Hesperus is Bosphorus

A group blog by philosophers in and from Turkey

Talk at Bogazici University, Sanem Soyarslan (NCSU), “Spinoza’s Critique of Humility in the Ethics”

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TB 130 (Anderson Hall)

Tuesday, May 12, 5pm

Abstract: In the Ethics, Spinoza defines humility as a “sadness born of the fact that a man considers his own lack of power” (Part III, Proposition 55, Scholium). Furthermore, he declares that “humility is not a virtue, or does not arise from virtue” (Part IV, Proposition 53). This declaration is significant, given that humility was considered to be an important virtue in traditional theological morality that was prevalent in the seventeenth century. Even though philosophers like Descartes held that humility could be excessive, Spinoza is arguably the first philosopher to categorically deny humility’s virtue. Importantly, the Ethics is not the only place in Spinoza’s corpus where he takes up the issue of humility. In one of his earlier works, the Short Treatise, Spinoza offers a favorable appraisal of humility that is seemingly at odds with his mature position in the Ethics. How can we explain this change in Spinoza’s evaluation of humility? Neither this question, nor Spinoza’s revisionary assessment of humility in the Ethics, has received scholarly attention beyond some passing references. In this paper, I attempt to fill this gap by developing an elaborate understanding of Spinoza’s critique of humility in the Ethics. I suggest that notwithstanding Spinoza’s explicit denial of humility’s virtue in his masterpiece, there is room for, what we might call, a virtuous form of humility arising from an accurate assessment of our lack of power via reason. My reading, if correct, will enable us to see Spinoza’s account of humility in the Ethics as continuous with his stance in the Short Treatise. Moreover, it will suggest that, when properly understood, Spinoza’s account reveals to be more complex and less radical than it initially appears.


Written by markedwardsteen

May 5, 2015 at 9:43 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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