UC Berkeley Ontological Demotion Leibniz Doctrine & Berkeley Argument Discussion

Answer FOUR of the questions, one from each section plus a fourth from any of the sections. (In particular, you may answer only one version of the first Spinoza question.)

Does not need to be an essay, just thorough answers addressing all parts of the question!


1. Answer A or B:

A. Spinoza thinks that we human beings are due for what was described in class as an “ontological demotion.” Explain this ontological demotion, comparing his view of what we are to a more traditional Aristotelian view. (You should concentrate on Spinoza’s views on the human body, but be sure to say something about what he thinks the human mind is.) Why does he think the demotion is needed? Is he right? Explain why the demotion matters to the overall project of the Ethics.

B. Spinoza thinks there is only one substance, namely God. Why does he think this? Begin by explaining why he thinks substance must be self-caused, and then explain how Spinoza gets from this claim to the further conclusion that there is only one substance. (For this second step you may use either the argument he provides in the Ethics, or the alternate argument sketched in class.) Be sure to touch on the apparent problem that the fact that a substance can have more than one attribute presents for Spinoza’s reasoning, and explain how he might respond to this difficulty.

3. Explain Spinoza’s account of how the universe causally depends on God (focus on 1p16). How does Spinoza’s theory differ from the prevailing views of the time? (Be sure to contrast Spinoza’s picture of intelligibility—i.e., his understanding of the reason things are the way they are—with a more traditional picture of the explanation of why things are the way they are, having to do with God’s plan for the world.) Why does Spinoza think things could not have happened differently from the way they did? Which position do you find more reasonable, Spinoza’s or the more traditional view? Explain fully.

4. Explain Spinoza’s account of the human mind. Begin by sketching Spinoza’s account of God’s cognition and then locate the human mind within that cognition. If there is no trans-attribute causation (i.e., if motions in bodies can’t cause ideas in minds, and ideas in minds can’t cause motion in bodies), what happens (a) when we sense something and (b) when we do something? Critically evaluate his account of (human) agency—if you disagree with it, explain where you think he went wrong and what he should have held instead.


1. Explain Leibniz’s doctrine of pre-established harmony. In doing so, be sure to explain what a monad is. How are monads related to each other? Why does Leibniz think that there are monads? Do you think he has a good argument here? One thing that Leibniz is trying to do is resist Spinoza’s ontological demotion; how successful is his attempt to do so?

2. Discuss Leibniz’s views on freedom, necessity, and contingency. According to Leibniz, exactly what is required for freedom? What is Caesar’s “complete concept/notion”? Can Leibniz offer a satisfactory explanation of how the relation of Caesar’s properties (e.g., crossing the Rubicon in 49 BCE) to his complete concept/notion differs from the relation of a circle’s properties (e.g., having an area equal to πr2) to its definition. Ultimately, is Leibniz able to make room in his system for freedom, or is something more needed? If something more is needed, what and why?


1. Explain Berkeley’s argument for the claim that sensible qualities do not exist independently of the mind (focus on secondary qualities). What precisely is Berkeley arguing for here? How does the argument work? (You should say something about the distinction between things as they are in us and as they are in themselves that Hylas raises at several points: how does Philonous respond? Is his response satisfactory?) How does this particular claim fit into the overall case for immaterialism? In particular, what else does Berkeley need to do in order to make his case for immaterialism? (Do not work through the rest of his argument; just sketch the ground that needs to be covered.) In your view, how successful is the overall case that Philonous makes for immaterialism in the First Dialogue?

2. Outline Hume’s account of causation in I.3 of the Treatise. Points to explain: Why does he think the relation of causation is important? What does he find puzzling about the relation? Why does he think that reason is not responsible for human thinking involving causation? What happens, according to Hume, when we make a causal inference? (Be sure to explain how Hume’s theory of belief works, and where it fits into his account of causation.) Explain his account of the idea of the necessity associated with the idea of cause and effect.