A STUDY OF THE
ETHICS OF SPINOZA
HENRY FROWDE, M.A.
PUBLISHER XO THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
A STUDY OF THE
ETHICS OF SPINOZA
(ETIIICA ORDINE GEOMETRICO
HAROLD H. JOACHIM
FELLOW AND TUTOR OF MKRTON COLLEGE, OXFORD
AT THE CLARENDON PRESS
PRINTED AT THE CLARENDON PRESS
BY HORACE HART, M.A.
PRINTER TO THE UNIVERSITY
The Ethics is a work which presents many per-
plexities to the interpreter. Barren abstractions,
tortured into the form of 'geometrical demonstra-
tions ' by a pedantic logic, appear to constitute the
larger portion of it : and the remainder has been
taken for poetry pure and simple. It has seemed
easy to annihilate the first with a few catchwords
of criticism, dismissing the second as the dreams of
a mystic. In the following exposition I have tried
to interpret the Ethics as a whole. I have assumed
that the ' poetry ' and ' imagination ' which breathe
through its pages are as in a great thinker they
must be in the service of a mind, which is ' pe-
dantic' only in its endeavour to think clearly and
reason logically. The so-called ' mysticism ' must,
I am convinced, be read as part and parcel of
Spinoza's metaphysical views ; and the ' God ' of
the earlier parts of the Ethics must be interpreted
in the light of the whole work. In the course of
my exposition many difficulties and criticisms forced
themselves upon me ; but I have endeavoured so to
arrange their discussion that it may interrupt the
statement of Spinoza's views as little as possible.
*7 /? A '
Where it seemed important, I have traced the
historical relation between the theories of Spinoza
and those of Descartes ; but I have made no
attempt to give a general sketch of the latter's
philosophy. It would have to be more than a
sketch to be of value, and for a complete exposi-
tion I have no space.
In the desire to avoid needless obscurity I have
sometimes passed over the views of well-known
commentators in silence, and I hope this omission
will not be attributed either to ignorance or to
conceit. Wherever it was possible for me to trace
a creditor I have acknowledged my debts, and in
the appended list of ' References and Abbrevia-
tions ' I have mentioned those commentaries which
have helped me most.
In common with all English students of Spinoza,
I am greatly indebted to the works of Sir Frederick
Pollock, the late Principal Caird, and the late Dr.
Martineau ; and my obligation does not end where
my interpretation differs from theirs. But, so far
as I am aware, no English book appeals only to
readers who wish to make a special study of
Spinoza's philosophy ; and I venture to publish this
attempt at a critical exposition of the Ethics in
the hope that, whatever its shortcomings, it may
help to fill a gap.
I owe the interpretation of two of Spinoza's
geometrical illustrations (below, p. 32 note 2 and
p. 223 note 2) to the kind help of my colleague,
Mr. A. L. Dixon, Fellow and Tutor of Merton
College : and I am glad to have this opportunity
of thanking my friend, Dr. Robert Latta, Professor
of Moral Philosophy in the University of Aberdeen,
who read nearly the whole of this book before it
was printed, and made many valuable suggestions
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione. The Geo-
THE GENEEAL NATURE OF REALITY . . 14-97
1. MEANING OF THE ANTITHESES :
(i) Substance and Mode 14-17
(ii) Substance and Attribute 17-27
2. INFINITE AND INDEFINITE 27-35
REALITY AS A WHOLE OR GOD 36-64
1. SUBSTANCE IS GOD 36-38
2. GOD IS THE ' ENS PERFECTISSIMUM ' OR ' REALIS-
SIMUM ' : INCLUDES ALL AFFIRMATIVE BEING :
SUBSISTS OF INFINITE ATTRIBUTES . . . 38-4 1
3. SOME OF GOD'S PROPERTIES. GOD IS ONE,
UNIQUE, WHOLE, SIMPLE, INDETERMINATE, AND
4. NATURE, VALIDITY, AND VALUE OF SPINOZA'S
ARGUMENTS TO PROVE THAT GOD EXISTS OF
5. THE CAUSALITY OF GOD 58-64
GOD AND HIS ATTRIBUTES (NATURA NATURANS) 65-72
1. THE ATTRIBUTES AS ' LINES OF FORCE,' OR FORMS
IN WHICH GOD'S OMNIPOTENCE MANIFESTS ITS
FREE CAUSALITY TO AN INTELLIGENCE . . 65-67
2. THE ATTRIBUTE OF EXTENSION. SPINOZA AND
3. THE INFINITY OF ATTRIBUTES. THE ATTRIBUTE
OF THOUGHT. GOD IS SELF-CONSCIOUS . . 69-72
GOD AND HIS MODES (NATURA NATURATA) . . 73-97
1. DEGREES OF PERFECTION OR REALITY . . 73~74
2. FORMAL STATEMENT OF THE ORDER OF THE
MODAL SEQUENCE 74~82
(i) Immediate and Mediate infinite and eternal modes
(ii) Particular things
3. MODAL SYSTEM OF THE ATTRIBUTE OF EXTEN-
SION. WHOLE AND PARTS .... 82-93
4. MODAL SYSTEM OF THE ATTRIBUTE OF THOUGHT 93~97
APPENDIX TO BOOK I
DIFFICULTIES AND CRITICISMS 98-II9
NOTE ON ' NATURA NATURATA ' AND THE WORLD OF
THE HUMAN MIND 123-219
SOUL AND BODY 123-145
1. INTRODUCTION I23-I25
2. THE HUMAN MIND AS THE IDEA OF THE BODY . 125-I32
3. CONSCIOUSNESS AND SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS . . I32-I34
4. SOME DIFFICULTIES I34-I45
THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE 146-185
1. 'idea' and 'ideatum' 146-152
2. the three stages of human progress as a
development of knowledge .... 152-185
(i) Imaginatio 152-170
(ii) Ratio 170-180
(iii) Scientia Intuitiva 180-185
THE EMOTIONAL NATURE OF MAN .... 186-219
PREFATORY NOTE ON THE TRANSLATION OF THE TERM
' AFFECTUS ' l86
1. METHOD OF TREATMENT I87-I90
2. THE 'CONATUS' I9I-I93
3. WILL AND DESIRE I93~I99
4. ACTION AND PASSION I99~2CO
5. 'AFFECTUS' AND 'IDEA.' THE THREE PRIMARY
PASSIVE EMOTIONS 201-208
6. DERIVATIVE AND COMPLEX PASSIVE EMOTIONS . 2o8-2l8
7. ACTIVE EMOTIONS 2l8-2I9
APPENDIX TO BOOK II
ESSENCE AND EXISTENCE THE ' CONATUS ' 'CUPIDITAS'
FREEDOM TELEOLOGY EMOTIONAL AND COGNITIVE
THE IDEAL LIFE FOR MAN .... 238-309
MEANING OF A STANDARD OF MORAL VALUE . . 238-254
MAN AS A MEMBER OF THE 'COMMUNIS ORDO
NATURAE ' : THE BONDAGE OF MAN . . . 255-263
1. THE STRENGTH OF THE PASSIVE EMOTIONS, AND
THE RELATIVE POWERLESSNESS OF THE ACTIVE
2. THE LIFE OF MAN AS INTELLECTUALLY AND
MORALLY IN BONDAGE 261-263
THE MORAL LIFE AS THE LIFE OF REASON . . 264-291
1. INDIVIDUALITY IN THE GRADE OF ' RATIO ' . 264-268
2. GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF THE LIFE OF ' REASON,*
'VIRTUE,' OR 'FREEDOM' 268-273
3. APPLICATION OF THE ABOVE PRINCIPLES . . 273-280
4. THE POWER OF REASON 280-29I
THE IDEAL LIFE AS CONSCIOUS UNION WITH GOD 292-309
1. INTRODUCTION 292-294
2. THE CONCEPTION OF ' ETERNITY ' , . . 294-298
3. THE ETERNITY OF THE HUMAN MIND . . . 298-306
4. REVIEW 306-309
REFERENCES AND ABBREVIATIONS
Desc. Medit. = Renati Des Cartes Meditationes de Prima Philo-
Desc. Princ. = Renati Des Cartes Principia Philosophiae.
Where the page is given, the reference is to the Latin
edition of Descartes' works, published at Frankfort in
Desc. Epp. = Renati Des Cartes Epistulae.
WlL=Van Vloten and Land's edition of Spinoza. Two
volumes. The Hague, 1882.
Tdle = Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione.
Tr. P. = Tractatus Politicus.
Tr. Th.= Tractatus Theologico-Politicus.
Ph. D. = Principia Philosophiae Cartesianae (Spinoza's version).
C. M. =Cogitata Metaphysica. The section-numbers referred
to are those of Bruder's edition of Spinoza.
Epp. = Epistulae.
E.=Ethica ordine geometrico demonstrata.
K. V. = Korte Verhandeling van God, de Mensch, en deszelfs
K. V. S. = Sigwart's German translation of the Korte Ver-
3. COMMENTATORS ON SPINOZA.
Avenarius= Richard Avenarius, TJeber die beidcn ersten Phasen
des Spinozischen Pantheismus, &c. Leipzig, 1868.
Brunschvi eg = Professor Leon Brunschvicg, Spinoza. Paris,
xiv REFERENCES AND ABBREVIATIONS
Busolt=Dr. GeorgBusolt, Die Grundziige der Erkenntnisstheorie
und Metaphysik Spinoza's. Berlin, 1875.
Caird = Principal John Caird, LL.D., Spinoza. Edinburgh,
Camerer=Theodor Camerer, Die Lehre Spinoza's. Stuttgart,
Elbogen = Dr. Ismar Elbogen, Der Tractatus de intellectus enien-
datione, &c. Breslau, 1898.
Erdmann, ii=Dr. J. E. Erdmann, Grundriss der Geschichte der
% Philosophic vol. ii. Berlin, 1878.
Erdmann, V. A. = Dr. J. E. Erdmann, Vermischte Aufsatzc.
Grzymisch = Dr. Siegfried Grzymisch, Spinoza's Lehren von der
Ewigkeit und Unsterblichlceit. Breslau, 1898.
Joel = Dr. M. Joel, Zur Genesis der Lehre Spinoza's. Breslau,
Loewe = Dr. Johann Heinrich Loewe, Die Philosophie Fichte's,
&c. (with an appendix on Spinoza's conception of God).
Martineau = Dr. James Martineau, A Study of Spinoza. Third
edition. London, 1895.
Pollock = Sir Frederick Pollock, Spinoza: his Life and Philo-
sophy. Second edition. London, 1899.
Sigwart, Tr. = Dr. Christoph Sigwart, Spinoza's neuentdeckter
Tractat von Gott, &c. Gotha, 1866.
Sigwart, Sp. =Dr. H. C. W. Sigwart, Der Spinozismus, &c.
Thomas = Dr. Karl Thomas, Spinoza als Metaphysiker, &c.
Zulawski=Dr. Jerzy Zulawski, Das Problem der Kausalitat hex
Spinoza. Bern, 1899.
The early and unfinished Tractatus de Intellectus The Trac-
Emendatione is invaluable to students of the Ethics. i nte u ectus
As a fragment of a treatise on Method, it supplements Emenda-
Spinoza's theory of knowledge. But it has greater
claims on our attention than this. For the treatise
on Method is set in a framework, which exhibits the
central ideas of Spinoza's philosophy with remarkable
clearness. The writer of the Ethics comes before the
world with a finished system : but the writer of the
Tractatus allows us to see this system in the making,
and shows us the motives which inspired it.
Philosophy is for Spinoza certain, demonstrable, and
demonstrated knowledge. It is a system of necessary
truth, whose consummation is the complete under-
standing of ourselves, and our place in the universe
the most that we are or can be. In other words,
philosophy is for him the complete knowledge of
human nature and life ' ethics scientifically demon-
strated.' But it is also a great deal more. It is the
ideal human life : for, in the complete understanding
which is philosophy, we enjoy the only permanent
satisfaction of our nature. This conception of philo-
sophy as the full knowledge, which is perfect life
is developed in the opening pages of the Tractatus as
the outcome of Spinoza's personal experience \
Experience he tells us has taught him that none
1 VV1L. i. pp. 3-5. The tone stress of the struggle, and at-
of the Tdle is that of a man tained peace. Cf. Avenarius,
who has passed through the p. 46.
2 THE ETHICS OF SPINOZA
of the objects which men usually set before themselves
can yield complete satisfaction of desire. Pleasure,
power, wealth all fail to serve as a source of permanent,
unbroken enjoyment. And they fail because of their
nature. It is their nature to be perishable and finite ;
but permanent happiness can flow only from what is
itself permanent and unchangeable. ' To set one's heart
on something eternal and infinite this feeds the mind
with unmixed joy : an object of this kind can never
be the source of sorrow and disappointment V
So long as our mind is set on the pursuit of finite
objects, it is impossible to fix our thoughts seriously
on anything else. Yet, so far as they go, these objects
satisfy desire and are ' good ' indeed the only ' goods '
which experience affirms to us. Are we then to sacrifice
a certain for a chimerical good ? But further reflection
shows that this is not the alternative that confronts us.
We are in search of something completely good, as the
sole remedy for the fatal disease 2 of unsatisfied desire :
and this the ' good ' itself is certain and real, and in no
way chimerical. Our attainment of it is 'uncertain'
but this uncertainty diminishes with increased re-
flection. The end, then, is not chimerical, nor does its
attainment necessarily involve the sacrifice of goods
we already possess. The pursuit of power, riches,
pleasure is not in itself incompatible with the pursuit
of the supreme good : it becomes incompatible and
a hindrance only if we make these objects 'ends'
desirable for their own sake. But to surrender these
as the ultimate ends of life is to surrender certain evils,
and not to sacrifice goods. For pursue any of these
objects as your ultimate end, and you will inevitably
be led to despair and destruction. But it is not necessary
1 ' Sed amor erga rem aetemam est expers.' W1L. i. p. 5 ; cf.
et infinitam sola laetitia pascit K. V. S. 2. 7, 3.
animum, ipsaque omnis tristitiae 2 Cf. the simile, VV1L. i. p. 4.
(nor indeed feasible) to ' mortify all desires of the flesh,'
in order to strive after complete happiness.
What, then, is in outline the nature of this supreme
object of desire, attainment of which must afford perfect
and permanent satisfaction?
To perfect knowledge, or in reality, there is no ' good '
or 'bad,' no 'perfection' or 'imperfection.' Everything
is what it is as a necessary consequence of the ' order
of the universe ' or the ' laws of nature.' But human
knowledge knows only in part, sees things only from
certain points of view and not in their unbroken and
necessary coherence. And for that knowledge, ' good '
and 'bad,' 'perfect' and 'imperfect,' express adaptation
or non-adaptation to purpose. Since the purpose is not
in the things, but in our view of them ; and since our
views are only partial and therefore many, ' good ' ' bad,'
' perfect ' ' imperfect,' are relative terms : and relative to
such an extent that the same thing may rightly be
called both 'good' and 'bad,' both 'perfect' and 'imper-
fect ' in accordance with our varying points of view *.
Now, in searching for the 'supreme good,' we are
considering things as objects of human desire. ' Good '
is that which satisfies the desires of human nature ;
absolutely good ('the supreme good'), that which com-
pletely satisfies those desires ; relatively good (a ' true
good ') that which leads to this satisfaction.
But a ' good ' of this kind is a state or condition of
human nature itself. A 'good state' is one which we
conceive to be far stronger 2 , and more stable than our
own, and which for all we know to the contrary
is within our powers of attainment. A 'good,' in fact,
is a better state of ourselves. The ' supreme good ' for
a man is to attain to such a development that he if
possible in common with his fellows may enjoy
1 See below, Bk. III. ch. 1 ; and 2 Multo firmiorem more self-
cf. E. iv. praef., K. V. S. 1.6, 7-9. sufficient or self-dependent.
4 THE ETHICS OF SPINOZA
a permanent realization (in his own person and in
theirs) of ideal human nature, i. e. of that state which he
conceives as the best human state. And to anticipate 1
we can say in general terms that this ideal state of human
nature is 'that in which we know the union of man's
mind with the whole of nature.' To know and under-
stand this, would be to understand (and therefore to love)
the eternal and necessary order of things. And full con-
sciousness of this (and of our place in that order) would
be perfect and permanent satisfaction of our desire 2 .
This being the ultimate aim of all our efforts, we have
next to consider the means. Of these the first and most
important is to clear our intellect from error. Passing by,
for the present, all other needs, we must turn our atten-
tion to the discovery of a method for removing the pre-
liminary obstacles to the attainment of truth : a method
to remedy the defects of our intellect, or to render it fit ' so
to understand things that we may attain our supreme good. '
1 W1L. i. p. 6. ' Quaenam au- compulsion of unreasonable pas-
tern ilia sit natura ostendemus sion as 'mentis libertas seu
suo loco, nimirum esse cogni- beatitudo.'
tionem unionis, quani mens cum If Spinoza's design had been
tota Natura habet.' Footnote of completed, we should have in the
Spinoza's 'Haec fusius suo loco Tdle the Logica to purge the mind
explicantur.' of erroneous ways of thinking,
2 This conception of the su- that it may be fitted to attain
preme good for man is the same the perfect state ; and we should
as that elaborated in the Ethics have in other treatises the Medi-
(cf. E. v. praef., and Descartes, cina for the body, the Theory of
introductory letter to the Prin- Mechanics for increasing the con-
cipia |. Both in the Ethics and veniences of life, the TJieories of
in the Tdle, the supreme good Moral Philosophy and of the Edu-
for man is the attainment (by cation of the Young for the forma-
oneself and others) of such de- tion of a suitable political society,
velopment of our human nature and the Theory of Physics for
as will enable us to 'know,' and an adequate knowledge of our
therefore to 'love,' God, i.e. corporeal selves and material
Nature. In both works this know- things. (Cf. V V1L. i. p. 6.
ledge is conceived as freeing the Descartes I.e., and E. ii. Lemma
mind from the external or alien 7 S.)
At this point l the treatise on Method proper begins.
Its details belong to Spinoza's theory of knowledge;
and we need not treat of them here. But his conception
of the general nature of the method is all-important
for the understanding of the Ethics.
The aim of the method is to fit the intellect for the
attainment of the ' best ' knowledge of things. What
then is the ' best ' knowledge in what form of appre-
hension do we most fully understand?
If the object to be known is self-dependent (and in
that sense ' causa sui ' 2 ), we must, in order to understand
it, grasp it solely by its own ' essential nature ' : if the
object is dependent, we must grasp it by knowledge
of its 'proximate' cause. For to understand a thing
is to know why it is what it is to see the necessity
of its being. The method therefore must prepare the
intellect for knowing under this form of apprehension
the form whereby we understand things ' per solam suam
essentiam vel per cognitionem suae proximae causae.'
And our task in this treatise is to lay down the method
or way of thinking under this form of apprehension 3 .
For let us be quite clear what a method is. The
method of knowledge is that knowledge reflected on
itself the thinking of our thinking, ' cognitio reflexiva '
or ' idea ideae.' If this were not so, we should never
attain to any knowledge at all ; we should be committed
to the infinite process before we could begin to know.
"We should require a new method to test the truth of the
first, and again a third to test the second, and so on. The
case may be roughly illustrated from man's productive
activities. To beat iron we require a hammer ; to make
a hammer we need another hammer and so on (it might
be thought) ad infinitum. And yet men, by the use of
the simple tools with which nature provided them (e. g.
1 VV1L. i. p. 7. 2 VV1L. i. p. 30 ; see below, p. 53, note 1.
3 lb. pp. 10-16.
6 THE ETHICS OF SPINOZA
hands and raw material), have advanced step by step,
through the perfecting of more complicated tools, to the
most elaborate artistic products. So, the mind by the
careful employing of its tools (the true thoughts which its
inherited power has enabled it to fashion *) can advance
step by step to a more perfect understanding.
We are not here concerned with the question as to
1 how ideas arise in our mind at all.' It is enough for us
at present that the mind has ideas, some of which are
true : i. e. it thinks and can think truly. The aim of the
treatise on Method is to trace reflectively the way in which
we apprehend in true thinking : for the clear consciousness
of the course of our thinking when we apprehend things
through their essential nature or through their proximate
cause this itself is the method we are seeking.
We shall understand this more clearly, if we consider
for a moment the nature of an ' idea/ An idea is an act
of thought : to ' have an idea ' is to think. Now an
' idea ' must be distinguished from its ' ideatum.' The
true idea of Peter, e.g., is not Peter himself: it is the
' objective essence' of Peter, i. e. Peter as he is for thought.
And the idea of Peter, qud an act of thought, has a dis-
tinctive being of its own which can in turn be the object
of another thought the ' ideatum ' of another idea which
presents the first idea ' objectively,' or is its essentia obiec-
tiva. Every idea thus exhibits a double character. As
presentative of an original, it is the ' objective essence '
of its ' ideatum ' ; and, as an act of thought, it possesses
1 ' So the intellect by its inborn vestigations yet further; and thus
power (by which I mean that it advances step by step until it
which is not the effect in us of reaches the pinnacle of wisdom.'
external causes) fashions for itself VV1L. i. p. n.
instruments of understanding: In the footnote read 'non causu-
these give it strength for further tur.' VV1L. omit 'non ' : but it is
works of understanding; from the a necessary emendation of Paulus,
latter it gains other instruments adopted by Saisset and Bruder ;
or the power of pushing its in- cf. Elbogen, p. 13, note 3.
a peculiar nature of its own (a 'real,' or ' formal ' essence),
which may in turn become the 'ideatum' of another idea 1 .
This latter process may be repeated indefinitely, as is
matter of common experience. Thus we all recognize
that we ' know that we know,' and again ' know that we
know that we know,' and so on ad infinitum. But we
also recognize and this is the important point that
knowledge has no need to wait for the completion of
this infinite process. On the contrary : this indefinite
regressive reflection itself postulates as its starting-point
and condition the first idea or act of thought. In other
words applying this to our present purpose all methods
postulate the knowledge of which they are the methods ;
all reflection on the truth of an idea postulates the first
idea or act of thinking. We cannot advance a step in
knowledge, unless we can start with an idea which is
itself true and the guarantee of its own truth. The test
of truth must be given in the act of thinking : it cannot
be applied externally by a separate act of thought. Our
knowledge or certainty of truth is our knowing truly.
Jf I think truly, I shall eo ipso be conscious that my
thought is true : for to ' think truly ' is to have in idea
the real nature of the object of thought to have obiective
the essentia formalis of that which we are thinking. If
I have a true idea, or think truly, I am, in the very act of
thinking, convinced of the truth of my thought : and this
conviction is but my way of feeling (being conscious of)
the essentia formalis of the object of my thought 2 .
A method, then, postulates as its starting-point true
knowledge or a true thought of some kind. And the
bost method will be that which reflects upon the truest
1 On this subject, and on an nihil sit praeter ipsam essentiam
ambiguity in the expression ' esse obiectivam ; id est, modus, quo
obiectivum ideae,' see below, pp. sentimus essentiam formalem,
70 ff. est ipsa certitude' VV1L. i.
Hinc patet quod certitudo p. 12.
8 THE ETHICS OF SPINOZA
idea the most perfect knowledge. But there is only one
idea, the grasp of which is absolute certainty : only one
object of thought, the thinking of which is the complete
guarantee of its own truth. For there is only one object
of thought which is absolutely self-contained or self-
dependent : only one object, therefore, which we can
grasp fully and wholly in an act of thought. Everything
except this is dependent for its being upon something
other than itself: the thought therefore of everything
except this calls for the thought of other things to
guarantee its truth. Reality, God, Nature, the Most
Perfect Being however we name it this alone is self-
dependent and self-contained. This and this alone is
an ' ideatum,' the clear thought of which gives complete
certainty of truth. The true idea, which the method
must use as a ' norm ' to test the truth of all other know-
ledge, is the idea of the whole: the ultimate test of