A View from Nowhere? The Place of Subjectivity in Spinoza’s Rationalism

In: Th. Ekenberg, J. Kauka & T. Kukkonen, Subjectivity, Selfhood and Agency in Medieval and Early Modern Philosophy (Studies in the History of Philosophy of Mind 16). Dordrecht: Springer, 2016, 235-261.

Can one be an early modern rationalist and still have room for the subjective character of human experience? At least prima facie, rationalism and subjectivity seem to conflict. On the one hand, there is rationalism’s commitment to the complete intelligibility of being, clearly expressed in Spinoza’s adherence to the Principle of Sufficient Reason. On the other, there is our subjective experience of the world, which many view as unique and irreducible. But a rationalist metaphysical enquiry sub specie aeternitatis such as the one pursued by Spinoza appears to exclude such a seemingly arbitrary privileging of a particular finite perspective. In this paper, I argue, building on recent work by Ursula Renz (2010) that we may be too quick in reading Spinoza’s Ethics as simply attempting to develop such “a view from nowhere.” Instead, we should try to conceive of Spinoza’s project as a dynamic interplay between rationalist and empiricist elements, where subjective experience supplements conceptual analysis, rather than being excluded by it.