This month, we delve back into the early modern period with Steven Nadler, William H. Hay II Professor of Philosophy, Evjue-Bascom Professor of the Humanities, and Weinstein-Bascom Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Click here to listen to our conversation.
Baruch Spinoza is known for his views about how the mind and body are the same thing (see our Episode 70), and for coming up with a completely non-anthropomorphic notion of God. But these ideas were really in the service of his moral philosophy, and that’s our focus for this episode. Like Aristotle, Spinoza is most interested the difference between being a good person and being a bad person, rather than the difference between doing something wrong and doing something right. Freedom, rationality, power, and virtue get identified with each other. He also thinks that all our actions are determined, which you might think means nobody ever really does anything freely. But strikingly, he seems to think it’s possible to recover a new notion of freedom that’s totally compatible with a person’s actions being determined. That is, there can still be a difference between something you did for the right reason, understanding why you did it, and something you did just because you were pressured into doing it without understanding why–even though the laws of physics kind of set it in stone what’s going to happen in the future.
Join us as our guest walks us through Spinoza’s absolutely fascinating approach to these core topics!