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    Spinoza on the constitution of animal species

    James, Susan (2021) Spinoza on the constitution of animal species. In: Melamed, Y.Y. (ed.) Blackwell Companion to Spinoza. Blackwell Companions to Philosophy. Oxford, UK: Blackwell. ISBN 9781119538646.

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    Nature, as Spinoza conceives of it, contains individual things or finite modes, each with its own essence. ‘God’s true perfection’, he explains, ‘is that he gives all things their essence, from the least to the greatest’ (ST VI.7). Moreover, although we humans classify individuals into kinds, Spinoza is adamant that the resulting types or species ‘are nothing’ (ST VI.7). As the unreliable fruits of our imaginative attempts to make sense of the world, they have no independent ontological status. For many of Spinoza’s contemporaries this was a troubling and unsatisfactory view, particularly in relation to animal species. Not content to categorise animals on the basis of mere experience, they wanted to know what essential features qualify lions as lions, or distinguish lions from tortoises (Smith 2009, 239). For Spinoza, too, these are pressing questions. Despite his nominalism, his mature works posit differences between animal kinds that are discoverable by reasoning and available to philosophical understanding. Implicitly, at least, he enters into an ongoing debate about the nature of natural species. Spinoza’s contribution to this controversy has not been widely discussed. What, in his view, constitutes the species difference between lions and human beings? In this essay I argue that he takes the unusual view that species are distinguished not so much by their bodily characteristics as by their capacity to respond to one another’s affects. Rather than following the trend set by his contemporaries and defining species in biological terms, Spinoza argues that the members of a species are united by their social relationships into a single kind.


    Item Type: Book Section
    School: School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy > Philosophy
    Depositing User: Susan James
    Date Deposited: 22 Jun 2021 12:45
    Last Modified: 24 Jun 2021 07:25


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