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The Infinite and the Indeterminate in Spinoza

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 February 2012

Shannon Dea*
University of Waterloo


ABSTRACT: I argue that when Spinoza describes substance and its attributes as “infinite,” he means that they are utterly indeterminate. That is, his conception of infinitude is not a mathematical one. For Spinoza, anything truly infinite eludes counting – not because it is so large as to be uncountable, but because it is just not the kind of thing that can be enumerated or measured. Contra the contemporary mathematical conception of the infinite, I argue that Spinoza’s conception is closer to a grammatical one. I conclude by considering a number of arguments against this account of the Spinozan infinite as indeterminate.

RÉSUMÉ: Je soutiens que, lorsque Spinoza décrit la substance et ses attributs comme «infinis», il veut dire qu’ils sont totalement indéterminés. Autrement dit, sa conception de l’infini n’est pas mathématique. Pour Spinoza, une chose vraiment infinie ne peut être comptée — pas parce qu’elle est trop grande pour être comptée, mais parce qu’elle n’est tout simplement pas le genre de chose qui peut être énumérée ou mesurée. Je soutiens que Spinoza offre, contre la conception contemporaine mathématique de l’infini, une conception quasi-grammaticale. Je conclus en considérant quelques objections possibles à cette approche de l’infini spinoziste comme étant indéterminé.

Copyright © Canadian Philosophical Association 2012

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