SPINOZA TODAY

The Issue 8 of InCircolo – Rivista di filosofia e culture is dedicated to Spinoza Today, a subject matter discussed not only in Section I, “La Questione Filosofica”, but throughout the whole publication.

Before the usual series of eight subdivisions that constitute our issues, this time the readers will find a Special Section – “Contributi speciali” – that hosts Michele Rizzi’s Ricordando Ágnes Heller, a eulogy and remembrance of the recently departed Hungarian philosopher. In his piece, Rizzi recalls Heller’s visit to Verbania for a distinguished lecture on September 7th, 2017, of which some passages are evoked along with a few notes aimed at offering a sketch of the philosopher’s character and oeuvre. A wellrounded portrait takes shape, where the lively dynamism, humanism, culture and intellectual sharpness of a thinker who was able to single out the most pressing issues of our time in tight connection with her own personal history – which has unfolded throughout more than two thirds of the XXth Century – clearly emerge. This article is meant to be our humble tribute to such an outstanding personality, whose memory deserves to be kept alive.

Let’s move on to the main subject matter of this issue: Spinoza Today. Sure enough, Spinoza’s thought has always been a current topic of reflection. Not only his ideas profoundly influence the XVIIth Century philosophical debate and are further discussed with admiration during the Enlightenment, but also fuel XIXth Century philosophy and serve as one of the most relevant references for many philosophers and thinkers in the first part of the XXth Century. It is precisely the continuity of such an enduring confrontation with Spinoza’s philosophy throughout whole modernity and up until now that allows and actually urges to ask again, today, what profound and fruitful suggestions can be found in the seemingly untimely pages of Spinoza’s works.

Along this line of inquiry, Etienne Balibar’s and Vittorio Morfino’s essays both focus on a “point of heresy” in Spinoza’s philosophy that exhibits the inner tensions and limitations of a shared horizon of doctrines, thus opening new possibilities for thinking. Balibar confronts Spinoza’s and Locke’s ideas concerning issues as important as the relations between consciousness and knowledge or intellect and feelings, the notions of personal identity and trans-individuality, and ethics as emancipation from the body. The parallel analysis shows how, apart from more superficial affinities, several deep divergencies separate the two philosophers’ views. Precisely this radical difference of conceptual options, however, suggests innovative perspectives of thought that go far beyond both philosophers’ theoretical objectives. Morfino concentrates the attention on the Spinoza-Renaissance of the late XVIIIth Century and, in particular, on the reprise of the Spinozist conception of temporality proposed by Jacobi and Herder. Here too Spinoza is seen as a destabilizing element: Jacobi and Herder, in fact, both mobilise Spinoza’s doctrines against Kant’s theory of time as a pure form of sensible intuition. However, as the author underlines in his conclusion, Spinoza’s claims remain irreducible to the polemical use that Jacobi and Herder made of them and encourage to conceive a “plural temporality”, hardly compatible with any form of schematism.

Perhaps the secret of such continuing, fruitful untimeliness resides in Spinoza’s ontology. A hypothesis, this one, that seems to find confirmation in the essays written by Alberto Giovanni Biuso, Steph Marston, and Isabelle Ledoux-Sgambato. Biuso elaborates a synthesis of the relation between necessity and time in Spinoza’s metaphysics by delving into the articulation of being and becoming. Indeed, Spinoza is also, if not above all, the thinker of the temporality proper to “finite things”, a temporality which is eminently “ethical and political”. The nexus between metaphysics and politics lies at the very centre of Marston’s essay as well, who identifies in the perception of an agreement in nature between different individuals the ontological and epistemological condition of the constitution of human societies. However, a similar perception – which is, according to Spinoza, always the result of imaginative processes, and thus partial and inadequate – necessarily implies the position of an “other” whose affinity with the members of the community is unacknowledged. Such epistemological foundation of the social sphere allows to see the topicality of the Spinozist conception of politics as a venue of necessary and endless conflicts between the competing pushes towards social identity, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, towards the removal of the boundaries set by group identity. The topicality of Spinoza’s metaphysics, however, extends beyond politics. As showed by Ledoux-Sgambato’s Spinoza, Freud et l’intelligence artificielle, Spinoza offers some very useful theoretical suggestions to understand even the most recent developments in the technological field of Artificial Intelligence. Every attempt to artificially simulate human intelligence and agency, in fact, presupposes a conception of what human beings are and how they act. Spinoza can still function as an untimely critical reagent, which helps shed light on the (often overlooked) presuppositions of contemporary science.

The last three essays of this rich edition of “La Questione Filosofica” focus on Spinoza’s topicality vis-à-vis contemporary political thought. Matteo De Toffoli discusses the debate between Isaiah Berlin and David West on the Spinozist conception of freedom. Berlin reads Spinoza as an exponent of the positive conception of freedom along with Plato, Kant, Fichte, Hegel and Marx. However, as it is well known, the difference between positive and negative freedom is normatively charged in Berlin, who saw in positive conceptions of freedom the seeds of the same paternalism that characterises authoritarian regimes. In opposition to Berlin, David West proposes an interpretation of the Tractatus theologico-politicus which revolves around a more nuanced approach to freedom where its positive and negative dimensions are deeply intertwined. A less authoritarian Spinoza, then, because less rationalist than he is commonly taken to be. This becomes even more evident if, as Vergaray suggests, one takes into account the role played by uncertainty in the dynamics of affections which, according to Spinoza, lie at the basis of every form of political coexistence. It follows a positive evaluation of uncertainty as the epistemological foundation of that peculiar hope that must always enliven the civic life of every community of free human beings. So much so that uncertainty is almost qualified as the driving force of all democratic forms of government that set out to provide their citizens with more than a simple guarantee of safety. However, one could also take a further step in this review of Spinoza as the father of lay modernity and radical enlightenment. In her Spinoza and the Remaking of American Civil Religion, Heidi Ravven insists on the role Spinoza acknowledges to civil religion as a tool for a political action that does not count only on reason, but on feelings too. The model is inspired by the Jewish religion, which in Ravven’s opinion can be fruitfully generalized in order to promote new forms of political participation in the context of present-day American democracy. Indeed, Spinoza’s untimely topicality always provides the chance to explore radically new perspectives in philosophical reflection and imagination.

Section II, “Laboratorio”, hosts two essays. Giulia Zaccaro, in her Che importa? Tutto è grazia. Uno sguardo sulla polemica anti-pelagiana di Agostino, offers an interesting reading of Augustine’s anti-Pelagian dispute that opposes Pelagius’ rigoristic stance on grace and sin, shedding light on the aspects of opacity and contradictoriness of the subject in front of the Law. Furthermore, the author shows how philosophers as Ricoeur, Jullien and Panikkar go back to Augustine’s position when they interpret grace and sin as symbols of the finitude and of the structural passivity of the Ego; and when, therefore, they argue that ethical reflection should shift from the rigor of the Law to the spontaneity of desire. Bruna Valotta, in her La libertà come dimensione sistemica dell’agire, tackles the issue of how to adequately face the complexity proper to the challenges posed by globalization. Following Morin, this situation calls for a “cognitive democracy”, i.e., a non-elitist but collective appropriation of what Morin defines a “knowledge of knowledges” thanks to which to assume freedom of thought as a principle of action in the dimensions of a globalized society as a community that is aware of its future destiny.

In Section III, “Culture”, Adriano Ercolani confronts Spinoza’s philosophy with the thought of Shankara, who between the VIIIth and IXth Century B.C. revolutionized Hinduism with the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta. After going through some of the western thinkers who, through Spinoza, came to study the eastern thought, the author focuses the attention on scholars who highlight the monism that characterises boththinkers. This thesis is widely explored by reference to Shakuntala Gawke’s notion of absolute monism and Giorgio Colli’s intuition according to which «Spinoza è unità mentre il mondo moderno è una molteplicità frantumata».

In Section IV, “Intersezioni”, Sofia Sandreschi interestingly links Spinoza’s analysis of affections to Proust’s Recherche. Drawing on the work of authors such as Macheray, Suhami, Vinciguerra and Chassain, Sandreschi diagnoses in both Spinoza and Proust the adjustment of the world of affections – Spinoza’s affectus and Proust’s sentiment – to the activity of knowledge moving from the issue of passive affections. The conclusion of her inquiry points to the perspective of the emerging connection between the occurrence of contacts and clashes of bodies, imagination-memory and the complex structure of the universe of feelings. Moreover, Gianluca Cuozzo presents an analysis of the conditions and of the essential structures of modern bureaucracy by drawing an interdisciplinary path that links philosophical considerations on Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, Holitscher’s and Foucault’s theoretical and political observations, and Kafka’s literary works. The author shows how modern bureaucracy, along with its spiritual conditions, empties human temporality of its original meaning and rearranges it according to the pure formality of the law and the pointlessness of mere efficiency.

Section V, “Controversie”, hosts Gianfranco Pasquino’s Le eguaglianze nella democrazia, where the author calls into question some of the theses expressed in essays previously published in InCircolo, Issue 6: Ri-pensare la Democrazia. In particular, Pasquino criticises the claim according to which economic equality is a necessary ingredient in a well-functioning democratic government. Drawing on Norberto Bobbio and commenting on the Article 3 of the Italian Constitution the author argues that a democratic state must provide equal opportunities to all its citizens, but that this does not imply per se any duty to actively level social inequalities. It is, therefore, up to political parties whether or not to include the levelling of social inequalities in their programmes.

In Section VI, “Corrispondenze”, Alessandro Colleoni thoroughly reports from the Fonds Ricoeur in Paris, the research centre that manages Paul Ricoeur’s Archive.

Section VII, “Pratiche Filosofiche”, presents Martino Sacchi’s MOODLE, MOOCs e filosofia alle scuole superiori, where the author reflects on an innovative methodology for teaching philosophy in high school which involves the use of digital technologies and is based on the active participation of all students.

Section VII, “Letture e Eventi”, opens with Rossella Fabbrichesi’s comment on Patrizia Pozzi’s Homo Homini Deus. L’ideale umano di Spinoza (Mimesis edizioni, 2019) and Alessandro Colleoni’s report of the workshop La scienza della felicità. Una giornata inricordo di Giovanni Piana, held at the Università Statale di Milano with the participation of Elio Franzini, Vincenzo Costa, Carlo Serra, Roberta De Monticelli and Paolo Spinicci. Finally, the issue closes with the following book reviews: 1) Fabio Fossa on David Gunkel’s Robot Rights; 2) Gianni Trimarchi on Luciano Mecacci’s Lev Vygotskij: sviluppo, educazione e patologia della mente; 3) Riccardo Valenti on Henri Bergson’s Plotino. Corso del 1898-1899 all’École Normale Supérieure; and 4) Dario Sacchi on The Reception ofHusserlian Philosophy in North America edited by Michela Beatrice Ferri.

Franco Sarcinelli

Alberto Frigo

Fabio Fossa

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