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Volume 27 • Number 1

January 2010



Causal Efficacy of Representational Content in Spinoza

by Valtteri Viljanen

Especially in the appendix to the opening part of his Ethics, Benedict de Spinoza discusses teleology in a manner that has earned him the status of a staunch critic of final causes. Much of the recent lively discussion concerning this complex and difficult issue has revolved around the writings of Jonathan Bennett who maintains that Spinoza does, in fact, reject all teleology. Especially important has been the argument claiming that because of his basic ontology, Spinoza cannot but reject thoughtful teleology, that is, teleology involved in the actions of conscious cognitive beings who have thoughts of future states of affairs. For Spinoza, a particular idea is a modification of the thinking substance the object of which is a certain modification of the extended substance, and Bennett’s central argumentative move is to claim that there is no room in Spinoza’s system for a key ingredient in thoughtful teleology, the tenet that representative content of ideas is causally efficacious. It should be noted that typically in the scholarship, by “teleology” a particular style of explanation is meant; to take one formulation, “[t]eleology is the phenomenon of states of affairs having etiologies that implicate, in an explanatory way, likely or presumptive consequences of those states of affairs.”

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ISSN: 2152-1026