Teleology in Spinoza and Early Modern Rationalism

Don Garrett

in New Essays on the Rationalists

Published in print February 2003 | ISBN: 9780195165418
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199868285 | DOI:
Teleology in Spinoza and Early Modern Rationalism

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This chapter seeks to establish (1) that Spinoza accepts the legitimacy of many teleological explanations; (2) that in two important respects, Leibniz's view of teleology is not more, and perhaps even less, Aristotleian than Descartes's; and (3) that among Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, it is Spinoza who holds the view of teleology closest to that of Aristotle. The arguments for (1) derive from examinations of Spinoza's doctrine of conatus, critical analysis of Jonathan Bennett's proposed grounds for interpreting Spinoza as denying all teleology, and the application of Spinoza's distinction of three kinds of knowledge to the distinction between mechanistic and teleological explanation. The arguments for (2) and (3) are based on an examination of the answers given by Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza to four basic questions about the nature and range of teleology and teleological explanation. These questions concern the dependence of teleology on thought, the relation of teleology to divine will or purpose, the existence of “sub‐human” teleology, and the role of teleological explanation in natural philosophy.

Keywords: Aristotle; Bennett; conatus; Descartes; explanation; Don Garrett; Leibniz; mechanism; mechanistic explanation; purpose; rationalism; Spinoza; teleological explanation; teleology

Chapter.  14809 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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