E.E. Powell’s lezing van [2] Spinoza's Idea Dei

In een eerder blog gaf ik aan twee lezenswaardige teksten van Elmer Ellsworth Powell te brengen uit het zesde hoofdstuk van diens Spinoza and Religion (1906). In het vorige blog was dat de paragraaf over Spinoza’s intellectus infinitus. Hier de paragraaf over Spinoza’s Idea Dei. Zelden of eigenlijk nooit tref je zo’n uitgebreide beschouwing aan over dat zo intrigerende begrip, waarover het hier in vele blogs en reacties erop is gegaan. Ik raak er maar niet op uitgekeken en biedt deze tekst ter lering aan.

Het maakte mij nog eens duidelijk te beseffen dat net als álle ideeën ook de idea Dei eveneens een begrip is dat formaliter door het attribuut Denken wordt gevormd. Dat wil overigens niet zeggen dat ik he eens ben met Powell, volgens wie het geen modus is: uiteraard is het zodra het gedacht is een modus (en wel onmiddellijke oneindige modus).

Ik kom dus terug van een lezing van 2/3 waardoor ik mij door Henk Keizer uiteindelijk had laten overtuigen en dat ik in het blog ”Herinterpretatie van de idea Dei [1]” van 04-08-2016, aldus samenvatte:

“Tot ik eindelijk op 2 augustus mij liet overtuigen door een argument van Henk, n.l. dat ik “het idee” van 2/3 niet mocht lezen als een ‘nieuw’ formeel idee, alle ‘formele ideeën waren gevormd rechtstreeks uit de attributen. Nee, dat ik nu eens moest zien dat ´t daar om een ander type idee ging n.l. een idee met een object en dat daar dus zowel het idee van Gods wezen als de objectieve ideeën van alle dingen geponeerd werden.”

Dit beschouw ik dus niet meer als juist. Nee, net als alle ideeën is ook de idea Dei een begrip dat formaliter door het attribuut Denken wordt gevormd. Maar het is, afwijkend van alle andere formele ideeën, tevens een idee met een object (Gods wezen én al wat uit dat wezen volgt). Het is daarmee een uiterst afwijkend en belangrijk begrip: het enige, waardoor vervolgens ‘geweten is’ dat alle formele ideeën een object hebben.
Adèle heeft (uiteindelijk) gelijk, als ze in een recente reactie [14-10-2016 @ 14:38  op
dit blog] schrijft: “Volgens mij bestaan die formele ideeën ook objectief in Gods verstand…” (wat zij erop over 1/17s laat volgen is hier niet relevant), maar dat is een gevolg van de idea Dei die we pas in 2/3 leren kennen: dát idee maakt (begrijpt) dat de bij de dingen behorende formele ideeën die dingen daadwerkelijk als object hebben. In 1/16 en 1/17s zijn de ideeën alleen nog maar formaliter door/in Gods attribuut Denken gevormd en ‘verzameld’ in het oneindige verstand.

Hierna dan die tekst van Powell.


2. Idea Dei.

In order to explain the relation of the eternal essences of things to the Absolute, we have already had occasion to take some notice of this conception. There it appeared that Spinoza s account of it was probably influenced not only by Neo-Platonic ideas, but also by scholastic speculations.

From this, however, it ought not to be hastily inferred that scholastic expressions employed by Spinoza retain their scholastic meaning. The scholastic discussions about the idea Dei, idea in Deo, etc., are to be understood in the light of the Aristotelian doctrine of form and stuff (or matter). According to this the form (εßδος, idea) of a thing is at the same time its pattern and the goal of its development, and therefore also the measure of its reality. Stuff (ýλÞ), on the other hand, is conceived as potentiality (δýναμßς, potentia). When now the scholastics applied these conceptions to God, they had to say that in God, the absolutely perfect being, there is no potentiality, but only complete realization of form (idea}. He is actus purus; in him potentiality is swallowed up in reality. Hence the scholastic proposition: Idea in Deo est ejus essentia, - “form” in God is his essence. The question suggested by this proposition, whether we may then consistently assume a plurality of ideas in God, is answered by Thomas Aquinas by distinguishing the two senses in which the word idea is employed. If it is taken in the Aristotelian sense of form, idea must be regarded as only one in God; if it is taken to mean a presentation, then we must assert that the divine intellect contains as many ideas as there are different things. Thomas says, therefore: necesse est ponere plures ideas [in Deo],[1] it is necessary to assume a plurality of ideas in God. Spinoza, in his “Metaphysical Thoughts,” also takes notice of this scholastic question, answering it according to the requirements of his own system; and, although his answer, like that just quoted,[2] is not determined by the Aristotelian doctrine of form, it is quite the opposite of that given by Thomas. Spinoza says there is but one idea in God. Hence Spinoza’s language has quite a different meaning from what it would have if used by Thomas. In the mouth of Thomas it would mean, in God there is but one “form” of himself and that “form” is him self; while in this passage from Spinoza it means, in God there is but one idea, namely the idea of His unmodified essence, idea in a sense, however, which, in view of Spinoza’s peculiar uses of the term, requires to be more closely determined.[3]

It has generally been assumed that the expression idea Dei is a proper name applied by Spinoza to a single object. But upon careful scrutiny this assumption is found to be mistaken. In fact the expression is employed in several senses, as we shall show.

We consider first some passages from the “Short Treatise.” At the time when this work was composed, Spinoza held to a division of Natura Naturata into two parts, the Natura Naturata Generalis and the Natura Naturata Particularis. “The General consists of all those modes which depend immediately on God . . .; the Particular consists of all the particular things which are produced by the general modes.”[4] Now it appears that a certain “Idea” mentioned in this work is the thought-counterpart of the Natura Naturata Generalis, and therefore corresponds to the Intellectus Infinitus. It is described as an “Idea” that mirrors the whole of nature as a sum of essences, but without “knowing” the particular things that come and go in time.[5] In the Appendix this “Idea” is described more fully:

“In the ninth chapter of Part I, I have called this Idea a creature immediately produced by God, since without increasing or decreasing it contains in thought form the real essences of all things. In the same connection he says that “in the Idea there is no particularity,” i. e., there are no individual things such as occur at dfferent points of time and space.[6] Now in the chapter to which Spinoza here refers the word employed is Verstaan, or, if we replace the Dutch word with the Latin one that doubtless stood in the original text, Intellectus; which is called an eternal and immediate creature of God. It is clear, therefore, that we have here to do with the Intellectus Infinitus, and that Idea in the above citation is but another name for it.

In the “Ethics” the expression Idea Dei is generally, but not always, used as a name for the Intellectus Infinitus. In the demonstration to proposition 21, Part I, for example, where he seeks to prove that all the consequences (products) of the absolute nature of God are infinite and eternal by reducing the contrary assumption to an absurdity, he takes the Idea Dei as an example of an eternal mode of the first order: “Conceive, if you can . . ., in some attribute of God something to result from his absolute nature, that is finite and has a determinate existence or duration, e. g., Idea Dei in the realm of thought.” Idea Dei, therefore, designates here as in the “Short Treatise” an infinite mode of the first order, and so answers to the description of the Intellectus Infinitus. In discussing proposition 8, Part II, in another connection, we observed that Dei infinita idea can there also be nothing else than the Intellectus Infinitus.[7]

In other passages of the “Ethics” where the expression Idea Dei occurs, it certainly designates absoluta cogitatio. For example, in the corollary to the ever recurring proposition, “The order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things,” idea Dei and natura Dei are put on the same plane: “God s power of thinking [of producing thought-modes] is equal to his real power of acting [of producing real things]. That is, whatever objective reality results from the infinite nature of God, results ex Dei idea in the same order and connection in God (in the totality) after the manner of thought.”[8]  It is sufficiently evident without comment, that idea Dei here represents primary, underived thought, the absoluta cogitatio. To regard it as a mode is out of the question.

We shall now be able to understand propositions 3 and 4, Part II., which have so often been either ignored or misunderstood.

Prop. 3. - In God there is necessarily an idea as well of his essence as of all things that necessarily result from his essence.

Dem. - For God is able to think (cogitare) infinite things in infinite modes, or to form the idea of his essence and of all things which necessarily result from it. But all that which lies in God’s power is necessarily existent; therefore there necessarily exists such an idea, and (by prop. 15, Part I) nowhere else than in God.”

One might be inclined to suppose that here we have a description of a single idea which has as its comprehensive object God’s essence and everything that results therefrom.

The use of the singular of idea, especially in the demonstration, seems at first to confirm this interpretation. If so understood, it could be taken as the Intellectus Infinitus again, though not without some violence.[9] But when we recognize the parallel between this proposition and proposition 16, Part I. (“From the necessity of the divine nature infinite things in infinite modes must result”), and when we note the form of expression employed at the beginning of the demonstration cited above (“God is able to think infinite things in infinite modes”); we see that Spinoza is speaking not of a single idea, but of an infinite number of ideas. The expression “in God” means here, as in many other passages, nothing more than “logically implying the Absolute,” and may therefore be paraphrased as “somewhere in total reality;” for proposition 15, Part I., cited in proof of the existence of the ideas in God, says there is nothing that is not in God: Quidquid est in Deo est. The sense of the proposition in question, therefore, may be more fully expressed as follows; In the infinite universe there exists an idea (thoughtcounterpart) of the unmodified “real” essence of God and also an infinite number of thought-modes corresponding to as many modifications of his real essence.[10] (Cogitare is here used as we shall soon find, simply as a convenient term for psychic causation.)

Proposition 4, Part II. confirms the interpretation given to proposition 3, and furnishes another case of Spinoza s use of Idea Dei in the sense of absoluta cogitatio: “Idea Dei from which result infinite [thought] things in infinite modes, can be but one.” He thus expresses only a consequence of the singleness of substance. In formulating this and the preceding proposition, Spinoza had in mind the scholastic discussions above mentioned concerning plurality of ideas in God, and accommodates their language to the requirements of his own system in such a way that he is able to say, as Thomas did; in one sense, there is but a single idea in Deo,[11] and in another sense there are an infinite number. Probably he never uses the word idea for absoluta cogitatio, except for the purpose of assimilating his terminology to that of the scholastics, and of thus presenting his thoughts in the least offensive form.[12]

We have now made clear that Spinoza borrowed the expression Idea Dei from the scholastics, and accommodated it to his system; that in the “Short Treatise” he uses it only as a name for the Intellectus Infinitus ; and that in the Ethics he employs it in two senses, first, for Intellectus Infinitus, and secondly, for absoluta cogitatio. The Intellectus Infinitus we have already explained. We come finally, therefore, to the absoluta cogitatio. From our study of this conception must issue the definitive answer to the question, whether Spinoza s system has a place for an all-embracing consciousness. The answer can be affirmative only in case the absoluta cogitatio can be conceived in one of two ways. It must be a kind of thought that either embraces all objects by consciously making the Intellectus Infinitus its own, i. e., by consciously thinking the single ideas of the Intellectus Infinitus; or attains in some other way, entirely independent of this, to an all-embracing knowledge. The latter alternative, however, may be ignored, as it is too fanciful to have been suggested by anyone. For the Intellectus Infinitus is the immediate product of absolute thought, and, if absolute thought thinks in the real sense of the term, it must have the Intellectus Infinitus as the content of consciousness.


[1] Freudenthal, in his original and excellent essay on Spinoza and Scholasticism published in “Philosophische Aufsatze, Ed. Zeller gewidmet,” 135, seems to assume that not only the scholastic phraseology, but also the scholastic conceptions have here passed over into Spinoza s philosophy. A proof of this he finds in Eth. II, 4, and refers to Thomas, “who, reasons like Spinoza (S.t,h. I, qu. 15, art. 2): Videtur quod non sint plures ideae [in Deo]. Idea enim in Deo est ejus essentia. Sed essentia Dei est una tantum. Ergo idea est una.” In fact these expressions do not represent Thomas own thoughts, but are only a fallacious argumentation which Thomas gives in order to refute it. He himself expresses the opposite opinion immediately afterward: “Respondeo dicendum, quod necesse est ponere plures ideae [in Deo].”

[2] Of course the Aristotelian doctrine is involved in all these scholastic discussions, more or less. God’s ideas of things are conceived at the same time as being in a way the “forms” of the things. In relation to the creation and primarily, they are ideas; in relation to the created things, they are “forms.”

[3] Cog. Met. II, Cap. VII, p. 218. “Ad hanc [quaestionem] respondeo, quod idea Dei, per quam omniscius vocatur, unica et simplicissima est. Nam revera Deus nulla alia ratione vocatur omniscius, nisi quia habet ideam sui ipsius; quae idea sive cognitio simul semper cum Deo exstitit nihil enim est praeter ejus essentiam.” In a letter to a friend Spinoza declares that in this work he has veiled his real convictions. We can see, however, from the words “simplicissima” and “ejus essentiam” that he is here describing alsoluta cogltatio.

[4] Korte Verhandeling I, Cap. 8. Incidentally, it should be remarked that this nomenclature confirms the view we have taken of the eternal “essences.” As belonging to the products of the direct causality, they would be members of the Natura Naturata Generalia, and therefore something more general than particular things, something like the hypostatized species. And it is to be noted that, although nothing is said in the Ethics about a Natura Naturata Particularis, there still exists the same distinction between general modes and particular things that appears in the Korte Verhandeling.

[5] Korte Verhandeling, Deel II, Preface, note 5 “Wy zeggen wezentlijk zijnde, omdat wy hier niet spreeken van een kennisse, Idea, etc., die geheel de natuur van alle wezen geschakeld in haar wezen kend, zonder haar bezondere wezentlijkheid, maar alleen van de kennisse, Idea, etc., van de bezondere dingen, die telkens komen te existeren.

[6] Korte Verhandeling, Aanhangsel, p. 102.

[7] See p. 151.

[8] Eth. II, 7, Cor.

[9] The idea of God’s essence would then be an idea in some finite mind, as the Intellectus Infinitus is, as we have seen, but the sum of thought-modes. But in this case there would be involved the inconsistency of supposing this element of the Intellectus Infinitus to be subjective instead of objective.

[10] That this is the correct interpretation of the proposition is shown also by the way the proposition is cited in dem. to cor. Prop. IX, Part II.

[11] It would be a mistake to assume that the word “idea” In this expression is to be understood as an idea in the ordinary sense of the term. In a letter written when a part of the Ethics was already in the hands of his friends, he contends that God may not be conceived sub idea. Ep. 9 (olim 27) p. 224.

[12] Viewed from the standpoint of mistaken assumptions, the demonstration to proposition 4, Part II, has been found unintelligible: `Intellectus inflnitus nihil praeter Dei attributa et ejusque affectiones comprehendit. Atqui Deus est unicus. Ergo idea Dei, ex qua infinita infinitis modis sequentur, unica tantum esse potest.” The significance of the expression “intellectus infinitus” here will be understood, if we turn again to proposition 16, Part I: “Ex necessitate divinae naturae infinita infinitis modis (hoc est omnia, quae sub intellectum infinitum cadere possunt) sequi debent.” The words in parentheses (all things that would come within the range of an infinite intellect) are but Spinoza’s expression for “all possible reality.” In the demonstration to proposition 4, Part II, he uses “intellectus infinitus” in precisely the same way as here and evidently with reference to his use of it here. The demonstration may therefore be paraphrased as follows: There is no reality beyond God’s attributes and modes. But there is but one God. Hence all real things have a single common origin, i. e., the real essence of God (Dei essentia formalis). Now all thought-things, being parallel to the real things, must also go back to a single common origin, namely to absoluta cogitatio, the thought part of God s absolute essence, that may be called idea Dei, from which infinite thought-things in infinite modes result. This proposition must not be taken as teaching anything new. It simply says, what was already evident, that absoluta cogitatio is one and not many. The language employed must be regarded as an attempt to express his thought in terms of scholasticism.


Een heldere en interessante tekst, waarin o.a. de interpretatie van 2/3 en 2/4 aan bod komt, waar in deze kolommen veel over is gediscussieerd. Helaas voor Stan wijkt Powell's interpretatie volledig af van die welke hij aanhing en ook nu weer omarmt en stemt ze volledig overeen met die welke ik heb gegeven.

Sprekend over 2/3 zegt Powell:
"we see that Spinoza is speaking not of a single idea, but of an infinite number of ideas. ..... The sense of the proposition in question, therefore, may be more fully expressed as follows; In the infinite universe there exists an idea (thoughtcounterpart) of the unmodified “real” essence of God and also an infinite number of thought-modes corresponding to as many modifications of his real essence."
Maar misschien ga je bestrijden dat ik 2/3 net zo heb geïnterpreteerd?

Dan 2/4, luister en huiver:
"Proposition 4, Part II. confirms the interpretation given to proposition 3, and furnishes another case of Spinoza s use of Idea Dei in the sense of absoluta cogitatio". ('absoluta cogitatio' te lezen als 'idee van Gods wezen')

Over formeel en objectief spreekt Powell met GEEN WOORD. Maar dat belet jou niet om te lezen:

"Nee, net als alle ideeën is ook de idea Dei een begrip dat formaliter door het attribuut Denken wordt gevormd. Maar het is, afwijkend van alle andere formele ideeën, tevens een idee met een object (Gods wezen én al wat uit dat wezen volgt). [dat leid je af uit Powell? Holy Moly] Het is daarmee een uiterst afwijkend en belangrijk begrip: het enige, waardoor vervolgens ‘geweten is’ dat alle formele ideeën een object hebben."

Ik citeer twee zinnen uit jouw passage:
1) "Maar het [de idee van God] is, afwijkend van alle andere formele ideeën, tevens een idee met een object"
2) "waardoor vervolgens ‘geweten is’ dat alle formele ideeën een object hebben."
En dat binnen 6 1/2 regel. Illustratief.

Je leest Powell al even slecht als de Ethica. (volgens Powell is het object van de idea Dei '(Gods wezen én al wat uit dat wezen volgt)'? Je bent geobsedeerd door de idea Dei en je probeert met alle mogelijke middelen vast te houden aan het kromme beeld dat je je daarvan gevormd hebt. 'Een uiterst afwijkend en belangrijk begrip'? Blaas dit begrip en jezelf toch niet zo op. Het is 'gewoon' de idee van Gods wezen.

Nog een laatste ding. Probeer nu eens een keer te beseffen DAT EEN FORMELE IDEE GEEN OBJECT HEEFT! Per definitie niet.