Monday, May 14, 2012

How Do You Know What You Know? (another installment)

Benedict de Spinoza - a writer of the past whom many look to for this answer (not necessarily me, but I'm keen to know about him, given a lot of people do look to him (one example, many modern Jews you meet and have coffee with about religion).

Fyi:  local readers, this is a personal interest of mine on the side.  This is not something I expect everyone to know about, lol :)

Benedict of Spinoza, born in 1632, was part of a Jewish community in Amsterdam. He studied Latin and Cartesian philosophy, Torah, Jewish heritage, and the Talmud. Spinoza was adament that chance is a myth and there is no "such thing as a brute, unexplainable fact," (52-53, The Blackwell Guide to Modern Philosophers). There are several levels of knowledge, the first being what you are told by report or teacher and you know by remembering. The second being a certain kind of knowledge, knowing something is true, by proportions and certainty demonstrated. The third is why something must be true, by inferring effects from a complete knowledge of causes, (53, Blackwell).
Spinoza held that deductive (certain, aka 100%) proof is beyond human intellectual powers, (53).
In other words, probability arguments are the only ones to go on intellectually (this is not my view, I'm just relaying his view). He seemed to find that these second types of arguments were adequate for knowledge since one could have sufficient knowledge of an attribute, rather than all attributes.
Spinoza held that God's infinite intellect can offer a complete description of the universe in a deductive sense. He posited, however, an infinite mind could comprehend God's existence.
God is also the one substance of the universe himself in Spinoza's thought.
Knowing is accomplished by "following" the "proper order" (50-1) rather than by doubting and then refuting doubt piecemeal (51). Knowledge of causes gives rise to what we know. Starting points are "adequate" ideas about something and then building upon them. Doubts and not knowing will be non-existent if the proper order of building knowledge is followed. Any knowledge of a thing apart from knowledge of a thing's cause is "incomplete and partial," (51).
Adequacy def'd: "an idea which...has all the properties, or intrinsic denominations of a true idea" apart from any other object and considered in itself. It must be self-sufficient. Every idea is identical with its object. God's infinite intellect can comprehend true, adequate, complete knowledge of a thing because it knows that things causes.

It seems that Spinoza holds that we can't know all things, only God can, but we can know parts of all knowledge, with out limited intellect. Our reason can infer notions, but it cannot be complete, true, adequate in all things. The ultimate knowledge is a complete understanding of all things, to answer the question "why?"

Is there a division in Spinoza between saying that there are no brute facts, but then saying we can know a thing in itself? Can we know anything and really not know everything in his scheme? Is it possible to not be God but know anything certainly, fully adequately, to be true. Are we destined to be without deductive certainity?

Can we know absolute truth with Spinoza (it would appear not....)? Any philosophers want to help us out? It seems to me that he has a contradiction in advocating his view and then saying we can't know something deductively. Why follow his "proper order?" Does it certainly lead to true truth? Are common notions of probability adequate for certain theological/philosophical questions? Does intuition really give us total knowledge of "why?" Isn't this a bit Platonic? Much more could be asked. What do you think? Can Baptists learn anything from a Spinoza, or is he a waste of time?

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