Cattedra Rotelli

Cattedra Rotelli

Lecture 2022 Steven Nadler

From the 14th to the 18th of March 2022, Professor Steven Nadler will give the Rotelli Lectures at Vita-Salute San Raffaele University. The theme for this year’s Lectures will be “Spinoza as Moral Philosopher”.

**The Lectures will be delivered in person and online on Microsoft teams**

Program of the Rotelli Lectures 2021:

  • 14 March, 16.00 – 18.30 (CET)

Lecture 1: “The Free Person”

Discussant: Massimo Reichlin (CeSEP, IRCECP)

Abstract: Spinoza’s contributions to ethics/moral philosophy are all too often underestimated, even ignored, despite the fact that his magnum opus is titled Ethics. In this first lecture, we will review some fundamental elements of Spinoza’s moral philosophy, including his account of virtue and especially “the free person”, the moral ideal of an individual who is guided in action by reason alone, not the passions. We will consider the life of such a paragon of virtue, which Spinoza calls the “model of human nature”, and the various ways in which s/he will act in the world.

  • 15 March, 16.00 – 18.30 (CET)

Lecture 2: Good and Bad

Discussant: Giacomo Petrarca (Diaporein)

Abstract: In this lecture, we will examine Spinoza’s account of value terms such as 'good' and 'bad'. According to a prevalent subjectivist interpretation of Spinoza, something’s being good is nothing but a matter of opinion, an expression of desire, a form of “prejudice”, even a confusion in the minds of the untutored. As we shall see, however, for Spinoza the qualities good and bad are, in fact, if not absolute and intrinsic properties of things in the world, nonetheless objective and (in a sense) mind-independent, albeit relational, features of them. What makes something good in the most basic sense is that it is the cause of joy, or an improvement in an individual’s condition. Correlatively, something is bad if it is the cause of sadness, or a deterioration in an individual. And what makes something good in the truest and fullest sense of the term is that it so improves an individual as to bring that person closer to the ideal condition of human nature—that is, it moves them closer to being a free person.

  • 16 March, 16.00 – 18.30 (CET)

Lecture 3: Moral Motivation

Discussant: Roberto Mordacci (CeSEP, IRCECP)

Abstract: Is the motive for one’s actions morally relevant? If you do something good, does it matter why you do it? Spinoza argues that all agents are egoistically motivated: they are driven by a fundamental drive to “persevere”what he calls “conatus” and thus do only what they believe to be in their own self-interest. It would seem, then, that motivation must be irrelevant to the moral evaluation of action; that is, whether an action is good or bad would apparently not be determined by the motive behind the action, since all actions would appear to have the same ultimate motive. However, motivation turns out for Spinoza to be, in fact, crucial to determining the moral value of an agent’s action, since actions done from reason and knowledge benefit a person (and thus are “good”), whereas the same actions done from irrational passion tend not to benefit a person (and thus are “bad”).

  • 17 March, 16.00 – 18.30 (CET)

Lecture 4: Homo Homini Lupus

Discussant: Stefano Pinzan (CeSEP, IRCECP)

Abstract: In his treatise De Cive (1642), Thomas Hobbes combines a pair of ancient Latin proverbs into a single aphorism: Homo homini Deus, & Homo homini Lupus. The original saying “Lupus est homo homini, non homo, quom qualis sit non novit” (“Man is a wolf, not a man, to one whom he does not know”) appears in Plautus’ play Asinaria. Seneca, on the other hand, in his Epistulae morales ad Lucilium took the more sanquine view: “Homo sacra res homini” (“Man is a sacred thing to a man”). Hobbes notes that “both sayings are true”; it all depends on the context. Spinoza, by contrast, made use only of Seneca’s adage, ignoring the darker one that appears in Plautus and Hobbes. In Part Four of the Ethics, Spinoza explains how human beings are of great benefit to one another, at least to the extent they “agree in nature”, and concludes that “what we have just shown is also confirmed by daily experience, which provides so much and such clear evidence that this saying is in almost everyone’s mouth: man is a God to man.” In this lecture, we will see that Spinoza should not have been so quick to drop the gloomier vision of things. On Spinoza’s own terms, a human being may be not only a “God” to other human beings, but a wolf as well.

  • 18 March, 16.00 – 18.30 (CET)

Lecture 5: Spinoza vs. Aristotle on Friendship

Discussant: Giuseppe Girgenti (CRISI)

Abstract: Spinoza and Aristotle agree on the importance of friendship as a mutually beneficial relationship in a good life. They also agree, in part, on what friendship involves, as well as on some of the particular advantages that friendship brings to the virtuous person and on the reasons why the virtuous person will naturally seek out true friends. However, they differ substantially in their analyses of the motivation for true friendship. A comparison of their respective accounts illuminates not only the egoism in Spinoza's account of friendship, and human behavior generally, but also the distinct ways in which friendship can enhance a life and secure a more lasting foundation for happiness.

All the Lectures will be given in English.

The event is open to everyone. For all those who are not San Raffaele University’s students or academic staff, registration is required. In order to register, please send an email to Prior to the event, instructions for accessing the Lectures will be sent via email to all those who have registered.

Cattedra Rotelli 2022

Prof. Steven Nadler

Steven Nadler is Vilas Research Professor and William H. Hay II Professor di filosofia at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where is the director of the Institute for Research in the Humanities. Besides his appointment at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Nadler has been visiting professor at a number of prestigious universities, such as: Stanford University, the University of Chicago, École des hautes études en sciences sociales a Parigi, École normale supérieure-Paris, e the University of Amsterdam. In 2015, he has been Scholar-in-Residence at the American Academy in Roma.

Professor Nadler is renowned for his research on philosophy in the seventeenth century. He has written extensively on Descartes and Cartesianism, Spinoza, and Leibniz. He also works on medieval and early modern Jewish philosophy.

His publications include Spinoza: A Life (Cambridge, 1999; second edition, 2018); The Best of All Possible Worlds: A Story of Philosophers, God, and Evil (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2008; paperback, Princeton 2010); The Cambridge History of Jewish Philosophy: From Antiquity through the Seventeenth Century (2009), co-edited with Tamar Rudavsky; A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza’s Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age (Princeton, 2011) and The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter: A Portrait of Descartes (Princeton, 2013). Heretics: The Wondrous (and Dangerous) Beginnings of Modern Philosophy  (Princeton University Press), a graphic book (with Ben Nadler), was published in 2017. His most recent books are Menasseh ben Israel: Rabbi of Amsterdam (“Jewish Lives”, Yale, 2018) and Think Least of Death: Spinoza on How to Live and How to Die (Princeton, 2020). 

In 2020, he was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Seminars in preparation to the Rotelli Lectures

  • 1 March, 14.00-16.00 (online)

Dott. Giacomo Petrarca (Diaporein): “’Benedictus und maledictus’. Lo Spinoza di Steven Nadler tra il cherem e il Tractatus theologico-politicus

  • 4 March, 14.00-16.00 (online and in person)

Dott. Alfredo Gatto (CRISI, ICONE): "Steven Nadler e la teodicea nella modernità"

  • 7 March, 16.00-18.00 (online and in person)

Prof. Massimo Reichlin (CeSEP, IRCECP): “L'etica di Spinoza: la lettura di Nadler in La via alla felicità.”

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