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.

1 comment:

Jared said...

I think it was Wittgenstein who said "The philosopher is not a citizen of any ideology." or something to that effect.

I'm reading Matthew Arnold and came across a passage in "The Function of Criticism" about Edmund Burke's anxiety late in life concerning his vehement stance against the French Revolution. Burke ends one of the last pages he ever wrote with a sentence that suggests history may show he wasn't "resolute and firm, but perverse and obstinate."

Arnold writes, "That return of Burke upon himself has always seemed to me one of the finest things in English literature, or indeed any literature. That is what I call living by ideas: when one side of the question has long had your earnest support, when all your feelings are engaged, when you hear all round you no language but one, when you party talks this language like a steam-engine and can imagine no other,-still to be able to think, still to be irresistibly carried, if so it be, by the current of thought to the opposite side of the question, and like Balaam, to be unable to speak anything 'but what the Lord has put in your mouth'. I know nothing more striking..."

One of the things I like about you is that you like guys like that.