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Skidmore College
Jacob Perlow Series

One is the Loneliest Number:
Monism in Spinoza 

A lecture by Michael Della Rocca, professor of philosophy at Yale University, with an introduction by Larry M. Jorgensen, associate professor of philosophy, Skidmore College

Thursday, March 9 at 7:30 p.m.

Davis Auditorium, Palamountain Hall • The event is free and open to the public.

Michael Della Rocca headshotIs Spinoza a monist? It might seem obvious that he is. After all, he says explicitly that "there is only one substance," God or Nature. However, Spinoza also says on at least two occasions that God is not properly called "one." How are such reservations about applying numerical notions to God compatible with Spinoza's alleged monism? I address this question by exploring some well-motivated and philosophically insightful intricacies in Spinoza's conception of number. By this means, I arrive at some surprising conclusions not only about the apparent one-ness of substance, but also about the apparent many-ness of finite things for Spinoza. Not only is God not genuinely one, but finite things are not genuinely many. This reading revives important aspects of traditional readings of Spinoza that go back at least to Harry Wolfson's magisterial reading of Spinoza as an heir to earlier Jewish thought and also rehabilitates the much-derided but insightful Hegelian interpretation of Spinoza.

Michael Della Rocca grew up in Brooklyn, New York. After receiving his B.A. from Harvard University and his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley he moved to Yale University, where he has taught since 1991 and is currently Andrew Downey Orrick Professor of Philosophy. He is the author of two books on Spinoza, Representation and the Mind-Body Problem in Spinoza (Oxford 1996) and Spinoza (Routledge 2008) and of numerous articles in early modern philosophy and in contemporary metaphysics. He is currently embarked on a new project entitled The Parmenidean Ascent, which argues for a radically monistic view of the world while challenging the basic methodologies prevalent in contemporary philosophy.

This presentation is part of the Jacob Perlow Event Series and is co-sponsored by the Departments of Philosophy and Religious Studies and the Office of the Dean of Special Programs.


About the Jacob Perlow Series: A generous grant from the estate of Jacob Perlow—an immigrant to the United States in the 1920s, a successful businessman deeply interested in religion and philosophy and a man who was committed to furthering Jewish education—supports annual lectures and presentations to the College and Capital District community on issues broadly related to Jews and Judaism.