Spinozas Revolutions in Natural Law

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(DOC) Spinoza, Hume, and the Fate of the Natural Law Tradition | Rudmer Bijlsma - ynykyvykeb.tk

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God, Laws, and the Order of Nature

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The Problems of Contemporary Philosophy. Rudmer Bijlsma. Abstract: This paper explores the common ground in the views on natural law, justice and socio-political development in Hume and Spinoza. Spinoza develops a radically revisionary position in the natural law debate, building upon the bold equation of right and power. Hume is best interpreted as offering a sceptical-empirical reworking of traditional natural law theories, which maintains much of the practical purport of these theories, while providing it with a new, metaphysically less firm, but also less problematic, foundation.

What the two philosophers have in common is that they formulate realist revisions of the natural law tradition in the light of their more general naturalistic, secular philosophical commitments. Accordingly, although rational progress brings the systems of justice and politics of different groups of people closer to each other, they necessarily retain, sometimes fundamentally incompatible, divergences. In the tradition of Machiavellian political realism, therefore, both Spinoza and Hume plead for judging political orders according to their own merits: do they, in their own specific ways, bring about a sufficient degree of order and liberty?

Key words: Spinoza, Hume, natural law tradition, naturalism, sociability Introduction Notwithstanding the metaphysical and epistemological gap dividing them, the views of Spinoza and Hume converge in a radical analysis of all things human as part of nature. This comprehensive practical, explanatory naturalism 1 suggests the absence of a God-lawgiver beyond nature, to whose judgment we would have to submit after our earthly lives. Though Hume does not categorically rule out the existence of such a lawgiving God, he deems a moral concern with His creatures among the less probable qualities of the Deity.

In both philosophers, this natural sociability allows for a relatively smooth transition from state of nature to political order. Together, passion, imagination, and increasing experiential insight help us in the right direction, long before we start consciously shaping such orders. Despite their non-rationalistic, wholly naturalistic take on socio- political development, Hume and Spinoza both deploy a concept of natural law in their political theories — a concept traditionally at home in theologically embedded theories with a firm trust in human rationality as a shaping and legitimating political force.

To be sure, the early modern natural lawyers precisely aimed to construe an ethic and morality by reason alone, but there tended to remain — either implicitly or explicitly — a significant connection between their conception of natural law and their providential view of the world. In this paper, I analyse how Spinoza and Hume made the concept of natural law fit in with their non-providential outlook on nature, what role it plays in their accounts of socio-political development, and to what extent they can be said to be heirs of the natural law tradition.

Three fundamental characteristics of his theory are: I natural laws are given by God, II naturally bind all human beings, and III are naturally knowable by all. For the Principles of that Law, if you rightly consider, are manifest and self- evident, almost after the same Manner as those Things are that we perceive with our outward Senses. Within a theological framework, such belief may come as a matter of course.

We can believe in its adequacy in doing so, precisely because we believe in the wise design of nature. Hobbes is thus prepared to face the ultimate consequences of the basically naturalistic approach of the traditional natural lawyers. The latter, one may suppose, were convinced that their attempts would lead to the expected, positive normative outcome, because they scrutinized nature with God still present in the background.

The fact that we are part of nature entails the presence of both negative and positive relations to other parts of nature. According to Spinoza and Hume, humans have a significant, albeit limited and unstable, social impulse. Accordingly, the transition from social to political order unfolds, to a significant degree, non-deliberately. The stronger social impulse of Spinozistic and Humean individuals allows for a degree of cooperation and harmony in the state of nature that is unthinkable for Hobbes.

In Hobbes, it is of existential importance that pre-political men have some basic insight in the laws of nature: without the strong assistance of their rational capacities, they would remain in a condition of war. Notwithstanding his crude picture of a war of all against all, Hobbes does allow for the formation of groups within the state of nature. This is an essential difference between Hobbes on the one hand and Spinoza and Hume on the other. Because human beings are fundamentally antagonistic, socio-political harmony can be achieved only through such subjection.

Consequently, an individual acts necessarily by the fullest right of nature, no matter how morally wrong his behaviour may be termed in common human discourse. All human affairs happen within Nature, and since there is nothing beyond Nature, there is no external standard by which these affairs can be judged.

From the perspective of God — sub specie aeternitatis — human difficulties do not essentially differ from the difficulties that animals encounter in their striving to preserve themselves, or from the river that is impeded from flowing smoothly by rocks. It is from the necessity of this order alone that all individual things are determined to exist and to act in a definite way. Self-preservation in groups is a necessary counterpart to individual self-preservation; it is a fully natural thing. In a sense, a political order is the systematization of such means-ends thinking that has arisen out of the confrontation with the social problems of the past.

By means of reason, humans give further shape to a social order which was always already there, but which failed to accommodate their needs effectively as long as it was unstructured. Given the similar challenges which social life poses throughout place and time, human groups will act similarly, and come up with similar solutions, in the face of them.

When these solutions are effective, and grounded upon some true insight in the needs of human nature, these groups no longer simply act in line with the laws of their nature which all things necessarily always do , but also consciously shape their own existence on the basis of insight in these laws. That is, they are no longer merely passive parts of nature, wholly determined by external forces, but have started to learn to act from the power of their own nature.

Only because we understand certain regularities that follow from our own nature as human beings can we set ourselves principles that help us preserve ourselves. For instance, once we understand that we cannot preserve ourselves effectively as a group without common rules upheld by a sovereign power, we will endeavour to set up a state, and to live by the rules of this state in due course. We have the capacity to consciously shape our lives, even if this capacity is itself the result of the specific nature by which human beings are determined to act.

Like Hobbes, Spinoza considers the practical secondary laws of nature as truly obliging only once the transition to a political order has taken place, i. Yet, the imagination is also essential in developing these insights in the first place. Yet in the meantime they have to live and preserve themselves as far as in them lies, namely, by the urging of appetite alone, for Nature has given them nothing else and has denied them the actual power to live according to sound reason. In this we will only succeed if we first develop a constructive emotional-imaginative perspective, in which these dictates and their usefulness start shimmering through.

Within established, rationally structured states, each new generation must appropriate this rational way of living together for themselves, and adapt it to the demands of the time. In primitive societies, instead, each generation must appropriate the imaginative perspective on collective life of their forefathers, and then, ideally, bring it a little closer to a rational form of self-understanding. This justice consists of an evolving set of laws, grounded in a dawning or already progressed understanding of the laws of human nature in general and an understanding, on the part of the more rational and perceptive among the people involved, of the particular psyche and needs of this people as a whole.

It follows that, according to Spinoza, there is necessarily both diversity and continuity between different systems of law throughout time and place. Diversity, because the elements of imagination and locality cause rather wide differences between systems of different groups of people. Continuity, because the basic characteristics of the human psyche are always and everywhere the same. Even actions which may seem unjust, immoral, from an abstract ethical point of view can become just because they help a group survive, or simply because the sovereign prescribes them and it is normally — almost always — against the general interest to disregard prescribed laws.

These citizens obey the law instead of living autonomously in accord with the law. Hence, just as all attempts at grounding a concept of God upon these data are vain, so it is equally vain to seek to establish a moral theory upon it that does not immediately relate to experience. He sees the concept of a contract as a rational construct with no basis in historical reality, and views attempts to make contract theory more plausible by assuming an implicit contract as incoherent. Unlike other animals, therefore, we need the help of many tools in order to compensate for our infirmity.

This need, in turn, makes human societies tend to an ever-increasing complexity. Family life and life in small groups are accordingly temporal conditions, the boundaries of which we tend to expand. In this expansion, we are confronted with the fundamental problems of social life. Our sympathy turns out to be too limited to extend to larger groups as a whole. Hence, when they start to disturb social stability seriously, our acquired experience suggests the solution without the need for radically new rational insights.

At the moment when, in a still primitive society, the convention of property is erected, this by no means arises from a general insight in the law of nature behind this convention. Custom, imagination, and the rational deliberations grounded in them shape communal life; not reason as an independent, ground-breaking force. On the one hand, these fixed characteristics of the working of the human mind, in relation to similar collective problems, bind humans in different places and times.

But their life in society is, on the other hand, also shaped by divergent circumstances and developments, which account for the significant differences in character arising among peoples over time. A conjectural history is after all a theoretical construct that serves to explain a present state of affairs, without being able to provide full historical adequacy. The existence of such records is a sign of social and cultural progress, the origins of which are precisely sought to be explained.

This science is rooted in the experimental method, to be sure, and hence needs a continuous input of empirical data as it is developed. Yet the concept of a science of human nature also presupposes that something lastingly valid can be said about humans. If there were no fixed principles of human nature, a science of the human psyche in general would be impossible.

Primitive people have a very limited understanding of themselves and the world, hence they cannot conceive of e. Moving beyond historical data towards uncultivated humankind still implies a leap of the imagination, but this leap is guided by philosophical and historical insights. The characteristics of human nature that allow us to live rather harmoniously within states at present must in early times have allowed us to live together in at least a tolerable way. The speculative gap between very early human times and later stages of social development is therefore not entirely unbridgeable.

Hobbesian conjectural history50 has much more to explain, because it needs to make plausible that order can arise from fundamental disorder. Hobbes of course manages to do so by grounding his state on the awe of the subjects for Leviathan, the mortal God. Yet this solution is — in his own terminology — fully artificial,51 and hence, Hume and also Spinoza would say, in tension with an approach to politics that also seeks to be scientific, naturalistic. It is to impose a rationalistic structure upon nature; to suppose that human nature is dysfunctional, in need of strong containment and fundamental correction.

In both philosophers, the development of social orders is bound up with fundamental tensions and discontinuities. Their conjectural histories, then, are very speculative, casting an immediate shadow of doubtfulness upon the political projects they are supposed to ground. For Hume and Spinoza, surely, a legal system, political institutions, and statecraft also need to solve social conflicts, but no conflicts of such dramatic proportions. The two philosophers share a vision in which different societies gradually evolve into political orders.

Their theories allow for this because they do not place reason in opposition to the natural dynamic of passion and imagination. This natural dynamic needs no fundamental redirection, but already points in the direction of the course that is subsequently further pursued and stabilized under the influence of reason. Even in very primitive times, the passions and imagination bring humans together in groups. Reason gradually comes to play a larger role, so that the final step towards a full-scale political order is not a rational breach with a former irrational dis order.

The laws are naturally knowable, but only become actually known in the course of a long process of trial and error. Regarding the contents of rules of justice, there are some important differences between Spinoza and Hume. He speaks several times of the need of humans to develop themselves, especially their rational faculties, in freedom, and of the corresponding requirement that good laws and wise state policy secure this need.

In his politics, liberty and the moral, cultural, and economic progress to which it gives way are also important elements. Spinoza, Hume, and the natural law tradition: continuities and discontinuities We have seen that, for both Hume and Spinoza, natural law is a central notion in their accounts of the transition from state of nature to political order.

Now the question is whether there is a truly significant, positive sense in which the two philosophers engage with the natural law tradition, or whether, instead, the shared terminology only disguises a break with tradition. It is clear that Spinoza — if he can be said to stand in the natural law tradition — is a highly unconventional member. Yet, as his notion of God is not merely a deconstruction of traditional monotheistic notions, his notions of natural law and right do not simply subvert the traditional meanings of these notions.

We have seen that his definition of God implies the basic definition of natural law which he develops in his political works. His metaphysics, then, provides Spinoza with the tools to look at the natural law debate afresh, and to reconstruct it in line with the norms of a philosophy that is fully emancipated from traditional theological constraints.

Yet even in the state this force remains relative; it only concerns citizens who are not, or not yet, sufficiently rational to understand that acting in accordance with the law is fully in their self-interest, and therefore does not require them to be obedient. For Spinoza, understanding human nature implies understanding that most humans are primarily driven by their, often opposing, appetites, and that reason offers no clear-cut way out of this.

It is for instance of crucial importance for a leader to understand the particular spirit of his people if he is to successfully lead it to a more rational way of life. For Hume, Haakonssen explains, the significance of a contract between two people cannot be understood merely in terms of a mutual expression of the will to perform, but must also be understood in relation to pre-existing social practices or institutions.

Essential is that Spinoza and Hume critically yet positively engage with the tradition. Whether they still can be said to properly belong to the tradition remains, necessarily, a matter of dispute, and depends on how narrowly or broadly one interprets it. And even when we have grasped natural law, we have not arrived at an ultimate, timeless standard by which we can assess our current political order. A general insight into human nature and the laws that govern it precisely demands that we sometimes approve of the legal arrangements of a specific group which we would consider undesirable in general.

Spinoza and Hume both analyze human beings as imagination- governed creatures, and accordingly acknowledge the idiosyncrasies and particular political arrangements that shape their societies. For instance, neither Spinoza nor Hume proposes a monarchy as the best form of government, but they agree that a historically evolved, authoritarian yet sufficiently benign monarchy is legitimate due to the simple fact that it exists and holds a people together. Attempts at reform are desirable, but only when they do not undermine social stability, and the monarchical form is kept intact.

There is no conscious rational deliberation behind them; we have simply got used to them in time, and cherish our lives in their shelter. According to Spinoza, likewise, the reasons citizens have for subjecting to political orders can be shrouded in thick layers of imagination.

A people who regard themselves and their leader as chosen by God do not think in terms of utility and consent, but simply bow to the trans-historical scheme set out for them. Thus, their realistic-naturalistic account of the origins and moral foundations of the political order is for both philosophers the point of departure for a general politics of realism, in which the state is in the first place judged by its de facto capability of bringing about order and liberty, instead of being measured from an external normative perspective.

A political order is an organic whole, subject to growth and decline as all other finite things. Armstrong, A. Baier, A. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Bijlsma, R. Boss, G. Campos, A. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, Curley, E.

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