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Talk:Philosophy of Spinoza

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 Definition A systematic, logical, rational philosophy developed by Baruch Spinoza in the seventeenth century in Europe [d] [e]
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Suggestions on references

These are guidelines rather than hard rules, but are different from WP.

In general, we respect the writer's expertise to pick the single best reference on a point. When I see [1][2][3], I wonder if [2] and [3] are essentially establishing the same point as [1], or if, perhaps, there are nuances that could be developed from [2] and [3].

--Howard C. Berkowitz 14:40, 17 February 2010 (UTC)

Hi Howard. This article existed for a month or so on Wikipedia before being overwritten. The reason for the repeated references was "the more the better"; I'm a Wikipedia veteran, and I always tried to put more references in to try to keep stuff from being deleted. But it may not be necessary here on CZ. I don't think I put much thought into "which reference was best" but definitely I'll try to avoid multiple references if this is against CZ policy; I've only been on CZ a day or so now, and am trying to adjust. Do you know about philosophy?--Thomas Wright Sulcer 14:47, 17 February 2010 (UTC)
I don't consider myself a philosopher, except in narrow areas such as military and medical ethics. Reasonably eclectic, though -- I'm an Editor for Military, Medical and Engineering, and frequent contributor to Politics, Health Sciences, Visual Arts, Geography, Media and a few other things.
Also, and again an informal convention, we've tended not to put quotes into citations. If they are significant, they belong in the main article — the reader doesn't know to click footnotes to find supplementary text beyond the bibliographic.
I'm delighted, though, to see you jumping in. While I'm not a Spinoza expert or philosophy editor, I am somewhat interested in his work, and can give you the lower-case-e perspective of a nonspecialist reader. --Howard C. Berkowitz 15:00, 17 February 2010 (UTC)
OK, great, I'll remove the quote parts of the references as you suggest; didn't know this was a convention; I started this practice in my WP days as a way to help fact-checkers find the right fact (and to keep my stuff from being deleted). But here it's not necessary, good.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 16:24, 17 February 2010 (UTC)

Created article

I wrote this article initially for Wikipedia back in November 2009 perhaps? It's generally solid but there are some problems and I hope to fix them as I get around to it.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 14:44, 17 February 2010 (UTC)

The initial idea of this article was to present an outline of Spinoza's philosophy in clear and simple terms so that it would be accessible to even high school students. To make the subject less dry, I avoided difficult words whenever possible, and wrote this from the ground up in a hopefully user-friendly way, working into difficult concepts slowly, such as substance, and with plenty of pictures to emphasize key ideas like cause-and-effect. But I'm a layman, not a scholar or professor; so I borrowed heavily from two professionals; one was Henry Allison who wrote a book about "The Ethics"; and another a professional named Steven Nadler who wrote "Spinoza's Ethics: An Introduction" which is a well-written introduction. So the article has a strong basis in reliable fact; I had perhaps around 40 to 50 quotes of Nadler's book here. I emailed him and showed him the draft on Wikipedia, but he objected to being quoted extensively (copyright issues?) and suggested I stick with direct quoting of Spinoza. And he didn't offer any help fixing it up either. So I spent another day or so removing references to Nadler, rewriting explanations when suitable in my own words. In addition, the only translation of Spinoza online which I could find was Elwes (100+ years ago). According to Nadler, the best translations of Spinoza are Curley or Shirley (unsure which) since they're both newer, more accepted; but they're not online. So, sooner or later I'll try to get a copy of one of these and switch the Elwes references around.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 14:44, 17 February 2010 (UTC)

On Wikipedia, I ran into problems with several editors regarding the Spinoza article. One didn't like the animations (Newton's Cradle, etc) since they supposedly consumed too much bandwidth. Another claimed to be a graduate student in philosophy who said the article was "all wrong" and, in very insulting terms (much of the talk page was overhauled -- click on the "archives" if interested in seeing the insults), took it over and rewrote it. I'm still not sure what was going on here; most likely, the second editor looked at my user page, saw I was a handyman, and assumed the article was "all wrong" without perhaps reading it much? I don't know -- it didn't help that all of the references to Nadler's book were removed, which pulled out the foundation of the article. So I let the article get overwritten; I wanted to see what would result from the new effort; plus, I wasn't sure if this new editor was, in fact, a philosophy grad student like he (she?) claimed. As of Feb 17th 2010, the current version on Wikipedia is (in my view) extremely difficult to read, much shorter, minus the pictures, and is more like a bare-bones outline of some of Spinoza's more difficult ideas. I don't think anybody looking at the article would be interested in learning more about Spinoza, after reading the current Wikipedia article; but that's my sense of it. But I began having more problems with Wikipedia and abandoned my work there around January 2010, and felt it wasn't worth the effort.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 14:44, 17 February 2010 (UTC)

So, I'm thinking this article still has a solid base, but it would be helpful if there are CZ editors who know about philosophy to help me improve it.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 14:44, 17 February 2010 (UTC)

Harrumph. As an Engineering Editor, I would very much appreciate a "handyman's" input on nut (fastener), drill (tool), chisel, screw (fastener) and the like. --Howard C. Berkowitz 22:43, 17 February 2010 (UTC)
Good ideas. I used to work on the WP article "Handyman" and have an interest in tools. Tool I use most often, surprisingly, is the tape measure.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 22:45, 17 February 2010 (UTC)


I can make another drawing of a circle so that it's the same size. For some reason one of my circles is bigger than the other; but do you want me to have two circles without writing? It's easy to make the diagrams and upload them from my Paint program.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 22:04, 17 February 2010 (UTC)

Also is this article too long, does it need splitting; I'm not sure how to do this in CZ.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 22:05, 17 February 2010 (UTC)

It's well-organized; I'm not sure where to split it. What I will do, which you can revert, is to move the definitions of emotions to Philosophy of Spinoza/Catalogs, and remove redundant citations there.
Good idea. I'll follow your lead here. Generally does CZ not like lists? If so perhaps I can rewrite the section on the emotions. Wondering what the CZ thinking is about when articles are "too long" -- is there a number or length when it gets too long?--Thomas Wright Sulcer 22:44, 17 February 2010 (UTC)
By the circle, I meant the one that has the word "circumference" in it and is centered -- for some reason, I don't see the image statement. --Howard C. Berkowitz 22:32, 17 February 2010 (UTC)
OK I'll try to fix the circles in the next day or so; the problem is one of the circles came from Wikimedia Commons, the other one I made myself, so they didn't line up; but if I do both myself (without the words perhaps?) then maybe it will be better?--Thomas Wright Sulcer 22:44, 17 February 2010 (UTC)
Hopefully fixed circles so they're comparable. Removed the verbiage from one of them. Hope that's what you wanted for the circles.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 23:28, 17 February 2010 (UTC)

(outdent) I ordered the Edwin Curley translation of Spinoza so when it arrives I hope to use it to help improve this article. Curley is viewed as the best translation of Spinoza's Ethics.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 15:05, 21 February 2010 (UTC)


Those footnotes make the article very hard to read (at least for me). Wikilinks + footnotes, isn't that overdoing it?--Paul Wormer 16:20, 20 March 2010 (UTC)

Agree. I originally wrote this on WP and the footnotes were a kind of defensive measure; but here it's not necessary. I'm planning to rework this article substantially, possibly splitting it apart into multiple articles. Probably in the next few weeks but I'm reconsidering how to approach this; I've learned new stuff (see my talk page here if interested. Basically I want to create a thicket of articles to boost readership & usefulness. I've got the Curley translation from Amazon (a more accurate translation than Elwes, according to S.Nadler (a Spinoza expert)). Tell me your sense about how the footnotes should work -- would a single footnote (if applicable) after a paragraph be too much? Also there's some formatting issue making something in the footnote section bold that I'll fix. Or do a bibliography instead? --Thomas Wright Sulcer 16:55, 20 March 2010 (UTC)
On the whole at CZ we trust authors to quote correctly the literature given in the bibliography. Personally I use footnotes only for references to historically important papers/books or when I quote a personal opinion that is debatable (I never give my own personal opinion). I use as an example the Encyclopedia Britannica; you will hardly see any footnotes in the EB. --Paul Wormer 17:23, 20 March 2010 (UTC)
No quoting? Okay. Will remove quotes when I work on this (probably over next week or so). Can I quote you about "no quoting"? :)--Thomas Wright Sulcer 18:03, 20 March 2010 (UTC)
I agree with Paul that the references (footnotes) in this form are neither efficient nor helpful, and some are not needed at all. The sources (full bibliographic data and links) belong into the bibliography. It makes no sense to repeat the same information again and again. However, a page reference to a particular statement may well be justified (but could often be included in the text (abbreviated)). The practice of quotes and citations is quite different in philosophy (and humanities) than in science. --Peter Schmitt 22:53, 20 March 2010 (UTC)
So, the general sentiment is: occasionally quote when something is helpful. I'll try to do this. Feel free to remove quotes as necessary but I'm going to be reworking this, adding to it; new sections & stuff; I have better source material I can work from now. My aim is to make difficult hard-to-grasp concepts available, to try to explain stuff without dumbing it down. I'm interested in a bunch of areas: Spinoza's political philosophy; the emotions; his take on religion; and I plan to add articles on these subjects and I'll probably be asking for advice as I go along. I love to have beautiful pictures in articles as much as possible to try to attract readers, while hopefully staying relevant.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 00:19, 21 March 2010 (UTC)


Since you mention the pictures: I can hardly see any relevance. They do not help to understand the abstract philosophical ideas. What is the purpose of the moving balls? (They illustrate a physical concept.) What has the Gauguin picture to do with Spinoza? etc. (An exception may be the circle, but equilateral triangles can characterize the circle, too.) --Peter Schmitt 00:41, 21 March 2010 (UTC)

Animation balls -- illustrate the principle of cause-and-effect which is a central idea in Spinoza's thinking; the ball causes another ball to move, just like ideas causing other ideas. Gauguin picture -- the title is the question about man's search for meaning, which is what Spinoza did. Originally on Wikipedia I had a picture of a large rock with two people beside it -- but I couldn't port that picture because the picture's creator wasn't a real name. But the pictures are trying to illustrate the concept of substance (an intangible thing) with more comprehensible physical things -- hurricane, tsunami, etc -- but the whole thing is jumbled right now and I plan to rework it. The overarching idea was to create an article that is beautiful to look at, ideally with pictures which illustrate the concepts, since I think many readers will skip the text, and go straight to the pictures. So the idea is to try to reach the marginally interested folks as well as the more serious students.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 02:22, 21 March 2010 (UTC)
I understand your motives. But, in my opinion, these pictures distract from the intrinsically abstract (and difficult) content. A reader gets the impression that they should help him to understand the text. But they don't (and they can't). "Marginally interested folks" likely get the wrong impression that they learn something about Spinoza by looking on the pictures. And later they might say: "Ah, Spinoza, I know. That is the guy with the rock and the whirlwind ..." I am aware that it is a common (and widespread) practice on TV and in magazines to illustrate everything whether the pictures are adequate and add value or not (and they often hide the meager content). But is this good (and professional) practice?
On picture sources: I am not sure, but I do not think that the author of a picture has to be known by real name. Pictures are often anonymous. I would expect that only the user importing the picture -- a Citizen -- has to be known by real name.
--Peter Schmitt 11:07, 21 March 2010 (UTC)
With regard to copyright: it used to be the rule here at CZ that the real name of the (living) author plus written permission were required. Now that Larry Singer and Stephen Ewen are no longer (very) active, it seems that the rule is slowly being forgotten. With regard to the usefulness of the pictures, I'm afraid that I side with Peter, CZ is not the sort of popular magazine that promotes its sales with pictures of gorgeous looking singers.--Paul Wormer 11:22, 21 March 2010 (UTC)
Opinions noted. I appreciate the suggestions. This is going to be reworked. Maybe these particular pictures can be replaced by better, more relevant ones, which get across the hard-to-grasp ideas better than the current ones. Please consider the alternative: only text. Is there a better way than pictures to illustrate rather dry concepts like "substance" and "cause-and-effect"? On Wikipedia, this article got replaced by a difficult, painful-to-read, disjointed effort by someone (supposedly) a graduate student in philosophy -- take a look at it here -- it's technical, hits readers with abstract terms right off the bat -- in short, it will scare away almost all people from further exploration of philosophy. This supposed "graduate student" if he/she ever becomes a professor, will find that nobody will want to sign up for a course in Spinoza since they'll be intimidated by the Wikipedia article.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 12:26, 21 March 2010 (UTC)
I think the best articles here on CZ have great-looking pictures which are relevant and eye-catching. And maybe there should be two articles -- a technical, in-depth one for heavy-duty philosopher types, and a more basic one, like an introductory primer, to appeal to people who know nothing about this particular philosopher, and explain introductory concepts in simple ways, while egging on a person to get involved in this stuff more deeply? CZ's mission, based on statements I came across, suggest there's a place for both purposes -- introductory material, and critical depth academic examinations. I'll try to do both. But I'm also interested in many other topics, including citizenship, and what I'm learning is that a single article won't attract any attention. So this is a lot of work and I'm considering what to do here.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 12:00, 21 March 2010 (UTC)
And about the "popular magazine" comment. Well, that's an understatement. My sense is few people are reading Citizendium. Most likely they won't even find most CZ articles on the web. It will be buried after the umpteenth page on any Google search. So, in a way, much of the above conversation is irrelevant, in a sense, if Citizendium lacks any effective web presence. To fuss over pictures in an amazingly unread article is, in my view, a waste of time. Let's focus on getting readers first -- they'll bring in more contributors hopefully -- then let's fuss over content. But I encourage both of you to see that there's an intersection between "popular" and "excellent information", a sweet spot if you will, and to work towards moving CZ in that direction. I understand your motivations too -- that is, by producing content that could appear in an academic journal, accurate, dry, detailed, technical, that you'll appeal to academics; or that content with pretty pictures in it might turn off serious students (and undermine the appearance of integrity of the CZ project) -- and if it's only an elite group you'd like to appeal to (elite=students, professors, academics) then perhaps you won't care if the public never finds out about CZ or if articles are popular. These are different purposes. What I'm trying to say is that there's a way to achieve both purposes. -- great stuff, factually correct, interesting and popular. --Thomas Wright Sulcer 12:26, 21 March 2010 (UTC)
About pictures. There's a STIFF WARNING on the picture upload page not to upload anything without a real name on it. I took it to mean that pictures on Wikimedia Commons which don't have something that looks like a real name, but which looks like a handle, are verboten. I'll ask others about this. If it's okay to upload anything from Wikimedia Commons (within decency constraints of course) that would help a great deal. --Thomas Wright Sulcer 12:30, 21 March 2010 (UTC)
Constables are still expected to delete a picture by an anonymous user when it is discovered. D. Matt Innis 22:40, 21 March 2010 (UTC)
Even if the picture clearly is in public domain? One more reason for my reluctance to look for pictures (because I do not really understand copyright issues ...) --Peter Schmitt 23:22, 21 March 2010 (UTC)

Vision on Citizendium

Clearly Thomas's vision on Citizendium differs greatly from mine. I don't believe for a sec that somebody will read the article Philosophy of Spinoza because it has those attractive pictures. At most, people may look at the pictures, but they won't read the article because of them. (This reminds me of people—mostly men—allegedly buying Playboy Magazine for its in-depth interviews). In my opinion Citizendium must attract readers by the quality and reliability of its information. As I said before, Encyclopedia Britannica is my great inspiration, especially for timeless subjects, as indeed the philosophy of Spinoza.

Removed pictures. The pictures weren't there solely to attract readers; rather, to make the reading experience more interesting and pleasant, as well as to try to illustrate difficult-to-grasp ideas. It wasn't Playboy magazine. But if others think the article is better without them, they're gone.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 14:21, 21 March 2010 (UTC)

Having said this, I applaud Thomas's article on Lady Gaga. This is the kind of topic that calls for nice pictures and popular talk. I agree completely that CZ is open for that kind of articles. When Thomas writes more of them he has my moral support.--Paul Wormer 13:34, 21 March 2010 (UTC)

I'm coming around to thinking Lady Gaga was a mistake to even write. The only reason I did it was to hopefully encourage readership; from new things I've learned, this seems to have been a mistaken view, and I don't think it will bring in readers. I'm not that interested in LG so if others want to delete it I won't oppose them.--Thomas Wright Sulcer 14:21, 21 March 2010 (UTC)
Paul, I didn't buy Playboy for the interviews.
I bought it for the cartoons. Only the New Yorker offers a home, in U.S. media, for cartoons of comparable value. There are better sources of pornography, and, indeed, I wrote the pornography article partially to test the hypothesis that pictures are always an improvement and are appropriate. Seriously, in my mundane writing on electronics for commercial fishing and marine use, I often argue with the editors about line art vs. photographs, when the latter really don't add value but are eye-catching.
I found Lady Gaga interesting, although Tom and I, perhaps, have different visions here. I rarely start an article unless I believe I have expertise on the context, rather than doing what I have done when working in a journalism context -- accumulated and summarized information. The question would be "what special insight does CZ have", as opposed to "is this a topical subject?". Now, if we had a much larger base of collaborators, the popular topic might indeed be a good starting point.
At present, though, if we don't have people to refine things, I'm not sure of the role -- my vision does not include competing with WP in its areas of strength. On a military mailing list not long ago, someone observed "getting into a fair fight shows inadequate intelligence preparation and operational planning. " Howard C. Berkowitz 16:07, 21 March 2010 (UTC)

My vision of Citizendium is a place where people of different visions and different philosophies can come together and digest their different approaches into something better than any of them could have done on their own. This article is under the philosophy workgroup and anyone is encouraged to author in it. A philosophy editor can help to decide issues that authors find difficult to agree on. Until then, do feel free to work to improve it. The founding group of editors to Citizendium wanted us to look to the Biology article as an example to work toward. D. Matt Innis 22:32, 21 March 2010 (UTC)

Howard, who considers/-ed "Playboy" to be pornography?
Visual topics like art, photography, movies would profit from pictures, but obviously it is very difficult to get good illustrations because of copyright problems. (See previous section).
Tom I want both introductory and "deep" content on CZ, both popular and scientific cases. However, I would use the same criteria concerning the choice of pictures in all these cases. --Peter Schmitt 23:33, 21 March 2010 (UTC)