From this point of view metaphysicians are apt to seek for an indubitable datum. Descartes, for example, saw clearly the need for such a datum. Whatever one may think of the success of his efforts, it will probably be admitted that his procedure was correct provided that the aim of metaphysics be to provide reasons for our commonsense beliefs. Curiously enough, it is Descartes, rather than Spinoza who has shown most clearly the futility of a constructed system. Spinoza, so it seems to me, used the form of a deductive system in order to exhibit his vision of the universe. I see no reason why he should be dismayed by the charge of circularity; there is no reason why he should not wrap up in his definitions and axioms all that he desired to bring forth from them. For Descartes, however, such a charge, if it could be substantiated, would be fatal.--Susan Stebbing (69).
One of the great scandals of analytic philosophy is our utter ignorance of our history. Long after my graduate education I encountered Susan Stebbing´s name for the first time in Mike Beany´s writings on early analytic. (But don't try looking for Stebbing in Soames.) Stebbing (1885 – 1943) was a crucial organizational figure in the movement (she helped found Analysis, brought Carnap to Cambridge for the first time, etc) and important popularizer. (Stebbing is useful to those who wish to tell an alternative to my stories (and here) about Ernest Nagel as Prophet of Analytic Philosophy.) Even so, here I focus on her because she was arguably the first significant theorist of analytic philosophy and the method proper to it. In particular, it is astonishing that Stebbing's (1932) master-piece, "The Method of Analysis in Metaphysics," was (I believe) never properly anthologized in the early readers of analytic philosophy.
Now, Stebbing (and her critic, Max Black) worked hard at explicating what the technique and method of philosophical analysis amounts to. What is crucial is that long before Strawson, Benardete, and Kripke-Lewis, a pre-eminent analytic philosopher had articulated (on the basis of deep reflection on Russell and Moore) how one should think about the marriage of analytic philosophy and metaphysics, which according to Stebbing "is a systematic study concerned to show what is the structure of the facts in the world to which reference is made, with varying degrees of indirectness, whenever a true statement is made." (65) For Stebbing metaphysical analysis had a direction toward the precise understanding of absolutely simple elements (that are taken to exist). Now Stebbing insisted on a distinction between logical analysis and metaphysical analysis. Black denied the distinction and offered a deflationary model for philosophy, which is primarily interested in the "structure of sentences rather than with fact." (258) Black seems to have won the day initially (although I think he misunderstands Stebbings position as uncovering facts rather than the structure of facts), but either way from our post-Lewisian vantage point, Stebbing seems most prescient. (Black ridicules the very idea of an analysist being able to describe basic facts.) We can understand Lewis' natural properties as giving Stebbing her cake (Lewis and Stebbing share a deep respect for common sense and natural science) with little loss of...ahum...simplicity.
From this vantage point Spinoza stands outside the tradition. As Stebbing notes, "My criticisms of Spinoza would be criticisms from without, based upon assumptions he would not have accepted and upon beliefs he did not share. To such criticisms Spinoza would rightly be impervious. He was not concerned with our commonsense beliefs; he would not have subscribed to Bradley's dictum." (69-70) So, for Stebbing the much to be admired alternative to her own analytical philosophy was fundamentally Spinozism (without its vulgarization/domestication in the hands of British Idealists). It is remarkable to find a philosopher who not only can describe what she stands against, but describe it in a way such that we understand how unrefuted the alternative is.
Second, Stebbing does not develop her views of Spinoza at length. But a few things can be discerned: (i) She rejects (correctly, I think) the idea that Spinoza is fundamentally addressing the same problems as Descartes. ("Unfortunately it has been Spinoza's fate to be regarded as attempting to deal with the same kind of problem as that which interested Descartes is primarily understood." (70)) Descartes stands here for the main tradition of metaphysical speculation. (ii) Not unlike Russell (recall this post, Jeff Bell's response, my elaboration), she sees in her anti-common-sensical Spinoza primarily a visionary (see the first quote at the top of the post). The Geometric Method is (rightly!) understood not so much as a form of argumentation, but as a means of expressing a vision and, thus non-philosophical. Spinoza's arguments are (rightly) not taken to be the heart of the matter. And not unlike Russell, she confines Spinoza to the realm of art and spiritual significance. ("They [the "Great Systems"--ES] -or some of them-are great as works of art are great. Hence their spiritual significance. They heighten the joy of living but they do not give knowledge; they are the source of inspiration, but they do not yield understanding." (94))[We can find similar remarks in Russell about Spinoza.] (iii) Now it is tempting to see in this judgment a kind of Wittgensteinian appreciation of Spinoza: the geometric method shows (or indicates) the way -- as a kind of via negativa -- toward the un-spoken. Yet, the view of the visionary Spinoza, whose argumentative rigor is feeble at best, originates in George Boole's rational reconstruction in the language of symbolic calculus of the Spinoza-Clarke dispute. Boole thought that by showing Spinoza's ineptitude at argument he could champion not only the merits of his logic, but also (a posteriori) natural theology. Even so, Stebbing's idea that Spinozism is the main alternative to analytical metaphysics deserves more consideration. But about that some other time more.