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Spinoza argues that God is not the cause of nature, but nature itself.

Is his
argument for this unusual view at all persuasive?

Spinozas argument for the unity of God and nature is grounded on solid
logical work. Spinoza is careful to define all the appropriate components
(substance, attributes, mode etc) such that if we adopt those same definitions,
then the desired conclusion flows naturally. The structure seems solid, and is
capable of withstanding modern objections from the Principle of the Identity of the
Indiscernibles But while establishing the conclusion isnt the issue, it later gives
rise to a contradiction between the infinite nature of God and the finiteness of
nature that is not easily resolved.
Spinozas claim that God is nature is undoubtedly unusual. A modern
audience, in particular, might be tempted to reject this argument reactively. But
an argument cannot be shown to be false simply on the grounds that it is
unpalatable. In order to assess the validity of the argument, we must check: first,
that conclusion is logically derived from the premises and, secondly, that the
premises themselves are not ungrounded. Two main premises underpin
Spinozas argument: that (1) two substances cannot share attributes, and (2) God,
conceived of as an infinite being, exists. I argue that Spinoza does, in fact, make
a successful case for (1) and (2).
The argument for (1) runs roughly as follows. Let X and Y be two distinct
substances. Then, by P4, X must differ from Y in either attributes or modes.

Suppose X and Y share the same attributes. Then X and Y have different modes.
But, by Def 3, a substance can only be conceived of through itself. So, X and Y
must be conceived of independently of their properties. Then we cannot conceive
of X and Y in terms of their having different properties, so by contrapositive on
P4, X = Y. Thus, we see that the unity of X and Y is guaranteed by the conceptual
priority of a substance.
Spinoza offers than more than one proof for (2). First, he runs the same
ontological proof of existence used Descartes. But his second, original proof is the
most compelling. First, we note, as in A2, that something in common with God
can neither posit nor annul his existence (p 148). Now, suppose that God doesnt
exist. Then there would be some reason preventing God from existing. Lets call
this reason X. Then X has the same nature as God and there must exist some
attribute of God that prevents God from existing. But this is a contradiction.
If we accept that Spinoza has successfully established (1) and (2), then the
unity of God and nature follows easily. Now, by (1), God exists, viz., there exists
a substance with infinite attributes. Then all attributes that exist belong to God.
Suppose there is another (non-infinite) substance. Then any attributes belonging
to that substance also belong to God. But, by (2), two substances cannot share
attributes. Therefore, no substance other than God exists. This is equivalent to
showing that whatever there is must be equal God, and hence God is nature.
There are two ways to object to this. First, we might choose to raise a
modern principle like Leibnizs Principle of the Identity of the Indiscernibles (PII).

Leibniz would argue that in order to provide sufficient justification for the
distinctness of A from B, we only we need to have some attribute x that A
possesses but that B does not. And this holds regardless of whether on not A and
B do share other attributes. Consider this example: My hamster Ginny probably
isnt very wise. But I still that I am justified in thinking Ginny is God because
Ginny is extended. The PII would give us the mechanism to quickly dismantle
what, admittedly, sounds like an absurd argument. If Ginny is God then
everything that is true of Ginny must also true of God. Thankfully, this is not the
case so Ginny is not equal to God. From the perspective of the PII, Spinozas
focus is skewed: Spinoza focuses on attributes that are shared, rather on
attributes that are not shared.
Spinoza would deal with this objection by saying that Leibniz has
misdiagnosed the root of their differences. To say that this comes down to how
one weighs attributes that are shared v. not shared is superficial. Rather, Spinoza
would say that Leibniz has failed to properly understand the kinds of things
that he is working with. To understand what it means to be a substance, and to
have attributes and modes, is also to understand the hierarchy of conceptual
priority amongst them.
We recall that a substance is conceptually prior to all other things, viz.,
that its conception does not require the conception of any other thing (P3). If we
cannot conceive of them by their attributes, then neither can we conceive of the
distinctness of two substances by the presence or absence of some any attributes.

In other words, we cant get to the conclusion that there exist different substances
by starting with the observation that of a difference in attributes. Therefore,
Spinoza would dismiss the PII as false.
It appears that the most effective threat to the unity of God and nature is
to show that it has logically dubious ramifications. Suppose God is nature.
Nature is made out of finite components, therefore nature itself finite. Then by
the identity relation, God is finite. But by definition, God is infinite. So, we have a
We can try to resolve the contradiction in two ways. First, we deny that it
is problem for infinite parts to be composed of finite parts. But Spinoza is clearly
opposed to this route as he considers absurd the notion that infinite quantity if
measurable and made out of finite parts (p 150). This leaves us with the second
option, that is, to try to show that nature is infinite. We might do this by choosing
to parametrize nature to time. Therefore, since nature is bounded by time and
time is infinite, it follows that nature is also infinite.
A harder look reveals the solution to be sloppy. Suppose we parametrize
God and nature against time. So we have God at t1, t2, ., t
nature at time t1, t2, , t

corresponding to

. Pick some arbitrary time, t and consider nature and

God at t. Nature at any one slice of time is finite, but God is still infinite.
Therefore, for any t, we fail to establish an identity relation between God and
nature. Therefore, God cannot be equal to nature.

To conclude: we are faced with the following position: first, the conclusion
that God is nature is derived from Gods infinite nature; and, secondly, that
God is nature conflicts with Gods infinite nature. Moreover, our attempt to
resolve the contradiction reveals that it is one that cannot be easily dismissed.
Spinoza presents a clever and logically coherent argument building up to the
conclusion. But while initially persuasive, carefully thinking through the
ramifications means that we are forced to reserve our enthusiasm, if not to reject,
his argument.