A standard reading of modern political theory, or one could arguably say the standard reading, lays the greatest emphasis upon the state of nature theories and their attendant arguments concerning the social contract. Beginning with Hobbes, this standard reading continues on through Locke and Rousseau, emphasizing along the way the influence of Locke upon Jefferson. Given the revolutions of the late 18th century, especially in light of the social contract justifications given by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, it is perhaps not surprising that this has become the standard reading.
What I would like to argue is that it is precisely the importance of the social contract theorists for the intellectuals who sought a justificatory ground for revolution that has resulted in the great stress that has been laid upon this aspect of modern political theory. Lurking beneath this standard reading of political theory we can find a deeper tension at play, and a tension that provides for a more comprehensive and illuminating account of political and economic processes as they have actually unfolded since the late 17th century. This is the tension between the thought of Spinoza and Leibniz.
Teaching American philosophy this semester has given me an opportunity to revisit the texts of Peirce. I’ve long drawn great intellectual sustenance from Peirce’s thought, using some of his concepts for example as part of a general critique of Badiou in an essay I published a few years back in the Southern Journal of Philosophy. But I’ve not read Peirce recently and in the interim I’ve been delving into speculative realism, Latour, Hume, and a number of other areas not directly connected to Peirce. It therefore came as a pleasant surprise to come across this passage from “Synechism, Fallibilism, and Evolution”:
If all things are continuous, the universe must be undergoing a continuous growth from non-existence to existence. There is no difficulty in conceiving existence as a matter of degree. The reality of things consists in their persistent forcing themselves upon our recognition. If a thing has no such persistence, it is a mere dream. Reality, then, is persistence, is regularity.
In his excellent book, Before Logic, Richard Mason (who also has a nice book on Spinoza, The God of Spinoza) argues that problems in logic as logicians understand them, and as they attempt to resolve them, are themselves consequences of particular choices, choices that exclude options that might have been on the table had another choice been made. Mason is quite adamant that this does not involve historicizing logic, nor does he adhere to an ahistorical view of logic. The arguments of Mason’s small book are all ‘intended,’ as he claims in the final lines of his book, ‘to show how logic must be part of philosophy, not in any sense before it. Too much must come first.’ And some of what comes first are particular interests and choices that set the stage for the logical developments to follow. One such choice is between Spinoza and Leibniz.