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man was a perfect weapon or tool, his successors would
regard as unfinished. Thus the modern collector whose
ideas have been formed by relics of a more advanced
stone age, may have often thrown away, as mere flakes or
cases of abrasion by natural forces, the ' perfected ' tools
of the first stone users. In fact, as Spinoza says, we
do not know the intention of the makers, and therefore
cannot possibly tell whether that intention had been
fulfilled, or, in other words, whether the product is
perfect or not.

But, of course, this simple notion of perfection, in the Abstract

. . . perfection

sense of being finished, often merges m a conception idea of

much more abstract. For a number of finished articles

of the same kind inevitably suggest a pattern or type,

by which all such things must be judged. If they tally in human

&rt 5

with the type, they are perfect ; but if they do not so
tally, then, however sure the maker may be that they
are finished, they are judged imperfect. And this habit
of forming in the mind ideal types has been extended
to many other things besides the works of man. Thus,
as soon as men conceive to themselves a type of the in objects
best race-horse, or the best rose, such ideals are con- human 1 *
sidered as finished, complete, perfect, and all particular m eres '
race-horses or roses are judged by the degree in which
they approximate to the conventional ideal. Then from
objects of man's particular delight, such as horses and
roses, this notion of an ideal by which all particular in all


objects must be judged is easily extended to all Nature.

'When, therefore/ says Spinoza, ' men see anything in
Nature which scarcely agrees with the ideal conception
they cherish of that particular thing, they believe that



And so Nature herself has been at fault, and has left that thing

Nature is ...

supposed imperfect.' But this is a misimpression arising from

to have .

failed of her an inveterate prejudice. For men will have it that

Nature had the particular end in view and failed, when,

as it has already been shown, Nature has no end at all

in view. That eternal and infinite Being which we

Absurdity call God or Nature, is because He is. And this sublime

where no necessity 1 is equally predicable of Him when we con-

pos?ibie. 1S ceive of Him as acting and causing and directing. If

He is because He is, He acts because He is, and the

action is as determinate as the Being. As Spinoza puts

it: 'the reason, therefore, or cause why God or Nature

acts and why He exists is one and the same.'

The being Can it be said that God is, or exists for any purpose ? 2

incommen- No ; even the very late Hebrew editor who redacted the

purp^seT 1 ^ nrsfc vision of Moses on Sinai appears to have felt the

absurdity of such a question when he interpreted the

traditional name Jahweh as equivalent to ' I am that

I am.' To assign an object or purpose to the Infinite

who embodies in Himself all possible purposes would

But if so, surely imply a defect in reverence. But if the Being

actio™* nas no purpose, what we call the divine action, which

aspect of aU i s on ty an aspect of Being revealed to human activity,

have S no an can nave n0 purpose either. This aspect of the divine

purpose, nature also is because it -is, and has no other reason.

The idea of ' final causes ' of action, involving motive

1 A free necessity, because external compulsion is out of the

2 If it be said that God exists for the good of His creatures, it
should be remembered that the creatures are all ' parts and propor-
tions ' of God. But when we speak of anything existing for a purpose,
we always mean a purpose outside itself.


and purpose, is therefore inconsistent with infinite and
eternal Being.

How then has the belief in final causes for divine origin of
action arisen ? Clearly from the inveterate human habit final causes
of measuring everything by desire. Thus when we say
that habitation is the final cause of this or that house,
we mean that a man, having conceived the comforts of
domestic life, had the desire of building a house in which
those comforts might be secured. Now this order of
thought pervades all human life, in which every action
has its motive ; and that motive is desire, of which the
fulfilment constitutes a final cause at which the action
aims. It was therefore inevitable that as men began from false
to think about the powers actuating Nature, and to
personify or defy them, they should assume, as a matter
of course, that final causes held in the world of the
gods a place precisely similar to that which they hold
amongst men. And this false analogy was persistently
maintained throughout the whole course of religious
evolution from animism or fetishism through polytheism,
henotheism, and even up to the most refined monotheism.
At this last stage, however, the inconsistency between the false-
God's eternity and the attribution to Him of temporal which is
or temporary purpose was felt very early in the growth realised in
of Christian theology, and becomes abundantly evident Mono- 5 £
in the devotional paradoxes of St. Augustine. But in thelsm
proportion as Monotheism merges in Pantheism, those
devotional paradoxes grow increasingly unreal, until
they are transfigured into the ' intellectual love of God '
preached by Spinoza, the love which drops the notion and aban-
of divine purpose, being content to know that things Pantheism.



are because they are, and could not have been other-
wise, since if the Whole could be realised, they are
eternally perfect. 1

This surrender of any belief in ' eternal purpose ' need
not, however, prevent our treating of Nature's 'con-


ances and

purpose as trivances/ and of the concatenation of events in human

a modus
cog it audi.

Case of
1 natural

history as though superhuman purpose were really in-
volved. For that is a convenient modus cogitandi,
fruitful enough in suggestion. It is like the injection
of colouring matter in microscopic anatomical prepara-
tions — not a real part of the object to be studied, yet
serving to make the relation of parts more obvious to
human faculty. Thus Darwinians have often spoken
and do still speak of the c purpose ' for which an insect
proboscis was gradually lengthened and shaped by
'natural selection,' or the blubber of the whale was
exaggerated, or a nictitating membrane given to the
eyes of various tribes, or the fur of the mole caused
to grow erect. Yet all the while the essential assump-
tion of the theory is that there was no 'purpose' at
all. Nevertheless the licence of language has been
found highly convenient ; for the supposition of a special
purpose in a variation is a short and emphatic way of
stating its particular use. And since, in speaking of
the Eternal All, we are necessarily limited by the finite
modes of human speech, a similar licence must be allowed
to the Pantheist, provided only that we are as well on
our guard as Naturalists against the superstitions en-
gendered by a mere necessity of finite thought.

1 On Spinoza's use of this epithet, as distinct from the use he
condemns, see farther on.


The conclusion is that the ascription of final cause Spinoza's
or purpose to Infinite God must be classed among what reality. '
SpiDoza calls ' inadequate ideas ' ; that is, it is a case
in which ■ God has this or that idea, not merely so far
as He forms the nature of the human mind, but in so
far as He has at the same time with the human mind
the idea also of another thing ' while this also involves
another thing, and so on ad infinitum. In other words,
our impression is an illusion arising from the impossi-
bility of seeing or conceiving the whole Universe at
once. Hence it is obviously presumptuous to apply to
the divine action a test derived from the harmony or
otherwise of His works and ways with human desire.
Yet if we cannot suppress the consciousness that some
things in the Universe please us better than others,
there is a truer standard of comparison than that of
human desire. Not that it is entirely free from anthropo-
morphism; but, at any rate, it is not so liable to
superstitious abuse. According to the Master, this is
the degree of reality involved. For while all creatures "Degrees of

... interest

have their being in God, some, at least to our human propor-
perceptions, have more being than others. For instance, intensity
a crystal is more interesting than an amorphous mass, and °
its more complicated structure impresses us with a feel-
ing of greater intensity of being. In the same way a
living cell is more complicated still, and has yet more
of being. Thus we may ascend from degree to degree
of complication till we reach human mind, human genius,
a Plato, an Augustine, a Shakespeare. On the other hand,
some objects and creatures are, to our feeling, charac-
terised by limitation and negation rather than by positive



tion is

but does
not imply
a mistake
of Nature.

of the flesh

qualities : such as a child born blind and deaf, or an
idiot, or an incompetent fool. For it is by negation
that these come short of their types. Such we may
call imperfect, if we like, and regard them as possessing
less of reality than other creatures of their kind. But
this is not because they lack anything properly belong-
ing to them as finite modes of the divine attributes ;
nor has JVatura Naturans, in forming them, committed
any mistake. For this would imply that in their
creation — to use accustomed phraseology — a higher
purpose was possible and missed. But as already seen,
this is inadmissible. For, as Spinoza writes, 'nought
belongs to anything in Nature except that which follows
necessarily from its efficient cause, 1 and whatever follows
from the necessity of the nature of an efficient cause,
is inevitable.'

In following the Master through such inexorable
reasoning we are haunted by the shadow of evil as we
have felt it in our own lives, and are at times tempted
almost to think that he is mocking us with a hardy denial
of black realities which sometimes threaten to make life
unendurable. But Spinoza is much too profoundly in
earnest to indulge in a mocking vein, and rarely has
recourse even to gentle satire. He does not for a moment
deny the personal miseries of our human bondage.
Undoubtedly, for those who insist that God must exist
for a purpose, and that purpose the happiness of our-
selves, the Master's teaching is useless and hopeless.

1 The particular 'efficient cause' is, of course, only a link in the
infinite network of causation, which, sub specie eternitatis, is a
standing and motionless system.


Still, for those of more open mind it is worth while to
hear what he has to say on the problem of evil.

1 As to Good and Evil they connote nothing actual in Spinoza on
things themselves, nor are they anything but modes of E ^ an
thought or notions formed by comparison of things with each
other. For one and the same thing may be at the same time
good and evil, and also neutral. Thus music is good for
brooding melancholy, bad for acute sorrow, and for the deaf
neither good nor bad. Yet however this may be, we must
stick to the terms ' — good and evil — ' for since we desire to
form an ideal of human nature for contemplation, it will be
useful to us to retain these words in the sense I have assigned
to them. And so in what follows I shall understand by ' good '
whatever we know clearly (certainly) to be a mean whereby
we may approach more and more to that ideal of human
nature which we set before us. By evil, on the other hand,
I shall understand whatever we clearly know to hinder us
from attaining that ideal. Farther we shall call men perfect
or imperfect in so far as they approach to or fall short of
that ideal.'

It will be observed that the Master here says nothing Spinoza's
about pain or disease. But it is implied that such indifference
things are evil only when they prevent the attainment or pa^ 6
of ideal manhood. For they may very well be good, if
in any case they promote its attainment. Are we then
to suppose that Spinoza was indifferent to, or rejoiced in
the dread disease which carried him off in the flower of
his age ? No ; but he believed himself to have only ' an
inadequate idea' of it. That is, as more than once explained

by bis

explained before in terms of the Master, the persecuted theory of

. , , .,. ~ . , „ ,. . . -, inadequate

sick and ailing Spinoza was only part of a divine idea, ideas,
while his true significance could not be attained without
a comprehension of the rest of that divine idea ; and this



Plea of

most unde-
from a
point of
view may-
be essential
to the
of the

ness of

■would involve a comprehension of the Infinite which is
unknowable. Now, whether we approve of this attitude
of mind or not, it at least enables us to understand in
what sense the Master declares that everythiug in the
Universe is perfect. For he means that it could be no
other without marring the harmony of the divine

What bearing has this upon the often pathetic pleas
of individual desire ? Such pleas have, as we shall find,
their proper place in disciplined efforts towards the
attainment of ideal manhood. But as bearing upon the
perfection or imperfection of the Universe, they have no
relevancy; they are nil. For just as in Cyclopsean
masonry the most eccentric and distorted stones, as well
as the most symmetrical, fill a place and exert a pressure
in compacting and balancing the whole, so everything in
Nature and life that seems to us abnormal and even
repulsive is essentially necessary in precisely that
abnormal or repulsive form. And we may in faith
presume that if our inadequate idea of such dark features
of Nature could be made adequate in the sense of seeing
them as God sees them — in all their relationships to the
infinite Whole — we should not desire to alter them if we

Even in our ignorance we can occasionally see that if
our idea of what we call an evil were supplemented by a
perception of only finite wider relationships, we should
cease to call it evil. For is not this human life of ours,
with its endurance and its heroisms, noble in our eyes ?
But how, without suffering, could it have been what it
is ? Undoubtedly its moral glory has been kindled by


the stress of conflict through which it has passed. And
the afflictions which in each generation were mourned
as evil, have produced greater good.

Yet though such reflections may seem to throw some This not


little light on the mysteries of sorrow, it must be con- method,
fessed that they fall far short of the Master's method,
not only in scope, but in principle. For he, denying
that the action any more than the being of the Eternal
can have any purpose at all, finds everything perfect in
the sense of sharing in the absolute Keality. Or, in
other words, each part and proportion, when imagina-
tively considered in all its relations, is just what it ought
to be, neither more nor less, as a constituent of the

But if it be asked why then should we try to alter why then

' S6Glt to

anything, seeing that all is as it should be ? the answer alter any-
is not so difficult as it seems. For this very tendency to ing "
change is part of the perfect order of Nature. And the
inspiration, of which we are in various degrees conscious,
to modify ourselves or other things in the direction of a
human purpose or an ideal, is as essential to the complete-
ness of the Universe as is gravitation or cohesion. The
fundamental antithesis between the eternity of the Eternity
Universe and our human perception of temporal succes-
sions of change within its parts belongs to the region of
the unknowable, which was perhaps not sufficiently
recognised by Spinoza. But granting this, we may freely
assert that the necessity laid upon us of dealing with
phenomenal changes in our pursuit of human purpose is
not in the least inconsistent with Spinoza's theory, that,
as eternal being and doing are determined by the divine


Nature, so the phenomenal existence and phenomenal
action in time of every finite part is determined by the
derivative nature it possesses in virtue of being a mode
of some infinite attribute of God. There is nothing in
all this to neutralise the only genuine freedom, which
is action from within, as distinguished from action by
compulsion from without. Nor ought the joy of moral
power and of devotion to high ends to be in the least
diminished by the certain truth that it belongs to an
ordered Whole.
Instinct of Throughout this Part of Spinoza's Ethics, as in the pre-


vation in- ceding Parts, the instinct of self-preservation is assumed
but fallible, as fundamental. But while ineradicable, it may be
misguided, and may even take that for self-preservation
which is really self-destruction. If it be asked how this
can happen in a Universe identical with God, the answer
has already been given, for no purpose x of God is
defeated ; and our conception of the human tragedy is an
' inadequate idea.'' If we could see it as God sees it, and
all that He sees along with it, we should know that it
forms part of the perfection of the Whole.
Definitions. The definitions given at the beginning of this Part
need not detain us, for they have already been anticipated
in our paraphrase of the preface, We know what the
Master means by ' good ' and ' evil.' Things contingent
are so in appearance only ; and so with things possible.
Yet their apparent contingency and possibility have
much to do with our moral trials. The end or final cause
for which we do anything is the fulfilment of desire.
Virtue and Power are identical. ' That is, virtue so far

1 Seepages 134-136.


as it belongs to man is the essential being or nature of
the man, so far as he possesses the power of achieving
such things as may be understood solely through the
laws of his own nature.' My own understanding of this
I would illustrate thus. When Socrates refused to join Socrates
in putting to the Assembly the illegal vote of vengeance illegal vote.
on the victors of Arginusae for their alleged neglect, he
acted according to the essence of his own nature, apart
from external influences. His claim to inspiration at
such crises does not in the least interfere with the fitness
of the illustration. Because according to the doctrine of
Spinoza the man Socrates was a finite modification of
certain divine attributes. Such modified attributes con-
stituted the essential being of the individual, and so long
as the influences under which he acted fell within the
limits of those modified attributes, what he did could be
understood ' solely through the laws of his own nature.'
Thus the virtue and the power of Socrates were one and
the same.

But now let us take a very different case, that of Judas


Judas Iseariot — the historicity of details being of no
importance to our purpose. Now the essence of Judas
was also a finite modification of infinite divine attributes.
And on Spinoza's theory, if Judas had acted solely from
influences falling within the limits of those finite modi-
fications, he could not have gone wrong. But the possible
rewards of iniquity excited the passion of greed which
enslaved him. He acted no more as a free man moved
by impulses spontaneously arising within, and explicable
only by the laws of his own nature. He was no longer
governed by reason, but became the slave of passion.


Thus virtue became impossible just in proportion as
power was lost, and vice was victorious. 1

Such is the view of human nature assumed throughout
the Fourth Part of the Ethics. We are passive, or we
suffer — not necessarily pain, but servitude — so far as our
part in Nature cannot be clearly conceived by itself or
apart from other things — or, as we might put it, so long
as we have no individuality. Undoubtedly this sounds
strange, coming from a teacher who regarded God and
the Universe as identical, and who insisted that the
infinite is indivisible. But, as I have had occasion to
observe elsewhere, even Spinoza could not always adapt
the imperfections of language to his purpose. And,
taking the whole context into view, I think it probable
that what Spinoza has immediately in view here is not
the primary idea of the man as a finite modification of
certain divine attributes, but rather the secondary con-
ception thence arising of an apparent centre of spontaneous
action. A man who acts from reason feels his impulses
rise within himself and is free. But a man who acts
from passion — i.e. passive susceptibility to outward
attractions or repulsions — is drawn hither and thither
against his judgment, and is a slave. In the one case —
according to Spinoza — the man's doings are explicable
from the laws of his own nature alone as a finite and
definite expression of God; in the other we have to
account for much by delusive external images, temptations
and snares. Or, as the Master otherwise puts it, the man
under moral bondage is \ an inadequate cause.'

1 It must not be supposed that I regard such details of Spinoza's
system as infallible, but they are worth understanding.


But it is not suggested that man can cease to be a Absolute
.draw himself wholly from external


part of Nature, or withdraw himself wholly from external to exSrnaT

influence. All that can be done is to consider carefully impossible.
our natural and social surroundings, and to strive, as
far as in us lies, to keep the proper development of our
individuality free from undue submission to forces from
without. And this is no easy task. For ' the force and A test of


increase of any passion, together with its persistence, is
not limited by the strength of our instinct of self-pre-
servation, but by the proportion between this and the
force of an external cause.' 1 And thus 'the strength of
any passion or affection may overwhelm all the rest of a
man's energies 2 or power ; so that the affection may
obstinately stick to the man.' (Prop, vi.)

Venturing again to illustrate the Master by our own niustra-
observations of life, we may recall cases of dipsomania victim of
in which the victim is perfectly aware that he is drink-
ing himself to death. He does not want to die, but
'the force and increase of the passion ' for drink ( is not
limited by ' the poor creature's instinct of self-preserva-
tion, ' but only by the proportion between this and the
force of the external cause,' which latter is in this case

Is there then no help ? Yes, there is. But such A possible


passions 'can neither be controlled nor removed except
by an impression {affectum) contrary to and stronger
than the passion to be controlled.' It is necessary there-
fore to discuss the considerations affecting the relative

1 Prop, v., Pt. iv. ; see also demonstration of Prop, vi., Pars. iv.

2 Actio7ies — but the word here is equivalent to the whole being as
active, which is fairly expressed by the sum of energ}*.


Conditions powers of various feelings. Thus we learn that affections
the strength arising from causes realised as present are stronger than
tions. those dependent on remote contingencies. (Prop, ix.)
Here again we may bring our experience of life to bear.
For cases have been known in which an apparently
hopeless drunkard, being suddenly confronted by some
special circumstances, with the results of cruelty in-
flicted on wife and children by his indulgence, 1 has really
felt the force of an impression contrary to and stronger
Present than the passion that has debased him. Yet mere warn-


stronger ings of future effects of his conduct have been of no use.
orcontin- The same advantage of causes realised as present over
those regarded as remote contingencies might also be
illustrated by the greater social influence of the actual
millionaire as compared with that of the brilliant but
impecunious young man who has just proved himself a

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Online LibraryJ. Allanson (James Allanson) PictonSpinoza; a handbook to the Ethics → online text (page 11 of 21)