Spinoza on being

Principal Investigator: Karolina Hubner

Department: Philosophy

Grant Names: SSHRC ; Insight Grant ;

Award Years: 2016 to 2020


In one form or another, the question "What is being?" is the central motivating question of metaphysics. It has fascinated philosophers from ancient times to present day, but no consensus exists as to the answer. The goal of my research is to develop a new account of being - a new ontology - with the resources found in the work of the 17th century philosopher Baruch Spinoza. The results of my research will be of interest to historians of philosophy as well as contemporary metaphysicians. 

My organizing hypothesis is that Spinoza's account of being is both idealistic and pluralistic, and can be summarized as the claim, "Being is thought in many ways". That is, there are multiple, irreducible senses in which something can "be" (this is the essence of 'ontological pluralism'), but each of these ontological categories or ways of being corresponds to a specific relation between being and thought (making Spinoza an 'idealist' of sorts). Focusing on the fundamental question of the nature of being will allow me to offer a comprehensive, unified, and novel reinterpretation of Spinoza's metaphysics, reorganizing our understanding of Spinoza's ontology. 

The interpretation of being will serve as a jumping-off point for reassessing enduring interpretative puzzles about Spinoza's philosophy. The research will shed light on key metaphysical doctrines (including parallelism, substance-attribute relation, intelligibility of being), and make possible a reassessment of neglected theses (such as Spinoza's positive theory of universals). Given the current revival of interest in ontological pluralism, the project is very timely. It will enrich our understanding of how it is possible to think about nature, existence and beings more generally, opening the door for future investigations into the contemporary viability of Spinoza's approach. The project will also advance our understanding of foundational texts that draw on the same metaphysical tradition, and through which we often introduce our students to philosophy.