Edwin Curley

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Edwin Curley (born May 1, 1937) is an American scholar known for his work on Baruch Spinoza.


  • I am here to argue against the existence of the Christian God. I am not here to defend atheism, contrary to the impression Dr. Craig's talk might have given you. Look, I think there are many ways of thinking about God. And I think some of them are ways I might accept. I just can't accept the Christian God.

Quotes about Curley[edit]

  • Spinoza was, of course, deeply influenced by the Cartesian account of modes, and the main controversy in this area of Spinoza’s thought is the extent to which he tranformed this account. On the interpretation I will be offering, Spinoza does agree with Descartes that modal dependence involves both inherence and conceptual dependence, but he differs from Descartes because Spinoza sees inherence as nothing but conceptual dependence. For Spinoza, there is only one relation of dependence here, and not two as in Descartes.
    But how is this possible? How can a thing such as a table or your mind be a state or a feature of another thing such as God? Such objects are not, it would seem, ways in which God or anything else exists, rather they have an existence of their own. Curley often puts this worry by saying that modes, as Descartes conceives them, are properties or universals, while tables and minds are particulars, and no particular can be a universal. […] However, as we have seen, modes as Descartes and the tradition conceive them are not necessarily universals; rather, they may be, as it were, particularized properties, such as the table’s roundness or this roundness instead of mere roundness in general. On this understanding, modes would be particulars and thus, perhaps, of the right logical type.
    But to make this important point (as Carriero does so well) is not to eradicate the intuitive unease that Curley rightly feels at the thought that ordinary objects are modes in the Cartesian sense. This is because it may seem extremely implausible to regard the table, your mind, and your body as simply particularized states of something else. It seems almost as (if not equally) absurd to regard my body as a universal, as a property that God has, as it is to regard my body as a particular, namely God’s having that property. Such a view would seem scarcely intelligible; it does not do justice to our sense of the robustness that we and other ordinary objects seem to enjoy. This, I think, is the root objection that Curley and others have to treating Spinozistic modes as modes in the Cartesian sense.
    • Michael Della Rocca, Spinoza (2008), Two: The Metaphysics of Substance
  • Why, in his discussion of God’s indivisibility, does Spinoza focus on finite things, such as individual quantities of water? This emphasis would be out of place if Curley were right. For if he were right, God’s being extended is no threat at all to God’s indivisibility. Even if, per impossibile, individual bodies were capable of existence independently of God and of each other, this would not show that, for Curley, God, the extended substance, is divisible. This is so because, for Curley, God as extended is simply the attribute of extension, and the divisibility of the modes of extension which are, for Curley, somewhat ontologically removed from God would have no bearing on God’s indivisibility. But in 1p15s, Spinoza obviously does see individual bodies as having a bearing on God’s indivisibility, and this goes against Curley’s interpretation.
    • Michael Della Rocca, Spinoza (2008), Two: The Metaphysics of Substance
  • I would like to point out that there is a deeper point here that transcends anything Spinoza might say about extension or thought in particular. This deeper point is a reflection of Spinoza’s naturalism and shows that, in the end, Curley is importantly right in one respect. Return to Curley’s interpretation. For him, modes are merely causally dependent on God, they do not inhere in God, they are not states of God. And, while Spinoza does say that modes are in God, by this, for Curley, Spinoza means only that they are caused by God. So, for Curley, there are two different kinds of dependence: inherence and what might be called mere causation or dependence that is not inherence. These are both kinds of conceptual dependence. The states of a thing would be conceived through the thing on which they depend, and Curley-esque modes as mere effects would be conceived through substance.
    • Michael Della Rocca, Spinoza (2008), Two: The Metaphysics of Substance
  • Here we can see that in an important way Curley is right after all. He denies that Spinoza’s in-relation (the relation of being in itself or in another) is an inherence relation. In doing so, Curley affirms that the in-relation just is the relation of causation. While I disagree with Curley about inherence, he is, I believe, absolutely right that the in-relation just is causation or, more generally, conception.
    • Michael Della Rocca, Spinoza (2008), Two: The Metaphysics of Substance

External links[edit]

  • [1]Edwin Curley at University of Michigan