B.A.G. Fuller (1879 - 1956) schreef "A Spinozistic Fancy"

De filosoof Benjamin Apthorp Gould Fuller zoals zijn volledige namen luidden, was toch bekender en is makkelijker te vinden onder z’n afkortingen. Hij ontving zijn middelbare onderwijs aan Roxbury Latin School in Roxbury, Massachusetts, studeerde en behaalde zijn B.A., A.M. en Ph.D. aan Harvard University in 1900, 1902 en 1906. Z´n dissertatie The problem of evil in Plotinus, verscheen in 1912 [cf. archive.org]. Hij doceerde aan Harvard van 1906 tot 1910. In 1910 maakte hij een wereldreis waarin hij Kashmir bezocht, Noord- en Centraal India, Assam, Burma, Java en Japan. Hij deed dat op z’n gemak en “came to the realization that life is much too short to hurry.” Tijdens WOI werd hij infanteriekapitein en verbonden aan de staf van General Tasker H. Bliss.

In 1923 verscheen zijn History of Greek Philosophy, Thales to Democritus [archive.org] en in 1924 werd hij hoogleraar aan de Graduate School of the University of Cincinnati, en van 1933-1941 hoogleraar filosofie aan de University of Southern California.

In 1938 verscheen zijn A History of Philosophy. In 1945 verscheen een Revised Edition, waarvoor de hoofdstukken over Plato, Aristoteles, Spinoza herschreven die over Kant en Hegel sterk ingekrompen en dat over Nietzsche van 2 tot 12 pagina´s werd uitgebreid.

Hoe grappig en laconiek hij kon schrijven blijkt b.v. uit zijn “The Messes Animals Make in Metaphysics” [in: The Journal of Philosophy - Vol. XLVI, no 26, 22 december 1949] over de houding van mensen en vooral filosofen t.o. dieren. Daarin lezen we over Spinoza:

“But Spinoza, I suspect, for all his naturalism might have had trouble in assigning suitable mental correlates to their bodies, if he had concerned himself with them. Animal consciousness might have seemed more than idea corporis and less than idea ideae corporis, which composed the Attribute of Thought. Nor could they be expected to view suffering "under a certain aspect of eternity," or accept it with "joyful resignation," as human beings were urged to do as the means of attaining salva-tion and peace.”

Behalve in zijn A History of Philosophy schreef hij nog een stuk, "A Spinozistic Fancy: The Infinity of Attributes," n.a.v. het boek van Harold Foster Hallett Aeternitas dat in 1931 verschenen was bij The Oxford Press.


                                            A SPINOZISTIC FANCY

SPINOZA'S doctrine of the infinity of attributes has always tended to bring a blush, apologetic or out-and-out condemnatory, to the cheeks of his commentators. His enemies find in it added evidence of the questionableness of his philosophy, and most of his friends regard it as an indiscretion, embarrassing to them, and not altogether creditable to him. They had rather he had kept it to himself, or not involved them in the ungrateful task of explaining it away. But there are a few who take this doctrine seriously, and feel that he really said what he meant, and meant what he said. Among the latter is. Mr. Hallett, who has just published a learned, profound, and brilliant book [Aeternitas, The Oxford Press, 1931] on Spinoza, which is a notable contribution to both Spinozistic and neo-realistic literature.

For Mr. Hallett the infinity of attributes forms an integral and important part of Spinoza's system. Any limitation of attributes 'within Substance would, he tells us, "not only curtail the absolute perfection, of Substance," but would dissipate its unity, since the independent reality of each attribute as expressing in its own way the whole nature of Substance, which is infinite in its wholeness, demands reflection in infinitely many attributes. No attribute could adequately express the infinite nature of Substance, if it reflected merely some other or others, or if there were only some others for it to reflect. Again, were there only two, he continues, Spinoza might seem dangerously inclined to idealism (which he is not), since thought might then be regarded as essentially of extension, and extension as solely the object of thought. But, since extension must stand in the same relation to the infinity of other attributes as it does to thought, it can not be monopolized by thought. They, too, have a claim upon it, which is neither prior nor posterior to that of thought, and their lien, by preventing foreclosure by any one or any number of attributes short of the infinite whole, helps maintain it in independent existence. So, too, their mortgage upon thought keeps that attribute from being taken over by extension and reduced to physical terms. That thought is aware of none of the other attributes except extension is, according to Mr. Hallett, merely an extension of its failure in partial, clouded, and inadequate minds like ours, to understand completely the true inwardness both of extension and of itself. Ignorance in this respect is merely part of our general ignorance, and complete understanding of Reality on our part would not only correct our perspective within its present limitations to thought and extension, but would also bring all the other attributes into focus within that perspective. It is, says Mr. Hallett, just the dim reflections of the other unknown attributes in knowledge that renders the process of cognition opaque and mysterious to us, even when the object of cognition is clearly and correctly apprehended. Now, it is the object of this paper to ask whether, granting the existence of an infinity of attributes, we have only the negative indications of their presence to which Mr. Hallett refers. Upon examination it might appear that both thought and extension exhibit curious positive symptoms which nothing in their own nature explains. Thought, for instance, has one very odd and perplexing trick. It is infinitely self-repetitive. Like Tennyson's brook, it goes on forever, babbling its ability to know, "I know; I know that I know; I know that I know that I know; I know that I know that I know that I know," and so on ad infinitum. Surely, we might expect, so long a wind and so dogged a persistence ought to get thought somewhere and meet with some reward in an ever increasing richness of its knowledge. But curiously enough, they do not, at least so far as the attributes of thought and extension are concerned. For, only the first two "I knows" are fruitful and significant. The first establishes the fact of consciousness, the second, of self-consciousness. Or, to put it in Spinozistic terms the one constitutes the idea of the body, which registers in the attribute of thought the modifications undergone by its particular correlated mode of extension; the other, the " I know that I know," constitutes the "idea of the idea of the body," or fact that it is of the nature of the mind not only to reflect the modifications of the body in a correlated set of mental modifications, but to reflect upon these modifications of its own as well. And when we have said "I know that I know," we have completely and adequately expressed the essence of the attribute of thought as the self-conscious correlate of extension. We know all that we know or need to know—for that is all there is to know—about the nature of knowledge.

The twice-told tale is enough, then. Its repetition to infinity is supernumerary and sterile—mere empty chatter like the telling over and over again of the same story by an old wife in her dotage. It adds nothing to thought's correlation with extension or to its insight into itself. It would seem, rather, a habit without rhyme or reason so far as the two attributes are concerned—a sheer nervous restlessness, explicable, if at all, not as a normal activity of mind, but as an overstimulation of that activity excited by and correlated with something beyond both the spatial and the mental aspects of Reality. Suppose, however, that there really are infinite other attributes. In that case may we not argue that this incessant twitching of the mind's eyes, this infinite repetition of the "I know," is perhaps just a sign of the correlation of thought with these attributes? They can not, to be sure, make themselves understood, but their existence nevertheless arouses in our thinking a vague and endless uneasiness. Haunted by them, thought can not rest, but must reiterate itself ad infinitum, in registration of the infinity of their number. But since they are beyond the ken of our minds, this reiteration is mechanical and empty, presenting thought with no new object and adding not one whit to its essence and perfection.

Again, in extension, also, may we not find a similar indication of the impalpable but none the less disturbing presence of an infinity of attributes? Space, like thought, goes on and on forever. And just as the content and meaning of thinking is not expanded or en-riched by the process of infinite self-repetition, so the essential char-acteristics of extension gain nothing because of its infinity. Its whole nature is perfectly given in any finite portion of it. Our voyages in it reveal no new truths regarding it. We drop below each fresh horizon only to find a repetition of the old ; just as at sea, hours, days, and even weeks will disclose merely more, but not a different water. A half hour out of port may suffice to show us all that an ocean can be or do.

The endlessness of extension, then,—its invitation to keep on going ad infinitum—is just as superfluous to a revelation of its character as is the infinite self-repetition of mental activity to an expression of the nature of mind. Its perpetual stretching and yawning may be taken rather as a sign of the same nervousness that keeps thought twitching, and may be laid to the same cause. Space, too, is bothered by its correlation with the infinite other attributes. Unable to respond to them and to mirror them adequately, it can recognize and register them only by repeating itself, as thought does, beyond necessity and ad infinitum.

It may be argued indeed, that there are good reasons for sup-posing extension not to be infinite, but finite and spherical, or it may be, even contracting or expanding. But such an argument is irrele-vant to our discussion, which for its own purposes has granted the Spinozistic assertion that the attributes are infinite. Moreover, even accepting the argument, might we not still maintain of any size of space all that we have said of its infinity? A smaller or a bigger amount of extension, a lower or a higher degree of expansion or contraction would suffice adequately to express its nature. In that case, to adopt the term from Plato, "the-great-and-the-small" aspect of space might be substituted for its infinity as indicative of its corre-lation with an infinity of attributes.

Finally, to give our fancy free rein, we may ask whether we are even restricted to such vaguely positive indications of the other at-tributes as the infinitely self-repetitive character of extension and thought. Have we not a door at least ajar, if not entirely open, upon one of them at any rate ? What of mystical experience? Here we

have something that certainly attempts to transcend not only the entire space-time aspect of the Real, but the whole attribute of thought as well. The mystical object, we are told, can be neither perceived by the senses nor conceived by the mind. No modification of either of the two attributes is like it. It lies beyond the body and the idea of the body, and escapes even such ultimate categories as essence and existence. Nay more, contact with it obliterates the distinction between subject and object and thus carries us beyond the "idea of the idea of the body." It can be talked of only negatively.

The mystic state, then, if we take it seriously, would seem to indi-cate an escape, or at any rate an attempt to escape, from the at-tributes of thought and extension, and a contact of some sort with another dimension of Reality. And once more, if the two known attributes do exhaust the substance of the Real, the mystical impulse becomes as irrational as their self-repetition. It has no adequate basis in either of them, if they are all that there is to the universe, and its aspiration is meaningless. But as a disturbance of body and mind by other attributes, and as a response and a reaching out to their presence, it may have significance, and the self-fulfilment it pretends to attain may be more than illusion.

The mystic will, of course, assert that his contact is not with an attribute, but with Substance itself. He has, he believes, pene-trated and been made one with the essence of the Real. But the materialists are as convinced that the attribute of extension reveals the true nature of Substance, and the idealists are even surer that all things may be reduced to terms of thought. For that matter, the latter number some who even believe that in feeling the particular warmth and beat of their own peculiar modifications of the attribute of thought they are taking the pulse and the temperature of God himself. The mystic claim to be in touch with the Absolute is perhaps neither more nor less probable than any of these other pretensions.

It will be understood, I hope, that in what I have said I hold no brief for the infinite attributes, or even for the Spinozistic system as a whole, magnificent though I consider that system to be. I have simply wished to point out that the convinced follower of Spinoza in defending the doctrine of an infinity of attributes is not obliged to fall back on a priori and transcendental arguments. He may rather, if he likes, appeal to the known attributes and infer his conclusion from otherwise irrational perturbations in their behavior, just as the astronomer infers from disturbances in the orbits of familiar planets the existence of others undiscovered and, it may be, undiscoverable.


Fuller, B. A. G., "A Spinozistic Fancy: The Infinity of Attributes," The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 29 (June 1932), pp. 355-358.