Met Spinoza startte een nieuwe periode in het denken over de verhouding van godsdienstvrijheid en de vrijheid van meningsuiting. Tenminste, dat zegt Jonathan Israel, die zich fel keert tegen de opvatting dat de vroege Nederlandse Verlichting van Spinoza meer in harmonie met de godsdienst was, dan de Verlichting van de Franse philosophes. Tijd voor een debat, tijdens de Soeterbeeck lezing op 15 juni j.l.
Als ideeënhistoricus ziet Israel het als zijn plicht uitspraken over de Verlichting van dit type tegen te spreken. Ze zijn volgens Israel niet alleen “geschiedkundig volslagen verward en onjuist, maar ook politiek en sociaal uiterst schadelijk”.
Toch is daarmee niet alles gezegd, vindt Marin Terpstra. Want Israel stapt wel makkelijk over zijn invloed als geschiedkundige heen: de context waarin Israel de uitspraken van Spinoza plaatst wordt door hem zelf geconstrueerd. Het is Israel's context, zogezegd. Volgens Terpstra voert Israel een geschiedkundige reconstructie uit. Vanuit dat oogpunt wellicht interessant, maar niet geschikt als beschouwing van filosofische standpunten. Filosofie dient met filosofie te worden vergeleken, niet met geschiedenis.
Verder is Terpstra van mening dat Spinoza nog radicaler was dan Israel denkt. Want waar in onze tijd het vrijheidsdenken triomfen viert, is het nog steeds gebaseerd op de willoosheid van de mensen, dat Spinoza ook voor zijn tijd al haarscherp analyseerde. Onze maatschappij is er een van verslaving, en in tegenstelling tot wat we denken hebben we geen afscheid genomen van de godsdienst maar slechts een nieuwe god uitgekozen.
Als laatste is Terpstra van mening dat Spinoza niet de tegenstelling tussen rede en religie op zocht, maar de tegenstelling tussen gezond verstand en fantasie.
Terpstra gaf eerder al aan dat Israels uitgangspunt van individualisering in nederland niet juist is. De Nederlandse geschiedenis kenmerkt zich namelijk niet door individualisatie, maar door verzuiling.
Tijdens de Soeterbeeck lezing werd door beide filosofen in debat de degens gekruist. De integrale tekst die Terpstra uitsprak (en die boven samengevat wordt weergegeven) in commentaar op Israel volgt onder. Het standpunt van Israel is hier terug te vinden.
De bijdrage die Terpstra leverde voor het boekje "Gedachtevrijheid versus godsdienstvrijheid" staat op zijn site.
DEBATE WITH PROF JONATHAN ISRAEL
Marin Terpstra | June 2007
Thanks to prof Israel, Spinoza is hot news. Even the city of Amsterdam is reminded of its famous former inhabitant, and is willing to make him part of its imagebuilding. In my contribution, I will focus on Spinoza. But some of my remarks are also relevant for the general topic of this debate. Prof Israel has two claims, a historical one, and a philosophical one. The historical claim is that Spinoza’s ideas (or radical Enlightenment in general) are at the roots of today’s society. The philosophical claim is that this is rightly so. As my role here is to be critical about these claims, I will offer some objections on three points. The first is about prof Israel’s view on philosophy, especially the history of philosophy. The second is about the society we live in today, and its connection to Spinoza’s philosophy. The third is about Spinoza’s conception of religion.
1. In a review of a dissertation on Hugo de Groot, published several weeks ago in NRC Handelsblad, prof Israel made a remark concerning historical method. He said, that the meaning of texts (for example, those of Spinoza or Locke or Grotius) can only be grasped by looking at the context in which they are produced. This seems rather obvious, at least for historians. Nevertheless, there remains a small question. How does one grasp the meaning of the context? The answer is, simply, by exploring the context of the context. But where does this end? The answer seems easy. It ends with prof Israel himself, who, as a historian, constructs the context by studying the facts very carefully, of course, but also by giving meaning to the facts. Giving meaning to the context of the context, and so on, we can call constructing a philosophical view. Philosophy is the attempt to grasp the meaning of reality and of human life. If this is true, something seems to go wrong as soon as one studies the history of philosophy. The historian of ideas is interpreting a specific philosophy from a philosophical point of view, at least implicitly. This confrontation of philosophical points of view takes the form of a historical reconstruction. On this point, I object. Philosophies should be confronted in philosophical debate: one philosophy against the other. Something else seems wrong here. Prof Israel admires the philosophy of Spinoza, because he gives a specific meaning to Spinoza. But his admiration is limited. He does not adopt Spinoza’s philosophical approach. According to Spinoza, the context of the context is called substance, Nature or God. From this, everything follows. Prof Israel does not interpret Spinoza’s historical role from the point of view of substance, Nature or God – as a spinozist would do. In fact, Spinoza plays a role in his play, but is excluded from the process of script writing.
2. According to prof Israel, it was radical Enlightenment, of which Spinoza is a major spokesman, that undermined traditional society. Its ideas are the real foundation of modern society, which is a free society. In my view, Spinoza would not agree with the thesis that it is ideas which establish social and political order. Ideas are the way we become conscious of what is happening, which is quite a different thing. Apart from that, one may ask whether Spinoza’s idea of a free society fits with society as we know it today. On this point, I think prof Israel’s picture of Spinoza as a freedom fighter is at least distorted. First of all, Spinoza’s main political concern was unity and stability of political power. What really threatens peace, freedom, and security in society is an elite split into competing factions. Each faction would try to mobilize citizens. Civil war would be the result. In this, Spinoza follows Hobbes. For this reason, he opposed the ambition of priests to gain political power. This ambition is dangerous for the state, but also for religion, as he writes several times in his Theological-political treatise. He would also oppose the existence of political parties. Citizens are free to speak for themselves, as individuals. Spinoza would object to our parliamentary system. Secondly, for Spinoza, a free society is a society of free men, that is men who can judge and direct their life independently. We live in a society of addiction, or slavery, as Spinoza would call it. We are free to choose our kicks and our life style, to do our thing as people say, but that does not mean we are free in a spinozistic sense. The description Spinoza gives of the dominant way of thinking still resembles the dominant way of thinking today: utilitarian and expecting the favours of a god. This is a world view produced by imagination. Only the god that is worshipped has changed. Most people now believe in the blessings of the system of economic growth. I am afraid, the society Spinoza really wanted to live in, is still utopian. In a sense, Spinoza was even more radical than prof Israel thinks he is.
3. Should freedom of thought (and the expression of thoughts) have priority over freedom of religion? Prof Israel’s answer is: yes. The question is justified. To talk about freedom in general makes no sense. We always have to ask: freedom to do what? So, the real question is not: are we in favour of freedom or against it? The real question is: is doing A more important than doing B? If doing A is more important than doing B, the freedom to do B must yield to the freedom to do A as soon as they cannot be done both at the same time. Therefore, the question is: is thought more important than religion? I guess, Spinoza would not have understood this question. In fact, religion is defined by him as desiring and doing things by ourselves insofar as we have the idea of God, that is, insofar as we know God. From this definition follows, that Spinoza looked at his own philosophy as a religion. To this I should add that Spinoza himself rejected the accusation of atheism, and therefore an accusation of having no religion. He saw at least no practical opposition between philosophy and religion, although he thought that in matters of truth philosophy was superior to what religion usually offers. Of course, not all ideas of God are adequate knowledge: some are according to reason; others are products of human imagination. For Spinoza, reason was more important than imagination. So my objection to prof Israel is, that Spinoza would have posed another question. Should freedom of reason (to express one’s thoughts in a reasonable way) have priority over freedom of imagination (to express one’s thoughts as they come). Imagination contains more than religion. It also contains the belief that society is based on ideas, like the principle of freedom. I think, the latter question is much more complicated. Are we really able to decide, in case of conflicting views, which view is more reasonable and which one more imaginary?
I come to a conclusion. My objections are the following. (1) Philosophical claims should be based on philosophical arguments, not on historical research. (2) Spinoza’s concept of freedom differs from the concept of freedom that is praised by prof. Israel. (3) Spinoza does not oppose thought and religion, but reason and imagination.