Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 2015


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Daniel Selcer

Committee Member

Jennifer Bates

Committee Member

George Yancy


epistemology, Ethics, imagination, proto-physics, reason, Spinoza


Seventeenth Century lens grinder and Dutch philosopher, Benedict de Spinoza, illuminates a rigorous and dynamic theory of knowledge and action in his major system the Ethics. What we learn by adequately learning Spinoza's epistemology is that within it is a proto-physics of ideational force between the three kinds of knowledge expressed by the attribute of thought and, simultaneously, expressed as ratios of motion and rest, speed and slowness, intensity and transformation by the attribute of extension. Such dynamic processes or ways lead to one's capacity for increased rational thought and action, increased uses of creativity, and the enhanced ability to join with others in powerfully effective, affirmative ways. This is Spinoza's proto-physics of force. The outcome of the enhanced ideational force and extensive action includes an increase in one's overall singular conatus, the capacity for continuous understanding, and perseverance, joy and energy, not only for oneself but also for the benefit of all of Nature. In the end, Spinoza rigorously demonstrates that all of Nature is one organic substance with infinite varieties of expressive power. We are singular, conscious expressions of that power in our own determinate ways. Our mind does not have ideas, it is ideas, and our ratios of motion and rest expressed in extension are multiple yet maintain a homeostatic balance for bodily integrity and comportment. Combined, the two attributes create affects that influence the increases and decreases in our power of continued thought and action. Affects cannot be explained by any theory of representation. Spinoza's dynamic epistemology requires such an understanding.

In the end, Spinoza's ethology involves an enhancement in our ability for creativity and experimentation as well. Such expressions and affects are not possible without other minds and bodies, but they are also not possible without a singular power and enhanced capacity for increasing ideational power and rational conscious reflection. As Paulo Freire writes, "Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferrals of information." For Spinoza, acts of enhanced cognition (and thus action) are increases in our overall conatus through continued understanding of natural phenomena. Our love of Nature (or God) is transformed into actions of real living experiences, joy and levity, peace of mind, and an acute interest in all expressions of the laws of Nature. Still, we cannot possibly approach or exhaust the totality of causal processes and effects in Nature. In our awareness of this fact, we are transformed to create and understand our individual human affects and relations with other bodies in our environments towards freedom of thought, happiness, and safety while living amidst a diversity of interests and desires.