Spinoza in his Ethics, following Descartes says that:

Extension is the unique essence of matter

Noting that matter is generally percieved to be distinct from space and time, how does one use Spinoza's system to clarify the status of what time and space is?

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    Interesting question, but I'm not sure what you mean by 'Noting that matter is generally percieved to be distinct from space & time' .. are you able to expand ? My first intuition reading this is to say that if physics has been / is to be influenced by Spinoza it's likely to be seen in his idea that time should be awarded no existence outside of or separate to the motion of bodies, or the movements and mixtures of things .. to say he anticipated modern theory of space-time may be a bit of a stretch .. – Dr Sister Dec 9 '13 at 21:53
  • @Dr Sister: I just mean in the conventional and ordinary sense. I'm not saying that Spinoza had anticipated Einsteins theory, even if Einstein was an admirer of Spinoza. Having said that, there was a sense that physics could be reduced to Geometry well before Einstein, for example the English Mathematician Clifford after Riemanns invention of manifold theory said as much in a presentation at Cambridge. – Mozibur Ullah Dec 12 '13 at 7:31
  • If your thinking on Spinozas ideas of time is right - then it is a definite break between how Newton thought about time. Anyway, I've expanded a bit more in my answer below. – Mozibur Ullah Dec 12 '13 at 7:36
  • It seems to me though, that Spinoza didn't give time a separate reality; but then nor did he to space or matter. All three of them, are modes of extension - an essence - which has only a reality, that is existence when anchored in God. – Mozibur Ullah Dec 12 '13 at 7:53
  • @MoziburUllah I was about to edit your question (for several reasons), but then I couldn't find the quote. Where did you find "unique"? (A hopefully temporary -1 for that.) – user3164 Dec 12 '13 at 20:19

Of course to answer this question properly one would need to understand what is meant by the three terms - space, time & matter - in Spinozas time. Given that Spinoza was influenced by Descarte who himself had been influenced by the success of the new mechanics as exemplified by Newton & Galileo - perhaps the correct place to start are the assumptions made there as exemplified by Newtonian Mechanics, briefly, that space is everywhere the same and that times passes in a homogenous manner everywhere.

how does one use Spinozas system to clarify the status of what time & space is?

One might say for example, that extension itself is the very essence of space. If matter and space share this essence, could this mean that they are different manifestations of a one unique essence? That although time passes for us in an immediate sense, the character of time in Newtonian Mechanics is the line (suitably understood), so again its essence is extension.

This at least is consistent with the standard view that Spinoza gave God an infinity of essences with only two of the essences being cognisable - extenson and thought - through their modes - with ideas a mode of thought, and matter a mode of extension. In this interpretation, it seems to hold, that time and space cannot be modes of thought, thus they are modes of extension.

So, although matter is usually given in expositions of Spinozas thought as a mode of extension; it seems to follow from his geometrical method that both time & space are too.

This doesn't mean to say that Spinoza has anticipated Einsteins theory, it is an exposition of Newtonian ideas of time & space in Spinozoan terms. One could argue, though, if the essence of matter, time & space is one and the same; then perhaps it could be possible to change one into the other.

This is in fact part of Einsteins achievement. He showed that time & space are interconvertible in quantitative terms; matter wasn't. Lord kelvin suggested that matter could be understood geometrically as a knot - that is as a pure extension. In fact, the main line of both mathematical and physical thinking, in the western tradition, at least, is to reduce phenomena to geometry - that is extension.

  • Galileo lived 1564 – 1642, Descartes 1596 – 1650, Newton 1642 – 1726, Spinoza 1632 – 1677. Newton's Principia was published in 1687. So it's not clear that Newton's mechanics could have influenced Descartes or Spinoza. Care to do some more fact-checking, here? – labreuer Apr 12 '14 at 1:14
  • Given that Spinoza was influenced by Descarte who himself had been influenced by the success of the new mechanics as exemplified by Newton & Galileo'. Exemplified doesn't mean direct influence - do you think that Newton himself was responsible foe everything that went into his Principia - I'm talking about a new current of scientific thought in Europe, which I've inscribed as the new mechanics. – Mozibur Ullah Apr 12 '14 at 5:26
  • How much mechanics were known at the time? I'm quite interested. It seems to me that Johannes Kepler, 1571 – 1630, would be relevant, here. I confess I don't know all the developmental details. Some more clarity on precisely what was known, and how this influenced the thought of Descartes and Spinoza, would be enlightening. – labreuer Apr 12 '14 at 7:18
  • In Spinoza's system, time and space, are defined as 'aids to the imagination'. This does not mean that they are unreal. But it is meant to differentiate between 'time/space' and 'eternity/infinity'. There are no quantifiable elements in eternity and infinity. So, eternity is NOT, all the time imaginable with two open ends. Time is a derivative of the inadequate ideas contained in the human mind which allow us to think of ourselves as unique individuals living unconnected to anything else. "Space' in its term is an 'aid' ' which allows us to do distance and quantity. @Mozibur Ullah, from CS – Charles M Saunders Mar 31 at 17:39

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