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Spinoza on Human Freedom: Reason, Autonomy, and the Good Life by Matthew J. Kisner, book review by Beth Lord, The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 62, Issue 246 (December 2011)

Spinoza on Human Freedom: Reason, Autonomy, and the Good Life by Matthew J. Kisner, book review by Beth Lord, The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 62, Issue 246 (December 2011)

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supposed to be paradigmatically moral emotions, this is a significant deficit in Roeser’s account. Sometimes one gets the impression that sympathy is meant to be the key emotion here (e.g., p. 137 and p. 153), and yet sometimes it is not clear whether it is rather something that is not an emotion at all, namely empathy (p. 153). And sometimes one rather fears that the two are being taken as being more or less the same thing (p. 163). We need to hear more about just how either
206

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supposed to be paradigmatically moral emotions, this is a significant deficit in Roeser’s account. Sometimes one gets the impression that sympathy is meant to be the key emotion here (e.g., p. 137 and p. 153), and yet sometimes it is not clear whether it is rather something that is not an emotion at all, namely empathy (p. 153). And sometimes one rather fears that the two are being taken as being more or less the same thing (p. 163). We need to hear more about just how either

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supposed to be paradigmatically moral emotions, this is a significant deficit inRoeser’s account. Sometimes one gets the impression that sympathy is meant tobe the key emotion here (e.g., p. 137 and p. 153), and yet sometimes it is not clearwhether it is rather something that is not an emotion at all, namely empathy (p.153). And sometimes one rather fears that the two are being taken as being moreor less the same thing (p. 163). We need to hear more about just how either sym-pathy or empathy, important as they both are in morality, can actually be intu-itions in the sense used by Roeser, according to which intuitions are basic beliefs,not justified by other beliefs. So far as concerns sympathy, understood as feelingfor someone else’s suffering, we need to hear more about just how it can actually 
constitute 
our intuitions, when, according to most cognitive theories of emotion, wecharacteristically have
reasons 
for our sympathy, reasons which we can often pro- vide in support of our feeling the way we do. And so far as concerns empathy,we need to hear why empathising with someone else’s feelings is an intuition, abasic unsupported belief. Let’s allow that you might empathetically ‘pick up’ onmy anger without knowing what my anger is about, but surely your belief that Iam angry is not basic or unsupported; you believe that I am angry 
because 
that’show I look or sound (as Roeser herself seems to acknowledge, p. 153). Moreover,we need to hear more about why empathy features in the discussion at all, giventhat empathy is not an emotion, nor is it essentially moral, and given thatintuitions are meant to be paradigmatically moral emotions.My third point of disagreement is concerned with Roeser’s claim that our‘overall moral judgements’ are basic or intuitive (p. 128). As she rightly observes,overall judgements are not arrived at by deductive inference from the relevantconsiderations (a point made by Donald Davidson some time ago). But it is a bigstep from here to claim that overall judgements are ‘basicbeliefs or intuitions,for surely the overall judgement is, precisely, supported by the relevant consider-ations, and in that sense it is not basic or unsupported. And it is an even biggerstep to claim that they are moral emotions, as I presume she would say, for surely moral emotions will only be involved in arriving at an understanding of the rele- vant considerations, such as the fact that she is upset; but the fact that she isupset is not to be identified with the overall moral judgement that, in the circum-stances, we ought to stop teasing her. We ought to stop teasing her
because 
she isupset, so surely this overall moral judgement is not basic or unsupported.In spite of these disagreements, I think this book does raise important issuesregarding the role of intuition and emotion in our ethical deliberations, and it willbe a starting-point for much future debate.P
ETER
G
OLDIE
University of Manchester Spinoza on Human Freedom: Reason, Autonomy, and the Good Life 
. B
Y
M
 ATTHEW
J.K
ISNER
. (Cambridge UP, 2011. Pp. xi + 261. Price
£
50.00.)Matthew Kisner’s new book on Spinoza’s concept of freedom is nothing if notconciliatory. His stated aim is to explain ‘why, for Spinoza, freedom is valuable
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©
2011 The Authors
The Philosophical Quarterly
©
2011 The Editors of 
The Philosophical Quarterly
 
and how we should go about attaining it’ (p. 2). But his understated, and rathermore interesting, aim is to demonstrate that Spinoza’s ethical thought is not asradical or as amoral as we think it is. Kisner argues that far from denying moralagency, responsibility, laws, obligations, and evaluations, Spinoza offers us a rig-orous moral system that is compatible both with classical doctrines of eudaimo-nism and with Kantian-liberal doctrines of rational autonomous lawgiving.Spinoza’s concept of freedom, understood as self-determination, is key, as Kis-ner explains in the first chapter. God is absolutely free and self-determining,whereas humans, being causally determined modes of God, are so only to adegree. We are free not in the sense of being uncaused causes, but in the senseof being largely causally responsible for our own actions (as opposed to being lar-gely caused to act by external things). We are freest when we are most rational,and this is also our highest point of virtue and flourishing. Spinoza can thereforebe seen to advocate a kind of rational autonomy, not as an intrinsic feature of agents, but as an essential component of 
eudaimonia 
. Autonomy is valuable not inthe Kantian sense of grounding the moral obligation to act rightly, but in theeudaimonistic sense of constituting our primary good. It follows that our societiesshould provide the conditions in which people may best develop and practiserational autonomy.Reading Spinoza as primarily concerned with the good life is a worthwhilestrategy, and Kisner makes a compelling case for doing so. I was less convincedby his attempt to reconcile Spinoza with moral concepts stemming from the Kan-tian tradition: those of moral responsibility and practical law. Kisner is right todraw attention to Spinoza’s place in the history of the concept of autonomy, buthis eagerness to bring Spinoza into the moral-philosophical mainstream means heignores the radicalism of his ethics. Kisner argues that Spinoza’s ‘causal determin-ism does not undermine conventional morality’ because, while it denies free will,it does not deny the moral responsibility of agents (p. 65). But this cannot work on the eudaimonistic reading Kisner endorses. Spinoza’s ethics aligns human vir-tue and vice with being ‘good’ and ‘bad’ at being a human being. We are to agreater extent causally responsible for our good actions, and to a lesser extentcausally responsible for our bad ones (since non-virtuous actions are caused in usmore by external things). But this is not the same as being morally responsible,which implies free choice and intentions, both of which Spinoza denies. Hebelieves we gain nothing
— 
apart from the right to accord punishment
— 
frommaking a person ‘responsible’ for his vice; as he says, the bad man is no less tobe feared and no less dangerous when he is necessitated to be bad. For Spinoza,the murderer is just as causally responsible for a death, and just as lacking inmoral responsibility for it, as the tsunami. On p. 70 Kisner suggests that being‘determined by our particular powers’ suffices for responsibility; this gets closer toSpinoza’s meaning, but it is hardly moral responsibility in the ‘conventional’sense.Similarly, I cannot agree with Kisner’s attempt to make Spinoza an advocateof rational moral legislation. His claim that ‘reason dictates practical laws, univer-sal rules for action’ (p. 112) is unsustainable, first and foremost, because for Spi-
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©
2011 The Authors
The Philosophical Quarterly
©
2011 The Editors of 
The Philosophical Quarterly

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