This letter is from the correspondence of the Japanese writers Seiji Koga
and Yashuma Neiboku
. Koga (1745-1844) was a scholar of linguistics, translation, and religion, among other things. Neiboku (1747-1821) studied with Koga in the city of Keio
in the 1790's. Later, after Koga's return to his native Fukuoka
, the two shared a remarkable correspondence, part of which has been lost. The subject of the correspondence was, for the most part, the writings of the Jewish philosopher Baruch de Spinoza
, who treated in his Ethics
of God, the understanding, the emotions, and love.
In this letter Koga turns to the fourteenth proposition of the first book of Spinoza's Ethics
. In this proposition Spinoza rejects the possibility of substance dualism
. In its favor he postulates substance monism
, the philosophical thesis that holds that there can only be one substance constituting the universe.
From our viewpoint almost two hundred years later, this appears to be a remarkable move on Spinoza's part, for in denying reality to two substances, he also erases the philosophical project of Rene Descartes
, a project popularized by Immanueal Kant
(in his attempt to explain the interaction between the understanding, i.e., the phenomenal
, and the transcendtal
reality which this understanding sought to perceive). We might say that Spinoza was the first philosopher to debunk the practice of epistemology
. He certainly was not the first to ridicule such questions, though before Spinoza and Descartes, there was also not epistemology as we now know it. There was not, in short, modern philosophy
, of which Descartes was the father. As soon as Descartes conceived it, and before Kant perfected it, Spinoza was there ridiculing it from the sidelines -- a Derridean
image of the confident Jew mocking the serious contestants of the mind.
Koga's explication of the fourteenth proposition (Ip14) is not difficult to follow. It is, in short, this: if there were two substances, these substances would have to be explained and understood in terms of each other's attributes
. This, however, is impossible because, as demonstrated in the fifth proposition (Ip4), there cannot be two substances that share an attribute, for then these substances are indistinguishable via their attributes (which is the only formal entity through which a substance can be identical with itself, or distinguished from another). The concepts of identity
, on which a metaphysics must always be based, is here highlighted by Koga, and we can only admire his lucidity in explicating the deepest aspects of the Western philosophical problematic. This third letter certainly picks up where the second letter
ended. Koga there wrote, "Spinoza's questions, Neiboku, you see, are all tied up with questions of identity, and the absolute presencing and absencing of a thing."
I would be interested to read Derrida's response to Koga's emphasis on the primacy of identity in philosophical questions, but also Plato's
. Of course, I do not believe that this is possible.
My Dear Friend Neiboku,
I thank you again many times for your reply to my letter, in which I treated further of my translation of Spinoza's Latin term "essentia" into the word "be-ing". I know that you still have reservations about this translation, but I too am glad that you have decided to save them for later. For perhaps my continued exposition of Spinoza's writings will enable you to go around the circle of understanding, until you are so deep in the labyrinth of my interpretations of Spinoza's texts that you cannot but see the hidden beauty that my eyes see. For me, this is not a matter of truth, but of love.
First, though, let me address the question you have written to me, the question regarding specters, and whether or not they exist. Perhaps they do. I myself believe that I have seen an apparition, yet I do not know whether this ghost was itself real or merely apparitional. The difficulty in our understanding comes, I think, from our desire to apply a term such as "real" to that which is precisely outside of this term. Yet to deny "reality", or perhaps "existence" in Spinoza's sense, to a ghost, nonetheless does not deny its' "be-ing" or its actuality and activity in the world, some world, the world of God. That a thing may be, but nevertheless not exist, is difficult to understand, but I believe that Spinoza taught us that this was one of the secrets of the world in which we live. A great secret, the key to which would unlock blessedness in our hearts.
Neiboku, I have already in my correspondence to you treated of the axioms of Book I, Propositio VII, and Propositio XI. Let me turn now to Propositio XIV, which is this:
Praeter Deum nulla dari neque concipi potest substantia.
Corollarium I. Hinc clarissime sequitur 1. Deum esse unicum, hoc est (per defin. 6.) in rerum natura non nisi unam substantiam dari, eamque absolute infinitam esse, ut in scholio prop. 10. iam innuimus.
Corollarium II. Sequitur 2. rem extensam et rem cogitantem, vel Dei attributa esse, vel (per axiom. 1.) affectiones attributorum Dei.
Besides God, neither conception or giving of substance is possible, or Besides God, there can be no conception or granting of substance.
Cor. I. Clearly, therefore, 1. God is one that is (by definition vi) only one substance can be granted in the universe and that substance is God, who is absolutely infinite, as has been indicated in the scholium to propositio x.
Cor. II. It follows that, 2, things extending and things thinking, are attributes of God, or (by axiom I) affections of God's attributes.
Proposition XIV states, as I understand it, that there is but one substance, and that this substance is God. There can be, Spinoza contends, only this one substance. In this way, he dismisses the entire philosophical tradition in which he was working. This tradition is, of course, Christian. It was popularized in the dualism (mind & body) of Rene Descartes, of whom you undoubtedly have not heard. Like those Scholastics and Aquinas and Augustine before him, Descartes held that the mind and the body were two unique substances, the existence of the one not interacting with the other (except by some intermediary, which it has always been the goal of philosophers to discover or imagine, for Descartes, it was ridiculous, for he imagined the existence of a pineal gland that moved in so many ways as the body could move, and whose movements were affected by the soul). Spinoza rejects this, see the preface to the fifth book of Ethics, which is this:
What does Descartes understand, I ask, by the union of the mind and the body? What clear and distinct conception has he got of thought in most intimate union with a certain particle of extended matter? Truly I should like him to explain this union through its proximate cause. What clear and distinct conception has he got of thought in most intimate union with a certain particle of extended matter? What clear and distinct conception has he got of thought in most intimate union with a certain particle of extended matter? But he had so distinct a conception of mind being distinct from body, that he could not assign any particular cause of the union between the two, or of the mind itself, but was obliged to have recourse to the cause of the whole universe, that is to God.
Spinoza, the anathematized Jew, replaces the philosophical corollary of Christian theology with the philosophical corollary of Jewish mystical doctrine: the unity of the infinite Eyn Sof, which is the single and solitary substance in the universe, the only self-caused be-ing, which thereby must exist necessarily.
There can be, Prop. XIV states, only one substance. There cannot be two substances, Spinoza states int he demostration to this proposition, for another substance would impinge upon the infinitude of God, which not only pertains to God, but does so necessarily. If there were another substance, its cognition and explanation would have to be in terms of one of God's attributes, that is in one of the forms through which God self-expresses and is self-understood. Yet the existence of this other substance would imply the existence of two substances with the same attribute, which is absurd, Spinoza states. In Propositio V Spinoza stated that, "There cannot exist two or more substances having the same naturae (nature) or attributes." If there were two substances sharing the same attribute, Spinoza states, and I agree with him, then we could not distinguish these substances, neither by their attributes (which would be shared and so indistiguishable) nor their modes (which are only expressions of these substances via these attributes). Therefore they could only be differentiated in terms of the substances themselves, but this would be absurd, for two substances that differ neither in attribute nor modification must be the same substance. This, at least, is what Spinoza holds to be true.
Now as to the truth of this doctrine, I am still not able to offer you a substantial commentary, for I am but overflowed with these words, Yashuma, as you wrote to me of yourself being overflowed with the words that unceasinbly poor from your hands. Yashuma, is there only one God? That would be glorious, yet also terrifying. For then, from what does change and motion and differentiation arise? These things are, I sometimes fear, beyond us. At other times, I comfort myself with this belief.
I certainly agree with Spinoza that the existence of two substances as postulated in the manner of Descartes invites a significant philosophical and theological problem, which Descartes embarrased himself in an attempt to solve, i.e., the ridiculous notion of the pineal gland. This problem of interaction, as we might call it, can only be but a waste of hours, for none could solve it, not even these substances themselves. If there are two substances, then they cannot share attributes, so how are their modifications (or the content of the substances) supposed to interact given that the form through which this content is expressed (attributes) are incommensurable and not shared? This question I put to you.
I will rest now with these thoughts Neiboku. Please further press your inquiries as if you are to make tea for the emperor. I am tea, you are seive. Place my mind as if in the center of a haiku, suspend me there, and let me fall downwards, and yet also in all directions at once, in the words that I give over to you with a grateful heart. You will, I trust, take care in so handling my fragile body and soul.
Your Lonely Flower Says,
I Love You,