Thursday, 18 August 2016

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time[i]
Philosophy and a curious mind was a legacy from my grandfather. Recently I read a book by Rebecca Goldstein “36 Arguments for the Existence of God, a work of fiction” In her appendix  Argument 36 The argument from the Intelligibility of the Universe ( Spinoza’s God)
My grandfather was old, in his late 80s when I was a teen. He spewed out words of Spinoza, and Greek philosophers. In Grade XIII I wrote an essay for Peggy Fulton’s English class on Spinoza “ A Great Philosopher”. I still have the hand written paper. I see it is pretty much plagiarized. At any rate the essence of Spinoza’s thought is that the universe is perfectly lawful and necessary, worthy of our awe,  provides all the answers about itself- is God, neither transcendent nor transcendental. Seeds  were planted in my mind, and later germinated as I studied philosophy with Frank Doan at Lakehead University. It seems  odd that 50 years after my  grandpa’s death  I should come upon a novel with Spinoza’s philosophy, as its theme.
Goldstein’s novel led me to another of her books Betraying Spinoza. She tells the reader that Spinoza  received  a vehemence letter from a student, who turned aside from his teacher’s thought, and told him why, in  terms.  Spinoza was  dying of tuberculosis but he gathered enough strength to respond (December 1675):
”the first and foremost rule to remember is that we have no control over anything other than the progress of our own understanding. And the second rule is to care only about that which we have control. We don’t have control over others’ understanding no matter how hard we try to help them advance.”[ii]
Spinoza was unable to keep the student ‘Albert Burgh from descending into narrow minded confusion.
As teachers we have to keep  in mind that the power to pursue knowledge, understanding. and truth remains with the student. We can do what we can. We can encourage and set examples. But we cannot learn for the student. This desire to make the effort to seek knowledge, and understanding  lies with the students themselves. Students  must learn to set aside  superstitions and false beliefs. According to Spinoza[iii] “Superstitions as opposed  to religion offer us false cures for our finitude. They make us believe that we are more cosmically important than we are…,”
To become fully functioning autonomous human beings learn to make judgments based on reason,  be objective, balance the facts. 

[i] [i]  T.S. Eliot Four Quartets Little Gidding  ( p222 Collected Poems 1907-1962  Faber and Faber 1963)

[ii] Rebecca  Goldstein Betraying Spinoza Random House (2006) Page169
[iii] ibid p122