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'Nobody has determined yet what the body is capable of’

Nietzsche may well have criticised Spinoza, but even so, the two philosophers had more in common than we might think, according to young Romanian philosopher Razvan Ioan. PhD defence 1 November.

Fundamental philosophical problems

Ioan studied these two key figures from modern philosophy from a completely new perspective. Comparative studies have already been made of Spinoza (1632-1677) and Nietzsche (1844-1900), he explains. 'But none of these studies focused on their vision of the body.' Taking this angle allowed Ioan to adopt a different approach to the differences and similarities. 'Both philosophers saw the body as the key to resolving fundamental philosophical problems.' The quote by Spinoza in the title of the dissertation (and this article) shows that he was still seeking the answer.


In his research Ioan looked at the similarities between the two philosophers. ‘Nietzsche thought Spinoza was too much of a rationalist,' Ioan says. 'He believed Spinoza’s thinking was too anthropomorphic. That's why Nietzsche tried to free his own philosophy from the illusions that he believed Spinoza had too many of.' One aspect of anthropomorphism is, for example, the idea that God has a human form. When Nietzsche talks about illusions, he means something different:  God, free will, an immortal soul, the existence of a moral world order and of evil. These philosophers lived two centuries apart, so could the difference in ideas also be related to the large time difference? 'To some extent, that is the case,' Ioan concedes, 'but they still have a lot in common in their philosophical approach. Both use knowledge of the body to undermine harmful philosophical illusions. They criticise Platonic and Christian morality, and the metaphysical traditions based on these illusions.' 

Freedom vs free will

The two philosophers also emphasise freedom, Ioan says.  'They both regard self-knowledge as the knowledge of the intrinsic power of the body to act. That explains why they arrive at surprisingly similar descriptions of freedom and emancipation. For them, freedom is not the same as free will. Freedom is for them a matter of self-regulation and autonomy, the power to live in accordance with your own nature rather than according to rules imposed from outside.' In that respect, Spinoza and Nietzsche are different from other philosophers.  Nonetheless, Ioan sees some similarities between the philosophy of Aristotle and a few present-day philosophers: ‘Aristotle also said a lot about the body, but from an ancient viewpoint, of course.' 

Consensus vs conflict

In his conclusion Ioan says that the similarities and differences between Spinoza and Nietsche can best be understood based on their shared interest in power. 'Whereas Spinoza saw consensus as a basic given for the desire for greater power and freedom, Nietzsche said that tension and opposition are necessary to make the individual stronger. Both recognise the importance of 'bad' passions for strengthening life, and that existence is only possible in the context of a community. Nietzsche stresses conflict and the difference in rank differently from Spinoza and he emphasises the dangers of democracy and focusing on public interest.'  

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