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Spinoza; a handbook to the Ethics online

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thousand of them, the multiplication would only deepei
our sense of the divine unity, beside which unity there i^
indeed no other that is real.

It is necessary now to pay particular attention 1 to the
very important and incisive criticism made by Sir
Frederick Pollock on Spinoza's treatment of the attributes
of Extension and Thought. ' It is to be observed that
inasmuch as Attribute is defined by reference to intellect, 2
and Thought itself is an Attribute, Thought appears to
Thought be in a manner counted twice over.' That is to say,


twice over. Thought is treated in the definition as necessary to the
very existence of extension, because Extension is what is
1 perceived.' But then again Thought is regarded as an
Attribute entirely distinct and independent. In making
Extension the object of a perceiving subject Spinoza^
was in accord with the modern tendencies of thought
mentioned above. But it is difficult to understand why

Superfluity he should think it necessary to irive a separate and in-

of any other J ° l

Attributes dependent existence to the Attribute of Extension when,

Thought, by his definition of Attribute, he makes Extension

necessarily something perceived, or, in other words, a

1 See p. 14 ante, and Pollock's Spinoza, pp. 153 and 164.

2 Ethices, Pars, i., Def. iv. 'By an attribute I understand that
which the intellect (thought) perceives concerning Substance, as
constituting the essence (reality) of the latter.'


mode of thought. ' Hence/ says Sir Frederick Pollock,
1 all Attributes except Thought are really superfluous :
and Spinoza's doctrine when thus reduced to its simplest
terms is that nothing exists but thought and its modifi-

Nevertheless, with all the deference due to so high an Some
authority, I think the criticism is here carried too far. tottie 101
Sir Frederick says indeed that 'it does not affect the criticism -
substantial and working value of Spinoza's metaphysic.'
Yet it is an essential article in Spinoza's creed that
everything within the infinite possibilities of existence
does actually exist. It is so essential that — as I hope
will be seen farther on — without it the whole system
collapses like St. Mark's Campanile through disharmony 4
of internal strains. But if everything that can exist
does exist, it is surely venturesome to say that all po_ssi-.
bilities of existence are limited to forms of thought. We
do not indeed know what else there can be. But it
would be presumptuous to limit possibilities of existence 1 The infinity

, -,2 , . m, r~ . of existence

to our capacity ot conception. The more consistent involves the
course would seem to be to allow that Spinoza does Attributes.
appear to have set up two Attributes where only one was
necessary, but at the same time to allow that God may
have infinite other Attributes incognisable to us. Whether
it is worth while to follow that great master in such a

1 Sir Frederick Pollock having been good enough to read the few
lines here referring to his comment on this part of Spinoza's system,
makes on the above sentence the following remark, which with his
permission I quote : ' Otherwise, whatever exists, exists because and so
far as it can. The current use of " can " and "possible " means that no
don't know all the conditions. But the question remains, what do we
mean by existence?'



fashion is a point that cannot fairly be decided until we
have completed our study of him, and have seen how on
this foundation rests the heaven-high tower of contem-
plation and peace and purity which he built for all the

7 Meantime it is sufficient to define the position we
( assume. We accept his doctrine of Substance. We
regard it as Being. It is knowable to us through one
Attribute of Thought. This is not something added to
or distinguishable from Being. But it expresses to our
intellect the essence or reality of substance or God. At
the same time we provisionally follow the Master in
holding that the divine Substance, Being, or God has
infinite other Attributes or aspects which remain incog-
i\ nisable x to us.
Reasons for ^ tne res ^ °f tne First Book of the Ethica my purpose
does not require me to give any detailed account. Of
course, for those who wish to attain an approximately
complete comprehension of Spinoza's philosophy of the
Universe, a minute and careful study of every word is
needful. For of him perhaps more truly than of any
man who ever wrote, except perhaps Tacitus, it may be
said that he never used an unnecessary word. But as

1 " Yes, but not to all capacity or intelligence. The idealist position
is that unknowable reality (not merely unknowable to an}' particular
kind of finite perception and intelligence) is a contradiction in terms.
I have always disclaimed believing in systems as distinct from method,
and should disclaim it more strongly now than twenty -five years ago."
For this comment I am also indebted to Sir Frederick Pollock under
the circumstances mentioned above. I am content ; for the method
of Spinoza is more important to me than his system. And I am sure
that his method leads inevitably to that identity of God and the
Universe which is the ultimate goal, as it was, in a sense, the starting-
point of religion.



my object is simply to bring within reach of ordinary Religious
people like myself the religious peace and joy that result dominant,
from his identification of God with the Universe, all I
need to do is to note such ideas of the earlier books as
are essential to the moral and spiritual appreciation of
the final book.

We have noted above how, according to the Master,
the infinite divine substance is one, and there can no
more be two substances than there can be two Gods. It
follows — but the proofs need not detain us — that the one
divine Substance is indivisible. I may quote certain Substance

, , , . indivisible.

pregnant sentences of explanation : —

' If, however, any one should ask why we are by nature so
inclined to the division of quantity, 1 I reply to him that
quantity is conceived by us in two different modes, that is to
say, abstractly 2 — apart from reality — or superficially, just
as we fancy it ; or else as substance, a conception grasped
only by the intellect.' — Part I., Prop, xv., Schol.

To a critical reader it may naturally occur that, Even if ex-
if we surrender extension as a distinct Attribute, regarded 6
and regard it only as a mode of Thought, this part ^ Thought
of Spinoza's teaching can have no interest for us. J h . ls d . oc "
But I am not so sure of that. For the majority j] ot su P er -
of people have an inveterate habit of regarding each
finite personality as so intensely one and distinct from
everything else, that it may be taken as the very type of
unity. Now this belief is certainly opposed to Spinoza's
doctrine of the indivisibility of Substance. Because, Ordinary
though we are dealing immediately with an Attribute SersonaUty
(Thought) and not with the divine Substance, yet, as we witiiTt. Stent

1 I.e. by measurement in yards, feet, inches, etc.
3 See farther on, p. 30.



The doc-
trine of

of the
' abstract '
and the
' substan-

have seen, Spinoza regards the Attribute not as some-
thing distinct from Substance, but as one aspect of it
expressing its infinite reality. If, then, we regard the
Attribute or aspect as divided down to the very core of
Being, so that finite personality becomes the type of
separate and distinct unity, we necessarily imply a
division of the divine Substance, and thus contravene one
of Spinoza's essential principles. But on this question
no more need be said than is sufficient to show that even
if we merge Extension in Thought, the doctrine of Sub-
stance is unaffected. Or, as Sir Frederick Pollock says
of his own luminous observations on this point, 'the
process of criticism we have just gone through, supposing
it to be legitimate, does not affect the substantial and
working value of Spinoza's metaphysic'

Eeturning then to the Master's defence of his teaching
on the indivisibility of substance, we note that his mode
of regarding the ' abstract ' and the ' substantial ' is pre-
cisely the opposite of that sanctioned by ordinary
custom. For the latter treats apparently separate exist-
ences, such as stones, trees, and persons, as real, while
the mental effort to merge them all in a higher unity as
modes of the infinite Thought is regarded as an exercise
in abstraction. But Spinoza, being convinced that the
Universe, or God, is one substance and essentially indi-
visible, regards all our impressions of separate finite /
things as abstractions from reality; 1 while the infinite

1 This has nothing to do with Spinoza's treatment of the idea of ^
species. He quite rightly taught that the idea of species is only a
blurred image of the individuals comprised, when they become too
numerous to be retained separately in memory. But this has no bear-
ing upon his theory that neither the ■ individuals ' nor the species
imply any division of the divine Substance.

an im-
putation of


truth is cognisable only by the intellect, or, as Kant
afterwards preferred to call it, the ' pure reason.'

But this does not at all imply that our ordinary not
impressions are false. For though they are not abso- falsehood
lutely true, they are relatively true. Let me try if I can prions,
illustrate what I mean. I have already admitted that
all analogies between the finite and the infinite must
needs be inexact. Still sometimes they help us a little, but their
Think, then, of a number of observers, north, south, east laUvVnot"
and west, contemplating a great mountain whose form absolute -
has been carved and moulded and riven by the vicissi-
tudes of geological time. Needless to say that the illustration
contour is so different, as seen from various points, that views of T
if two or three observers compared their own personal mountam :
impressions alone, the only escape from the mutual
imputation of falsehood would seem to be that they had
not been looking at the same mountain. Yet not one of
their impressions is false. It is true relatively to the
position of the observer, but it is not a true account of
the whole mass. Thus one observer may see an aiguille aiguille,
apparently quite detached from the great mountain and
placed as the chief feature of a symmetrical arrangement
of harmonious curves and wooded slopes around its base,
so that it at once appears to demand a distinct name, and
to be a thing of beauty by itself. To another every
feeling is centred in a magnificent waterfall which rushes waterfall,
into view from untrodden heights above, and, both by its
might and its grace and its commanding voice, so sub-
ordinates to itself every other feature of the visible
landscape that, to this observer, the vision of the moun-
tain is the vision of the waterfall, nothing more. To a



forest and
precipice ;

view of the
whole from
the sky.

treats the
idea of
things or

third, aspiring forests barred by naked precipices above,
and the gleam of snow-fields over all, are for ever asso-
ciated with the mountain's name. And all these aspects
are true, relatively to the positions of the observers. But
to the daring aeronaut who sails through the sky over
the summit, the great mountain is seen to merge all these
particular aspects in a general form which, though it
convict none of the observers of falsehood, yet cannot be
identified with what is seen by any. The painter's
picture of the aiguille and its surrounding beauties, the
poet's vision of the waterfall and his interpretation of its
chant, the rapture of Kuskin's disciple before forest per-
spectives and precipice and snow, are all the result of
abstraction from the whole, and concentration of thought
and emotion on a part which cannot, except relatively
to contemplative thought and sense, be detached there-

So Spinoza regarded all our impressions of separate
and detached things or persons as abstractions from
reality, yet not on that account false. For they are true
relatively to our finite mode of the infinite Thought.
And this truth can always be verified so long as our finite
mode of thought remains what it is. For as the artisti-
cally conceived landscape abstracted from the mountain
mass will always be there again if the painter goes away
and returns to it, so the abstractions formed from the
infinite Whole by finite modes of thought can always be
perceived again so long as the exercise of our senses and
conception are normal, that is, in accordance with the
nature of things.

The Proposition (i., xxviii.) and Scholium in which his


doctrine of finite things is set forth are attended by all His endless
the inconveniences of the inappropriate Euclidean form, fr^te
which to many readers — and indeed to all of us at first effects. an
sight — quite obscures the plain common-sense at the
basis of his theory. For really it all amounts to this/f
that, while nothing can be separated from and still less
independent of God, the infinite Attributes are subject
to an infinite variety of finite modes, so that the plenum
of the divine Life — if we may so speak — must be cor/
ceived by us as an infinite series of finite changes, so
balanced as to constitute a Whole of eternal rest and
peace. I know that this is not the form taken by his
quasi-mathematical proposition and proof. But that this
is what it means when translated into the thought of the
plain man I cannot doubt. Here is the Proposition in
English : —

'Every individual (thing) or any finite thing having a
limited (mode of) existence, would be unable to exist or be
actuated to work, unless it were determined in its existence
and working by some other cause which also is finite and has
a limited (mode of) existence, and again this cause also
cannot exist nor be determined in its operation unless it is
actuated in its existence and work by another which is also
finite and has a limited (mode of) existence, and so on with-
out end.'

This may sound very obscure and dry. But it is only
the Philosopher's way of expressing the truth of the Rendered

. . in poetic

Poet s vision : — form.

' There rolls the deep where grew the tree.
earth, what changes hast thou seen !
There where the long street roars, hath been
Tho stillness of the central sea.


1 The hills are shadows, and they flow

From form to form and nothing stands ;
They melt like mists, the solid lands,
Like clouds they shape themselves and go.'

Or as a much older philosopher, with an occasional
gleam of melancholy poetry in his view of life, wrote
long ago : —

Aprecedent ' One generation passeth away and another generation
ture CriI> cometh ; but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also
ariseth and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place
where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south and
turneth about unto the north : it whirleth about continually,
and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. All
the rivers run into the sea ; yet the sea is not full ; unto the
place from whence the rivers come, thither they return

Of course, neither the Hebrew cynic nor the late poet
had the same philosophy as Spinoza. But their descrip-
tion of the interplay of finite causes which keeps per-
petual movement within the bosom of eternal peace is
really a sort of ' kinetogram ' of the principles laid down
by the Master. 1
Approxi- Further, Spinoza seems here to anticipate, though
cipation of distantly, the modern doctrines of cause as equivalent to
?o°ctriueof the infinite sum of all conditions, and therefore identical
' cause -' with the effect. I say ' distantly,' for his approximation
consists only in the perception that there can be no

1 The fact that Spinoza speaks of a static interdependence of all
finite things on one another, while the Poet and the Hebrew sage
referred to their perpetual movement, is of no consequence. For
Spinoza knew as well as Heraclitus that ! vavra pel,' all things flow :
and the static interdependence is simply the aspect presented to
momentary consciousness, as when we glance at a rushing waterfall,
which seems still, hut, as we know, is in violent motion.


isolated ' cause,' that everything is dependent on every-
thing else. Thus the movements within the Universe
are an infinite number of unbeginning and endless series
through which the determination to existence and action *
runs. Still his language about ' causes ' belongs to his
own and preceding times, and would scarcely be adopted
at the present time except by way of convenient conven-
tion ; just as evolutionists talk of the 'purpose' of
'natural selection/ though the word means for them
only the result attained, without any implication of

Still there remains insoluble for us or for any finite An in-
creature, even an archangel, if such a being exists, the problem
relation of what we call ' time ' to eternity, or the coinci- remaa
deuce, nay, identity, of the peaceful realisation of all
possible existence on the infinite scale, with the innumer-
able, unbeginning and endless series of movements which
constitute our impressions of life and the universe. All
we can say is that the very fact of our finite existence,
though it be not the hard, distinct, and separate thing

1 But the determination to existence and action is really of God
alone, and the impression of intermediate ' causes ' and successions is
due simply to our relative view of modes or modifications of the
Attributes of the divine Substance. Spinoza's apparent recognition
of secondary causes must surely be interpreted consistently with his
Scholium to Proposition xxv., Pt. I., where he explains that God is the
cause of all things in the same sense in which He is the cause of Him-
self, i.e. all things are expressions of His self -existence. Or, as he
puts it in the Corollary following, ' Individual things are nothing but
affections or modes of the Attributes of God by which His attributes
are expressed in a definite and limited manner.' E.g. a triangle or
circle is an affection or mode of the Attribute of Extension expressing
it in a definite, limited manner. And a man's thought about the
world is a similarly limited mode of the divine Attribute of


which some have thought, makes contemplation from
the height of infinity impossible. Relatively our im-
pressions are true. Past, present, and future are real,
just as partial views of one enormous mountain are real
to beholders in different positions. But all the same, it
is true as Spinoza teaches, therein agreeing with many of
the greatest philosophers and divines, that Eternity is not
unlimited duration, but the always present consumma-
tion of all possible existence.
Natura This seems the best place in which to refer to a dis-

and tinction treated as important by Spinoza, though it seems

Natwrata. to me to have little bearing on the practical issues of re-
ligion which I have in view. Still, though I am making
no pretence to give a complete, detailed statement of the
Master's philosophy, this is a point too characteristic to
be omitted even in a sketch. For the distinction be-
tween Natura Naturans or Nature Active, and Natura
Naturata, or Nature Passive, gave profound satisfaction
to the great Pantheist, 1 and it is possible that even now
it may afford relief to those who are attracted by his
vision of the Universe, but who, owing to the inveteracy
of ancient habit, cannot dispense with the antithesis of
Nature Creator and Creation. Now by Natura Naturans we are
NaturV 111 ' 1 fc o understand ' what exists in and by itself, and is con-
Passive. ce i ve d ]jj itself, or such Attributes of Substance as
express its eternal and infinite essence (or reality), that
is, God, so for as He is contemplated as a free cause.' 2 By
Natura Naturata, on the other hand, we are to understand

1 The distinction, of course was not invented by him, as it was
familiar to theological and scholarly writers of the Middle Ages. But
I do not think any one ever before explained the distinction in the
same way. ' L, xxix., Schol.


1 all that follows necessarily from the nature of God, or prop, xxix.,

from any and every one of the Attributes of God, that is,

all the modes of God's Attributes, in so far as they are

contemplated as 'things' (res), which are in God, and

which cannot either exist or be conceived apart from

God.' In a word, as suggested above, the one is Nature

Active, while the other is Nature Passive, but they differ

only in aspect. For they are in essence absolutely

identical, and each is only a mode of conceiving God. It

should be noted, however, that thought, will, desire, love,

and all affections belong to Natura Naiurata and not to intellect

»t -jit- -r> • • • l andemo-

JSatura Naturans. But this is not inconsistent with my tion belong
rendering of the former phrase as Nature Passive, because xaturata.
the thought, will, desire and the like here in view are
only modes of attributes even were they on an infinite
scale, and are referred to God as their free cause.

And here, before leaving this First Book ' Concerning
God,' it is needful to say a word on Spinoza's use of the
word ' freedom.' For, ever since Milton's Fallen Angels
endeavoured to alleviate their catastrophe by debatings
on ' free will ' and ' fate,' every one who surveyed Nature
and Man has been compelled to face a problem which, By Free
like the equally ancient one of motion, solvitur amhulando not meant
and in no other way. We have already seen that whenftr Variable
the Master speaks of a divine ' free cause,' he means aj
cause subject to no external compulsion, and acting oniy^
in accordance with the eternal laws of Its own nature/ 1 (
While, however, this freedom excludes external com

1 Of course, the phrase ■ laws of His own naturo ' is insufficient.
But however we think of natural law, it suggests to most of us an
absolutely certain regularity, and that is enough here.


/straint, it also excludes caprice. That is, God does not
fact now in this way and now in that from unreasoning
choice. But the divine action is always in accordance
with the laws of His own nature, and these laws, being
of His eternal substance, could not be otherwise than
they are. It is only our finiteness which prevents our
seeing that they could no more be otherwise )than the
three angles of a plane triangle could be less or more
than two right angles. There is no need to dwell on
this. It is an indefeasible principle of the system I am
expounding. And though I have known the time when
A question I was repelled by the idea of accepting such a Free
ence. Cause, and preferred the imagined spectre of a biggest

Person among all other persons, acting as smaller
persons do, only better, I have come myself to recognise
that the God of Spinoza is much more exalted above the
God of Calvin than the Jahweh of Isaiah was above the
Baal of King Manasseh. Perhaps, however, for the justi-
fication of this experience, it is better to wait till we deal
with the Fifth Book c Concerning the Freedom of Man.'


The following is a substantially accurate but verbally
free rendering of the Appendix with which the Master
concludes his First Part ' Concerning God.'

1 Thus I have expounded the nature of God and its pro- Summary
perties. I have shown that He exists of necessity, that He theology!* S
is the one and only God ; that He is and acts from the sole
necessity of His own nature ; that He is the free cause of all
things, and how He is so ; that all things are in God and so
depend upon Him, that without Himself they can neither be
nor be conceived ; and finally that all things have been pre-
determined by God, not indeed in the exercise of freedom of
will T or by despotic decree, but by reason of His absolute
nature or infinite (unconditioned) power. Farther, as
occasion arose, I have taken some pains to remove any pre-
judices which might interfere with an understanding of my
proofs. But since not a few prejudices still remain which '
also were formerly, and are still, an enormous hindrance to
men's adoption of the system of the universe 2 which I have

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Online LibraryJ. Allanson (James Allanson) PictonSpinoza; a handbook to the Ethics → online text (page 3 of 21)