, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 17-37

Kant, Spinoza, and the Metaphysics of the Ontological Proof

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Abstract

This paper provides an interpretation and evaluation of Spinoza’s highly original version of the ontological proof in terms of the concept of substance instead of the concept of perfection in the first book of his Ethics. Taking the lead from Kant’s critique of ontological arguments in the Critique of Pure Reason, the paper explores the underlying ontological and epistemological presuppositions of Spinoza’s proof. The main topics of consideration are the nature of Spinoza’s definitions, the way he conceives of the relation between a substance and its essence, and his conception of existence. Once clarity is shed upon these fundamental issues, it becomes possible to address the proof in its own terms. It is then easy to see that Kant’s objections miss their target and that the same is true of those advanced by another of the ontological argument’s most famous critics, Bertrand Russell. Finally, several interpretations of Spinoza’s proof are proposed and critically evaluated; on all of them, the argument turns out to be either invalid or question-begging.