pV, VIII, etc. — but a "genera” idea or universal concept [390] falls short of intuiting God's Be-ing.)

By examining the Cartesian and Spinozist notions of "analytic" and '`synthetic", and "a priori" and "a posteriori", Wienpahl concludes that Sp's choice of a synthetic, a posteriori method for the Ethics indicates that what are usually refered to as Sp's "proofs" of God, are not in fact deductive, proofs. "There is, then, no question of anything's being poved in the ETHIC. There is only the matter of understanding thedefinitiens. On the whole this is the matter of getting clear about unity" (p. 56). Sp's method is an unfolding: the scholia (notes) unfold the demonstrations, dernonstrations unfold the propositions, and the propositions unfold the delinhions. Thus the whole Ethic may be seen as a definition (not proof) of God, a demonstration of the logical extension of the idea of God.

Since this definition admits only a unique. dynamic substance as its ground, the plurality of perceptual reality must therefore be substanceless. All "things" are, at most, theophanic expressions or disclosures of the substance which is hidden from all but the Understanding (inrellectus, i.e., intuitive understanding); and even here only the idea--as distinct from thought, notion, or concept — comes close to Nature's actual reality.

In ch. 5 The Attributes", Wienpahl continues the theme of non-duality first by contrasting, Sp's notion of attributes with Descartes'. Descartes was unclear as to what distinctions obtained between attribute and property, and often used the terms interchangeably. Sp, however, did not think of attributes as properties, i.e., as something a thing has by which it can be discriminated from other things, Rather attributes are that by which Understanding expresses the being of substance. Substance, which is infinitely, is "established (in) infinite attributes, of which each expressos being eternally, & infinitely" (PE I, pXT).

Wienpahl then introduces his most controversial and problematic argument. Despite Sp's claims for infinite attributes, Wienpahl maintains that acthally there are only two, and he imputes this to be Sp's implicit intention. Sp does claim ihat only two are conceivable, viz, extension and thinking (cf_ e.g., Letter 64), and Wienpahl tries valiantly to reinterpret E I, pIX to fit his reading, but Sp elsewhere insists too Strongly on infinite attributes for Wienpahl to be convincing (cf. E. II. pVIIscol; pVIIIscol;  [391] etc), What is really at stake here is Wienpahl’s understanding of the Ethics as an enlightened anthropomorphic expression. Since attributes are how we think about God's being, and modes are expressions or derivatives of attributes, the Ethic is an expression of man's true nature (in the beginning of ch. 4 he even states "that many of the propositions about God can be read to be about" Sp himself, p. 54).

While it is true that Descartes' substances become Sp's attributes —he takes a radical step behind Descartes — Sp, unlike Wienpahl, does not wish to limit Gad to our ways of understanding him (cf. e.g., E II, pX!). Yet Wienpahl does Spinoza studies a service by raising this issue, Whether all philosnphies and religions are finally purely anthropornolphic or not is a difficult but unavoidable issue. Mureover the question of two vs. infinite attributes may very well be a problem in Sp, not Wienpahl, since even if we dodge Wienpahl's thrust by asserting, with Sp, that by Understanding we do not mean only human understanding, this just begs the question. Morover Sp himself was well aware that this point was shaky and unclear. At the end of the scholium to E II, pVII, after discussing the infinity of attributes, Sp writes, "1 cannot for the present explain my meaning more clearly". This hesitancy recurs in the beginning to the scholium to E II, p PVIIIL. While it may be claimed these hedges refer to something else, both scolia are concerned with the implications of infinite attributes, and what follows in the scollum to prop, VIII seems clearly to be a grappling with this problem. The hedges are al] the more significant since Sp rarely shows any hesitation.

Wienpahl further develops his anthropomorphic argument in ch. 6, "Egolessness". Nothing that Peter Bayles Dictionary in 1738 already noted parallels between Sp and Ch'an Buddhism, Wienpahl equates the Buddhist doctrine of no-self with Sp's idea of no-substances. Both "systems" necessitate curistant practice; both advocate a way of life which includes (in Sp's words) "assiduous meditation and very constant spirit and purpose".

Sp, claims Wienpahl, arrived at his insight through self-knowledge; "he saw through the idea of his own soul or identity, In a word, he was an egoless man" (p. 94). While anthropomorphism usually results from an improper or inadequate self-understanding, Sp's anthropomorphism is [392]

based on adequate self-understanding; or as Sp would put it, his insight is based on Understanding not imagination. Wienpahi then offers psychological analogues to E I, pXII - XXXVI  to illustrate the egoless man's nature (e.g., 'prop. 19: "God, or all his attributes are eternally." The egoless person lives undisturbed by thoughts of the past and plans for the future’, p. 100).

Ch. 7, "Undetstanding", concerns Sp's epistemology. This crucial aspect, so often misunderstood or obscured by convoluted treatments. receives a refreshingly lucid presentation by Wienpahl. Sp differentiates four ways of knowing: (1) vague experience, (2) signs (reading and conversation, hearsay), (3) reason (universal and common notions), and (4) intuitively (scientia intuitiva). Of the first three Sp says this is perceiving "as through a cloud" or as though we dream with our eyes open. Awakening to the fourth way of knowing is "the knowing of singular things" rather than "universal knowledge or reason" (p, 115). Intuitive knowing, also called Understanding (intellectus), expresses Sp's nondualism, and as such is without the subject/object dichotemy ("there is understanding, but no thing that understands", p. 1O5).

God or Being is uniquely, there are not substances, thinking and extending are attributer, and thus the subjective is not really distinct from the objective. The distinction between them is either the attributive distinction or it is one of reason, a distinction that we make. From this insight it follows that there is a way of knowing in which the distinction plays no part. .. It might also be called "mystical knowing'',  [Sp] gave the only rational account of this way of knowing that I know in Western philosophy. (p, 107)

This mystical way of knowing h both cognitive and affective. Sp thus unifies philosophy and religion not only by identifying Cod with Nature, but by calling mystical intuition a form of knowledge, in fact the highest.

Having. clarified the or.tolcgical and epistemological foundations, Wienpahl turns to the ethical dimension proper. Ch. 8, "Human Servitude", clearly explains Sp's account of the structure and dynamics [393] of the human condition. Humans are modes, affections of Being (Esse). All beings endeavor to persevere in their being; this endeavor Sp calls conatus. Conatus of the mind. is "will", while conatus of the mind and body is "appetite". Becoming conscious of appetites produces "desires". If a human is an "adequate cause" of an affection, then the affect is an action: otherwise it is a passion (this etymology does not quite work in English as it does in Latin: active, activity, action vs. passive, passivity, passion. Note also English has no counterpart for "act").

The three primary affections (for Sp affectiones and modis are synonornous) from which are derived all passive affections are: Desire, Joy, and Sadness. The primary affectons from which active affections derive are: Joy and Desire. Thus becomning. active, which means to become more God-like (since God. is infinitely actively), is concommitant to overcoming sadness, or in other words, by eliminating sadness we move from passivity to activity (as one does when coming out of a depression).

Actions are equivalent to "fortitude'', and Sp differentiates two types; Animisitem, "High spiritness", i.e., conatus towards oneself; and Generositatem, "Generosity, i.e., conatus toward others, especially other hu mans "to join them to him in friendship" (E IV, pLIXscol).

Servitude, Le,, being determined by passion, is the inability to moderate affections (i.e., the entire modal realm). Sp’s ethics thus are existential, not merely cognitive. Ethical action necessitates more than dichotemous discriminations of good/ill, perfect/imperfect, etc., distinctions which Sp sees merely as functional I elativities: "Good" means usefull, "ill" means "obstruction". etc. Slightly paraphrasing E 1V, pXIV, Wienpahl writes, "True knowledge of good and ill can moderate no Affection, in so far as it is true, but only insofar as it is itself an Affection" (p. 129). We can know about something, but we can never really know it unless we do it (e.g., swimming). "Knowing God intuitively is a way of behaving” (p. 130). Moral Justifcation "is not a matter of Reason but of Linderstanding" (129)_ This is strongly reminiscent of Mencius' moral awakening (hsin-hsing chucha) and Wang Yang-ming's unity of knowledge and action.

Conatus expressed as self-interest is the highest virtue. Self-interest is doing what is best for oneself, and since "for any given thing whatever [394] another more potent is given, by which that thing can be destroyed" (E: IV, axiom), we are interdependent - our own good consists in increasing the good of others. Self interest cannot be libertinism, ,giving in to impulses — which would mean Servitude or enslavement by passions — it is virtue itself: "Beatitude is not virtue's reward, but 'virtue itself" (E V, pXLII).

Obviously this analysis has a strong psychological component, and Sp has been credited by some as the father of modern psychology and psychoanalysis. Wienpahl fleshes out his description with numerous psychological examples.

Ch. 9, "Human Freedom", gives Sp's solution to the paradox of freedom within a totally determined necessary world, viz. the recognition of interdependence. One clears away passions to become actively in accord with Nature, and passions can only be cleared by relinguishing the autonomy of ego which obscures the Nature naturing on which it depends. True vision sees no autonomous identities, only interdependent singular particulars. Thus supreme passivity is action (being in accord with Tao), while supreme activity (if by the delusion of autonomy) is utter passivity (to passion's determinations). Could one offer a more striking description of wu-weib?

Wienpahl's power often lies as much in what is implied (possible extensions and extrapolations} as in what is explicitly stated. For instance, where Wienpahl explains "Fluctuations of Spirit" in E Ill as Sp's holistic view of man (p.99), the reader may discover Sp's refutation of Sartre's bad faith, Sp's equation God (Deus) = Nature (Naturata) = Being (Ens) may remind Chinese readers or the Buddhist equation Buddha (foc) = self nature (tzu-hsingd) = pratitya-santutipada (yin-yuane), or the Taoist equation Taof = Nature (tzu-jang) = Tao's dynamics (wu-weih); or Tao is to tei as Being is to conatus. That ethics should be grounded in an ontology of Nature, a method which Sp's Western critics too quickly labeled atheism, should be more correctly understood by Chinese thinkers who already consider the ground of ethics as Heaven = Nature (tienj or Tao). Nature's activity (tao chih wu-wei erh wu pu werk), Nature = Mind (yi-hsin shih tzu-hsing or tzit-janl), etc.

Many more correspondences between Sp and Chinese philosophy [395] may have eccured to the reader than were either mentioned by Wienpahl or myself (1 am currently preparing a paper on parallels between Sp and Hua-yen Buddhism). Thanks to Wienpahl, Sp is now readily accessible to these investigations. While a serious, brilliant book has appeared dealing with parallels between certain schools of Indian philosophy and Sp (The Sage and the Way, by Jon Wetlesen; Van Gorcum, Assen, Netherlands, 1979; which curiously omits Kashmir Saivism) its counterpart dealing with Chinese philosophy has yet to be written.

As to negative comments, let me me brief Wienpahi's obvious erudition is somewhat 'marred by his failure to even mention H. A. Wolfson's work. Wolfson worked through the Ethics argument by argument and uncovered the original arguments and controvesies in Medieval philosophy, especially Jewish and Islamic Medieval philosophy (Maimonides., Gersoniders, Gresoas, etc.), to which Sp is responding. This tradition was probably more important to Sp than was Descartes, despite its neglect by so many Spinoza scholars. This neglect may in no small treasure account for the preponderance of misreadings to which Sp has been subjected. Wienpahl's first chapter suffers from the absence of this material, and yet it is to his credit that even without this context, his reading is so on target.

Sp is not only one of the greatest thinkers, East or West, but in many ways he probably comes closer to the authentic Chinese sensibilities than any other Westerner. Anyone contermplating East-West comparisons owes it to himself to approach Spinoza through this book.




Bedankt Stan om dit voor ons weer beschikbaar te maken! Het is een erg interessante review van een erg origineel boek.

Wienpahl brengt net die andere insteek om Spinoza blijvend gefascineerd te lezen. Vooral zijn vertaling van de stellingen in actieve werkwoordsvorm is boeiend. Wie weet waar ik meer kan vinden over het belang van hoofdletter gebruik bij Spinoza, Wienpahl hecht daar veel belang aan. De Van Suchtelen vertaling heeft dat ook, terwijl andere vertalingen er niet op letten.