2022. “Spinoza’s Dynamic Theory of Mind in the 21st Century,” Journal of Spinoza Studies, 1.1, 111 – 120.
In this paper I maintain that Spinoza systematizes independently credible accounts of belief-formation, affect, and desire into an intriguing general theory of how the mind works. His account also explains disparate downstream psychological phenomena, including: (1) emotional responses to fiction; (2) belief perseverance; (3) the reduction of cognitive dissonance; (4) epistemic conservativism that opens us up to confirmation bias, identity protection, and intolerance. Given the promise of Spinoza’s program, I conclude with a plea for further philosophical engagement.
This chapter considers the challenges to, and the resources for, cultivating a personal capacity for tolerance in light of the "Spinozist" account of belief-formation. After articulating two main components of personal tolerance, I examine the features of Spinoza’s theory of cognition that make the cultivation of tolerance so difficult. This is followed by an analysis of how such intolerant tendencies might be overcome. Ultimately, I argue that the capacity of individuals to be tolerant depends crucially on the establishment of conditions of trust, conditions that are conspicuously lacking in many modern democracies.
In recent years, a number of commentators have expressed dissatisfaction with Spinoza’s account of practical reason. In this paper, I defend his account against the most prominent objections, showing that the dictates of reason play an important role in guiding thought and action. However, against the standard interpretation, I propose that we view these rules not as exceptionless, instrumental prescriptions—hypothetical imperatives with necessary antecedents, as Curley memorable put it—but rather as adaptable guideposts that aid us in the complex, dynamic process of acquiring a habit of virtue. The dictates of reason are best understood as defeasible policies that help to orient one in the ars vivendi.