I just returned from a small Spinoza conference in Kingston, Ontario. There were about 10 or 11 of us presenters, and a few more who attended all the sessions, so we formed a friendly and animatedly interactive group. Jon Miller was our host, and he did a great job keeping us near a schedule but allowing plenty of informal discussions to develop. A number of the papers coincidentally ended up orbiting a set of questions about essences of individuals – whether individuals share essences, and what those essences are supposed to be. My own paper was an attempt to show that one central chunk of Spinoza’s philosophical system really commits him to the claim that time and finite objects are illusions, and really only an unchanging and eternal substance exists. I also think, though, that other chunks of Spinoza’s system obviously commits him to the reality of time and individuals. I suggested that Spinoza never quite got the chunks into a single, coherent focus. The mental picture I have of my presentation is that of slowly dissecting a live hornet’s nest while trying to assure the onlookers that there was no danger — that’s surely a bit too dramatic, but that’s at least the effect I was striving for, and I think I got something along that direction. The paper did stimulate a lot of interesting discussion, and I learned a lot from everyone.
Kingston itself was utterly charming, with a 19th-century waterfront and the Kingston Brewing Company, whose extensive menu of single malts earned my undying respect. They are a loud and partying bunch, which resulted in my changing hotel rooms twice, but no complaints here.