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13 - Narrative as the means to Freedom: Spinoza on the uses of imagination

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 January 2011

Yitzhak Y. Melamed
Affiliation:
The Johns Hopkins University
Michael A. Rosenthal
Affiliation:
University of Washington
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Summary

Throughout his philosophical career, Spinoza was concerned with the problem of how the members of societies can be motivated to sustain harmonious and empowering forms of communal life. Given that we need to live together in order to survive, and yet have divergent desires and interests, there is a seemingly ineradicable tension between the urge to cooperate with one another and our wish to go our own ways, both sides of which must be accommodated in any stable political system. If we are to avoid the frustrations and miseries engendered by conflict, we need to be able to reconcile our more individual aspirations with the demands of a shared way of life. But what forms of self-understanding are most effective in helping us to move towards this goal, and in what conditions can they be successfully cultivated?

In developing his response, Spinoza never loses sight of the fact that creating and maintaining a harmonious way of life is a fundamentally practical project, simultaneously made possible and constrained by circumstances. But he nevertheless takes account of the fact that the manner in which the members of a particular society handle the conditions in which they find themselves will partly be determined by their conception of the kind of understanding that is most relevant to resolving their differences. Hence the question, what sort of knowledge is most efficacious in enabling people to reconcile their individual desires with the requirements of their collective life?

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Chapter
Information
Spinoza's 'Theological-Political Treatise'
A Critical Guide
, pp. 250 - 267
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2010

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