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Martin Lenz:

Socializing the Mind: Intersubjectivity in Early Modern Philosophy (Book project, 2015-2017)

How did early modern philosophers understand the way the human mind relates to the world? This book argues that key figures in early modern philosophy endorsed a social view of the human mind. According to this view, the way we categorise the world around us is crucially determined by the fact that we are part of a community. This means that we cannot simply conceptualize things as they objectively are or in accordance with subjective experience. In other words, intentional states are neither objectively nor subjectively but intersubjectively determined. Someone thinking of things such as gold, dogs or murder applies categories that depend on the acceptance of other members of society. Such intersubjectivist views are widely held today. But it is commonly assumed that they were not even considered before the 19th and 20th centuries.

While scholarship on early modern philosophy of mind is on the rise again, most recent works do not question the subjectivist lines of interpretations promoted especially by Ryle, Rorty and Taylor. Contrary to this still widespread understanding of early modern philosophy of mind as the era of Cartesian subjectivism, this book will show that many influential thinkers started out from intersubjectivist premises. We begin to see this, I argue, once we recognise the deep connections between theoretical and practical philosophy in the historical context. Drawing on such connections, the book will start out by showing why intersubjectivity matters in contemporary debates (part one), before zooming in on the early modern period (part two). In portraying especially Spinoza, Locke and Hume as holding different variants of intersubjectivism, this book will present concerted case studies aiming at a novel understanding of early modern philosophy and its relation to contemporary debates about intersubjectivity.

Andrea Sangiacomo:

The Wise Passions. Spinoza’s Rethinking of Reason and Affects ( Book project, 2013-2015)

Spinoza’s moral philosophy has been often interpreted as a kind of “ethical intellectualism”, according to which the Supreme Good coincides with intellectual knowledge, which is also necessary and sufficient to get rid of the passions and reach beatitude. This book defends two theses that significantly overthrow this reading. First, Spinoza is committed to ethical intellectualism only in his early writings (until 1665 ca.), while he rejects it in his mature works (Theological-Political Treatise, Ethics and Political Treatise). Second, Spinoza’s mature thought focuses on how passions and desires can be exploited to foster rationality and the acquisition of intellectual knowledge. Depending on the circumstances and different conditions in which individuals interact, certain passions can turn out to be wise insofar as they constrain individuals to operate in such a way that their rationality will be strengthened in the process. In order to develop this account of “wise passions”, Spinoza had to rethink not only the nature and role of the affects, but also the nature of rationality and how it is rooted in the individual’s power of acting.

The unique contribution that this book makes to the existing literature is twofold. From a historical point of view, the book unveils a significant evolution in Spinoza’s thought (from his early writings to his later works) that has been so far neglected by Spinoza scholars. From a conceptual point of view, the book offers a new interpretation of Spinoza’s account of rationality and its connection with the notions of conatus and power, which makes rationality dependent on social cooperation.

My approach combines accurate diachronic reconstruction of Spinoza’s whole corpus of writings and in-depth conceptual analysis aimed at underpinning shifts and changes in his thinking and revealing the philosophical reasons behind them.

Aurelia Armstrong, Keith Green, Andrea Sangiacomo (eds.),
Spinoza and Relational Autonomy: Being with others (Book Project, Edinburgh UP, 2018)

The question of how to understand autonomy has emerged as a critical issue in contemporary political philosophy. Feminists and others argue that autonomy cannot be adequately conceived without taking into consideration the ways in which it is shaped by our relationships with others. This collection aims to contribute to this debate by showing what a close examination of Baruch Spinoza’s thought can add to our understanding of the relational nature of autonomy. By offering a relational understanding of the nature of individuals centred on the role played by emotions, Spinoza offers not only historical roots for the contemporary debates but also broadens the current discussion. At the same time, reading Spinoza as a theorist of relational autonomy underscores the consistency of his overall metaphysical, ethical and political project, which has been clouded by the standard rationalist interpretation of his works.

Contributors: Catriona Mackenkie, Matt Kisner, Heidi M. Ravven, Caroline Williams, Justin Steinberg, Ericka Tucker, Keith Green, Moira Gatens , Ursula Renz, Aurelia Armstrong, Martin Lenz, Andrea Sangiacomo.

Last modified:15 September 2016 5.36 p.m.