Spinoza's Doctrine of Parallelism

Spinoza delved into the question of man in relation to nature and God and in particular the areas of ideas, extensions and the physical attributes. He came up with a doctrine of parallelism which attempted to answer the question of whether ideas and physical attributes on the other hand are related or autonomous. Spinoza in the doctrine of parallelism concluded that ideas on this hand and things on the other are autonomous since according to him, ideas occur through thought occasioned by nature or God while things are simply extensions of thought.

Spinoza’s discourse forced him to consider some aspects of human existence especially regarding individuality and the question of mind versus physical things. Could Spinoza think that this solves the mind body problem? The answer is a resounding yes. He has acknowledged this in several of his works with his assertions that an idea is a consequence of thought while physical things are an extension of thought. What separates his doctrines from those of other philosophers delving in the same issue is his denunciation of the ability of the human mind to originate innate ideas of things. According to Spinoza the mind is simply a medium through which ideas from nature or God occur and therefore those ideas could also occur in innate objects too. The body on the other hand is a physical thing and is an extension of a thought, the point of origin of that thought not being overly relevant here. What is clear is that a thought can be similar to the idea of a thing but that does not take away the autonomy of those two attributes. This translates to an unchallengeable claim that since ideas and the idea of things though similar are autonomous, thought and things are autonomous by extension and therefore the body and mind have a relation even though they are autonomous attributes.

It is also necessary to consider the personal implications of Spinoza’s doctrine of parallelism to students like myself. This is because the issue or problem of body/mind has troubled scholars for a long time and is likely to remain a controversial issue even in the future. Descartes also encountered the mind/body problem when he asserted that he knew his mind was real simply because he was able to doubt his very existence. The ability of a person to doubt, doubt being a thought process, shows that one exists. Through his famous cogito ego sum “I think, therefore I am,” Descartes asserts that the mind has the sole ability to create new thought. This differs significantly with Spinoza’s claim that the mind was simply a mode where thoughts are made to occur by God or nature. The reason to refer to Descartes philosophy is to show that Spinoza is not the only credible philosopher with a claim to the solution of the mind/body issue. Descartes and Spinoza’s take on the issue have several similarities but some differences too. This means that it would be fallacious in the least to accept Spinoza’s doctrine of parallelism as solving this issue without considering some of the discrepancies that exist between his philosophy and that of other great philosophers. 

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