SUB SPECIE AETERNITATIS.

The other night, unable to sleep, I was letting my mind wander when it stumbled over the phrase sub specie aeternitatis, which I use (mostly to myself) as a fancy way of saying “taking the long view” or “in the broader scheme of things.” I’ve known it as long as I can remember and always liked it, but it suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea what it literally meant, or whether I was using it correctly—it’s one of those things I picked up in my precocious reading and assimilated without investigating too closely. I looked it up in my Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases in Current English, where I found: “[Lat.] (considered) in relation to the one eternal Substance; without consideration of local or temporal conditions. 20c. Spinoza Ethics (1677) V xxxi: sub aeternitatis specie.” Well, the second part of the definition suggested I had been using it right, but I didn’t understand the “one eternal Substance” part; however, it seemed likely that that had something to do with Spinoza’s philosophy, and I figured the internet would help me out. Unfortunately, the Wikipedia article is pretty much useless (I left a querulous note about it on the Talk page), so I turn to you, the Varied Reader. Surely one of you can tell me about Spinoza’s use, and how that got picked up in the last century and popularized (to the extent that it’s popular)? Professor Google got me the actual passage in Spinoza:

…but that doesn’t do me much good, and I’m too lazy to immerse myself in a protracted study of Spinoza just to understand what he means by species.

Comments

  1. Well, species means “look, aspect, appearance,” for what that’s worth.
    Stuart Hampshire:
    “All our ordinary time-determinations, our tenses and temporal predicates such as ‘past’ and ‘present’ are merely ‘aides to the imagination’ (auxilio imaginationis’), and they will not occur in expressions of the highest level of knowledge; for at the highest level of knowledge Nature is presented sub specie aeternitatis; Nature must be understood not as a temporal sequence of events, but as a logical sequence of modifications necessarily connected with each other. … it is a timeless, logical necessity that the order of nature should be what it is…”
    – Spinoza, Harmondsworth, 1951, p. 174
    H.A. Wolfson:
    “Imagination sees things only in their fragmentary and unrelated condition, or it puts together ‘diverse confused ideas which belong to diverse things and operations of nature.’ It is the imagination, too, through which ‘we look upon things as contingent with reference to both the past and the future.’ But reason (ratio) … sees things in their necessary and eternal aspect …
    These necessary and eternal aspects of things, Spinoza proceeds to say, are the immediate infinite modes: motion and rest under extension, and absolutely infinite intellect under thought. These infinite modes, again, are what Spinoza calls ‘fixed and eternal things’ ” … without which one cannot conceive of individual things.
    – The Philosophy of Spinoza, Cleveland, 1958, ii, p. 161
    So if you are considering things in their eternal, logical relations with other things, rather than as accidents in time, you are looking at them sub specie aeternitatis.
    (Meanwhile, I still cannot get over the idea of spending 60,000 yen for a Yiddish-Japanese Dictionary.)

  2. I would gloss the phrase as ‘the universal point of view’, one that is not particular to a certain part of space or time.

  3. The Scholium of Proposition 29 defines sub specie aeternitatis a bit more clearly:
    “We conceive things as actual in two ways: either insofar as we conceive them to exist in relation to a certain time and place, or insofar as we conceive them to be contained in God and to follow from the necessity of the divine nature. But the things we conceive in this second way as true, or real, we conceive under a species of eternity, and to that extent they involve the eternal and infinite essence of God.”
    … bearing in mind Spinoza’s panentheist conception of “Deus sive Natura”.
    For Spinoza, viewing the world sub specie aeternitatis is a means of achieving a life of virtue, characterised by self-mastery, cheerfulness, tranquility, and even beatitude. We gain mastery over our passions by seeing their objects not as contingent individual substances conceived in relation to ourselves, but as necessary aspects of an all-encompassing reality.
    There’s a good summary of the relationship between the sub specie aeternitatis viewpoint and virtue in Spinoza’s thought here.

  4. Trond Engen says:

    In Norwegian is used i evighetens perspektiv “in the perspective of eternity”. Probably a high-brow translation. More literally, I’d render sub specie aeternatis as under evighetens blikk ~”under the glance of eternity”, colloquially perhaps as i evighetens øyne “in the eyes of eternity”. But what do I know of Latin or philosophy?

  5. It means “on and bloody on”.

  6. Thanks, Evan and Matt, I think I’ve got it, and you’ve reinforced my vague sense that Spinoza is someone I’d like a lot if I ever got around to reading him.

  7. For some reason, French intellectuals – not philosophers – are often quoted as saying that Spinoza is one of their favorite authors, whom they often reread. I think one claimed to keep a copy of the Ethics on their bedside table.
    This seems to be preciosity of the cringe-makingest kind – whether it is true or not true. My copy of Montaigne’s Essais has a single large-print blurb on the back by Orson Welles, who claims a similar nighty-night fascination for Montaigne.
    That said, the Ethics is well worth reading. You can slide over the superstructure more geometrico, i.e. the axiomatic propositio/demonstratio layout. His “proofs” are not convincing today, in my opinion – in contrast, say, to those of Aquinas, which are convincing but uninteresting.
    The valuable substance of what Spinoza had to say is in the ramblings that follow the “proofs”.

  8. So biological species are aspects of Life, which is eternal by changing its species when the physical universe undergoes catastrophic change.
    This root spec is curious. Must dig.

  9. By far the more interesting work, to anyone not in love with the history of metaphysics, is the Tractatus, which constantly rewards re-reading. (Not that I have it at my bedside.) It essentially made Romanticism possible.

  10. J.W. Brewer says:

    I know a Spinoza enthusiast whose judgment in such matters I’m not entirely sure I trust (e.g. he thinks Station to Station is the best Bowie album and has from my pov entirely too rosy a view of the effect of the Napoleonic wars on European affairs) who is big on the series of massive (and controversial) books Jonathan Israel has been producing on the Enlightenment et seq., which apparently take the view that the radical Spinozan types were more important (and the staid Lockean types less important) than is conventionally supposed.

  11. literally, in Russian, it means “в аспекте вечности” – from the aspect of eternity.
    Sub specie aeternitatis is in the Russian dictionary of ‘flying words’ and proverbs, which interprets it as a joking consolation, like, you lost your job, you’re bankrupt, your wife left you, – but what is it in the aspect of eternity? nothing.
    It must have been in some anthology of Latin texts for secondary schools, otherwise difficult to explain its popularity.
    Dictionary link – http://bibliotekar.ru/encSlov/17/14.htm

  12. Sashura: the Russian dictionary of ‘flying words’ and proverbs
    The original, still much-consulted and every so often up-to-dated work of that kind in German is Geflügelte Worte (Winged Words) by Georg Büchmann. Geflügel is “poultry”, so the title could be rendered as “What Chickens Say”.

  13. Büchmann was quoting Homer, to be sure: ἔπεα πτερόεντα.

  14. Ask me why I like the word Worte so much. Or have I said this before?

  15. Why then do you like the word Worte ? Is it because of the grossly subtle difference in meaning between Worte and Wörter ?

  16. También me encanta esa frase y también la uso (para mí misma) seguido.
    Pero yo la conocí con San Agustin en lo poco que estudié de Filosofía Medieval. ¿Te interesa sólo en el sentido que la usa Spinoza o rastrear su origen?

  17. The Jonathan Israel books contain lots of fine scholarship at the local level (though more derivative of German and Dutch secondary sources than is apparent at first glance) but not many historians take the overarching Spinoza-obsession very seriously. It’s true that there’s a rather lost continent of radical thought, but not that it all derives from Spinoza, even if he did serve as a Machiavelli-figure for pious types to demonise.

  18. JC: By far the more interesting work, to anyone not in love with the history of metaphysics, is the Tractatus … It essentially made Romanticism possible.
    Which Tractatus do you mean ? The Tractatus de intellectus emendatione, the Tractatus politicus, or the Tractatus theologico-philosophicus ? I’m guessing the latter (I’ve read them all, not in Latin but in German translations). Most of the work is radical criticism of Jewish Scripture, with political implications of course. But Romanticism covers a lot of sense (sins ?). Could you make that connection a bit more specific ? Spinoza’s ideas strongly influenced many Enlightenment and Romantic writers.
    J.W.: the view that the radical Spinozan types were more important (and the staid Lockean types less important) than is conventionally supposed.
    Heine, Feuerbach and many others thought Spinoza was ‘cute as a bug. Hume said Spinoza’s theories were “hideous”. In the linked WiPe article, Egon Friedell and Carl Schmitt are distinguished by frothing-at-the-mouth quotes expressing their hatred of Spinoza and all his works, especially his equating of God and Nature (Deus sive Natura).
    In my humble experience, such moralizing vituperation is a reliable sign that the author against whom it is directed is worth looking into. Outside politics, of course – I was never motivated to read any of Bill Clinton’s writings.

  19. You’ve even read the Tractatus Theologico-Philosophicus? That’s a very obscure work. No, I was of course referring to the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. And of course I was being a bit flippant about Romanticism, but then, at least I didn’t work that comment up into a 3-volume historiographical magnum opus.
    If I were to be only marginally less flippant, I would say that the historicising kinds of reading pioneered in the TTP, when drawn up with greater theoretical depth in the next century in Germany (especially by figures like Semler and his student Schleiermacher) legitimated the sort of interpretive attitudes that characterised early German Romanticism (and then Strauss, Feuerbach and the rest). The attitude towards ‘meaning’ and ‘truth’ which we now like to call postmodern was really developed properly in Jena in the 1790s, with explicit reference to Spinoza. The Ethics were important too, “Deus sive Natura” being only a breath away from Schelling and Coleridge. (Not that Spinoza was the first to come up with that idea.)
    And yes I know it is much more complicated than that.

  20. John Emerson says:

    On Birobidzhan and Yiddish Japanese dictionaries: Birobidzhan is in the middle of nowhere, quite a ways inland north of China, west of Khabarovsk, and 1500 miles south of Yakutsk, which might be the coldest city in the world. Between Yakutsk and Birobidzhan there’s apparently almost nothing. Birobidzhan is expected to fall below -25 F. every day this week except two.

  21. John Emerson says:

    Well, Chegdomyn (pop 14,000) is ~500 miles straight north. Still pretty isolated.

  22. You’ve even read the Tractatus Theologico-Philosophicus? That’s a very obscure work.
    So obscure as to be non-existent. I screwed up in typing.

  23. Yes, that’s all it is, Stu: “grossly subtle” about sums it up. I just think it’s cool that Wort has two plurals that are not synonyms. How did that come about?

  24. How did that come about ? Dunno. As a connoisseur of plurals, you might also like to know that Mutter has two plurals: Mütter and Muttern. That’s because there are two Mutter words: one means “mother”, the other “nut” (as in nut and bolt).

  25. A bit like os > ossa and os > ora, I suppose. That’s the textbook Latin equivalent.

  26. When both mothers and nuts are present, the latter are distinguished by calling them Schraubenmuttern. Though if the mothers are verschroben and the nuts are verschraubt, a certain confusion may arise.

  27. A bit like os > ossa and os > ora, I suppose.
    Possibly one could compare and contrast the French mot. One plural is propos, the other is mots. More or less …

  28. Huh!
    Just yesterday I happened upon current SOED’s headword entry “sub specie temporis” (a late-19C innovation it seems, not occurring exactly in Spinoza), and remarked that it inexcusably had “temporis” stressed on the second syllable (O tempora!). Current OED has the phrase in the entry for “sub”:

    sub specie temporis n. viewed in relation to time rather than eternity.

    What’s this “n.”?? OED correctly gives “adv.” for “sub specie aeternitatis”, and for the even more derivative “sub specie mortis” (first citation is 1955).
    Tsk.
    Anyway, I would love to study Spinoza closely. I agree with Stu: the vitriol from various quarters is a good heuristic for an independent thinker well worth our attention. Hume on Spinoza? I recently edited a piece in which it was argued that Hume worked mainly from excerpts in French journals for these folks, rather than poring over the sources. Seems right. As a young flècheling he could not have spent the time necessary to do that, surely.
    In analytical philosophy of our time “Spinozism” is often used reductively for the idea that only what is actual is possible – making the category “possible” redundant in metaphysics, right? Though not in epistemology. I have called some philosophers “crypto-Spinozist” in such a sense (even David Lewis, who would not have accepted that characterisation).
    Species and derivatives make a beautifully mixed-up charivari of senses. Spice, special, in specie, specious, and from Valéry:

    Feu vers qui se soulève une vierge de sang -
    Sous les espèces d’or d’un sein reconnaissant!

     

  29. un sein reconnaissant!
    A thankful tit ? I suppose that means stiff from stimulation.

  30. Maybe these were cryptontological enthusings, and he means d’un Sein reconnaissant.

  31. Enthymematic enthusiasms, Stu. In the way of all poesy, whose viewless wings soar beyond this talk of Sinn and Sein.

  32. Sorry about that, Noetica. I got carried away. In my theme I was pure, but I drifted. (“She was pure as the snow, but she drifted” was a favorite line in a melodrama put on regularly in El Paso summers to public acclaim in the early ’60s)

  33. I got thy drift, Stu, in thy meme.

  34. The Oxford Latin Dictionary – as hairsplitting a work as you will ever find – gives thirteen meanings to the Latin word species, and our meaning of the word does not appear until number 10. It is for all practical purposes a faux ami.
    Re Wort>Wörter/Worte, Mutter>Mütter/Muttern, and ōs>ōris and os>ossis:
    Not quite the same thing happening. In German, we have single words developing differentiated plurals (Are there any examples of this in English?) The Latin words are only superficially similar, to those of us who (like Spinoza) are no longer so sensitive to long and short vowels. ōs = mouth from PIE *ōs- (ignoring the laryngeal; I’ll stop ignoring it when there’s a more elegant way to notate it), os = bone from PIE *ost- (ignoring the laryngeal).
    I’ve never quite known how to take Hume’s use of adjectives in describing Spinoza. I suspect irony. He brings up Spinoza in a chapter (the Treatise, Book I, Sec. 6) where he is going to state that arguments for the immortality of the soul are, in a word, nonsense (“the question concerning the substance of the soul is absolutely unintelligible”), and say things like “there is no thing in the universe as a cause or productive principle, not even the deity himself.” This laid him open to charges of atheism at a time when the consequences of those charges could be serious – and, in fact, Hume had no use for either metaphysics or God in his philosophy (he says basically what he has to say about the existence of God in a short footnote in the Appendix of the Treatise). Hume refers to Spinoza’s doctrines as “true atheism,” “universally infamous,” and “hideous” (all the while equating his “absurdities” with what is to be found in the teachings of theologians) – well, one wonders if he is not inoculating himself against the uproar he imagined his book might produce. (Instead, it “fell dead-born from the press,” to his disappointment.)

  35. In German, we have single words developing differentiated plurals (Are there any examples of this in English?)
    A few, but the English regular plural ending -s is so dominant that examples basically appear only among the learned words with Greek or Latin plurals. (In German, the regular ending is also -s, but it is very rare — all other plural morphs are either inherited or analogous.)
    Wikipedia lists these: antennas (engineering) vs. antennae (biology), appendices (bibliography) vs. appendixes (medicine), indices (mathematics) vs. indexes (databases), mediums (spiritualism) vs. media (most other uses, also mass noun).
    There are also a good many cases where there is a regular plural that means the same thing as the irregular one: no real difference between matrices and matrixes, fora and forums.

  36. John, you forgot brothers ~ brethren. I might also mention cows ~ kine, but that’s archaic.

  37. Staffs and staves might also fit the bill.

  38. (the Treatise, Book I, Sec. 6)
    A caution, Evan. The Treatise is divided into three books. Each book is divided into parts, and each part is divided into sections. So your reference is difficult to interpret.
    Hume speaks mostly about the supposed immateriality of the soul; not its supposed immortality, which he mentions just twice: once in the section headed “Of the immateriality of the soul” (Book I, Part iv, Section 5), and once in the section headed “Of the effects of other relations and other habits” (Book I, Part iii, Section 9). He addresses immateriality, and also Spinoza, only in that first-mentioned section.
    Mediums, media [etc.]
    On divergence in plural forms, I note some slippage in the discussion. There are surely two words Wort, distinguished in their plurals. Similarly for os. Contrast, of course, tempus: two words of the same form, one meaning “time” and one meaning “temple (of the head)”, and each with tempora as the plural form. But these are different from appendix and the rest, which are in a strong sense single words with variations of meaning that are brought out in the choice of preferred plural forms. Compare a similar story for verbs like hang: past participle is normally hung, but often hanged when we speak of death at the end of a rope. Similarly for staff, I think. (I just learned this other staff, a separate word: “A mixture of plaster of Paris, cement, fibre, etc., used for temporary building work.” So hard to get good staff these days, eh Krwn?)
    There are plural homographs that are distinguished in their singular forms:
    axes [ax(e), axis]
    bases [base, basis]
    bellows [bellows, bellow]
    ellipses [ellipse, ellipsis]
    fortes [forte, fortis]
    manes [mane, ?manis]
    menses [mense, ?mensis]
    Some of those, like bases, might be a little compromised as I have said that appendix is. And mensis is surely impossible. It’s a fluid affair.

  39. Is Spinoza’s name ever used humorously? In Ilf and Petrov’s ‘The Golden Calf’ one character says ‘I was thinking…’ and Ostap Bender quips: ‘You were thinking? So you are a thinker? What is your name? Spinoza? Rousseau?’ (Ах, вы думали? Вы, значит, иногда думаете? Вы мыслитель. Как ваша фамилия, мыслитель? Спиноза? Жан-Жак Руссо? Марк Аврелий?)
    Geflügelte Worte (Winged Words)
    thanks, Stu, I didn’t know where that idiom (крылатые слова – winged words) had come from.

  40. So Wort as in Worte, and Wort as in Wörter, are different words?

  41. This quotation doesn’t seem to agree with you: “Von dem Wort Wort gibt es zwei Plurale: die Wörter und die Worte.” (http://www.deutscheakademie.de/sprachkritik/?p=196)

  42. “The Latin words are only superficially similar, to those of us who (like Spinoza) are no longer so sensitive to long and short vowels.”
    In fact this process was already happening in the provinces by late antiquity. Augustine De doctrina lib 4: “Why should a teacher of piety instructing the unlearned hesitate to say ossum rather than os lest this syllable be taken not as the singular of which ossa is the plural, but as the singular of which ora is the plural, since African ears make no distinction between short and long vowels?”

  43. As for Wort/Wort the same semantic ambiguity is present in Latin sermo, dictum and Greek logos, even if they are not morphologically distinguished in the plural.

  44. “Semantic ambiguity” doesn’t necessarily imply “separate words”.

  45. Of course not, but the dividing line between homonyms and separate senses of the same word is not always razor-sharp, hence regularly in the OED, “senses X and Y may be separate words”. This is true even when there is genetic difference–words get muddled up, e.g. “bull” and “bull[shit]“. I don’t think anyone will want to argue that Wort and Wort are genetically distinct, and so presumably whether one calls them one or two words is ultimately rather arbitrary.

  46. Were you responding to, “In German, we have single words developing differentiated plurals”? I think he meant, “a single word developing differentiated plurals”.

  47. I think one claimed to keep a copy of the Ethics on their bedside table. This seems to be preciosity of the cringe-makingest kind – whether it is true or not true.
    Dylan Thomas sent up faux intellectuals in his introduction, “A Few Words of a Kind,” prefacing reading poetry on the recording “Dylan Thomas Reading Over St. John’s Hill and Other Poems,” with: “I always carry Kierkegaard in my pocket. What do you carry?”
    [Harper Audio issued a complete CD set of all the classic Thomas Caedmon vynils in 2006 - a comprehensive review here.]

  48. There are surely two words Wort, distinguished in their plurals. Similarly for os.
    I think Bathrobe is right that the first statement is misleading, and I think the second is as well, because (as Evan says) ōs and os are two entirely different words, not “two words os.” They happen to be written the same, and we (as ignorant as the North Africans of Augustine’s day) happen to have a hard time distinguishing them, but to the native speaker of Classical Latin they were as different as fit and feet in English. Just because native speakers of Spanish will pronounce those two the same wouldn’t give them license to say “there are two words /fit/ in English, one of which is a verb or singular noun, the other of which is a plural noun.”

  49. We interrupt this tractatus philologico-philosophicus to bring you a grook by Piet Hein:
    Sub specie
    aeternitatis
    even the dearest bought
    is gratis.
    I am unable to see the phrase without thinking of this verse. Though I remembered it with ‘things’ for ‘bought’ until I Googled just now.

  50. Is not the phrase ‘winged words’ (the first word in two syllables) from Homer?

  51. Hat, I’m surprised to see you using the word “ignorant”. Augustine is writing in a period when Latin is still a tongue understanded of the people, after all; “ignorance” is appropriate when speaking of a learnèd language, but not of a native one.
    It seems to me that African Vulgar Latin must have undergone the same sound-change as Proto-Eastern Romance, namely the loss of length in the back vowels. With the difference between os and ōs inaudible, like the difference between cocer ‘cook’ and coser ‘sew’ in American Spanish, suppletion by ossum and cocinar respectively is only to be expected.
    Bathrobe: We now effectively have three words: stave/staves ‘club(s)’, staff/staves in musical notation, and staff/staffs in all other uses, including sometimes clubs. Here the mismatched pair is the original, where devoicing of final /v/ in the singular was preserved against the tide of regularization.

  52. Trond: “glance” is an especially good translation. We should bear in mind that to any speaker of Latin (native or not) SPECIES was part of a family of words, such as SPEC-ULUS “mirror”, where SPEC- has a core meaning “to see, look at, observe, glance”
    John Cowan: nobody knows what the vowel system of North African Latin was like: it has often been assumed by Romance scholars to have been Sardinian-like (i.e. length lost, Classical Latin quantities maintained). This assumption strikes me as groundless: I’m afraid IGNORAMUS ET IGNORABIMUS.
    This is because the “confusion” of long and short /o/ needn’t imply a merger of the two vowels in African Latin: it could well be that its upper-class speakers (such as Saint Augustine) maintained a contrast in length which lower-class speakers had turned into a contrast of quantity: to the former it would indeed appear that the latter could not distinguish the two phonemes.
    The fact that Saint Augustine refers to such a merger as “African” means nothing either: while he had travelled across the Empire he would chiefly have interacted with other speakers of upper-class/learned Latin: thus, he might well have branded as “African” various linguistic features of lower-class Latin (such as loss (?) of vowel length) which were in no way peculiar to African Latin.

  53. On divergence in plural forms, I note some slippage in the discussion. There are surely two words Wort, distinguished in their plurals.

  54. “Hume speaks mostly about the supposed immateriality of the soul; not its supposed immortality, which he mentions just twice”
    Thank you Noetica for the clarification. A much too convenient lapsus…

  55. Augustine is writing in a period when Latin is still a tongue understanded of the people, after all; “ignorance” is appropriate when speaking of a learnèd language, but not of a native one.
    Fair enough; I guess I was unconsciously thinking the native language of the people would have been something related to Berber.

  56. My brother-in-law says that for him the noun “can” and the auxiliary verb “can” have different vowels. I am unable to hear the difference when he says them.

  57. Hat: I think the Berbers were mostly on the south side of the North African coastal range at the time.
    Etienne: Are you writing “quantity” when you mean “quality”? If not, I do not understand your distinction between length and quantity.
    Empty: That’s the bad-lad split and æ-tensing, which are really the same thing. In the U.K. it’s a matter of length, but in the U.S. of vowel quality: one is still [æ], the other more like [æə] or even [eə], the FAIR vowel of RP. In most people who have this split, the distinction is predictable and non-phonemic, but for some people in some words it is phonemic.

  58. John Cowan: yes, I meant quality, not quantity. Note to self: first coffee, THEN comments.

  59. Noetica: the vitriol from various quarters is a good heuristic for an independent thinker well worth our attention.
    I’m sure we agree on the following, which I nevertheless think is worth spelling out. When someone has merely written a silly or stupid book, then it should be ignored or at most mentioned briefly, mockingly. The give-away – that there might something worth reading in a book being reviewed – is not that the book is dismissed, but that it is sprayed with Moralinsäure (a tip of the hat to Fred N.)
    One does not expend anger on impertinence, but instead quells it with a glance. Moralizing must be reserved for works of art.

  60. In haste, travelling, with an iPad:
    Yes, I was a bit loose with my response on Wort, os, and the rest. The individuation of words is no trivial matter, and in some ways arbitrary. I have a fine book on Chinese morphology that goes on and on about such a seemingly elementary matter. I’ll check if it merits further mention here when I’m able to, in a few days.
    The accurate identification of proper names is of interest to me lately. Not settled by any means. Huddleston and Pullum give solid coverage, but fail to rule definitively. I don’t think that can be done with complete success.
    Stu, yes. Except of course that some impertinently stupid books get undeserved acclaim, and call for our attention as a corrective.

  61. Hume on Spinoza? I recently edited a piece in which it was argued that Hume worked mainly from excerpts in French journals for these folks, rather than poring over the sources. Seems right. As a young flècheling he could not have spent the time necessary to do that, surely.
    Noetica, my impression was that after finishing college at fifteen, where he learned French along with his Latin and Greek, Hume spent five years at home, as a serious autodidact (his parents supporting him because they thought he was studying law, when really he was reading whatever he wanted), before he followed in Descartes’s footstep. Could he not have grappled with Spinoza then? Or do you just think he didn’t have the mind for it?

  62. Oh, and where and when can I find that piece you edited, if I can?

  63. J, I will email you when I am back at home. But note: Hume refers explicitly to Bayle’s summation of Spinoza, doesn’t he? Search the treatise for “Bayle”. That’s the same kind of use of French secondary sources. He did a lot of that, from what I have seen lately. I am not a Hume scholar; it’s just that I’ve had some contact with these issues incidentally.
    My own research interest in Hume is more limited to his views on possibility and necessity as they apply to developments in our own time. Those aspects of Hume are themselves harder to sort out than used to be thought.

  64. Excellent — I eagerly await your email. And in the meantime I’ll send you a TLS review of a book on Hume, from about four years ago, which I think touches on, at least lightly, some of the aspects of Hume that interest you. It give a nice overview of recent scholarly debates and exegesis, anyway. I’ve only started reading him, and about him semi-seriously, recently — and was delightfully surprised to find the man so accessible, even stylish.

  65. aqilluqaaq says:

    The word species here does not mean ‘aspect’ or anything like it, it means ‘species’ in the Aristotelian sense (as is clear from the use of the Tertium cognitionis genus).

  66. I’m sorry, my last comment should have read, “a nice overview of recent scholarly debates and exegeses,” not “exegesis.”

  67. Yes, that’s sense number 10 in the Oxford Latin Dictionary, cited by Evan above.

  68. i just got to it by reading Alain de Botton
    i guess i’ve always knew that thing must be relativized, put in perspective and considered as of a mediocre importance in comparison with the universal, general matters but i guess this demands a lot of egolessness and mindfulness

  69. David Marjanović says:

    Addressing ancient comments just because.

    So biological species are aspects of Life, which is eternal by changing its species when the physical universe undergoes catastrophic change.

    That would be very poetic, but it’s not what the creationist Linnaeus had in mind. To him, genera were the kinds that life comes in, and the species are aspects of the genera – the genera are the basic, real things, and the species are their manifestations. This duality of general and specific was taken straight from Aristotle.

    In German, the regular ending is also -s

    Depends on the kind of German. My grandma doesn’t use -s at all; words that don’t fit into the established declension classes, like Auto and personal names in -a, simply get no plural marker at all from her. I think -s in Standard German and most dialects is a fairly recent loan from Low German.

  70. Huh! The things I learn. Thank goodness for you diligent excavators of old threads!

  71. marie-lucie says:

    Spinoza

    In my youth I was subjected to four years of “philosophy” (among other subjects) and remember very little of it. In only one of those years did I have a good philosophy teacher, and from time to time I would have a brain wave ‘That’s what philosophy is!’ But those times were few and far between and I never really caught on to philosophy. Anyway, at one point I read a translation of a work by Spinoza titled in French Traité des passions (which I don’t recognize among the Latin titles mentioned above). What I remember was how different it was from other philosophical texts, how down to earth, how easy to read!

    Stu: the French mot. One plural is propos, the other is mots.

    ??? Propos is both singular and plural, it is now somewhat archaic as well as literary-intellectual, especially in the singular. It refers to the content of a particular piece of speech, rather than the actual words. While it would often be appropriate to translate mes propos by ‘my words’, the opposite might not be so. In a relatively high register mes paroles would usually be better than either mes propos or mes mots; in a colloquial register, ce que je viens de dire ‘what I just said’ would probably be best.

  72. I think -s in Standard German and most dialects is a fairly recent loan from Low German.

    Correct. In the 19C, when it landed in the standard, there were a lot of prescriptivist denunciations of it as un-German. For a regular form, it’s pretty rare: of the 200 most common nouns, only Auto and Hobby take it, both obvious recent borrowings, and it represents only 4% of a list of 25,000 nouns. But there are several places where the standard makes systematic use of it: words used as words, letters used as letters, etc.; acronyms (GmbHs) and truncations (Sozis); and words converted from phrases, like Dreikäsehochs and Tunichtguts (supposedly the family Thugut were formerly Thunichtgut < Italian Tunicotto). See our 2012 discussion.

    Your reference to “personal names in -a” is puzzling, though. Names with whatever termination are yet another place where the standard makes use of -s: Thomas and Katia Mann are collectively die Manns, not die Männer. What would your grandma make them?

    m-l: I can find no work by Spinoza with a similar title, though certainly he wrote extensively on the passions in the Ethics and elsewhere. Are you perhaps thinking of Descartes’ book with that title?

  73. David Marjanović says:

    Your reference to “personal names in -a” is puzzling, though. Names with whatever termination are yet another place where the standard makes use of -s: Thomas and Katia Mann are collectively die Manns, not die Männer. What would your grandma make them?

    For first names (Claudia, Julia, Anna…) I do use -s (“there are two Claudias in my class”). My grandma does not, she treats them as undeclinable as she does Auto. Similarly, Sozi and Nazi were more often plural than singular when they were coined in the 1920s, but I do mark them as plural by adding -s, and so does everyone else in the last 2 to 3 generations.

    To use -s for surnames, on the other hand, always strikes me as a Teutonism. I, and everyone around me that I’ve noticed, either (colloquially) keep them unmarked, or avoid the issue altogether by using a circumlocution: die Familie Mann, die Brüder Grimm.

    Dreikäsehoch and Tunichtgut are not in my active vocabulary. I’m not even sure if I’ve ever heard them pronounced; they are purely literary to me. …For Tunichtgut in particular, -s strikes me as quite weird; if pressed, I’d probably settle on -e.

  74. marie-lucie says:

    JC: Perhaps I am misremembering the title, but I am sure what I read was by Spinoza not Descartes (we read some Descartes too, but their styles are quite different). It might have been an excerpt or series of excerpts from Ethics as you suggest.

  75. David M: What do you mean by “Teutonism”?

  76. Stefan Holm says:

    I am the happy owner of one of the rare remaining copies of the 1922 Swedish translation of Spinoza’s Ethics. Some 25 years ago I even read it, which was an achievement, since it is dry as tinder. Its full title is Ethica Ordine Geometrico Demonstrata, ‘ethics demonstrated in a geometer’s way’ and that’s exactly what it is. But never ever have I regretted getting through this masterpiece of human thinking.

    Sub specie aeternitatis is Spinoza’s way to express, what differs us from all other living creatures. Take a bone. For a dog it’s simply something he can chew on. Were it not for that the dog would be completely indifferent. But we aren’t, we can’t stop ourselves from analyzing it in all thinkable ways regardless of whether we have any gain from it or not. We are not satisfied with what it means for us but even more want to know what it “is” in itself – i.e. under the viewpoint of eternity.

    As for Deus sive natura, ‘God or nature’, it reflects Spinoza’s dualism and pantheism. He claims that God and the universe (or the laws of physics) are two aspects of the same thing and consequently that religion and science are so to say two doors that lead into the same room. He thereby states that God is perfect or complete but that he lacks free will. To have a free will means that you wish or want something, but that in turn means that there is something you don’t have. And is there something you don’t have you are not complete. So, says Spinoza, you have to chose one or the other – which he did. He also had no problems to understand why there are so many evil, disgusting, dirty etc. things in the world. For Spinoza they are just part of the completeness.

    However, besides feelings and instincts that we share with animals, our irresistible longing for knowledge sub specie aeternitatis, if we obey to it, could ultimately lead us to amor Dei intellectualis, ‘intellectual love for God’, which is the highest state of knowledge we can reach.

    His theories made Spinoza a pariah. Both the protestant and the jewish parishes banned him, ‘may God never forgive him’, and he lived the main part of his life in an attic with just a few apprentice friends, earning his living making glass lenses. Nobody dared to publish his ‘Ethics’ until 50 years after his death but then it became the real door opener for the Enlightment.

    The broadness of his influence may be illustrated by that on one hand romantic poet Goethe called him ‘my old asylum’, to which he took his resort in days of trouble, while on the other hand the icon of science, Einstein, said ‘I believe in Spinoza’s God, a God which exists in everything there is but not interferes with the fate of individual humans’.

    Every time I look up on the stars of the night sky, watches a reconstruction of the early universe – or read a beautiful poem – I send a thought of gratitude to this remarkable, outcast thinker from The Hague.

  77. Thanks very much for that enlightening comment, yet another reason to bless the fact I can now leave all threads open indefinitely!

  78. Stefan Holm says:

    Thanks in turn, Hat, for your kind comment. But maybe I ought to mention some part of Spinoza’s philosophy, that today definitely would lead to the same hatred against him as 350 years ago – at least among vegetarians, environmentalists, animal lovers, the UN climate panel and the like:

    According to his view, that the universe (or God, if you like) is perfect and complete – and to his determinism, he claimed that we are free to handle our environment just as we like. If we decide to exterminate the wolves (as we did in Sweden in the late 19th century) – so what? If we cut down some forests – so what? If we feed from cows, pigs and chickens – so what? I.e. he was a true humanist in the very essence of the word.

    In his Ethics, which almost solely is built up on mathematical deductions, he never referres to the Bible. But he for sure knew his Ecclesiastes more then well.

  79. I.e. he was a true humanist in the very essence of the word.

    But did he go so far as to claim that we are free to destroy our environment (and therefore ourselves) just as we like? If so, the consistency is admirable but a little too cold-blooded for my taste, and I’m not sure you can call it humanism if it involves ending humanity.

  80. Stefan Holm says:

    To be honest, I’m not really sure whether he had the Doris Day approach: Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be or if he had a faith, that there are self-healing forces on this planet (after all – life, through two billion years, has survived). But when it comes to actions, that ultimately could threaten humans, he certainly would have opposed.

    It all boils down to his idea that we should choose laetitia in front of tristitia. These Latin words are difficult to translate into a modern language. It is not as simple as ‘lust’ contra ‘uneasiness’. With ‘lust’ he definitely means the lust for the viewpoint of eternity and not for, say, sex or drugs, which he doesn’t per se dismiss but considers volative (as we all perfectly know).

    In my imagination the lens grinder from The Hague would have answered your question with the words: Ye men of little faith!

  81. But he for sure knew his Ecclesiastes more then well.

    Yet the ecclesia wanted nothing to do with him.

  82. David Marjanović says:

    David M: What do you mean by “Teutonism”?

    A linguistic pecularity of the Standard German of Germany.

    life, through two billion years, has survived

    More like four billion.

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