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genius. And, generally speaking, we know how hard it
has been for ourselves, and how difficult it has been to
persuade others, to set the probable gain of ten years
hence against the enthralling attractions of immediate
pleasure or ease. Similarly, hard present facts, such as
the need of bread, have more influence in stimulating
exertion than the contingent or possible advantages
promised to temporary self-denial for purposes of self-
Knowledge Even true knowledge of good and evil — that is, of
power ^nuit what makes for and against self-preservation in its
feeling? highest sense, attainment of the ideal self — does not
control passion unless that knowledge takes the form

1 The records of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty
to Children show many such cases.


of mental affection, or, as we should say, of a feeling, 1
a saying which is merely a remarkable instance of the
common-sense always underlying Spinoza's philosophy.
Now, according to previous lessons, knowledge of good
or evil is itself nothing but a feeling or affection of joy
or grief, that is, consciousness of passage to a greater
or a lesser degree of perfection. Thus the man halting
between right principle and temptation to evil is moved
alternately by a sense of the higher good which righteous-
ness would be, and by a passion for the evil indulgence
which, to a part of his nature, is so attractive. But The moral

c Tim struggle as

unfortunately true knowledge or good and evil can too in Rom. vii.
easily be prevented by desires of a low or limited nature
from conversion into an adequate impulse or feeling for
good. And this is specially the case when the good is
future and the inferior attraction present as well as

At this point we come upon a very noteworthy feature
of the Master's ethical teaching. ' Other things being
equal,' he says, ' desire arising from joy is stronger than The fruit-
desire arising from grief.' (Prop, xviii., Pt. iv.) Now jj^ ess of
Spinoza's own life was too full of persecution, affliction,
and — from a worldly point of view — disappointment and
failure and loss to allow any suspicion here of Epicurean
illusion. And though, when we consider the prevalence
of suffering and tears and blood in many epochs of
humanity's re-birth to a higher life, the utterance appears
at first sight paradoxical, we cannot ignore it as we might

1 This is my interpretation of Prop. xiv. Much dispute might be
raised as to the technicalities. But Prop. viii. of this Part seems to
justify the above as the substantial meaning.



An idea
on the
of joy.

the self-gratulatory chuckle of a prosperous gold-grubber.
Let us try, by the aid of the demonstration appended to
the proposition, to make out the meaning, and then let us
illustrate it if we can from human experience. "We
must first, however, remind ourselves that, according to
Spinoza, joy is the passage from a less perfect to a more
perfect state, while grief is the passage from a more
perfect to a less perfect state. Now, desire is of the very
essence of man, being involved in the effort to persist in
his essential being. So then desire arising from joy —
i.e. the passage from a less perfect to a more perfect state
— must needs be stronger than desire arising from sorrow
— i.e. the passage from a more perfect to a less perfect
state. For, as Spinoza puts it, the force of desire arising
from joy has two co-operant causes, the external object
of desire and the inward exuberance. But in the case
of desire actuated by grief the external object is
negative, being the shadow of a loss, or the passage
from a greater to a less degree of perfection, and there
remains only the human longing which cannot be
weighed against the exuberance of impulse in the
other case. But if this appears to be merely a formal
or technical plea, we have only to turn to the most
thrilling records of human experience to recognise how
remarkably the Master's apparently most abstract state-
ments do often suggest the very life and soul of man's
moral glory.
1 The joy of Perhaps the most conspicuous example is to be found
i^you r rd in tne outburst of resurrection joy during the rise of
strength.' Christianity. Whatever may have been the nature of
the alleged historical events, with regard to which our


attitude here is one of comparative indifference, 1 it is
indisputable that during the first century a.d. a wave of
moral impulse rolled triumphantly from Syria over Asia
Minor, Greece, Macedonia, and Italy. This moral impulse The resur-
tended toward human brotherhood, equality, purity, and f pristiLe
a { Kingdom of God,' identical with the Eepublic of Man. ity ns x
And the chief note of this sacred impulse was one of
unutterable joy, which was embodied in prophetic music
because it could not find expression in prosaic speech.
1 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ ? Shall Rom. viii.


tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine or naked-
ness, or peril or sword ? . . . Nay, in all these things we
are more than conquerors through him that hath loved
us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor
angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present
nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other
creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.' There is abundant
allusion here to the self-sacrifice essentially incidental
to the Christian profession. But there is no minor tone
of lamentation or grief. On the contrary, there is a
triumphant realisation of the passage from a lesser to a
greater perfection; and the rapture of concentration upon
the divine ideal, the joy set before the saint, is swollen
by the tide of that progress from a narrower to a larger
life. It would be needless to multiply extracts ; for the Confirmed
above utterance recalls a score of others in the New Testament™

1 Those who regard this as an illogical position would do well to **"* by the
consult the history of the Babi movement in Persia. Of the moral fathers. ^
revival there can be no question. If this was largely caused by
imagination and personal magnetism in the nineteenth century, so
may it have been in the hist century.






Testament, and many words of the Apostolic Fathers,
which amply justify the familiar assertion that, despite
all the stress of spiritual conflict, the chief note of the
earliest Christian literature is one of exuberant joy.

The much inferior and in many respects divergent
movement of the Protestant Eeformation might afford
other illustrations. For there is no doubt that Luther,
Zwingli, Calvin, Knox, and their followers felt or be-
lieved themselves to be passing from a less perfect to
a more perfect state; or that it was the thrill of joy in
their experience which gave them an unconquerable
energy of desire. Or if we turn from Church History to
political and social movements, the same note of joy in
the passage from a less perfect to a more perfect state
is recognisable even in the grim energy of Cromwell's
Ironsides, and still more in the apostles of popular
liberty and freedom of trade. The Mazzinis, the Gari-
baldis, the Cobdens, and the Brights of history have not
been whining, melancholy pessimists, but men rejoicing
in the inspired conviction that they were raising not
themselves only but their nation, or even mankind, from
a lesser to a larger perfection. So that of them too it
might be said — giving to the sacred name its largest
interpretation — ' the joy of the Lord is your strength.'

At this point the Master interposes a short anticipa-
tory excursus on the rules of Reason, which I quote as
closely as possible : —

Prop.xviii., < Thus briefly I have expounded the causes of human im-
Anticipa- potence and inconstancy, and the reasons why men do not
tory excur- observe the dictates of reason. It now remains that I should

sus on the

rules of show what it is that Reason prescribes to us ; also which
Reason. — — — — ... ■ .


affections are consistent with the rules of human reason, and
which are opposed to those rules. But before I begin to
prove this at full length by our geometrical method, I desire
here to give a short preliminary exposition of the dictates of
Reason in order that my convictions may be the more easily
appreciated by every one.

' Since Reason demands nothing contrary to Nature, she Reason
herself therefore demands that every one should love himself, Jhede-
that he should seek what is useful to him — that is, what is v elopment
really useful — and that he should desire everything which self,
truly leads a man to greater perfection ; and generally that
every one should strive as far as he can to preserve his own
essential being (suum esse conservare). 1 This indeed is as
necessarily true as that the whole is greater than its part.
Moreover, since virtue is nothing else than action according
to the laws of our own nature, 2 and no one may strive to
preserve his own essential being unless by the laws of his own
proper nature, hence it follows (1) that the basis of virtue is
the impulse itself to preserve one's own essential being, and
that happiness consists in a man's ability to preserve his own
being. (2) It follows that virtue is to be desired on its own
account, and that nothing is conceivably better than virtue
or more useful to us, -with a view to which virtue should
be desired. (3) Lastly, it follows that those who commit
suicide are impotent in mind, and that they are utterly
overcome by external causes at discord with their own
nature. Moreover, it follows from Postulate 4, Part II., 3 fe^Teredus

1 The word 'essential' is, of course, an interpolation. But I think by the
it is needed to give in English the true significance of Spinoza's Latin. wor id.
Of course the ultimate substance of the man is God, and for the pre-
servation of this there can be no anxiety. But the essence of the
individual — qua individual — is a finite modification of certain Attri-
butes of that Substance. And 'self-preservation' in the man is the
guarding of his spontaneity within those limits against undue external
influences which cause inadequate ideas and reduce the man to an
'inadequate cause.'

- Always understand the finite Mode of God constituting our nature.

3 'The human body needs for its preservation very many other
bodies by which it is, as it were, continually remade'


that we cannot possibly succeed in putting ourselves beyond
the need of things external for the preservation of our being,
nor can we so live as to have no intercourse with things out-
side us'; and further, so far as concerns our Mind, certainly
our intellect would be more imperfect, if the Mind existed
alone and had no understanding of anything beyond itself. 1
N There are therefore given many external things which are
The most useful to us, and which on that account are to be desired,
serviceable Out of these none can be conceived more excellent than
of the those which entirely harmonise with our own nature. For

worldare ^ tw0 individual things of entirely the same nature are
those most joined together, they form an individual twice as powerful
with onr° ny &s either when separate. To man, therefore, there is nothing
nature. more useful than man ; nothing, I say, can men desire more
Hence excellent for the preservation of their essential being, than
supreme? " ~^at all should so harmonise in all respects that the Minds and
important. Bodies of all should make up, as it were, one Mind and one
Body ; and that all with one impulse, to the extent of their
power, should strive to preserve their essential being, and
that all with one impulse should seek, as for themselves, the
common good of all. From which considerations it follows
that men who are ruled by Reason, that is, men who by the
guidance of Eeason seek their own good (utile), will crave
nothing for themselves that they do not desire for all other
men, and thus be just, loyal (Jidos), and honourable.'
The law ' Such are those dictates of Eeason which I had purposed

veiopmVnt nere briefly to set forth before beginning to prove them by
is not to be the longer method. And the object with which I have done
with pas- it is to win, if possible, the attention of those who regard as
the very essence of impiety, and certainly not the foundation
of virtue and piety, my principle that every man is bound to

1 Contemporary psychology would regard this as an impossible
supposition, since the mind's knowledge of itself is supposed to be
brought about by contact with the not-self. But the main issue, our
dependence on what is called an external world for fulness of life, is
not affected. For my part I do not believe that the old^sharp division
between self and not-self is essential.

sions of


seek his own good. Now, therefore, having shortly pointed
out that the exact contrary is the case, I hasten to go on
with my demonstration in the same way by which we have
hitherto advanced.'

The purport of the above extract is to remove preju- Succeeding

. demonstra-

dice and to facilitate an understanding of the proofs that tions negli-
follow. But it really does more ; at least for the modern
reader. For if the latter's aim is a basis for ethical
practice, and not a curious study of seventeenth-century
dialectics, these general observations may save him anxiety
about the proofs of many succeeding propositions, if he
should find them apparently unconvincing or unnecessary.
He believes the teaching, or he does not, and in either
case the reason is really independent of the so-called
' geometrical method,' and depends upon the attraction And pro-
or repulsion of his sympathy. It would therefore be a only occa-
waste of time laboriously to pursue the series of demon- be quoted.
strations by which the above ethical lessons are sus-
tained. And even the propositions need not be quoted
except where they add to or modify or explain the concise
statements of the above extract.

For instance, in a Scholium to Prop. xx. we are re- ideal self-

.« preserva-

assured as to the sort of self-preservation identified with tion.
virtue. That it is not the gross love of life at any cost
is made clear. For, notwithstanding the previous con-
demnation of suicide, the act of Seneca is approved on
the ground that lie sought ' to avoid a greater evil by a
less.' From which it is clear that the self-preservation
Spinoza has in view is persistence in the divine idea of
the finite self. It is in this sense that the greatest energy
of self-preservation is identified with the highest virtue.


virtue and We also learn in the succeeding propositions what is
meant by the words, ' Virtue is nothing else than
action according to the laws of our. own nature ' — that
is, without undue interference by external causes. Thus
no man is regarded as being actuated entirely by virtue
who is determined by inadequate ideas to do this or
that; because the inadequate ideas imply undue inter-
ference of causes outside his own nature. Virtue, at
least in its purity, is predicated only of the man who is
impelled by what he clearly understands. Now, it is
undeniable that this language sounds like a mere techni-
cality of an arbitrary system. But there is sound sense at
the back of it for all that. Let us illustrate by an instance
which will also show within what limits we should take
the assertion that a virtuous man is actuated ' by what
Henry vm. he clearly understands.' King Henry vm. was perhaps
Thomas not wholly bad ; but it cannot be said that his policy as
a ruler was guided by adequate ideas, or that he clearly
understood his own motives. Thus in securing, through
Thomas Cromwell, the passage of a novel Treason Act,
making traitors of all who doubted the legitimacy of his
second marriage, he was certainly impelled by causes
lying quite outside the divine idea of his kingship, as
defined by the human expression of God 1 within the

1 ' The human mind is part of the infinite intellect of God ; and
accordingly when we say that the human mind perceives this or that,
we say nothing other than that God, not in so far as He is infinite,
but in so far as He is expressed by the human mind, or so far as He
constitutes the essence of the human mind, has this or that idea.
And when we say that God has this or that idea, not only so far as
He constitutes the nature of the human mind, but so far as He has
together with the human mind the idea of some other thing, then we
say that the human mind perceives the thing in part or inadequately.'


limits assigned by historical evolution to an English
king of the time.

But now take the case of Sir Thomas More, the victim Distinction
of that novel treason law. Of him it is impossible to f sir c
say with truth that he saw far into the future, or at least More!* 8
understood the sort of Nemesis that the king and Thomas
Cromwell were preparing. But this thing at any rate he
understood ; that wrong could not be right ; and that to
acknowledge the legitimacy of a marriage clean contrary
to all the sanctions associated by his conscience with the
marriage rite would be a treason against divine order,
and infinitely more guilty than disobedience to any ' law
of a carnal commandment.' It may therefore be said
that Sir Thomas More acted from causes that he under-
stood ; while King Henry acted from ' inadequate ideas.'

From this we are led to see that good and evil things Prop, xxvii.
are to be judged by the one test : do they conduce to
understanding, or do they hinder it ? That is, do they The highest
help toward that serene clarity of spiritual vision pos-
sessed by Sir Thomas More in his supreme hour, or do
they hinder it ? But if this be so, then the highest good
of the mind must be the knowledge of God, that is — as I
take it — of our relation as parts to the Whole, which
relation imposes upon us a duty of unreserved loyalty. 1

(Prop, xi., Pt. II., Coroll.) Which I apply to Henry viii. thus. His
attempts to make Parliament merely the registering court of a despotic
will were an essential element in the forces preparing the revolution
of the following century. They were in that sense part of the divine
order of the world. This answers to Spinoza's 'some other tiling'
which was in the mind of God, but not in the mind of Henry. The
idea of the latter therefore was • inadequate.'

1 ' The highest good of the Mind is the knowledge of God ; and the
supreme virtue of the Mind is to know God.' — Prop, xxviii., Part iv.


Having reached this lofty point of view, we are made
Practical to descend to some practical details, and to consider what
rules of life may help toward that highest good. Thus
so far as anything harmonises with our nature — always
Props. understand our divine nature — it is good. Thus, for
instance, the majesty or the sweet insinuations of natural
scenery, the alluring mysteries of organic life, and the
impressive march of human history, are all in harmony
with our nature, and of necessity good, in the sense
already given, that is, they conduce to our understanding
of our place in the world. And generally everything is
good so far as it harmonises x with our nature understood
as above.

It follows that, apart from the imperfections caused by

obedience to passion rather than reason, our fellow-men

Whatman are, in a higher degree than anything else in Natura

needs most

is man. Naturctta, good for us and helpful to us. Because, of
course, they have most points of harmony with our
individual humanity. But the drawbacks to so cheerful
a view are many. For men are very generally subject to

Prop.xxxii., passion, that is, to moral impotence ; and as Spinoza will

Schol. i-i •

nave it, mere agreement in negations cannot constitute
harmony of nature. Or, to put it in more vulgar fashion,
two boys who are equally indolent, selfish, and incapable
of moral aspiration, are the worst possible companions

Prop. for each other. Again, men buffeted by passions are

constantly brought into conflict one with another, and

And man instead of helping, devour one another. In fine, it is

finds man - '

when each only so iar as men are governed by reason that there can

is governed

1 That is, as I understand, so far as it does not oppose, but promotes,
the evolution of the individual ideal.


be a real harmony of nature between them and mutual
help toward the ideal life. And though, when put in
that way, this sounds too philosophical for 'human
nature's daily food/ yet if for 'reason' we substitute
loyalty to the best we know, with the desire to know
more, together with a temper of sincerity and honour,
this is very much what Spinoza means by ' reason.' Practical
Thus interpreted, the above doctrine is plain common- twoc? °
sense. trine '

Men governed by reason in this sense will always R °ot of the

. enthusiasm

desire to be useful to others and to share with them a of human-
form of wealth that is increased and not lessened by

giving. Also this desire will always be the greater in

proportion to the knowledge of God attained by such

men, that is, their knowledge of their relation as parts to

the infinite Whole. But here again it may be well to

quote as nearly as possible the Master's own words : —

' Whosoever, actuated merely by feeling, strives that others Prop,
should love what he loves, and that others should live in ^0"!
accordance with his notions, acts solely from impulse, and is Benevo-
on that account hateful, especially to those who prefer other impulse
things, and who on that very account also desire, and by the inferior to
same impulse strive that others should on the contrary live volence of
according to their notions. Moreover, since the highest good Reason -
which men desire by force of feeling is often of such a
nature that only one person may possess it, hence it follows
that they who love it are not inwardly consistent, and while
they glory in reciting the praises of the thing they love, are
alarmed lest they should be believed. 1 But he who strives
to lead others by reason does not act from impulse but from

1 What is really meant seems to be ' lest they should be so far
believed that others should be impelled to obtain possession of the
object so praised.'




c Natural '
and civic
in relation
to the
moral law.

human sympathy and kindness, and inwardly 1 he is perfectly
at one with himself. Moreover, I regard as Religion every
desire and action of which we are ourselves the cause through
having the idea or the knowledge of God. 2 But Piety I call
that desire of well-doing w T hich is begotten in us by the life
according to Reason. The desire, again, by which every man
living according to Reason is possessed to unite others to
himself in friendship I call honour ' — (social loyalty) — ' and
I call that honourable which men, living according to Reason,
praise ; and that, on the contrary, base which is inconsistent
with the bonds of amity. . . . Again, the difference between
real virtue and impotence is easily gathered from the above.
For plainly real virtue is nothing else than life strictly
according to reason. And thus impotence consists in this
alone, that a man suffers himself to be led by things outside
himself, and is determined by them to do, not what is
required by his own proper nature regarded in itself alone,
but (what is required) by the current order (communis con-
stitutio) of outward things.'

In a succeeding Scholium the Master draws a note-
worthy distinction between the natural and the civic —
or, if we like the word better — the social state of man.
Thus he denies that man in his natural state is bound by
any law to consider anything other than his own con-
venience and pleasure. But if we are startled by such

1 Mente — as in the preceding sentence.

2 Literally, ' whatever we desire and do of which we are the cause
so far as we have the idea of God, or so far as we have the knowledge
of God, I refer to Religion.' I submit, however, that if the writer had
been English, and written in his own tongue, the above is what he
would have said. But, as premised in the first sentences of this para-

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Online LibraryJ. Allanson (James Allanson) PictonSpinoza; a handbook to the Ethics → online text (page 12 of 21)