Of Freedom: Heidegger on Spinoza

This essay will be published by Epoche: Journal of the History of Philosophy, in the Fall of 2015.

Ah, the wind, the wind[1] is blowing

Through the graves, the wind is blowing

Freedom soon will come;

Then we’ll come from the shadows.

          Leonard Cohen, ‘The Partisan’[2]



Spinoza is quoted approvingly (for instance, by Deleuze in his Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza[3] and by Andre Garcia Düttman[4]) to the effect that the free man is the one who thinks about, or fears, death the least.[5]  Such fear he considers to be a passive emotion, or affection, which is a bondage to pain, symptomatic of our impotence and servitude.  Spinoza writes,

Hope is nothing else but an inconstant pleasure, arising from the image of something future or past, whereof we do not yet know the issue. Fear, on the other hand, is an inconstant pain also arising from the image of something concerning which we are in doubt.  If the element of doubt be removed from these emotions, hope becomes Confidence and fear become Despair.  In other words, Pleasure or Pain arising from the image of something concerning which we have hoped or feared.[6]

The free man, in this light, is one who has not only cultivated the stronger active emotion of acquiescence to the univocal chorus of necessity, but has also learned to disengage external factors which are coincident with such passive emotions – to organise an ‘order of encounters’ as Deleuze describes in his Expressionism.  Heidegger, on the contrary, who undertakes a meditation upon ‘Spinozism’ in the context of his 1936 lecture course, Schelling’s Treatise on Freedom,[7]  would seem to take issue with Spinoza in his own contention that the one who faces his or her ownmost possibility of death without evasion, is the one who is most free – or, who will have found him or herself in a moment that discloses the necessity of one’s own singular freedom.[8]

Heidegger places a great emphasis upon the epistemic role of mood, and specifically, in this context, upon anxiety – and with the usual stipulations, we could argue that he has a unique, and seemingly more open relationship with the (negative) emotional aspect of existence than does Spinoza. Of course, Spinoza, as Deleuze advertises, is a great seeker of Joy and pleasant emotions (in moderation); yet, it is his aversion to the ‘sad passions’ and ‘pain’ which clearly distinguishes him from Heidegger.  At the same time, however, Spinoza does contend that ‘passions’ do disclose our weakness, and thus, play an epistemological role, though one not pursued in the way Heidegger suggests.  While this ‘question of taste’ may seem to be irreconcilable, I would like to show that in essential respects, the philosophies of Spinoza and Heidegger exhibit a strong isomorphism in regard to singularity of the ‘founding’ event of freedom.

In other words, there is an isomorphism between the singularity of the event of ecstatic resoluteness and the un-thematised ontological difference in the concept of substance as that which ‘is in itself and is conceived through itself’.[9]  That which marks the divergence in their philosophies lies in the temporality of substance (or, the lack thereof), and thus of the relationship of finitude and freedom.  We could suggest that it is thus in the domain of ‘ontology’, that the radical temporality of human existence is suppressed in Spinoza.   Their philosophies diverge in that Spinoza espouses an ontology of a divine, eternal substance, while Heidegger explicitly seeks to destroy the history of ontology, one of the primary targets of which being the ‘ousiology’ of the metaphysical tradition.  From the perspective of Heidegger’s fundamental ontology, substance remains within the domain of beings, of an entitive metaphysics – as its capacity to denote an ontological difference remains un-thematised.

This lack of ontological disclosure on the part of Spinoza reveals that he is uncritically repeating (for whatever possible tactical reasons) an ontic metaphysics grounded upon the principle of identity, and thus, for Heidegger, a generic sense of time.  In this way, Spinoza places the seat of freedom in that which is, contrary to the claims of his immanentism, metaphysically transcendent to the being of human existence, as this latter is irreducibly temporal – in between time and eternity, to express ourselves in a variation of Plato’s Timaeus.  Of course, this is not to suggest that Spinoza endorsed transcendence per se, but that he enacted what could be called a reverse panopticism, one which blocked out all that which could tear Spinoza away from his ethical ‘theorisation’ of immanence.  That which is significant, with respect to the relationship of Heidegger and Spinoza, will be this radical difference in ontological perspectives, and the subsequent implication with respect to meaning of freedom, which, for both philosophers, nevertheless remains, as Deleuze points out in Difference and Repetition,[10] dependent upon their respective preliminary ontological investigations.

The Significance of Spinoza for Heidegger

The significance of Spinoza (and ‘Spinozism’) for Heidegger was long-standing and quite profound – though, like many of his most significant references, nearly unsaid.[11] Of course, it is Heidegger’s opposition to the rationalist and mathematical aspects of Spinoza’s philosophy that is most pronounced in many of his extant statements.  It is these aspects which come under focus in his 1936 lectures on Schelling’s The Essence of Human Freedom in which Heidegger states that it is Spinoza who was the first to develop a completely modern (post-theological) philosophical system based upon the framework of a mathesis universalis.  He states that the need for a system in philosophy is specifically Modern in light of the attempt by philosophy to establish an independent grounding, distinct from the then hegemonic Christian theology.

At the same time, Heidegger, sounding like Nietzsche, states that the problem of freedom enters centre stage in light of the various efforts of ‘system builders’, and he attempts, over the period of the rest of the lecture course, to explore the possibility of a ‘system of freedom’.  Yet, while there is an isomorphism in terms of the act or event structure of their respective accounts of freedom, we will see that Heidegger nevertheless must reject Spinoza’s conception of freedom, in that it is conceived as acquiescence to God (or Nature) – a theoretical entity, sub specie aeternitatus, and not a resolution amidst a situation of thrown projection, sub specie temporis.[12]

In his exploration of Schelling, Heidegger, as suggested, attempts to comprehend the former’s attempt to outline a systematic philosophy which is founded upon freedom – or, which does not at the very least eliminate freedom as a possibility, even as the supreme possibility.  Heidegger, in this context, specifies that, for Schelling, it is precisely in a revolt against God, indeed, in active ‘evil’ or the self-assertion of human existence, that freedom is disclosed as the law of one’s own being.  Spinoza’s notion of acquiescence, in that it is conceived amid the ambiguous ontological logos of substance – i.e., in its denial of the eigentlichkeit of radical temporality – becomes a fleeing-in-the-face-of in that it has, with its self-interpretation of existence in light of eternity, failed to disclose the horror and ecstasy of a radically temporal sense of Being.

To be precise, while Spinoza regards divine Substance as our ownmost proper being, and that our acquiescence is merely a pseudo-surrender to ourselves, Heidegger, as he is pursuing the specific character of human freedom – that of mortal temporality – exposes the negativity of an ontological difference of human existence from the being of beings, including the divine being – a distinction that lay hidden away in Spinoza’s secret hope.

The criterion for this difference is, in this way, that of human finitude – indeed, of our very inability to ever conceive of ‘infinity’ or the ‘eternal’ in any ‘positive’ sense.  Substance, conceived in this way, is, for Heidegger, not our ownmost proper Being.  In this light, the respective views of death (and, thus, temporality) of Heidegger and Spinoza cast into relief a precise temporal difference – and may suggest a means – that of destruktion, by which their perspectives could be made – as Heidegger had done with Leibniz – congruent in their depiction of the ecstatic character of human existence.  As with Leibniz, Spinoza is trapped in the turret of an adopted language and protocol – that of system and its ecclesiastical roots – the impulse to encamp is understandable, though freedom could be – is – much more radical.

Detour: Heidegger on Kant and the Pantheist Controversy

The radical aspect of temporality, of finitude, is further thematised in Heidegger’s other treatments of the essence of reason, most notable, in our context, in his work on Kant in his 1927 lecture courses Phenomenological Interpretation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and Basic Problems of Phenomenology, and his third published work, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics.[13]  Each of these texts undertake a destruktion of the ambiguity of the fragmentary character of the Critical philosophy in light of the suggestion of unity in the reference, by Kant, to a ‘common’ though ‘unknown root’ for the ‘stems’ of ‘concept’ and ‘intuition’.  Heidegger underlines the significance of the A edition of the Critique of Pure Reason and its emphasis upon the transcendental role of the imagination in the constitution of pure knowledge.

Heidegger throws up a red flag over the second Edition revisions, which, he contends, give an over-riding power to Reason, conceived problematically as pure understanding – to the exclusion of the various manifestations of transcendental imagination (temporality) – in the constitution of knowledge.  We must recall that in Phenomenological Interpretation, Heidegger declared that the transcendental imagination, in his re-reading of transcendental philosophy, is Reason itself.  Such a suggestion should not surprise us in that Kant has already taught us that ‘substance’ is a creature of the imagination – a regulative idea, or principle, ens imaginarium spawned by the schematism of transcendental imagination.  The revisions, while not revising the section of schematism, make it clear however that imagination operates within the limits of understanding and at its behest.

With a closer look at the historicity of the question, we find that it is the issue of ‘Spinozism’ that it is the immediate context for a consideration of the transformation of Kantian philosophy.  The spectre of ‘Spinozism’, which concerns the question of the authority of reason, erupted in the ‘Pantheism controversy’ at the instigation of Jacobi (and Hamann) against Mendelssohn.  In a sustained period of criticism, Jacobi, in his 1782 Etwas das Leßing gesagt hat: Ein Commentar zu den Reisen der Päpste nebst Betrachtungen von einem Dritten[14]and his 1785 Über die Lehre des Spinoza in Briefen an den Herrn Moses Mendelssohn,[15]not only revealed private letters in which the late Lessing confesses his ‘Spinozism’, but also lays out the context for any acceptable notion of the Absolute in his notion of feeling of Being (Gefühl), and the act of the salto mortale.[16]

This dispute sheds light upon the development of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, in which he, in his foray into the controversy, ‘What is Orientation in Thinking?’ (1786), rehearsed the basic shift in his thinking which became manifest in the revisions of the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason and in the Critique of Practical Reason (1787).  Kant came down on the side of Mendelssohn in the controversy, and with his essay on orientation, as Heidegger suggests, he effectively ended the dispute.  Spinoza’s substance will no longer be a ‘thing’, neither an immanent God (Jacobi and Hamann), nor a festive nature (Rouseau and Heinse), mere creatures of imagination, temporality – but an idea of an authoritative Reason.

Heidegger makes much of the revisions of the Critique of Pure Reason, specifying not only the rationalist i.e. ‘Spinozist’ domestication of imagination and temporality in the constitution of knowledge, but also the exclusion of temporality and imagination from the fundamental meaning and operations of practical philosophy.[17]  Indeed, contrary to Kant’s own purported limitation of knowledge to make room for faith, it is clear that this limitation does not in itself limit the authority of reason in practical matters, and this was noticed by those, such as Jacobi and Hamann, who expressed their outrage at the time over what they regarded as Kant’s betrayal.

It would seem, in this way, that Kant, while pretending to dispel the taint of ‘Spinozism’ as a totalitarian theoretical knowledge, in fact establishes the rationalist philosophy of Spinoza at a deeper, more subterranean level.  We could argue that ‘Spinoza’ is merely swallowed up within Kant’s architectonic of transcendental subjectivity, but having been given a purely regulative significance in the first instance – becomes with the revisions, the principle of authority in the dismissal of imagination. This dismissal finds, contrary to many commentators, its final statement in the tragic failure of the imagination in the facelessness of the sublime in the Critique of Judgment.  The question arises as to the transformation of the meaning of freedom in light of these shifts, revisions in thought – and of what is lost in the revolution.[18]

The question of the subordination of temporality and imagination in the theoretical philosophy, and its exclusion from the practical philosophy, was a central thematic in Heidegger’s late 1920’s investigations of Kant.  In fact, he elaborates a distinct ‘Kantian’ philosophy in his Kantbook[19] in which the First Edition (A) characterisation of transcendental imagination (Einsbildungskraft) is restored as a surrogate for Heidegger’s own indication of an original, ecstatic temporality.  As I have explored in depth in my Heidegger’s Early Philosophy,[20] the 1920’s radical phenomenology was an attempt not only to disclose the specific temporal be-ing of human existence, but also to cultivate an indigenous conceptuality (the Existentiale) in which such a be-ing could be expressed intimately.[21]  There lurks in the temporal problematic the supposition that Reason, or Spinoza’s God, as an a-temporal (eternal) substance, is not, and does not express, properly, our own, human be-ing.[22]

As I will explore below, that which is deemed our own, Heidegger contends, is disclosed through the negativity that specifies us over against beings which enter our world and any “Being” which (whether through emanation, creation or expression) is said to produce our ‘world’.  In this way, an acquiescence to such a God, or Nature – to such a necessity – is not freedom as self-determination according to a law of one’s own be-ing (a temporal lawfulness or regulation), but an ideological and psychological surrender to what effectively is a transcendent, un-worlded dogmatic being (one in which freedom means the transcendence of temporality conceived as generic (eg. digital) time.  This is a law or logic that is expressly not our own, but instead serves merely to cover over, conceal – and forbid – our ownmost be-ing.

While we will explore these issues in more detail in the following pages, suffice it to say for now that we could very well argue that, of all the metaphysicians since Plato, it is Spinoza who is the greatest target of Heidegger’s destruktion of the history of ontology.  But, as the latter is not meant to be merely an elimination, but a setting free of an original impulse for an ontology, we will see that there is much that is akin between Heidegger and Spinoza, to the extent that the former could be seen as a radicalisation of the latter, especially if we succeed in dismantling the ousiological[23] theory of Being, which imprisons his philosophy as does a frame (Ge-stell).

Spinoza and Freedom

One way to understand Spinoza is in his own meta-criticism of Descartes.  In contrast to the latter’s schema of two heterogeneous substances, of thought (res cogitans) and extension (res extensa), and of their incomprehensible relation, Spinoza demonstrates logically that there is only one Substance and every being in the world is merely a modulation or mode of this primordial being. In a re-contextualisation of Cartesian dualism, we begin to know our status as a mode though our epistemic access to reality through the attributes of thought and extension.  In this way, for Spinoza, there is only one substance, but there are, for human beings, two parallel ways in which we can have access to the modalities of the fundamental substance.  Yet, in a Promethean nod to Heidegger, these latter attributes are what is peculiar to human beings, to finite beings, as God, or Nature possesses infinite attributes in its substance.  We, as finite beings, are merely modes of substance, and thought and extension are our only ways of apprehending our predicament.

Freedom, however, is delineated by Spinoza as that which transcends the circle of limited attributes – freedom, Being (as intimated as the feeling (Gefuhl) of Being by the early German and English[24] Romantics) lies only in the absolute, in the apprehension of infinity, of infinite attributes.  A confusion lies in these words – as this ecstasy beyond entities, could very well be in the moment amidst a radical finitude of Being – and the necessary engagement with death as one’s ownmost possibility.  Once again, the modernist will to system is ironic – it seeks freedom, but merely in the ‘against’ and the ‘almost’ – it thus forbids a more profound sense of freedom in keeping with the limitation of its attributes.

The question of freedom culminates, in the Ethics[25] of Spinoza, with a notion of eternity which is that of the rational intuition, of the intellectual love of God (or Nature) as a system, or systasis, of necessity.  Freedom is not that of the Will,[26] but is the originary event which is beyond the transient modifications of substance, and, is thus beyond a conception of time as mere duration[27] – indeed, with Augustine, Spinoza could himself declare that such a sense of time is not sufficiently real, but is merely an illusion, a ladder to be thrown down once we have expressed our own active affections and have thrown away paradoxes as useless toys.

Freedom, therefore, in the context of the ‘third kind of knowledge’ (sub specie aeternitatus), is the affirmation of an imminent necessity arising from the singular nature of the ‘thing’ itself.  But, what is this thing?  Is it the objectified ‘object’ for a ‘consciousness’?  Or, is it a thought-thing, a substance, devoid of internal references to temporality?  Is it a temporal mode?  Is it the thing there in its given-ness?  Or, is it we ourselves as the questioners, explorers and thinkers?  Or, is it merely God, Allah, etc.?

So as to specify the peculiar significance of the notion of freedom for Spinoza, however, we should return to the beginning, to the initial condition of existence, amidst this plane of modular dispersion, so as to fathom the difficulty and rarity (and perhaps impossibility ala romantic irony in the sense of Schlegel) of any attainment of freedom in the world.  That which is required is the unfolding of the system of Spinoza in order for us to ascertain our place within the whole, and thus, to locate the pathway upon which we must embark from a state of fear and weakness toward one of freedom, or, as Deleuze suggests, beatitude.[28]

This pathway corresponds to the three kinds of knowledge, each of which discloses a specific orientation of the being of the self, which Spinoza contends, is desire (conatus).  The first kind of knowledge, is that of the ‘order of passions’, of the phantoms of the imagination (a reference which immediately returns us to our thinking on Kant).  The imagination is characterised by inadequate ideas which are contrived by the random projection of partial perspectives upon extrinsic determinations, passively received through chance encounters.  Deleuze mentions that this kind of knowledge is that of the ‘order of nature’ and even comprises such ‘universalist’ ideas as the civil state and religion and their respective drives for obedience – it is the realist state of ‘things’.

The second kind of knowledge comprises the ‘order of relations’, of the understanding.  It is characterised by ‘common notions’ which disclose the connection of our knowledge with that of the virtual God, and whose essence is disclosed through these notions.  The second kind of knowledge comprises an ‘order of reason’, in which the understanding increasingly begins to exercise control over the imagination and places its rhapsodies and passions into order.  In other words, our being becomes determined, as Deleuze suggests, by the desires of reason.

The third kind of knowledge comprises the ‘order of essences’, and fathoms the singularity of each mode, including our own body, as an expression of the divine, sub specie aeternitatus.  Knowledge, in this clear repetition of medieval nominalism, is the negative, though active, affection of a merely temporal mode in its acquiescence to the eternal substance, or God.  This knowledge regards the singular essence of God which we find in ourselves, through our own internal resources – a significant correspondence with Leibniz – in distinction to both random encounters and the general relations of some Deleuzian ‘external’ world.

Freedom, in this way, is a state of being that is the unfolding, according to Spinoza, of one’s own essence in an active affection.  This activity is indicative of an increase, as Deleuze writes, of our power of active being.  Yet, as we have seen, we do not begin in such a state of freedom, but in dependency and passivity, as in infancy and childhood.  Of course, even in these states, we nevertheless believe that we are free.  Spinoza elaborates,

Thus an infant believes that of its own free will it desires milk, an    angry child believes that it freely desires vengeance, a timid child believes that it freely desires to run away; further, a drunken man    believes that he utters from the free decision of his mind words which, when he is sober, he would willingly have withheld: thus, too, a      delirious man, a garrulous woman, a child, and others of like complexion, believe that they speak from the free decision of their mind, when they are in reality unable to restrain their impulse to talk.[29]

In this way, for Spinoza, we begin, lost in the stems, distracted by the fragmentation of the passions which cause us sadness and pain.  This is our situation and predicament, and it is the topos from which we strive to achieve a freedom that is implicit in our being, as the not-yet (but already always) ‘origin’ and source for our being – for Spinoza, our true, active being is that of God, the eternal substance.  In this light, that which is, is God in his positive, immanent and univocal Being which is explicated as a world and which implicates the eternal Substance as its source and truth.  The negative, the nothing, fear, despair, all ‘sad passions’ are, for Spinoza, tainted with illusion, superstition and ignorance – with mere ‘belief’ in Plato’s sense, imaginary.  Freedom comes when this veil is torn asunder to disclose the positive actuality of God.

If we consider this pathway toward freedom closely, and in a way which respects the indigenous situation of this perspective, one which as Deleuze mentions, may perhaps be attained only near the end of life, it is understandable why Spinoza would state that the man who thinks least of death is the most free.  But, such a view, even as it seems to deny our own embodiment, at once indicates that we will never overcome these negative emotions, this apparent duality, i.e., it highlights the ironic impossibility of a science, which would, as with Marx, negate negativity.  But, at the same time, despite this gesture toward the irreducible finitude of human existence, Spinoza, in keeping with his apophatic onto-theology, creates the microcosm of the ‘order of encounters’ as a mirror stage of the purposive ordered macrocosm of the universe, or Nature.

In this way, we may never get beyond repression and substitution in respect of our fear of death, as in the case of Lucretius, for instance, or others, such as the early Wittgenstein, who merely state that we will never live to see death and thus we should not fear it, nor do we have any rational grounds to do so.  Yet, the question remains – and I believe that this is the primary significance of Heidegger’s criticisms of Spinoza, and more generally, of rationalism – of the eigentlich being of the self amidst its radically temporal existence (Bataille’s wild ipse), not only with respect to the problematic character of substance as the meaning of being, but also with respect to the issues of negativity and possibility, indeed, of futurity and projection – comportments which remain suppressed by Spinoza.  Again – substance is not what we are.  But, what are we? How? Why? That?

Heidegger, Spinoza, and Freedom

Heidegger would agree with Spinoza’s basic intuition that freedom (or, in this context, eternity), is not to be regarded as bound up with the events of duration, but is, in this way, beyond ‘beings’ or ‘modes’ (the ‘ontic’).  At the same time, however, while he agrees with the notion of a common root of Being, Heidegger would not endorse the sentiment that such a root is that of God, or Nature, which, at the end of the day, is, from his perspective, ontologically the same as a mode, or a particular being, a sameness which is expressed in any ontological univocity of being.  As I have suggested, for Heidegger, substance is not what we are, as finite beings.  But, how do we know this, what is the epistemic source for such a determination of difference, of the ontological difference between beings and the be-ing of human existence?

As indicated, the epistemic source is that of mood, in this case, anxiety in the face of death (recall the Jacobist Gefuhl for the Romantics).  A contrast between Heidegger and Spinoza on this epistemic issue will disclose not only the specificity of their respective ontologies, but also that of their conceptions of time (or, temporality, in the case of Heidegger).  Now, it can be stated immediately that Heidegger, in the 1920’s phenomenology, is not speaking primarily of fear, as in the ‘fear of death’.  He speaks instead of anxiety.  More specifically, fear is a mood in which that which is feared is a threat that may happen or not (can be doubted).  In this way, fear in Heidegger is the same as fear in Spinoza’s Ethics, as this emotion is always accompanied by hope (that some event, etc. will not occur).  In this way, we find a striking parallel between Heidegger and Spinoza with respect to the inauthenticity of fear and of the unreality of its associated conception of time.

However, as stated, fear is not Heidegger’s primary concern, nor is it his epistemic source for the differentiation of our own being from that of entities.  This is indicated, as I have mentioned, in anxiety, and again, we can find an analogue of this indication in Spinoza.  For Heidegger, anxiety is a sense of a threat to our being that is insurmountable, of our own possibility of impossibility.  In the absence of any hope, anxiety thus shares a family resemblance with Spinoza’s emotion of Despair.  That which is crucial here is that Heidegger contends that anxiety reveals to us the Nothing, which has the sense of the negativity of ourselves (finite transcendence), in our difference from generic beings and from any transcendent being (Eternity).

Moreover, as it is insurmountable, anxiety, in distinction from fear and the unreality of its sense of time, discloses the truth of that which is there in its ultimate necessity.  In his radical – that is, phenomenological and existential – ontology, Heidegger is seeking to disclose the specificity of our own human being, which, we are told, is, in each case, my own.  It will be in this moment (similar again to acquiescence) that the decision is made – that binding commitments are affirmed.   Heidegger has, in this way, in his discovery of ‘eternity’ in the negative, exposed a radical leap by Spinoza away from the truth, and into the consoling fiction of his notion of divine substance, of God, one which is meant to be imminent, to be our true being, but becomes, in its lack of be-ing, perhaps the symbol of our greatest weakness and un-freedom.

In contradistinction to such a ‘panic room’ docility, passivity in the wake of substance, Heidegger offers us a glimpse of negativity, a look into the personal being of finite, human existence which decides its own binding commitments, chooses its makeshift projection of ‘world’ amid the ecstasies of temporality, a freely chosen, but thrown world which provides a clearing into which beings may and do enter (a temporalised ‘order of encounters’).  In this way, Heidegger has articulated a philosophy of finite transcendence in which existence is regarded as transcending as such.  In this light, it is not emotion (or, mood), albeit negative, which precludes our freedom, but our inability or unwillingness to face, for instance, the anxiety of being-towards-death, and follow this event to where it takes us, ‘all the way to the end’.

Epilogue: On Necessity

Hannah Arendt speaks of a gale that blows from Heidegger’s philosophy, a wind that is untimely, in its standing out from the ‘experience’ of the present, as an intimation of the primordial.[30]  It is in this light that we may come to terms with his pathos of distance from Spinoza.  The question is that of the meaning of necessity, and of its determination from within the context of a specific ontology.  Spinoza lays out his distinction of freedom and necessity:

That thing is called free, which exists solely by the mere necessity of its own nature, and of which the action is determined by itself alone. On the other hand, that thing is necessary, or rather constrained, which is determined by something external to itself to a fixed and definite   method of action.[31]

It is significant that Spinoza gives us two senses of necessity in this definition, that, on the one hand, of the ‘necessity’ of one’s own nature, a sense of necessity disclosed with respect to freedom as self-determination.  On the other hand, there is the ‘necessary’ as that which compels or constrains the self from its actualisation of freedom. To this extent, since the ‘necessary’ places a limit upon the possibility of the self determination of ‘necessity’, it must be for Spinoza, deemed to be false (though thrown for Heideger).  In the wake of this denial, philosophy, as the language of necessity, becomes that of mere ‘reason’, geometry, mathematical deduction and the logical procedures which construct a judgment of necessity (the ‘theoretical man’ in Nietzsche’s sense).

It could be argued that Spinoza asserts the priority of the attribute of pure rational thought, mirrored though it is in the dimension of body with the construction of an ‘order of encounters’ – and its ultimate, ironic, and ethical quieting of our emotional being.  It may be that Spinoza is a victim of his own era and task, of being the ‘against’, the alternative, hunted, despised.  In such a torment, one would seek to grasp hold of something solid, a differing, though singular principle, one presented in the form of an ethics, one that sought the hedonistic resignation of fate.  In the storm, he elaborated the attributes that were available to him – as his Tractatus would suggest that ‘God’ will only be revealed through the limitations of an era.  Such a note, however, opens questions which exceed the limitations of the current study.

From the perspective of Heidegger, the question and sense of necessity undergoes a metamorphosis to the extent that the gale of the wind blows away the dead language of ‘substance’ and the field of its metaphysical lexicon.  To this extent, Heidegger’s comportment with respect to the history of ontology is that of a ‘phenomenological destructuring’, or, in other words, of a retrieval of the originary situation of questioning in the wake of the dissemination of the ‘gift of death’ (Derrida).  In this way, we could juxtapose a logical conception of necessity to that of an existential, the latter, Heidegger would contend, being primordial in relation to the former conception.  In this light, logic and mathematical limit, as with Heidegger’s engagement with Leibnizian analytic judgment in The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic,[32] intimate the primordial limit of finite existence.

Such an overwhelming horizon for the disclosure of the truth of Being cannot be contained by the ‘necessity’ of the logical concept and mathematical deduction.  It is in this way that acquiescence to an ontical substance, as a resting place from the breathless linear succession of common time, cannot be the pathway of freedom.  Indeed, there is a depth of radical freedom that always already underlies the procedures of judgment, a freedom that is an originary eruption of the projection of the binding commitments of ‘world’, as a makeshift, revisable shelter for an ecstatic openness to others and the myriad beings in the world-around (Umwelt) – it is a Spring.

Spinoza seeks to use the dead language of logic to quarantine his emotional, personal being, in a leap into the infinity of substance, of hope – indeed, in a negative mirror image of the tomb of logic, as an impossible escape into the Unlimited.  Heidegger, on the contrary, would indicate that we must not seek freedom in the impossible other-world of eternity, but that we must comprehend that we are by necessity free to love and hate and to chose a ‘world’ – not to mention free to radically question the world of the present, sub specie temporis.[33]  It is our radical openness to the other, to the event of radical possibility, which intimates the ground of freedom that is expressed in a living language.

I will close with a return to Leonard Cohen’s ‘The Partisan’,

Ah, the wind, the wind is blowing

Through the graves, the wind is blowing

Freedom soon will come;

Then we’ll come from the shadows.

Amid the thrownness of existence, the wind of becoming blows through the graves, and it is in the face of becoming and the artefacts of death – standing in-between natality and fatality – that a clearing (Lichtung) emerges, the topos in which we can decide, to choose our world, one that is inscribed with the makeshift self-expression of our own be-ing.  In our courage to face the futurity of our being-toward-death, we thus come to ourselves from out of the shadows – as the truth of Being.

In this way, it could be contended that Spinoza does not give us an adequate conception of freedom, as he has failed, as Heidegger suggests in his lectures on Schelling, to disclose the true radicality and depths of human existence.  Contrary to Deleuze, therefore, the issue is not that of a choice between immanence and transcendence, but to apprehend the unavoidable and ‘positive’ negativity of the ‘middle world’ of finite transcendence which concerns the intimacy of our own be-ing, and with Foucault, to undertake a ‘critical ontology of ourselves’.[34]  It is in this way that we affirm the desire which is our being, and do not take the path of renunciation for an ‘eternal’ that is only a prison-house of graves.


[1] I would like to thank Joan Stambaugh and Frank Edler for their insightful readings of this text and for their incisive comments and suggestions.

[2] Cohen, Leonard, ‘The Partisan’, a song of the French Resistance:

When they poured across the border
I was cautioned to surrender,
this I could not do;
I took my gun and vanished.
I have changed my name so often,
I’ve lost my wife and children
but I have many friends,
and some of them are with me.

An old woman gave us shelter,
kept us hidden in the garret,
then the soldiers came;
she died without a whisper.

There were three of us this morning
I’m the only one this evening
but I must go on;
the frontiers are my prison.

Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing,
through the graves the wind is blowing,
freedom soon will come;
then we’ll come from the shadows.

Les Allemands e’taient chez moi, (The Germans were at my home)
ils me dirent, “Signe toi,” (They said, “Sign yourself,”)
mais je n’ai pas peur; (But I am not afraid)
j’ai repris mon arme. (I have retaken my weapon.)

J’ai change’ cent fois de nom, (I have changed names a hundred times)
j’ai perdu femme et enfants (I have lost wife and children)
mais j’ai tant d’amis; (But I have so many friends)
j’ai la France entie`re. (I have all of France)

Un vieil homme dans un grenier (An old man, in an attic)
pour la nuit nous a cache’, (Hid us for the night)
les Allemands l’ont pris; (The Germans captured him)
il est mort sans surprise. (He died without surprise.)

Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing,
through the graves the wind is blowing,
freedom soon will come;
then we’ll come from the shadows.

[3] Deleuze, Gilles (1992) Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, translated by Martin Joughin, New York: Zone Books.

[4] Address to the 3rd Annual Joint Conference of the Society for European Philosophy and the Forum for European Philosophy in 2007.

[5] It is questionable whether we ever fear death, since for Spinoza, fear is always tied to hope, as with Heidegger.  In this sense, it is despair in the face of death which is at issue.

[6]  Spinoza, Benedict (1955) Ethics, translated by R.H.M. Elwes, New York: Dover Publications, II, Prop. XVIII, Note II, p. 144.

[7] Heidegger, Martin (1985) Schelling’s Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom, translated by Joan Stambaugh, Athens: Ohio University Press.

[8] In respect of the actions of Heidegger, it would seem necessary to critically re-assess his relationship with the Nazis through a detailed and inclusive investigation which takes seriously his poetics of resistance, not only in light of his seminal turn to Hölderlin in 1934 (is it a coincidence that Heidegger did not mention the name of Holderlin during the entire period of his Rectorship?), but also with regard to Edler’s poetic analysis of Heideger’s Rectoral Address.  We must take seriously his statement in his 1966 interview with Der Spiegel that he sought to remain in Germany to ‘stand in the storm’.  Such a critical reassessment, which is evident in the work of Edler, Zimmerman, and others must also bring to light the subversive significance of the turn (Kehre), especially in works such as Contributions to Philosophy, in which he radically criticises Nazism as a violently subjectivist and productionistic metaphysics, though ‘through a glass darkly’.  Without such an inclusive and thorough reassessment of Heidegger’s relation with the Nazis, it will be impossible to comprehend the significance of his middle and later thought since any such analysis will always already be postponed by the plethora of dismissals (of the relevance and credibility of Heidegger’s poetic subversion), moral denunciations and disappointingly selective representations and interpretations of his actions, overt and covert, during the period of 1930-1945.  The irony, of course, behind much of the ire surrounding this issue, is that the critics of Heidegger have merely repeated Plato’s dismissal of poetry from the polis of truth, if only through collateral damage.  For more on the theme of poetic resistance, see Roth, Michael (1996) The Poetics of Resistance: Heidegger’s Line, Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

[9]  Ethics, I, III, p. 45.

[10] Deleuze, Gilles (1994) Difference and Repetition, translated by Paul Patton, New York: Columbia University Press.

[11] At first glance, it may seem strange to juxtapose Spinoza and Heidegger, the first an ‘excommunicated’ Jew living in Amsterdam in the mid-1600’s (and then, The Hague), the other a German (and a dissident ‘Nazi’), living at the time of his lectures on Schelling, that is 1936, near Freiburg. Although, as we will see, Heidegger’s documented interest in Spinoza and ‘Spinozism’ had already arisen at least as early as the 1920’s, it is interesting that in his lectures, after his first mentions of Spinoza, Heidegger seems necessitated or compelled to explain to his audience (among whom were the panoptic Nazi auditors) that the latter is not properly a ‘Jewish thinker’, citing of course, his expulsion from the Jewish community at the age of 23. It should be remembered that well before this time, Heidegger already had a quite severe falling out with leading Nazi officials and academic operators, such as Alfred Baumler, who had not only prevented him from being elected President of the Berlin Academy of Sciences, but had also placed Heidegger under surveillance.  Strangely enough, in a long report that would remove from Heidegger any hope of being elected President of the Academy of Sciences, it was stated that Heidegger was a schizophrenic, and that his philosophy was influenced by Jewish ideas (notably Husserl).

[12] ‘Under the Aspect of Time (“sub specie temporis”): Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and the Place of the Nothing,’ Philosophy Today, Volume 53, Number 2 (Spring, 2009)

[13] Of course, it could be argued that any time Heidegger considers the principle of reason, Spinoza will remain an elephant in the room, who is not only implicated as one of the great rationalist system-builders, but whose own methodology of absolute unity was appropriated by the early German Romantics and German idealists in their attempt to counter the skeptical attacks upon the Kantian philosophy from such neo-Humean philosophers as Schulze and Maimon.

[14] Jacobi, F. H., (1782) Etwas das Leßing gesagt hat. Ein Commentar zu den Reisen der Päpste nebst Betrachtungen von einem Dritten. Berlin: George Jacob Decker.

[15] Jacobi, F. H. (1785) Über die Lehre des Spinoza in Briefen an den Herrn Moses Mendelssohn. Breslau: Gottlieb Löwe.

[16] It should be noted that this controversy did not go unnoticed in the United Kingdom, being eagerly watched by Coleridge and Wordsworth (themselves travelling to Germany in this period), who had developed their own interest in Spinoza and ‘Spinozism’.

[17] For an in depth treatment of the relation of imagination and Kant’s practical philosophy, see Schalow, Frank (1986) Imagination and Existence: A Retrieval of the Kantian Ethic, Landom: University Press of America.

[18] Another ‘Spinoza’ is perhaps significant beyond this particular controversy, for in its aftermath, and the redefinition of Reason by Hölderlin, Schlegel, Novalis, and Herder, as an organic, aesthetical and historical reason, he provided (well over one hundred years after his death) some of the tools to overcome the apparent subjectivism of the Kantian-Fichtean philosophy in the development of early German Romanticism and German Idealism.  Of course, with the eruption of Romanticism and German Idealism, ‘Spinozism’ underwent a radical transfiguration, which perhaps, transformed his ideas beyond anything we could immediately recognise as ‘Spinoza’. Beiser, Friederick (2002) German Idealism: The Struggle against Subjectivism, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press; (2003) The Romantic Imperative: The Concept of Early German Romanticism, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press; (1987) The Fate of Reason, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press; see also, Frank, Manfred, The Philosophical Foundations of Early German Romanticism, translated by Elizabeth Millán-Zaibert, Albany: SUNY.

[19] Heidegger, Martin (1997) Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, translated by Richard Taft, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

[20] Luchte, James (2008) Heidegger’s Early Philosophy: The Phenomenology of Ecstatic Temporality, London: Continuum.

[21] This may not be the sense of ‘immanence’ in the sense of Deleuze, whose interpretation relies upon a notion of a univocity of Being which is positive and merely affirmative, and is incessantly infused with metaphorical borrowings from set theory, geometry, and physics, none of which is ever given a sufficient explication.

[22] Indeed, Spinoza himself confesses to this eventuality in Ethics, Part II, Prop. X: ‘The being of substance does not appertain to the essence of man – in other words, substance does not constitute the actual being of man.’  The actual being of man is that of unnecessary existence, and in this way, the achievement of freedom in the salto mortale of substance lies in the denial of our actuality so as to obtain our true essence, which is Mind (Ethics, Part II, Prop. XI., Corrol., which ‘is part of the infinite intellect of God.’

[23] Schürmann, Reiner (1987) Heidegger: On Being and Acting, From Principles to Anarchy, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

[24] Deleuze, Gilles (1983) Cinema I, London: Mecca.  Deleuze comments that English romantics Blake and Coleridge undertook in their poetry the assimilation of misery between the internal and external worlds.

[25] Spinoza, Benedict (1955) The Ethics, translated by R.H.M. Elwes, New York: Dover.

[26] Ethics, I, Prop. XXXII, Coroll. I.

[27] This is a reference to the treatment of Bergson in Deleuze’s Cinema, in the sense of the interpretation of temporality as an ‘order of things’.  Such a realist topography asserts a reduction to the ‘object’, irrespective of the scintillation, as Deleuze emphasises, in his criticism of Bergson, of singularities, expressed, for instance, in the close-up, in the face, as with Levinas in his disclosure of the inescapability of ethics in intimacy.

[28] Deleuze, G., Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, pp. 303-320.

[29] Ethics, II, Post. I, Prop. II, Note, p. 134.

[30] Epigram to Safranski, Rüdiger (1999) Heidegger: Between God and Evil.

[31] Spinoza, Ethics, Part 1, Definition 7, p. 46.

[32] Heidegger, Martin (1992) Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, translated by Michael Heim, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

[33] Luchte, J. (2009) ‘Under the Aspect of Time (‘sub specie temporis): Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and the Place of the Nothing’, Philosophy Today, Vol. 53, No. 1.

[34] Foucault, Michel (1991) ‘What is Enlightenment?’, The Foucault Reader, New York: Penguin.


  1. September 29, 2011 at 9:59 am

    […] como se fosse o primeiro de uma vida nova -, podendo, por conseguinte, viver intensamente. É a partir daí que se estabelece a divergência entre os dois, com a objeção heideggeriana quanto a relação do homem com a morte: o medo, de fato, consiste […]

  2. samuellmatthews said,

    October 5, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    A very interesting piece, nice to see Heidegger and Spinoza compared like this.

  3. February 26, 2016 at 11:34 am

    […] James. Of Freedom: Heidegger on Spinoza. James Lutche: Philosophy. Disponível em: <https://luchte.wordpress.com/on-freedom-heidegger-and-deleuze-on-spinoza/ >. Acesso em: 12 abril […]

Publication on this site is at the discretion of the editor.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: