Spinoza's Materialist "Epistemology"
Whitman, Norman Lee
Scholars have begun to explore Baruch Spinoza’s critique of rationalism, largely because of his importance for later thinkers deeply concerned about the nature of body, including Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, Frankfurt school critical theorists, and feminists. Until now, however, Spinoza’s epistemological writings have not been properly addressed in this revival of interest in his materialism. My dissertation reconstructs Spinoza’s materialist method of knowing in an effort to reclaim it from Cartesian and idealist readings, offering instead a materialist reading of Spinoza’s epistemological writings that shows him as the first serious critic of modern rationalism. Contrary to the predominant reading of Spinoza in Anglo-American philosophy, which presents him as a metaphysician dependent on Cartesian epistemology, I argue that Spinoza offers something separate, akin to an epistemology, that distinguishes him from the Cartesian model and allows him to critique it. The dissertation explores how Spinoza’s method of knowing must involve material conditions, including concrete history, psychology, society, and politics, that are experienced through the body and that render a purely mental criterion for knowledge impossible.