[SydPhil] UOW Philosophy Seminar: Beth Lord, "Spinoza's Ratios and Relational Autonomy"

michael kirchhoff michael.david.kirchhoff at gmail.com
Wed Aug 13 10:27:06 AEST 2014

UOW Philosophy Seminar, Spring 2014. All are welcome!

Speaker: Dr. Beth Lord (University of Aberdeen)

Title: Spinoza's Ratios and Relational Autonomy

Abstract: Ratio is an important term in Spinoza's Ethics: it refers to
reason, to relation, and to mathematical ratio. I will argue here that all
three senses of ratio are significant for the concept of equality that
emerges from the Ethics and that goes on to inform Spinoza's political
thought. Spinoza's references to equality in the Ethics are initially made
in the context of geometry (e.g. the three angles of a triangle are equal
to two right angles). Over the course of the text, we see Spinoza extend
his use of the term to interacting bodies (equal angles of motion), to the
relation between mind and body (the mind's striving is equal to the body's
striving), to interpersonal relations (people are saddened by their equals'
virtue), and finally to political and inter-species relations (all things
are equal in their power to exist). I will make the case that these
different uses of "equality" can be traced back to Spinoza's first,
geometric sense. What is important about this geometric sense of equality
is that it incorporates difference: every ratio implies a relation between
differing elements. This, I will argue, is crucial to understanding
Spinoza's appeal to equality in his political texts, for human individuals,
communities, and nature as a whole can also be understood as ratios in that
way. When it is seen to be rooted in geometry rather than a liberal
democratic ideal, Spinoza's concept of equality becomes interesting for
self-determination. This concept fits the view that the self is determined
through relational autonomy, and raises questions about what kind of
equality is best for individuals. Must a concept of equality ground moral
and political recognition? Might income equality, as a goal to be pursued
through taxation and charity, be more important for self-determination? I
will suggest some Spinozistic answers to these questions.

When: Wednesday 20 August
Time: 3:30 - 5:00pm
Where: Research Hub 19.2072B, building 19

There will be a student seminar from 2:00 - 2:45pm, also in the Research


*Dr. Michael D. Kirchhoff *
Lecturer in Philosophy
School of Humanities and Social Enquiry
Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts
University of Wollongong NSW 2522
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