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Spinozistic LEGO in InCircolo

Date:04 January 2021
Author:Harmen Grootenhuis
‘The Art of the Brick' Lego exhibit
‘The Art of the Brick' Lego exhibit

In these postmodern times, grand narratives are out of fashion and the scientific advance has set the academic disciplines adrift on the sea of specialization. With these two developments in mind, the quest of several scholars to advocate modern-day Spinozism seems a waste of energy. If there ever were a philosopher who constructed a grand narrative about all of reality, it would be Spinoza. But, one might wonder: what good does it do to study the work of some dead intellectual whose story is based on far-outdated scientific data? Wouldn’t it be better to simply let present-day scientists inform us? Yes, of course we need to listen to the scientists. The current COVID-related lockdowns worldwide show what happens when too many people ignore for far too long the health and safety advice from medical professionals. It is also clear, however, that the scientific advance of our time is not coupled with a growth in trust. In the US, the current pandemic has favorably influenced the public esteem of science,* but I suspect that this is only a temporary break from the trend of increasing distrust.** This threat is also perceived across the Atlantic. Throughout Europe, universities are warning for an erosion of trust in science as well, identifying the dangerous trends of “a context collapse, a confirmation bias, and a polarisation push,” emphasizing the need for countering “a loss of trust in and trustworthiness of science and research”.*** Conspiracy theories ravage the public domain and reveal the widespread need of people to have a story that makes sense of it all. Comprehensive worldviews are in demand, now perhaps more than ever.

            Luckily for us, Spinoza has given us one. His philosophy interweaves personal experience with the mechanics of reality. We are the world and the world is us. The monistic system of Spinoza connects our personal identity to the way in which we act and how we influence – and are influenced by – our environment. The entire world is ultimately a composition of parts; something like a giant LEGO set that can be taken apart and put together in what might seem as infinitely many ways. Just like LEGO constructs, people can be built up and broken down. They can be modified to fit the set and the set can be restructured to fit them.

            Today’s Spinozist is someone who sees the endless possibilities of Spinozistic (re)configuration, and is thus confident that reality – with all its facts – will find its way into her theory. In a soon-to-appear-online dossier, several scholars tread forward as colleagues of Spinoza, introducing their newest designs and products. The dossier features a Spinozist Self-Help Starter Set and a Spinozist Political Activism Set; it even contains expansion packs, such as Spinozist Poetry and Spinozist Buddhism! With their inspirational stories of how they themselves benefited from reading the work of the lens-grinding philosopher from Amsterdam, the authors give a little taste of just how modern Spinoza’s seventeenth-century theory can be.

            In order to fit reality, some parts of Spinoza’s original ontological set might have to be adjusted or replaced. Sometimes, the Spinoza-bricks do not even seem to fit each other. Most Spinozists – there are a few radicals – recognize this, but they don’t worry about it too much. Just like many new items are still being added to the LEGO sets, so many ontological items in contemporary Spinozism were not on the original component list. Spinoza’s philosophy does not need to be immaculate in order for it to be inspiring. Moreover, “a great thinker is one who makes great mistakes, and from them much can be learned.” I would mention who I am quoting here, but I‘d much rather encourage you to read the dossier and find out for yourself. It is worth the read.

About the author

Harmen Grootenhuis


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