Lecture Supplement on Spinoza’s The Ethics:


     Copyright © 2014 Bruce W. Hauptli


The Ethics:[1] [Lectures will emphasize the “*”ed passages]


Part I. Concerning God:




31 *1. Self-caused—essence involves existence. 


-In his Spinoza, Stuart Hampshire maintains that: “what is common to Spinoza’s use and to our contemporary use of the word is simply that a cause is taken to be anything which explains the existence or qualities of the effect; but the two senses of explanation are widely different, following the differences in the pattern of scientific knowledge envisaged.  To Spinoza (and by definition to all rationalist philosophers) to ‘explain’ means to show that one true proposition is the logically necessary consequence of some other; explanation essentially involves exhibiting necessary connexions, and ‘necessary connexion’ in this context means a strictly logical connexion’ to be discovered by logical analysis of the ideas involved.”[2] 


2. Finite in its own kind. 


*3. Substance—that which is in itself and is conceived through itself. 


-In his The Philosophy of Spinoza: Unfolding the Latent Processes of His Reasoning [1934], Harry Wolfson provides a chapter-long discussion of the notion of substances and modes tracing its history back to Aristotle’s “...statement that ‘some things can exist apart and some cannot, and it is the former that are substances’.”[3] 


-Hampshire maintains that the notion of substance has “...a continuous history in philosophy from Aristotle to Descartes.  Philosophers had developed the distinction between a substance and its attributes partly in order to mark the logical difference between the ultimate subjects of knowledge or judgement and what we can know or say about these subjects, and partly also to answer puzzles about change and identity; the subject of a judgement, that which we know about, may significantly be said to possess different qualities at different times, while itself persisting through time as an identifiable subject with a whole series of different qualities inhering in it.  Whenever we make a statement and add to our knowledge, we are saying of some subject or substance that it possesses some quality or attribute, or perhaps that it stands in some relation to some other subject or substance.  The next step is to divide the attributes of a substance—or the qualities which it may be said to possess—into two categories: first, the essential or defining attributes or properties, those which make it the kind of thing it is, and, secondly, the accidental attributes, which it may acquire and lose without changing its essential nature; in Spinoza’s terminology the words ‘necessary’ and ‘contingent’ are generally substituted for ‘essential’ and ‘accidental’.”[4] 


-While substance, attributes, and modes constitute the basic metaphysical categories for Spinoza (and Descartes, and Leibniz), it is important to note that other philosophers have emphasized “relations,” “qualities,” “processes,” “events,” etc., as “basic categories.” 


*4. Attribute—that which intellect perceives as essential to a substance. 


*5. Mode—that which exists in and is conceived through something else. 


*6. God—absolutely infinite—not “infinite in its kind.” 


-“...whatever expresses essence and does not involve any negation belongs to its essence.” 


-In his A History of Western Philosophy, A. Robert Caponigri notes: “the key definition is clearly number six, the definition of God.  It is the key definition in the sense that all the others, from number one through number five prepare for it and are summed up in it.  It is, further, the key definition in the sense that the two subsequent definitions follow from it and specify it. 

  It is almost universally stated by historians and commentators that the basic idea in Spinoza’s exposition is that of substance.  There can be no doubt that this is an absolutely fundamental idea.  However, weight must also be given to the fact that he starts with the definition of “causa sui.”  The force of this beginning is to place his whole argument in the existential order.  Substance is that which is conceived through itself and which is in itself, the radical principle through which both of these characteristics pertain to substance is “causa sui.”  Spinoza’s is therefore not a metaphysics of the abstract, but a metaphysics of the concrete and the existent.  It is not the idea of God which controls the whole, but His actuality.”[5] 


*7. Freedom—that which exists solely by the necessity of its nature. 


8. Eternity. 


  32 *Axioms: Read them carefully—what guarantees their truth? 




  (a) The proof of the deity’s existence occupies the first fourteen propositions of Part I:[6]


*1. Substance is by nature prior to its affections. 


*2. Two substances whose attributes are different have nothing in common. 


*3. Things which have nothing in common cannot be the cause of one another. 


-discuss “causation” and how Spinoza equates it to “rational explanation.”  Cf., p. 25 and the editor’s comment on terminology.” 


33 *4. Two different things would have to be distinguished by either their modes or attributes. 


*5. There can’t be two or more substances having the same attribute. 


*6. One substance can not be produced by another. 


-Corollary: substance cannot be produced by anything external to itself. 


34 *7. Existence belongs to the nature of substance. 


-Caponigri maintains that: “the argument rests on a concealed definition, which when brought into the light alters its form.  The concealed definition is the real definition of substance in Spinoza, as distinct from that which he gives in Definition III.  Substance is that which is causa sui.  Causa sui is, according to Definition I “that whose essence involves existence or that, whose nature cannot be conceived of as otherwise than existing.”[7] 


*8. Every substance is necessarily infinite. 


-Individuals are often not sufficiently careful in their thoughts and judgments and, thus, confuse modes with substance. 


-The nature of substance is either finite or infinite; it can not be finite, because it would then be limited by something else (of the same kind), and then two things of that kind would exist; therefore it is infinite. 


-35-36 *A Second Proof: There can be only one substance of the same nature: each thing which exists must have a cause; this cause must be either in its nature or in the nature of something else; if a more than one substance exists, there must be some cause of exactly that number of substances; this cause would have to be external to the substances themselves; this would mean that these “substances” were limited; therefore there can be but one substance. 


36 *9. The more real a thing is the greater the number of its attributes. 


10. Each attribute of substance must be conceived through itself. 


*-Scholium[8]: we can not conclude that because we can detect two attributes, there are two substances—each attribute can be conceived only through itself.  Each expresses the reality or being of substance. 


-*In his Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz: The Concept of Substance in Seventeenth-Century Metaphysics, R.S. Woolhouse maintains that: “according to the Ethics ‘all attributes...[substance] has have always been in it together’ (1P10S), but it does not explain what reason there is for saying this or how things would otherwise have been....However, in his earlier Short Treatise Spinoza explains ‘why we have said that all these attributes which are in Nature are only one, single being, and by no means different ones (though we can clearly and distinctly understand the one without the other’....At least partly it is [citing Spinoza]

[be]cause of the unity which we see everywhere in Nature; if there were different beings in Nature, the one could not possibly unite with the other.  (I.e., if there were different substances which were not related to one single being, then their union would be impossible, because we see clearly that they have absolutely nothing in common with one another—like thought and extension, of which we nevertheless consist.) 

  So, the difference between there being many substances each with one attribute and there being one with many is that the former situation lacks a ‘unity’ to be found in the latter; for the only way there could be any ‘union’ between two attributes is for them to belong to the same substance.[9] 


37 *11. God [the one substance with infinite attributes] necessarily exists.[10] 


A priori proofs:


*A. Essence and existence (proposition 7). 


*B. “Of everything whatsoever a cause or reason must be assigned either for its existence, or for its non-existence....this reason or cause must either be contained in the nature of the thing in question, or be external to it....”  “If...no cause or reason can be given [for the deity’s non-existence]...we must certainly conclude that he necessarily does exist.....as, then, a reason or cause which would annul the divine existence cannot be drawn from anything external to the divine nature, such cause must perforce, if God does not exist, be drawn from God’s own nature which would involve a contradiction.” 


37-38 A posteriori proof: Note: Spinoza terms it an a posteriori proof, but given his commitment to deductivism, and the fact that we are involved in a discussion about substance itself (and conceived through itself), there is really no room for a truly a posteriori proof—it is, actually, a reduction ad absurdum proof regarding finitude and infinitude! 


*C. “The potentiality of non-existence is a negation of power, and contrariwise the potentiality of existence is a power, as is obvious.  If, then, that which necessarily exists is nothing but finite beings, such finite beings are more powerful than a being absolutely infinite, which is obviously absurd; therefore, either nothing exists, or else a being absolutely infinite necessarily exists also.  Now we exist either in ourselves, or in something else which necessarily exists....therefore a being absolutely infinite—in other words, God—necessarily exists.” 


39 13. Substance absolutely infinite is indivisible. 


*14. God is the only substance. 


-In his Behind the Geometrical Method, Edwin Curley offers an extended, and detailed, analysis of Spinoza’s argument for Proposition 14.[11] 


  (b) Having proven the existence of the deity (the one-and-only thing-which-is), Spinoza turns to a discussion of the main characteristics of its nature.  This discussion occupies the remainder of Part I (Propositions 15-36 and the Appendix). 


40 *15. Whatever is, is in God, and without God nothing can be, or be conceived. 


41 Some claim that extension can not apply to the deity because this leads to problems (contradictions about infinitude and finitude, and about divisibility and perfection).  These individuals make an assumption that material substance (extension) is composed of parts, however, and this clearly can not be the case (given the definition of substance). 


-42 We need to distinguish between conceiving “quantity” through the imagination and through the intellect: “...if we consider it intellectually and conceive it in so far as it is substance—and this is very difficult—then it will be found to be infinite, one, and indivisible, as we have already sufficiently proved.  This will be quite clear to those who can distinguish between the imagination and the intellect, especially if this point also is stressed, that matter is everywhere the same, and there are no distinct parts in it except in so far as we conceive matter as modified in various ways.  Then its parts are distinct, not really but only modally.”  The extended footnote on pp. 42-43 is helpful here!  Here we need to understand that the unity of substance requires that in fundamental reality it can have no parts—such distinctions, then, can only be “modal.” 


43 *16. The necessary divine nature “generates” an infinite number of things.... 


-The explanation/proof here is that: “this proposition will be clear to everyone, who remembers that the given definition of any thing the intellect infers several properties, which really necessarily follow therefrom (that is, from the actual essence of the thing defined); and it infers more properties in proportion as the definition of the thing expresses more reality, that is, in proportion as the essence of the thing defined involves more reality.  Now, as the divine nature has absolutely infinite attributes (by def. vi.), of which each expresses infinite essence after its kind, it follows that from the necessity of its nature an infinite number of things (that is, everything which can fall within the sphere of an intellect) must necessarily follow.  Q.E.D. 


-- Critical Comment: Here an important criticism looms however: Copleston says that “one great difficulty about this theory, however, is that of seeing how any logical deduction of Natura naturata [substance as passive  (that is, as effect), and conceived of as a consequence (that is, considered as an infinite system of modes)] is possible, unless the initial assumption is made that substance must express itself in modes; and this is precisely the point which ought to be proved, not assumed....but it is difficult to see that it follows even from Spinoza’s definitions that substance as he defined it must have modes.  On the one hand he started with the idea of God.  On the other hand he knew very well by experience, as we all know, that finite beings exist.  In developing a deductive system he thus knew in advance the point of arrival, and it seems probable that his knowledge that there are finite beings encouraged him to believe he had achieved a logical deduction of Natura naturata.”[12] 


44 *17. God acts solely by the laws of his nature. 


-45 Spinoza discusses the impropriety in attributing (in the normal sense) “will” or “intellect” to the deity.  Regarding “intellect,” he says: “if intellect does pertain to the divine nature, it cannot, like man’s intellect, be posterior to (as most thinkers hold) or simultaneous with the objects of understanding, since God is prior in causality to all things....On the contrary, the truth and formal essence of things is what it is because it exists as such in the intellect of God as an object of thought.  Therefore God’s intellect, in so far as it is conceived as constituting God’s essence, is in actual fact the cause of things, in respect both of their essence and their existence.” 


46 18. God is the immanent, not the transitive cause of all things.[13] 


47 *21. All things which follow from the absolute nature of any attribute of God must have existed always, and as infinite; that is, through the said attribute they are eternal and infinite.  


49 *25. God is the efficient cause not only of the existence of things, but also of their essence. 


-Corollary: individual things are nothing but modifications of the attributes of God, or modes by which the attributes of God are expressed in a fixed number and definite manner. 


50 *28. Every individual thing, i.e. anything whatever which is finite and has a determinate existence, cannot exist or be determined to act unless it be determined to exist and to act by another cause which is also finite and has a determinate existence, and this cause again cannot exist or be determined to act unless it be determined to exist and to act by another cause which is also finite and has a determinate existence, and so ad infinitum. 


-The proof here is important—it shows that if [and I say ‘if’ here intentionally—though Spinoza would leave out the conditional here, I believe] “anything” (finite) follows from the deity’s nature, then an infinitude of things must so follow! 


51 *29. Nothing in the universe is contingent...all is conditioned to exist by the necessity of the divine nature. 


-51-52 Scholium: Natura naturans [substance as active (that is, as cause), and as conceived through itself (and, thus, without reference to its attributes and modes)].  Natura naturata [substance as passive (that is, as effect), and conceived of as a consequence (that is, considered as an infinite system of modes)].  This distinction is not one between two different things! 


-Copleston notes that: “...if we propose to start with God and to proceed to finite things, assimilating causal dependence to logical dependence, we must rule out contingency in the universe....Any contingency which there may seem to be is only apparent.”[14] 


54 *33. Things could not have been brought into existence differently by God. 


-“Since I have here shown more clearly than the midday sun that in things there is absolutely nothing by virtue of which they can be said to be ‘contingent,’ I now wish to explain briefly what we should understand by ‘contingent’; but I must first deal with ‘necessary’ and ‘impossible.’  A thing is termed ‘necessary’ either by reason of its essence or by reason of its cause.  For a thing’s existence necessarily follows either from its essence and definition or from a given efficient cause.  Again, it is for these same reasons that a thing is termed ‘impossible’—that is, either because its essence or definition involves a contradiction or because there is no external cause determined to bring it into existence.  But a thing is termed ‘contingent’ for no other reason than the deficiency of our knowledge.”  Moreover, such notions are “not only...nonsensical but...a serious obstacle to science.” 


-55 Many endeavor to attribute to the deity a different notion of freedom from that which Spinoza attributes, and he tries to show that this notion is inappropriate and contrary to the deity’s nature. 


  57 (c) Appendix:


The first paragraph contains an overall summary of Part I.  In the remainder of this Appendix, Spinoza tries to rid us of certain pervasive misunderstandings.  He claims that “...men think themselves free inasmuch as they are conscious of their volitions and desires, and never even dream, in their ignorance, of the causes which have disposed them so to wish and desire....men do all things for an end, namely, for that which is useful to them....thus it comes to pass that they only look for a knowledge of the final causes of events, and when these are learned, they are content....” 


     He discusses “the mistaken doctrine of final causes:”


-final causation does away with the perfection of God;


-final causation leads men to mistake the useful for the essential; and


-final causal explanations are mere confusions. 


--Does this discussion introduce a core interpretive problem (or, even, a core problem in his philosophy)?  He seems to be committed to saying both: (a) everything occurs necessarily, and (b) we should endeavor to change our views regarding final causation! 



Part II. The Nature and Origin of the Mind:


A. Robert Caponigri offers a helpful observation about Part II:


Spinoza’s treatment of man occupies the attention of the remainder of the Ethics; and it is correct to say that all that has gone before concerning God, is really a preface for the treatment of man.  For Spinoza is not so much directly concerned with the nature of God as an object of knowledge in itself; he is more directly concerned with human happiness, with man’s attainment of his salvation.  His devouring interest in God is born of the conviction that only by reaching God and transforming the whole of his life in the light of God can man be rendered “beatus.”  The Ethics is a treatise, not so much De Deo,[15] as De Vita Beata[16] of man. 

  The second book of the Ethics...is...the most important part of the work; for it delineates the nature of man in such a way as to indicate how, in the descending order so to say, he derives his being from God and possesses that being wholly in God, though in an inferior and less conscient way; and in the ascending order, how, by grasping the principles of truth that lie within him, precisely because his being is in God, he may begin the laborious ascent back to God, and hence effect that transformation of his own life.[17] 


Caponigri offers a helpful metaphor to understand Spinoza’s view of the relation of the deity and its attributes and modes:


substance may be compared to the sea; the modes to the individual waves which we think we can distinguish in the sea.  The waves are born along by themselves and communicate a movement which is not the separate movement of each wave, but a common movement running through them all.  This is the attribute.  The correlation, therefore, is sea-movement-wave; substance, attribute, mode.[18] 


63 Spinoza begins the part with a sentence clarifying where he intends to go.  This aid to the reader is worth careful study.  In reading the phrase “must necessarily have followed from” it is good to read Samuel Shirley’s remark about Spinoza’ use of ‘followed’ on p. 24, and in reading the phrase “essence of God” it is good to read Shirley’s remarks regarding ‘essence’ and ‘existence’ on pp. 21-22. 




*1. Body—a mode which expresses in a certain determinate manner the essence of God...in so far as he is considered as an extended thing. 


2. Essences and necessity. 


*3. Ideas—mental conceptions of a mind. 


*4. Adequate ideas—not related to an object but, rather, an idea considered in itself which has the intrinsic marks of truth. 


5. Duration. 


6. *‘Reality’ and ‘perfection’ are synonyms. 


7. Particular things. 


64 *Axioms—read them all. 




(a) The first nine Propositions of Part II deal with the deity and discuss what A. Robert Caponigri calls “the descending path:” “...by which the being of man flows from, but not out of, the being of God:”[19] 


64 *1. Thought is an attribute of God. 


*2. Extension is an attribute of God. 


66 *7. The order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things. 


-67 Scholium: a mode of extension and the idea of that mode are one and the same thing though expressed in two ways....whether we conceive nature under the attribute of extension, or under the attribute of thought, or under any other attribute, we shall find the same order, or one and the same chain of causes—that is the same things following in either case.  Consequently, thinking substance and extended substance are one and the same substance, comprehended now under this attribute, now under that.  So, too, a mode of Extension and the idea of that mode are one and the same thing, expressed in two ways. 


(b) Beginning with Proposition 10, Spinoza turns to a discussion our nature.  In a section from Propositions 10 through 30, he elaborates his monism and tries to show how Cartesian dualism may be avoided:


In Propositions 10-13, Spinoza begins by discussing the status of man vis-à-vis substance. 


69 10: The being of substance does not pertain to the essence of man; i.e. substance does not constitute the form (forma) of man. 


-Corollary: Hence it follows that the essence of man is constituted by definite modifications of the attributes of God. 


70 Proposition 11: That which constitutes the actual being of the human mind is basically nothing but the idea of an individual actually existing thing. 


*-Corollary: Hence it follows that the human mind is part of the infinite intellect of the deity; and therefore when we say that the human mind perceives this or that, we are saying nothing else but this: that God—not in so far as he is infinite but in so far as he is explicated through the nature of the human mind, that is, in so far as he constitutes the essence of the human mind—has this or that idea. 


--As A. Robert Caponigri notes, “...through this...he has resolved in principle the psychophysical parallelism which was encountered in Descartes.  He has done this because he sees this parallelism, or rather its terms, thought and extension, not in direct opposition to each other as two heterogeneous substances, but as attributes of one substance.  Further, this parallelism is reduced by the priority or preferential status which...belongs to thought and the idea.”[20] 


-Spinoza's scholium here is a gentle request that the reader follow him carefully and limit himself/herself to the deductive process which is guiding the "unfolding" of the consequences of the definition and axioms. 


71 12: Whatever happens in the object of the idea constituting the human mind is bound to be perceived by the human mind; i.e., the idea of that thing will necessarily be in the human mind.  That is to say, if the object of the idea constituting the human mind is a body, nothing can happen in that body without its being perceived by the mind. 


[P13-P31 material not assigned: ]


Proposition 13: The object constituting the human mind is the body—i.e. a definite mode of extension actually existing and nothing else. 


-72-76 Lemmas to Proposition 13: A. Robert Caponigri maintains that: “...the examination of the attribute of extension leads to what may be called Spinoza’s philosophical physics or philosophy of matter.  This is not highly developed; the whole of what he has to say on this subject seems limited to Lemma 1-7 which fall between Propositions XIII and XIV, Book II.”[21]


76 Postulates—note that these are placed here since they were unnecessary for propositions 1-13, but they are necessary for the Lemmas.  Propositions 14-30 continue Spinoza’s discussion of our nature, and these postulates help set up this discussion. 


(c) Propositions 31-47 distinguish inadequate and adequate ideas:


85 *31. We can have only a very inadequate knowledge of the duration of particular things external to ourselves. 


*32. All ideas, in so far as they are referred to God, are true. 


86 33. There is nothing positive in ideas, which causes them to be called false. 


34. Every idea, which in us is absolute or adequate and perfect, is true. 


**35. Falsity consists in the privation of knowledge, which inadequate, fragmentary, or confused ideas involve. 


-Scholium: men are mistaken in thinking themselves free; their opinion is made up of consciousness of their own actions, and ignorance of the causes by which they are conditioned.  Their idea of freedom, therefore, is simply their ignorance of any cause for their actions....So, again, when we look at the sun, we imagine that it is distant from us about two hundred feet; this error does not lie solely in this fancy, but in the fact that, while we thus imagine, we do not know the sun’s true distance of the cause of the fancy.  For although we afterwards learn, that the sun is distant from us more than six hundred of the earth’s diameters, we none the less shall fancy it to be near; for we do not imagine the sun as near us, because we are ignorant of its true distance, but because the modification of our body involves the essence of the sun, in so far as our said body is affected thereby.... 


88 *40. Whatsoever ideas in the mind follow from ideas which are therein adequate, are also themselves adequate. 


-*This proposition is self-evident. 


-89-90 * Knowledge of the first kind: opinion/imagination. 


-* Knowledge of the second kind: reason/common notions. 


-* Knowledge of the third kind: intuition.  This kind of knowledge proceeds from an adequate idea of the absolute essence of certain attributes of God to the adequate knowledge of the essence of things.  I will illustrate all three kinds of knowledge by a single example.  Three numbers are given for finding a fourth, which shall be to the third as the second is to the first [here he is speaking of ratios].  Tradesmen without hesitation multiply the second by the third and divide the product by the first; either because they have not forgotten the rule which they received from a mater without any proof [knowledge of the 1st kind—opinion], or because they have often made trial of it with simple numbers [knowledge of the 2nd kind—reason], or by virtue of the proof of the nineteenth proposition of the seventh book of Euclid, namely, in virtue of the general property of proportionals [knowledge of the 3rd kind—intuition]. 


91 *41. Knowledge of the first kind is the only source of falsity, knowledge of the second and third kinds is necessarily true. 


*42. Knowledge of the second and third kinds, not knowledge of the first kind, teaches us to distinguish the true from the false. 


-“A true idea in us is an idea which is adequate in God, in so far as he is displayed through the nature of the human mind.” 


92 44. It is not in the nature of reason to regard things as contingent, but as necessary. 


93-94 45. Every idea of every body, or of every particular thing actually existing, necessarily involves the eternal and infinite essence of God. 


94 *47. The human mind has an adequate knowledge of the eternal and infinite essence of God. 


-94-95 Scholium: Hence we see that the infinite essence and eternity of God are known to all.  Now as all things are in God, and are conceived through God, we can from this knowledge infer many things, which we may adequately know, and we may form that third kind of knowledge of which we spoke....Men have not so clear a knowledge of God as they have of general notions, because they are unable to imagine God as they do bodies.... 


(d) In Propositions 48-49 (and Scholium), Spinoza discusses free will and indicates that this concept does not apply to man.  [not assigned]


Part III. On the Origin and Nature of the Emotions:


As A. Robert Caponigri notes,


with the opening of the third book, the dominant purpose of the work as a whole emerges and takes clear precedence; and the movement of the development changes from one of preparation...to one of expansion.  Spinoza had announced the dominant motive very early in the book, and it is reflected in the title: Ethics.  For him the motive of philosophy is still the classic motive of opening to man the way of the good, the blessed life, vita beata, and of placing his feet on that way.  To this end all of the other labors of philosophy are directed, and noting short of this can adequately define its character and goal. 

  The books which henceforth comprise the Ethics trace the path to the blessed life; each book is devoted so to say, to a stage of that way.  In its most general outline, this path leads by way of the passions to dominance of the passions by the one supreme passion, the intellectual love of God.  In like manner, it may be described as the path from slavery to the passions to the mastery of life which only passion can give when it is directed to the all-encompassing good which is God.[22] 


Caponigri continues, stating that: “the grand commanding line of these [later] books [of The Ethics] moves from Proposition I of Book III in an unbroken arch to Proposition III of the Fifth Book.  The former reads: our mind at times acts and at times suffers; insofar as it has adequate ideas it necessarily acts; and insofar as it has inadequate ideas, it necessarily suffers.  The latter reads: an affection which is a passion ceases to be a passion as soon as we form a clear and distinct idea of it. 

  The movement between them is commanded by the basic law of the good life: the conversion of the inadequate idea into the adequate.  But this is possible only by the ascent of the mind to God, in which it sees all in His essence, and by the simultaneous elevation of passion to the sharing of the same vision by which it desires and loves all things according to the order there revealed and hence is delivered from all its partial and wayward attachments.  But the way between these terms is long and arduous....[23] 


Because there is a seeming transition here (though, for Spinoza, such a transition would be “merely apparent”), it may help us to understand the whole work if we look to its title and if we briefly look at Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670, anonymously].  This work was published anonymously because of its expected reception, and it produced the expected controversy: it was banned by the States-General, and placed on the Index of the Catholic Church.  Even the very tolerant low countries, it was too extreme in its call for tolerance!  In his “Preface,” Spinoza says:


now, seeing that we have the rare happiness of living in a republic, where everyone’s judgment is free and unshackled, where each may worship God as his conscience dictates, and where freedom is esteemed before all things dear and precious, I have believed that I should be undertaking no ungrateful or unprofitable task, in demonstrating that not only can such freedom be granted without prejudice to the public peace, but also, that without such freedom, piety cannot flourish nor the public peace be secure. 

  Such is the chief conclusion I seek to establish in this treatise; but, in order to reach it, I must first point out the misconceptions which, like scars of our former bondage, still disfigure our notion of religion, and must expose the false views about the civil authority which many have most imprudently advocated, endeavoring to turn the mind of the people, still prone to heathen superstition, away from its legitimate rulers, and so bring us again into slavery.[24] 


This work contains sections with the following titles: “A mistake to suppose that prophecy can give knowledge of phenomena;” “Divine law (1) universal; (2) independent of the truth of any historical narrative; (3) independent of rites and ceremonies; (4) its own reward;” “Ceremonial laws of the Old Testament no part of the Divine universal law, but partial and temporary.  Testimony of the prophets to this;” “A miracle in the sense of a contradiction of natural laws an absurdity;” “Current systems of interpretation [of Scripture] erroneous;” “An Inquiry whether the Apostles wrote their Epistles as Apostles and Prophets, or merely as Teachers, and an Explanation of what is meant by an Apostle;” “Of the Foundations of a State; of the Natural and Civil Rights of Individuals; and of the Rights of the Sovereign Power;” “As the danger of entrusting any authority in politics to ecclesiastics—the danger of identifying religion with dogma;” and “That in a Free State every man may Think what he Likes, and Say what he Thinks.” 


     Such citations indicate that Spinoza was concerned with promoting freedom, toleration, good citizenship, religious belief, and an appropriate concern with the divine.  The remaining three parts of the Ethics elaborate this concern! 




102-103 ...in Nature nothing comes to pass in nature which can be attributed to its defectiveness, for Nature is always the same, and its force and power of acting is everywhere one and the same; that is, the laws and rules of Nature according to which all things happen and change from one form to another are everywhere and always the same.  So our approach to the understanding of the nature of things of every kind should likewise be one and the same; namely, through the universal laws and rules of Nature.  Therefore the emotions of hatred, anger, envy, etc., considered in themselves, follow from the same necessity and force of Nature as all other particular things.  So these emotions are assignable to definite causes through which they can be understood, and have definite properties, equally deserving of our investigation as the properties of any other thing, whose mere contemplation affords us pleasure.  I shall, then, treat of the nature and strength of the emotions, and the mind’s power over them, by the same method as I have used in treating of God and the mind, and I shall consider human actions and appetites just as if it were an investigation into lines, planes, or bodies. 


103 *Definitions—read them, they are all very important.  As Caponigri notes: “the first two concern adequate and inadequate cause on which is predicated, in turn, the distinction between action and passion.  An adequate cause is one whose effect can be clearly and distinctly perceived by means of the cause alone; that cause is inadequate and partial whose effect cannot so be understood.  Men are said to act when anything is done within or without of which they are the adequate causes; they are said to suffer, to undergo passion [emotion], when, in relation to such effects, they stand only as inadequate or partial cause.[25] 


Note: No Axioms! 




(a) Propositions 1-9: here Spinoza discusses actions, passions, conatus, and the primary emotions (desire, pleasure, pain):


103 *1. Our mind is in some instances active and in other instances passive.  In so far as it has adequate ideas, it is necessarily active; and in so far as it has inadequate ideas, it is necessarily passive. 


-Cf. the citation from Caponigri above, and examine Part V, Proposition 3.  The text from P1, III to P3, V is intended to help us move from inadequate ideas to adequate ideas, passivity to activity, from human bondage to De Vita Beata [the blessed life]. 


-104 Corollary: Hence it follows that the more the mind has inadequate ideas, the more it is subject to passive states...and, on the other hand, it is more active in proportion as it has a greater number of active ideas. 


-Question: to the extent that both the inadequate ideas and the adequate ideas are “natural,” “follow from the nature of substance,” and “in substance,” what legitimates the apparent higher value of the latter to the former?  Similarly, and more centrally, what legitimates his valuation of natura naturans over natura naturata?  [For an answer, look to the Preface to Part IV.  ]


*2. The body cannot determine the mind to think, nor can the mind determine the body to motion or rest, or to anything else (if there is anything else). 


-104-107 The scholium here uses examples (“the baby which thinks it freely drinks milk, and angry child that [thinks that] it freely seeks revenge,” etc.) to show how inadequacy [or emotion] is frequently our condition. 


107 *3. The active states of the mind arise only from adequate ideas; its passive states depend solely on inadequate ideas. 


108 *6. Each thing, in so far as it is in itself, endeavors to persist in its own being. 


-In his “Introduction,” Elwes maintains that: “this endeavor must not be associated with the ‘struggle for existence’ familiar to students of evolutionary theories, though the suggestion is tempting; it is simply the result of a thing being what it is.  When it is spoken of in reference to the human mind only, it is equivalent to the will; in reference to the whole man, it may be called appetite.”[26] 


*7. The conatus [note the translator’s footnote here on p. 108] with which each thing endeavors to persist in its own being is nothing but the actual essence of the thing itself.[27] 


-In his “Minding the Brain,” Ian Hacking maintains that:


…Damasio repeatedly mentions conatus, which in Spinoza’s writings is usually translated as “striving” or “endeavor.”  In fact it got into seventeenth-century English: the OED defines conatus as “an effort, endeavor, striving.”  The conatus of a moving body was its disposition to continue in motion unless interfered with.  This was long conceived in human terms, as something like a striving of the body to continue.  Thanks to monumental efforts by Descartes, Leibniz, and many others, the conatus of moving bodies became two concepts emptied of the mention of purpose or aim, namely momentum and kinetic energy. 

  That done, Hume was able to go one step further.  He thought that we project onto things our ability to produce changes.  Thus when the baseball shatters the window pane, we think the ball caused the window to break.  Which it did—but all that the “caused” means here, taught Hume, is that the collision came first, the breaking next, and that balls flying in certain directions are regularly followed by broken windows.  In short, Descartes, Leibniz, and Hume “de-anthropomorphized” conatus and causation.  I suggest that in effect Damasio, and Spinoza as read by Damasio, are engaged in a more heroic project: to “de-anthropomorphize” anthropos.  If not to de-anthropropomize man himself, at least the human being as an organism.  Spinoza, thinker of solitude, was not scared that by that thought, but most people are.  Let me try to explain. 

  The appendix of Part I of Spinoza’s Ethics, a marvelous diatribe against finding purposes in things: against “the notion commonly entertained, that all things in nature act as men themselves do, namely with an end in view.”  When conatus in physics became kinetic energy and momentum, physics ceased to be anthropomorphic.  Was Spinoza trying to do the same for living organisms?[28] 


109 9. The mind, both in so far as it has clear and distinct ideas and in so far as it has confused ideas, endeavors to persist in its own being over an indefinite period of time, and is conscious of this conatus. 


-Scholium: When this conatus is related to the mind alone, it is called Will; when it is related to the mind and the body together, it is called Appetite, which is therefore nothing else but man’s essence, from the nature of which there necessarily follow those things that tend to his preservation, and which man is thus determined to perform.  Further, there is no difference between appetite and Desire except that desire is usually related to men in so far as they are conscious of their appetite.  Therefore it can be defined as follows: desire isappetite accompanied by the consciousness thereof.’ 


(b) Propositions 10-14 discuss the “relationship” of the mind and the body:


110 11. Whatsoever increases or diminishes, assists or checks, the power of activity of our body, the idea of the said thing increases or diminishes, assists or checks the power of thought in our mind. 


-Scholium: here Spinoza offers his characterization of the three primary emotions: desire, pleasure, and pain. 


[Material not assigned—P 12-56.  ]


(c) Propositions 12-56: here Spinoza discusses the derivative passive emotions—the emotions which can be “analyzed into” desire, pleasure, and pain.  Instead of turning to them, it is perhaps best to turn quickly to the final section of Part III and Spinoza’s “Definitions of The Emotions” (pp. 141-151].  As Wolfson notes,


a list of forty-eight emotions, including the three primary ones [desire, pleasure, and pain], is given by Spinoza at the end of Part III...Of these forty-eight emotions the first forty-three are taken from Descartes....[and] are arranged according to the following scheme: I. the three primary emotions (1-3).  II. The two emotions mentioned by Descartes which Spinoza himself does not regard as emotions (4-5) [wonder and contempt].  III. Derivative emotions of pleasure and pain (6-31).  Derivative emotions of desire (32-48). 

  The terms in the last five definitions...are not taken from Descartes, and according to Spinoza’s own statement they constitute a group by themselves and are distinguished from the other emotions in that they have no contraries.[29] 


(d) Propositions 57-59: here Spinoza discusses the “active emotions.”  In his “Introduction,” Elwes maintains that “almost all the emotions arise from the passive condition of the mind, but there is also a pleasure arising from the mind’s contemplation of its own power.  This is the source of virtue and is purely active.”[30] 


(e) Definitions of the Emotions”—here we have a condensed version of the discussion of most of Part III.  [See the discussion above.] 


141-151 Definitions 1, 2, 3, and the “General Definition of Emotions” are the important passages here. 


Part IV. Of Human Bondage, or the Strength of the Emotions:


In his “Introduction,” Elwes maintains that


in the fourth part of the Ethics, Spinoza treats of man in so far as he is subject to the emotions....Man, being a part only of nature, must be subject to emotions, because he must encounter circumstances of which he is not the sole and sufficient cause.  Emotion can only be conquered by another emotion stronger than itself; hence knowledge will only lift us above the sway of passions, in so far as it is itself “touched with emotion.”  Every man necessarily, and therefore rightly, seeks his own interest, which is thus identical with virtue; but his own interest does not lie in selfishness, for man is always in need of external help, and nothing is more useful to him than his fellow-men; hence individual well-being is best promoted by harmonious social effort.  The reasonable man will desire nothing for himself, which he does not desire for other men; therefore he will be just, faithful, and honourable. 

  The code of morals worked out on these lines bears many resemblances to Stoicism, though it is improbable that Spinoza was consciously imitating.  The doctrine that rational emotion, rather than pure reason, is necessary for subduing the evil passions, is entirely his own.[31] 




152 I assign the term ‘bondage’ to man’s lack of power to control and check the emotions.  For a man at the mercy of his emotions is not his own master but is subject to fortune, in whose power he so lies that he is often compelled, although he sees the better course, to pursue the worse. 


153 So perfection and imperfection are in reality merely modes of thinking, notions which we are wont to invent from comparing individuals of the same species or kind.... 


As for the terms good and bad, they likewise indicate nothing positive in things considered in themselves, and are nothing but modes of thinking, or notions which we form from the comparing things with one another. 





(a) Propositions 1-18: As A. Robert Caponigri notes, “here...we find expounded the mechanics...of the theory of the affections and passions, which answer how it comes about that man sees the better and follows the worse.”[32]  In the Scholium to Proposition 18 [p. 163], Spinoza indicates that in these propositions he has explained “...the causes of human weakness and inconstancy, and why men do not abide by the percepts of reason.”  Here, then, the “mechanism” of human bondage is explained. 


156 *2. We are passive in so far as we are a part of Nature which cannot be conceived independently of other parts. 


157 5. The force and increase of any passive emotion and its persistence in existing is defined not by the power whereby we ourselves endeavor to persist in existing, but by the power of external causes compared with our own power. 


158 **7. An emotion cannot be checked or destroyed except by a contrary emotion which is stronger than the emotion which is to be checked. 


161 **14. No emotion can be checked by the true knowledge of good and evil in so far as it is true, but only in so far as it is considered as an emotion. 


162 **15. Desire that arises from true knowledge of good and evil can be extinguished or checked by many other desires that arise from the emotions by which we are assailed. 


163-164 *Scholium [to Proposition 18]: I have thus briefly explained the causes of human weakness and inconstancy, and why men do not abide by the percepts of reason.  It now remains for me to demonstrate what it is that reason prescribes for us, and which emotions are in harmony with the rules of human reason, and which are contrary to them.  But before I embark on the task of proving these things in our detailed geometrical order, it would be well first of all to make a brief survey of the dictates of reason, so that my meaning may be more readily grasped by everyone. 

  Since reason demands nothing contrary to nature, it therefore demands that every man should love himself, should seek his own advantage...should aim at whatever really leads a man towards greater perfection, and, to sum it all up, that each man...should endeavor to preserve his own being.... 

  Again, since virtue is nothing other than to act from the laws of one’s own nature, and since nobody endeavors to preserve his own being except from the laws of his own nature, it follows firstly that the basis of virtue is in the very conatus to preserve one’s own being, and that happiness consists in a man’s being able to preserve his own being.  Secondly, it follows that virtue should be sought for its own sake, and that there is nothing preferable to it or more to our advantage, for the sake of which it should be sought. 


[Material not assigned—P19-31.  ]


(b) Propositions 19-31: As A. Robert Caponigri notes, “here we find sketched that model of the good life, the life according to man’s nature....”[33] 


168 *28. The mind’s highest good is knowledge of God, and the minds highest virtue is to know God. 


(c) Propositions 32-73 and Appendix: here Spinoza discusses both solitude, society, and the free man:


170 32. In so far as men are subject to passive emotions, to that extent they cannot be said to agree in nature. 


171 35. In so far as men live under the guidance of reason, to that extent only do they always necessarily agree in nature. 


173 37. The good which every man who pursues virtue aims at for himself he will also desire for the rest of mankind, and all the more as he acquires a greater knowledge of God. 


-174-175 In the Scholia to this proposition Spinoza discusses piety, honor, and man in the state of nature as contrasted with man in civil society.  The discussion is an excellent spot to speak of his ethical and social-political thought (one of his primary purposes in writing, after all). 


187 *59. In the case of all actions to which we are determined by a passive emotion, we can be determined thereto by reason without that emotion. 


188 61. Desire that arises from reason cannot be excessive. 


189 *62. In so far as the mind conceives things in accordance with the dictates of reason, it is equally affected whether the idea be of the future, in the past, or the present....it conceives under the same form of eternity or necessity. 


195 *73. The man who is guided by reason is more free in a state where he lives under a system of law than in solitude where he obeys only himself. 


-Scholium: “...every man who is guided by reason aims at procuring for others, too, the good that he seeks for himself....his prime endeavor is to conceive of things as they are in themselves and to remove obstacles to true knowledge, such as hatred, anger, envy, derision, pride, and similar emotions that we have noted.  And so he endeavors, as far as he can, to do well and to be glad.... 


(d) Appendix:


The Appendix to Part IV provides a more discursive discussion of the “right way of living”—it offers a general discussion of the central topics of this part organized in a “non-geometrical” manner.  It is important to note, especially given my emphasis in the lectures on Spinoza’s metaphysics, that his prime motivation in philosophizing (see the section in the introduction regarding his motivation) is to affect how individuals live! 


196 ...it is of the first importance in life to perfect the intellect, or reason, as far as we can, and the highest happiness or blessedness for mankind consists in this alone.  For blessedness is nothing other than that self-contentment that arises from the intuitive knowledge of God.  Now to perfect the intellect is also nothing other than to understand God and the attributes and actions of God that follow from the necessity of his nature.  Therefore for the man who is guided by reason, the final goal, that is, the highest Desire whereby he strives to control all the others, is that by which he is brought to an adequate conception of himself and of all things that can fall within the scope of his understanding. 


A man is bound to be a part of Nature and to follow its universal order; but if he dwells among individuals who are in harmony with man’s nature, by that very fact his power of activity will be assisted and fostered.  But if he be among individuals who are by no means in harmony with his nature, he will scarcely be able to conform to them without a great change in himself. 


200 But human power is very limited and is infinitely surpassed by the power of external causes, and so we do not have absolute power to adapt to our purposes things external to us.  However, we shall patiently bear whatever happens to us that is contrary to what is required by consideration of our own advantage, if we are conscious that we have done our duty and that our power was not extensive enough for us to have avoided the said things, and that we are a part of the whole of Nature whose order we follow.  If we clearly and distinctly understand this, that part of us which is defined by the understanding, that is, the better part of us, will be fully resigned and will endeavor to persevere in that resignation.  For in so far as we understand, we can desire nothing but that which must be, nor, in an absolute sense, can we find contentment in anything but truth.  And so in so far as we rightly understand these matters, the endeavor of the better part of us is in harmony with the order of the whole of Nature. 


Part V. Of the Power of the Understanding or Human Freedom:


In his “Introduction,” Elwes maintains that:


the means whereby man may gain mastery over his passions, are set forth in the first portion of the fifth part of the Ethics.  They depend on the definition of passion as a confused idea.  As soon as we form a clear and distinct idea of a passion, it changes its character, and ceases to be a passion.  Now it is possible, with due care, to form a distinct idea of every bodily state; hence a true knowledge of the passions is the best remedy against them.  While we contemplate the world as a necessary result of the perfect nature of God, a feeling of joy will arise in our hearts, accompanied by the idea of God as its cause.  This is the intellectual love of God, which is the highest happiness man can know.[34] 




201 I pass on finally to that part of the Ethics which concerns the method, or way, leading to freedom.  In this part, then, I shall be dealing with the power of reason, pointing out the degree of control reason has over the emotions, and then what is freedom of mind, or blessedness.... 




(a) Propositions 1-20: On the Power of reason:


203 1. The affections of the body, that is, the images of things, are arranged and connected in the body in exactly the same way as thoughts and the ideas of things are arranged and connected in the mind. 


204 *3. A passive emotion ceases to be a passive emotion as soon as we form a clear and distinct idea of it.   

-As noted above (in the discussion of Part III), A. Robert Caponigri maintains that: “the grand commanding line of these [later] books [of The Ethics] moves from Proposition I of Book III in an unbroken arch to Proposition III of the Fifth Book.”[35] He contends that this extended passage traces “...the path to the blessed life; each book is devoted...to a stage of that way.  In its most general outline, this path leads by way of the passions to dominance of the passions by the one supreme passion, the intellectual love of God.  In like manner, it may be described as the path from slavery to the passions to the mastery of life which only passion can give when it is directed to the all-encompassing good which is God.”[36] 


-Corollary: so the more an emotion is known to us, the more it is within our control, and the mind is the less passive in respect of it. 


-204-205 *Scholium: ...everyone has the power of clearly and distinctly understanding himself and his emotions, if not absolutely, at least in part, and consequently of bringing it about that he should be less passive in respect of them.  So we should pay particular attention to getting to know each emotion, as far as possible, clearly and distinctly, so that the mind may thus be determined from the emotion to think those things that it clearly and distinctly perceives....it is one and the same appetite through which a man is said both to be active and to be passive.  For example, we have shown human nature is so constituted that everyone wants others to live according to his way of thinking.  Now this appetite in a man who is not guided by reason is a passive emotion which is called ambition, and differs to no great extent from pride.  But in a man who lives according to the dictates of reason it is an active emotion, or virtue, which is called piety.  In this way all appetites or desires are passive emotions only in so far as they arise form inadequate ideas, and they are accredited to virtue when they are aroused or generated by adequate ideas.  For all desires whereby we are determine to some action can arise both from adequate and from inadequate ideas. 


210 15. He who clearly and distinctly understands himself and his emotions loves God, and the more so the more he understands himself and his emotions. 


17. God is without passive emotion, and he is not affected with any emotion of pleasure or pain. 


-Compare and Contrast with proposition 35 below! 

212 *Scholium to 20: “with this I have completed the account of all the remedies for the emotions: that is, all that the mind, considered solely in itself, can do against the emotions.”  Spinoza offers a brief review of the remedy. 


(b) Propositions 21-31: here Spinoza says that he discusses “...matters that concern the duration of the mind without respect to the body.”  A. Robert Caponigri more helpfully notes, this section “...concerns the formal structure...of that blessedness...which proves to reside in the intellectual and eternal love for God….”[37] 


214 *25. The highest conatus of the mind and its highest virtue is to understand things by the third kind of knowledge. 


216 *Scholium to 29: we conceive things as actual in two ways: either in so far as we conceive them as related to a fixed time and place, or in so far as we conceive them to be contained in God and to follow from the necessity of the divine nature.  Now the things that are conceived as true or real in this second way, we conceive under a form of eternity, and their ideas involve the eternal and infinite essence of God.... 


(c) Propositions 32-42 (end): A. Robert Caponigri maintains that this section is “...without a doubt one of the most exalted passages in the whole literature of philosophy, [it] may best be conceived as a hymn to this culmination of human life and substance of its liberty, this...intellectual love of God.”[38] 


217 *32. We take pleasure in whatever we understand by the third kind of knowledge, and this is accompanied by the idea of God as cause. 


-** Corollary: from the third kind of knowledge there necessarily arises the intellectual love of God (amour Dei intellectuais).  From this kind of knowledge there arises pleasure accompanied by the idea of God as cause, that is, the love of God not in so far as we imagine him as present but in so far as we understand God to be eternal.  And this is what I call the intellectual love of God. 


*33. The intellectual love of God which arises from the third kind of knowledge is eternal. 


218 Corollary to 34: ...no love is eternal except for intellectual love. 


35 God loves himself with an infinite intellectual love. 


-Compare and Contrast with proposition 17 above! 


218-219 *36. The mind’s intellectual love towards God is the love of God wherewith God loves himself in so far as he is infinite, but in so far as he can be explicated through the essence of the human mind considered under a form of eternity.  That is, the mind’s intellectual love towards God is part of the infinite love wherewith God loves himself. 


-219 Corollary: ...God, in so far as he loves himself, loves mankind, and, consequently, that love of God towards man and the mind’s intellectual love towards God are one and the same. 


221 40. The more perfection a thing has, the more active and the less passive it is.  Conversely, the more active it is, the more perfect it is. 


**42. Blessedness is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself.  We do not enjoy blessedness because we keep our lusts in check.  On the contrary, it is because we enjoy blessedness that we are able to keep our lusts in check. 


-** Scholium: ...the wise man, in so far as he is considered as such, suffers scarcely any disturbance of spirit, but being conscious, by virtue of a certain eternal necessity, of himself, of God and of things, never ceases to be, but always possesses true spiritual contentment. 




Assorted Critiques of Spinoza:


1. In her Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions, Martha Nussbaum offers an interesting criticism of Spinoza’s notion of “intellectual love of his deity:”


the diagnosis of our therapists [Plato, Spinoza, and Proust] can now, however, be questioned.  For they all begin with an understanding of love that derives from a picture of infantile helplessness and the infantile wish for omnipotence—that sees the wish of love in terms of the restoration of totality and a “Golden Age” needless state.  We might say that they express what we have called pathological narcissism: for they long for complete control over the world, and they refuse to abandon that wish in favor of more realistic human wishes for interchange and interdependence.  Their characterizations of what human life is like are distorted by their wish, for they see only agony and misery wherever there is incompleteness and lack of dictatorial control, only the disgusting wherever there is a body going its own way.  Rather than learning to live in a world in which every lover must be finite and mortal, the contemplative lover finds marvelously ingenious devices to satisfy the desires of infancy—deploying, to remarkable effect, the wonder and curiosity that are so prominent in a human infant’s initial makeup.  Rather than renouncing the wish for totality in favor of a more appealing human wish, this lover has continued to be motivated by infantile omnipotence and has for this very reason had to depart from a world in which the infant’s wishes can never be satisfied. 

  None of my three normative criteria can be satisfied, so long as the ascending lover continues to hold onto omnipotence, or complete control of the good, as a goal.  Reciprocity requires a willingness to live alongside others who are equal, and this means a willingness to admit limits to one’s own control of good things.  One cannot hate the very fact of another person’s uncontrolled existence and still live with others on terms of reciprocity and justice.  Compassion typically involves seeing oneself as one among others, similarly vulnerable, with similar possibilities for worldly misfortune.  One cannot have compassion for others if one is unwilling to acknowledge the reality and the salience of another human life alongside one’s own.  And, as Proust admits, seeing the particularity of another truly and clearly requires a stance that does not try to incorporate or swallow that other particular, the stance of one who is willing to live in a world where there are agencies external to the self that go on being the way they are.[39] 


2. In his A History of Philosophy v. 4, Frederick Copleston maintains that:


one great difficulty about this theory, however, is that of seeing how any logical deduction of Natura natura is possible, unless the initial assumption is made that substance must express itself in modes; and this is precisely the point which ought to be proved, not assumed....But it is difficult to see that it follows even from Spinoza’s definitions that substance as he defined it must have modes.  On the one hand he started with the idea of God.  On the other hand he knew very well by experience, as we all know, that finite beings exist.  In developing a deductive system he thus knew in advance the point of arrival, and it seems probable that his knowledge that there are finite beings encouraged him to believe he had achieved a logical deduction of Natura natura.”[40] 


Copleston also offers a version of one of the most common criticisms of Spinoza as follows:


...even if we grant that to know an effect adequately involves knowing its cause, it does not follow that the causal relation is akin to the relation of logical implication.  But the point is that Spinoza appears to have regarded the assertion of this affinity as something clearly true and not as a mere assumption or hypothesis....[41] 


3. In his “Spinoza,” Alasdair MacIntyre offers this criticism maintaining that:


…Spinoza has no clear theory of entailment, of logical necessity, or of analytic truth.  These are notions upon which he habitually relies without ever passing beyond formulations which blend Cartesian references to clarity of conception with scholastic phrases of the “in itself” and “through itself” variety.  Yet unless a clear meaning can be assigned to the notions of a relation which is both causal and logical, Spinoza cannot hope to identify clearly the terms of this relation.  His use of the word “idea” helps him avoid clarity at this point.  Sometimes an “idea” appears to be a proposition, sometimes a concept, and sometimes a concept or proposition as it is entertained in thought.[42] 


4. In his Bacon to Kant: An Introduction to modern Philosophy, Garrett Thompson offers several additional criticisms as follows:


against Spinoza, we might argue that it is possible to conceive of and know something without knowing its cause.  One way to substantiate this would be to claim that causation should be distinguished from logical implication.  Another way to argue this would be to deny that ideally the concept of anything must involve its cause. 

  Second, Spinoza defines substance as an independent existent; his Rationalism interprets the word independent so strongly that nothing but Nature as a whole counts as independent.  We could argue against this by challenging Spinoza’s definition of substance as something that is an independent existent.  An alternative definition of substance could be this: substance is that which has properties but is not itself a property.  This alternative definition does not imply that substances must be independent.  According to this alternative definition, ordinary finite objects can count as substances, even though they are not independent. 

  Next, we must examine Spinoza’s assumption that everything must have a complete explanation.  This might be portrayed as a demand that we make of the world: we expect the world to behave rationally such that every event can be explained.  But even if this demand or expectation is coherent, there is no guarantee that it will be met.  There is no logical guarantee that the world will conform to this expectation.  Moreover, Spinoza holds an especially strong form of the principle that everything must have a sufficient cause.  For example, he claims that, if God does not exist, then there must be some cause for his nonexistence.[43] 



Notes: [click on note number to return to the text for the note]

[1] The notes below have citations from two different translations: The Ethics in The Chief Works of Benedict de Spinoza, trans. R.H.M. Elwes (N.Y.: Dover, 1955), and Spinoza, The Ethics, in The Ethics, Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect, and Selected Letters, trans. Samuel Shirley (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992).  The classic secondary text here is Harry Wolfson’s The Philosophy of Spinoza: Unfolding the Latent Processes of His Reasoning [1934], (N.Y.: Schoken, 1969)—in two volumes of about 400 pages each, Wolfson tries to give his reader an understanding of Spinoza’s The Ethics and his thought in general. 

[2] Stuart Hampshire, Spinoza (Harmonsworth: Penguin, 1967), p. 35.  Emphasis added to passage. 

[3] Harry Wolfson, The Philosophy of Spinoza, op. cit., p. 63.  The citation to Aristotle is to his Metaphysics, XIII.  Cf.  the whole of Wolfson’s Chapter III. 

[4] Stuart Hampshire, Spinoza, op. cit., pp. 31-32. 

[5] A. Robert Caponigri, A History of Western Philosophy: Philosophy from the Renaissance to the Romantic Age (Notre Dame: Univ. of Notre Dame, 1963), pp. 210-211.  Emphasis is added to the passage twice. 

[6] I have provided headings for sections of the text which are based upon those employed by a variety of scholars.  These are indented to help the reader impose additional order upon the text to aid understanding. 

[7] Ibid., p. 213.  Emphasis added to passage. 

[8] According to Dictionary.com, a scholium is: “a note added to illustrate or amplify, as in a mathematical work” [accessed on 02/18/2010]. 

[9] R.S. Woolhouse, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz: The Concept of Substance in Seventeenth-Century Metaphysics (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 44.  Woolhouse quotes here from The Collected Works of Spinoza v. 1, trans. and ed. E.M. Curley (Princeton: Princeton U.P.), p. 70. 

[10] Cf., William Earle, “The Ontological Argument in Spinoza,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research v. 11 (1951), pp. 549- 554.  The essay is reprinted in Spinoza: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Marjorie Grene (Garden City: Anchor, 1973), pp. 213-219.  It is on reserve in the Green Library. 

[11] Cf., Edwin Curley, Behind the Geometrical Method: A Reading of Spinoza’s Ethics (Princeton: Princeton U.P., 1988), pp. 9-30. 

[12] Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy v. 4 (Garden City: Image, 1963), p. 232. 

[13] Cf., Shirley’s comments in his “Translator’s Preface” to his Ethics, Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect, and Selected Letters, op. cit., p. 25. 

[14] Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy v. 4, op. cit., p. 219. 

[15] That is, “about the deity.” 

[16] That is, about “the blessed life.” 

[17] A. Robert Caponigri, A History of Western Philosophy, op. cit., p. 218. 

[18] Ibid., pp. 215-216. 

[19] Ibid., p. 218.  Emphasis added to the passage. 

[20] Ibid., pp. 219-220. 

[21] Ibid., p. 217.  Emphasis added to passage. 

[22] Ibid., p. 223. 

[23] Ibid., p. 224.  Emphasis added to passage. 

[24] Benedict Spinoza, A Theologico-Political Treatise [1670, anonymously], in The Chief Works of Benedict de Spinoza v. 1, trans. R.H.M. Elwes [1883], op. cit., p. 6. 

[25] A. Robert Caponigri, A History of Western Philosophy, op. cit., p. 224. 

[26] R.H.M. Elwes, “Introduction,” op. cit., p. xxvii. 

[27] As our translator, Samuel Shirley, notes in a footnote to this proposition, Harry Wolfson’s discussion of ‘conatus’ is helpful here—cf., Harry Wolfson, The Philosophy of Spinoza v. 2, op. cit., pp. 195-202. 

[28] Ian Hacking, “Minding the Brain,” The New York Review of Books v. 51 (06/24/04), pp. 32-36, p. 35. 

[29] Harry Wolfson, The Philosophy of Spinoza v. 2, op. cit., pp. 208-210. 

[30] R.H.M. Elwes, “Introduction,” op. cit., pp. xxvii-xxviii. 

[31] Ibid., p. xxviii. 

[32] A. Robert Caponigri, A History of Western Philosophy, op. cit., p. 228. 

[33] Ibid., pp. 227-228. 

[34] R.H.M. Elwes, “Introduction,” op. cit., pp. xxviii-xxix. 

[35] A. Robert Caponigri, A History of Western Philosophy, op. cit., p. 224. 

[36] Ibid., p. 223. 

[37] Ibid., p. 234.  Emphasis added to passage. 

[38] Ibid.  Emphasis added to passage. 

[39] Martha Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 2001), pp. 524-525.  Emphasis is added to the passage three times. 

[40] Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy v. 4 (Garden City: Image Books, 1963), p. 232. 

[41] Ibid., p. 218. 

[42] Alasdair McIntyre, “Spinoza,” in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy v. 7, ed. Paul Edwards (N.Y.: Macmillan, 1967), p. 535. 

[43] Garrett Thompson, Bacon to Kant: An Introduction to modern Philosophy (3rd edition) (Long Grove: Waveland, 2012), pp. 63-64. 

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Last revised on: 11/07/2014