Event Title

Spinoza and Income Equality

Presenter Information

Beth Lord, University of Dundee

Session Title

Locke, Spinoza and Schelling

Location

SK 223

Start Date

2-9-2011 2:30 PM

End Date

2-9-2011 4:00 PM

Abstract

This paper contributes to the theme of “Philosophy And…” by reflecting on Spinoza’s philosophy in light of the recent argument of social scientists R. Wilkinson and K. Pickett (The Spirit Level, 2009) that more equal societies are also “happier” ones, where “happiness” is defined in terms of good physical and mental health, longer lives, congenial working hours, high levels of trust in the community, and low levels of crime and violence. What does Spinoza – who appears to anticipate Wilkinson and Pickett’s conclusion – actually think about equality and its contribution to sustainable and "happy" communities? The answer to these questions is far from clear. On one reading, advocated for instance by M. Mack (Spinoza and the Specters of Modernity, 2010), Spinoza appears very much in line with the view that inequalities and social hierarchies necessarily have negative outcomes. Yet on another reading – advocated by Nietzsche and Deleuze, and thinkers in their wake – he can be seen to promote certain inequalities as the unavoidable and natural difference between the “powers” of individuals.

I will look at the question of equality in Spinoza from several angles. First, I’ll consider it as a metaphysical term applying to God/substance, and consider how “equality” might relate to Spinoza’s important terms “similitude” and “adequacy”. I’ll then ask whether Spinoza believes that people are essentially equal, in the way that other Enlightenment thinkers claim to do. Kant argues that each person is actually or potentially rational, and therefore that all persons are moral equals, equally deserving moral respect; Spinoza does not share this view, but instead sees rational equality as an ideal to be pursued. Next, I’ll ask whether Spinoza believes that people should be treated more equally in terms of the distribution of money and material goods in order to build happier societies, as advocated by Wilkinson and Pickett. I will consider some problems with aligning Spinoza with this view, which are therefore problems for those of us who want to appropriate Spinoza to anti-hierarchical political positions.

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Sep 2nd, 2:30 PM Sep 2nd, 4:00 PM

Spinoza and Income Equality

SK 223

This paper contributes to the theme of “Philosophy And…” by reflecting on Spinoza’s philosophy in light of the recent argument of social scientists R. Wilkinson and K. Pickett (The Spirit Level, 2009) that more equal societies are also “happier” ones, where “happiness” is defined in terms of good physical and mental health, longer lives, congenial working hours, high levels of trust in the community, and low levels of crime and violence. What does Spinoza – who appears to anticipate Wilkinson and Pickett’s conclusion – actually think about equality and its contribution to sustainable and "happy" communities? The answer to these questions is far from clear. On one reading, advocated for instance by M. Mack (Spinoza and the Specters of Modernity, 2010), Spinoza appears very much in line with the view that inequalities and social hierarchies necessarily have negative outcomes. Yet on another reading – advocated by Nietzsche and Deleuze, and thinkers in their wake – he can be seen to promote certain inequalities as the unavoidable and natural difference between the “powers” of individuals.

I will look at the question of equality in Spinoza from several angles. First, I’ll consider it as a metaphysical term applying to God/substance, and consider how “equality” might relate to Spinoza’s important terms “similitude” and “adequacy”. I’ll then ask whether Spinoza believes that people are essentially equal, in the way that other Enlightenment thinkers claim to do. Kant argues that each person is actually or potentially rational, and therefore that all persons are moral equals, equally deserving moral respect; Spinoza does not share this view, but instead sees rational equality as an ideal to be pursued. Next, I’ll ask whether Spinoza believes that people should be treated more equally in terms of the distribution of money and material goods in order to build happier societies, as advocated by Wilkinson and Pickett. I will consider some problems with aligning Spinoza with this view, which are therefore problems for those of us who want to appropriate Spinoza to anti-hierarchical political positions.