Saturday, July 29, 2006

Spinoza and Doubt

Today Rebecca Goldstein has an interesting op-ed essay ("Reasonable Doubt") in the New York Times. It is partially in commemoration of the "350th anniversary of the excommunication of the philosopher Baruch Spinoza from the Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam in which he had been raised." The essay brings Spinoza's life and thought into the context of today's (this past week's) international events. It's a good essay.

But it also occurs to me that nothing, or at least very little, is "true" beyond "reasonable doubt." My ideas about God and religion, as unwaveringly right as they might feel to me, are still susceptible to the voice of reason. I'm not sure whether this is a scary or liberating concept.

4 comments:

Dr. Idio said...

Ahhh Spinoza, the great Panthiest.
However your doubt seems to be more Cartesian?
Your taste in food is not subject to anothers pallet, so why then your beliefs? Sure you may try new foods and find another to now be your favorite (and someone else may have even suggested it), but that's a choice of your pallet. This is only to say that, what you believe is already there in your mind, it isn't subject to anyones reasoning or opinions. If someone happens to reason something which contradicts what you currently believe and you adopt it as a new dynamic portion of your beliefe system - it's no different then someone saying, "hay, try this flavor" and you prefering it more. What you believe, and what your favorite food is, is subject to the things you don't yet know and the things you've not yet tasted. But just because you don't yet know (don't have the language) and have not yet tasted, does not mean that the preference is not there, you simply lack the current means of expression. The interesting thing about truth is, once you find it, you realize it was there all along - then you throw it away and go about your life. This is because when found, it didn't come nicely packed in a ready made sentance or someones obscure reasoning, it comes when your not looking. Have you ever been in a dark room at night, and off in the corner somewhere you see a dim light, perhaps from a smoke detector? I always find that if I you look directly at it, it cannot be seen, but if you look away there it is, out of the corner of your eye. That's where the truth comes from, where God hits you.

nedric said...

I also feel ambivalence about my vulnerability to the voice of reason. But I am not sure if it is between liberation and fright - if it is, it's the kind of paranoid feeling of being duped.

Thanks for pointing out how relevant Spinoza can be to our current global issues.

Casey said...

I've never read Spinoza. But how do we ever convict anybody in the law courts if nothing is beyond reasonable doubt--obfuscation and sophistry?

Luke said...

Faith is no longer needed in the modern world. Nor is belief necessary What is required is understanding -- in this case understanding of what is unique about the Hebraic conception of "God" and the paramount role this idea played in the unfolding of Western intellectual history and its liberal ideals. Spinoza was totally preoccupied with this subject.