Spinoza Notes

Lecture I of VII on Spinoza’s Ethics Part I: Monism, God, and Freedom

Neven Knezevic Simon Fraser University nevenk@sfu.ca

February 14, 2016


In this first of seven lectures on Spinoza, we will briefly cover his life and thought, the aim of the Ethics and its geometric approach, and we will briefly survey the main themes of Part I of the Ethics, which is on God, Substance, Freedom, and Necessity. Much of this survey will borrow from the late Timothy Sprigge’s work The God of Metaphysics. Sprigge, an idealist and contemporary thinker, had a closer affinity to Spinoza’s thought than many Spinoza scholars, and it is my opinion that in terms of scholarship, an affinity of thought lends to stronger understanding than a difference of thought, for there are nuances an outsider won’t see that an insider will know all too well. The ultimate insider for idealists is Sprigge, and The God of Metaphysics provides a wonderful introduction to Spinoza’s monism and pantheism.

1 Spinoza’s Life and Thought

Benedito (Portuguese short form, Bento; Hebrew, Baruch; Latin, Benedictus) de Spinoza was born on the 24th of November, 1632 in Amsterdam to a Portuguese-Jewish family. Even in his early years Spinoza was a bright young boy and was slated to become a Rabbi in his community. However, the young Spinoza had to cut his religious studies at the age of seventeen in order to help out with his family’s business. Nevertheless, Spinoza would continue to study for the rest of his life. He was well-read and renowned for it, and had affiliations with many important artists, politicians, and intellectuals of his time. Spinoza’s penchant for outspokenness and independent brought him into conflict with the Jewish community in Amsterdam, culminating in his excommunication from the Jewish community in July of 1656, when he was only twenty three years old. After his excommunication, he remained religiously unaffiliated for the rest of his life. To mark his turning-away from his former community’s dogmatism, Spinoza adopted his Latin name, Benedictus, and never looked back. He would forge ahead with a religious outlook and conception of the world distinct not only from Christianity and Judaism, but also from every philosopher and theologian before or after his time. Spinoza made his living as a lens grinder, which provided modest means but would eventually lead to his early death from dust inhalation at the age of forty four, on the 21st of February, 1677. Despite his short-lived life, his originality, uniqueness, political outlook, and intellectual brilliance would carry his name into the annals of history forever after.

Many of Spinoza’s works remained unpublished in his time, and his radical political and religious outlook meant that whatever he could publish under his name wouldn’t draw any unwanted harm to himself. His more honest and radical works would be published ei- ther anonymously or posthumously. The infamous Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (TTP) was published anonymously in 1670 and would preempt his magnum opus, the Ethics. Spinoza denied practically every cherished religious notion in his day. His conclusions wrote off the divine status of the scriptures, denied the possibility of miracles, denied the categorical immortality of the entire soul, and confined the status of religious laws to social laws relevant only to their time. For Spinoza, the true religion was ’inscribed in men’s hearts’ and not in holy books1, and the laws of God were sub specie aeternitatis: they were eternal and necessary, and couldn’t possibly partake in the contingency of our world. The prophets and all religious authorities were divinely inspired, and viewed this divine inspiration through the lens of their time, which meant that all religions were effectively out-of-date. The TTP made a valiant attempt at showing how an understand- ing of the Bible — rooted in reason — couldn’t possibly justify religious intolerance and dogmatism.2 The true religion, however, was accessible only to reason, and while it was to be inferred from the scriptures, it could only be reconstructed through our very own reason. As a result of these views, the TTP was referred to as ’a book forged in hell’. The Tractatus would be the principal work which would affiliate Spinoza forever more with atheism, although his true religious outlook was much more subtle. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that Spinoza must have thought of himself as the prophet of reason, who wished to deliver to the world a true religion which reflected the ultimate nature of God and the universe in a manner that is beyond the limitations of his place in society and history.

2 The Aim of the Ethics

With a name like ’Ethics’, one would expect Spinoza’s work to be focused squarely on how we should live our life, but instead what we initially see is a first-rate work of metaphysics, developed in an incredibly rigorous fashion. Thus, on the surface, a name like ’Ethics’ would be a misnomer if it were not for Spinoza’s intentions behind the work: Spinoza believed that there is no real understanding of how we should live if we aren’t aware of the true nature of the Universe and our place in it. In short, the Ethics aims to be an ultimate theory — a metaphysical theory of everything — that gives us the means to understand what is meant by the best, how we should live, and how we can come to terms with our minds and our passions.

The Ethics begins from first principles and outlines the nature of God and the fun- damental substance, then proceeds to a theory of mind which delineates the emotions, passions, and their structure and properties, and finishes with an account of what it means to be free and how we should act in order to realize the highest good in ourselves and in society. We might see Spinoza as being a very sophisticated analogue of the earlier Stoics in that Spinoza’s universe consists of a rationally comprehensible ultimate reality, where every action of ours is determined insofar as it is a part of a single, deterministic process, and where we stand to gain if we recognized this fact and adjusted our lifestyles accordingly. Given that, for Spinoza, all effects necessarily follow from the properties of the one fundamental substance — God or Nature — it means that we must accept that even our passions are necessary as well, and we haven’t anything to be ashamed of for what nature has given us. There are no evil passions or sins, but merely misunderstood and misused natural impulses. For Spinoza, the ultimate good is philosophical and ratio- nal contemplation, and everything else is in service of this good. Our ethical goal, then, is to harness our present state and consider it in relation to ultimate reality, and to live our lives in such a way as to better conceive ultimate reality and to help others in doing so as well.

3 The Geometric Approach

A ’geometric approach’ to philosophy was something sought after by philosophers all the way back to Proclus, who wrote his Elements of Theology in a fashion like Euclid’s Ele- ments. This ’geometric approach’ of Euclid’s Elements is a formal system which begins with intuitively self-evident principles, called axioms or postulates, and with definitions. Definitions include only what is to be treated in the system at hand, and nothing more because otherwise one would be able to sneak in new assumptions at will, thus compro- mising the reliability of the system. The definitions and axioms are combined according to rules of inference (which in Euclid are implicit), and the result is a theorem. New definitions may be made out of previous ones, and one can produce new theorems out of previous theorems as well. Given the pervasiveness of Euclid’s Elements in mathematical instruction throughout the Renaissance period and beyond, it was understandable that intellectuals of the time wanted an approach combining the rigour of Euclid’s Elements with the flexibility and insight of philosophical language.

It was Descartes who first gave the ’geometric approach’ impetus when he published his systematic Principles of Philosophy, which presented Cartesian epistemology and metaphysics in condensed form. While the Principles was a very formal work for its time, it fell short of the ideal in Euclid’s Elements, and Spinoza was convinced he could do better. In addition to knowing Euclid’s Elements as well as anybody else in his time, Spinoza was a competent scholar of Descartes, having published a treatise on Descartes’ Principles long before setting out on the Ethics. Thus, Spinoza began his magnum opus with axioms and definitions, and combined them together to form proofs for each of the propositions and corollaries in his work. Explanations and scholia serve to clarify certain propositions and corollaries, allowing crucial points to be more closely considered as one progresses through the work. It was for this reason that Spinoza’s Ethics is sometimes referred to as a ’crystal palace’ of logical and rational beauty, and there are even websites devoted to exploring Spinoza’s approach.3

As an aside, in modern logic, this ’geometric approach’ to philosophy doesn’t work very well since it relies on very intuitive notions that allow for a mixing of form and content, and one can’t be sure that every conclusion rigorously follows from the premises. Spinoza lived long before logicians produced the logical systems we’re familiar with today, and no analyses of completeness and soundness to connect syntax and semantics existed in Spinoza’s time. Close parallels between Spinoza’s ’geometric approach’ and formal systems are to be found in contemporary intensional logics rather than extensional ones, since many metaphysical positions can’t be reduced to discrete referents, but only to intrinsic properties. Works similar to the approach of the Ethics exists today, such as those of Nino B. Cocchiarella4 and Edward N. Zalta5, but with clarifications made with regards to intensional semantics and to soundness and completeness. It’s also worthy to note that Euclid’s Elements is complete with respect to its own axiom schema, and, of course, different axiom schemas for geometry now exist. In short, the chief objections to Spinoza rest not within his system, but question the types of axioms and definitions he chooses to use since, of course, different axioms and definitions produce radically different conclusions. But how much one would like to doubt the intuitive self-evidence of Spinoza’s definitions is another story altogether.

4 Part I of the Ethics 4.1 Definitions and Axioms

The Ethics begins by listing a set of eight definitions and seven axioms, from which he will proceed to produce all of the following thirty six propositions that constitute Part I. The definitions and axioms are partly inspired by Cartesian and Scholastic thought, however the definitions and axioms are quite original and innovative in their own right, and the geometric approach also means that Spinoza will come to radically different conclusions than his predecessors.

Spinoza wrote his first three definitions with an emphasis towards aseity, or the self- contained and self-perpetuating nature of the bedrock of reality. Definition 1 says that whatever is self-caused is whose essence involves existence, and of which we cannot con- ceive without thinking of it as necessarily existing. Definition 2 exists to tackle the Cartesian interaction problem as well as the infamous Presocratic problem of how the fundamental substance — being unbounded and indefinite — comes to produce things with bounded and definite properties.6 Thus, with definition 2, something is ’finite in its own kind when it can be limited by another thing of the same nature’. This will mean that definiteness must come from the properties of the fundamental substance. Definition 3 seals the deal for aseity by saying that substance is ’that which is in itself and is con- ceived through itself’, and we don’t need to conceive of the substance through anything else but through itself.

Definition 4 delineates attributes or things we ’intellectually perceive’ as being an essence of substance8. It’s worthy to note that Spinoza doesn’t say cognize or conceive, but specifically means intellectually perceive. This, in conjunction with definition 3, will lay the ground for Spinoza’s rationalism. There are several ways to interpret Spinoza’s definition of attribute. One involves the ’subjective interpretation’, another involves an ’objective interpretation’, and a third mixes the two into an ’intermediate interpretation’. The subjective interpretation says that we never intellectually perceive the real part of an essence and all that we have are its attributes, which under this interpretation are subjective representations. The objective interpretation says that an attribute we intel- lectually perceive is a real part of an essence, and that an essence is a set of attributes of a substance. The intermediate interpretation says that attributes are not mere subjective representations, and that attributes are not real parts of the essence. Rather, any one attribute is one of many different ways of intellectually perceiving an essence, and each attributeisonewayofrepresentingtherealessencebehindit.9 Theimportanceofwhich interpretation to choose will become more acute when Spinoza presents his argument for there being only one substance.

Definition 5 introduces modes of a substance, which in modern terms might be thought of as being analogous to allotropes observed in chemistry, or the solid-liquid-gas phases of an element. Importantly, everything contingent in the universe will be a mode, for all that we have in Spinoza’s system is a substance and its modes.10 Definitions 6 through 8 de- lineate what Spinoza means by God, freedom, and eternity. God is an infinite substance, having infinite attributes, and each attribute will have an infinite and eternal essence. Spinoza’s conception of freedom will constitute one resembling a liberty of spontaneity, or the freedom to act out of one’s own internal accord and without external coercion. Interestingly, Spinoza’s idea of eternity will mean anything that necessarily follows from an eternal thing, which would make Spinoza’s substance eternal, meaning Spinoza’s uni- verse will have no beginning and no end, implying that the Biblical Genesis would be an allegory, and nothing more.

Spinoza’s axioms are just as interesting as his definitions, and anybody who has learned modal logic would find the axioms have very familiar notions embedded through- out. His definitions are laden with metaphysical approaches to epistemic access, and serve to delineate notions of conceivability, membership and relation, truth, and causa- tion. Axiom 1 delineates membership and relation, by saying that anything which exists, exists either of its own accord or on the basis of something else. Axiom 2 is in effect an epistemic spin-off from axiom 1, and it dovetails nicely with definition 3: whatever cannot be conceived through any other thing can only be conceived through itself. Axiom 3 lays the basis for Spinoza’s causal determinism and necessitarianism by presenting the familiar notion that from any cause there comes an effect, and there can’t be an effect without a cause. Axiom 4 spins off just like axiom 2 did with 1, by saying the knowledge of an effect depends on the knowledge of the cause. Axiom 5 establishes a notion of difference and inconceivability by establishing something that’s roughly like a transposition of axiom 2: whatever has nothing in common with something else can’t be used to conceive of that other thing. Axiom 6 establishes truth via correspondence, but, importantly, it will be seen that axiom 6 in conjunction with the intellectual perception established in definition 4 will mean that we have direct cognitive access to practically anything. Axiom 7 looks to definition 1 and establishes contingency, namely that whatever can’t be thought of as not existing will mean that thing’s essence doesn’t involve existence, and hence it may possibly but not necessarily exist.11

4.2 Spinoza’s Rationalism

With these definitions and axioms set forth, one might wonder just what sort of moti- vations inspired these daring thoughts. Spinoza was a died-in-the-wool rationalist, like his contemporary Leibniz, and his predecessor, Descartes. That is, Spinoza believed that reason is the true basis for knowledge; that the intellect is distinct from the senses and can cognize things independently of the senses; and that any explanatory theories must, then, begin from rational justification rather than observation. Spinoza, however, takes things further than Descartes by saying that we have the possibility of gaining adequate and perfect knowledge of God and Nature, and that our minds are capable of grasping God’s ’eternal and infinite essence’.12 As Spinoza establishes that there can only be one substance, it will become evident from the definitions and axioms that whatever we can conceive has to be through that substance, and so it follows that we can directly conceive of substance in itself and that the truth of our idea agrees with its ideatum.13

The reason why we can know things for certain, and are endowed with the ability to — at least potentially — intellectually perceive the whole of nature is because we are a part of a substance endowed with intellectual properties. That is, the universe is a single substance that knows itself through itself. Finally, we even have an interesting but distinct relation to Kant’s critical philosophy: human minds are only able to access two attributes, namely infinite physical reality and infinite mind. However, there are also an infinite number of other attributes, not necessarily inaccessible to other types of minds. Were Spinoza to have said that we can only know the attributes that the properties of our minds allow us to know and we could know nothing else, then he’d come very close to Kant’s position. Of course, Spinoza affirms not only the possibility but the reality of having knowledge of transcendent things, and his entire system depends on this.

4.3 The One Substance: God or Nature

Spinoza is, by all accounts, a monist, a theist, and a compatibilist about free will. He’s often been described as the arch pantheist, and while this may be so, his form of pantheism is distinct from any other: philosophers might claim him as the perfect pantheist because of his incredible consistency of views, and this has helped to earn him a place as being an archetype to compare other pantheists to. His charge of pantheism comes out of his conclusions on the single substance: substance is God or Nature. Yet it’s also important to remember that other forms of pantheism — such as those found in religion — are far more organic, prone to inconsistencies, and have been much more pervasive in human society than Spinoza’s ideas. Spinoza’s God is a God far different from any other God as well: it is synonymous with the one fundamental substance; his God is a perfect, transcendent unity — eternal, necessary, and the active principle of the universe. This God is not fickle, cares not for nitpickings, and since God is perfectly rational, this God doesn’t send anybody to hell or direct men to sacrifice their sons. And while God may be perfectly free, all his actions are also necessary, and our freedom is only the result of necessity. In modern terms, he’s a necessitarian about free will and we’re completely determined beings in this system. All of Spinoza’s metaphysical conclusions about God and substance come from his definitions and axioms, and his account of free will follows from these conclusions. While we won’t go into great detail about Spinoza’s arguments for the unity of substance or the existence of God, we will briefly survey them as each argument fleshes out interesting metaphysical conclusions for other parts of his system.

Spinoza’s one substance — termed God or Nature — is an eternal, necessary, and primal ’stuff’. It is immaterial, and neither material nor mental, making Spinoza the first neutralist. This substance has infinite attributes, and every attribute has infinite essence, and there are infinitely many modes to this substance as well. The root for the material part of this substance is physical extension, and the root of the mental substance is infinite mind — a set of attributes that look back to Descartes’ Res Extensa and Res Cogitans. Extension and intellection are simply one of many attributes this substance has, and two of the main attributes which human minds can access. For Spinoza, what exists ’out there’ is just one substance and its modes. Even our contemporary periodic table wouldn’t classify as distinct substances for the Spinozist, but rather elements and all fundamental particles would be modes of this fundamental substance.

Following after the medieval philosophers, Spinoza believes that a substance is to be identified by its haecceity or ’thisness’, which means we have to look for what a substance essentially is, rather than what state it is in or what it is doing at any one time.16 In this way, we can’t distinguish a substance by its modes any more than we can distinguish two people solely by their attitudes, since if we were doing this, we’d have to also commit to the possibility that those two attitudes might belong to the same person, and that we’re just conceiving of the same person in different times.17 Thus, nothing may distinguish a substance from another except by its essence and its attributes. But since two substances can’t have the same essence, since a substance is just its essence, we are left with the conclusionthattwosubstancescan’thaveanattributeincommon.18 Now,ifanattribute is simply a way of conceiving a substance, then we’re led to conclude that either there are infinitely many substances as there are attributes, or there is one substance. Spinoza, however, thinks that two substances cannot have one attribute in common without having all of them in common. Since an attribute is a way of conceiving an essence, we are conceiving one essence when we perceive an attribute, and thus we cannot conceive of two essences with one attribute.19 Given the above, Spinoza’s conclusions only hold of an attribute is a way of conceiving an essence. In this way, we can rule out the objective and subjective interpretations of attribute, since the former would allow for multiple substances, while the latter fails to account for cognitive access. Hence the intermediate interpretation of attributes, which we covered above, would hold better given Spinoza’s conclusions.

Spinoza’s proofs of the existence of God are instructive as to the nature of Spinoza’s single substance. In proposition 11, Spinoza lays down three proofs to show that God — as a substance comprised of infinite attribute, with each attribute having infinite essence — exists necessarily.21. The first proof is very quick, going by a reductio ad absurdum that would entail that essence does not involve existence for God, but since God is substance, that would be absurd. But why should we feel compelled to accept all of the properties which Spinoza has predicated of his substance? Spinoza took it for granted that for every thing in existence, there is an idea of that thing, and hence there would be an infinite mind.22 Sprigge says that it’s possible that for Spinoza, one may have an idea of any arbitrary number of attributes, and since there are infinite attributes, there would have to be something that has an idea of this as well, and since all things in existence have an idea, there has to be a mind which has this idea: an infinite mind.23

However unconvincing this may be, Spinoza has several more proofs of God as well. The second proof introduces what Leibniz would later call the Principle of Sufficient Reason, and the proof starts out by stating that, ”For every thing a cause or reason must be assigned either for its existence or non-existence.”24 There are some things that exist, and some things that don’t exist, and the reasons for this are that there are internal contradictions preventing that thing from coming into existence — such as a square circle — while there are other things that don’t have these internal contradictions but the processes to produce them simply never came about. This parallels what Leibniz would term compossibility, or compatible possibilities. But there can be nothing that would annul God’s existence, hence, God necessarily exists. It’s worth noting that the first and second proofs depend on God being identical with substance — these proofs would be useless if God were transcendent from any substance, such as with Catholic or Hindu conceptions of God. The third proof is a an a posteriori proof from the power of God, namely that non-existence is absolute weakness and necessary existence is absolute power, and since God is perfect and absolutely infinite, it follows that God exists.

An interesting aside is made in the scholium of proposition 27, namely the distinction between Natura naturata and Natura naturans.26 Natura naturans, or naturing nature, is comprised of the attributes expressing eternal and infinite essence. This means that natura naturans is something akin to the active principle in the universe, hence why it is called naturing nature. Natura naturata, or natured nature, is everything that follows from the necessity of the nature of God, and from every one of God’s attributes and modes. Natura naturata is everything that is produced by the active principle. This scholium is worthy to assess before proposition 29, since it clarifies the difference between the necessary and contingent world. For Spinoza, as he says at the end of proposition 29, there is no contingency27, and hence everything is necessary. Natura naturata necessarily follows from natura naturans, and this means that we have no freedom insofar as it is freedom of indifference, which is the ability to have done otherwise.

Rather than being an outright determinist and negating the existence of any free will at all, Spinoza is instead a compatibilist about free will. That is, Spinoza believed that free will and deterministic causal chains are compatible, provided that there is some definition of free will compatible with determinism. Indeed, Spinoza accepts a definition of freedom known as the liberty of spontaneity, or the freedom to act out of one’s own internal compulsion rather than external coercion.28 All this is evident from definition 7. In proposition 32, corollary 1, God is said not to act from ’freedom of will’, but this is the freedom of will which would be deemed as capable of contingency. Like everything else, God is a necessary being and all that God acts upon is what it is necessitated to do out of its own nature, and hence God in this way is not free. But God is also the most free, namely that it is only God which can act completely and entirely out of its own accord. Thus, for Spinoza, free will occurs in degrees, with God being the most free insofar as God can act completely out of its own internal compulsion, and everything else — being a mode of God — acts out of an internal compulsion necessitated by God.

5 Conclusion

This concludes our broad survey of Part I of Spinoza’s Ethics and his life and thought. Spinoza’s philosophy and his theology has forward-looking implications in that he sought to foster tolerance and rational thought along with an acceptance of our own natures and drives. He argued for a God unlike any other, and for a conception of freedom that remains popular even to this day. Spinoza dared to know, and as a rationalist he dared to think that we can know anything and everything — if only we were sufficiently rational. It’s a pity that this survey couldn’t cover Part I of the Ethics in any greater detail, but it’s also my hope that this will inspire closer reading of the Ethics by the reader. These are, after all, baby steps into the great crystal palace of Spinoza’s rationalist ontology.

Lectures II & III of VII on Spinoza’s Ethics Part II: Spinoza’s Account of the Mind and His Epistemology

Neven Knezevic Simon Fraser University nevenk@sfu.ca


In this second of seven lectures on Spinoza, we will cover Part II of the Ethics and survey Spinoza’s account of the mind and his epistemology. As in our previous lecture, we will give a detailed survey of a small subset of propositions in the Ethics, and we will briefly look through the main aspects of this section. We will look at Spinoza’s account of mind-body parallelism and its relation to his rationalism; the foundations of his philosophy of mind; his account of the motions of bodies and the way in which this builds upon the mind’s awareness of the body; Spinoza’s account of truth and error and of adequate and inadequate ideas; Spinoza’s three types of knowledge; and the basis of his psychology of the body as it will relate to Part III.

1 Introduction

Known also as ‘On the Origin and Nature of the Mind’, Part II endeavours to describe how the mind and body qua attributes of substance run in parallel, and how this serves as the basis for a theory of knowledge. Spinoza had an eye towards Descartes when he composed Part II of the Ethics, because Spinoza sought to resolve the interaction problem by developing a theory of mind-body parallelism rather than mind-body dualism. Spinoza is sometimes referred to as the double-aspect theorist: that is, he had an ontology founded upon a single substance with two irreducible properties, thought and extension. Though he should be more correctly called a multiple-aspect monist, since Spinoza said that God has infinite attributes, and only two of which are available to humans. Thus, thought and extension are two ways of conceiving the same thing, namely God or Nature. Were the human mind powerful enough, it could have infinite ways of conceiving the same thing. Nevertheless, two attributes is enough for Spinoza to build up a stunningly detailed account of mental and physical perception, of how the mind knows the body, and of truth and adequate ideas, and as a result, an account of error, of volition, and a taxonomy of knowledge. Spinoza’s Part II, while focusing on a philosophy of mind, has as its main goal the establishment of an epistemology to surpass that of his predecessor, Descartes. In this, Spinoza seemed to have succeeded, and in the following sections we will see just how he accomplished such a feat.

2 Definitions and Axioms

As in Part I, Spinoza establishes a set of definitions and axioms in order to proceed with his deductions. One might think that Spinoza cannot derive the conclusions of Part II without adding these new definitions and axioms, since the ones in Part I only concern the most basic metaphysical doctrines. Again, it needs to be emphasized that adding new definitions and axioms often means that the basic premises are insufficient to account for what Spinoza is aiming at: a complete theory of the universe, human psychology, and moral responsibility. Spinoza was acutely aware of this problem, and so he took the time to at least construct definitions and axioms that build upon the conclusions made in Part I. So, the extent to which the new definitions and axioms are ways of shortening his proofs rather than introducing new premises is worthy of closer attention.

Spinoza’s definitions build up a basis to account for bodies, perception, duration, and individuality. Definition 1 accounts for a body as being a finite and extended mode of God. Definition 2 has a certain intensional flavour, stating that we can’t conceive something without conceiving its essence. This is interesting because it means that we can’t simply treat an object as a simple name, but must also treat some object also in terms of its properties. While this was not explicit in Part I, Definition 2 makes this very explicit in Part II. In short, classes of objects cannot be nominal, but also have to be conceived of in terms of intrinsic properties. Definition 3 says that an idea is a mental act, and not merely a passive perception of mental objects, hence his use of conception rather than perception. The mind conceives of things that one might perceive, including conceiving of its conceptions, and so on. Definition 4 states that an adequate idea is one that has all the properties of an idea, namely one that is intrinsically true, and not true because of whatever else that idea may agree with. Note that this does not contradict Axiom 6 of Part I, since axiom 6 describes how a true idea must behave, not what a true idea actually is. Spinoza’s account of truth is far more complicated and will be dealt at length later in this paper. Definition 5 accounts for duration, namely that it is the “indefinite continuance of existing”. Definition 6 simply establishes that reality and perfection are the same thing. Spinoza’s account of perfection is multi-layered, though for reference it’s convenient to think of it in this context as being that which “exists and acts in a definite manner, without taking duration into account”. Finally, definition 7 states that an individual is just something with a finite and determinate existence. In other words, an individual is some single instance of a mode of substance which can be distinguished from another instance.

Spinoza’s axioms serve to lay the ground for human experiences of the body and to account for the dependence of human existence upon substance. Axiom 1 states that “The essence of man does not involve necessary existence; that is, from the order of nature it is equally possible that a certain man exists or does not exist.” It’s worthy to note that this does not contradict Spinoza’s previous statements of necessitarianism.

Spinoza is not saying that human life is not necessary, he’s simply saying that it doesn’t have necessary existence, which is an entirely different statement. Only substance in- volves necessary existence, and everything else is contingent insofar as it depends on the necessary existence of the one substance. Axiom 2 restates the cogito in a metaphysical manner instead of going at it after Descartes’ epistemological fashion. Axiom 2 should be self-evident given that a man is part of a substance that has the attributes of thought and extension — no radical skepticism is needed to reach this conclusion here. Axiom 3 states that modes such as our emotions are dependent on an object of that emotion, and that the minimally sufficient condition for such emotions is that we at least have an idea of what it is we’re drawn to. In other words, we don’t need to actually have anything more than our imagination to feel emotions. Axiom 4 is self-evident from experience, and can also be established a priori from the fact that humans are modes with bodies and sensory experiences thereof. Axiom 5 is a restatement of the attributes humans are capable of accessing. The axiom states that our human experience is only limited to bodies and modes of thinking, which follows clearly from the conclusions made in Part I.

3 Parallelism

Central to Spinoza’s system is his doctrine of attributes working in parallel with each other. Spinoza’s monist theory of substance, in conjunction with his parallelism, means that Spinoza has an answer to the Cartesian problem of interaction. Descartes, in positing two distinct substances, had the problem of resolving how two entirely separate substances can interact with each other at all. All manner of assumptions were marshalled to deal with with this problem, and Nicolas Malebranche was famous for using occasionalism to partially resolve the interaction problem. However the price of this was that free will would have to be sharply reduced, thereby exacerbating the problem of evil that Descartes — and later, Leibniz — attempted to resolve. Spinoza sidesteps these problems altogether: God or Nature is driven by pure necessity, and evil — which also would be part of Spinoza’s necessitarian doctrine — is merely a phase, and a result of nature. Human evils are a matter of poor priorities. More importantly here, Spinoza addresses the interaction problem head-on by stating that thought and extension — as well as any other infinite attributes which we may or may not have access to — all reveal the same one substance in different ways. This is a very clever solution because instead of positing multiple substances that are synchronized together by God, Spinoza says that one substance has multiple attributes working together in synchrony all out of necessity alone and no divine fiats. Of course, the difficulty here is answering the question as to what would be the sufficient reason for multiple attributes in the first place.

Spinoza opens up the propositions of Part II by stating that thought and extension are attributes of God. He says that God is a thinking thing, and that God is an extended thing. The latter statement was considered to be heretical in Spinoza’s day, since God was often considered to transcend matter, and to predicate matter as being an aspect of God would have been to identify God with the sinful nature of the body. Proposition 3 states that God has an idea of “both his essence and everything that necessarily follows from his essence.” In other words, God has an idea of itself and everything else.

Proposition 5 is interesting because it states that the formal being8 of ideas — i.e. ideas insofar as they exist as ideas — has only God as a cause, and God only insofar as God is a thinking thing. That is, God qua extended thing cannot be the cause of a thinking thing. This is another way of saying that attributes can only produce something of their own type of attribute, and can never produce something of another type of attribute. Proposition 6 adequately covers that problem of interaction of attributes.

Proposition 7 is probably the most explicit account of Spinoza’s rationalism: “The order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things.” This is easily one of the most important propositions in the Ethics because Spinoza will use it to develop his psychology as well as his epistemology. Spinoza writes that the proof of proposition 7 is evident from axiom 4 of Part I, which is to say that “[T]he knowledge of an effect depends on, and involves, the knowledge of the cause.” This doesn’t actually follow quite clearly, though axioms 2, 4 and 5 of Part I may help.

One might argue for Proposition 7 like so: since thought and extension are distinct, one cannot conceive of one through the other, by Ax. 5. That is, we can conceive of extension by our thought, but we cannot conceive of extension as we conceive of thought. Also, since God or Nature is the cause of everything and given that everything that exists necessarily follows from the one substance, we can conceive of the one substance by thought or extension, since they do not differ from the one substance, by Ax. 2. But if thought or extension differed from each other, then the one substance would differ from itself, which would be a contradiction given everything already established. Hence, thought and extension cannot differ from each other, and so they must represent the same thing, namely God or Nature.

This establishes Spinoza’s solution to the interaction problem: all attributes are per- fectly parallel to one another because they all represent the same one substance in different ways, and the agreement of two attributes is hardwired into them.

From here, Spinoza goes on to establish the ontological status of nonexistent things. Firstly, an idea of a nonexistent thing exists in God, from proposition 8. Next, ideas of nonexistent things exist only insofar as they can be ideas of existent things whereby some nonexisting state of affairs based off of existing ideas may be conceived of. Propositions 9-11 clarify the ontological status of ideas in human minds, in order to prepare one for on bodily motion and propositions 12-35 on bodily perception and the linkage of minds and bodies.

Prior to looking at his lemmata, we’ll briefly survey propositions 12 and 13. In proposition 12, we’re told that “Whatever happens in the object of the idea constituting the human mind is bound to be perceived by the human mind.” This is another way of saying that minds are capable of acute awareness of themselves and their perceptions,

and that the mind itself is an idea and anything occurring in the object of that idea is in the mind as well (as we’d expect it to be!). Anything that happens in the thing of which the mind has an idea of, then the mind will necessarily be aware of that as well.

Proposition 12 says that the only “Object of the idea constituting the human mind is the body.” Spinoza provides an a posteriori proof of this fact by reductio ad absurdum. He first demonstrates that the body is an object of the human mind, and then narrows it down to the only object. But why should this be so? Why can’t we have an object of the idea that constitutes the human mind as being something else? Well, given that humans are both thinking and extended beings, if we were merely thinking beings, then our perception of a human body is superfluous. However, the body is a key part of our human condition, and hence it is the object which constitutes our minds. It’s another way of saying that the mind and body are inextricably linked according to their own natures, and that this is what a human is made up of.

4 Lemmata on Bodily Motion

Spinoza’s segu ́e into the mechanics of bodies [read: physical objects, and not merely human bodies] may seem rather off, but in fact, Spinoza uses this aside to establish the fact that the way in which bodies mechanically interact will give a mechanical basis for describing our mental perceptions of bodies. This result is a critical step for Spinoza, as this will allow him to describe the cause of error as being rooted in bodily perceptions, thereby producing an epistemic account of error and truth rooted in metaphysics. Unlike Descartes, who posited error as the result of one being able to will more than what the intellect can correctly deduce, Spinoza produces an epistemology based off of the mixed interaction of reason and bodily perceptions. In this way, Spinoza is unique in that he uses his parallelism to develop a theory of truth and knowledge, and all of this began from simple Cartesian assumptions and rules of inference. Spinoza was convinced that should one agree with the axioms and definitions in Part I, then everything else will logically follow, including his rationalist epistemology.

Spinoza puts together a brief series of lemmata concerning how bodies move and how they affect each other. These lemmata would have been noncontroversial for his time. He introduces some axioms that easily sum up the mechanistic science of his day, and one can see the influence of Cartesian science and of the mechanics developed by other scientists such as Galileo and Kepler. Axioms 1 and 2 delineate the motion of bodies, namely that they are “in motion or at rest”, and that they “can move at varying speeds”. Lemma 1 states that bodies can be distinguished from each other by their motion, but not according to their substance, since they’re one substance. Lemma 2 states that bodies “agree in certain respects”16, which is to say they are part of one and the same attribute, namely extension. Spinoza also says that bodies may be absolutely in motion, or absolutely at rest, as well as moving at whatever speed. These statements are evidently inconsistent with today’s physics, though the first lemma still might have some promise.

Lemma 3 says that every body in motion or at rest has been determined to motion or rest by some other body, and that that body which determined said body to motion or to rest was determined by another antecedent body, and so on. Since Spinoza’s universe is infinitely old, this statement is not problematic, though for current physics it may be so. The corollary to lemma 3 states that bodies conserve their energy until they are affected by another body.

Spinoza introduces two more axioms to deal with elastic and inelastic collisions, and then proceeds to lemma 4 where he argues that if a composite body has its member bodies switched for other bodies of the same type, then the composite body retains its nature and there are no changes to its form. This is Spinoza’s way of addressing the infamous paradox of the Ship of Theseus. The paradox states that if a ship had all of its wood replaced by new wood, would it still be the same ship? Spinoza says that, yes, the form of the ship would stay the same and the composite body would “retain its nature as before.” Lemmas 5, 6, and 7 elaborate the nature of bodily motion in this manner by saying that composite bodies are conserved through changes in their proportion and unified motion as long as all the bodily relations comprising the composite body are preserved.

Spinoza’s account of bodily motion gives him the mechanistic ground to describe how human bodies are affected and changed and how the mind perceiving them will register those changes. This lets him unite parallelism with mechanism, as we will see in the next section.

5 Perception of Mind and Body & Account of Error

Spinoza’s statements on the mind-body parallelism and error constitute nearly twenty propositions, so we won’t have the space to cover them all in significant detail. We’ll only cover the main points, since there are many propositions which don’t need any explanation beyond the proof given.

Spinoza opens his principal section on mind-body parallelism with six postulates, each of which can be easily inferred from the preceding premises. Postulate 1 is interesting in that it’s very consistent with modern anatomy and cell biology: “The human body is composed of very many individual parts of different natures, each of which is extremely complex.”18 Postulates 2 and 5 describes the parts of the body in terms of their phases and their hardness, while postulate 3 says that bodies are affected by external bodies. Postulate 4 is quite akin to a rationalist description of metabolism. Postulate 6 should be self-evident. However, from these relatively basic statements and Spinoza’s existing premises, Spinoza will develop some counterintuitive results, which is something which we should come to expect of him by now.

Spinoza begins proposition 14 by stating that the human body can perceive a “great many things”19, and that the human mind can perceive as many things as the states the body can take. He uses proposition 12 — that the mind is aware of the object that constitutes it — as a means to conclude the following: “[T]he human mind must

perceive all that happens in the human body.” Not only does Spinoza say the mind perceives everything that happens, but proposition 12 also means that the mind is aware of everything that happens. This is crucial: for Spinoza, there isn’t a strictly personal unconscious mind — what we’re not aware of are the events outside of us. We might say that Spinoza thinks that we’re conscious (read: aware) of everything that happens in our body qua sensation, and that we also have an idea of this as well and are aware of it, but are aware of it confusedly.

Proposition 16 is also seemingly innocuous, namely that the affection of the human body by an external body involves the nature of both bodies. The corollaries state that we perceive the natures of other bodies as well — and hence we can perceive external objects — and that the affections of other bodies tell us more about the constitution of our bodies. In other words, we know more about how our body responds to the affections of external objects than we come to know the external objects themselves.

Proposition 17 states that we regard a thing as actually existing when it is present to our bodies, until that thing is no longer present. The corollary states that our minds can think of external bodies as present when they’ve affected our minds, “even if they do not exist and are not present.” What this means is that we can’t be sure on the account of our senses that some object we’ve experienced once is still in existence — it could very well be gone! Spinoza here is driving at the psychological fact that the mind forms habits, and that it doesn’t need much to become mistaken about the world around it.

In the scholium to proposition 17, we have a nice account of imagination, bringing us smoothly into Spinoza’s account of error. Spinoza says, “Further, to retain the ter- minology, we will assign the word “images” to those affections of the human body the ideas of which set forth external bodies as if they were present to us, although they do not represent shapes. And when the mind regards bodies in this way, we shall say that it “imagines”. ... [T]he mind does not err from the fact that it imagines, but only insofar as it is considered to lack the idea which excludes the existence of those things which it imagines to be present to itself.” In other words, imagination isn’t a faulty faculty, but it’s our judgment of things we imagine to exist which leads us to false conclusions, and that judgment is primarily the result of a lack of information.

Proposition 18 and its scholium give an account of memory: when we’re “affected by two or more bodies at the same time, when the mind afterward imagines one of them, it will straightaway remember the others, too.” Memory, for Spinoza, is the result of a conjunction of affections, and our recollection capacity is the ability to remember this conjunction. We establish habits of linking imaginations of affections together, and so our memories are sets of associations we’ve made from sensory inputs. But what of mental perceptions? Spinoza thinks that the linking of ideas in the intellect is an entirely different matter, since we intellectually perceive according to their first causes. In other words, the linking of ideas is a rational process and not just a set of associations. Thus, Spinoza distinguishes strongly between memory and rational thought, going so far as to exclude rational thought from his standard definition of memory.

Proposition 19 argues that the human mind only knows the body through the ideas of the affections the body undergoes. So, while the mind is aware of the body, it doesn’t know the body. This implies awareness is not sufficient for knowledge. The proof follows since the body is the object of the mind, and whatever one perceives is what one considers as actually existing. Hence if we had bodies but no affections, we wouldn’t be aware of our bodies. However, the knowledge of everything that constitutes the body and maintains it happens to be in God. By the last sentence of corollary 11, any idea that is in God insofar as God perceives things other things is to say that the human mind cannot perceive those other things adequately, hence the human knowledge of the body is inadequate.

Proposition 21 states that the idea of the human mind, which is in God, is just as much a part of the human mind as is the body. In the scholium Spinoza says that, “For in fact the idea of the mind—that is, the idea of an idea—is nothing other than the form of the idea insofar as the idea is considered as a mode of thinking without relation to its object.”. In other words, the mind can treat itself as its own object, including the thoughts that have an object outside of it. If we have knowledge of something, we have an idea of that knowledge, and hence we can also have knowledge of the idea that we have knowledge. The significance of this statement is that if we know something, we know that we know that thing, hence knowledge is reflexive. Rationalists generally agree that knowledge has to be reflexive, because if the intellect is on its own sufficient to have an understanding of the world, then one has to have reasons for justifying that fact and the easiest way to do so is to argue from epistemic reflexivity.

Propositions 23 through 27 drive home the idea that minds don’t have indefeasible and substantial knowledge of the body and its affections. Namely, we can be aware of our body and its affections and have ideas that we are experiencing an affection, but we don’t know the fine structure of it all solely on that basis alone. Proposition 28 follows up on this and says that the affections of the human body are not clear and distinct, but only insofar as they relate to the human body. In the proof, Spinoza references the fact that God has an adequate idea of the component parts of the human body, but not because of God’s being affected by the human mind, but rather through “other ideas” that are not part of the idea of the human mind. In other words, if God looked at affections of the human body through the lens of the human mind, God wouldn’t see them adequately, but God has other ways of perceiving these very same affections. Propositions 29-31 explicate this in more detail.

6 Truth, Adequate and Inadequate Ideas, and Knowl- edge

In the scholium to proposition 29, Spinoza transitions into his account of knowledge and adequate ideas by saying that the mind has only a “confused and fragmentary knowledge” when it is determined by external affections. However, when the mind is “conditioned internally”, then it has clear and distinct ideas, even of its own body. In other words, we have inadequate knowledge only when we consider ideas in their relation to our bodily affections as well as in relation to whatever else determines us from outside. However, when we reason about things on our own, we can develop adequate knowledge. Later, we’ll see how this also fits nicely with Spinoza’s account of freedom in terms of reason.

In the corollary to proposition 31, Spinoza outright states that “all particular things are contingent and perishable.” There is nothing wrong with the translation: in the original latin it very plainly says, “Hinc sequitur omnes res particulares contingentes et corruptibiles esse.” This might seem to fly in the face of his necessitarianism, namely that all truths are necessarily true. However, Spinoza accounts for contingency epistem- ically, which is quite innovative. Namely, there lies buried in here a distinction between epistemic and alethic necessity. For Spinoza, we can’t have adequate knowledge of par- ticular things external to us (proposition 31), and we have “inadequate knowledge of the duration of our body.” That is to say, because we have no adequate knowledge of particular things external to us, nor do we have knowledge of their duration, they are con- tingent insofar as they can be known by the human mind through the body. He outright says that there is “no other kind of contingency.” So, while all truths are necessarily true, states of affairs — however true they may be outside of us — are contingent to our minds.

The account of truth begins with proposition 32 by stating that “All ideas are true insofar as they are related to God.” So, whence comes falsehood? In proposition 33, we’re told that there is no “form or error of falsity”29 in any idea. In 34, any idea that is adequate and perfect is a true idea, and that such an idea is adequate and perfect only “insofar as God constitutes the essence of our mind.” So an adequate and perfect idea is the idea qua formal being, which is metaphysically understood from first principles by understanding how we’re constituted by God. Truth, in other words, is a metaphysical state of affairs and concerns formal reality. Ideas qua their objective reality have truth, but this truth is incomplete. In proposition 35, Spinoza says this outright, namely that falsity “consists in the privation of knowledge”, but that there is no absolute privation (i.e. an absolute incompleteness). The body, for instance, doesn’t err, but rather it’s the mind’s judgment which errs by relying on incomplete ideas.31 In proposition 36, Spinoza goes so far as to say that “[T]here are no inadequate or confused ideas except insofar as they are related to the particular mind of someone.”

The veracity of knowledge (shared knowledge of some state of affairs) is established through propositions 37 though 39, but through a holism rather than an agreement be- tween epistemic agents. This begins in proposition 37 when Spinoza writes, “That which is common to all things and is equally in the part as in the whole does not constitute the essence of a thing.” The next proposition gives us the veracity of knowledge of general ideas, namely that whatever is common to everything can be known only adequately. This means that general patterns relating to bodies, minds, and any other state of affairs will also be adequately conceived. Proposition 39 narrows down this fact to human bodies upon the condition that the general idea in the human body is shared by all other external bodies. These propositions give us a basis for the adequacy and truth of universals, mechanism, and as a consequence, scientific knowledge based on the same.

Proposition 40 establishes a fairly classical notion: “Whatever ideas follow in the mind from ideas that are adequate in it are also adequate.”. In other words, if A is an adequate idea, and if we can derive B from A, then B is also an adequate idea. In the scholium to this proposition, “transcendental terms” are also given an analysis in terms of metaphysics and epistemology, namely that words like “entity” or ”thing” are the result of the mind imagining many bodies “confusedly and without distinction, and will comprehend them, as it were, under one attribute, namely that of entity, thing, etc.” So, were Spinoza to encounter predicate logic used for describing everyday objects, he’d think of it as a way of studying patterns of terms resulting from confused perceptions.

In the second scholium to proposition 40, the types of knowledge are established according to the above conclusions, and it follows a scheme almost exactly as that of Plato’s analogy of the divided line from the Republic. Spinoza collapses the first two parts of the divided line — pistis or doxa, and eikasia — into a single category. Knowledge of the first kind, which Spinoza calls opinion and imagination, is knowledge based upon individual objects or from symbols. From individual objects we perceive confusedly and inadequately, and from symbols such as words and pictures, we form ideas based on what ideas or memories the symbols arouse in our minds. Knowledge of the second kind comprises “common notions and the adequate ideas of the properties of things.” Knowledge of the third kind he calls “intuition”, and it is everything which “proceeds from the an adequate idea of the formal essence of certain attributes of God.”

In propositions 41 and 42, it’s made clear that knowledge of the first kind is the cause of error, while knowledge of the second and third kind is infallible, and that the latter two are what grant us the ability to distinguish true from false. Proposition 43 states that anyone who has a true idea knows that he knows a true idea, and this follows from the reflexivity of truth. In the scholium, we see that if one has a true idea, then they are absolutely certain that they have it, and that truth is its own standard.

As a result of these conclusions, Spinoza states in proposition 44 that reason by its very own nature perceives things truly, and hence necessarily, thereby establishing in full his necessitarianism. He also goes on to conclude in the corollary and its scholium that contingency is all in our imagination. As a result, even time qua duration is also all in the imagination as well since it’s just the result of differences in one motion relative to another. However much this theory of time holds is another story. In the second corollary, we see his infamous statement about reason made plain: “It is in the nature of reason to perceive things in the light of eternity.” In other words, reason deals only in immutable and eternal things, and measures everything else against this ground. The following propositions, namely 45 through 47 establish the adequacy of our knowledge of God.

Thus, we can see here that Spinoza accomplished no small undertaking. He has given a very detailed account the mind and the body, and of the way in which we come to know both, and how our knowledge of both can be either adequate and inadequate. We’ve seen an account of truth, falsity, and the distinguishing of true ideas from false ones in terms of adequate ideas and the types of knowledge.

7 Volition

Spinoza has already set forth his definition of freedom and his necessitarianism in Part I, namely that freedom is acting from the necessity of one’s own nature. That is, one is free if they are self-determined and not determined to act by another, and is also determined to action by oneself alone. In the scholium to proposition 35 of Part II, we’re told that “Men are deceived in thinking themselves free, a belief that consists only in this, that they are conscious of their actions and ignorant of the causes by which they are determined. Therefore the idea of their freedom is simply the ignorance of the cause of their actions.” And yet, our freedom consists in acting out of the necessity of our being, which for Spinoza is acting according to our knowledge of the third kind.

In proposition 48, we’re told that “In the mind there is no absolute, or free, will.” We’re determined to act from cradle to grave by an inexorable chain of cause and effect. The proof already follows from Spinoza’s existing premises so it needn’t be covered in detail except for the fact that Spinoza has concluded that we haven’t an “absolute fac- ulty of willing and nonwilling.” In the scholium, Spinoza clarifies that by free will he means “the faculty of affirming and denying, and not desire.” In other words, what we encounter as affirming or denying is actually the result of acting upon desires.

Proposition 49 clarifies this, saying that we haven’t a categorical capacity to affirm or deny things, but rather we affirm or deny particular things based upon our desire for each of them. Moreover, volition is an idea, and that whatever it is we affirm or deny, it is based upon whatever said idea involves. To clarify this, Spinoza uses the example of a triangle in his proof. He says that we can’t affirm that the three angles of a triangle are equivalent to two right angles without involving the idea of a triangle and vice versa. Affirmation, then, is intensional. However, Spinoza’s proof might seem to run into a snag: at the end he says “And what I have said of this volition (for it was arbitrarily selected) must also be said of every volition, namely, that it is nothing but an

idea.” Extensionally, his proof would be faulty because he generalized from a particular instance and not an arbitrary instance. Intensionally, it can be argued that any idea involves intensional content, so his proof holds.

In the corollary to proposition 49, he then argues that “Will and intellect are one and the same thing.” Since will and intellect consist of volitions and ideas, and since any particular idea and volition are identical, then will and intellect more broadly are identical. This is an interesting metaphysical point to make, and wouldn’t be seriously touched upon in philosophy until the 19th century with Eduard von Hartmann’s synthesis of Schopenhauer and Hegel, whereby will is in effect unconscious reason, while reason is conscious will. Naturally, Spinoza doesn’t imply this.

In the scholium Spinoza addresses some objections and argues against them. The first objection is on the basis of the Cartesian account of error: namely that the will and intellect are not co-extensive because the will can assent to things that are outside the scope of the intellect. On the basis of this, will and intellect can’t possibly be the same. But Spinoza says that this would only hold if the intellect consisted of clear and distinct ideas, but if the intellect is nothing more than the faculty of conceiving, then it can’t be said the will is of a greater scope at all.

The second objection is formed on the basis of experience, namely that we can suspend judgment on things we perceive, ergo we are deceived not because we perceive but because we affirm or deny that perception. Spinoza outright denies any freedom to suspend judgment, and that suspension of judgment is simply another perception, and not an act of free will. He says that no matter what we imagine, we’re not in error, and by the corollary to proposition 17, whatever may be present to us we regard as existing. So even if we have a dream of a fictitious creature, and we suspend judgment about the fictitious creature’s existence in the dream, we are able to suspend judgment not on the basis of will, but on the basis of that fictitious creature being connected to an idea that prevents our assuming said creature really exists. But if the fictitious creature was the only thing we’ve ever known, then of course we’d regard it as really existing. Suspension of judgment, then, is the result of a connection between ideas, and not an arbitrary choice of what we should consider real or not.

The third objection involves another difference between will and intellect, namely no affirmation is more powerful than another, and that we can with equal measure affirm as true either true or false things. This would mean that our capacity to distinguish true or false and our ability to affirm them as either true or false is distinct. Spinoza says that, no, affirmations do differ based upon the idea they are tied to. Universally, the will applies to everything equally, but every act of willing is different from every other. A physicist might compare this to the fact that things don’t need to be locally in equilibrium in order to be globally in equilibrium.



The fourth objection is that if a man has an equally strong desire between two things, then he will never be impelled to act on either of those two things.57 If we accept this state of affairs, then humans are very impaired indeed. If we reject this, then humans are able to arbitrarily choose. However, Spinoza bites the bullet and says that, no, a man in such a state would really remain prevented from acting on either of the two desires.58

We conclude with the final statement of Part II, namely that the given results establish the first ethical conclusions of Spinoza’s system: one, we learn that we act solely based upon God’s will; two, that we should be indifferent to fortune and misfortune; three, that we should practice universal tolerance and acceptance; and four, that we should be governed in such a manner as that we are encouraged to freely do what is best.59

8 Conclusion

This concludes our lecture of Part II of Spinoza’s Ethics. We have seen here how Spinoza builds upon the first principles and propositions of Part I to produce a new set of princi- ples, helping him to argue more thoroughly for his conclusions in Part II. Spinoza proposes a mind-body parallelism to resolve the interaction problem, and from this parallelism he builds up a rationalist epistemology. In broad terms, this epistemology is indeed a work- ing theory, though of course it depends strongly on his given assumptions. Spinoza also builds up a positive account of error, whereby error in itself has no existence and that all ideas are true in God, but that a fallible human mind perceives such ideas badly, thus encountering errors in reasoning. Spinoza also gives another brief account of volition, albeit so that he can both distinguish himself from the Cartesian error theory and also so that he can establish a normative ethical account of behaviour later. Part II leaves us with an anticipation of what to expect in Parts IV and V, though the next lecture will focus on the critical bridge into those sections: Spinoza’s psychological theory.

Lecture VII of VII on Spinoza’s Ethics Part V: Spinoza’s Account of Freedom

Neven Knezevic Simon Fraser University nevenk@sfu.ca


In the final lecture on Spinoza’s Ethics, we will make a brief overview of Part V of Spinoza’s Ethics, which is titled, ‘Of the Power of the Intellect, or of Human Freedom’. In Part V, Spinoza ties up all of the threads from the previous four parts in order to create an account of freedom in terms of his second and third kinds of knowledge. As we have seen in Spinoza’s account of the emotions, there are emotions which are based on adequate ideas and others which are based on inadequate ideas. Of the latter, they may be said to be the experience of our deter- mination by external and not internal causes. According to Spinoza, a transcendent understanding of the world provides one with deep and sublime emotions capable of overcoming these externally conditioned affections, and it is by this understanding that we find our freedom. Thus, we will survey Spinoza’s accounts of emotions, con- cepts, knowledge, and the power of knowledge over the emotions as it is presented in Part V, with specific attention to propositions 4, 6, 10, 25, and 39.

1 Introduction

Spinoza’s account of the all there is has turned on several major ideas, namely those of freedom qua liberty of spontaneity, of transcendent knowledge, of inadequate and adequate ideas, and affections rooted in said ideas. Out of these basic concepts, we got notions of the conatus, of virtue, of goodness and badness, and of which emotions are good, bad, and neither. Spinoza’s universe is, really, a simple one comprising of a single substance with infinite attributes, two of which we can access — namely, the physical and mental attributes. This single substance has infinite modes, and an individual human is one such mode. There are a myriad of sorts of modes, but what is important is that they a have conatus or tendency to persist in their own being.

However, given that we are modes and that we are causally determined by the world around us, how can we ever be said to be free, or eternal? Spinoza says that we are free when we have adequate ideas, or, ideas which reflect the true nature of the universe. The eternal part of our soul, the part which gives us our freedom, is also the part that is comprised of adequate ideas. In other words, if God or Nature is the most free thing

there is, then we are free by virtue of our similarity to God or Nature. But since we are a part of God or Nature, then our freedom is really a matter of self-similarity. We are causally active — as opposed to passive — and free and eternal insofar as we have little fragments of God or Nature within us. This is, in essence, Spinoza’s vision and the main drive of his points, and he was convinced that his vision was entirely rooted in reason.

Part V, then, is Spinoza’s account of how one may develop or come to know this self-similarity with God or Nature. Spinoza believed that the accomplishment of this was to be had by using the power of emotions to overcome our passive nature.1 Although the emotions were by and large passive, there were active and indeterminate emotions, and these may be had by way of adequate ideas. To Spinoza, the ultimate set of adequate ideas rests in knowledge of the second and the third kinds. Knowledge of the second kind is the set of ‘common notions and adequate ideas of the properties of things’2. Knowledge of the third kind is an ‘intuition’ of the ultimate nature of reality. By developing such types of knowledge, Spinoza says that we also end up having powerful, active emotions which can overcome other passive emotions, and thus allow us power over ourselves. Thus, Part V is an account of freedom in these emotional-epistemological terms.

2 Axioms

Spinoza’s main goal will be to demonstrate a relationship between concepts and emotions whereby concepts may evoke active emotions more powerful than other powerful passive emotions. Propositions 1-24 concern themselves with this. To begin, we have two axioms, and the first of which says that ‘If two contrary actions are instigated in the same subject, a change must necessarily take place in both or in the one of them until they cease to be contrary’.3 This is simply to say that there cannot be two contradictory actions in one same person, though ‘subject’ here is more broadly construed to just mean any conatus. By contraries, Spinoza means actions that are fundamentally contradictory, not just one having a desire for two things one cannot have, or some such other state of affairs deemed by today’s colloquial usage of the word.

Axiom 2 says that ‘The power of an effect is defined by the power of the cause insofar as its essence is explicated or defined through the essence of its cause.’4 This is simply to say that the essence of a cause determines the strength or causal influence of its effects. This should be fairly straightforward. The main purpose of both axioms here is in their use for propositions 7 and 8, which is to establish the power of reason’s active emotions over passive emotions. Indeed, if the essence of reason qua adequate ideas is reflective of God or Nature, it should be obvious that by these axioms, the power of the emotions that occur with reason are going to be stronger than other emotions.

3 Emotions and Concepts

Propositions 1 effectively restates Spinoza’s position that the order of ideas is the same as the order of things, though he emphasizes affections. He is saying that there is a one-to-one relationship between affections, thoughts, and physical objects. Proposition 2 says that if we are to remove something affecting us towards love or hatred, then we also remove the emotions that depend on said love or hatred. This is to say that love and hatred play foundational roles, and so if we remove the foundation, the rest of the ‘structure’ built on top of said foundation also disappears—love and hatred supervene on other passive emotions. Proposition 3 says that a passive emotion is no longer a passive emotion when we develop a clear and distinct idea of it; that is, as soon as we develop adequate knowledge of our own emotions, then said passive emotion becomes an active emotion. In other words, for Spinoza, self-awareness is the key to power over oneself.5 AlreadywearebeginningtoseethedirectionofSpinoza’swork:wemaydevelop adequate ideas of our own emotions and thus gain power over them, and we can develop said adequate ideas through Spinoza’s a priori reasoning.6 The rest of the lecture will primarily focus on the core propositions and skip over the rest.

Proposition 4, one of the core propositions of Part V, says that ‘There is no affection of the body of which we cannot form a clear and distinct conception.’7 The proof is rather straightforward: since what is common to all things can only be conceived of adequately, we also know that affections of the body are common to all things. Looking back to Propositions 12 and 13 in Part II, we can see that whatever object of the idea we have of what constitutes the mind will necessarily be in the mind, and that the object of such an idea is the body.8 So, the idea of whatever constitutes us will necessarily be in our minds, and we may make such ideas clear and distinct. This is somewhat at odds with Proposition 24 of Part II, where Spinoza says that we cannot have adequate knowledge of the component parts of the body.9 Of course, one is not having adequate knowledge of the component parts so much as they are having adequate knowledge of the affections of the component parts. But since affections are in one-to-one correspondence with ideas, and since affections are mental things, Spinoza’s logic runs into a bind here: affections and ideas would have to be two distinct types of objects in the realm of mental attributes, but then what should they have in common? If affections are a type of idea, then this problem is seemingly resolved, but then there would be the contradiction that one can and cannot have adequate knowledge of the component parts of the body through the affections of said component parts. 

Proposition 6 is the core of Spinoza’s argument for why we can overcome passive ideas. Proposition 6 says that, ‘Insofar as the mind understands all things as governed by necessity, to that extent it has greater power over emotions, i.e., it is less passive in respect to them.’10 The proof says that since our minds understand all things to be governed by necessity and since these things are determined by an ‘infinite chain of causes’, it apparently follows that ‘[T]he mind succeeds in becoming less passive to the emotions that arise from things’11 which are determined by such causes. The latter follows from proposition 48 of Part III, which says that the love or hatred toward something is diminished when we become aware of the chain of cause and effect which resulted in said thing. An illustration of this would be to say that we are angry when we notice a pinecone fell on our head, associating the pinecone immediately with the malevolent act of someone throwing it at us, until we look up and saw that it fell from a tree, which drops pinecones by virtue of its biology, which has evolved over many millions of years to do so, etc. This is also the gist of Spinoza’s scholium to proposition 6.

Proposition 10 says that ‘As long as we are not assailed by emotions contrary to our nature, we have the power to arrange and associate affections of the body according to theorderoftheintellect.’12 ThisisanalmostPlatonicorgnosticpropositioninsofarasit says that we can arrange our affections according to the ‘order of the intellect’. By order of the intellect, Spinoza means to say that we may use logical deduction to re-arrange our emotions based on the logical form related to the essence of said emotions. In this way, we can also arrange emotions according to knowledges of the first, second, and third kinds.

Finally, propositions 11-14 order our ‘mental images’ or representations (emotions are of such a type) according to the number of their relations, and according to the type of relation, namely whether or not such a relation has clarity and distinctness.13 Emotions which are related to more things tend to engage more often in the mind, while emotions may also be more ‘readily associated’ with things which we clearly and distinctly understand. We may thus also relate all of our affections to the idea of God, and also relate said emotions to our intuitions of God, and thus to knowledge of the third kind.14

4 Types of Knowledge and Their Powers

Given Spinoza’s connection between virtue and adequate ideas, Spinoza will also seek to demonstrate a connection between adequate knowledge and emotion, thereby delivering his final and ethical conclusions to this otherwise metaphysical system. Propositions 25-42 concern themselves with virtue insofar as it is rooted in knowledge of the second and third kind. The primary way in which knowledge of the second and third kind is the key to freedom for Spinoza depends on ‘intellectual love’ of God. In propositions 15, Spinoza says that the more we understand our emotions, the more we love God, and this in turn results in our even more clearly and distinctly understanding oneself and one’s emotions.15

Proposition 16 says that this love is ‘[B]ound to hold chief place in the mind.’16 Knowledge of the third kind, namely an intuition of God or Nature’s ultimate reality, happens to also bring about this intellectual love. Now, since this ‘intellectual love of God’ holds the most associations, when one develops this love, inevitably such a love overpowers all other emotions and thus brings one to develop more adequate ideas and active emotions.

Proposition 25 says that ‘The highest conatus of the mind and its highest virtue is to understand things by the third kind of knowledge.’17 The proof says that since the third kind of knowledge ‘proceeds from the adequate idea of certain of God’s [sic.] attributes to the adequate knowledge of the essence of things ... and the more we understand things in this way, the more we understand God.’18 Spinoza invokes proposition 28 of Part IV, namely that ‘The mind’s highest good is the knowledge of God, and the mind’s highest virtue is to know God.’19 Now, in the proof, we see why the ‘highest virtue of the mind ... is to understand things by this third kind of knowledge.’20 In other words, our highest virtue is to understand God, and the highest form of understanding we can have is by the third kind of knowledge, so therefore our highest virtue is to understand things by the third kind of knowledge, i.e. by transcendent intuition of God or Nature.

Proposition 26 says that the more we can understand things by the third kind of knowledge, the more we will want to understand things by the third kind of knowledge. Proposition 27 states that the third kind of knowledge gives us the ‘highest possible contentment of mind’.21 A more interesting proposition 28 tells us that we desire ‘[T]o know things by the third kind of knowledge’ not from the first kind of knowledge, but the second.22 Spinoza here says that knowledge of clear and distinct ideas can only bring knowledge of other clear and distinct ideas, so we cannot get knowledge of clear and distinct ideas from fragmentary ideas. In this way, attributes which are common to all things (i.e., knowledge of the second kind) will also be connected to other clear and distinct ideas, such as with knowledge of the third kind. This also implies that there are innate clear and distinct ideas, which we eventually develop awareness of; this is a common theme in all early modern rationalists.

Finally, proposition 37 states that ‘There is nothing in Nature which is contrary to this intellectual love, or which can destroy it.’ Given what Spinoza has said about contrary natures in oneself, and contrary actions, this type of love would seem to overpower and ‘re- order’ our affections according to the order of the intellect. Spinoza brings up proposition 33 as part of the proof, saying that since knowledge of the third kind is eternal, and since the love that arises from this knowledge is also eternal23, to have anything contrary to this love would be to have something contrary to the ultimate nature of the universe, which is impossible.24 Thus, by having adequate ideas, we may have access to knowledge of the third kind, and this knowledge of the third kind evokes an intellectual love of ultimate reality. This love allows us power over our other emotions and also allows us to ‘re-arrange’ our affections according to the order of the intellect, which is also the order of ultimate reality.

With all in place, Spinoza concludes in proposition 42 that ‘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.’25 For Spinoza, blessedness is love towards god, which, again is this intellectual love. Spinoza’s view of our power over our emotions and of virtue is much like that of Plato or Aristotle, and may be cast historically as a re-telling of their ethical doctrines, but in modified Cartesian terms. Spinoza finishes by realizing that his path is a difficult one, and that not everyone will be able to figure it out. His finishing line is a poignant testament to his knowing very well that this virtue of his is only ever accessible to a few, namely that ‘All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.’26

5 A Note on Life After Death

Spinoza brings up a few propositions in Part V which specifically concern themselves with life after death. Proposition 21, states that ‘The mind can exercise neither imagination normemorysavewhilethebodyendures.’27 Thisfollowsprimarilyfromthepropositions in Part II and the proof is unnecessary. Proposition 39 states that ‘He whose body is capable of the greatest amount of activity has a mind whose greatest part is eternal.’28 This is to say that the part of our souls comprising adequate ideas is eternal, so the more we are comprised of adequate ideas, the more we are eternal. The scholium to proposition 39 simply states that our goal is to live the fullest and most active life possible, though Spinoza makes no mention of life after death. It is assumed that Spinoza’s idea of life after death consists of something like static ‘bundles’ of adequate ideas which persist without emotion or memory, but which nevertheless enjoy a number of active and rather pleasant emotions. In a preceding proposition, namely P38, Spinoza says that the more adequate ideas we have in terms of knowledge of the second and third kind, the less we fear death.29

The closest religious approximation to Spinoza’s idea of the afterlife is that of Bud- dhism’s highest ‘cosmic’ planes, namely that of the ‘formless realms’, or of nirvana. How- ever, in Spinoza’s system, all beings comprising of adequate ideas exist in the afterlife, though their degree of being depends on the number of adequate ideas to be had. In this way, we could even think of this system as a happier version of the ancient Greek underworld, where shades never fade away, and instead of being in torment or lament, enjoy their active emotions accompanying their adequate ideas in varying degrees. 

6 Conclusion

Thus we wrap up our lectures on the Ethics. We have covered Spinoza’s metaphysics, his epistemology, his theory of mind, and his account of freedom in terms of his metaphysics, epistemology, and theory of mind. If there has ever been a model of the ideal of philosophy, it is Spinoza’s Ethics. Philosophers have long sought after a fully justified account of metaphysics, epistemology, and of psychology, and sought after conclusions which answer the question as to how we should live. In this condensed form, the Ethics was an attempt to answer such a question. Spinoza’s answer was that we should live in such a way as to strive to understand ultimate reality, and that our duty to our fellow human beings involved establishing the necessary and sufficient conditions which allow us all to attain such a striving. In all, he was not marked by a despair that no such condition may ever be reached, but rather by an optimism. One such interpretation of his optimism might do him some justice: even though we may not reach such a universal state of affairs, we should live as though we can, and work towards it regardless, for the betterment of both ourselves and everyone else. Although Spinoza may not have had the fullest justification to meet the rigours of philosophers then and now, he had nonetheless produced a marvel. Regardless of whether or not one agrees with Spinoza, the core of his message is one that has to rung true since the dawn of philosophy: that the good life is to be had in excellence, and that the path to excellence is to be had in seeking the ideal of knowledge in all things—especially oneself. 

Christopher Dzierzawa,
Feb 16, 2016, 2:52 PM
Christopher Dzierzawa,
Mar 15, 2016, 1:23 PM