Infinity Wars: Spinoza vs Hegel

A 1-day workshop hosted by the MSCP

Where: Linkway, The John Medley Building, University of Melbourne
When: Thursday 16 December 2021, 9.30 am – 4.00 pm.

This event has concluded.  Many thanks to all involved.


Note for all those attending in person:

  • You must be fully vaccinated to attend or work the event unless you have a valid medical exemption
  • Vaccination information will be checked on arrival and prior to entry to the event
  • Complete a symptom self-assessment prior to leaving home. Do not come to the event if you are unwell, even with very mild symptoms
  • Maintain 1.5 metres distance from others during the event, where possible
  • Do not come to the event if you are required to isolate or quarantine for any reason and/or you are awaiting results of a COVID-19 test.
  • Minimise movement as much as possible by staying within your allotted space or seat
  • Follow directions for face coverings and hygiene during the event
  • Let the organiser know immediately if you become unwell during the event/meeting

Everyone knows that infinity is a problem. Once you’ve got the hang of the finite, you start to wonder: where does it all lead? Anywhere? Maybe, maybe not. After all, if infinity exists, perhaps motion doesn’t. Think of Zeno’s paradoxes, which implicate infinity and continuity at the limits of divisibility. But even if we all agreed that there’s a where there, and that it’s possible to move there, could we ever get there? Perhaps the non-finite is simply in-actual, a potential? A nowhere? Or an ill-defined concept? A nothing? An everything? Or rather an everywhere, like the void and the atoms for the atomists? Indiscriminable from the indefinite? Or something altogether else? Perhaps a transcendent God would be infinite, too big or too other for number? Don’t think the questions stop there.

At least one thing everyone can agree on is that modern science takes a definitive new step in the direction of the infinite. As the title of Alexandre Koyré’s famous book puts it: From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe. Or as Ernst Cassirer asserts, drawing out the implications of Galileo and Kepler’s deployment of mathematics: ‘as the apeiron, the infinite had seemed to be the contradiction of limit. But in the new form of mathematical analysis, the infinite is placed in the service of quantitative determination, and indeed, proves to be one of its most important tools.’ Under pressure of the new sciences and their methods, the world itself starts to become infinite. At the lower end, there is an upsurge of infinitesimals; at the upper, the essential infinity of real space.

That’s all very well, except when you start to think about how to start thinking about it again. It all gets nasty (if there’s such an all at all). Infinity always means war in philosophy — infinity is an infinity war. And that’s where the philosophers come in. If we could have found somebody to speak sensibly about Leibniz, we would have asked them. Instead, we’re going to keep it simple: Benedict Spinoza v. G.W.F. Hegel.  This study day will take up the challenge of explicating and criticizing their doctrines of infinity through two rigorous panels and a final confrontation.

9.30am: Infinity and Beyond, An Introduction

  • Luara Karlson-Carp & Caitlyn Lesiuk

10.00am - 12.00pm: Spinoza on Infinity

  • Moderator: Caitlyn Lesiuk
  • Janice Richardson
  • Jon Rubin
  • Inja Stracenski

12.00pm – 1.00pm: LUNCH

1.00pm - 3.00pm: Hegel on Infinity

  • Moderator: Luara Karlson-Carp
  • Brendan Duncan
  • Daniel Lopez
  • Gregory Marks

3.00pm – 4.00pm: Final Confrontation

  • Moderators: Luara Karlson-Carp & Caitlyn Lesiuk

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