J. Allanson (James Allanson) Picton.

Spinoza; a handbook to the Ethics online

. (page 15 of 21)
Online LibraryJ. Allanson (James Allanson) PictonSpinoza; a handbook to the Ethics → online text (page 15 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

us is in harmony with the Whole of Nature.'

1 The ideal of the reformer or the philanthropist — if it be true to
the nature of things, i.e. to the nature of God — is inevitable, though
seldom realised in his personal lifetime.



To bring home to the modern English mind the practical Method

° or adopted.

common-sense forming the core of Spinoza's teaching in
the concluding Part of his Ethics, it seems best to abandon
even more entirely than we have done in the immediately
previous Parts, any attempt to fit together in their so-
called mathematical order the successive steps of the
argument. Instead of that, we may try to present the Practical
practical results of the argument in such a form as may chiefly in
be available for the guidance of daily life. 1

The first thing to be fixed in our minds is familiar Recapituia-
enough if we have followed the Master to this point ; but doctrine of
it may need reiteration. For the freedom expounded is
not that of caprice or self-will, but simply action without
compulsion or restraint from without. And by compul-l
sion or restraint from without is meant any impelling or;
deterring influence which is not spontaneously 2 generated
within the area of the man's nature considered as a finite'

1 The preface may, for our purpose, be ignored. For it is mainly
a discussion of Descartes' quite fanciful speculations on the pineal
gland, and also of that illustrious philosopher's dualistic theory of
body and soul, a theory utterly alien to Spinoza's doctrine of the
identity of the two.

2 ' Spontaneously ' in the sense of John iv. 14: 'The water that I
shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing upjaitojever-



as indepen- expression of God. Thus no man is free who acts through

dence of j * °

influences i 10 pe of Heaven or fear of Hell, or through the impul-

outside oulr x #< ° \

proper I sion or restraint exercised by any other pleasure desired


or penalty feared. Because, of course, in any such case,
the man affected would by hypothesis act quite differ-
ently if the fear of punishment or the hope of reward
were withdrawn. He cannot therefore be said to act
freely. For that prerogative belongs only to the man
who carries his essential being into action without being
' warped or thwarted by external influences. Thus, when
Tenn)^son wrote :

The Poet's ' I do but sing because I must,

Afflatus - And pipe but as the linnets sing,'

there was no thought of compulsion in the ordinary
sense of imperious pressure from without, but only of an
unimpeded issue into outward form of an impulse proper
to his essential nature. According to Spinoza this is the
S only freedom possible to finite beings, and is the assured
and everlasting prerogative of God.
Exuberance The sports of lambs on a spring evening, or the healthy

of innocent . ,,".,,

life. infants spontaneous gambols accompanied by trills ot

laughter sounding like the song of the skylark, are also
illustrations of Spinoza's idea of freedom. The inward
nature, or ' essence/ in either case is a fathomless foun-
tain from which joy in action bubbles forth without other
apparent motive than itself. In other words, the little
life is an 'adequate cause' of such displays, and there is

lasting life.' The creature is not the source of the living water, but it
wells up in him through his relation to the life of God. It cannot be
traced to any finite cause outside the area of the man's own nature,
though, of course, it is related to such untraced 'cause' or 'causes.'


nothing else needed to account for them. Or if it be
suggested that, according to Spinoza, there is no cause
but God, this is perfectly consistent with all that has
been said. For it is of course God — not as infinite, but
as manifest in a finite mode of extension and thought or
consciousness — who is the adequate cause of animal or
infant spontaneity of joy. Our present object, however,'
is to fix as definitely and clearly as possible Spinoza's
idea of freedom, which is simply action from within and
according to the divine nature in us, without interference
by external causes. Thus the fully developed free man)
is one who 'does justice, loves mercy, and walks humbly'
with his God ' as spontaneously as the lamb frisks or the
child plays. 1

The hindrances to such freedom are, in the ordinary Hindrances

to freedom.

man, mainly the passions, or, as St. Paul has it, ' the
works of the flesh . . . adultery, fornication, unclean-
ness, lasciviousness, idolatry, 2 witchcraft, hatred, variance,
emulations, wrath, strifes, seditions, heresies, envyings,
murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.' The
Apostle did not pretend to give an exhaustive list. But

1 Readers of the previous Parts of the Ethics ought not to need any
caution against the hasty and mistaken inference that action from
conscious motive, or under external influence, forms no part of
Spinoza's ethical system. As a discipline it was a conspicuous element
in his plan of salvation (see Scholium to Prop. x. in this Part). But
actual salvation, the higher life with its holy freedom, was, in his
view, what is here set forth.

2 My inclusion of idolatry, witchcraft, sedition, heresies might seem
foreign to Spinozism. But it is not so. For 'idolatry' includes the
worship of a god framed out of our own sentiment of what he ought
to be, as well as that of a god wrought out of wood or stone. ' Witch-
craft' would include much of modern 'spiritism.' 'Seditions' and
'heresies' may mean any arbitrary rebellion of a part against the
whole in a finite community.


he gives us illustrations which suggest that his notion of
spiritual freedom and its hindrances was in its essence
St. Paul nearly akin to that of Spinoza. ' This I say then, walk
Spiuoza. in the spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.'
Surely the theological Aberglaube generated by tech-
nical uses of the word ' spirit ' need not blind us to the
fact that St. Paul's idea of freedom is spontaneous action
issuing from the inner nature which is in touch with
God, or is rather a manifestation of God, and is un-
troubled by interference from without. And for St. Paul
as well as for Spinoza hindrances to freedom were all
those disturbing influences from without which thwart or
distort the spontaneous action of the finite manifestation
of God constituting the ' adequate idea ' of each individual
The slave For instance, the raging man is not himself as he would
of passion, ^ j^j. ag ^q [ s forced to be by the resistless impulse of
an external provocation. And Spinoza's doctrine is that
the raging man, for all his bluster, is not active but
passive, suffering under the suppression of his true self
by violence. It is easy to apply the same doctrine to all
forms of passion which overmaster us. The ordinary
notion is that they are states of morbid activity. But
Spinoza's theory agrees with St. Paul's intuition * that they
are rather states of morbid passivity in which we suffer
under alien forces too strong for us.

Shakespeare's King Lear affords a case in point. For
one of the most pathetic elements in the tragedy is the
raving king's shame that his true self is lost and that

1 See, in addition to the above-cited passage from Gal. v. 19, also
Romans vii. 15, vi. 16.


with it is gone all real spontaneity of utterance and

action : —

' Life and death ! I am ashamed King Lear.

That thou hast power to shake my manhood thus ;
That these hot tears, which break from me perforce,
Should make thee worth them. 5

' most small fault,
How ugly didst thou in Cordelia show !
That, like an engine, wrenched my frame of nature
From the fixed place, drew from my heart all love,
And added to the gall. O Lear, Lear, Lear !
Beat at this gate, that let thy folly in, [Striking his head.
And thy dear judgment out ! 5

These last lines describe exactly Spinoza's idea of ignoble
passivity as contrasted with free action. It matters not
that, to Shakespeare, philosophy came through imagina-
tive insight into reality rather than through any process
of reasoning ; except indeed that by this very triumph of
imagination he proves Spinoza to have been as far from
infallibility as any other great man. 1 However that
may be, the fall of Lear is conceived as the dislocation
of the true self with its spontaneity, and its subjec-
tion to external influences that ought never to have the

How then is such a bondage to be broken, and true^The plan of
freedom achieved? There are many subsidiary sugges-,
tions to which we may recur with advantage after we
have grasped the main solution to which Spinoza leads
up by his favourite method of successive propositions and
proofs. But for our purpose it is best to state at once
with such plainness as the subject permits, what is the

1 The ' imagination,' however, which Spinoza depreciates is scarcely
that which was Shakespeare's glory.


lies in main- Master's answer to the above question, or, as we may say,
onrprero- his plan of salvation. In essence it is this. We should
partakers of^abitually realise our prerogative as partakers of the
nature mc divine nature. And the prerogative consists in this:
ownikits ^hat w ^ nin limits we can make our lives in thought,
word, and deed a finite but, within those limits, an
adequate expression of God. For each individual man is
a finite mode of divine Extension and Thought. Now
\ the prerogative just mentioned is the capacity to mani-
fest God within the limits of certain finite Modes while
resisting the intrusion of other finite Modes of the divine
Attributes. For such an intrusion, though it cannot mar
the harmony of the Infinite Whole, can certainly disturb
the self-contained inward concord of the individual life
or finite expression of God.
Case of For illustration of this view of moral evil we may recur

to the raging King Lear, who, being a type, embodies in
himself the experience of myriads of actual men. With
the wickedness of the two daughters we are not concerned
here, though, in the eclipse of the divine nature within
them by the obtrusion of greed, ambition, and pride, they
also illustrate Spinoza's theory of sin. But anger at their
baseness, to which Lear's folly alone had given power,
not only does the outraged father no good, but aggravates
such^se" 1 his misery tenfold. His former slavery to ill-regulated
to fiSte* ^ ove ^ as become now an even more hopeless slavery to
andd° n s impotent hate. His madness does not, according to
not affect Spinoza's system, mar the infinite peace and harmony of
the Universe or God. But it does disturb within Lear's
finite self the expression of God. Or we may put it
thus : that to find the divine meaning of Lear's passion


we have to go far beyond himself, and may be driven
to imagine that an explanation might be found if the
infinite scheme of things could be grasped by our minds
in its totality.

We return then to the main thesis that the prime con- Kesump-
dition of freedom is the continuous realisation of our main thesis,
prerogative as partakers of the divine nature. In the
enunciation of this doctrine as taught by the Master in
this part of his work there is a strain of poetry nobler
than any conceivable by Lord Bacon, though Shakespeare
attains it now and then. But it is found only in those
passages where, instead of ' suiting the shows of things
to the desires of the mind,' the great poet unmasks reality
from all shows and gives us to feel eternal rest in God.
'Whosoever/ says Spinoza, 'clearly and distinctly under-, Self and
stands himself and his own mental affections, loves Godj
and all the more in proportion as he better understand^
self and its affections/ 1 The doctrine is that the confused
and inadequate ideas associated with passion are ex-
cluded. This being so, a man who clearly and distinctly
recognises his place in the Universe, or God, necessarily
regards God as the cause of whatever joy or satisfaction
he has in existence; or if little of such pleasure has
fallen to his lot, he can look beyond himself to ' the glory
of the sum of things/ The glow of feeling with which
such a man responds to the Universe is what I under-
stand the Master to mean by ' the intellectual love of God.' ( inteiiect-
Thelate Professor Huxley, in the meridian of his great gifts God.'
and in the full career of joyful work, used to say that
at the end of every day he felt a strong desire to say

1 Prop, xv., Tart v.


1 Thank you ' to some Power if he could only know to
whom to say it. Now that seems to me the attitude of
soul described by Spinoza in the above-quoted proposi-
tion j and the fact that Huxley preferred to call himself
an Agnostic rather than a Pantheist, scarcely detracts
from the value of the illustration. The Pantheist does
know to whom to say ' Thank you.' 1 But this difference
in his theory of the Universe does not in the least pre-
vent his cordial recognition of the devout Agnostic's
loyalty to the unknown source of his joy.
J The ' God-consciousness ' is for Spinoza the main con-
dition of human freedom. But, as we noted above, there
Subsidiary are many subsidiary and indeed precedent conditions to be
dent condi- fulfilled before that state of blessedness can be reached.
freedom. For instance, we have to remember that the passions
under which we suffer are to a certain extent like
physical forces, at any rate in this respect, that action
and reaction are equal and opposite. This is the
practical meaning of an axiom stated thus : ' If two
opposite movements are excited in the same subject, there
must of necessity arise (fieri) a change in both or in one
alone until they cease to be opposed. 1 Here a concrete
instance is not difficult to conceive. Mrs. Humphry
Case of Ward's Eobert Elsmere was actuated at once by devotion
Eismere. to truth and by loyalty to ecclesiastical tradition. Now,
though he was not at first aware of the fact, these affec-
tions were two contrary movements in the same subject,
and one or other, or both, had to be changed before the
inward discord could be attuned. In the supposed in-
stance it was ecclesiastical tradition that had to give

1 This is very different from saying that he comprehends God.


way. But in many real cases, as is well known, the other cases

.in which

reverse change takes place and ecclesiastical tradition doubt is

j • i t i i i • i i i arbitrarily

triumphs. 1 do not say that in the latter cases there is suppressed.
any conscious disloyalty to truth. But what happens
is that the mind in course of the conflict begins to divide
truth into two sorts ; the one verifiable as in everyday
life, the other transcendental, going beyond experience
altogether, as, for instance, in the assumption that God
must be a ' person who thinks and loves,' and that He
must have given a supernatural revelation to man. This
is quite sufficient to effect a change in one of the opposing
affections or mental movements. Truth, as understood
by common-sense, is ignored, and tradition is triumphant.

Very different illustrations of Spinoza's axiom may be Contrariety

• r» i i n more

found in the struggle ot more commonly opposed pas- ordinary
sions, such as drunkenness and family affection, love of
ease and desire for success, philanthropy and sensual
appetite, or a hundred other pairs of affections, or ' move-
ments ' in the same mind. But the ultimate bearing,
already anticipated, is the incompatibility of any base-
ness with the intellectual love of God.

A second axiom at the beginning of Part v. is the
following: 'The power of a ' (mental or bodily) ' affec- Power of an

,..,,, . „ affection

tion is limited by the power of its cause, so far as the limited by

jfo C1USG

essence of the affection is explained or limited by the
essence of its cause.' This sounds very obscure, but I
venture to think that a simple illustration may show
that it sets forth a truth of common-sense. In these days The golf
of golf many a business man is tempted by fine weather
and first-rate links to spend more time on the amusement
than is quite compatible with the interests of his


business. But the power of the attraction — affection or
passion — is limited by 'the essence of the cause,' the
enjoyment of skilful action and emulation in an open-
air game. Now let a messenger come with the tidings
that a very important debtor is bankrupt. The clubs are
dropped and the first train taken for the place of business.
For the power of passion for the game is limited by the
essence of the cause of that passion, as above described, a
cause which after all touches only the fringe of the player's
interests in life. But the claims of self-preservation are
overwhelming, and an attraction which a moment ago
seemed all-absorbing is now eclipsed and forgotten.
A more general illustration may be found in the re-
Is it worth curring question * Is it worth while ? ' which obtrudes
itself in times of fevered and disproportionate exertion.
The question ' Why do I labour and bereave my soul of
good ? ' is perhaps more frequently asked now than it was
in the days of Koheleth. And it generally signifies that
the power of the affection which urged the labour tends
to pass beyond the limits fixed by the essence of its
cause. That cause may be a desire for honest independ-
ence and for freedom from care. But should it lead to
increase of care and intolerable pressure of demand for
exertion, that cause has exceeded the limits of its essence,
and the passion it has excited begins to pall.

The applications of these salutary principles is facili-
tated by the truth that the order or arrangement of ideas
is the same as the order and connection of things. 1 Thus
the order and connection of ideas and of bodily affections
is the same. For example, in the morbid constitution of

1 Prop, vii., Part n.


the wine-bibber the idea of the public-house is associated intercon-
nection of
with the craving for drink. And though this may seem ideas and

. . affections

to be a truism, it opens the way to some lessons of or passions
practical value. For if we can remove a mental excite- cal issues
ment or affection from the thought of an external cause mv ° xe
and can join it to other thoughts, then Love or Hatred
toward the external cause, as also the perturbation of
mind arising from that particular affection, will be
destroyed. 1 Which may be illustrated thus : The crav-
ing for drink, though it is conceived as bodily, has its Alcoholic

. excitement

mental counterpart in the longing to pass from a less conceived
perfect to a more perfect condition. And if this seem a drunkard
paradox, let it be remembered that an erroneous con- perfect
ception of a less perfect and more perfect condition con ltlon '
cannot cancel the fundamental fact that happiness is the
passage from a less perfect to a more perfect state. True,
the projected means of securing this are in the case in
point entirely delusive. Nevertheless, the collapsed,
trembling and thirsty drunkard clings to the delusion.
For the contrast between his shrunken, nerveless, miser-
able condition and that which he remembers to have
been produced by fulness of wine is to him the differ-
ence between a lower and a higher perfection. Hence
the bottle as the means of passing from the one state to
the other is an object of overwhelming attraction, or, in
Spinoza's language, of desire and love.

But now if, by some intervention of sufficiently pow T er- The delu-
ful causes, the drunkard's longing for a more perfect m ay be" ie °
state can be connected with a more real object, as, for rinGrereai
instance, the restoration to health and happiness of a ob J ect *
suffering wife and perishing children, or the attainment

1 Trop. ii., Pt v.


of a little heaven of a home such as he sees his
sober and industrious neighbour to possess, then the
love for drink and the perturbation of mind caused
by the passion will be destroyed. All this seems
perhaps too obvious to be the real meaning of a great
philosopher. For it may be plausibly represented as
a presentation in an obscure form of the common-
Thisis place principle of counter-attraction. But this would

more than * * x

counter- certainly not be an adequate interpretation of Spinoza's

attraction. J , , ,.

meaning. If an angry baby wants to grasp a glittering
knife, it is well to distract the infant's attention by
dangling before its eyes a brightly coloured ball. But
surely it is a higher spiritual process by which the mind
of a mature man is disengaged from an illusive object
and drawn into truer relations with things as they are,
that is, with God. And the complications attendant on
the application of the principle in daily life make such
a moral maze that only a man of great genius could
discern the unifying truth which, when discovered,
appears so plain.

An equally practical explanation may be given of
Passion another proposition which directly follows : ' An affection

reduced by , . , .

clear ideas, which is a passion, ceases to be a passion as soon as we
form a clear and distinct idea of it.' For example, a

The miser, miser suffers from the passion of accumulation. But
this passion is caused by an inadequate or confused idea
of money apart from any realisation of its true relations
to human life. If, however, the miser could get a clear
and distinct idea of the proper place of money in the
social system, that is, of its economic and philanthropic
use, the desire for it may cease to be a 'passion,' and


become legitimately active. The relation of such prin-
ciples to the main thesis that freedom is found in a
realisation of our prerogative as partakers of the divine
nature is surely apparent. For they point the way to
our becoming consciously, and not merely as passive
units, ' parts and proportions of one wondrous Whole.'

Passing over some links in the argument which are Passions

« « • assuaged by-

important rather to Spinoza s ideal of intellectual com- realisation

pleteness than to the practical purpose of this handbook, sequence.

we must dwell for a moment on the suggestion of a rop " '

certain moral strength derivable from the doctrine of

inevitable sequence.

' In proportion as the mind understands all things to be
linked together in inevitable sequence, 1 in that proportion
has it greater power over the affections (passions).'

The Scholium following the so-called demonstration is
worth quoting- though the latter part of it is somewhat Spinoza's

. * . illustra-

surprising as coming from a man who is said to have sat tionsof his
in summer evenings on the door-steps with his land-
lady's children, interesting them and teaching them many

' In proportion as this recognition that things are linked
together in inevitable sequence has to do with matters of
detail which we conceive very distinctly and vividly, in that
proportion is the mind's power over the affections greater :
which experience itself attests. For it is matter of observa-
tion 2 that sorrow over a possession lost is assuaged so soon

1 ' Res omnes ut necessarian intelligit.' Tho translation of Hale
White and Stirling has ' understands all things as necessary.' But
the last word has so many connotations in English that it seems to be
insufficiently exact here. At any rate, the phrase substituted above
gives Spinoza's meaning.

2 Vidtmus.



as the loser reflects that by no possibility could the possession

have been preserved. So likewise we observe that no one

Strange mourns over 1 an infant because it cannot speak, walk, or

about 8 1( 1 reason, and because, farther, it lives so long a time without

infancy. f u \\ self-consciousness. But if most infants were born fully

developed while only one here and there were born as a babe,

then every one would mourn over x the babes ; because in

that case the infantile condition would be regarded not as

natural and inevitable but as a defect and fault of Nature.

And we might note many other cases of the same kind.'

itssignifi- Lovers of babies and children as they are, must not

cance for „ . ., . , „ „

the argu- suppose for a moment that this great lover of all man-

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryJ. Allanson (James Allanson) PictonSpinoza; a handbook to the Ethics → online text (page 15 of 21)