Syllabus contents:

Course Description

Assignments and Grading Policy


Class Schedule and Required Readings:

Week 1: Background and Life

Week 2: Substance & Attributes

Week 3: Modes and Necessity

Week 4: Mind & Body

Week 5: Theory of Knowledge

Week 6: Conatus and the Affects

Week 7: Bondage & Sociability

Week 8: Political Life & the
"Free Man"

Week 9: Mastering the Affects

Week 10: The Highest Good

Week 11: Paper Conference

PHIL 522, Spring Quarter 2012
Spinoza's Ethics


Instructor: Prof. Michael Rosenthal
Office: Savery 364
E-mail: rosentha@u.washington.edu
Phone: (206) 685-2655
Office Hours: Tuesdays 11am-12pm; Wednesdays 2-3pm; and by appointment.
Course Times and Location:  Mondays
3:30-5:50pm (Savery 408)

Course Description

In this course students will study the development and structure of Spinoza's philosophical system.  We will begin with selections from Spinoza's early works, which include a treatise on philosophical method, a summary and analysis of the Cartesian system, and a critique of religion. We will spend most of our time on a careful reading of the Ethics, which presents Spinoza's mature views on metaphysics, epistemology, psychology, and the ethical life.  We will analyze his arguments in detail, compare them to those of his contemporaries (e.g., Descartes, Hobbes, Leibniz), and discuss the influence and relevance of Spinoza's work to contemporary philosophical projects.


I envision the format of the course as follows.  It will meet once a week as a seminar.  Except for the first class, in which I will give an introductory lecture, the subsequent sessions will be a combination of lecture and discussion, focused on a brief student presentation.  In each class, my own talk will aim to give some background information—for example, trying to show what debates Spinoza might have been involved in—and to underline the themes I hope the students will discuss.  Each student presentation will be based on a short, written paper that will be due a few days before class and which all students will have been expected to read ahead of time.  The central text of the course will of course be the Ethics, but I will also insist that we read other contemporary texts that (either definitely or probably) influenced Spinoza, as well as important secondary sources produced by outstanding modern scholars.  (Although much important work has been done by European scholars, I will assign only English-language texts in this course, with other texts, especially those in French, only recommended for those who have the language skills.)


Assignments and Grading Policy

A total of 400 points are possible in this class.  The weekly essays and comment are worth 125 points and all the components of the final essay are worth 275 points.  A grading scale will be distributed in class as a guideline.  Final grades will be determined on the basis of this scale and adjustment in terms of overall class performance.

1. Weekly Essays.  a) Each Monday I will distribute an essay topic, which will focus on a particular issue or argument in the text.  Each student must write a short (around 3 page) essay on the topic, due by 12pm on Friday, which should be submitted to me via e-mail. 

Please note that late papers will not be accepted for credit.  The paper will be graded either unsatisfactory (5 points), satisfactory (8 points), or good (10 points).  There will be nine occasions to turn in an essay.  You will be given 10 points for just showing up the first week.  A total of 100 points will be possible for this assignment.

b) Each week one paper will be the topic of discussion.  Each student in the class will choose one week in the quarter in which he or she will be responsible for a longer paper (about 5-6 pages) that will be the basis of class discussion.  The student will be expected to summarize some relevant debate in the secondary literature and evaluate the debate.  This paper will be circulated to the other students before class and all class members will be responsible for reading it. 

One student ("the discussant") each week will be assigned the task of critiquing the assigned paper.  The discussant will be responsible for analyzing the philosophical content of the essay (i.e., the interpretation of the relevant passages, argument, objections, etc.).  The discussant will summarize his or her comments in writing (about one page in length) and at the end of class will give a copy to both the author of the essay and the professor.  All other students are also expected to have read the chosen essay and be ready to discuss it in depth.  Completion of this task is worth a maximum of 15 points.

2.  Final Essay.  Each student will be required to write a twelve to fifteen page essay on a topic of his or her choice.  This essay will not be written the night before it is due!  The following is the schedule of assignments each student must meet to pass this requirement:

a) Topic Statement with Annotated Bibliography.  Due Monday, May 14th. (Week 8).  You must turn in a brief statement of the projected topic of the paper that states:  i) the problem you propose to discuss; ii) your tentative thesis; and iii) a brief sketch of the argument you will make.  In addition, I expect an annotated bibliography that cites at least three sources (books, articles, etc.) with a brief presentation of how the author in each case addresses your proposed topic (i.e., brief outline of the argument, interpretation, etc.).  Completion of this assignment is worth a maximum of 25 points.

b) Outline.  Due Monday, May 21st (Week 9).  You must turn in a complete outline of your paper.  It is to include:  i) a full presentation of your topic (including problem and thesis); ii) a detailed, point by point, presentation of your argument (including references to the specific primary and secondary texts that support your points); iii) possible objections to your argument; iv) your response to the objections; and v) conclusion.  Completion of this assignment is worth a maximum of 25 points.

c) Preliminary Draft and Abstract.  Due Tuesday, May 29th (Week 10).  This should be a complete draft of your essay.  Please hand in two copies.  At the same time, you must also turn in an abstract of your essay (one page or less in length).  This should be a summary of your thesis, argument, and conclusion.  Make enough copies of your abstract to distribute one to each of your fellow students and one to me.  Completion of this assignment is worth a maximum of 100 points.

d) Comments.  Due Monday, June 4th (Week 11)  You will be given the preliminary draft one of your fellow student's essays upon which you will expected to comment in depth.  I expect comments on both the style and the content of the essay.  These are to be both critical and constructive comments:  How can the essay be improved?  You are to write up your comments, which should be no more than two pages and no less than one page in length (double-spaced).  Make two copies of your comments; at the end of the paper conference (see below) give one of them to me and the other to the author.  Completion of this assignment is worth a maximum of 35 points.

e) Paper Conference.  Wednesday, June 6th, 3:30-6:30pm.  The conference will be devoted to a presentation and discussion of paper topics.  Each author will give a five-minute, prepared presentation of his or her paper.  This need not be a summary (each student will already have read the abstract) but might focus on one or two key points.  The assigned commentator will then give a five minute response, in which he or she will address the points raised by the author's presentation or some other interesting aspect of the paper.  There will then be time for questions and reactions from the other students.  Participation in the paper conference is worth a maximum of 25 points.

f) Final Draft.  Due Thursday, June 7th, at noon.  In your final draft I expect you to revise your essay in light of all the comments (both regarding style and content) you received.  Of course you are not restricted to these comments alone.  In the two weeks between handing in the preliminary and final draft, you will hopefully be thinking yourself how to improve the final product.  Grading of the final draft will be based on both the quality of the completed work and also the extent to which you have improved the rough draft.  Completion of this assignment is worth a maximum of 75 points. 

For each day that you are late in completing any one of the requirements of the final essay, your grade will automatically be reduced by 10 points. 

3. Participation.  I expect all students to participate actively in class discussion. In determing your final grade, especially if it is on a borderline, I will consider the quality of your regular participation, and improvement over the semester.  In other words, I reserve the right to adjust the final grade above or below what is indicated by your final point score on the basis of participation and effort. 

Nota Bene:  (1) Cheating in any form (including plagiarism, of course) will result in automatic referal to the Dean’s office.  You are assumed to understand the university rules concerning inappropriate academic conduct.  Please see the Student code and the following website for information:  http://depts.washington.edu/grading/issue1/honesty.htm#plagiarism.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the instructor.

(2) In order to pass this course students are required to:  a) have enough total points (i.e., at least 212 points); and also b) receive passing grades in both major components of the course, i.e., at least 67 points in the weekly writing assignments (including comments), and at least 146 points total from the various components of the final essay.  If you have enough total points to pass but do not receive pass both the weekly assignments and the final essay you will fail the course.  Absolutely no exceptions will be made to this policy.

Disabled Student Services.  If you would like to request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact Disabled Student Services, 448 Schmitz, (206) 543-8924 (V/TTY).  If you have a letter from Disabled Student Services indicating you have a disability that requires academic accommodations, please present the letter to me at the beginning of the course so we can discuss the accommodations you might need for the class.



The following primary texts are required and is available for purchase at the UW Bookstore:

-Spinoza, Baruch..  A Spinoza Reader:  The Ethics and Other Works. Edwin Curley, editor.  Princeton:  Princeton University Press.  (Abbreviated below as SR.)

The following primary and secondary texts are strongly recommended:

-Spinoza, Baruch.  Theological-Political Treatise.  Trans. Samuel Shirley.  Indianapolis:  Hackett Press, 1998.  (Abbreviated as TTP.)

-Curley, Edwin.  Behind the Geometrical Method:  A Reading of Spinoza's Ethics.  Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1988.

-Della Rocca, Michael.  Spinoza.  New York:  Routledge,

<>-Garrett, Don, editor.  The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press.  (Abbreviated as Companion.)


Class Schedule and Required Readings

M 3/26        Life and Early Work
<> Primary: SR, 3-6, 48-77
                    Secondary:  Companion, chapter 1

<>                    Recommended: Nadler, Life; Yovel, vol. 1, chapters 1-3. <> 

<>                   Critique of Scripture

<>                    Primary: SR, 6-48, TTP, Preface, ch. 3-7.

Secondary:  Companion, chapters 8 and 9.

Recommended: Hobbes, Leviathan, ch. 12, and all of part III; Donagan, ch. 2; Gatens & Lloyd, ch. 1 (also 87-100); Strauss (1988), 142-202.


M 4/2         Ethics, Part I (Of God) -- Substance and Attributes

Primary: SR, 85-100 (E1 definitions, axioms, E1p1-p20).

Secondary:  Companion, chapter 2. Curley (1988), ch. 1. Della Rocca, ch. 1, ch. 2, sections 1-4.

Recommended: SR, 77-84; Descartes, Principles, pt. I, articles 51-54 (CSM I, 210-11); Leibniz, 207-8, 213-14; Donagan, chs. 4-5.


M 4/9         Ethics, Part I (Of God) -- Modes: Infinite and Finite

Primary: SR, 100-109 (E1p20-p36), 269-276 (correspondence with Tschirnhaus).

Recommended: Descartes, Principles, I, 56-62 (CSM I, 211-14); Curley (1988), ch. 1; Della Rocca, ch. 2, sections 4; Donagan, ch. 6.

                        Ethics, Part I (Of God) -- Necessity and Contingency

Primary: SR, 100-114 (E1p20-p36, E1appendix), 266-269 (correspondence with Tschirnhaus).

Secondary: Companion, ch. 2 (pages 74-76); Curley (1988), 48-50.

Recommended: Leibniz, 272-84, 60-64, 111-117; Curley (1969), ch. 3; Bennett, ch. 5; Della Rocca, ch. 2, sections 5-6; Garrett (1991); Gatens & Lloyd, ch. 1 (especially 28-33).


M 4/16       Ethics, Part II (Of the Mind) -- The Mind-Body Union

Primary: SR, 115-128 (E2 preface, definitions, axioms, E2p1-p15).

Secondary:  Companion, chapters 3 and 4.

Recommended: Descartes, Meditations, VI (CSM II, 50-62); Curley (1988), ch. 2; Bennett, chs. 6-7; Della Rocca, ch. 3, sections 1-4.


M 4/16 [Savery 359]  Ethics, Part II (Of the Mind) -- Theory of Knowledge                             and Error

Primary: SR, 128-152 (E2p16-p49).

Secondary:  Companion, ch. 3 .

Recommended: Descartes, Meditations IV (CSM II, 37-43); Hobbes, Leviathan, ch. 6; Della Rocca, ch. 3, sections 5-7; Donagan, ch. 7; Curley (1975); Gatens & Lloyd, ch. 1.


M 4/30       Ethics, Part III (Of the Affects) -- Conatus and the Definition of                         the Affects

Primary: SR, 152-162 (E3 preface, definitions, axioms, postulates,                             E3p1-p13).

Secondary:  Companion, chapter 5. 

Recommended: Descartes, Passions of the Soul, preface, Part I (CSM I, 326-48); Hobbes, Leviathan, ch. 6; Curley (1988), ch. 3; Donagan, ch. 8; Bennett, chs. 9-10; Della Rocca, ch. 4; Gatens & Lloyd, 100-107.

                        Ethics, Part III (Of the Affects) -- The Structure of the Affective                         Life

Primary: SR, 162-197(E3p14-p59, definitions of the affects, general definition of the affects).

Recommended: Descartes, Passions of the Soul, Part II (CSM I, 349-382); Hobbes, Leviathan, chs. 10-11; Bennett, ch. 11.


M 5/7         Ethics, Part IV (Of Human Bondage) -- Human Limitations and                         Sociability

Primary: SR, 197-218 (E4 preface, definitions, axioms, E4p1-p36).

Secondary:  Companion, chapter 6;  Theological-Political Treatise,                             ch. 16.

Recommended: Hobbes, Leviathan, ch. 13; Bennett, ch. 12; Della Rocca, ch. 5; Donagan, ch. 9; Gatens & Lloyd, ch. 4.


<>M 5/14      Topic Statment with Annotated Bibliography Due

                       Ethics, Part IV (Of Human Bondage) -- Politics and the Free Man

Primary: SR, 218-244 (E4p37-p73, appendix).

Secondary:  Companion, chapter 7.

Recommended: Hobbes, Leviathan, chapters 10-17; Garrett (1990); Bennett, ch. 13; Gatens & Lloyd, chs. 2, 3, & 6.


M 5/21       Outline Due

    Ethics, Part V (Of Human Freedom) -- Mastering the Affects

Primary: SR, 244-255 (E5 preface, axioms, E5p1-p20).

Secondary:  Companion, selections from chapters 3, 6, and 8.

Recommended: Descartes, Passions of the Soul, Part I, article 50, Part III (CSM I, 348, 383-404); Bennett, ch. 14.


TU 5/29     Preliminary Draft and Abstract Due

                        Ethics, Part V (Of Human Freedom) -- Amor Dei Intellectualis and the Eternity of the Mind 

Primary: SR, 255-265 (E5p21-p42).

Recommended: Donagan, ch. 10; Bennett, ch. 15; Curley (1988),                 83-86;  Nadler (2001).

                        Spinoza's Influence

Secondary:  Companion, chapter 10.

Recommended:  Gatens & Lloyd, ch. 6.


M 6/4        Comments on Paper Due

W 6/6            PAPER CONFERENCE

Students will present brief summaries of their research papers with comments from fellow students.

Th 6/7            Final Paper Due at Noon.




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Contact the instructor at: rosentha@u.washington.edu