Sartre and Spinoza on the nature of mind

Kathleen Wider

pp. 555-575

What surfaces first when one examines the philosophy of mind of Sartre and Spinoza are the differences between them. For Spinoza a human mind is a mode of the divine mind. That view is a far cry from Sartre's view of human consciousness as a desire never achieved: the desire to be god, to be the foundation of one's own existence. How could two philosophers, one a determinist and the other who grounds human freedom in the nature of consciousness itself, be seen as having any commonalities worth exploring? How could the noted user of the deductive method and one of the most important phenomenologists of the twentieth century share any philosophical ground at all? I will argue in this paper that despite the very real differences between their two philosophies, there are striking similarities between Sartre's view of consciousness and Spinoza's view of the mind. They become apparent when one examines each one's analysis of the nature of mind and its relationship to itself, the body, and the world. Both are heir to a kind of Aristotelian naturalism. This commonality between them derives from their mutual rejection of Descartes' substance dualism. I first explore the consequences of that rejection on how each one conceives of the relationship between the mind and its objects. Next I examine their view of the mind's relation to itself and finally I look at how each one understood the mind's relationship to the body and the world. The examination of their two views reveals how much they anticipate and support theories of mind defended by contemporary analytic philosophers of mind.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s11007-013-9280-y

Full citation:

Wider, K. (2013). Sartre and Spinoza on the nature of mind. Continental Philosophy Review 46 (4), pp. 555-575.

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