Spinoza – the study into “Ethics” continued…
October 30, 2009
Earlier I drew on influences from Spinoza’s “Ethics” in “An Overview ~ Condensing Some Of The Ideas Discussed Thus Far…” as it raised some pertinent ideas surrounding our need to understand the world around us in order to develop a better ethical understanding about Life in general. Here, I would like to progress deeper into Spinoza’s ideas and set them against my own views so as to suggest why I agree (and disagree) with certain points that he raises.
Implicit in the medieval-Cartesian legacy is a philosophical theme that goes all the way back to Plato: psychological dualism. From Plato through Descartes man was conceived as a composite entity comprising both mental and physical substances. For Plato, most of the medievals, and Descartes, these two elements were radically distinct in nature and separable, especially after the decay of the body. And thus we have the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. From this pyschological dualism a moral dualism was developed: the soul has, by virtue of its superior and immortal nature, the function of governing the body, in particular of ruling over the latter’s passions. That reason hsas the power and duty to exercise this role was virtually an unquestionable assumption in philosophy from Plato through Descartes. Spinoza rejects this whol tradition.
To see why let us begin with Descartes, whom Spinoza chooses as his philosophical antagonist. Descartes bequeathed to philosophy a very strong form of psychological dualism that asserts the following:
1. Man consists of two radically different substances, mind and body.
2. Although distinct in nature these two substances are united into one individual.
3. Again, despite their dissimilarities, mind and body interact.
4. Reason has unlimited capacity to control direct passion.
Spinoza believes that all of these claims are false.
Consider Thesis I, which is the cornerstone of Cartasian theory of human nature. Even prior to Spinoza several of Descartes’ more acute readers realized that his psychological dualism was difficult sledding. The Princes Elizabeth of Bohemia quickly perceived that if two things are as unlike as Descartes claimed the soul and body are, how can they be said to be united and to interact? After all, if oil and water don’t mix, why should we expect th mind and the body to get together and get along with each other? It just doesn’t seem plausible. Descartes’ replies to the Princess were perfunctory of feeble, and many of Descartes’ contemporaries and immediate successors attempted to develop alternative accounts of human nature that would avoid the difficulties of Descartes’ version of psychological dualism.
I many ways I find this idea very important. Firstly, when something is so intergrated into a system, how can it be different? For example, if we have a computer and the body consists of a Hard Drive, a CPU, RAM, data busses, and the rest is made up of the basics i.e. a CD ROM, power transformer, chassé, etc… Are these components still not part of the whole that make up the “computer”? If we prescribe a notion that the Hard Drive, CPU and RAM are like the human mind, and the CD ROM, power transformer, chassé, etc is like the eyes, stomach and skin/bones, perhaps we can investigate this idea better. Let’s ask an important question… Without the bodily parts, will the machine function like normal? I would say no. If the chassé goes, then wires and internal components are exposed to the environment, thus meaning that the electricity flowing through the system can more easily earth against other objects in the surround environment… Or as dust builds up on the circuit boards, a shorting might also occur… Not to mention they might get knocked and broken as objects are dropped on them and liquid is spilt accidently. This, in many ways, is comparable to the human body. If we remove the skin, the internal organs will be left exposed to the world at large and thus they will suffer from more infections, get bashed and knocks more often, and even not function as well as they will not be kept as warm. The dermis is an integral part to both systems. Without all their parts these systems do not operate in the same way or manner. Thus… We can make a statement. If all parts are equally important to each system’s natural functioning, then all dualism really does is provide the observer with two distinct systems, which both have varying modes and aspects to them, contributing a healthy function to the whole. We shouldn’t prescribe more importance to one aspect of the whole, just because it seems to house the illusion of self… As this imbalances the equation. Without that balance, our thinking becomes unbalanced, and thus our “Ethics” also become biased and disconnected from reality. Our minds are the result of the system of a human body. The human body houses everything i.e. mind, tongue, eyes, ears, skin, nerves, brain, stomach, kidneys, liver, heart, muscles, cartilage, sinew, bones, etc… Take any aspect of this system away, and it becomes unbalanced. It becomes less than what it was it was described as… Human being. Thus, we should not give more importance to one aspect of ourselves just because it seemingly houses our illusion of the soul… Rather we are, in our totality, souls… Both body and mind – in unification – working together with patterns/processes that interlink the two man-made concepts (which seem to be separate, but are only separated in fact by psychological ideas that stem from man-made observations and through the process of thought). Only ideas and understanding separates and fractures the world around us. But these delusions need to be balanced with a healthy knowing that these discriminations are nothing more than ways to understand a deeply interconnected universe of energy – much like that described in the Buddhist theory of “Interdependent Origination.”
One alternative was to eliminate entirely the mind from philosophical discourse. This was the route chosen by Hobbes and the materialists, who reduced man to a set of physical particles in motion. Another alternative was to define man solely as a mind, or perceiver with all its perceptions. this was the route taken by Berkeley and the later Leibniz. Spinoza took neither road. Man is a finite mode of an infinitely various substance, two of whose attributes are thought and extension. This means that man too is both thinking and extended; but unlike Descartes’ man, Spinoza’s human mode is not a composite substance, whose elements – mind and body – are mysteriously united. Rather, each and every human being can be considered as a physical organism capable of performing a variety of physical functions and activities; it can also be viewed as a mental agent engaging in all sorts of intellectual and psychical operations. The former set of functions falls under the attribute of extension, the latter under the attribute of thought, both attributes being exemplified in man since he is a mode of God, who is constituted by at least these two attributes. These two basic kinds of activities are not expressions of two radically different constituents in human nature that are either causally related, as in Descartes, or totally independent, as in Malebranche. Rather, there is one series of events or processes that can be described either as extended or as mental modes. Indeed, since substance, God, or nature is infinite, there is an infinite number of ways in which one could in principle explain human nature. But Spinoza speaks only of two: the way of extension and the way of thought. To elucidate this notion let us refer to Spinoza himself.
In Letter 9 Spinoza tries to explain to his correspondent, by means of a biblical illustration, how the indivisible one substance God can have many distinct attributes. Of the three Patriarchs the last was called by the names ‘Jacob’ and ‘Israel.’ Now the first name signifies to a Hebrew speaker the connotation of clinging to the heel (Genesis 25:24-26), whereas the second connotes victory over the angel (Gen. 32:23-32). But it is both the same person who both seized the heel of his brother and who fought with an angel. Spinoza uses this example to make the general point that substance can have many attributes without itself being many. The example can also serve to explain how one mode can exhibit two very different kinds of activities without being divisible into two radically different kinds of elements. For just as the names ‘Jacob’ an ‘Israel’ have different connotations but denote the same person, so too the attributes of thought and extension have different connotations although they are manifested in one and the same individual. But they are exemplified not as two radically distinct constituent elements within the same person, as Descartes believed. Nor is it the case that when we describe someone as thinking we really are referring to movements in his nervous system, as Hobbes claimed; or that when we describe someone as eating an apple we are referring to his sensations of eating the apple, as Berkley believed. Reducing mind to matter or matter to mind is just as wrong as marrying mind to matter without explaining how this union can be consummated. For Spinoza, there is just the human being, who can be conceived either as mode of extension, a body, or as a mode of thought, a mind. In describing man under each of these attributes we commit ourselves to a distinct method of explanation and analysis that if consistently and correctly employed will yield adequate knowledge of man. Each explanatory model is autonomous and legitimate; both are needed to account for the richness of human nature. So long as we do not mix attributes and we refrain from asserting causal connections between modes under different attributes, we are in no danger (Propositions 6 and 7, Part II). Spinoza’s monistic metaphysics permits, therefore, multiple possibilities for the description and explanation of human nature.
Once we appreciate how Spinoza solved the Cartesian mind-body riddle, we need not be puzzled any longer by queries concerning the mechanism of mind-body interaction and union. Yet, one serious problem does remain: if human reason is not a semi-independent, superior substance whose job it is to govern bodily passions, as Descartes believed, how are our emotions to be controlled? Indeed, can they be controlled? Actually, it is now not clear how this classic question can be formulated within Spinoza’s psychology, since he doesn’t assert a mind body dualism at all. If mind and body are just two different ways of looking at the same thing, what sense does it make to ask whether one can control the other? Yet, Spinoza is quite aware of the underlying motivation of the question. He knows that man as a mode is a creature of passion and he firmly believes that man’s route to happiness is only by way of moderating and directing these passions. Accordingly, although Spinoza has produced a new psychology, he concerns himself with traditional ethical problems. It is this new psychology, however, that will provide, he believes, a genuine solution of these problems.
Spinoza’s fundamental assumption is that a new method is needed in order to achieve the goal of the classical philosophers, human happiness. The older method – whether in its Greek, medieval, or Cartesian version – proceeded from a moralistic condemnation of human emotion to a list of prescriptions on how to avoid, temper, suppress, or repress passion. Few if any of these thinkers provided a detailed, objective analysis of human emotion. Descartes attempted it in his Treatise on the Passions; but to Spinoza, Descartes’ efforts were not successful. Spinoza believed that his predecessors failed because their either did not study emotion scientifically, or if they did they used the wrong science or did not complete the project. Having laid down and developed in detail the requisite metaphysical and psychological foundations in Parts I and II Spinoza now proceeds to apply these insights to the question of human emotion and how man is to deal with it. These preliminary truths furnish Spinoza with the tools for an objective, neutral analysis of human passion. Psychology is, then, a natural science, subject to the same methods, norms, and goals as the other sciences. And it is from and upon this naturalistic psychology that Spinoza establishes his moral philosophy.
In other writings within this website, you may find pertinent ideas as to the psychological foundations on which the social dynamics of man are built. Please see, “Letting “Them” Into Our Heads,” “Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger Of A Single Story,” “Beau Lotto – Optical Illusions Show How We See,” “Priming Of The Masses – The Century Of Self,” “Jill Bolte Taylor’s Stroke Of Insight,” “Further Scientific Ideas Pertaining To How The Human Mind Works…,” “Evidence For Humans Being “Meme Machines”?,” “‘Infectious’ People Spread Memes Across The Web,” and “Another Take On Reality – Meme, Myself and I” for some pertinent new discoveries pertaining to the nature of our minds. Armed with these ideas, we may begin to see our nature neutrally as an objective analysis that hints towards society’s processes and ultimate drives.
Beginning with this methodological assumption Spinoza claims that man is capable of having both actions and passions, which Spinoza calls affects, or, in our language, emotions. Stated in this way this thesis seems banal. But by the terms ‘action’ and ‘passion’ Spinoza intends something not so trivial. First we must take the word ‘passion’ literally as connoting a process or event whereby the individual undergoes an experience that causes him to suffer. The individual is affected by some stimulus that produces in him an affect. The crucial notion here is that of passivity. Second, the basic difference between actions and passions is not, as some of Spinoza’s predecessors (e.g. Descartes) insisted, one between a mental state and a physical condition, but a difference between two levels of one and the same emotion. If an affect is understood clearly and distinctly, or in Spinoza’s terminology, if we have an “adequate idea” of this emotion, then it is an action, i.e. we are the cause of it. Thus, knowledge results in activity. An emotion not adequately understood is a passion, because in this situation we do not act but suffer, or in common parlance we are on the “receiving end.” Here we are not properly agents, but reagents, i.e. we react, not act. Thus, on Spinoza’s view, what makes a person an agent is self-knowledge; lacking such knowledge, an individual is merely a passive recipient of external and internal stimuli to which he responds either blindly or inadequately. Self-knowledge, however, means realizing that we are elements within a complicated and diverse system of modes. Again, psychology is part of natural science; and ethics must be grounded in these sciences. Earlier philosophers, Spinoza claims, tried to “supernaturalize” man, and by doing so they made it impossible for us to understand ourselves and to achieve human happiness.
For Spinoza, knowledge is freedom. In Part I Spinoza argues that only God is strictly speaking free; for God acts consistently according to His nature, which is Spinoza’s definition of freedom (Definition 7, Propositions 17, 26, Part I). However, even though as finite mode, and hence capable of only limited action according to his own nature, man by virtue of knowledge can become “relatively free.” To the extent that he acquires adequate ideas of himself and his place in nature, man acts, which is to say he responds creatively to his environment and acts upon it. To be free is then to be active, to cause things to happen according to our understanding of the way things are and ought to be. True, we shall never be free as God is; after all, we are but finite modes. Yet, we are capable of knowledge, and to that extent we can be free (Definitions 1, 2, Propositions 1, 3, Part III).
Spinoza’s conception of freedom is one version of a theory currently referred to by such terms a ‘compatibilism,’ ‘reconciliationism,’ or ‘soft-determinism.’ This kind of theory attempts to hold on both to a deterministic account of human behavior and to the notion of a free action. Spinoza himself clearly states in the opening list of definitions that ‘free’ is not opposed to ‘necessary’ but to ‘compelled’ (Definition 7, Part I). It is only when we are compelled to do something that we are not free. In such a situation we merely react to the external force; we don’t act upon it, since our hands are, so to speak, tied. Another way of looking at Spinoza’s concept of freedom is to consider it as a form of self-determinism. A thing is free if and only if it acts according to its own nature. But to act is to be a cause of things and not to be a mere recipient and reagent to stimuli. And we act to the extent that we have adequate ideas, especially of ourselves and our place in nature. Spinoza’s freedom is then a kind of Socratic self-knowledge that makes its possessors capable of acting, i.e. to behave with knowledge and control. And just as Socrates viewed knowledge as a kind of power, so Spinoza sees freedom as power, the capacity to act with understanding on and in this world. Indeed, Spinoza conceives of man as an organism constantly striving to maximize his power to act, to be free. All emotions that contribute to this conatus, or endeavor, increase his freedom; those that decrease it subject man to external and internal forces (Propositions 6, 7, 11, Part III). The freeman is, therefore, the man of power, a person who determines himself.
I have adequately discussed the notion of freedom that we are bestowed with here on Earth in “An Overview ~ Condensing Some Of The Ideas Discussed Thus Far….”
We are now prepared for the final phase in Spinoza’s search for salvation. Armed with the proper understanding of human emotion and human freedom we can confidently confront the most serious obstacle to human happiness, the bondage of the emotions. Spinoza fully appreciates the force of emotions; unlike many of his predecessors, he is neither blind to nor does he underestimate their power. Indeed, for Spinoza most people live in “servitude to passion.” They are slaves to emotion precisely because they are ignorant. It is not that they do not know what is right, as Socrates and the Stoics believed; it is because they do not know what the world and man are like. Virtue, the fundamental concept in Greek and Roman moral philosophy, is for Spinoza power, the capacity to act, which, as we have seen, implies knowledge. The bondage of passion can be loosened through virtue understood as the power to act with understanding. Spinozistic self-knowledge leads to an understanding of one’s nature as an organism necessarily subject to emotions; but by the same token it teaches us how this subjection can be weakened.
This aim of weakening the bonds of “Perception Without Awareness” is of primary importance in this blog. As we have seen, nearly all of us are influenced by the babble and advertising of the mass media at large today. In some way or another, we are provided with the parameters within which to think through the media and television. But once we understand this, we will be able to observe these “forced” habits and patterns of being, and so we will be afforded the chance to free ourselves further.
In Part V Spinoza sketches for us a kind of moral psychotherapy by virtues of which we can liberate ourselves from the bondage of passion. This therapy comprises two levels of cognition: first, knowledge of how our emotion are related to external factors; second, knowledge of how we can attain a certain kind of insight that is, to use religious terminology, redemptive. With respect to the initial level Spinoza prescribes for us a psychology regimen whose general purpose is to detach us from emotion. [The compatibility of these prescriptions with Spinoza's determinism is not evident. After all, if I am suffering from a passion over whose origin in me I had no control, how am I free to eliminate it? Indeed , if I am convinced of Spinoza's advice, this is too determined! So what is the point of Spinoza's moral therapy? Spinoza attempts to answer these objections in Letters 56, 58, and 78.] This is achieved primarily by understanding the nature of the particular emotions, their etiology, and how and to what extent they dominate us. Having acquired this knowledge we are well on the way to becoming free of emotional bondage. For example, most people become fixated upon some one thing, person, or activity that holds them under its sway. The most obvious example of such a fixation is sexual passion. However, the power and pain of this emotional bond can be enervated and perhaps broken once we realize that this emotion is very likely to cause frustration and grief. With this knowledge we can redirect the energy we might be tempted to put into such a relationship. Moreover, we come to realize that the particular relationship is not the only one that can satisfy our emotional needs. Emotions are transferable. Indeed, we may attain the more important insight that these emotions can be transformed into other emotions that can be satisfied by objects, activities, or persons that are more stable or advantageous. Here Spinoza has anticipated the Freudian notions of obsession and sublimation. Like his twentieth century counterpart Spinoza did not advocate asceticism, but moderation. He as well as Freud realized that emotions had to be understood and effectively controlled or channeled into profitable directions; otherwise, we suffer.
At this point it’s important to bear in mind how Spinoza’s new notion of God comes into play and takes over from the old traditional virtues of religious doctrines.
The second level of knowledge requisite for our happiness has to do with our palce within the whole of nature, or, in religious terms, with our relationship to God. Indeed, Spinoza claims that adequate self-knowledge is the first step toward a manifestation of our love of God (Propositions 14, 15, Part V). Remember that to understand oneself is to see oneself as a particular mode within Nature, or God. Self-knowledge is then knowledge of God. But love for Spinoza is an affect, or emotion, that involves knowledge; for love is “joy accompanied by an idea of its cause” (Definitions of the Emotions, Definition 6, Part III). All knowledge, especially in so far as it is defined as adequate ideas, can be related to the whole system of nature, or God. Self knowledge is then knowledge of God. But love for Spinoza is an affect, or emotion, that involves knowledge; for love is “joy accompanied by an idea of its cause” (Definitions of the Emotions, Definition 6, Part III). All knowledge, especially in so far as it is defined as adequate ideas, can be related to the idea of the whole system of nature, or God. To know is then to love God, and the more we know the more we love God (Propositions 15, 24, Part V). It is this love of God that constitutes for Spinoza the summum bonum, that which makes for human happiness. Because of the essential role of this kind of knowledge in Spinoza’s philosophy a special term is used by Spinoza to characterize it: scientia intuitiva, or “intuitive knowledge.” From an epistimological vantage-point this kind of knowledge is superior to both sense-perception and inference. It is complete an systematic, unlike the fragmentary and partial character of sense-experience; it is synthetic categorical, unlike the discursive and hypothetical nature of inference. Intuitive cognition enables us to perceive the whole of reality in a comprehensive grasp, wherein everything is “clear and distinct.” From this insight we are then able to “descend” to the individual elements of nature and see their mutual relationships in a way that was only dimly, partially, or sequentially perceived heretofore. With intuitive knowledge everything becomes systematically intelligible (Proposition 40, Scholium 2, Part II; Propositions 25, Part V).
From the ethical perspective intuitive cognition results in an understanding of man and his place in the universe such that life becomes not only intelligible but livable. For the scientia intuitiva gives us the “highest possible peace of mind” (Proposition 27, Part V). Why is this so? Happiness or, if we prefer, salvation, is the attainment of such knowledge because intuitive knowledge shows us why things happen in the ways that they do happen, that they cannot be otherwise, that man is not some extraterrestrial visitor who temporally inhabits this planet and then returns to some foreign domain, and that as an integral element of this one and only world he must learn to live in it. This knowledge can be characterized, Spinoza claims, as an insight of and into eternity, whereby the whole universe and everything within it are perceived “under a form of eternity.”
This is where I feel that the much overlooked fractal aspect of the universe could allow us to understand much of the natural processes and general flow of all things… Bear in mind what I have written in “The ‘Idea’ Of Infinity…” and “Self Similarity ~ Fractals, Fractals Everywhere…” before reading this following part.
Now we have reached one of the more famous Spinozistic notions, but at the same time a difficult one. For what does Spinoza mean by ‘eternity’? He tells us explicitly that he does not mean thereby infinite duration, which is how Aristotle and some of his medieval disciples construed this idea (Proposition 29, Part V). For Spinoza, to say that God, or Nature, is eternal is not to imply merely that God exists for infinite time. Rather, there is a sense in which, according to Spinoza, God, or Nature, is timeless. This latter notion is also, admittedly, not without its problems. But Spinoza tells in his list of definitions in Part I that eternity implies the kind of existence that characterizes a being that is totally self-sufficient and necessary. Indeed, given his definition of freedom, it turns out that for Spinoza the being that is free is also eternal, and conversely; for both of these attributes are features of a being whose existence and activity follow necessarily and only from its own nature. The key term here is ‘necessity’: that which exists and acts necessarily in complete conformity to its own nature is both free and eternal. For Spinoza only God, or Nature, satisfies totally this condition. In this sense God is not subject to time; for a being that falls within time is one that is not self-sufficient and perfect. Such entities are truly changeable, whereas God is immutable.
The perception of the universe “under a form of eternity” is the true and most precise insight about God. For we recognize the inevitable and constant character of reality as it is, and with this knowledge we attain happiness. [At this juncture another problem in Spinoza emerges: human immortality. In Propositions 21-31, Part V, Spinoza elusively alludes to a kind of immortality of the mind, which the commentators have found quite difficult to make precise. For some recent discussion of topic see A. Donagan "Spinoza's Proof of Immortality," in Spinoza: A Collection of Critical Essays edited by Majorie Grene (N.Y. 1973), 241-258; C. L. Hardin, "Spinoza on Immortality and Time," in Spinoza: New Perspectives, edited by R. Shahan and J. Biro (Norman, Oklahoma 1978), 129-138.]
Here I’d like to suggest that fractals are what makes the mind eternal. The mind is nothing more than a system which has various neural centers that govern certain aspects of character, as I have already suggested in “Self Similarity ~ Fractals, Fractals Everywhere…,” all of which are regulated by aspects centered around chaotic systems i.e. strange attractors, that are infinite in nature… Thus these patterns of mind are eternal in the sense that they never repeat themselves in any exact manor, but rather they flow with self-similarity to ensure subtle change that give rise to an aspect of evolution (as discussed in “An Overview ~ Condensing Some Of The Ideas Discussed Thus Far…“).
I would also suggest that the idea of memes presents one with another aspect of how the mind is eternal. As you may have already noticed, we are very open to suggestion in our daily lives, “taking-on-board” many ideas that are not our own. This beg the question… “Is anything that we do actually original?” I would say not. Rather we mimic and reflect the social and geographical needs that we find ourselves in. We do so in order that we may fulfill our basic hardwired motive – to survive and pass on our genes to ensure survival of the species. If one was to born into a this world, then immediately removed from their parents, their society and thrust into an alien geography like a jungle, much in the same way Tarzan was, and allowed to grow into adulthood unaware of their origins, parents and culturally. Then, if his “ape-man” were brought back to their parents, do you think they would find this “new” world familiar at all? I doubt so. Rather they would perhaps feel alienated in their new and unfamiliar surroundings. This demonstrates that we merely reflect the aspect of our surroundings in accord to the times and stresses imposed upon us. And it is these aspects of mankind and society that are eternal i.e. it is they that pass down from generation to generation as memes, changing subtly and suitably to suite the needs of this ever evolving world. No aspect of this collective will ever die… It merely get passed on in other ways, mutating much like our DNA does. This aspect of self-similarity gives credence to part of the whole pattern repeating itself across many varying scales and at many different levels.
In one sense this is not a new idea. The ancient Stoics too emphasized the importance of accepting and living according to nature and her inevitable laws. And the medieval philosophers spoke of a stage of intellectual perception that results in a kind of mystic union with its object, in this case, God. In fact, probably the first philosopher Spinoza read, Maimonides, ends his famous Guide of The Perplexed with a description of this kind of vision, which he characterizes as love of God through knowledge, a love that unites the lover with the beloved. [Maimonides, Guide of The Perplexed, Part III, chapters 51-54.] Another Jewish philosopher, Leone Ebreo, or Judah Abravanel, whose book was owned by Spinoza, referred to this type of intellectual mysticism as “the intellectual love of God,” the precise term used by Spinoza in the concluding pages of the Ethics. Nevertheless, although the general idea and perhaps even the term may not be new, Spinoza’s “intellectual love of God” (amor intellectuallis Dei) is different from both the Stoic and Maimonidean notions. Spinoza is not a Stoic because he does not believe, as Stoics did, that man is capable of complete self-mastery, that our emotions and behavior are totally under the sway of our will and reason. We have already seen that because man is but a mode of and within nature, his power, and hence his freedom, is limited. The Stoic and Cartesian vision of man exercising complete control over his emotional life is for Spinoza just false; it rests upon a totally inadequate psychology, which is turn is based upon faulty metaphysics. Moreover, Spinoza rejects the Stoic notions of passivity, withdrawal, and asceticism. For Spinoza, let us recall, freedom, to the extent that we have it, consists in activity, power, and joy. Spinoza’s free spirit, to use Nietzsche’s term, is a person who says ‘Yes’ to life, not ‘No.’ Happiness consists not in suppressing or repressing one’s emotions but in transforming them into adequate ideas so one can be free and joyful. In Spinoza’s own life we can see the difference between the Stoics and himself in his pursuit and cultivation of friendship; for the Stoics, however, friendship was a neutral, or indifferent, activity.
Nor is Spinoza’s intellectual love of God identical with the medieval doctrine of union with God through knowledge. To Spinoza this notion of literal union with God through knowledge is obscure (Definitions of the Emotions, Definition 6, Part III). It rests upon the dualistic metaphysics wherein God and man are conceived as radically distinct, such that the desired union with God has to come about through some supernatural mediation, either through prophecy or incarnation. Spinoza’s monistic metaphysics makes prophecy and incarnation both unnecessary and incoherent. True, the intuitive cognition that is required for and results in human happiness is “difficult and rare”; but it is attainable by man with the capacities that he possesses. The fact that most people have not achieved human happiness is, for Spinoza, not to be attributed to some irremediable taint that they have inherited from Adam, but to ignorance and superstition. It was to the defeat and removal of the latter enemies of mankind that Spinoza dedicated his life and his Ethics.
I believe Spinoza has a point here. Everything in this blog is not so much stating a purpose for Life. Rather it is observing the patterns that form the operating basis for Life. This has no doubt provided me with a clear and distinct joy at being able to understand the probability within which we have fortunately arrived here. For it is a mighty mountain of odds that we have scaled thus far. Once I began to see this, my life changed in many ways, doing so for the better. In these pages on this website, I hope to be able impart some of the Knowledge that allowed me to grasp the wonder to which we were born to others, with the hope that it may provide a similar catalyst to my own; a catalyst that will set in motion a chain of events giving rise to a path leading away from the old ways into new plains of being… When we begin to see that God is more of a process than a being, we also begin to understand what a powerful metaphor for the infinite aspects of nature God is, and that mankind – as part of this creation – intuitively knew about this infinite and eternal aspect, as he expressed through his own various religious decrees. For science does not erase the notion of God, or Nature! An interesting idea in line with Spinoza’s view of God and knowing, or love of God, can be found here.
When I saw the Mandelbrot Set for the first time, I knew there was something familiar about its twisting and eternal flow… I had seen it before I had come into this world, just as all living beings see their maker before their creation. I was, only in-part, of this design – this was the hallmark mark left by the geometry that constructed me – this is the “thumb-print” of “God, or Nature…” An aspect of the holy trinity of creation, chaos and math that allows all the infinite aspects of the whole to be known by the parts, individually… And by the sum of the parts together. This is what we are currently doing… We are coming together to see a view of the whole, sharing and excahnging our views so that we may see new perspectives that might not have been visible to us as individuals before. Hopefully, when you see this too, we might forge a better world for ourselves, in harmony with one another and every living thing, understanding what we are, how we are all interconnected in the Tao’s flow, and therefore what we must do to ensure that we fulfill all our abilities and obligations as keeper of this hallowed Earth while we live here, ensuring the same for the future generations of all Life to come… This is an Ethic that Spinoza shared. One of harmony, whereby one did not need more than they should have to survive comfortably. This minimalist ideal pervaded Spinoza’s way of life and ensure his joy and faithfulness to understanding the essence of being. If only he could have seen what science has thus far revealed… I believe he would have brought to our attention of pertinent ideas for new ways of being.
If you are curious about Spinoza’s treatise on his Ethics, please click here to view a highly recommended book about this subject.
Quotes in this essay are taken from: Ethics – Treatise on The Emendation Of The Intellect and Selected Letters, introduced by Seymour Feldman.