Copyright
J. Allanson (James Allanson) Picton.

Spinoza; a handbook to the Ethics online

. (page 7 of 21)
Online LibraryJ. Allanson (James Allanson) PictonSpinoza; a handbook to the Ethics → online text (page 7 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


a horse-race the event is already decided when the horses
come to the starting-post. For the speed and endurance
of each animal, together with the skill of the rider, are
all fixed quantities. And as to the accidents which so
frequently deceive the most knowing, a fall for instance
or a foul, or temper in a horse, no one can possibly doubt
that these all belong to physical sequences — even the
horse's temper — which are as sure as the succession of
the morning stars. Yet, because the sequences are not



THE NATURE AND ORIGIN OF THE MIND 77

known beforehand, they are treated as contingent, and
the excitement of betting-men grows wilder and wilder
to the last moment of the uncertainty caused by
ignorance.

One of the most curious cases of this simulation of Election

, • , t • i. • i i. excitement

uncertainty where none exists is perhaps our treatment before the
of already past events. Watch a group of eager poli- of the poll
ticians waiting in their club for the telegraphic announce-
ment of the poll in an already decided election. In the
eager excitement with which they discuss the probabili-
ties, they show almost the agonising suspense of a race-
course madman, as he watches the horse that is carrying
fortune or ruin for him. Nay, up to the last moments
before the fatal click of the tape-machine is heard, the
arguments as to the strength of local parties, and the
popularity of candidates, will grow hotter ; and bets on
the result will be offered and accepted. It is impossible
to deny that in this case, as in that of the horse-race, all
the excitement and even the passions associated with
interests staked on what is called ' chance ' are present,
notwithstanding the concealed certainty of the event.
Nay, we may cite as witnesses to a universal subcon-
scious sense of the unreality of contingency the victims
of the gaming-table, who so often have a ' plan ' that is
certain to succeed if only they can hold out long enough.
For what is their reliance on the ' plan ' but an acknow-
ledgment that even in what are by pre-eminence called
1 games of chance,' the sequences are certain ? Here
again it is only in human ignorance, and not in events
themselves that contingency exists. This might be
remembered with advantage, when we are told that



78 ETHICS OF SPINOZA

the theories of Spinoza would rob life of all its
interest.
Eternity Again, as the eye of Reason discerns this certainty of
and eternal success i on j n a u things — though, as admitted, it discovers
only in exceptional cases the individual links of sequence
— it must needs view the Universe under the aspect of
eternity. For the certainty of apparent succession is —
in human language — a ' law ' of the divine nature. That
is, since God is identical with the Universe, things are
as they are on the scale of the Whole, because God is as
He is. Whoever, therefore, realises the successions in his
own consciousness as links in an unbeginning and endless
series, ' lays hold on eternal life,' because he feels himself
part of That which, ' as it was in the beginning, is now,
and ever shall be, world without end.' The detachment
of such a sense of eternal life from the lower craving for
personal immortality is best considered elsewhere,
what is It seems more difficult to follow the Master when he

(to 'ad* insists that our knowledge of the eternal and infinite
perfect^ essence of God, which every idea involves, is ' adequate
of God^ ge an( ^ perfect.' Spinoza, however, himself relieves us of
part of our difficulty, when (Prop, xlvii., Schol.) he
explains that we cannot expect our knowledge of God to
be as lucid (clarum) as our knowledge of finite notions
common to all men, such as weight, number, colour, heat,
and so on. This is because men are unable to picture
God — that is, the totality of Being — as they can finite
bodies ; and also because they have associated the name
' God ' with the forms of things they are accustomed to
see. Surely this is obvious. For if men during a hundred
generations were in the habit of associating the name ' god '



THE NATUEE AND ORIGIN OF THE MIND 79

with thunder or storm, or heavenly bodies, or trans-
figured men, it is very difficult indeed for the more
highly developed generations succeeding them to wrench
the name from such narrow associations, and iden-
tify it with the infinite Whole. Such a transference
is quite irreconcilable with the narrow definiteness of
notion which every mere idolator and sectary has
associated with his particular god. And it is this in-
veterate prejudice, assuming God to be outside or inside
of the Universe, but never as identical with it, which
constitutes still an apparently insuperable obstacle to the
spread of more spiritual religion. But I do not think
that Spinoza intended to set us the impossible task
of knowing the Unknowable 'in the strict sense of
knowing.' For, as we have seen, he admits the impossi-
bility of a clear idea of the whole Living Universe. It
appears rather that when he insists that in the recog-
nition of the Eternal Life we have an 'adequate and
perfect ' idea of God, he means that the negation of that
Eternal Life is unthinkable. Tennyson, perhaps, sang
more wisely than he thought in the words :

1 My own dim life might teach me this,
That life shall live for evermore.'



For, as we have seen (p. 7), any existence at all implies
infinite Being ; and it is in this sense only that we have
an adequate and perfect idea of God; that is, His non-
existence in Spinoza's sense of the name God, cannot be
thought.

It is of course in entire consistency with all the fore- No un-
going that the Book concludes with a denial of any such win!



80 ETHICS OF SPINOZA

thing as uncaused Will. For the mind, as the Master
says, is a finite mode of the Attribute of Thought, and is
therefore a link in an endless series of (so-called) cause
and effect. In fact, he denies that there is any such
faculty as will, except as a conventional generalisation
of individual mental acts. If we like to call the general
quality of stones, stoniness, we may do so. But we know
very well that there is no such thing apart from separate
and individual stones. So also of will ; there is no such
thing except as a conventional expression for an indefinite
number of separate decisions.
Doctrine of I do not think it needful to discuss Spinoza's identi-
affirmation S fication of these decisions with affirmation or negation.
not n nfces° n In fact > ^ would seem only to express in another form
present 0Ur Spinoza's doctrine that an individual act of what we call
purpose, -will j s the resultant of all the forces or influences im-
pelling the mind this way or that ; and that freedom is
realised when all, or the decisive determining influences
rise from within, while compulsion is felt when all, or the
decisive influences press on us from without.
Spinoza's Spinoza concludes his Book on the Origin and Nature
of the of the Mind with a summary of the practical bearing of
c ap er. ^. g ^g^j^g on h uman life.

( Finally, it remains to show of how much practical value
cai^sesof" a recognition of this teaching is to daily life, as we shall
his doc- easily discern if we note the following points. To wit : —

' I. It instructs us that we act entirely at the beck (nutu) of
God, and are partakers of the divine nature : all the more so !

1 Of course, two difficulties recur : (1) As to the place of responsi-
bility ; (2) as to the possibility of • more ' or ' less ' in partaking of the
divine nature, if God is all in all. For (1) see p. 45 n. As to (2) we
can only suppose that Spinoza refers to more or less God-co?iscioxisness.
But it is premature to judge of either till we have studied Part v.



THE NATUEE AND ORIGIN OF THE MIND 81

in proportion as our doings become more perfect, and we
understand God more and more. This doctrine, therefore, It shows
in addition to the all-pervading peace it gives to the mind, blessedness
has also this distinction, that it shows us in what our supreme consists,
felicity or blessedness consists, that is, exclusively in the
knowledge of God, by which knowledge we are attracted to
do only those things which love and piety suggest. Hence
we perceive clearly how far they err from a true apprecia-
tion of virtue who, for virtue and noble deeds, as though
these were utter drudgery, look to be honoured by God
with richest rewards. Just as though virtue itself and
drudgery for God were not itself felicity and supreme
liberty !

1 II. It shows us how to bear ourselves in regard to matters makes us

four-
of fortune which are not within our own control, or events square to

which do not result from our own nature ; that is, we a P t jj e ..

are enabled to look for and bear either aspect of fortune time.'

with an even mind ; and this because all things follow from

God's eternal fiat by the same kind of necessity as that by

which it follows from the essence of a triangle that its three

angles are equal to three right angles.

1 III. This teaching is advantageous to social life, inasmuch in social
as it instructs us to regard none with hatred, to scorn no one, teaches
to mock no one, neither to be angry with, nor to envy any. tolerance
Farther, it teaches that each of us should be content with his tentment.
own lot, and should be obliging to his neighbour, not from
effeminate pity, favouritism, or superstition, but solely under
the impulse of Reason, according to the demands of time and
occasion, as I will show in Part III.

1 IV. Lastly, this teaching offers no small benefit to social its political
order, inasmuch as it instructs us on what principle citizens
are to be governed and led, not as slaves ; but so that they
may do freely what is best.

1 And so I have fulfilled the purpose I had before me in
this Scholium, and thus I bring to an end our Second
Part: in which I think I have expounded at sufficient
length, and with as much clearness as the difficulty of the

F



82 ETHICS OF SPINOZA

matter allows, the nature and powers of the human mind,
while I have uttered such principles as enable us to infer
many glorious truths of the highest utility, and needful
to be known ; as will in some measure be made evident by
what follows.'



PART III

THE ORIGIN AND NATURE OF MENTAL AFFECTIONS

The English word ' affection/ when used as a rendering Meaning of
of Spinoza's Latin affectus, is so liable to be misunder-
stood, that, as previously noted, Mr. Hale White and
Miss Stirling have in their translation revived the
obsolete substantive 'affect.' But the addition of the
epithet 'mental,' as above, seems a sufficient guarantee
for a right understanding, especially if we accept the
authority of the New English Dictionary, where, with New
sufficient quotations to justify the view taken, the Dictionary.
' general and literal ' meaning of the word ' affection ' is
given as ' the action of affecting, acting upon or influenc-
ing ; or (when viewed passively) the fact of being
affected.' In reference to the mind, the word means,
according to the same authority, ' a mental state brought
about by any influence.' This latter seems to me to be
precisely equivalent to Spinoza's affectus. It is true, Our under-

standing

indeed, that in regard to appetite and pleasurable excite- notnega-

tivi'il by

ment, Spinoza joins the body with the mind as the sub- occasional
ject of affectus. But we should remember that to himfcothe
body and mind were different aspects of the same thing. 1 ri4ifof

affections.
1 Strictly speaking, finite modes of two infinite Attributes express-
ing the one divine Substance.



84 ETHICS OF SPINOZA

Besides, in the cases just now mentioned, the body is
brought in because it suggests the origin of the affection.
But it is obvious throughout the book that the real topic
is mental affections. Let it be borne in mind then, that
by mental affections we mean any ' mental state brought
about by any influence other than Keason.' 1

An all-important indication of the purpose of this
section of the great work is given in the preface, where a
Man not protest is uttered against any attempt to place man out-
oStoof* 6 side the order of Nature. Of those who insist on this he
Nature. says, ' they believe that man disturbs the order of Nature
instead of following it, and is determined by no other
power than himself.' But prophet though he was, the
Master could not possibly have foreseen the curiously
perverse application sometimes made of this false doc-
Tendency trine in our time. For it is too common to read in the
some to a writings of the expiring sect of materialists, unmeasured
exaStatSn abuse of the order of the world, together with eloquent
aLaS the exaltations of the creature man whom this botched world
Universe, j^g mana ged to produce. While that homely Hebrew
philosopher, Agur, the son of Jakeh, loved the wonder
excited by ' the way of an eagle in the air, the way of a
serpent on a rock, and the way of a man with a maid/
these pessimistic critics of Nature and idolators of Man
are more fascinated by the way of a cat with a mouse, or
of a lion with an antelope, or the way of the whirlwind and
the storm. Such morbid ponderers of Nature's riddles
cannot, like the foolish king, express a wish that they

1 For further justification I may refer to the ' General Definition of
the Affections' at the close of this Part, where, while the unity of
body and mind is strictly preserved, every affection is an Animi
Palhema.



THE NATURE OF MENTAL AFFECTIONS 85

had been present at the creation of the world to warn

the bungling opifex deus of the mischiefs he was brew- An illogical

& ° x J _ position for

ing. For, to do them justice, they do not believe in those who
creation, an unbelief, which, so far as it goes, is certainly creation.
a sign of grace. Because it ought to dispose them to a For the

absence of

recognition of the certain truth that eternal self-existence creation
implies perfection. But the strange thing is, that looking eternal and
on the Universe as an infinite muddle endowed with a perfect self-
paradoxical faculty of keeping discordant and mutually exlstence -
destructive parts in co-existence through eternity, they
yet believe that this monstrous chimsera has begotten
and brought forth a being gifted with faculties of orderly
thought, sympathetic feeling, and ideal aspiration, such
as erect him into the only god known, and lift him to
the judgment-seat from which he can condemn and curse
all that has made him what he is.

Now, since every modem thinker agrees that what
used to be called ' chance ' is out of the question as a
world-forming or world-maintaining principle (apx 7 l)> it
surely follows that, whether without or within the mass
of existence, there must have been some energy guiding
things along the lines they have taken in the course of
evolution. 1 True, the unfolding which we call evolution incongru-

° ity of such

can only be observed by us in an infinitesimal part of the a Weltan-
schauung.
infinite Whole — infinitesimal even though we include m

the sweep of our telescopes galaxies beyond all mortal

conceptions of distance. For beyond every bound of our For it

snssrests
contemplations, the circumference of the ' well-rounded disorder.

whereas
evolution
1 The argument here is from the point of view of time, or temporal involves

succession. How this point of view is changed by an appreciation of or d«r.

eternity will be seen in Part v.



86 ETHICS OF SPINOZA

sphere ' 1 to which Xenophanes and Parmenides likened
the Whole of Being, is still infinitely distant. Yet if
there is a Universe, a unity of things, we may confidently
claim, within obvious limits of reverence and common-
sense, to judge the Whole on the analogy of a part. At
least we may presume congruity, if only we had eyes
to see.

Granting this, then if evolution and devolution are

proceeding everywhere with the self-consistency which

we call order, the eternal process involves, as we have

said, some energy compelling things along the lines of

if the change which we see or infer. This energy is either

evolution inherent in the Universe itself, that is, in every part of

outsidettie it \ or it is something other than the Universe. Which

pSsSSsts l a tter view has been and is earnestly maintained by those

Devil. 11 a wno think the monotheism of the latest Jewish prophets

to be in some transmuted shape essential to morality.

That, however, is not the opinion of those materialists

who imagine the Universe to have produced in man

something better than itself. They sometimes speak of

themselves as Agnostics, who do not know whether the

energy of evolution is outside the world or within it.

incongru- But if they allow even the possibility that the driving

ity of this , .

hypothesis power ot evolution is some outside Being, then their

fact of criticism of his works makes him a Devil rather than a

existence. God. And how a Devil could produce a creature able to

think of him justly and call him by his right name, is a

problem which surely belongs not to the unknowable,

but to the unthinkable.

1 irapTodey cvkvkXou <r<palpr}S iva.Xlyiaoi' oyxtp, line 101 in Karsten's
FraymenU of Parmenides.



THE NATURE OF MENTAL AFFECTIONS 87

On the other hand, if there is no Power of evolution if the

energy of

outside the Universe, but the Universe itself is instinct evolution is

. everywhere,

with, that energy throughout and in all its parts, is it not we are

.,, .. . . n . . r wrong in

just possible that critics ol its infinite series ot succes- judging the
sions judge things too exclusively from their own indi- a part. "
vidual point of view, forgetting the utter unimportance of
this on the scale of infinity ? In contemplating evolution
their eyes are fixed with horror on the darker phases — as
they think them — of its line of advance through the
' struggle for existence,' through ' dragons of the prime,'
through carnivorous monsters, through fire and earth-
quake, through battle, murder, and sudden death ; and
because these phases, irrationally separated from the
Whole which they subserve, are repulsive to the indi-
vidual also irrationally detached from the Whole, such
critics are moved to scold at Nature. But do these view taken
pessimists attach a like importance to individual creature selves of
interests where the security of human society, or their interests'
own personal safety, or even ' sport ' is concerned ? ou^wn.^
Which of them laments that wolves have been exter-
minated in this country, or is perturbed by the process by
which their destruction was achieved ? Which of them
when, by an artful cast of a fly, he lures a salmon to
its death, feels anything but pleasure in his own skill ?
Yet vermin, and beasts of prey and creatures of ' sport,'
have each one of them individual interests of their own
which they strive eagerly to maintain. And if it be said
that such lower individual interests ought not to prevail May be

• • n • applied to

against the higher and wider interests of the superior our own on
creature, man, surely it is obvious that on the scale of infinity,
infinity, the same argument may be applicable to the



88 ETHICS OF SPINOZA

individual interests of the higher creature. I am not
suggesting that there are greater personal beings, or one
supreme person, to whose higher claims the individual
man must subordinate himself. I mean only that by his
essential existence as an infinitesimal part of an infinite
Whole man is bound not to strive beyond his place, but
to take submissively his share of expansion and repres-
sion amid the everlasting flow and counterflow of the
currents of evolution.

But if it be said that all this is only a re-statement of

the evil of the world, a burden to every sympathetic

heart watching the struggle for existence and forced to

take its part therein, we can only fall back on our funda-

The world mental position, that the world does not exist for the

not for the

individual, individual, but the individual for the world. And he
dividual for who will not loyally accept this truth must needs fret

away his life like Hamlet, under ' a foul and pestilential

congregation of vapours.'

Spinoza teaches a healthier faith, insisting that —

No vice in ' Nothing happens in Nature which can he attributed to
Nature. an y v j ce | Nature. For Nature is always the same, and
everywhere and always her efficiency 1 and power of action
are the same. That is, the laws and rules of Nature, accord-
ing to which all things have existence and are changed from
one set of forms to another, are everywhere and alwaj T s the
same; and therefore there ought to be one and the same
method of understanding the nature of all things whatsoever,
I mean through the universal laws and rules of Nature.
Thus the affections of hatred, anger, envy and so on, when
studied in themselves, follow by the same necessity and force
of Nature as the rest of single phenomena. And accordingly

1 Virtus, a word scarcely to be rendered by ' virtue ' here, nor yet
by ' valour.' Efficiency seems to come nearest to the meaning.



THE NATUEE OF MENTAL AFFECTIONS 89

they imply certain causes through which they are understood,
and they have certain characteristics, 1 just as much worth our
study as the characteristics of anything else which delights
us by its mere contemplation.'

The definitions, axioms, and propositions of Part in. Rest of

' r r . Part in. a

form a practical application of the foregoing prefatory practical
observations with a view to the ulterior moral results to f the fore-
be worked out in Part v. But should it occur to any TviewTo
one that moral teaching and exhortation can be of no use moral*
if the ' force and necessity of Nature are always and results<
everywhere the same,' let such an one remember that
moral teaching and exhortation are also essential elements



.



in that ' force and necessity.' The most stirring and Fallacy

. J , of the

potent ' revivalist ' of morals or religion, or of both, does supposed

iT» -i -i • oi' ' i opposition

but bring to bear upon the objects or his prophetic work between
certain forces that range the world of man, whether they act i n and
be called ' the power of the Holy Ghost ' or ' the powers ^cedents?"
of the world to come/ or 'personal magnetism.' And
when these forces so work within the individual hearer
that the resultant of all impulses within him is a change
from vice to virtue, the subject of these influences realises
a freedom that he never knew before, because he is now
no longer in bondage to external provocatives of passion.
This, as Spinoza insists, is true freedom ; but it is given
and it is maintained in accordance with ' the force and
necessity of Nature.' Surely it ought to be no discour-
agement to our moral efforts that they must be made in
accordance with eternal law, any more than the same
consideration deprives of interest a great engineering
work. ' No, of course not ! ' say the advocates of uncaused

1 Proprictatcs.



90



ETHICS OF SPINOZA



Some
definitions.



Adequate
and in-
adequate
causes.



volitions, ' but in both cases the beginning of the work is
spontaneous.' That is, as I understand, the impulse to
begin arises in the originator free of any felt compulsion
from without. This is readily granted ; for it is precisely
Spinoza's doctrine of liberty. But, all the same, though
the mind is as unconscious of the fact, as it is of the
antecedents of the particles forming its body, that internal
impulse has an eternal history developed by the ' force
and necessity of Nature.'

Such explanations may be of service in enabling us to
abbreviate very considerably our paraphrase of Part III.
By an 'adequate cause' the Master means a cause of
which the effect can be clearly and distinctly grasped
without reference to anything but that particular cause, 1
An inadequate or partial cause is one of which the effect
cannot be understood through that cause alone. Perhaps
one may venture to illustrate this. If I put my hand
into a fire and am painfully burned, I need no other
explanation than the heat of the fire. Of my feeling —
though not of my action — the fire is an ' adequate cause.'
But if metal-workers — as we are told that they can do
with impunity — dip their hands into molten iron for a
second, and experience only a pleasant, 'velvety' warmth,
the effect cannot be understood through the molten metal


1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryJ. Allanson (James Allanson) PictonSpinoza; a handbook to the Ethics → online text (page 7 of 21)