Journal of Early Modern Studies

Volume 11, Issue 2, Fall 2022

Expression in Spinoza's Philosophy

Emanuele CostaOrcid-ID
Pages 71-94

Triadic Metaphysics
Spinoza’s Expression as Structural Ontology

The concept of expression grounds a large portion of Spinoza’s metaphysics, giving further depth to seemingly foundational concepts such as substance, causality, attribute, and essence. Spinoza adopts the term “expression” in crucial contexts such as the definition of attribute, the essential dependence of modes on substance, and the striving or effort of a finite conatus. In this essay, I seek to interpret expression as an instance of relational or structural ontology, escaping the reductionist tendencies that would see it as a mere result or combination of “more fundamental” properties such as causation, inherence, and conception. My interpretation of expression as a descriptive structural lens enriches our understanding of Spinoza’s metaphysics of substance and modes as a primarily structural ontology, which can only be read appropriately if its relata are conceived as ontologically dependent on the structure.