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‘Truth’: a cruel, elaborate and stultifying fiction

Wednesday, 30 Jan 2019

Spinoza on Dr John Dunn. If the Age of Revolution heralded the start of the modern world and Sarpi’s ‘Republick of Merchants’ gone global, what then is the ‘truth’ of the modern world? The ‘truth’ is Spinozist. 

The Spinozist - Lockean ‘truth’ is that we are born into a fixed and finished world, there to labour within the strict confines of a mind-independent reality. Could there be a more cruel, elaborate and stultifying fiction? To be thrust at birth into a prefabricated external world, where most of our responsibilities are unacknowledged and are progressively diminished and our freedom is in reality a figment of our imagination. We imagine ourselves the product of genes and the environment, functions of complexes and familial trauma, inextricably dependent on external contingencies, but then proclaim ourselves free!

The quest for knowledge, with which our minds are imbued, fills not the emptiness, it simply hides it and buries the despair. If we commence life as a void, upon what is our knowledge grounded? More knowledge simply raises to consciousness our own innate emptiness. 

Romanticism was the reaction against the dehumanising effect of Spinozism, and the nineteenth century Romantic Movement laid down the foundations for continued reaction.

It was a Promethean defiance, often taking refuge in art, but formulated as idealism in philosophy.

To understand what the Romantic Movement was reacting against, you have to ask -what had Spinoza done? Where was the ground of Spinoza’s ‘truth’? Spinoza told us:

BySubstance (substantia) I understand that which is in itself and is conceived through itself: that is, that, the conception of which does not depend on the conception of another thing, from which conception it must be formed.1

This was the great presupposition upon which the Spinozist position rests; it is the Ein Sof of Lurianic kabbalah, the Jehovah of Judaism, the ultimate hypostasis. Presupposition because it is prior to all else. ‘A Substance is prior in nature to its modifications.’2

Given that the Substance, or God, is all-embracing, then thought does not need an extrinsic arbiter of truth, because it does not have truth outside of itself.

Whilst a turn could have been taken at this point to a pure idealism, or subjectivism, the convictions of Spinoza’s kabbalism, and his Marrano resolution to return to pre-expulsion privilege and economic power, led him to a materialist monism in the opposite direction.

Spinoza did not resolve truth (objective) into certainty (subjective) but certainty into truth. The subject became the slave rather than the master of truth.

The ‘truth’ of the modern world was and remains an instrument of enslavement.

Philosophically this ‘truth’ translated too readily into positivism and deference to the objective virginity of facts, untouched by any subjective intrusion from mind. The modern world became an arid desert of reality.

The Spinozist Counter-Renaissance onslaught against humanism was brutally effective. Tikkun and the enfolding of alterity into Ein Sof demanded no less than the death of the self.

Out of this came the modern phenomenon of slavery experienced as freedom.

1 Ethics, Trans. Parkinson, definition 3

2 Ethics, Trans. Parkinson, proposition 1

© John Dunn.

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