J. Allanson (James Allanson) Picton.

Spinoza; a handbook to the Ethics online

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But it is only so far as these traditions fall in with the
course of moral evolution that advances almost inde-

Proximate pendently of them. And the course of this moral evolu-

causes of x ^

average -tion proceeds from experience of utility to contentment


with results of useful maxims ; and from contentment
with results to the formation of a standard ; and from
the formation of a standard to the slow crystallisation of
an ideal, which is not wholly wanting among the ' multi-
tude,' but reaches effulgence only in solitary souls like
Spinoza. The uncultured good people, the ordinary
church and chapel goers who lustily sing about heaven
on the Sunday and honestly mind their business during
the week without much thought of things supernal, have
their ideals, though these may be dim and veiled. Let
any one propose to them a mean trick in trade, or
treachery to a friend, and it will soon be proved that
they, no less than Spinoza, though within a narrower
horizon, value goodness for its own sake without the
slightest reference to heaven or hell.


Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter ; for it
is given in a nobler tone.

' Blessedness is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself ;
nor do we rejoice in that blessedness because we subdue our
lusts ; but contrariwise, it is because we rejoice in it that we
are therefore able to subdue our lusts.'

The proof is as follows : —

'Blessedness consists in Love toward God, which Love
springs from the third kind of knowledge (intuition); and
therefore this Love is correlative with the Mind in as far as
the latter is active ; and accordingly it is Virtue itself. 1 This
was the first thing (to be proved). Next, in proportion as
the Mind exults more in this divine Love or Blessedness, in
that proportion it understands the more, that is, it has the
greater power over the affections and also suffers the less
from evil affections. Thus it is because the Mind rejoices in
this divine Love or Blessedness that it has the power of
restraining lusts. And because man's power of controlling
his lusts is the prerogative of intellect alone, therefore no
one exults in blessedness as a consequence of controlling the
affections, but contrariwise, the power of controlling the
affections springs from blessedness itself.'

' Thus I have finished all that I had wished to set forth
concerning the power of the Mind over the affections and
concerning its freedom. From all this clearly appears the
surpassing worth of the Wise man as compared with the
ignorant, who is driven by lust alone. For the lattei
besides being distracted by a host of external influences, and

1 Because by Def. viii., Pt. iv., Virtue and Tower arc identical, i.e.
power of effecting such things as can be accounted for by, or find their
adequate cause in, man's (divine) nature alone. I interpolate (divine)
because wherever Spinoza speaks of a finite being's own nature, he
means the Mode or modification of divine Attributes which constitutes
the essence of that finite being.



constantly deprived of true contentment of soul, lives also
without a true sense of himself, of God, and of the world, and
at what moment he ceases to suffer he also ceases to be.
Whereas the Wise man, so far as he is (rightly) considered
such, is rarely shaken in mind ; but being conscious of
himself and of God and of the world in an aspect of eternal
necessity, he never ceases to be, but for ever enjoys true
contentment of soul. If now the path which I have indicated
to such an attainment should seem very hard, yet still it can
be found. And indeed it must be hard, since it is so rarely
discovered. For if salvation were ready to hand, and could
be found without much trouble, why should it be neglected
by almost all mankind 1 But all noble attainments are as
difficult as they are rare.'

An appar-
ent incon-

found also
in the

Sir Frederick Pollock, while acknowledging with pro-
found sympathy the exalted moral tone of these final
words, observes that ' in their literal sense they are not
quite consistent ' with the Scholium to Proposition x. of
this Part. For there we are told that ' whoever 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.' Whereas here it
would appear that the very arduousness of the pathway
to the life of Eeason explains why ' few there be who
find it.' In the Gospel of Christ, however, as indeed the
last-quoted words remind us, there is a strictly analogous
appearance of inconsistency susceptible, as I shall suggest,
of a like explanation. For we are told on the one hand
that the most suitable subjects of the kingdom of Heaven
are little children and child-like men and women, an
instruction certainly suggesting that the entrance to that


kingdom is c indeed not difficult.' And this is confirmed
by the saying, ' My yoke is easy and my burden is light.'
Yet, on the other hand, we are told ' strait is the gate
and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few
there be that find it.' Nay, ' many will seek to enter in
and shall not be able.' Now, whatever be the various
theological interpretations of the ' strait gate,' no one, so
far as I am aware, has held that it is in any way incon-
sistent with the facility of entrance promised to the child-
like and the meek. The only difficulty is found in the
average moral condition of mankind, which indisposes
them to ' strive to enter in,' and which indeed sometimes
plucks them back when they are half-way through the
gate. But the difficulty is not in the gate : it is in the
half-heartedness of the would-be pilgrims.

Perhaps the same explanation in principle is applicable The life of
to the apparent inconsistency between the two passages its strait
in this Part of the Ethics. For in the former passage ga
comparative ease of entrance on the life of reason is con-
ditional on assiduity of thought and diligence in practice.
If only those be given, any man may ' in a short space
of time be able generally to direct his actions by the
dictates of Reason.' Yes ; but there is here too a ' strait
gate.' Inadequate ideas must be abandoned, or at least
appreciated at their true worth. There must be a sincere
and earnest craving for salvation from passion. There
must be a total surrender of self-assertion beyond the
limits of that finite Mode of the divine Attributes which
is our essence and only being. No wonder then that in
his mournful remembrance of the aversion of Man in
every age to heroic moral endeavour the Master should


in his last words magnify the need of earnestness if
freedom is to be attained. 1
Does Much harder to interpret are those sentences in the


teach 'con- epilogue, which, if the idea were not so utterly contrary

ditional im- . . , .. n . .

mortality'? to Spinoza s whole philosophy, might at first sight appear
to have anticipated a doctrine very popular some thirty
or forty j^ears ago, and known as f conditional immortality.'
For we are told that the ignorant man (i.e. the slave of
passion) ceases to exist when he ceases to suffer, whereas
the wise man (i.e. the free man) never ceases to exist.
Now, to get the right point of view here, we must
remember the Master's reiterated warning against our
inveterate confusion of eternity with infinite duration.
But the eternal life which he himself lives is not in time
at all. For when he was phenomenally subject to time
he fixed his mind on God as All in All, and recognised
The true that his true self was a finite Mode of God. Now in God
ness of " there is no past nor future. Therefore Spinoza thought
of himself under the aspect of eternity as a finite Mode
of God, and thus having neither beginning nor end.
Not only so ; but from the bewilderment occasioned by

1 Sir Frederick Pollock thinks the apparent inconsistency may be
explained by the assumption that Spinoza contemplated the possibility
of two grades in the life of reason — the one ' a practical standard . . .
attainable by ordinary men,' the other a higher life of strenuous
thought and 'contemplative science.' The suggestion is amply justi-
fied by the analogy of similar grades in the great religions. But I
venture to think that if Spinoza had intended this he would have
expressed it more plainly. For it would obviously have facilitated the
acceptance of his ideas, as similar concessions to the practical and
social dilliculties of 'ordinary men ' quickened the spread of Buddhism
and Christianity. I cannot help thinking that the above analogy with
a similar inconsistency in the Gospel fits in better with the whole
scheme of the Ethics.

ness of
eternal life.


successive experiences of parts only of the divine Whole
he sought relief in a vision of the Infinite Living
Universe, within which everything has its serviceable
place, and in which all discords are reduced to harmony.
Even his intellect was baffled by the insoluble problem
of the Many and the One. But in his view the best
approximation man can make to a vision of the co-exist-
ence of innumerable parts in one perfect eternal Whole
is the conception of inevitable sequence. That is to say, importance
we cannot image the Infinite as it is, in what we may doctrine of
call its eternal moment of being. Yet we are sure that if sequence
we could in vision see it as it is, we should recognise that
every part is necessary to all the rest, and could not
be otherwise than it is — without changing the whole
Universe — that is, the eternal and changeless. But this
is just what the doctrine of inevitable sequence teaches as mediat-

i ,i P . • mi i ing between

under the aspect of time. I hat is, it instructs us that the eternal
though the necessities of our finite nature compel us to temporal.
see things under the aspect of time, or as subject to
succession, we are not on that account justified in deny-
ing the fixity of relationship which all parts of the Whole
must have under the aspect of eternity. Spinoza's Spinoza's \y
eternal life, therefore, is a consciousness o.Lhimself as a
finite Mode of God, and of the Universe as an infinity of
divine Modes, all together constituting absolute perfec-
tion. 1 Into this consciousness no thought of death enters.
In his contemplations all things, past, present, and to come,
work together for good, that is, are essential elements in

1 Not, of course, in the sense of B finished work, but in the sense of
such absolute eoncinnity, that an infinite intellect — if the term he
allowed— would realise the impossibility, or rather the inconceivability,
of any smallest part being other than it is.


the perfect Whole! And the change from the illusion
of succession to the reality of co-existence cannot pos-
sibly make him 'cease to be.' Therefore there is no
disturbance of his serenity ; but being conscious of God
and the world with a sense of eternal necessity, he for
ever enjoys contentment of soul.

The (morally) ignorant man, the slave of blind desire,
is not so. For knowing nothing of his true relations to
things as they are, he has no consciousness of his true
self — as a Mode of God — no realisation of the apparent
The fate world as God-manifest. And though we are not to forget
slavery. that the ignorant man's body and soul have * an aspect
of eternity,' he is not aware of it. He has no power to
'lay hold on eternal life.' His notion of existence is
gratification of a perpetual craving, a craving only aggra-
vated by attempts to stay it. And for him, when craving
ceases, existence ceases too. True, this 'inadequate
cause/ the (morally) ignorant man, is in God. But his
idea of himself is inadequate because he is not content
with the divine idea of himself, but confuses it with
other things which do not belong to it. 1 He therefore
mars it, and can have no conscious part in the eternal
life of God. Thus the difference between the free man
and the slave of blind desire is not a matter of external
destiny in heaven or hell. It is rather a subjective
difference, inasmuch as the former is conscious of eternal
life and the other is not.

' The Eternal hnoweth the way of the righteous ; but the
way of the ungodly shall perish.'
1 Prop, xi., Pb. ii.



The liberalism of present-day theology and what we Changes in
may call the mystical tendencies of contemporary science f thought
indicate enormous changes in the world of thought since Spinoza's
the seventeenth century. And those to whom Spinoza day#
is not merely a philosopher, but a seer, can hardly help
asking themselves as they lay down his Ethics, how far
those changes have made possible, or may in the near
future make possible, a wider human reverence for his
great vision of God. Of course there is no question here
of the adoption or propagation of a religion in the ecclesi-
astical sense. For that Shechinah is the emblem of no d they
sect. It is rather the infinite background, ' dark with S^mty 6
excess of light,' from which all faiths of the world of wid ^ r

° ' apprecia-

emercre. Nor does reverence for that vision of God {JS?. of o the

° m Ethics?

necessarily involve an entire rejection of historic re-
ligions. Indeed, long before Spinoza's day many a devout
Christian has, in the innermost shrine of his soul, cher-
ished a Weltanschauung impossible to distinguish from
Pantheism. At the same time it must be acknowledged
that any forced and obstinate adhesion to any fragment-
ary article of faith which has lost its hold on a man's
reason must needs incapacitate that man from appreciat-
ing the larger faith. ' Truth in the inward parts/ a pos-
session which makes merely self-willed belief impossible,
is essential to the realisation of Spinoza's vision of God. Relations


The question asked above, then, amounts to this, doctrine of
Putting aside subsidiary details of definition and of man to
method, are there any signs that the world is nearer than thought.



it was in Spinoza's day to his essential doctrines of God

and man ? I think the question may fairly be answered

I- in the affirmative. For, first, the mystery of matter,

Spiritual .

tendencies which is now more widely recognised than ever before in all
theacknow- the history of thought, has obviously a certain spiritual
myftery of suggestiveness which points in the direction of Spinoza's
Substance One and Eternal. For instance, contemporary
science has made Dalton's atomic theory utterly un-
tenable, except, of course, so far as concerns its doctrine
of definitely proportional combinations. But though this
latter part of the doctrine is unassailed, the explanation
of it by the hypothesis of ultimate and indestructible
atoms has been practically abandoned. For these atoms
have been dissolved away into something indistinguish-
Practicaire- able from Boscovich's c centres of force.' The latter most

currence to

Boscovich's original thinker knew nothing, indeed, of ' electrons.'

of force. But the substitution of that mystic word for his centres

of force is rather a change of terms than of theory. The

believers in the finality of the new views of matter may

indeed rejoin with some plausibility that the above

substitution is more than a mere change of terms, because

the action of the presumed electric force in the infini-

Facilities tesimal vortices formed of electrons is calculable and

tion C and *' verifiable, which could hardly be said of Boscovich's

do r n h ot atl ° n vague ' centres of force.' But why not ? Boscovich was

ass°ure the y a g reat mathematician in addition to his other scientific

fandamen- attainments. And it is incredible that he should have

tal truth oi

the work- propounded a theory which he did not see his way to
thesis on maintain on mathematical principles. Indeed the pre-

which they ± x r

are based, sumed ' force ' without the epithet electric at each infini-
tesimal centre into which Boscovich dissolved matter


away, was just as much subject to measurement and
verification as it is with the epithet added to it. Nor
should it be forgotten that one main attraction of John
Dalton's theory was the facility and apparent complete-
ness with which it lent itself to measurement, calculation,
and verification. Yet all the same, we now know that
the fundamental truth, which makes these calculations
and verifications possible, must be something very
different from Dalton's idea of hard, indestructible atoms.

We are now asked to recognise, as the really ultimate New work-
constituent of matter, an infinitesimal vortex formed in thesis,
the ether by enormous electric force. But experience of
vanished finalities surely justifies a healthy scepticism
even in regard to such brilliant and fascinating theories
as this. For the only term which is knowable to us in
this new theory, or which belongs to what Spinoza calls
' common notions ' — that is, the common stock of human
experience — is ' vortex/ a thing that can at any time be The vortex,
exhibited on a large scale by any popular lecturer on
science, or even by a skilful smoker of tobacco. Yet
even though the thing signified by the word be thus
producible on what, comparatively, may be called a
gigantic scale, it is not easy to see how these complex
revolving rings, with no stability and but momentary
continuity, can help much to make conceivable the
infinitesimal vortices in the ether whose prerogative it is
to simulate, for an indefinite period and in many cases
for icons, the supposed indestructible atom of Democritus,
Lucretius, and Dalton.

But beyond that word ' vortex ' there is no single term
in the newest theories of matter that presents any clear


Ether. image whatever to the mind. For as to the ' ether,' no
one, however learnedly he may be able to calculate its
1 stresses ' or ' tensions/ and its undulations or vibrations,
can pretend to have the remotest conception of what it
is. And the mere fact that certain working hypotheses
about its properties have been found to accord with
mathematical calculations about the movements and
action of light and electricity, proves nothing whatever
as to the fundamental essence of the thing itself. For,
as already noted, Dalton's working hypothesis about
atoms seemed for many years to be amply verified by the
uniform results of physical and mathematical research
into chemical combinations. And yet we now know
that there are no such things at all as indestructible,
indivisible, unchangeable atoms, and that the laws of
chemical combination must depend upon something else.

Electricity. Then again, Electricity, which plays so large a part in
the latest theories of Matter, is just as unknowable as
the Ether. Scientific men can indeed measure its force,
calculate its action, and harness it to engines. But there
is scarcely a teacher of its mysteries who does not begin
his lessons with a warning to his students that, however
much they may learn about electricity, they must not
expect to know what it is.

The bearing Under these circumstances it would be unreasonable

mystery of to ask us to allow that the new theories of Matter have
reached — or have any prospect of reaching — finality. For
if the seemingly solid atom, for ages the stronghold of
materialistic science, has been found to be a bewildering
whirl of swift electrons, who is to guarantee us that the
electron itself will not reveal some time a still inner


world of forces yet unnamed ? To assume the impossi-
bility of this would be as irrational as the hope sometimes
cherished in bygone days that some impossible increase
of microscopic power would discover the innermost core
of matter, whether atom or otherwise, and so make it
obvious to sense. Whereas experience, according to the
witness of science, lends no encouragement whatever to
such hopes. For we only know that the more the
powers of the microscope have been increased, the more
perfectly continuous and the more exquisite in refinement
are organic tissues made to appear. Nor do inorganic
sections or granules give any encouragement whatever to
the hope that a step has been made toward unveiling the
ultimate constituent parts.

The truth is that the most recent theories of Matter, Modem
so far from giving us a sense of finality by clearness of matter not
definition, rather open up unexpected vistas of specula- S^TraS. 76
tion. And far in the perspective of these vistas is the s estlve -
revelation of a Universe at once material, spiritual, and
divine, such as fascinated Spinoza. For he was not a
dreamer who dissolved away the material world into
fancies of the mind. Nor could he tolerate the harsh
dualism which makes 'Mind 5 and 'Matter' essentially
alien to each other and wholly incommensurable. To\
him they were different forms of the same divine Beingknd the
and, together with other endless modes of unrevealedy>inttothe
infinite Attributes, constitute the Universe. But od
such questions argument is out of place except to prove
tendencies of thought or probabilities of future advance.
And so far as this limited purpose is concerned, I believe
I have shown some reasons for thinking that most recent





The idea of



Theory of




loss of


Not a



theories of Matter point to a conception of the material
Universe such as may easily in the future merge in that
of Spinoza.

Secondly, it is impossible to disguise the fact that
where theories of a Creation, and of a Creator entirely
separate therefrom, are still held, they are either un-
willingly accepted on account of certain now discredited
doctrines of catastrophe and ruin leading to the final
death of all worlds and thereby implying the birth of the
Universe in time ; or else they are tolerated through an
amiable desire to reassure the fears of the multitude for
the mythology the latter hold so dear.

Now as to the former notion of a Universe gradually
aggregating itself into a huge, congealed sphere, its very
grotesqueness always repelled reverence even where
knowledge was lacking to show its fallacy. Surely
where the scale is infinite, no mortal man should presume
to propound such a theory merely because a few orbs
have apparently collided, or because the existence of
innumerable dark orbs seems probable. The supposed
inevitable process of congelation alternating with vapour-
isation caused by new collisions on a continually growing
scale until there shall be left only one inconceivably vast
frozen orb, may quite fairly be regarded as a nightmare
of mortal ignorance, rather than as the conclusion of
inexorable logic. 1

1 I have quoted elsewhere scientific authority for this opinion
{Religion of the Universe, p. 129, etc.), and it would be out of place to
repeat here what has been there said. It may suffice here to refer to
Sir Norman Lockyer's suggested cycle of star life, and to the interest-
ing theory of 'shearing' collisions propounded by Professor Bickerton
of Now Zealand. Quite recently also Professor Robert K. Duncan of
Jetferson College, U.S.A., in his work The New Knowledge (London,


But granted that no one, not even the most competent
and learned of our instructors, can yet speak with any
absolute certainty upon ultimate questions concerning
the material Universe, surely here is an opportunity for
loyalty to that instinct of faith of which theologians
have been loud in praise. Why may not those of us
whose souls are repelled by the grotesque theory of a
dying Universe take advantage of the recent doctrine of
* the will to believe ' ? I am aware that this doctrine The will to
has been formulated and maintained in the interest of
the curious temporary reaction which has of late inclined
many learned, philosophic, and scientific men to return
to the mythology of the early Christian centuries. But
that doctrine is a two-edged weapon. For if some have
an emotional propension toward a religious system of a
personal Creator, personal Providence, revelation, incarna-
tion and miracles related thereto, why may not others
have an emotional propension to a system that loyally

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Online LibraryJ. Allanson (James Allanson) PictonSpinoza; a handbook to the Ethics → online text (page 19 of 21)