Doing without Free Will: Spinoza and Contemporary Moral Problems (PDF) introduces Spinoza into the present-day discussion on moral problems and free will surrounding this discussion. Old Western moral philosophy, for the most part, has been built on the assumption of free will as a special human capacity to liberally choose actions without being determined in that choice. This idea draws increasing critique, fueled newly especially by the ever-new findings of neuroscience. But how can we form a moral philosophy without free will?
Spinoza meets a similar challenge when writing his Ethics during the growth of modern science and its deterministic model of nature and, thus, has much to propose the current discussion. Not only does he offer a foundation for understanding moral responsibility without free will, but he also offers an explanation and solution to the classical problem of akrasia specifically because he argues the will is not free. He worked out a completely new system of moral philosophy that can help resolve the meta-ethical dilemma between relativism and absolutism, showing how moral values develop naturally within society.
In spite of denying the traditional God-like power of “free will” Spinoza developed a strong concept of freedom, one that is clearly human and feasible today. His modernism comes to light when we look at his answers to the much-discussed questions whether it is possible or even desirable to build objective instead of reactive attitudes toward our fellow human beings. His answers, maybe surprisingly, resemble positions held by some contemporary philosophers.
Christopher Kluz and Ursula Goldenbaum’s Doing without Free Will: Spinoza and Contemporary Moral Problems is the ebook that we have all been waiting for! Ultimately Spinoza’s unique contribution of a conception of the goal of human life as freedom without a free will has been regained as the tertium quid and inserted into the stalemated contemporary philosophical debate between the two leading strains of latterday Humeans and Kantians. Kudos to Kluz and Goldenbaum for spearheading this important project and for bringing together key contributors to reinterpret Spinoza’s understanding of moral agency in the terms of the modern Anglo-American philosophical conversation. This is a great ebook and a needed contribution to both Spinoza studies and to the current philosophical free will/determinism debate. — Heidi Ravven, Hamilton College
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