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The part assigned to it in the government of the Function of

passions and the realisation of eternal life, compels us to and its

pay particular attention to Spinoza's doctrine of know- v

ledge. And for the practical purpose we have in view it

is better to discard the order of his propositions, and

have more regard to the needs of our own ordinary minds

than to the scientific precision of the philosopher.

According to him, knowledge is of three kinds, viz. :

1. That of unsystematised experience (expcricntia vaga),

including hearsay or unsystematised reading. 2. That of

reasoning or logic. 1 3. That of direct intuition — or what

1 « . . . ex eo quod notions* communes, rcrumque proprietaium
ideas adaqucUas habemus,' i.e. ' from our progressing common notions'
—common to our kind, a current coin of thought— 'and adequate
ideas of the properties of things.'



we might call knowledge at sight, only it is mental vision,
instancesof not physical, that is concerned. 1 For illustrations of the
ent kinds, different kinds of knowledge we may with advantage
refer to the Essay on the Improvement of the Under-
standing. There we find as instances of knowledge through
unsystematised experience, the information received from
a man's parents as to the day of his birth, and his con-
viction that death awaits him like other men. Through
unsystematised experience he also knows that oil feeds a
flame while water puts it out ; that a dog is a barking
animal, and man rational — of course in the general sense
of possessing the elements of reason. To the second
kind of knowledge, which results from reasoning or logic,
he refers our conviction of our two-fold nature as body
and mind, though what sensation is, and what the union
of body and mind, we cannot say with any certainty.
We also know by reasoning from the nature of sight and
the diminution of apparent size by distance, that the sun
must be larger than it looks.

These instances are elementary. But it would not be
difficult to find many appropriate to the enormously
increased range of life and knowledge of which we are
conscious at the present day. For we may take it that
under the first head of unsystematised experience,
Spinoza would have classed the ' rule of thumb ' methods
so dear to British handicraftsmen and manufacturers, as
| Muddling also the instinct of ' muddling through, 1 generally recog-
nised as the distinctive glory of our arms. So, too, the

1 In the unfinished essay ' De Intellectus Emendatione,' knowledge
by hearsay or reading is kept as a kind separate from the knowledge
of unsystematised or unreasoned experience. But in the Ethics,
though the two are mentioned, they are classed together.

' Rule of



practical man, who knows his way about in the business
world, and who after a very few years turns to gold
whatever he touches, has his knowledge through un-
systematised experience, of which he can give no intelli-
gible account. It is to be feared also, that the knowledge
of most of our politicians is of the same kind, with the
result that reforms which reasoned experience might at
least hasten, are dragged out through many generations.

Of Spinoza's second kind of knowledge, 'reasoned 'Reasoned _
experience,' x the whole range of modern science affords
an endless array of illustrations. For it is founded on
definite conceptions shared with our fellows concerning
the properties of things. For instance, if we may take
modern examples, the common notions which all educated
people possess of weight and mass and direct and inverse
proportion enable them to grasp the theory of gravitation Gravitation,
and its proofs, though not to say what gravitation is, that
is, whether pressure or pull, whether action at a distance
or not. So too, the possession of common notions and
definite perceptions of chemical combination have
through reasoned experience assured scientific men that Proportion-
affinities enable substances to combine only in definite nation.
and unvarying proportions. But whether that involves
the 'atomic' theory is altogether another question. It
will be observed that for this knowledge through
reasoned experience two conditions are needed : first, a
common fund of ideas (communes notiones) about the
order of the world — for instance, such facts as weight,
or the tendency of various substances to combine ; and,

1 The term is suggested by Sir F. Pollock's description of the first
kind as 'unreasoned experience.'


secondly, careful observation of a sufficient number of
particular cases (rcrum proprietatum ideas adccquatas).
Thus theories can be formed according to Spinoza's
dictum (Prop, xl., Pt. n.) that ' whatever ideas follow
in the mind from its adequate ideas, are themselves
Possible It may possibly be objected that my interpretation of


on account this theory of knowledge as applicable to modern times
definition of is unsatisfactory, because Spinoza means by 'adequate
ideas.' ideas ' those ' which are in God, not in so far as He is
infinite, but in so far as He constitutes the essence of the
Answer : human mind.' But I must regard such an objection as

that this is . .

atheoiogi- an instance ot the theological misinterpretations of
terpreta- Spinoza, mentioned in the first words of this essay. For
the Master is not thinking of a personal Jehovah, or
Allah, or Brahma. What He means is that such ideas
have their legitimate and proper place in the mind as a
finite mode of the infinite Attribute of Thought. In-
adequate ideas differ in this, that though they also are, of
course, finite Modes of the infinite Attribute of Thought,
they are in God, not merely as He constitutes the essence
of the human mind, but also in as far as, together with
the human mind He has the idea of some other thing (or
witchcraft things). Thus, if we say that the believer in witchcraft
adequate had an inadequate idea of the influences which troubled
him, we mean, as I interpret the Master, that the idea
was in God, not only as He constitutes the essence of the
individual mind, but also as He has in view, if we may
so speak, the whole course of human evolution through
superstition and fear to a participation in the eternal life
and freedom of God. Hence confusion of thought on


the earthly sphere, though in the heavens is unclouded

The knowledge obtainable by such methods is neces- inadequate
sarily limited In fact, in many respects Spinoza is an suggest
Agnostic. But the instances he gives are curious as contingency
illustrating his method. He tells us we can have only a tion. corrup '
very inadequate idea of the duration of our own body, or
of any other individual things. This appears sufficiently
obvious. But he is not thinking of the uncertainties of
life or circumstance, but rather of the constitution of the
universe as an innumerable series of successions amongst
which we are apt to exaggerate our part. And the
eternal process of change, of which we can only have a
very inadequate conception, gives rise to the notion of
contingency and chance or corruption, neither of which
has any existence but in our inadequate ideas. For to
the infinite Thought, comprehending the Whole, there is
no contingency and no corruption.

But it is time now to turn to the third and highest
kind of knowledge, according to the Master's theory.
This is the knowledge given by direct vision, as when we Knowledge
look on a rose, and know that it is red, yellow, or white, inu r **
In the reception also of some moral truths, the process is
just as swift and clear; which was surely the experience
of the common people of Galilee when they listened to
Jesus. For if they ' were astonished at His doctrine/ it
was certainly because it was so overwhelmingly plain.
Yet, as is too often the case, Spinoza the exact philoso-
pher somewhat obscures Spinoza the brother o! Jesus.
For the former tells us that 'this^ kind of knowledge
issues from an adequate idea of the real essence of some


of the divine Attributes, and results in an adequate know-
ledge of the essence of things.' 1
Spinoza's Before trying to show the practical bearing of this

illustration J & l °

by a self- abstract statement, let me add Spinoza's solitary illustra-


case of pro- tioil.


1 Here are given for example three numbers for the pur-
pose of finding a fourth, which shall be to the third as the
second to the first. Tradesmen without hesitation multiply
the second by the third, and divide the product by the first ;
of course, because they have not forgotten the rote-lessons
they once received without any proof from the schoolmaster ;
or else because they have tried the operation often on the
simplest numbers ; or again they do it by virtue of the proof
of Euclid, Prop, xix., lib. 7, that is, according to the common
property of proportionals. But in the simplest numbers
there is no need of anything of the kind. For example, the
numbers 1, 2, and 3 being given, no one could fail to see
that the fourth proportional number is 6 ; and this the
more clearly because from the ratio itself, which, with one
glance we see to be borne by the first to the second, we
infer the fourth.'

Probable Here the Attribute, of whose real essence we are supposed
tion. ' to have an adequate idea, is Extension. Of Extension
motion is an infinite Mode. And from motion are de-
rived the ideas of apparent division, measurement, and
number. Thus, according to Spinoza, it is our adequate
idea of the essence of Extension which enables us to see
at a glance that six is to three as two is to one, It
Needs would surely be a waste of time to discuss intuition from
such a point of view. For my part, I believe the great
thinker to be right. But looking at things as we needs

1 The translation is free, but I think gives the meaning. (Part n.,
Prop, xl., Schol. 2.)



must, in the mood of the present age, we do not find his
illustration carries us very far toward an appreciation of
the higher functions of intuition in the spiritual life.
What he really means is, that if we see things as God The real


sees them, we see them truly. 1 But then, what is meant is seeing
by seeing things as God sees them ? With inevitable, God sees
iteration I reply that it means having an idea just as it\
exists in God so far as He constitutes the essence of the 1
human mind and nothing else. If there be any difficulty/Reason for
here, it is caused by the inveterate tendency of mono- apprehend
theism to think of God as the greatest among beings thls "
instead of regarding Him as the only Being. The former
view separates Him from the world and man, so that
when we talk of seeing things as God sees them, we
think of two minds and a parallelism of thought between
them. That, however, is not Spinoza's doctrine at all.
For him the human mind is God, at least in the sense Man not

SPY) IF iff 1

that it is constituted by a Mode of a divine Attribute, 'from God,
And if probably even Spinoza would have regarded it as carnation"
a harsh expression to say that the human mind is God,
it could only be in the same sense in which St. Paul con-
sidered it absurd to suppose an eye constituting the
whole body. But Spinoza had no notion of an infinite
Mind away in heaven thinking things, and of the human
mind responding. His idea was that of One infinite and Seeing

. . things as

eternal substance, expressing its essence in many ways, God sees
of which the human mind is one. Now when this
mysterious, finite expression of God keeps, so to speak,
to its part and proportion in the universal harmony,
it sees things as God sees them, that is, it keeps within

1 See Demonstration of Prop, xxxiv.


the finite Mode proper to it according to the scale of the
infinite life. Then it has ' adequate ideas' — not infinite,
of course, but exactly fitting its place in the eternal life.
And this is the case with us — as afterwards appears in
the Fifth Book — so long as we can keep ourselves within
the rule of reasoned experience, or by insight have clear
ideas of truth, and duty, and right.

inadequate But now let us take a different case. This mysterious
finite expression of God, the individual mind of John
Smith struggling to exceed its part and proportion in the
universal harmony, is vexed that it does not accomplish
all its desires or receive its deserts according to its own

their effect conceit thereof. It notices also that many others think

on our view .

of the themselves m the same plight, and thereupon feels


strongly inclined to take the bitter advice of Job's wife.
Pessimism Hence pessimistic philosophy, bitterness of soul, and

and super- .

naturalism, presumptuous or even blasphemous charges against the
order of the world. Hence, also, feeble-minded sugges-
tions of pious remedies for God's mistakes, by the
supposition of a non-natural annex, outside the known
universe, and divided into Heaven and Hell, where God's
actual arrangements, as we know them, shall give place
to the better ideals of the good creatures whom the
Eternal has hitherto wronged. 1 Any such mind has,

1 The description has no application to the great prophets and
apostles who fitted their place in the due order of religious evolution.
For they were reverent and submissive to what appeared to them
the undeniable work of the Eternal. (Cf. Rom. ix. 19-20.) Those,
however, upon whom a new revelation has forced palpable facts, but
who, notwithstanding, persist in declaring that they will not have
God's universe as it is — while, for certain reasons, they may well
claim sympathy— can scarcely be religious in St. Paul's sense.


according to the Master, an inadequate idea, or rather
many inadequate ideas, of the relation of self to the
Eternal. Because, in exceeding their proper bounds by
vain desire, sentiment, or greed, they travesty the idea
existing in God, ' not only so far as He constitutes the
nature of the human mind, but so far as together with
the nature of the human mind he has the idea of another
thing' — or of an infinite series of things. That is to say,
the infinite series of which the mind of John Smith forms
an infinitesimal, though necessary link, is expressed per-
fectly in the infinite Attribute of Thought, but very
inadequately indeed in the finite expression of that
Attribute in the mind of John Smith. And when John
Smith forgets that, he necessarily has inadequate ideas.

In the lidit of such reflections I interpret Spinoza's Truth and

° falsehood,

doctrine of truth and falsehood. Obviously, if we have
an idea as God has it — to use human language — then it
is true. But that happens only when the idea does not
go beyond the finite mode of the infinite Attribute of
Thought. For example, the idea of the redness of a in matters

of percep-

certain rose is true because it is the form inevitably tion,
taken in the particular finite mind by divine thought,
and not extending beyond that mind. But the idea of
the nature and cause of colour and the spectrum is a very in theory,
different thing. There we intrude upon divine thought
as thinking colour, and ether and motion and an endless
series of linked causes. Here, whatever surprising dis-
coveries we may make, our idea remains and must for

ever remain ' inadequate.' In morals again, there are in moral

cases m which our judgment is self-evidently true, be-
cause it falls precisely within the finite expression of the


infinite Attribute of Thought, and does not exceed. For
instance, Nathan's condemnation of David for his sin
against Uriah is of this nature. For here the human
relations concerned are as clear and as much within the
scope of the finite man as the colour of a rose. But if
we go farther and accuse the Eternal because such crimes
are allowed, and continually occur, then we question an
action or procedure of God, not only so far as He con-
stitutes the nature of the human mind — which condemns
the crime 1 — but so far as together with the human mind
He has an idea of another thing — or many other things ;
that is, once more, of the whole course of evolution, or of
all the infinite series which constitute the totality of
Being. Hence our idea is necessarily inadequate and
Falsehood Our judgment in this latter case — our accusation of
butnega- God — will be f alse ; but false, not because of any positive
from actual affirmation, as, for instance, that David's crime is repug-
°gnorance Ty nant Wltnin anv range of human relations realisable by
essential us - Rather, it is false by defect of knowledge, because
elements. we canno t conceive the infinity of the series of interlaced
events which make up the Whole of Being, a series in
which David's crime finds its place without in the
slightest degree marring the harmony of the Whole. To
Nathan and the righteous onlookers in Jerusalem, it
appears indeed, and rightly, a terrible catastrophe. But
on the infinite scale it disappears, or is a link in the

1 It should be borne in mind that, according to Spinoza, God does
not condemn, any more than He hates or grieves. But the phrases,
when used in popular language, express, so far as they are accurate,
the working of secondary causes, or, as we should say, finite links in
an infinite series of events.


completeness of the Whole. The prophet spoke a far
profounder truth than he knew, when he said, ' The Lord
hath put away thy sin.'

1 Men are deceived,' says Spinoza, ' when they think Fallacy of
themselves free ; which opinion rests only on the fact that w in.
while they are conscious of their actions, they are ignorant
of the causes by which those actions are determined. This
therefore constitutes their notion of freedom ; that they
should know no cause of their actions. For when they say
that human actions depend on the will, these are (mere)
words without significance (quorum nullam habent ideam).
For what the will may be, and how it may move the body,
they none of them can tell. As to those who pretend other-
wise and imagine a local habitation for the soul, they usually
excite ridicule or repulsion.' 1

Having dealt with the negative character of false- -J. clear and

° ° # distinct

hood, Spinoza maintains that he who has a true idea, conscious-
ness of
knows that he has it, and cannot doubt of its truth. Of truth is

. , , . . . . , possible,

course, at first sight this is open to much misinterpreta-
tion, as it might seem to include the self-confident
assertions or negations of ignorance. A pious anti-
Romanist is sure that a plague of cholera or smallpox
is a visitation of the divine wrath upon ritualism, and
proves his case by a plausible concurrence of dates at
which the ritualistic practices began and the plague
appeared. Surely this man knows — or thinks he knows
— that he has a true idea, of which he finds it impossible
to doubt. But when it is said such a man finds it im- distinct
possible to doubt, what is meant is that his prejudice and judice.

1 ii., xxxv., Schol. The above quotation is given here solely as the
Master's illustration of the negative character of falsehood. In its
other bearings, as for instance on moral responsibility, I deal with it




test of

But with a






self-will hamper him. It cannot be for a moment
maintained that even to him the contrary is unthinkable,
or that the notion of a coincidence, without any casual
connection between the two things, is a contradiction in
terms. So that Sir Frederick Pollock, in my view,
interprets the Master rightly when he says that Spinoza's
test of truth is practically identical with that of Herbert
Spencer, which is the unthinkableness of the contrary.
But the great Pantheist invests this test with a sanctity
wanting to the modern Philosopher. For he says that
our mind, inasmuch as it receives things truly, is part
of the infinite intellect of God; and it is just as inevit-
able that the clear and distinct ideas of the mind should
be true, as that the ideas of God should be so. Here
again we are not to think of a supernatural Mind away
in Heaven, to whose thoughts our true thoughts are
parallel. But our minds are — if we may use the phrase
— constituent elements of God, and, so far as our thoughts
are the finite Modes of the infinite Attribute of Thought
constituting our minds and nothing else, they are true.

In entire consistency with his fundamental faith in the
identity of God and the Universe, Spinoza concludes the
Second Part of his Ethics with propositions concerning
Necessity, Eternity, and Will such as in many readers
excite a revulsion of feeling only to be removed by his
concluding Part, on the Freedom of Man. Nevertheless,
notwithstanding my own personal experience of the moral
difficulties occasioned by these propositions, I think it
better to give my paraphrase of their essential contents,
without any attempt to forestall the Fifth Book, but with
the hope that any who have read thus far will have the


patience to read on. For assuredly the last Tart gives
the key to the religion of the future.

He tells us then 1 that to the eye of Reason — which Reason ac
alone sees truly — there is no such thing as contingency, no con

J tingency.

or chance ; but all individual things or events follow each
other in necessary sequence. Of course, ' under the
aspect of eternity,' they co-exist. And if we were capable
of seeing the whole Universe under that aspect, there
would be no room for argument. But we are not capable
of such a vision, and are, for the most part, compelled
therefore to contemplate things under the finite aspect
of time or succession. A scholium is added to explain How the
how the illusion of contingency arises. But this we need contingency
only touch upon. For Spinoza's own intellectual vision ans
was so clear that he does not seem to have realised the
need of ordinary minds for ample illustration ; and when
reading page after page of compressed utterances, preg-
nant with the truths of infinite Being, we cannot repress
an occasional irreverent interruption from the humble
but immortal Touchstone, who mutters, ' Instance, Shep-
herd, instance ! ' In the present case, however, he
supposes a boy on one particular day to see Peter in the
morning, Paul at noon, and Simeon in the evening.
Then, if next morning he sees Peter again, he will by
association of ideas expect Paul at noon and Simeon in
the evening. This association will be constant in pro- it is caused
portion to the regularity with which he sees these men ignorance
in this order. But if, on some evening, James should ol caUt,es -

1 Prop. xliv. Like all students of Spinoza, I am immensely
indebted to Sir Frederick Pollock's luminous monograph, and on
this particular point my indebtedness is, if possible, greater than


appear in place of Simeon, the boy will, on the next
morning, be uncertain whether in the coming evening he
should look for James or Simeon. The reasons actuating
the men are unchanged, and the order in which they will
appear, though variable, is, in itself, as certain as before,
but the boy no longer knows that order, and therefore
will think it a matter of chance.
Case of But other instances coming more nearly home to the

rising stars. ° *

modern mind suggest perhaps more forcibly to us that,
sequences which reflection teaches us to be indubitably
certain are treated as contingent when we do not know
their causes. Thus, two people, having noticed the
morning and evening stars at various times, but pos-
sessing no astronomical knowledge, will dispute, in the
absence of an almanac, as to which planets will be
morning stars next month ; and the dispute will grow so
keen that they may even make a bet on the event. I do
not forget that each disputant knows the event to be
fixed from eternity. But this makes the illustration all
the more apt. For it shows clearly how ignorance may
create a frame of mind which very vividly simulates
contingency, where it is allowed that none exists. So in

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Online LibraryJ. Allanson (James Allanson) PictonSpinoza; a handbook to the Ethics → online text (page 6 of 21)