There are two sides to this project. On the one hand, it is an attempt to reassess the place of the specifically human in Spinoza’s philosophy through the lens of recent philosophical treatments of the human life form. On the other, it aims to provide a new historical model for such treatments – Spinoza, rather than Aristotle or Hegel, who typically play that role.

The latter is significant because both Aristotle and Hegel provide accounts that tend towards ontological essentialism – the form, in both cases, is rigidly predefined. Spinoza’s philosophy, by contrast, rules out any such essentialism about finite beings. Consequently, a conception of the human life form, or, indeed, any life form, drawn from Spinozistic principles would be ontologically liberal. The intention is for the Spinozistic model to supply a solid foundation for liberal analyses of how human subjects behave, think, and construct their lives around the possibilities and limitations of the world. An ontologically liberal model of the human life form provides, we suspect, an increasingly important means of understanding human activity, given the current political climate.

Spinoza might seem an odd choice to provide a model for research into the human life form, given the apparently strong anti-humanist element in his philosophy. Our reassessment of the Spinozistic human aims to oppose the anti-humanist reading. While Spinoza’s monism does give absolute metaphysical priority to substance, it would not be an exaggeration to claim that very nearly his entire philosophy is devoted to the improvement of human existence. Our intention is to understand the apparent dichotomy between these two sides of Spinoza. We are using the idea of a human life form as an analytical tool for assessing just what role human subjects can play in Spinoza’s system. What we are interested in is how the constitution of the human body, mind, and environment both limits and creates new epistemic and ontological possibilities within Spinoza’s philosophy.

  • The place of the human life form in nature: Spinoza’s views on the relation between species and individual in context Spinoza, of course, makes no reference to ‘life forms’ as such. Nor does he provide any extended treatment of the related concept of species. Our aim in this subproject is to establish just what resources are available within Spinoza’s natural philosophy for a positive account of a life form.
  • The project is split into three subprojects: The problem of existential limitations of mankind: Towards a reading of Spinoza’s metaphysics from a human viewpoint. This subproject aims to assess the degree to which the human viewpoint shapes and/or constricts Spinoza’s metaphysical System.
  • The ideal behind the human life form: Towards an integrative reconstruction of Spinoza’s practical philosophy. This subproject uses the notion of the human life form (drawing, in part, on the other subprojects) to provide a means of integrating the various aspects of Spinoza’s practical philosophy. It addresses problems of human action, freedom, and salvation.