Skip Nav

Education and Free Will

Spinoza: a determinist philosophy

❶According to one interpretation, God is indeed material, even matter itself, but this does not imply that God is or has a body. It is the affective correlate to the third kind of knowledge.

Recommended For You

Navigation menu
Philosophical Ethics
1. Biography

It is obvious that knowledge from random experience follows the order of the affections of the human body, but so does knowledge from signs. A Roman who hears the word ' pomum ', for instance, will think of an apple, not because there is any rational connection between the word and the object, but only because they have been associated in his or her experience.

When we reach what Spinoza calls the second kind of knowledge, reason ratio , we have ascended from an inadequate to an adequate perception of things. This type of knowledge is gained "from the fact that we have common notions and adequate ideas of the properties of things" P40S2.

What Spinoza has in mind here is what was just indicated, namely, the formation of adequate ideas of the common properties of things and the movement by way of deductive inference to the formation of adequate ideas of other common properties. Unlike in the case of knowledge of the first kind, this order of ideas is rational.

We might think that in attaining this second kind of knowledge we have attained all that is available to us. However, Spinoza adds a third type, which he regards as superior. He calls this intuitive knowledge scientia intuitiva and tells us that it "proceeds from an adequate idea of the formal essence of certain attributes of God to the adequate knowledge of the [formal] essence of things" P40S2.

Unfortunately, Spinoza is once again obscure at a crucial junction, and it is difficult to know what he has in mind here. He seems to be envisioning a type of knowledge that gives insight into the essence of some singular thing together with an understanding of how that essence follows of necessity from the essence of God. Furthermore, the characterization of this kind of knowledge as intuitive indicates that the connection between the individual essence and the essence of God is grasped in a single act of apprehension and is not arrived at by any kind of deductive process.

How this is possible is never explained. Problems of obscurity aside, we can still see something of the ideal at which Spinoza is aiming. Inadequate ideas are incomplete. Through them we perceive things without perceiving the causes that determine them to be, and it is for this reason that we imagine them to be contingent.

What Spinoza is offering with the third kind of knowledge is a way of correcting this. It is important to note, however, that he is not proposing that we can have this knowledge with respect to the durational existence of any particular item. As we have already seen, this would require having ideas of all of the temporal causes of a thing, which are infinite.

Rather, he is proposing that we can have it with respect to the essence of a singular thing as it follows from the essence of God. To have this kind of knowledge is to understand the thing as necessary rather than contingent. One of the most interesting but understudied areas of Spinoza's thought is his psychology, the centerpiece of which is his theory of the affects. Spinoza, of course, was not the first philosopher to take an interest in the affects.

He had only to look to the work of Descartes and Hobbes in the previous generation and to the work of the Stoics before them to find sustained discussions of the topic. His own work shows that he learned much from these thinkers. Despite his debts, Spinoza expressed deep dissatisfaction with the views of those who had preceded him.

His dissatisfaction reflects the naturalistic orientation that he wished to bring to the subject:. Most of those who have written about the affects, and men's way of living, seem to treat, not of natural things, which follow the common laws of Nature, but of things which are outside Nature.

Indeed they seem to conceive man in Nature as a dominion within a dominion. For they believe that man disturbs, rather than follows, the order of Nature, that he has absolute power over his actions, and that he is determined only by himself. In opposition to what he saw as a tendency on the part of previous philosophers to treat humans as exceptions to the natural order, Spinoza proposes to treat them as subject to the same laws and causal determinants as everything else.

What emerges can best be described as a mechanistic theory of the affects. In working out this new perspective, the first thing on Spinoza's agenda is to clear away what he sees as the most pervasive confusion that we as humans have about ourselves. This is the belief in free-will. Spinoza has nothing but scorn for this belief and treats it as a delusion that arises from the fact that the ideas we have of our actions are inadequate. If we were to acquire adequate ideas of our actions, since these would carry with them knowledge of their causes, we would immediately see this belief as the delusion that it is.

Spinoza's position on this matter is quite obviously dictated by the determinism of his metaphysics. The mind, as a finite mode, is fully determined to be and to act by other finite modes. To posit a faculty of will by which it is made autonomous and independent of external causal determinants is to remove it from nature. Spinoza will have none of this. As it is fully part of nature, the mind must be understood according to the same principles that govern all modes.

The correct interpretation of this principle is far from clear, but it appears to posit a kind of existential inertia within modes. Each mode, to the extent of its power, so acts as to resist the destruction or diminution of its being. Spinoza expresses this by saying that each mode has an innate striving conatus to persevere in being. This striving is so central to what a mode is that he identifies it as a mode's very essence:.

The striving by which each thing strives to persevere in its being is nothing but the actual essence of the thing. Though a bit mysterious as to what it means to say that the striving of a mode is its essence, this identification will play a key role in Spinoza's ethical theory. Among other things, it will provide the basis upon which he can determine what is involved in living by the guidance of reason. Spinoza begins his account of the affects with those that result from the action of external causes upon the mind.

These are the passive affects, or passions. He identifies three as primary - joy, sadness, and desire — and characterizes all others as involving a combination of one or more of these together with some kind of cognitive state.

Love and hate, for example, are joy and sadness coupled with an awareness of their respective causes.

Longing, for example, is desire coupled with a memory of the desired object and an awareness of its absence. All remaining passions are characterized in a similar fashion. Although joy, sadness, and desire are primitive, they are each defined in relation to the mind's striving for perseverance. Joy is that affect by which the mind passes to a greater perfection, understood as an increased power of striving.

Sadness is that affect by which the mind passes to a lesser perfection, understood as a decreased power of striving. And desire is the striving for perseverance itself insofar as the mind is conscious of it. Because all passions are derived from these primary affects, the entire passional life of the mind is thus defined in relation to the striving for perseverance. This may seem paradoxical. Insofar as the mind strives to persevere in being it would appear to be active rather than passive.

This is true, but we must realize that the mind strives both insofar as it has adequate ideas and insofar as it has inadequate ideas. The passions are defined only in relation to the mind's striving insofar as it has inadequate ideas. In fact, the passions are themselves a species of inadequate ideas. And since all inadequate ideas are caused from without, so too are the passions.

It is in this respect that they must be considered to be passive rather than active. This, however, is not the case with those affects that are defined in relation to the mind's striving insofar as it has adequate ideas.

All such affects, being themselves a species of adequate ideas, are active. Mirroring his analysis of the passions, Spinoza takes two of these as primitive - active joy and active desire — and treats the remainder as derivative. He does not acknowledge the possibility of an active form of sadness, since the diminishment of the mind's perfection, which is what is involved in sadness, can only occur through the action of external causes.

In doing so, he posits an element within the affective life that is not only active, but, because it is grounded in the mind's striving insofar as it has adequate ideas, is fully rational. It is a central concern of Spinoza's ethical program to maximize this element. That Spinoza would wish to maximize the active affects is understandable in light of his characterization of life led under the sway of the passions.

Such a life is one in which the individual exercises little effective self-control and is buffeted by external circumstances in ways that are largely random. Life under the sway of the passions is a life of bondage. Unfortunately, the extent to which we can extricate ourselves from the sway of the passions is limited. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the mind is a mode of limited power, yet it is inserted into an order of nature in which there exists an infinite number of modes whose power surpasses its own.

To think that the mind can exist unaffected within this order is to assume, falsely, that it is endowed with infinite power or that nothing in nature acts upon it. The second, which is a specification of the first, is that an affect is not restrained merely because it is opposed by reason.

It must be opposed by an affect that is stronger than it. The trouble is that reason often lacks this affective power. This is because the strength of the active affects, which pertain to reason, is a function of the strength of the mind alone, whereas the strength of the passive affects, the passions, is a function of the strength of their external causes, which in many cases is greater.

In such cases reason is unable to overrule passion and is impotent as a guide. Such is the life of bondage. It is from this rather pessimistic diagnosis of the human condition that Spinoza's ethical theory takes off. In view of this, it is not at all surprising that his ethics is largely one of liberation, a liberation that is directly tied to the cultivation of reason.

In this respect, Spinoza's ethical orientation is much more akin to that of the ancients than to that of his fellow moderns. Like the ancients, he sought not so much to analyze the nature and source of moral duty as to describe the ideal human life. This is the life that is lived by the so-called 'free-man'. It is a life of one who lives by the guidance of reason rather than under the sway of the passions.

In the opening propositions of Book Five, Spinoza lists a number of respects in which the mind, despite its condition of bondage, is able to weaken the hold that the passions have over it. Generally speaking, it is able to do this insofar as it acquires adequate ideas.

This, Spinoza tells us, is due to the fact that "the power of the mind is defined by knowledge alone, whereas lack of power, or passion, is judged solely by the privation of knowledge, that is, by that through which ideas are called inadequate" VP20S.

Two examples illustrate this liberating power of adequate ideas. First, Spinoza claims that the mind is able to form adequate ideas of its affects. It can thus form adequate ideas of the passions, which are themselves inadequate ideas. Since there is no real distinction between an idea and the idea of that idea, those passions of which the mind forms adequate ideas are thereby dissolved. Second, the effect of a thing upon the mind is lessened to the extent that it is understood to be necessary rather than contingent.

We tend, for example, to be saddened less by the loss of a good when we understand that its loss was inevitable. Similarly, we tend to be angered less by another person's actions when we understand that he or she could not have done otherwise. Since adequate ideas present things as necessary rather than as contingent, the acquisition of such ideas thereby lessens their effect upon the mind. As these examples illustrate, the mind's power over the passions is a function of the adequate ideas that it possess.

Liberation lies in the acquisition of knowledge, which empowers the mind and renders it less susceptible to external circumstances. In taking this position, Spinoza places himself in a long tradition that stretches back to the Stoics and ultimately to Socrates. Spinoza tells us that the model human life - the life lived by the 'free-man' — is one that is lived by the guidance of reason rather than under the sway of the passions.

This tells us very little, however, unless we know what it is that reason prescribes. In order to make this determination, Spinoza falls back upon the mind's striving for perseverance:. Since reason demands nothing contrary to Nature, it demands that everyone love himself, seek his own advantage, what is really useful to him, want what will really lead a man to greater perfection, and absolutely, that everyone should strive to preserve his own being as far as he can.

This, indeed, is as necessarily true as that the whole is greater than its part. Reason's prescription is egoistic. We are to act in accordance with our nature. But since our nature is identical to our striving to persevere in being, reason prescribes that we do whatever is to our advantage and seek whatever aids us in our striving.

To act this way, Spinoza insists, is to act virtuously. This does not mean that in living by the guidance of reason we necessarily place ourselves at odds with others. Reason prescribes that individuals seek whatever aids in the striving for perseverance. But since the goods that are necessary in order to persevere in being are attainable only within the context of social life, reason dictates that we act in ways that are conducive to the stability and harmony of society.

Spinoza goes so far as to say that in a society in which everyone lives by the guidance of reason, there would be no need of political authority to restrict action. It is only insofar as individuals live under the sway of the passions that they come into conflict with one another and are in need of political authority. Those who live by the guidance of reason understand this and recognize that authority as legitimate.

Spinoza's contention that those who live by the guidance of reason will naturally live in harmony with one another receives some support from his view of the highest good for a human. This is the knowledge of God. Since this knowledge can be possessed equally by all who seek it, it can be sought by all without drawing any into conflict.

To establish that the knowledge of God is the highest good, Spinoza again appeals to the fact that the mind's striving is its essence. Since what follows from the mind's essence alone are adequate ideas, this allows him to construe the mind's striving as a striving for adequate ideas.

It is a striving for understanding:. What we strive for from reason is nothing but understanding; nor does the mind, insofar as it uses reason, judge anything else useful to itself except what leads to understanding. From here it is but an easy step to show that the knowledge of God is the mind's greatest good.

As an infinite substance, God is the greatest thing that can be conceived. Moreover, since everything other than God is a mode of God, and since modes can neither be nor be conceived without the substance of which they are modes, nothing else can be or be conceived apart from God.

Knowledge of God is the mind's greatest good: In elaborating this thesis, Spinoza specifies this knowledge as knowledge of the third kind. This is the knowledge that proceeds from the adequate idea of one or another of God's attributes to the adequate idea of the formal essence of some singular thing that follows from that attribute. When we possess knowledge of the third kind, we possess adequate perception of God's essence considered not only in itself, but as the immanent causal power of the particular modifications to which it is subject.

Knowledge of the first kind, because it is inadequate, and knowledge of the second kind, because it is restricted to the common properties of things, both fail to give us this. In attaining the third kind of knowledge the mind passes to the highest state of perfection that is available to it. As a result, it experiences active joy to the greatest possible degree. More importantly, since it is by this kind of knowledge that the mind understands God to be the cause of its own perfection, it gives rise to an active love for God as well.

This Spinoza refers to as the intellectual love of God. It is the affective correlate to the third kind of knowledge. The intellectual love of God turns out to have a great many unique properties. Among other things, it is entirely constant, it has no contraries, and it is the very love by which God loves himself. Most significantly, it constitutes the blessedness of the one who possesses it. When such a love dominates one's affective life, one attains the serenity and freedom from passion that is the mark of wisdom.

Spinoza thus writes of the person who has attained this love that he "is hardly troubled in spirit, but being, by a certain eternal necessity, conscious of himself, and of God, and of things, he never ceases to be, but always possess true peace of mind" VP42S. This is human blessedness. Spinoza's comment that a person who has attained the intellectual love of God "never ceases to be" is perplexing to say the least.

It signals a commitment to the view that in some fashion or another the mind, or some part of it, survives the death of the body:. The human mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the body, but something of it remains which is eternal. At first sight, this appears to be in violation of Spinoza's anti-dualist contention that mind and body are one and the same thing conceived under two different attributes.

On the basis of this contention, one would expect him to reject the survival of the mind in any fashion. That he asserts it instead has understandably been a source of great controversy among his commentators. At least some of the problem can be cleared away by taking account of a crucial distinction that Spinoza makes between the existence of the body and its essence. The existence of the body is its actual duration through time.

This involves its coming to be, the changes it undergoes within its environment, and its eventual destruction. By contrast, the essence of the body is non-durational.

It is grounded in the timeless essence of God, specifically as one among the innumerable particular ways of being extended. The importance of this distinction lies in the fact that, by appealing to the parallelism doctrine, Spinoza can conclude that there is a corresponding distinction with respect to the mind. There is an aspect of the mind that is the expression of the existence of the body, and there is an aspect of the mind that is the expression of the essence of the body.

Spinoza readily concedes that the aspect of the mind that expresses the existence of the body cannot survive the destruction of the body. It is destroyed with the destruction of the body. Such, however, is not the fate of the aspect of the mind that expresses the essence of the body.

Like its object, this aspect of the mind is non-durational. Since only what is durational ceases to be, this aspect of the mind is unaffected by the destruction of the body.

Here we must be careful not to misunderstand what Spinoza is saying. In particular, we should not take him to be offering anything approaching a full-blooded doctrine of personal immortality. In fact, he dismisses the belief in personal immortality as arising from confusion: Individuals have some awareness of the eternity of their own minds.

But they mistakenly believe that this eternity pertains to the durational aspect of the mind, the imagination. As it is the imagination, inclusive of memory, that constitutes one's unique identity as a person, the belief in personal immortality is similarly mistaken. None of this is to say that Spinoza's doctrine of the eternity of the mind has no relevance to ethics.

Although the imagination is not eternal, the intellect is. And since the intellect is constituted by the mind's store of adequate ideas, the mind is eternal precisely to the extent that it has these ideas.

As a consequence, a person whose mind is constituted largely by adequate ideas participates more fully in eternity than a person whose mind is constituted largely by inadequate ideas. So, while Spinoza offers us no hope of personal immortality, we may take consolation in the fact that "death is less harmful to us, the greater the mind's clear and distinct knowledge, and hence, the more the mind loves God" VP38S. Spinoza does not pretend that any of this is easy. The acquisition of adequate ideas, especially those by which we attain knowledge of the third kind, is difficult, and we can never completely escape the influence of the passions.

Nevertheless, Spinoza holds out to those who make the effort the promise, not of personal immortality, but of participation in eternity within this life. If the way I have shown to lead to these things now seems very hard, still, it can be found. And of course, what is found so rarely must be hard. Just as the body is subject to nature's laws, so likewise the mind is subject under a different attribute. Spinoza admits human beings are free to the extent they can substitute some other thought in place of a given moderate impulse, but he states strong desires as in violent emotion cannot be overcome.

Nevertheless, he believes persons are not free to do or not do some particular thing; as well, there can be no spontaneity, no any uncaused event. Spinoza writes in Prop. It must be admitted that Spinoza does not seem to be consistent with respect to strict determinism here and, indeed, in several other passages as well. At the conclusion of the Ethics , he writes: Needs must it be hard, since it is so seldom found.

How would it be possible, if salvation were ready to our hand, and could without great labour be found, that it should be by almost all men neglected? If so, then Spinoza's ethical views reduce simply to descriptive psychological statements. In cases where people cannot restrain their impulses, they think they chose the desired thing by their own free will, but free decisions of this nature are illusory.

In every case, the individual is not aware of the causes of the action, but is only aware of the action, itself. Hence Spinoza concludes that appetites, emotions, and desires vary according to bodily states and, in fact, are simultaneous with them. In this manner, human decisions can be viewed equally as either an attribute of thought or as an attribute of extension. That we do not have free will of thought is evidenced by the fact that we cannot freely decide to remember or forget a so-called idea of the mind.

Forgetting or remembering is, instead, a natural causal process. All purported acts of will are deducible from the laws of Nature. Spinoza rejects the indeterminist's objection that natural law cannot explain the origin of human art and construction because cultural artifacts can only be produced by means of the creativity of human beings. He points out that nature produces phenomena far more complex than human beings could create; indeed, the human body, itself, far exceeds in complexity anything found in human art.

From natural causes, infinite results follow. Human beings are a part of nature just like anything else. A mental decision is regarded under the attribute of thought is a caused idea. A decision as a conditioned state or appetite is regarded under the attribute of extension. A mental decision and a bodily appetite, according to Spinoza, are the same thing. Spinoza argues that the causes that which brings forth the actuality or essence of human action are presently unknown.

He disagrees with the view that the mind can control the body by means of thought or will power. Spinoza recognizes the ranges of the possibilities of the functions and activities of all aspects of the human body cannot be known or explained. Thus, Spinoza concludes that the belief that actions and functions of the human body are activated by thought or will power is meaningless. The notion of free will is ontologically the same sort of thing as an idea of imagination or memory.

Charles Jarrett's Spinoza Links Links to Spinoza sites, associations, online books, bibliographies, and more. This entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Steven Nadler of the University of Wisconsin contains a biography and short bibliography together with analyses of the Ethics and the Theological-Political Treatise.

Spinoza's Ethics is examined in some detail by Prof. In general, pantheism is the view that rejects the transcendence of God. According to the pantheist, God is, in some way, identical with the world. There may be aspects of God that are ontologically or epistemologically distinct from the world, but for pantheism this must not imply that God is essentially separate from the world.

The pantheist is also likely to reject any kind of anthropomorphizing of God, or attributing to the deity psychological and moral characteristics modeled on human nature. Within this general framework, it is possible to distinguish two varieties of pantheism.

First, pantheism can be understood as the denial of any distinction whatsoever between God and the natural world and the assertion that God is in fact identical with everything that exists. This is reductive pantheism. Second, pantheism can be understood as asserting that God is distinct from the world and its natural contents but nonetheless contained or immanent within them, perhaps in the way in which water is contained in a saturated sponge.

God is everything and everywhere, on this version, by virtue of being within everything. This is immanentist pantheism; it involves that claim that nature contains within itself, in addition to its natural elements, an immanent supernatural and divine element.

Is Spinoza, then, a pantheist? For Spinoza, there is nothing but Nature and its attributes and modes. And within Nature there can certainly be nothing that is supernatural. If Spinoza is seeking to eliminate anything, it is that which is above or beyond nature, which escapes the laws and processes of nature.

But is he a pantheist in the first, reductive sense? The issue of whether God is to be identified with the whole of Nature i. After all, if pantheism is the view that God is everything, then Spinoza is a pantheist only if he identifies God with all of Nature.

Indeed, this is exactly how the issue is often framed. Both those who believe that Spinoza is a pantheist and those who believe that he is not a pantheist focus on the question of whether God is to be identified with the whole of Nature, including the infinite and finite modes of Natura naturata , or only with substance and attributes Natura naturans but not the modes. Thus, it has been argued that Spinoza is not a pantheist, because God is to be identified only with substance and its attributes, the most universal, active causal principles of Nature, and not with any modes of substance.

Other scholars have argued that Spinoza is a pantheist, just because he does identify God with the whole of nature. Finite things, on this reading, while caused by the eternal, necessary and active aspects of Nature, are not identical with God or substance, but rather are its effects. But this is not the interesting sense in which Spinoza is not a pantheist.

For even if Spinoza does indeed identify God with the whole of Nature, it does not follow that Spinoza is a pantheist. God is identical either with all of Nature or with only a part of Nature; for this reason, Spinoza shares something with the reductive pantheist. But—and this is the important point—even the atheist can, without too much difficulty, admit that God is nothing but Nature.

Reductive pantheism and atheism maintain extensionally equivalent ontologies. And however one reads the relationship between God and Nature in Spinoza, it is a mistake to call him a pantheist in so far as pantheism is still a kind of religious theism.

What really distinguishes the pantheist from the atheist is that the pantheist does not reject as inappropriate the religious psychological attitudes demanded by theism. Rather, the pantheist simply asserts that God—conceived as a being before which one is to adopt an attitude of worshipful awe—is or is in Nature.

Spinoza does not believe that worshipful awe or religious reverence is an appropriate attitude to take before God or Nature. There is nothing holy or sacred about Nature, and it is certainly not the object of a religious experience. The key to discovering and experiencing God, for Spinoza, is philosophy and science, not religious awe and worshipful submission.

The latter give rise only to superstitious behavior and subservience to ecclesiastic authorities; the former leads to enlightenment, freedom and true blessedness i. In Part Two, Spinoza turns to the origin and nature of the human being.

The two attributes of God of which we have knowledge are extension and thought. This, in itself, involves what would have been an astounding thesis in the eyes of his contemporaries, one that was usually misunderstood and always vilified. According to one interpretation, God is indeed material, even matter itself, but this does not imply that God is or has a body.

Another interpretation, however, one which will be adopted here, is that what is in God is not matter per se, but extension as an essence.

And extension and thought are two distinct essences that have absolutely nothing in common. The modes or expressions of extension are physical bodies; the modes of thought are ideas.

Because extension and thought have nothing in common, the two realms of matter and mind are causally closed systems. Everything that is extended follows from the attribute of extension alone. Every bodily event is part of an infinite causal series of bodily events and is determined only by the nature of extension and its laws, in conjunction with its relations to other extended bodies. Similarly, every idea follows only from the attribute of thought.

Any idea is an integral part of an infinite series of ideas and is determined by the nature of thought and its laws, along with its relations to other ideas. There is, in other words, no causal interaction between bodies and ideas, between the physical and the mental. There is, however, a thoroughgoing correlation and parallelism between the two series. For every mode in extension that is a relatively stable collection of matter, there is a corresponding mode in thought.

Every material thing thus has its own particular idea—an eternal adequate idea—that expresses or represents it. One kind of extended body, however, is significantly more complex than any others in its composition and in its dispositions to act and be acted upon.

That complexity is reflected in its corresponding idea. The body in question is the human body; and its corresponding idea is the human mind or soul. Whatever happens in the body is reflected or expressed in the mind. In this way, the mind perceives, more or less obscurely, what is taking place in its body. But the human mind no more interacts with its body than any mode of Thought interacts with a mode of Extension. Spinoza, in effect, denies that the human being is a union of two substances.

The human mind and the human body are two different expressions—under Thought and under Extension—of one and the same thing: And because there is no causal interaction between the mind and the body, the so-called mind-body problem does not, technically speaking, arise.

The human mind, like God, contains ideas. Such ideas do not convey adequate and true knowledge of the world, but only a relative, partial and subjective picture of how things presently seem to be to the perceiver.

There is no systematic order to these perceptions, nor any critical oversight by reason. Under such circumstances, we are simply determined in our ideas by our fortuitous and haphazard encounter with things in the external world. This superficial acquaintance will never provide us with knowledge of the essences of those things. In fact, it is an invariable source of falsehood and error.

Adequate ideas, on the other hand, are formed in a rational and orderly manner, and are necessarily true and revelatory of the essences of things. The adequate idea of a thing clearly and distinctly situates its object in all of its causal nexuses and shows not just that it is, but how and why it is.

The person who truly knows a thing sees the reasons why the thing was determined to be and could not have been otherwise. To perceive by way of adequate ideas is to perceive the necessity inherent in Nature. Sense experience alone could never provide the information conveyed by an adequate idea. The senses present things only as they appear from a given perspective at a given moment in time. And Reason perceives this necessity of things truly, i.

The third kind of knowledge, intuition, takes what is known by Reason and grasps it in a single act of the mind. Not even Descartes believed that we could know all of Nature and its innermost secrets with the degree of depth and certainty that Spinoza thought possible.

Most remarkably, because Spinoza thought that the adequate knowledge of any object, and of Nature as a whole, involves a thorough knowledge of God and of how things related to God and his attributes, he also had no scruples about claiming that we can, at least in principle, know God perfectly and adequately.

No other philosopher in history has been willing to make this claim. But, then again, no other philosopher so forthrightly identified God with Nature. Spinoza engages in such a detailed analysis of the composition of the human being because it is essential to his goal of showing how the human being is a part of Nature, existing within the same causal nexuses as other extended and mental beings.

This has serious ethical implications. First, it implies that a human being is not endowed with freedom, at least in the ordinary sense of that term. What is true of the will and, of course, of our bodies is true of all the phenomena of our psychological lives. Spinoza believes that this is something that has not been sufficiently understood by previous thinkers, who seem to have wanted to place the human being on a pedestal outside of or above nature. Descartes, for example, believed that if the freedom of the human being is to be preserved, the soul must be exempt from the kind of deterministic laws that rule over the material universe.

For nothing stands outside of nature, not even the human mind. Our affects—our love, anger, hate, envy, pride, jealousy, etc. Spinoza, therefore, explains these emotions—as determined in their occurrence as are a body in motion and the properties of a mathematical figure—just as he would explain any other things in nature. Our affects are divided into actions and passions. When the cause of an event lies in our own nature—more particularly, our knowledge or adequate ideas—then it is a case of the mind acting.

On the other hand, when something happens in us the cause of which lies outside of our nature, then we are passive and being acted upon. All beings are naturally endowed with such a power or striving. What we should strive for is to be free from the passions—or, since this is not absolutely possible, at least to learn how to moderate and restrain them—and become active, autonomous beings.

We will, consequently, be truly liberated from the troublesome emotional ups and downs of this life. The way to bring this about is to increase our knowledge, our store of adequate ideas, and eliminate as far as possible our inadequate ideas, which follow not from the nature of the mind alone but from its being an expression of how our body is affected by other bodies.

In other words, we need to free ourselves from a reliance on the senses and the imagination, since a life of the senses and images is a life being affected and led by the objects around us, and rely as much as we can only on our rational faculties.

This provides Spinoza with a foundation for cataloging the human passions. For the passions are all functions of the ways in which external things affect our powers or capacities. When joy is a passion, it is always brought about by some external object. Love is simply Joy accompanied by an awareness of the external cause that brings about the passage to a greater perfection.

We love that object that benefits us and causes us joy. We hope for a thing whose presence, as yet uncertain, will bring about joy. We fear, however, a thing whose presence, equally uncertain, will bring about sadness. When that whose outcome was doubtful becomes certain, hope is changed into confidence, while fear is changed into despair.

All of the human emotions, in so far as they are passions, are constantly directed outward, towards things and their capacities to affect us one way or another. Aroused by our passions and desires, we seek or flee those things that we believe cause joy or sadness. But the objects of our passions, being external to us, are completely beyond our control.

Thus, the more we allow ourselves to be controlled by them , the more we are subject to passions and the less active and free we are.

The upshot is a fairly pathetic picture of a life mired in the passions and pursuing and fleeing the changeable and fleeting objects that occasion them: The solution to this predicament is an ancient one. Since we cannot control the objects that we tend to value and that we allow to influence our well-being, we ought instead to try to control our evaluations themselves and thereby minimize the sway that external objects and the passions have over us.

We can never eliminate the passive affects entirely. We are essentially a part of nature, and can never fully remove ourselves from the causal series that link us to external things. But we can, ultimately, counteract the passions, control them, and achieve a certain degree of relief from their turmoil.

The path to restraining and moderating the affects is through virtue. Spinoza is a psychological and ethical egoist. All beings naturally seek their own advantage—to preserve their own being—and it is right for them do so. This is what virtue consists in. Since we are thinking beings, endowed with intelligence and reason, what is to our greatest advantage is knowledge. Our virtue, therefore, consists in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, of adequate ideas.

The best kind of knowledge is a purely intellectual intuition of the essences of things. They are apprehended, that is, in their conceptual and causal relationship to the universal essences thought and extension and the eternal laws of nature. But this is just to say that, ultimately, we strive for a knowledge of God. The concept of any body involves the concept of extension; and the concept of any idea or mind involves the concept of thought.

So the proper and adequate conception of any body or mind necessarily involves the concept or knowledge of God. What we see when we understand things through the third kind of knowledge, under the aspect of eternity and in relation to God, is the deterministic necessity of all things. We see that all bodies and their states follow necessarily from the essence of matter and the universal laws of physics; and we see that all ideas, including all the properties of minds, follow necessarily from the essence of thought and its universal laws.

This insight can only weaken the power that the passions have over us. We are no longer hopeful or fearful of what shall come to pass, and no longer anxious or despondent over our possessions. We regard all things with equanimity, and we are not inordinately and irrationally affected in different ways by past, present or future events.

The result is self-control and a calmness of mind. Our affects or emotions themselves can be understood in this way, which further diminishes their power over us.

The third kind of knowledge generates a love for its object, and in this love consists not joy, a passion, but blessedness itself. He takes care for the well-being and virtuous flourishing of other human beings.

He does what he can through rational benevolence as opposed to pity or some other passion to insure that they, too, achieve relief from the disturbances of the passions through understanding, and thus that they become more like him and therefore most useful to him. Moreover, the free person is not anxious about death.

The free person neither hopes for any eternal, otherworldly rewards nor fears any eternal punishments. He knows that the soul is not immortal in any personal sense, but is endowed only with a certain kind of eternity. This understanding of his place in the natural scheme of things brings to the free individual true peace of mind. Free human beings will be mutually beneficial and useful, and will be tolerant of the opinions and even the errors of others.

Spinoza Links: Further Reading:

Main Topics

Privacy Policy

Baruch Spinoza, "Human Beings are Determined" Abstract: Baruch Spinoza argues against the doctrine of free will as a result of demonstrating that the activity of our minds is equivalent to the activity of our bodies. The mind is more or less active (or contemplative) in accordance with .

Privacy FAQs

First, Spinoza’s substance theory is the main reason for his advocacy of determinism. According to him, a substance is homogeneous, infinite, self caused thing. Second, he advocated pantheism i.e. a doctrine which identifies universe as a manifestation of god. Everything is God and God is everything.

About Our Ads

Any adequate analysis of Spinoza’s identification of God and Nature will show clearly that Spinoza cannot be a pantheist in the second, immanentist sense. For Spinoza, there is nothing but Nature and its attributes and modes. Spinoza: a determinist philosophy. In the Ethics, Spinoza‘s pantheistic philosophy advocates a “God is defined as all real, all existing” (God is everywhere). Only God is, therefore, free for he alone is the cause of itself, a constituent nature. The man, however, is a kind natured, it .

Cookie Info

Spinoza's "free will" for humans is compatibilist (i.e. compatible with determinism), only God/Nature is "entirely" free, see Astore's commentary, human freedom is in aligning themselves with God/Nature. As for "illusion", the word has pejorative connotations in this context, for compatibilists their version of "free will" is the only real one. Education and Free Will critically assesses and makes use of Spinoza’s insights on human freedom to construe an account of education that is compatible with causal determinism without sacrificing the educational goal of increasing students’.