Copyright
J. Allanson (James Allanson) Picton.

Spinoza; a handbook to the Ethics online

. (page 16 of 21)
Online LibraryJ. Allanson (James Allanson) PictonSpinoza; a handbook to the Ethics → online text (page 16 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


kind regarded undeveloped infancy with disgust. For
he thought everything beautiful in its season ; indeed he
considered every object in the Universe as perfect within
its own range. But if the reader can get over an element
of grotesqueness in the case put, he must recognise the
truth of the lesson taught. For if Dogberry had been
right, and ( reading and writing came by nature ' to all
except a few unfortunate infants, the ignorance which we
now regard with complacency because it is inevitable,
would, if it were exceptional, be treated as one of the
mysteries of Providence. We are not to let our atten-
tion be engrossed by the fantastic mode of putting the
case. The point is that men readily reconcile themselves
to the inevitable, but accuse Nature when they fail to
recognise inevitable sequence.
Distinction At this point it may be well to protest against a plaus-
Fate and ible but groundless inference that the doctrine here
sequence, taught is ' sheer fatalism.' Not so ; for fatalism involves

1 Miseretur, miseret. But it is the pain involved in pity that is in
the Master's mind.



THE FREEDOM OF MAN 195

a fixed decree made by some mysterious Power beyond
ourselves ; a decree ruthlessly carried out by the ministry
of external causes directed by that Power, and over-
ruling the spontaneity of man. But this is not the
teaching of the Master at all. There is no external
power overruling our destinies. There is no shadow of
fate pursuing us. We are ourselves part of the eternal
energy that moves the world. And if, to our finite in-
tellect, all existence seems to consist in an innumerable
and infinite series of interwoven sequences in which we
and what we call our wills have place, this is not in
the least inconsistent with the spontaneity which, as The former
Spinoza insists, is the only reality in 'free will.' For the latter
when we do what we would, the impulse arises within taneity.
our own divine nature and is not forced on us from
without. True, this impulse has its antecedents, rarely
to be traced far back, in the chain of invariable sequences.
But that does not interfere with our consciousness of
spontaneity, a consciousness which is no fiction but most
true and real. On the other hand, when, as St. Paul
says, ' the thing that we would not, that we do,' we are
warped by external influences, and do not act spon-
taneously at all.

The use made by Spinoza of this doctrine is, of course,\spinoza's
to urge that in a world where all apparent successions doctrine! 6
are linked by invariable sequence, passion is out of place,
at least in the ' free man.' For the Master holds that
the free man, consciously a partaker of the divine nature,
is more or less — and in case of ideal perfection, entirely
— shielded from the impact of passion by the sense that
all things are of God, and could not have been otherwise.



196 ETHICS OF SPINOZA

impossible of course the obvious retort occurs that if indeed every -

of adoption

by those thing, whether bodily, mental, or spiritual, occurs by

who want .

more than invariable sequence, all this intellectual gospel of
ity. freedom is vain, and exhortations to its acceptance

thrown away. And to those who are not satisfied with
the freedom of conscious spontaneity, a condition in
which we do just as we want to do, though our will is a
link in an endless series of untraceable sequences, I
suppose this objection must still be final. But those who
But not in- can accept the doctrine need have no fear that it is

consistent .

with moral inconsistent with the influence of exhortation, warning,
and entreaty. For all moral influences are as much a
part of the web of invariable sequence as are eclipses and
tides. In fact, Spinoza's doctrine leaves the phenomenal
action and interaction of what we call the ' moral world '
just as it is in the minds of the many. Hope and fear,
aspiration and despair, love and hate, exultation in the
right, repentance and remorse for sin remain in the world
as conceived by Spinoza precisely as they do in the
world of Christian Endeavour or of the Salvation Army.
It is for the most part only in his explanation of the
ultimate nature of such moral facts that he differs from
church teachers. But the growing incompatibility be-
tween the world as it is and the world as conceived by
those teachers, seems to me to make some such explana-
tion as his to be religion's most pressing need.

The propositions immediately following are the last

steps leading to the final enunciation of the main thesis

Main thesis of the whole of the Ethics. This main thesis we have

Ethics. already anticipated, thinking that the purpose of this

handbook would be better served thereby. But we may



THE FREEDOM OF MAN 197

remind ourselves that this thesis concerns the prevalence
of reason through the attainment of a distinct conscious-
ness of our divine nature. The propositions I have
described as last steps toward that goal are necessary, as
already said of others, to the completeness of Spinoza's
' demonstration.' But for reasons previously given I Omission f

LUGO! 6 LI"

pass them by. Our practical purpose is sufficiently caiiy neces-
sary pro-
secured by citation of the following : — positions.

1 So long as we are not oppressed by affections (passions) Prop. x.
hostile to our (divine) nature, so long we have the power of
ordering and arranging our bodily affections (passions) in
due proportion in accordance with the intellect.' *

That is, affections or passions are bad just in proportion True vision

• i • incompat-

as they hinder the mind from seeing things as they are, ibie with
or in their due proportions to the Whole. But if such
evil affections or passions are absent, the mind is serene,
forming clear and distinct ideas. Of such ideas it may
be said, as Tennyson sang of blessed spirits :

' They haunt the silence of the breast,
Imaginations calm and fair,
The memory like a cloudless air,
The conscience as a sea at rest. ;

The Scholium to this proposition, though long, is so
practical that it must be quoted entire.

• By this power of rightly ordering and co-ordinating the Scholium,
bodily affections we are able to secure comparative immunity 2 rop ' x '
from evil passions. For more force is needed to overcome
affections ordered and co-ordinated in due proportion accord-
ing to the intellect than to overcome such as are loose and

1 Secundum ordinem ad intellect um.

2 Efficere possumue, ut non facile mails affectibus ajjkiamur.



198 ETHICS OF SPINOZA

vague. Therefore the best thing we can do, so long as we
lack a perfect knowledge of our affections, is to conceive a
Need of a right rule of living, or definite maxims x of life, to commit
these to the memory, and regularly to apply them to the
particular affairs confronting us from time to time in life ;
that so our imagination may be thoroughly saturated with
them, and that we may have them always at hand. For
instance, among the maxims of life we have reckoned this :
that Hatred is to be overcome by Love, or Generosity, but
not to be balanced by reciprocal Hatred. But that this
Value of prescription of Keason may always be at hand when wanted,
maxims. we mugt think of and often meditate upon the ordinary
wrongs of the social state, and how and by what method
they may best be warded off by Generosity ; for thus we
shall connect the spectacle of the wrong with the recollection 2
of this maxim, and it will always occur to us when wrong is
Overcoming j one to us. But if also we should have at hand a rational
good. estimate of our own true profit, as also of the good which

attends on mutual friendship and common fellowship, and
likewise (should remember) that supreme peace of mind arises
from a right rule of living, and that men, like the rest of
things, act according to the invariable sequences of Nature ; 8
then the wrong, or the Hatred which usually arises from it,
will have a very slight hold on the imagination, and will be
easily overcome. Or if the anger usually excited by the
greatest wrongs should be not quite so easily overcome,
still it will be overcome, though not without fluctuation of
mind, in a far shorter time than it would have been had we
not these premeditated maxims at heart.

'To the strength of mind needed to put away fear the
same rules apply. That is, the common dangers of life are

1 Dogmata. But the original sense of the word is obviously out of
place here. What la meant is a familiar form of words.

2 Imaginationi — simply recollection here.

3 Ex natural necessitate. But there is no notion here, or anywhere
in Spinoza's teaching, of compulsion from outside Nature. His idea
is therefore best expressed by invariable sequence.



THE FREEDOM OF MAN 199

to be reckoned up and often imagined, and (we must think) No freedom

how by presence of mind and manliness they may best be fortitude.

avoided and overcome. But an important point is that in

ordering our thoughts and mental images we should always

give special heed to the good features in everything, so that

we may always be determined to action by an affection of

joy. For example, if any one finds himself to be too much

set upon Glory, let him meditate on the just use of Glory, and Think on

for what purpose it is to be sought, also by what means it fj°° n evil. 61

may be acquired. But let him not reflect on its abuses, and

its emptiness, and the fickleness of men, or other topics of

this kind, since about these no one thinks, except by reason

of sickness of mind. For with such thoughts excessively

ambitious men do most afflict themselves, when they despair

of achieving the honour they are seeking, and while only

spitting forth their angry disappointment they assume the

role of sages. 1 Indeed it is clear that those who are most

greedy of Glory shout the loudest about its abuses and the

vanity of the world.

1 Nor is this peculiar to the ambitious, but it is a common
characteristic of all to whom fortune is unfavourable, and
who are not fortified by Reason. 2 For the poor man also who
is greedy of money never stops speaking about the abuse of
money and the vices of the rich ; while by this he achieves Beware of
nothing but to make himself miserable and to show that it is thattimu- 11
not so much his own poverty as the wealth of others which lates virtue,
disturbs his mind. Thus again, those who have been coldly
received by a mistress think of nothing but the fickleness
and falsehood of women and other commonly quoted vices of
the sex. But all this is forgotten at once the moment they

1 Dum iram evomimt sapientes videri volunt.
Animo impotences sun/. The literal rendering, 'weak in mind,'

does not give the connotation to be gathered from the whole treatise.
Keats certainly was not weak in mind, but he was scarcely fortified
by reason, when ho mourned that his name was 'written in water.'
Many, if not most, of the kind of men described here by Spinoza have
been conspicuous for mental power.



200



ETHICS OF SPINOZA



Some con-
nective pro
positions
and their
bearing.



Man and
God the
main sub-
jects of
thought.



are again welcomed by the mistress. Whoever then seeks
to regulate his affections and appetites solely by love of
Freedom Avill endeavour as far as possible to recognise
virtues and their causes, and to fill his mind with the joy
that springs from their true appreciation. But he will shun
the contemplation of men's vices, and will abstain from
invectives against men, and will take no pleasure in a sham
boast of liberty. Whoever then will assiduously study these
lessons — for indeed they are not difficult — and will practise
them, assuredly that man will within a short space of time
be able generally to direct his actions by the dictates of
Reason.'

The next three propositions are perhaps, like others
preceding, more necessary to the intellectual completeness
of the Spinozan system than to the practical application
of his doctrine ; but we may see how all bear upon his
basic principle that the freedom of man depends upon a
conscious realisation of his divine nature,

1 XL In proportion as a mental picture (imago) is related
to a greater number of things, in that proportion is it more
constant and claims more of the Mind's attention.'

For instance, the mental picture of the human form is
related to millions of individuals, and is therefore never
out of our minds. But the thought of God is related
to absolutely everything, and therefore claims perpetual
attention.

' XII. The images of things are more easily united to
images relating to things clearly and distinctly apprehended
than to others.'

In the 'demonstration' the things 'clearly and dis-
tinctly apprehended ' are identified with ' common
properties of things,' such as are gathered by reasoned



THE FREEDOM OF MAN 201

experience (Prop, xl., Pt. II., Schol. 2) or proper deductions

from them. E.g. gravitation, proportionate chemical Realms of

exact and

combination, the laws of motion would belong to the of inexact

thought

category of things ' clearly and distinctly apprehended, defined.
But not so telepathy, though it may exist, nor the sea-
serpent, nor so-called 'miracles.' The reason is that
these latter things are not ' common notions ' ; the names
may be in thousands of mouths, but the things re-
presented are probably not identical in any half-dozen
minds. The outlook of the Master in this proposition is
toward that idea of God which is the summation of the
whole order of Nature. For an infinite number {sit
venia verbo) of infinite series of things which separately
may be clearly and distinctly apprehended imply, in his
view, Infinite Substance consisting of an infinity of
Attributes subject to infinite modifications.

' XIII. In proportion as a conception is united with a
greater number of others the more frequently it is in
evidence.' 1 (Scepius viget.)

In the proof of this we are referred to the law of Power of
association treated in the First Part. If a number of especially
impressions are made together at any one time upon the £ widely 16
mind, then if at another time one of these impressions * irowu<
recurs, it will tend to revive some or all of the others
which formerly accompanied it but are not now renewed
from without. Thus the chamber of a sick man makes
many impressions upon him — window, table, fireplace,
pictures, and the faint odour of some disinfectant. The

1 Note that this proposition differs from xi. ahove in that it deals
with conceptions or mental images not merely related to but 'joined
with ' others.



202 ETHICS OF SPINOZA

whole of these impressions may never come together
again from the same external surroundings. But the
odour of that particular disinfectant will at any time
recall the entire scene to him. Now here the particular
impression of an odour has a very limited set of associa-
tions; and so with the sick-chamber to which it is
Power of related. But now take the conception of home. The
ciations. familiar chambers, the daily outlook, the loved forms of
wife and children, the kindly mutual service, the sense
of repose — all this is so widely human that, wherever
the traveller goes, a hundred sights and sounds call up
the picture of what he has left behind. No meeting of
a father with his children in the evening but reminds
the wanderer of his own life at home. No loving inter-
change of word and look between man and wife but
recalls the un forgotten image of her who is far away. A
glimpse of river and woodland is like the outlook from
his door. Some child Christ or girl Madonna of a picture-
gallery seems to his transfiguring affection to portray
his boy or girl at home. In fact, the idea of home has
such universal associations that it is recalled at any
moment. The point then made in the last -quoted
proposition is that the more numerous the objects with
which any conception is associated, the oftener will that
conception be in the mind. And the bearing of this
upon the conception of God is obvious ; for that should
be associated with everything. Indeed this is the mean-
ing of the proposition following.

4 XIV. It is possible for the mind to secure that all
affections of the body or the images of things shall be referred
to the idea of God.'



THE FREEDOM OF MAN 203

That is, all that we feel or conceive or desire shall be
consciously harmonious with the divine Whole.

In what has been said so far, the soul developed by a parting
Christian forms of devotion can find many points of p01
agreement and feel many impulses to good. But as we
approach the final application of the principles so labori-
ously expounded, our attitude will depend very much on
the degree in which we can put truth beyond and above issue de-
every other consideration. Now this is an effort of moral unbiassed
courage not quite so easy as it seems. It would indeed truth!
be much easier than it generally is, if only we were free
in Spinoza's sense, that is, if the spontaneity of our divine
nature were not subject to illegitimate influence from
without. There are cases in which 1 eligible brides of
high birth are given in marriage to royal religionists of illustration
an alien church. And one of the essential conditions marriages
of the contract is that the wife shall conform to her members
husband's faith. Now if the reception of the distill- ° Dt d C om-
guished convert into her new communion were avowedly munions -
a legal form only, involving no pretence of personal
conviction, it might perhaps be justified by expediency.
But it is not so. The studious preparation under the
direction of spiritual guides, the serious examinations,
and the final declaration of personal belief make the
pretence of a mere legal form a cloak for hypocrisy,
unless the conversion is real, which I can well believe that Conversions
it often is. For the experience of a hundred generations are often
shows that it is difficult or impossible to analyse fairly aSysincere.

1 It may be as well to state that this was written some time before
any announcement had been made of a recent royal marriage which
has been the subject of some ill-natured and, as I venture to think,
most unjustifiable criticism.



204 ETHICS OF SPINOZA

the state of mind of the victim of such conventions, or to
follow the subtle play of feelings which, after many
windings in ' sub-consciousness,' finally emerge as sincere
belief. Such a case is only an extreme instance of the
fact that the wish to believe will, in nine instances out
of ten, or perhaps in ninety-nine. cases out of a hundred,
very quickly ensure belief. And the motives tending to
facility of conviction may be conspicuously good. For,
apart from ordinary human love, which may or not be
involved, the peace of kingdoms, profitable intercourse
between nations, the welfare of millions all have in past
times been involved in such contracts, or at any rate
were seriously thought to be so. And for a wavering
conscience biassed by such tremendous issues much
allowance must be made if the worse has sometimes too
easily been allowed to seem the better reason.
The digression is intended, if possible, to prevent any
Application offence being given by our words above, that our apprecia-
motives tion of Spinoza's highest teaching will depend very much
agaSsi 1 ? on the degree in which we can put truth beyond and
of C pan-° n above every other consideration. For we need not be
theism. weighted with responsibility for national destinies in
order to realise solemn or pathetic motives for bias
toward particular religious dogmas. The recollection of
childhood's prayers, the ineffaceable impression of a
father's manly faith, the echo of a mother's voice as she
sang of the ' wondrous, blessed Saviour,' or of - sweet
fields beyond the swelling flood ' — all are spiritual lines
of force to keep us within the halo of the Cross. And
farther, through generations of tradition and years of
training that seemed eternal, our souls have been so



THE FREEDOM OF MAN 205

impregnated and saturated with belief in a personal God
made after the image of humanity's best men, and with a
fanatical repudiation of any possible morals without a
future Heaven and Hell, that, when confronted with a
denial of these things, we fling it off as white hot metal
repels a spray of cold water-drops. Now it is obvious
that such a frame of mind does not put truth beyond and
above every other consideration, because it only lives
after the tradition of the fathers and has taken no pains
to seek and find for itself.

If we must, at all cost of contradicting earth and
heaven and history, imagine a personal God acting
toward us precisely as a magnified father or nurse or Truth not
teacher would do, and if this craving is regarded as the termmed
highest utterance of reason, there is no use in attempting y
to follow teachers like Spinoza. For their position is
that cravings cannot determine truth, 1 and that if we
follow truth, even against the clamour of unreasoned
feeling, we reach at length a much higher life than that
of common devotional fervour. But if it be asked why Nor by

individual

should we follow your Spinoza rather than our prophets men, how-

6V6T STG&t.

and apostles ? we can only reply, we do not pretend
to c follow ' him in your sense of the word. For he made
no claim to infallibility or to any monopoly of truth ; and
would have been the last man, as Sir Frederick Pollock
says, to wish any one to be a ' Spinozist.' But he has
much to teach that is of enormous moral and spiritual
value, the preciousness of which we cannot appreciate

1 See an incisive article in the Hibbert Journal for October 1905,
on ' The Inadequacy of Certain Common Grounds of Belief,' by Dr.
J. Ellis M'Taggart. The reference is strictly limited to the par-
ticular article.



206 ETHICS OF SPINOZA

unless, without any reserve whatsoever, we put truth
beyond and above everything else. On this understand-
ing we proceed.

In the First Part of the Ethics we had a definition of
The love God which identifies Him with the Universe ; or all that is,

of God.

was, or can be. This is perfectly consistent, in Spinoza's
Love to view, with the possibility of that ' intellectual love toward
God' of which, with the purpose of making plainer the
main practical objects of the Fifth Part, I have partly
treated on an earlier page. I now give in its entirety the
Proposition (xv.) enunciating the Master's doctrine : —

'He who clearly and distinctly understands himself and
his own affections loves God, and all the more in proportion
to the greater clearness of his understanding thereof.'

In the demonstration we are referred to Proposi-
tion liii., Part m., which declares that the mind re-
The propo- joices in realisation of itself on its active side, and all
toactivi- ' the more as it more distinctly conceives its powers of
passions, action. We must not suffer ourselves to be confused by
the substitution of 'affections' in the new proposition
for ' powers of action ' in the former. It is true that
1 affections ' may include ' passions,' which are not active
but passive. We have already learned, however, that
an affection which is a passion ceases to be a passion so
soon as ' we form a clear and distinct idea of it.' (Pro-
position iii., Part v.) Therefore, when the Master here
speaks of a man who ' clearly and distinctly understands
himself and his own affections,' he means a man who
realises his own powers and energies. The idea is not
that of a self-denying hermit, still less that of a Corn-
modus or Elagabalus. It is that of a man of action,



THE FREEDOM OF MAN 207

who, whether the thought is articulately framed in his
consciousness or not, has the joy of sounding a clear note
in the grand harmony of the world. It is that of a great
engineer like George Stephenson, of a great statesman like Concrete
Peel, of a great poet like Milton. 1 For all such men,
though reverence may forbid vanity, do clearly and dis-
tinctly realise their own powers. And in so far as their
theology allows them to refer all to God in whom ' they
live and move and have their being,' their realisation of
the joy of life is always accompanied by the thought of
God, whom they must therefore love. But the purer
their theology, the more intellectual is their love, and
hence the freer from the passions that have polluted
faith.

It may be said that such men are few and can reflect Not wholly
little light upon the common lot. But we might as well becanaeof
say that the laws of light from the sun are inapplicable ceptfonai


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryJ. Allanson (James Allanson) PictonSpinoza; a handbook to the Ethics → online text (page 16 of 21)