Thursday, June 22, 2006

Courting the Heretic (Part 2 of more than 2)

Over the past few weeks, I've come to think that the central difference in temperament between Leibniz and Spinoza can be characterized as the difference between an apologist and a philosopher. For the apologist, conclusions are already clear and the goal is to find arguments that support those conclusions. As a result, the apologist doesn't really engage in inquiry in the sense of trying to figure out how things are. Rather, he engages in the process of trying to justify the beliefs he already has about how things are.

Leibniz seems to have been an apologist in this sense. He had beliefs about the nature and existence of God, as well as the proper ordering of political society, and he attempted to justify these beliefs through various arguments. Unsurprisingly, not all of these arguments were good ones and so Leibniz's work tends to jump around a little bit--he flits about from argument to argument and tries to see what sticks.

The philosophical temperament, on the other hand, is much less likely to accept conclusions prior to an extended process of inquiry. Such inquiry does not have a predetermined outcome in view--if it did, there would be no reason to engage in it. The philosopher's views are therefore inclined to remain much more open and less clearly defined. It was in this sense that Spinoza was a philosopher as opposed to an apologist. He certainly had strong views and was very committed to his opinions. But one gets the impression that those views were the result of genuine inquiry and not predetermined prior to reflection.

This distinction is no doubt oversimplified. But I think it explains a good deal of my attraction to Spinoza (and corresponding disenchantment with Leibniz). While Spinoza's conclusions aren't ones that I find all that congenial, his philosophical temperament (as opposed to the apologetic stance of Leibniz) resonates much more deeply with me. Of course, I'm not sure that that is always a good thing. If I were, maybe I'd be more of an apologist.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

What would you say?

Those of you waiting with baited breath for further comments on Leibniz and Spinoza (and I know you are out there) will have to wait a little bit longer. We are in the middle of our June-long vacation and that means that not much work is getting done. And when not much work gets done, that means that even less blogging will get done (per the promise I made to myself in my inaugural post).

So, on a much different note, I went to a Dave Matthews Band concert last night. It rained and since we had lawn seats, we got pretty wet. But aside from the drunk guy who threatened to "snap my neck" and accused me of not having "learned to share in kindergarten" (just because I was trying to prevent him from starting a potentially dangerous stampede), a great time was had by all.

While I wouldn't categorize myself as a diehard DMB fan, I certainly enjoy their music. And since we've moved to C'Ville, there is a kind of hometown pride in their success. I've periodically spotted band members at local coffee shops and we regularly walk by (and periodically visit) the bar where they got there start.

Last night's show was worth the money and weather. In addition to the good music and time with family and friends, I came away with a certain satisfaction at the experience--a sense I can only describe as the satisfaction of seeing people do what they were obviously put on earth to do.

One might be critical of the recent turn in DMB's recorded work or even think (as my sister's boyfriend does) that not all of the band members put in the time and effort that they used to put into their craft. But I think one would be hard-pressed to argue that those guys aren't supremely in their element when they are playing music for people (in this case, close to 20,000 of them). I think it's relatively rare to find people who have found their calling in this way. But when I do, it sure is a beautiful thing to witness.