Voluntarism vs. Intellectualism

Graham has an interesting post up on viewing the history of philosophy in oppositional dualisms. One of the things I like about Graham is his ability to cut these problems down to their essential components.

In this case, the opposition he’s talking about is Occasionalism vs. Skepticism. I’m not going to talk about his post, so much as the general idea at work, so go read it.

I always find these sorts of oppositions interesting. I have a prof who seems to see everything according to either Voluntarism or Intellectualism / Rationalism (metaphysical not epistemological). “What is primary, Will or Intellect?”

This debate also goes back to Neo-Platonism (“What emanates out of the One first, Nous or World-Soul?”), and has found its way into more recent philosophy as well (with people like Schelling, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche [and their followers] taking up the voluntarist cause against people like Hegel). Spinoza poses an interesting problem with this dichotomy: thought and extension are the attributes of substance that we are aware of, yet he also claims that all bodies strive (conatus) and all minds will (voluntas). So what is the relation of Will (generally) for Spinoza? I remember from reading Schopenhauer that he thought Spinoza got it backwards, and that Will is primary, but is this really fair to Spinoza? Maybe someone who knows more about Spinozism can help me out here.

Are there any other such dichotomies that people want to draw?


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3 responses to “Voluntarism vs. Intellectualism

  1. kvond


    The conatus is really central Spinoza’s telling of the world, though perhaps not with the kind of centrality that Schopenhauer would wish. Each and everything in existence has conatus, a striving, which as Spinoza describes it makes up something of its essence as a thing in existence. With almost Neitzschean Will to Power force, each thing does all it it can to persist, pursuing its Joys, avoiding its sadnesses. But because of modal essences (the essence of “real objects” in Graham’s metaphysics) do not have existence predicated of them, that is, because they are not their own cause of existence, they relie upon the external causes of other things, and concordantly their conatuses as well. So existence becomes a mixed rationalizing, but still Machiavellian game of negotions with other conatus-driven bodies and minds.

    But, this is not a Hobbesian world where there is a primal state of war, “all against all,” which human beings rise up out of by virtue of a mythical contract, because a conatus that has come into existence has done so already in harmony with a cooperation of a mutuality of causes, it is dependent in its finite existence. You can see this same metaphysical fact in Spinoza’s political theory, and concepts of the affects. Even strife among human beings, their most powerful negative projections upon each other, are already occurring in a social field wherein each person sees this enemy in some fundamental way “the same” as him (if only the same as a competitor).

    For this reason, much as what happens on the metaphysical level of the dependency of strivings upon other strivings, in the social level, a mutuality of conception both supports destructive warrings, but also of course the capacity to find agreement.

  2. That makes sense, thanks for responding!

  3. kvond

    Sure. The best to you.

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