Spinoza Circle: Life as a Marionette: The Role of the Imagination in Spinoza’s Ethics, Part V

At our meeting on Thursday 21st March, 3:00 – 5:00pm, we are very pleased to have Prof. Michael A. Rosenthal (University of Washington) who will speak on:

“Life as a Marionette: The Role of the Imagination in Spinoza’s Ethics, Part V”

Birkbeck, University of London, Dreyfus Room, 26 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DQ


The goal of Part V of the Ethics is to show that humans possess the power to be free. It must be a conception in which freedom is thoroughly compatible with necessity. It is difficult for us as finite beings to understand this idea and to act in accordance with it. Spinoza thinks that the main obstacle is the false idea of the free will, i.e., the power to act independently of any system of determinate causes. Spinoza does not think that we can overcome this prejudice, rooted in our ignorance, so easily. One of the most interesting features of his system is that at key points of his arguments Spinoza has recourse to the very images and passions that he finds problematic in order to produce effects that ultimately make us more reasonable. It may seem that when we arrive at Part V of the Ethics, the very last part in which he shows us that human freedom is tied to the power of the intellect, we should be able to dispense with these inadequate ideas and proceed solely according to reason. In this paper, however, I want to argue that perhaps the most important idea—the definition of freedom as acting according to the necessity of our own nature within a determined system—is so difficult to grasp that Spinoza still has to have recourse to the imagination to make sense of it. In the first propositions of Part V, Spinoza uses reason to sketch an imaginative picture of the self as a kind of marionette. It is not yet what it would be to live according to reason, but what it would be like to live—or as if we are living—according to reason. Even though, strictly speaking, this image is false, it nonetheless useful. This thought-image serves as a kind of aid to the individual to become free.

All welcome and no registration is required.

The following meeting will be on Thursday 2nd May 2019, 3 – 5pm when we will host Prof. Edwin Curley (University of Michigan).

John Heyderman

London Renaissance Seminar: ‘The very verge of his confine’: Cicero, Shakespeare and Attitudes to Old Age

Mandy Green Associate Professor and Senior Lecturer in Renaissance Literature at Durham University

Wednesday 13 March 2019, 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm in IAS Forum, G17, South Wing, Wilkins Building


Marcus Tullius Cicero (‘Tully’) reached the height of his popularity in the reign of Elizabeth I when he rapidly became one of the most frequently published, and one of the most frequently translated classical authors. Cicero’s works played an important role in the reform of the grammar-school curriculum and his reputation for eloquence was unparalleled. Thomas Newton, who translated Cato Maior de senectute (Cato the Elder: ‘On Old Age’), amongst other discourses by Cicero, acclaimed him as ‘that incomparable Phenix of al eloquence among al that ever wrate either before or since his dayes’ (1569). However, Cicero was admired not only for the elegance and rhetorical power of his prose works, but also for their content, since it was felt that his works of moral philosophy could be harmonised with Christian ethics with relative ease. This paper will explore De senectute’s key role in early modern debates about the nature of old age by focusing primarily on the representation of aging in Shakespeare’s King Lear. Since Cato the Elder was Cicero's spokesman, the paper will also draw on Plutarch's Life of Cato the Elder.

Fully-funded PhD Studentship at University College London

Science in the service of religion? A museum study

Applications are invited for an AHRC-funded PhD studentship based at University College London, in collaboration with the University of Oxford History of Science Museum.

The successful applicant will undertake a PhD to study astronomical and mathematical instruments in the collection of the History of Science Museum in Oxford, to examine what establishes their identity as ‘Islamic’ or ‘European’ and ask whether alternative labels, groupings and contextualisation(s) might be more appropriate.

The studentship will be jointly supervised by Professor Michael J. Reiss (University College London) and Dr Silke Ackermann (University of Oxford History of Science Museum). This studentship, which is fully funded for three years full-time (or equivalent part-time), with the option of up to six months additional funding for related professional development, will begin on 1 October 2019.

For full details of the studentship and how to apply please contact Claire Goddard at c.goddard@ucl.ac.uk

Applications must be received no later than 2 April 2019.

Informal enquiries relating to the project can be directed to Professor Michael J. Reiss at m.reiss@ucl.ac.uk.

For any other information please contact Dr Harriet Warburton, Oxford University Museums Research Facilitator at harriet.warburton@glam.ox.ac.uk.

Dr Stephen Johnston
Head of Research, Teaching and Collections
History of Science Museum, University of Oxford