This post begins slow, but it will quickly become de-organized and possibly out-of-control. In my previous post (see here), I made the remark that perhaps Spinoza wasn’t so anti-teleology as many would like to think, after all.
My justification was that, in a way not too unlike Aquinas, he immanently smuggles in a “teleological” concern for Life through his concept of conatus. I should like to clarify this because I realized I was possibly (mis-)using the term “teleology” in a very peculiar way. A telos is of course a purpose, or an intentional end. Therefore, there is of course a sense in which Spinoza was indeed anti-teleology (i.e. when it is generated by, rather than generates, human beings), but if it is so it is only because he takes from the start the individual as a free absolute, a free radical, free to define his or her own intentional ends.
For Spinoza, the conatus or essence of being “is opposed to everything which can take its existence away” (Ethics, part 3, prop. 6, dem.). This is a more a “physical intentionality” of Nature, and not one of Man. The term “dispositions” may be better used here.
So, while he is (I think) right to oppose the life-denying aspects of human or divine teleology in Aquinas, to read Spinoza as providing a dismissal tout court of any use of what may fall under the term “teleology” in this general sense is misguided. The incoming critique (from the likes of Aquinas, let us suggest) would be simply that Spinoza’s Ethics doesn’t really do anything; it doesn’t really tell us anything about human teleology or “morality”. Indeed, for Spinoza, moral concepts are just like any other concepts, and have a basis only in human psychology.
Though this leveling may of course be a good thing in a world where people act too often on impulse, one is nonetheless left with a lingering quietism/nihilism which as of yet needs to be an-nihilated, or better yet, en-nihilated. This would amount to an an-nihilation by going deep into the brutal core of nihilism and emerging at least from the other side. By not intending to do anything, however, one still does (oftentimes oppressive) things nevertheless. This is the un-intentional doing of Spinoza (and to an extent Wittgenstein) that may prove to be vertically stunting.