Eric Schliesser is BOF Research Professor in Philosophy and Moral Sciences at Ghent University. He has published widely in philosophy of economics as well as on figures in early modern philosophy (including Spinoza, Huygens, Newton, Hume, Berkeley, Smith, and de Grouchy). He is co-editor with Leonidas Montes of New Voices on Adam Smith (Routledge, 2006) and with Andrew Janiak of Interpreting Newton (Cambridge, 2012).
NEWTON AND SPINOZA: ON MOTION AND MATTER (AND GOD, OF COURSE)
Article first published online: 4 SEP 2012
© 2012 The University of Memphis
The Southern Journal of Philosophy
Volume 50, Issue 3, pages 436–458, September 2012
How to Cite
SCHLIESSER, E. (2012), NEWTON AND SPINOZA: ON MOTION AND MATTER (AND GOD, OF COURSE). The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 50: 436–458. doi: 10.1111/j.2041-6962.2012.00132.x
- Issue published online: 4 SEP 2012
- Article first published online: 4 SEP 2012
This study explores several arguments against Spinoza's philosophy that were developed by Henry More, Samuel Clarke, and Colin Maclaurin. In the arguments on which I focus, More, Clarke, and Maclaurin aim to establish the existence of an immaterial and intelligent God precisely by showing that Spinoza does not have the resources to adequately explain the origin of motion. Attending to these criticisms grants us a deeper appreciation for how the authority derived from the empirical success of Newton's enterprise was used to settle debates within philosophy. What I emphasize is that in the progression from More to Clarke to Maclaurin, key Newtonian concepts from the Principia (1687), such as motion, atomism, and the vacuum, are introduced and exploited in order to challenge the account of matter and motion that is presented in Spinoza's Ethics (1677). Building on this treatment, I use the arguments from More and Clarke especially to help discern the anti-Spinozism that can be detected in Newton's General Scholium (1713). Ultimately, the Newtonian criticisms that I detail offer us a more nuanced view of the problems that plague Spinoza's philosophy, and they also challenge the idea that Spinoza seamlessly fits into a progressive narrative about the scientific revolution.