Warning: This is some wacky stuff.
Spinoza’s Spin on Modes
The chair I’m sitting on is a mode of God, the one and only substance. Yup it is. So I guess in a way I’m sitting on God. “King of the castle! King of the castle!”. But wait, I’m also a mode of God, so I guess in a way God is sitting on himself. That sounds strange. Before we gaily launch ourselves into Spinoza’s theory of modes lets do a quick review of terminology…
Substance: The most fundamental level of existence/being. All things are made from substance. For Descartes everything was made of 1 or 2 distinct substances (Mind and Body) while Spinoza argued that everything is made of just one substance (God/Nature).
Attribute: The fundamental property of a substance. For Descartes thoughts are the principle attributes of Mind and extension is the principle attribute of Body. For Spinoza thought and extension are both conceptually distinct attributes of one substance (God/Nature). For both Spinoza and Descartes a substance can be known through its principle attribute(s); that is by reflecting on an attribute we can know to which substance it pertains.
Mode (Descartes): For Descartes modes are properties that depend for their existence on primary attributes. For example, a chair’s weight, shape, and texture all depend on the chair being extended; and imagining a chair depends on the attribute of thought. Another way to phrase it is that “a mode presupposes a particular attribute”.
Just like files are in a computer, modes are in a substance; this means that modes don’t exist apart from substance, rather they are states of a substance. Don’t make the mistake Hansel makes in the early 2000’s comedy classic “Zoolander” and think that by opening up the computer he can find the files in the computer; that is by pulling apart a substance you will find its modes…no, just as the files are states of electromagnetic configurations of the computer’s insides; modes are just different ways a substance can be arranged/presented to us. This is called the inherence relation; modes inhere in substances. Inherence relations are dependence relations; modes depend for their existence on the substance being in a certain state.
Modes also have a conceptual relation to substance. The idea is that it is impossible to conceive of a mode without also conceiving of the substance in which it inheres. For example, you can’t conceive of a rectangular black (modes) computer without also conceiving of a body (substance); you just can’t. If you manage to do this, let me know and I will write a letter about it, and bring it to Descartes. To summarize conceptual relations we can say that modes (eg. shape, texture, weight) are incomprehensible without presupposing the concept of a substance (body).
Spinoza’s Account of Modes
Every particular thing that exists is either a mode or a substance thus all finite things (minds and bodies) are modes of the one and only substance…God/Nature. Since you are not God, you are a mode of the substance that is God (I’m going to go out on limb and assume that if there is a god he doesn’t read my blog). Though out the entry do not confuse Spinoza’s notion of mode (any particular body or mind as a state of God/Nature) with Descartes’ (properties of attributes). How does it feel to be a mode? Does it feel any different from being a finite substance as Descartes argues? All feelings aside, lets see who has the more compelling argument…
Intuitive Unease With Monadic Monism (Say that 5 times fast…)
It seems a little odd to say that particular things aren’t independent entities but different states of one thing. So, the table my computer is on isn’t an independent substance with independent existence, rather it is a state of God/Nature. Things get even more loco when we interpret ‘modes’ in the Cartesian sense, that is, as properties. Within the tradition (say in a BBC voice) properties can be regarded as universals or particulars.
The properties-as-universals view says the roundness of a wheel is an instance of a universal roundness. All round objects partake in this one magical universal roundness. Anyone who took a Phil 101 course will recognize this view from Plato’s theory of perfect forms. The properties-as-particulars view says, no, the roundness of the wheel is particular to only that wheel, all you other wheels out there, get your own damn roundness!
It seems that no matter how we interpret Spinoza’s view on modes, be it as universals or particulars, it arouses (heh heh…he said arouse) in us a sense of intuitive unease. Suppose we interpret Spinoza as subscribing to the universal meaning of modes; then regarding a giraffe, for example, we are in a position of saying that God/Nature contains within it the universal property of “giraffeness” and our particular giraffe is simply an instance of God/Nature’s “giraffeness”. On the other view, properties as particulars, we say this giraffe is a particular state of God/Nature; a giraffe is God/Nature is a particular state that we will call a “giraffe state”–but this giraffe state is not something inherent in God/Nature; it is the property we ascribe to God/Nature when it is in a giraffe configuration. So, in the universal view, the property inheres in God/Nature and in the particular view things are properties that are brought about through different configurations God substance.
Because interpreting Spinoza’s modes as Cartesian modes (properties) just seems wack, other less wack interpretations are sometimes used. But despite wackiness it is still possible to make sense of the idea that particular things (minds and bodies) are properties/features of God. The argument goes something like this:
1. Spinoza sees individual bodies (extended modes) as states of a substance.
2. He also sees individual thoughts (modes of thought) as states of a substance.
3. Spinoza’s naturalism requires we interpret modes as states.
Individual Bodies as States of Substance
You own a subatomic Chinese restaurant and need to make a stir-fry for some quarks. You start chopping up a carrot into 1000 pieces, then chopped each piece into a 1000 more pieces, and for good measure, you repeat the process one more time. You take one of the those pieces, and being the Zen master you are, ask yourself, if the carrot still exists.
In traditional theology God wasn’t conceived as being extended for the reason that if he were, he could be divided infinitely out of existence, and then sweet baby Jesus would have no one to take care of him in heaven. But Spinoza was no traditional theologian; he made the bold move of ascribing extension to God but did so in a way that defended God from being able to be chopped and divided into oblivion. The way he did this way to say that individual bodies are not God being individuated, rather these are just God is affected–i.e., comes to exist in certain states.
He uses the following example to explain his position:
Matter is everywhere the same and…parts are distinguished in it only so far as we conceive matter to be affected in different ways, so that its parts are only distinguished modally, but not really. For example, we conceive that water is divided and its parts separated from one another–in so far as it is water, but not in so far as it is corporeal substance. For insofar as it is substance, it is neither separated nor divided. Again, water, insofar as it is water, is generated and corrupted, but in so far as it is substance, it is neither generated nor corrupted.
So what does he mean? Essentially he is drawing a distinction between water as “water” (the liquid, with chemical properties x, y, z) and water as a corporeal substance. We can divide the water into its constituent molecules and send each one into a different corner (fact: the universe has corners) of the universe and we can say the water is divided but we cannot say that the water ceases to be corporeal; or in modern parlance–matter.
So, how does this support the interpretation that individual modes inhere in God, rather than the interpretation that modes are simply caused by God (by waving his magic wand)? Actually, before we look at that, consider what’s at issue. If we say that God causes bodies to exist then we have something closer to a traditional notion of God, that God creates everything and God is separate from his creation(s). Recall Spinoza’s conception of God is that God simply is everything that exists; there is no separation between “God” and “Nature”, they are one and the same.
With that in mind, lets see what happens if we interpret this water example in the “God causes existence” view. First of all we notice that the example Spinoza uses is of a finite mode–a certain quantity of water–to demonstrate divisibility. Keep in mind the purpose of this example is to show that attributing extension to God doesn’t leave him vulnerable to the divisibility problem. If, as this first interpretation suggests, God causes/creates modes/individual bodies (as opposed to modes being states of God) then the divisibility of water shouldn’t be a threat to God anyway, because God isn’t the water, he just created the water. The fact that Spinoza uses a finite body (water) to show that divisibility isn’t a problem for a God who is extended is evidence that Spinoza thinks individual bodies are modes of God, and individual bodies aren’t simply created by God. Again, Spinoza wants to show that an extended God isn’t susceptible to the divisibility problem; to show this he argues that even though a finite body can be infinitely, it never ceases to be a corporeal substance–that is, its existence is unaffected even as part of a sub-atomic stir-fry.
Individual Thoughts as Modes of Substance
Here’s an interesting thought: your mind is nothing more than your idea of your body. It is a complex idea that contains various other ideas about particular states of your body and parts of your body. I’m not sure I really understand what he means, but that’s what he says…Also my mind is a collection of ideas in God’s mind. I think this means that, since God has infinite thought and my mind is finite, my mind is some of God’s ideas; my mind can’t have all of them (Spinoza’s wrong!) because I am not perfect or finite. Some of the ideas I partake in are God’s ideas of my body. Let’s see if I can make that clearer. God’s got all the ideas in his mind. Humans get (to share/have access to) some of them, and that is what a mind is–the sliver of God’s ideas/thoughts that comprise your mind. Some? All? of those ideas are ideas about states of your body and parts of your body. Something like that…
So, again, how do we relate this all back to the idea that we are all modes of God? I think it goes a li’l something like this: Because God has all the ideas (ever!) in his mind, individual ideas must be states of his mind, so, our minds, in turn, (i.e., the collection of ideas that comprise them) are simply states of God’s mind. Yay! I’m Jesus! All the ideas we have exist in God–they are features of God–so when they are expressed (in a particular mind) they must be expressed as modes of God–not separate independent entities that God has created.
Modes and Spinoza’s Naturalism
Ok, if you’ve made it this far either you are a rabid Spinoza fan or you enjoy seeing me stumble through explanations of things I have difficulty understanding myself. Let briefly return to something we talked about in the very beginning: relations of inherence dependence and relations of conceptual dependence. Recall an inherence relation is the notion that something’s existence depends on it inhering in something more fundamental. For Spinoza particular bodies and individual minds are the products of inherence relations to God as substance; they are particular expressions of properties that inhere in God. That God is infinitely extended allows him to express that extension in particular bodies; that God has infinite (non-contradicting) thoughts allows finite collections of those thoughts to be expressed as minds. The finite expressions of the infinite qualities that inhere in God are modes, be they bodies or minds. So, we can say that there is an inherence relation between God and modes because all qualities inhere in God.
Also there is a way in which God causes modes to come about through the natural laws. Modes (individual minds and bodies) are caused to come into existence as the result of never-ending causal chains that follow the laws of nature. There is no “act of creation” outside of the products of causal chains that follow laws of nature. In this sense there is a causal relation between God and modes.
Both causal and inherence relations are types of conceptual relations. Consider causal relations: if something is the effect of something else, we can know something about it by knowing its cause. This applies to modes and God because in order for use to know the qualities of a particular mode (the effect of God) we need to know something about its cause (God); we can say the concept of a mode can be known through its cause, for this reason we say causal relations are a species of conceptual relation.
A similar parallel can be observed between inherence relations and conceptual relations. If we want to know the properties of some particular thing we would want to know the properties of the more general thing in which it inheres. For example if we want to know the properties of a wooden table we would do well to know the properties of wood. The same applies in Spinoza’s model: if we want to know the properties of a particular mode we need to know about the substance in which the particular thing inheres, i.e., God. Notice that if we want to better understand the concept of an particular mode (a table/a mind) we can better understand it if we refer to the concept of the thing in which its properties inhere. For this reason inherence, like causation, is also a species of conceptual relation.
Now for Spinoza, any time we want to make a distinction between two things we have to apply the principle of sufficient reason (PSR); that is, we have to provide a sufficient reason for which we should consider the 2 things distinct. Spinoza doesn’t see any sufficient reason for which we should distinguish between causal and inherence relations; after all they are both conceptual dependence relations–one thing (a mode) depends on the concept of something (causally/ontologically) prior to it. Basically, if there is no real difference in explaining something through causal relations rather than inherence relations then the 2 notions should be collapsed into on: a conceptual relation. Restated, unless we can come up with an situation where an inherence relation explains something that a causal relation doesn’t or vice verse we should consider them one and the same.
So, why should we care about collapsing these two terms? Because Spinoza’s naturalism doesn’t allow for different rules to apply to different things. That is what naturalism is: there is one fundamental set of laws for everything including God, including humans. Hand-waving appeals to special connections or properties is illegal. To repeat: there is only one set of fundamental rules and they apply to everything. So, if we adopt the typical theological views we see that there are different rules to explain how God exists and functions than there are for how finite individuals exist and function. God can break physical laws that humans, for example can’t.
More specifically Spinoza was concerned with the inconsistencies of the Cartesian view which required 2 kinds of dependence relations. Recall for Descartes’ 2 substance system of Mind and Body, these 2 substances do not inhere in God but still depend on him for their existence–that’s one type of dependence relation–one without inherence but still of causation. Then there are the attributes and modes of Mind and Body (substances) that do inherence relations. Recall that, for example, the properties of an body–e.g., a chair–inhere in its attributes; that is, the properties of hardness and weight depend on hardness and weight inhering in extension, which in turn inheres the substance of body. So in the Cartesian system we have 2 types of conceptual dependence relations–one that includes inherence and one that doesn’t. With naturalism, you have to have the same rules for everything, so Spinoza rejects Cartesian dualism.
How do we apply this to the argument that Spinoza’s modes should be seen a inhering in God? Well, if God just caused modes (particular mind or bodies) to exist without their properties inhering in him then we’d have two different kinds of conceptual relations; that is, an inconsistent set of rules. Why? Because if modes don’t inhere in God then we have a non-inherence conceptual relation between God and modes but and inherence conceptual relation between modes and their properties. Let’s use the table as an example, I can know of its properties by knowing it is extended. The properties of hardness, shape, and weight all inhere in extension; I can conceive of them through the concept of extension because of the inherence relation; that is, I can know about the properties of the table because I know it is extended. So as we can see we have one type of conceptual relation–between God/substance and modes–that doesn’t involve inherence and we have another type of conceptual relation–between modes and their properties–that does involve inherence. Having 2 sets of rules without sufficient reason is barred by Spinoza’s naturalism, thus, in interpreting Spinoza’s notion of modes we must interpret him as saying that modes inhere in God, not that God creates modes.
If you read this whole thing, you are Jesus. That took me over 3 hours. I’m gonna proofread this tomorrow, sorry if it’s full of mistakes…