Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto.
I am affiliated with the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto, and the Groningen Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Thought, Netherlands. I’m also a member of the Spinoza Society of Canada, the Modern Philosophy and Jewish Philosophy Research Groups at University of Toronto, and an editor for PhilPapers and Ergo. My main research interests are in the history of metaphysics, early modern philosophy, philosophy of mind, idealism, philosophical theology, the relationship between metaphysics and ethics, German Idealism, Jewish philosophy, and Spinoza.
Some upcoming talks I’m giving:
Jay Newman Memorial Lecture, the Canadian Theological Society, Toronto 05/2017
[TBD], Research Workshop, Project on Spinozistic Life Form, Klagenfurt, Austria, 06/2017
[TBD], Collegium Spinozanum, University of Groningen, 06/2017
1. “Spinoza’s thinking substance and the necessity of modes”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 2014:
HUEBNER_spinozas thinking substance
The paper pursues two problems: that of the relation of being to thought in Spinoza’s metaphysics and that of acosmic criticisms of that s metaphysics. It offers a new account of Spinoza’s conception of “substance”, the fundamental building block of reality. It shows that it can be demonstrated apriori within Spinoza’s metaphysical framework that (i) contrary to British and German Idealist readings, for Spinoza there can be no substance that is not determined or modified by some other, dependent entity produced by this substance; and that (ii) there can be no substance (and hence no being) that is not a thinking substance.
2. “The trouble with feelings, or on Spinoza’s identification of power and essence“, forthcoming in the Journal of History of Philosophy. Penultimate version:
Huebner, affects, power, essence
Spinoza claims both that a thing’s essence is identical to power , and that emotions are fundamentally variations in this power. The conjunction of these two theses creates difficulties for his metaphysics and ethics alike. The three main worries concern the coherence of Spinoza’s accounts of essence, diachronic identity, and emotional “bondage”, and put in question Spinoza’s ability to derive ethical and psychological doctrines from his metaphysical claims. In response to these difficulties, the paper offers a new interpretation of Spinoza’s account of affects and his doctrine of the identity of power and essence. It shows that what is fundamental to his ontology of affects is the relation of modification or determination, a relation central to his ontology more generally. The paper argues that we cannot simply identify power and essence but should instead take affects to modify or determine essences as particular exercises of power (particular desires, appetites, volitions). That is, Spinozistic essences should be viewed as intrinsically determinablewith affects supplying the determinations, and as consisting not in rigid sets of determinate properties, but in ranges of variable properties.
3. “Spinoza on essences, universals and beings of reason“, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 2015:
The article proposes a new solution to a long-standing dispute concerning the universality of “essences” or “natures” in Spinoza’s metaphysics. Contrary to the standard reading it argues that Spinoza recognizes the existence of fully rational general notions, which represent mind-dependent ‘beings of reason’ (merely ideal but non-illusory entities). I show that Spinoza holds that we construct such notions on the basis of similarities among particular things in nature, and that he regards this as a key constituent of reasoning. The paper argues that the unique essences of formally-real particulars coexist in Spinoza’s view with merely ideal more general essences, endowed with objective reality alone. The article proposes a new interpretation of Spinoza’s view of universals and general notions more generally: contrary to the standard reading of Spinoza as uniformly rejecting all such notions, it shows that Spinoza takes some of them to be rationally valid – just in case they are constructed on the basis of an adequate idea of an actual resemblance obtaining among the properties of formally-real particulars. Finally, the paper argues for the importance of two overlooked elements of Spinoza’s ontology – universals and beings of reason.
4. “Negation and the reality of the finite“, in The Young Spinoza, ed. Yitzhak Melamed (Oxford UP, 2015). Penultimate version:
This article continues my work on the problem of the relation of thought to being, my efforts to illuminate the role of beings of reason in Spinoza’s metaphysics; and my engagement with German and British Idealist readings of Spinoza’s metaphysics. The paper shows that several common responses to the charge of acosmism (according to which only an infinite, undifferentiated substance genuinely exists, and all representations of finite things are illusory) fail. It also tackles a prominent argument for acosmic interpretations, according to which a finite thing’s constitutive reference to negation (the fact that by definition it is limited by, and limits, other things) excludes it from a purely positive realm of Spinozistic reality. I argue that we can avoid an acosmic conclusion by appealing to the idea of rational beings of reason, and by denying that negation is necessary either for the metaphysical constitution of finite things or for their being known. I show that we must distinguish the well-founded ideality of representations of finite things from mere illusoriness, insofar as for Spinoza we can have true knowledge of what is known only abstractly. Finite things can be seen as well-founded beings of reason. The article proposes that within Spinoza’s framework it is possible to represent a finite thing without drawing on representations of mind-dependent entities. The paper clarifies how Spinoza understands (i) finitude; (ii) the role of negation in metaphysical constitution; (iii) the distinction between illusion and mind-dependence; and (iv) the difference between finite and substantial thought. It also explores the idea that according to Spinoza finite thought and substantial thought represent reality in different ways.
5. “On the significance of formal causes in Spinoza’s metaphysics“, Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie, 2015:
This paper challenges the prevalent view that Spinoza’s idea of a “cause” is fundamentally that of a mechanistic cause. On such a view, Spinoza’s metaphysics is modeled primarily on the physical sciences, and the paradigmatic case of causality is an inertial collision of two bodies. In the paper, I argue that Spinoza instead understands causality primarily as formal causality, and so models causal relations on inferential relations between essences and properties that follow from these essences. The paper also enters into the long-running debate over the relation of causality to thought within Spinoza’s metaphysics, arguing that a framework of formal causes is necessary to provide any potential purely logical characterization of causal relations with the necessary constraints.
6. “Spinoza’s parallelism doctrine and metaphysical sympathy“, in Sympathy: Oxford Philosophical Concepts, ed. Eric Schliesser, series ed. Christia Mercer (Oxford UP, 2015). Penultimate version:
Huebner_parallelism [uncorr proofs]
This paper offers a new interpretation of Spinoza’s doctrine of parallelism. It argues Spinoza reinterprets the ancient doctrine of metaphysical sympathy among ostensibly disconnected and distant beings in terms of fully intelligible relations of 1) identity between formal and objective reality, and in terms of 2) “real identity,” grounded in Spinoza’s substance-monism. Finally, the paper argues against the standard reading of mind-body pairs as “numerically identical”.
7. “Spinoza’s unorthodox metaphysics of the will,” in The Oxford Handbook on Spinoza, ed. Michael Della Rocca (Oxford UP, 2013 online):
Penultimate version: HUEBNER_MetaphofWill
The article offers a new interpretation of Spinoza’s conatus doctrine, focusing on Spinoza’s argument for this doctrine. It examines the consequence of a non-teleological account of human action for Spinoza’s moral philosophy, and in particular for our understanding of the nature of the three moral phenomena that Spinoza grounds in “striving”: volition, desire and appetite. The article combines foundational interpretative work on Spinoza’s notion of causality with an inquiry into the relation between Spinoza’s metaphysics and his ethics. It examines how two of Spinoza’s basic metaphysical commitments result in highly unorthodox and counter-intuitive ethical doctrines. More specifically, it shows that Spinoza’s naturalism (the belief that all things are subject to the same rules) and his rejection of teleology (purposefulness in nature) result in a nontraditional understanding of the nature of will and desire: these become universal in scope (and so come to characterize animals and even inanimate objects as much as human beings), but at the same time cease to be end-directed (such that we can no longer rationally claim that we do p because we desire some “good”).
8. “Spinoza on being human and human perfection“, Essays on Spinoza’s Ethical Theory, ed. Matthew Kisner, and Andrew Youpa (Oxford UP, 2014):
This paper combines foundational interpretative investigation into Spinoza’s notion of “essence” with a further inquiry into the relation between Spinoza’s metaphysics and ethics. I show that contrary to prevailing interpretations, Spinoza’s metaphysics does have room for a rational conception of a shared human nature (so for a ‘species-essence’ common to multiple individuals). I also argue that Spinoza associates being “human” with the possession of the causal power to reason (that is, to produce adequate general ideas). The article also offers a new account of one of the most perplexing concepts of Spinoza’s ethics, that of an ideal “model” of human nature, arguing for the coherence of thinking of human beings as entirely free in Spinoza’s framework.