Spinoza’s definition of a body is any “extended thing” or “thought”: this means that an atom can be conceived of a body, a tree, or a forest. This is important from an educational perspective because the learner is a body, but so is a “community of learners”, i.e. a class. (Spinoza, 1994a, p. 31)
Spinoza speaks of “essences” a great deal, but his conception of “essence” is not Aristotelian or Platonic. If we were to interpret Spinoza through the lens of Deleuze’s critique of him
An idea is any active form of thought; Spinoza defines “active thought” as “conception”, while passive forms of thought are “perceptions”. (Spinoza, 1994a, p. 32)
This is what Spinoza terms a “true idea”. This is a difficult concept to grasp, but I conceive an adequate idea to an active form of thought which begins to address the complexity of the world that produces it. An adequate idea is the power of its connections; an adequate idea necessarily embraces a “radical contextualisation” of the idea itself. For example, a learner might have an adequate idea of learning if he/she was aware of all the connections that had produced that act of learning so that the learner might say, “I learnt this or that, because this learning connected with these other things I know and all of these things are interesting in themselves”. This is what Spinoza means by the “intrinsic denominations of an idea”; the learner is aware of all the multiple factors that have produced the idea. This very much links to Biggs’ SOLO taxonomy which argues that a learner is most effective when he/she is working at an “extended abstract” level:
At the extended abstract level, the student is making connections not only within the given subject area, but also beyond it, able to generalise and transfer the principles and ideas underlying the specific instance. (Atherton, 2013)
In other words, to have an adequate idea is to see its “intrinsic denominations”, how it might be applied to a multitude of situations. This necessarily means that the idea needs to have a “life of its own”; it must be able to transfer over to other situations. (Spinoza, 1994a, p. 32).
Investigation: explore different conceptions of learning from Bloom’s taxonomy, to Biggs’ SOLO taxonomy.
Question: Do you think we can have “adequate ideas”? What do you think Spinoza means by “adequate ideas”?