I’ve never studied Spinoza in any depth, so have been ignorant of the many subtleties/ambiguities in his work and the competing interpretations put forward by scholars on many points. I enjoyed reading two articles by Samuel Newlands: first, his SEP article “Spinoza’s Modal Metaphysics”, and the recent preprint, “Another Kind of Spinozistic Monism.” The latter paper argues that the various forms of metaphysical dependence employed by Spinoza (causation, inherence in, following from, etc.) are each connected to a broad notion of conceptual dependence, which is the key to understanding their role. This paper, interesting in its own right, helped me understand Newlands’ work in the modal metaphysics article, which is directly about the aspect of Spinoza I’m most interested in at the moment.
Spinoza is widely seen as a necessitarian (everything which exists does so necessarily), and for good reason: he has passages which explicitly affirm this. But evidently if you dig deeper there is a subtlety with regard to the status of “finite modes”, the ontological category which would include everyday concrete things. (Please note the use of “modes” here is unrelated to the “modal” dimensions of necessity and contingency). The one substance (God) and its infinite modes are absolutely necessary, but finite modes don’t follow from God in the same way as infinite modes. On the one hand, Spinoza affirms that God created everything, but elsewhere he specifies that finite modes follow only from other finite modes. What does this mean for the modal status of finite things (and how can he affirm both of these statements?)
Newlands analyzes these questions in depth, and I’m giving a very superficial gloss here. But his main point relies on the idea that causation and “following from” are for Spinoza varieties of conceptual connections (e.g. something follows from God if it is properly part of the concept of God). Now, if something is necessary, its concept involves its existence: this is the case for God (and for God’s “infinite” modes). But if something is contingent, it means its concept does not involve or is not connected to its existence. Looking at Spinoza’s various passages discussing finite modes, he makes a distinction depending on whether they are considered in themselves, or rather in their full connection with all other modes (“the entire order of nature”). Viewed in this latter way, the concept of finite modes includes their necessity. But if we only conceive of them in isolation, then this is not the case, and their status could then be seen as contingent.
Put another way, from our (limited) point of view, the objects of our world are conceived as contingent. If we could expand our conceiving to encompass God’s point of view, then we would see all as existing necessarily. God’s global view of things (and remember there exists an infinite number of things and they are metaphysically exhaustive of all possible things) conceives their necessity; our local view (which encompasses only the adjacent neighborhood) conceives things as contingent.
This seems like a sensible model. It comports with a modal realist picture where the manifold of all metaphysical possibilities (all possible worlds) exists necessarily, while the things in our actual world are contingent – and actual here is an indexical term designating the world (or better, the region of reality) in which we find ourselves.
(Going beyond anything in Newlands article, I also was wondering if, for Spinoza, this interpretation could lead to the view of this system as a form of panentheism, as opposed to the usual label of pantheism, since God’s domain of the infinite contains but outruns our finite world.)