Spinoza's Metaphysics of Power and ActionSandra Leonie Field (Monash University)
Arts West 556
The proper philosophical understanding of powers was an important topic of debate in early modern Europe. In this paper, I'll explore Spinoza's view, which occupies a puzzling intermediate position between the extremes of a 'deep' Scholastic conception and a 'surface' Hobbesian account. I'll argue in favour of an interpretation of Spinoza whereby powers-talk (unlike Hobbes) allows a distinction between acting from one's own power versus acting under the power of another, but (unlike Scholasticism) does not hold individuals to a normative standard of action against which they can be judge deficient. I'll sketch the upshot of this Spinozist approach for social theory, which (I'll suggest) sometimes oscillates between the unsatisfactory extremes of 'deep' and 'surface' approaches to power.