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Biography, history of philosophy, politics are good but Spinoza's philosophy is not explained well
on 6 April 2017
Roger does a good job on Spinoza's biographical details, on the historical and other influences on his thinking and on Spinoza's thoughts on politics. On the other hand, explaining Spinoza's philosophical ideas is a more challenging task for an author, of course, and I don't think Roger has done well in that respect. For example, in his description of the "ontological argument" for the existence of God, which claims to prove the existence of God from the definition of God alone, what if you don't accept the definition? St. Anselm's definition: "a being greater than which cannot be thought" was fine for the saint who, according to Roger felt that "this idea clearly exists in our minds". Maybe that is a valid statement for Roger and Anselm but that idea does not necessarily exist in the minds of agnostics and atheists, for example. What kind of "being" was Anselm talking about? Not a human being, because human beings are not perfect, so what kind of "being", then? When Roger attempts to explain Spinoza's answer to that question, "whatever is, is in God", he really gets tied up in knots. Does that mean that evil (or the devil, or however you wish to describe it) is also "in God"? Roger does not enlighten us on that either.
A final example: on p.31 where Roger is describing the influence of Descartes on Spinoza's thinking, Roger writes: "I can see from the proposition 'p and q" it follows that p, and this, too, is self-evident [...] Descartes would say that the relation between 'p and q' and 'p' is something that I perceive clearly and distinctly, or something of which I have a 'clear and distinct idea'. I hope that gives potential purchasers a foretaste of the kind of "clarification" that they would have to wade through.