Aquinas, Spinoza: Affective Connaturality (Part II)

Lens-grinding 101:

Following my post on the possibility of a “Baroque Spinoza” (see here) and a neo-Thomist re-naturalization by way of what Zubiri calls “sentient intelligence”, I read an excellent post on the supposing (n)one blog entitled “After Speculative Realism” (see here). The main thrust of Aaron Campbell’s post is as follows:

It seems that SR is a singular event where philosophy attains a distinct form of consciousness. But perhaps any consciousness could be folded back into self-consciousness. This is the direction that has taken me “beyond SR”.  Once we start exploring the movement’s self-consciousness, then it seems we are beginning something different. This departure begins when we start folding the movement back onto its cultural and historical context. There are two arguments that initiated my departure.  First, SR is a reconstruction of Kantianism (or German Idealism) in the wake of 20th century science.  Second, this reconstruction is inhibited by residual ethical presuppositions from post-structuralism. The first argument can be straightforward, and I wonder if anyone would even disagree. The second argument is probably more controversial, and will likely be considered idiosyncratic. Taken together, these arguments are a vehicle that have delivered my thinking beyond the limits of speculative realism.

I find myself in full agreement with these two theses, and it was the first realization that had led me to begin this blog with the tag-line of “interpretation with-and-beyond” Novalis, who in my eyes marks the great culmination of the German Idealist philosophy in addition to his beautiful Romantic poetry.

In the earlier posts (such as here), I had argued for the need to perform an active Nietzschean “forgetting” of Novalis’ transcendental realism, in a curious dance I think Laruelle also would play with someone like Brassier, who advocates (see here) something analogous in many ways to the phenomenological science of Goethe and other Romantics post-Kant.

This dance, of course, hopes to fend off the threat of such unbound nihilism through an an-nihilation (see here) of negativity which gives way to the New.

Part of the concern with Brassier’s line of thought comes from his mode of careful extrapolation from the Now. I think he goes too far and he anticipates too much (i.e. the heat-death of the universe), while we are looking to anticipate just the right amount in advance (and it varies!). That is to say, among other reasons, these categories of “knowing” are very unstable just as our categories of “science”, “real” are not fully understood. They are, like anything else, prone to change in their usage in the future. Let us not cling too tightly to any single language-game for the time being.

This draws us to re-consider conceptions of positive trans- or post-religious forms of life and the “hermetic turn” in general so as to be able to integrate these fragments and continually re-generate meaning in the face of the abyss. But that’s beside my point. I think it is simply uncanny that each of these debates has already been played out in some form or another in the era dominated by the gravity of Hegel and Schelling. It really is as though Speculative Realism simply returned down this lonely hallway called the “gallery of heroes”, repeating each of them in the wake of modern science.

Though I could be wrong, I think there is one serious exception whose time is still to come.

Enter Francois Laruelle (see here for WHY LARUELLE? WHY NOW?).

Gnosis controversy?

Can it honestly be said that the SR/OOO experience has given us anything near the sheer volume of intransigent raucous that was caused by the onset of the Pantheist Controversy? Sure, sparks do fly from time to time between the likes of Levi Bryant and Graham Harman, sparks do fly from time to time on questions ranging from vitalism, to materialism, to holism, to relations — you name it.

While some personal grudges might be held between mostly reasonable men, have we seen as of yet something so utterly radical as the Pantheist Controversy? Looking back on “old” discussions and debates on Spinoza that were held before I took up blogging here, I have come to believe that above all else it was Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu from the Frames/sing and Mitochondrial Vertigo blogs who recognized “the revolutionary potential [that] Spinoza unleashed in terms of the Pantheism Controversy”.

In one random post (see here), for instance, Kevin speaks of the inspiration of Heinrich Heine and quotes him when he writes:

“Nothing is more absurd than ownership claimed for ideas. Hegel did, to be sure, use many of Schelling’s ideas for his philosophy, but Mr. Schelling would never have known what to do with these ideas anyway. He always just philosophized, but was never able to produce a philosophy. And besides, one could certainly maintain that Mr. Schelling borrowed more from Spinoza than Hegel borrowed from Schelling. If Spinoza is some day liberated from his rigid, antiquated Cartesian, mathematical form and made accessible to a large public, we shall perhaps see that he, more than any other, might complain about the theft of ideas. All our present‑day philosophers, possibly without knowing it, look through glasses that Baruch Spinoza ground.

I also must, as honestly as I know how, commend Kevin for his easily accessible account of the pantheist controversy, and remarkable collection of research on the idea of the philosopher as a lens-grinder and Spinoza’s optics. Yet, it is not the lens with which we are concerned, but with what is real and what is “seen” beyond mere vision with help of this lens. If there is somebody who plays the heretical role of Spinoza today, then it must be Francois Laruelle, who is pointing us to see through (that is, both with-and-against) this lens to the vision-in-One.

Laruelle has a little more polishing to do when it comes to Spinoza’s glasses. In another one of Kevin’s posts entitled (see here), he recalls a conversation with Anthony Paul Smith (see here) on the distinction/decision Laruelle finds in Spinoza. APS writes, in the comments:

The problem in Spinoza is the convertibility of the One with the All, for Laruelle. This leads to all sorts of amphibologies and melanges, rather than any kind of identity. The split is then between the natura naturans and the natura natuarta, in Spinoza. I do think this leads to a kind of slippage in Spinozist thought, but one that can be recast non-philosophically and still Spinozistic. Laruelle’s polemics, and the polemical nature of this period in his thought (Philosophy II), are not, to my mind, the best part of non-philosophy and can lead to distraction.

To which Kevin responds:

Because Laruelle is responding to a “Spinozist reversibility of the One and the All” we are not sure if he is taking Spinoza on directly or not. And this is a problem we’ve already mentioned, as Laruelle has Deleuze specifically in mind here. The situation is further problemized because characterizing Spinoza’s philosophy as a One and All explication actually stems from the German Idealist reinvigoration of him in the 18th century, leading to the Pantheism Controversy

It’s worth noting that we saw this same kind of problem earlier on with Kierekegaard and the Hegel/Danish Hegelians distinction due to Schelling’s spectacular lectures (see here).

In any case, I have come to believe that APS and Laruelle are ultimately correct contra Spinoza, but that this rebuttal by Kevin is very, very fair. Instead of looking to find a decision (though I personally would wish to look closely at this so-called “differentia that is added to the Attributes” found in Bennett’s reading of Spinoza), my intuitive problem with Spinoza is not that “Spinoza’s philosophy subverts not only the human cogito (and “ego”) to such a radical degree, but also does so at the level of Substance itself”, but that he does not move further to a phase of “post-autonomous ego development”.

Instead, Spinoza opts for a somber Wittgensteinian silence in his Ethics.

I think Laruelle has this positivity going for him in his acute understanding of performativity, through his construct awareness (see here), and his emphasis on stance or orientation in general — though I do wish he would develop it more. In future posts, I intend to experiment and explore possible avenues which may prove to be useful in this vein. Though before moving on, I’d like to recall in particular Wittgenstein’s quote “I can work best now while peeling potatoes. . . . It is for me what lens-grinding was for Spinoza.” and briefly note their deep affinity, despite living over 250 years apart.

The warm critique of Spinoza by Laruelle seems to mirror in many ways the warm critique upon Wittgenstein’s “swinishness” by Sloterdijk, who writes in You Must Change Your Life, under the subheading “Whereof One Should Not Be Silent” (page 145-7) the following:

 Wittgenstein’s habitus becomes ‘religiously’ charged because the primal scene of ‘silently embodying the truth’ like Jesus standing before Pilate, shines through him. The philosopher’s behavior perhaps becomes easier to understand if one imagines him standing constantly before Pilate. This provides a pictorial commentary on the statement ‘But Wittgenstein was silent.’ In reality, he was not silent; on the contrary, he gave lectures through a behaviour befitting a man who is convinced that the world is the ideal place to show something. But he was never entirely sure about the content of what had to be shown; he was neither able to take the step of adopting a formal teaching and training role nor that of choosing a manifest guru or messiah role. He remained indecisive in the most important question, partly for mental reasons and partly because, within his doctrine of silent showing, he did not separate two tasks: providing examples as a technical master and setting an example as a life teacher. [...] If anything, listening closely to ordinary language teaches us the opposite: it is often far sicker than the philosophy it claims to cure.

This is not to say Spinoza was “swinish”, but that a similar problem in his “stance” emerges. Needless to say, with our new understanding of a Baroque Spinoza, however, we arrive at a certain understanding of gnosis which informs our performativity in a way both Wittgenstein and Spinoza arguably lacked. So, let the Gnosis Controversy begin!

This argument was made beautifully in Guy Stephen Blakemore’s Ph. D dissertation, entitled Recovering the Soul: Interpreting Baruch Spinoza’s Doctrine of Mind-Body Identity in the Light of Thomas Aquinas’s Metaphysical Theory of Form and Matter (see here). Some excerpts from page 249-251 on their similarities read:

Perhaps the parallels between Aquinas’s hylomorphism and Spinoza’s ideas of conatic essence are apparent, but let us sketch these briefly. First, the role of conatus as the essence of a thing which grants it a particular kind of existence and an orientation to strive for preservation functions in the same way that the concept “form” does in Aquinas’s metaphysics. Secondly, the idea that this essence must be something other than the bodies or matter that are given a defined existence by this essence echoes Aquinas’s contention that form is itself distinguishable from the matter in which it is expressed. [...] Finally, it is the form/conatus that causes the entity to act in the world toward certain ends and by certain powers. The exertion of the entity toward its own ends is the essence of the entity at work in the world. Human experience of a particular entity acting out of its essence is the foundation of our acquaintance of the things that are acting. In other words, we know things for what they are, because their forms or conatic essences present themselves to us as intelligible in the activity of the entities upon our bodies. [...] Spinoza, like Aquinas before him (and Aristotle in the ancient world) was attempting to posit that life is itself an essential feature of the world should figure into our metaphysical account of things, if an adequate account of reality is to be given that does not embrace a too-quickly appropriated materialist reductionism.

Following Blakemore, I also would like to put forth the notion that Spinoza is not wholly anti-teleological as popularly understood insofar as he, like Aquinas, has life in mind, and does have a teleology in tune with that of Aristotle which is ultimately commendable with that of Aquinas to a certain extent. I cannot resist quoting more, and I encourage you to read through this very thorough analysis in full — especially the last part on immortality of mind/incorruptibility of soul.


Here’s another bit from pages 260-262

On this reading of Spinoza’s metaphysics, conatus is very much like the rational soul qua form, as Aquinas uses the concept. In Aquinas’s view the rational soul is not a form that merely gives a particular organization to the body. It also instantiates the existence of a particular kind of mind that will be apt for the body that is so organized. The body does not produce the mind, but the mind of a human is the only intelligence that is meant for union with a body. [...] Therefore, the emphatic focus that Aquinas’s hylomorphism places on human beings as essentially knowing bodies (rational animals)–whose knowing cannot be reduced to any mere material, but whose biological description and whose physical existence is necessary essentially– Spinoza recaptures in his post-Cartesian language.

Thus, let it be said that my new friend Aaron Campbell is correct in my opinion to move “beyond SR” by focusing on the the “reflexivity” aspect of our self-consciousness.

Yet, in the past, we have seen many other Wanderers whose ashes should also be scattered, whose trails should be re-traced, and whose soul should be re-enchanted in the hermetic turn. I see Laruelle as one Wanderer who, today, is mostly on the right path to “recovering the Soul” which is lost in the SR/OOO arena. In any event, it is this integration of the two-who-are-opposed which I am looking at with the term “affective connaturality”, where the Thomist formality is employed in light of a dynamically uncertain quantum mechanics, and also in “con-form-ity” with Spinoza’s own lens-grinding.

My thought is that if I have thus far been able to “bring together” Badiou and Deleuze, or “bring together” Spinoza and Aquinas, that there is something at work here in Laruelle’s stance which can prove to be useful in conflict resolution, in restorative justice, in victim-offender mediation, and in crisis intervention in general. I find in Laruelle a certain gravity towards peaceful amelioration where there was once violent tension.

To begin my exploration, I wish to ask the following: What are we to make of the prefix “con-”?

  1. used with certain words to add a notion similar to those conveyed by with, together, or joint, i.e. congenial, congregation, console, consonant, construct, converge, etc
  2. used with certain words to intensify their meaning, i.e. confirm

I find in the ethos of this term, and its prefix, a positive trans- or post- religious togetherness which has a humble regard for ecology, a traveling sanctuary or collective of Wanderers in the Wilderness, as well as a certain kind of integral humanism which is beginning to head in what I see as a good direction in terms of intimacy and co-immunology as Sloterdijk may wish to call it. This orientation, to be sure, is still at this stage a bit foggy and risks re-lapsing into the old and problematic notions of a static conceptions of “Nature” and “Human Nature” that we have long sought to avoid — though I believe a little more lens-grinding from here may prove to do the trick.

I would nevertheless like to give a brief idea of the kinds of fragments I will be gathering for my next post, as well as set forth a brief account of why I am drawn to consider these fragments in particular. The following is very rough sketch of where I will be Wandering from here.

Little wanderers

I would like to begin primarily by focusing on the Little Brothers of Jesus, many of whom were indeed Thomists and Catholics, and who participated in a fair share of actual physical wandering. Among many others, we have figures such as Louis GardetHenry CorbinJohn F. X. KnasasLouis Massignon, and Jacques Maritain. Many of these individuals were careful and celebrated scholars of Islam and the East, and as such made great strides in bridging religious barriers and conflicts in a respectful and trans-religious manner.

Again, we see the potential capacity for this “bringing together” of the antimony.

I find this feature to be quite admirable, functioning as an indication of the kind of progress that may emerge from a careful study of the tradition. So what is “connaturality”, anyways? In Head and Heart: Affection, Cognition, Volition As Triune Consciousness, Andrew Tallon gives us the following sense of the word:


R.J. Snell suggests quite succinctly  in Connaturality in Aquinas: The Ground of Wisdom (see here) that:

“[C]onnaturality, then, is an attunement toward the Divine, a tendency toward, a resonance with, a sympathy or conformity to the Divine. In short, connaturality is a co-nature, i.e., is a shared nature or familiarity with the Divine.”

Understanding this conception of “the Divine” in light of Laruelle and our Baroque Spinoza as something more like a “Future Christ” or “vision-in-One”, we may also employ Corbin’s conceptions of Ismaili gnosis (see here) in our development. This idea of “attunement” is going to become vital, as it allows for us to hear for things coming in advance. I am convinced that if Deleuze ever wanted us to become-sorcerers, it is because he wanted us to be able to “see” the future.

The use of the term “affective connaturality” (see here for diagram #1) and “intuitive connaturality” (see here for diagram #2) is likewise readily present in the work of Maritain; the diagrams come from pages 50-1 of Poetry, Beauty, and Contemplation by John G. Trapani. And at last we have a very powerful legacy of Gandhian satyagraha found in Massingnon which is important to note as it generated innovative ideas like sacred hospitality that should be considered in light of thinkers such as Derrida.

One can easily see the appeal this tradition may have for me, also given my hypothetical Wilderness theology.

The primary reason I’m interested in “affective connaturality” and gnosis in general is because it gives us a way to begin to think of anticipatory philosophy, by way of broaching the subject of, among other things, the way in which the shady concept of “intentionality” relates to our practice. I don’t have much worked out on this at the moment, but I think there is something to be discovered in the way our present stance affects our response to the Event. These and similarly related questions, wholly escapes someone like Zizek or Badiou who deny that philosophy can be anticipatory, but are present in the Little Brothers as well as in many Eastern schools of thought.

It is clear that these desert thinkers were able to internalize or otherwise invert their own telos such that an idea of “preparedness” for the advent of violence or the onset of crisis may begin to be set into motion. The lesson of Spinoza, I think, is that our telos cannot be hidden no matter how hard we try. We must learn how to make the best use of it, and not be particularly ashamed of having one so long as we are careful — especially if lives are at stake.

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One thought on “Aquinas, Spinoza: Affective Connaturality (Part II)”

  1. “Beyond SR” – Isn’t it a little early for that? The “movement” (insofar as it is one) is only a few years old! But I much enjoyed this post, as I do your entire blog, which I have just found. Keep up the compelling work.

    Do you have a suggestion for a good place to start with Laruelle? I just got Philosophies of Difference – but perhaps Future Christ (or another work) is better?

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