Thus many philosophers suppose that either universal determinism must be false or human beings are not free in the way we normally think of them as being when we make moral judgements. Nor is this simply a matter of morality in some narrow sense: the very conception of agency which one must presuppose in order to make sense of one's own deliberations would be an illusion if determinism were true.
Of those who thus reject compatibilism some hold that, since determinism is true, the fact must be accepted that no one is ever to blame for anything they do, and that the very process of deliberation involves a delusion. Others say that since determinism is incompatible with moral responsibility and the conception we inevitably have of ourselves when deliberating, it must be rejected as false.
Where does Spinoza stand in relation to this debate?
Of his determinism there is no doubt. That everything happens necessarily and that nothing is contingent, are among his most central claims. And he holds that the grasp of the necessity of everything is a vital element in the move towards personal fulfilment or salvation. So he is a very strong sort of determinist according to whom the truth is that everything which happens had to happen.
For Spinoza all truths are ultimately necessary truths [2P29]2 but there are two different sorts of necessity which can pertain to a truth. On the one hand, there are eternal truths which specify or follow from the unchanging essence of God or Nature, [1P21] that is to say, of the Universe, or of what follows directly from this. On the other hand there are temporal truths which concern what has occurred, or will occur, at some particular time and place, (including all human actions) or what has been thought at some particular moment by a particular mind. These truths are also necessary, but in a somewhat different way, which perhaps Spinoza did not make entirely clear. However, the main point is clear enough, which is that these truths always follow from truths about what happened or what was thought earlier, taken together with truths of the other eternal kind. And they are necessary in at least this sense that however distant a past time you take, it was already true that the events they concern were bound to occur as a result of what was happening then3.
When Spinoza is referred to as a determinist by contemporary philosophers, they often say that his form of determinism was marred by a confusion between logical and causal necessity. E.M. Curley has shown that the alleged contrast between Spinoza's and the usual modern view is largely mistaken (though perhaps in some ways he goes a little too far in assimilating them)4. For it is not correct to say that causal explanations as contemporary philosophers usually conceive them do not logically imply what they are said to explain. For such a causal explanation claims that the occurence of the event in question followed with logical necessity from a statement of particular conditions holding at the time together with statements specifying a law of nature5. And Spinoza's position was very mch the same, since for him what is logically necessary in the causation of particular events is the following of each event from previous events taken together with eternal propositions about the standing nature of God or the Universe.
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