Saturday, February 06, 2016

Atheism

 By early 1680, Leibniz allows himself to be explicit:
If matter assumes all forms possible successively, then it follows that one cannot imagine anything so absurd nor so bizarre nor contrary to that which we call justice, that has not happened or will not happen one day. These are precisely the thoughts that Spinoza explained more clearly, to know that justice, beauty, and order are naught but things that are relative to us, that the per-fection of God consists in the amplitude of his work, that noth-ing is possible or conceivable that he does not actually produce. . . . This is, in my view, the proton pseudos [first lie] and founda tion of the atheistic philosophy.
The problem with Descartes, in a word, is Spinoza. And the problem' 41%11 with Spinoza is that he is an atheist. Indeed, he is the world's first and foremost atheist, the one who best articulates the "first lie and foun-dation of the atheistic philosophy."Thus Leibniz announces his defin-itive response to the single most important question that can be raised out Spinoza's philosophy: Is his God really a God? Leibniz's use of the term "atheism" here marks a pivotal moment in European culture. Unlike almost all his contemporaries, Leibniz did not use the label of atheism in order to suggest that Spinoza led a debauched life. Quite to the contrary, Leibniz would go out of his way to acknowledge that the philosopher of The Hague was irre-proachable in his manner of living. Rather, perhaps for the first time, Leibniz understood that atheism stood for a new and very different kind of problem, a latent, philosophical potentiality of modernity, a condition afflicting especially those who, like Spinoza, did little but meditate on the existence and nature of God. .. It is equally important to note that although Descartes preceded 1 Spinoza, chronologically speaking, it is the later philosopher who has logical priority over the earlier one in Leibniz's mind. Descartes's the-ory of God, according to Leibniz, "is nothing but a chimera and con-sequently it would be necessary to conceive of God in the manner of Spinoza, as a being who has no intellect or will." And again:
"Descartes thinks in a whisper what Spinoza says at the top of his voice." In fact, Leibniz is so sure that Descartes is just a feeble pseudonym for Spinoza that he goes ahead and criticizes the former for views that are more properly attributed to the latter. For example, he blasts Descartes for his concept of immortality—an "immortality without memory" that "cannot console us in any way" and that "destroys all reward and punishment."' But the doctrine in question properly belongs to Spinoza; Descartes, in fact, explicitly rejects it. It was far from the last time that Leibniz engaged in proxy warfare against Spinoza's stand-ins. But it was one of the last times he was so explicit about his aims. Descartes by now was the marquee name of a new brand of orthodoxy in the universities of Europe. As word of Leibniz's dawn raid spread, the Cartesians rounded on him for hav-ing dared to associate their master's good name with that of the apos-tate Jew. "One hopes that [Leibniz] will return to mathematics, in which he excels, and not get mixed up in philosophy, where he does not have the same advantage," mutters a seething Cartesian in the Parisian Journal des Scavans. Chastised, Leibniz acknowledged his error. "I would never have mentioned Spinoza," he replies, "if I had thought that one would publish what I was writing."
Leibniz had discovered what he was against, philosophically speaking. But he was not yet entirely clear on what he was for.

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