Ruth Lydia Saw (1901 - 1986) schreef ‘t Lemma Spinoza in The Concise Encyclopedia of Western Philosophy

De Engelse filosofe Ruth Lydia Saw over wie het in het vorige blog ging, behoorde tot de groep bijdragers aan de eerste editie in 1960 van

The Concise Encyclopedia of Western Philosophy. Edited by Jonathan Rée and J. Oson. London/New York: Routledge [Taylor & Francis Group], 1e 1960, 2e 1975, 3e 2005 [PDF]

Uit deze PDF heb ik het door haar geschreven lemma gelicht: “Spinoza, Benedict de.” Ik attendeer op deze merkwaardige passage: “knowledge of the highest or third grade, scientia intuitiva, belongs to God alone.”

Spinoza, Benedict de (1632–77) Born in Amsterdam of Jewish parents, Spinoza was brought up to speak Spanish, Portuguese and Hebrew, but he had a less sure command of Dutch. He attended a Jewish High School in Amsterdam where one of his teachers was Rabbi Manasseh Ben Israel, who negotiated with Cromwell the re-entry of the Jews into England. At the age of eighteen, Spinoza went to a Dutch teacher, Van den Ende, to learn Latin and the ‘new science’, studying the works of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Harvey, Huygens and DESCARTES.

Spinoza wished to lead a quiet life, attending the Synagogue and pursuing his studies. He became critical of orthodox  interpretations of the Bible, but had no wish to disturb the beliefs of others. When his orthodoxy was called in question, the leaders of the Synagogue offered him a pension if he would leave Van den Ende and conform. He refused and was excommunicated, thereupon moving to a suburb of Amsterdam. In conformity with Jewish custom which required all men to learn a trade he had mastered the art of grinding and polishing lenses, and now proceeded to earn his living by this means. His Short Treatise on God, Man and his Well-being was composed at this period. In 1661 he moved to a lodging in a small house at Rhijnsburg – now the Spinoza Museum – where he wrote his Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione. About this time, Spinoza became acquainted with Henry Oldenburg, one of the Secretaries of the Royal Society, and began a correspondence which lasted for fifteen years. In 1663, he moved to Voorburg, near the Hague and published his Renati des Cartes Principia Philosophiae, together with Cogitata Metaphysica (1663). A Dutch translation appeared immediately, and his room became a meeting place for the intellectual leaders of the day, among them Huygens and Jan de Witt. In the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (1670) Spinoza tried to show that the Bible gave no ground for violence and intolerance, but the work was immediately condemned by the theologians. In 1673, Spinoza was offered the Chair of Philosophy at Heidelberg, but declined, saying he preferred to pursue his investigations ‘in accordance with his own mind’.

Spinoza now moved into Amsterdam, completed his Ethics, and made plans to publish it. Information was laid against him to the authorities and Spinoza withdrew the book. He worked on a Hebrew grammar and a translation of the Old Testament into Dutch, with the object of enabling his fellow citizens to become directly acquainted with the Bible. These plans were brought to a sudden end by his death, at the age of forty-five. The Ethics was published immediately afterwards.

In the Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione Spinoza declared the object of his work to be the discovery of ‘the life of blessedness for man’. This entailed a search for that ‘by whose discovery and acquisition I might be put in possession of a joy continuous and supreme to all eternity’. It involved a clear understanding of human nature, the universe, and the rejoicing which is essential to human beings, and Spinoza called it ‘the intellectual love of God’. For Spinoza, knowledge is to be the vague and confused ideas of senseperception and imagination, and from inappropriate attachment to objects. It is for these reasons that Spinoza’s main work, a largely metaphysical treatise, is called the Ethics. In it we are shown finding our freedom and blessedness in the realization that we are part of a system which is determined throughout. We rejoice in this state, and in Spinoza’s sense of the word, this is to love God.

When the intellect is working well it is in possession of true ideas and of certainty. (‘He who has a true idea knows at the same time that he has a true idea.’) True ideas are expressed in definitions which may then be deductively developed, the connexion between each proposition and the next being self-evident. We thus reach a system of true propositions. Those who proceed in this way enjoy knowledge of the second grade, ratio; knowledge of the highest or third grade, scientia intuitiva, belongs to God alone. The lowest grade, imaginatio, is knowledge by sense perception and imagination, by vague signs and hearsay. These sources are not erroneous in themselves, but they lead to error unless they are recognized as states of the body rather than parts of a system of ideas. Error is a privation of knowledge, an unacknowledged confusion of ideas. Vague signs are ones like ‘man’ and ‘horse’, which stand confusedly for any number of particulars, in contrast to ‘Peter’, which stands unequivocally for one body-mind in a determinate place in the spatio-temporal system. ‘Man’ has no place in a system of ideas, but ‘Peter’ may be understood as a body-mind in a system of interacting bodies or body-minds (see GENDER).

The Ethics consists of a system of definitions, axioms and theorems. The definitions in Part I are not derivable from any more fundamental concepts. Taken together, they form a basis for rational theology and the sciences. Substance is defined as ‘that which is in itself and is conceived through itself’, attribute as ‘that which the intellect perceives of substance as if constituting its essence’. Definition VI equates ‘God’ with ‘substance consisting of infinite attributes’ and leads to a concept of God as One, infinite, necessarily existing, containing all being and the sole cause of every existing thing. This inference depends on an axiom stating that ‘the knowledge of an effect depends upon and involves the knowledge of the cause’. That is to say, the causal relation for Spinoza is the relation of ground and consequent. Substance, since it is conceived through itself, is its own ground, that is, it is selfcaused and so necessarily existing. There could not be two such beings, for if there were, then either one would have to beunderstood in terms of the other, or both would have to be understood in terms of a third thing which would then itself be substance. Everything except substance is ‘in something else, through which also it is conceived’, so that there is nothing outside substance.

Substance is also manifested in infinite attributes, each infinitely modified into ‘modes’ which are ‘conceived through’ substance under one or other of its attributes. Of the infinite number of attributes, we know only two – extension and thought – which are perceived as if constituting the essence of substance. Philosophers had mistakenly supposed that thought and extension are substances, so creating the problem of connecting things ‘which have nothing in common with one another, and so cannot be conceived through one another’. Extension and thought are two attributes of the one substance, not interacting, but each infinitely diversified into modes which occur together. The most interesting case of this ‘occurring together’ is in human beings, where mental events are paralleled by physical events. The mind is ‘the idea of the body’.

The system of extension is facies totius universi (the aspect of the entire universe), and is studied at different levels in different sciences: in geometry, through the concepts of point, line and plane; in mechanics, through those of smallest bodies, motion and rest; while in biology, the concept of conatus – ‘the endeavour with which each body perseveres in its own existence’ – is fundamental. These three sciences were all founded in the concept of substance under the attribute of extension; there had been no comparable development under the attribute of thought, but this is what Spinoza hoped to provide: ‘I shall consider human actions as if I were considering lines, planes or bodies.’ Just as a human body is to be described in terms of ‘smallest bodies’ moving in ways determined by earlier motions, so a human mind is to be described in terms of action, passion and adequate ideas, and mental events in terms of earlier events. The essence of an individual is its conatus, and the cohesion of physical parts is patterned by the mind’s awareness of its own unity and its union with the body.

Differences between simple bodies are expressible in terms of degrees of motion, those between complex bodies in terms of their own motion and that of their parts. The differences among minds are expressible in terms of the degrees of clearness and adequacy of their ideas. People whose ideas are clear are said to be free and active in the sense that the causes of their actions lie, as far as is compatible with their finitude, within their own nature. The causes of action of a finite being cannot lie completely in its own nature; the body is a part of a system of interacting bodies. Free persons have an adequate idea of their own state as such an effect; and even though it may be painful, the appropriate emotion is joy, in that the pain is known to be occurring in its proper place. If the pain has arisen as the result of the action of other human beings, the free person will neither blame nor hate them. Love is ‘joy accompanied by the idea of an object’, and ‘hatred is sorrow accompanied by the idea of an object’. The free person, who sees all human beings as parts of a determined system, can only rejoice in this knowledge, and cannot hate anyone.

The important concept in explaining human actions, as in explaining any other event, is not purpose but cause. Spinoza’s favourite example of error is the belief in free will: people are aware of their ‘actions’ but ignorant of their causes, and when they say have they acted freely, this only shows the obscurity in which the causes of our ‘actions’ are for the most part hidden. Indeed the so-called ‘actions’ of those whose ideas are confused and inadequate are in fact passions, and their explanations are to be sought in our circumstances, not our nature. There are three primary emotions: desire, which is conatus; joy, which is the organism’s passage to a higher state of perfection; and sorrow, which is its passage to a lower state. All other emotions are compounded of these three, together with ideas of objects appropriately or inappropriately conjoined. To pass to a higher or lowerstate of perfection is not to become better or worse in the moral sense, but to become more or less active. People with inadequate ideas are passive in that what they do depends on what happens to them, not on what they are.

Spinoza’s moral theory is relativistic and naturalistic. (‘We call that good which we certainly know to be useful to us.’) Nothing is good in itself, but persons with adequate ideas will attach the term to whatever increases their power of action, whilst those who are passive will apply it to whatever they see as ministering to their purposes. They attach emotion to objects instead of assigning it to its proper place in the causally connected phases of their mental life. Praise and blame are equally inapplicable to human action, though they may be used as causes in affecting the actions of those for whose conduct we feel responsibility. Nothing can be more useful to the free than the society of other free people, so that Spinoza’s ‘good man’ will in fact be good in the normal sense. He will naturally try to bring it about that others are free and wise, understanding that hatred and resentment are as inappropriate towards human beings as towards rocks and stones. He knows that the only object worth pursuing, knowledge, is better attained in companionship than alone, but he also knows that everyone has their own conatus, and no matter how mistaken they may be about how best to ‘persevere in their own being’, they have the same right as the wise so to persevere. The wise will be tolerant of others, interfering with the harmless beliefs of nobody, whether in politics or religion. They will choose the religion which promotes a good life, and the social system which gives security to its citizens and strengthens their ‘natural right to exist and work without injury to themselves or others’. Since there are people of all grades of perfection, some must be led by authority. For this reason, it is of immense importance that theologians and civic leaders should understand the conditions of the good life.

If resentment of other people is inappropriate, it is a thousand times more inappropriate towards God. God is above good and EVIL, and though he is equally the cause of perfect and imperfect beings, his power is equally manifest in both. A physical or mental cripple is such because of his place in the system: God has not tried to produce perfection and failed. (‘To him material was not wanting for the creation of everything, from the highest down to the very lowest grade of perfection; or to speak more properly, because the laws of his nature were so ample that they sufficed for the production of everything which can be conceived by an infinite intellect.’) Such a God can be loved and worshipped by the wise, but they will not expect him to love them in return, or to allot rewards and punishments. Those who love God do not look to a future life: this life may be one of blessedness; and in thinking adequately, we think God’s thoughts, and share in his rejoicing self-knowledge, that is to say in ‘the love with which God loves Himself’. To this extent, we may be eternal. (R.L.S.)

Ruth Lydia Saw