“Spinoza and the Philosophy of Science: Mathematics, Motion, and Being”

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Eric Schliesser
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This chapter argues that the standard conception of Spinoza as a fellow-travelling mechanical philosopher and proto-scientific naturalist is misleading. It argues, first, that Spinoza’s account of the proper method for the study of nature presented in the Theological-Political Treatise points away from the one commonly associated with the mechanical philosophy. Moreover, throughout his works Spinoza’s views on the very possibility of knowledge of nature are decidedly sceptical. Third, in the seventeenth-century debates over proper methods in the sciences, Spinoza sided with those that criticized the aspirations of the physico-mathematicians (Galileo, Huygens, Wallis, Wren, etc.) who thought the application of mathematics to nature was the way to make progress. In particular, he offers grounds for doubting their confidence in the significance of measurement as well as their piece-meal methodology. Along the way, this chapter offers a new interpretation of common notions in the context of treating Spinoza’s account of motion.

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