Op weg naar de cursus over de PPC [2] "Spinoza was never truly a Cartesian"

Zoals ik in het blog van eergisteren over Albert G. A. Balz aankondigde, neem ik hier een deel uit zijn Idea and Essence in the Philosophies of Hobbes and Spinoza [New York, 1918] over –  van archive.org - en wel zijn aaneensluitende tekst van p. 35 – 39  over "essentia & existentia" in de Cogitata Metaphysica. De laatste woorden van dat tekstdeel zette ik als titel boven dit blog.

Volgens Balz houdt Spinoza zich in de Cogitata Metaphysica meer bezig met de centrale ideeën in Descartes’ Regulae ad directionem ingenii ut et inquisitio veritatis per lumen naturale dan met enig ander Cartesiaans werk. Spinoza wil er volgens Balz Descartes’ Beginselen toelichten aan de hand van analoge noties in de Regulae. *)

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The poles of the thought of the Cogitata Metaphysica are essences, on the one hand, and existences, on the other - a logically organized system of essences forming knowledge and a causally determined and mechanically organized world or nature. Essences are logical entities, and just that. If we inquire what we mean by essence, we are referred to definition, for every definition explicates the essence of something. Knowledge is wholly a matter of essences, and memory, imagination, and, presumably, sense are devices, instrumental in attaining knowledge, but no more than for Descartes in the Rules for the Direction of the Mind are they in themselves cognitive. Their serviceableness appears when Spinoza confronts this difficulty: The formal essence has neither been created nor does it exist by itself, but it depends on the divine essence; the essences of things are eternal. How, then, can we, in the absence of adequate knowledge of the nature of God, the final ground of all explanation, know the essences of things? Spinoza's answer is that knowledge of the essences of things is possible because things are already created. If this were not the case, knowledge of things would be impossible except after adequate knowledge of the nature of God. Analogously, if we were ignorant of the nature of a parabola, it would be impossible to know the nature of its orderly applications. Spinoza's thought may be rendered in this way: true knowledge of existence is knowledge of essence; from an adequate knowledge of the supreme essence, God, knowledge of all essences would follow. But since we do not possess such perfect knowledge, we must avail ourselves of the fact that created things exist as actualized essences, and through experience of the esse existentiae arrive at the perception'of the essence. Sense and imagination facilitate the process; they are occasions for, and auxiliary instrumentalities in, the process of cognizing the essence, while the actual apprehension of the essence through experience of the factual exemplars is the function of understanding or reason alone. Imagination and memory are, accordingly, in Spinoza's language, mere entia rationis, or modes of thinking, which enable us more easily to retain, explain, and represent things of the mind {res intellectas). And knowledge as the system of apprehended essences relates to understanding alone.

The mechanical theory of nature, sponsored by Descartes, is advocated by Spinoza. Existence, the world, natura naturata -  all these terms express the same thing -  is a mechanical system. In matter there is "nothing beyond mechanical textures and operations. " Had we sufficient knowledge, we would find everything in the order of nature as necessary as that which mathematics teaches. Natura naturata is only one single thing, and man is a part of nature, and as such a part must cohere with other parts. It is significant that Spinoza does not say that man's body is a part of nature, but that man is a part of nature. He is subject to causal law, either as external cause or as internal cause.

The assertion that the Cogitata Metaphysica does not ratify the Cartesian duality of finite existence may encounter the obvious reply that Spinoza does speak of more than one substance; that he divides created substances into extension and thought. But terminological identities are compatible with dissimilarities of meaning. In the first place, it is to be remarked that Spinoza uses the term "substance" loosely; it is clear that he has in mind what later on he signifies by attribute. But a more significant observation is this: he uses the terms "cogitatio" and "mens humana" for the created thought substance, and "mens increata" for the divine thought. Uppermost in Spinoza's mind is the relation of thought to essence. This uncreated mind, or divine thought, is the system of essences (which in God can not be separated from existence). The created thought substance, or mens humana, is that kind of being called esse ideae - being in so far as it is contained objectively {objective) in the idea of God. The spiritualistic and psychological connotations of Descartes's thinking substance are in the main neglected. The only place in the Cogitata Metaphysica in which Spinoza seems to recognize these implications is in the last paragraph of the work, where we meet for the only time the contrast between res corporeales and res spirituales. One may admit that Spinoza may be oscillating between the interpretation of thought substance as subjective essence (essences as knowledge), and as a spiritual, immaterial, soul substance, with an existential status and possessing self-consciousness. But summarizing the tendencies of the Cogitata Metaphysica, it is unmistakable that the drift of Spinoza's reflection is away from the latter interpretation. This movement, as we shall see, is completed definitely in the Ethics.

In short, in the Cogitata Metaphysica, as in the Rules for the Direction of the Mind, essence is a logical entity, its incorporeality relates to the ideality of form and not to the spirituality of an existential soul substance, and knowledge rests upon logically immediate self-evidence. Knowledge of essences is a science of ideal forms; the science of nature or existence is a science of hypotheses involving motion, divisibility, and causal necessity. The fundamental distinction is between essence and existence. The division of being into real entities and mental entities (entia realia and entia rationis) Spinoza repudiates as a bad division. The true division of being is into being which necessarily exists, or whose essence necessarily involves existence, and being whose essence does not involve existence except in possibility. Mental beings - entia rationis - are looked upon without any notion of spiritual immateriality. In an important passage he says that entia rationis outside the mind (extra intellectum) are pure nothing: but if by the term is signified the modes of thinking {modi cogitandi) themselves, they are real entities. "For when I ask: what is a species? I ask after nothing else than the nature of the mode of thinking itself, which is indeed a being, and is distinguished from another mode of thinking. But these modes of thinking can not be called ideas, nor can they be said to be true or false, just as love can not be called true or false, but only good or bad." When this is connected with what Spinoza writes just before about imagination and memory as modes of thinking, and their identification with movements of the (animal) spirits in the brain, it becomes evident that entia rationis or modi cogitandi are existences like the human body, and as operations of the human being are part of the order of nature. Essences as knowledge entities, that is esse ideae, have no existential status at all, and to inquire concerning such a status is illegitimate because it assumes that they are existences. And, above all, is it significant that Spinoza enumerates intellect itself as one of these modes of thought that is a real entity.

It was pointed out above that it was more natural, with reference to Spinoza's whole philosophical inheritance, for him to conceive metaphysical and epistemological problems in terms of essence and existence than in terms of a finitely irreducible duality of incommutable substances. The excursus into the thought of the Cogitata Metaphysica, a work which emanates from an early phase of the philosopher's meditations, has shown that essence and existence were the foci of his thought at that period, and that Spinoza seems on the whole to have interpreted, with conscious intent or otherwise, Descartes's Principles in terms of this ancient contrast. It is the purpose of this essay to demonstrate that Spinoza's thought was faithful in its development to this beginning. Spinoza's terminology was undoubtedly affected by the Cartesian, and this has been a help in misleading the historian. The term "idea" was for scholasticism preferably used of ideas in the mind of God. Descartes comes to use it of ideas in the finite mind substance, and signifies by it not only the logical concept, innate ideas, but also at times any "psychological state." He was led to this departure from medieval usage through the reduction of the plurality of substances to a duality. For it is hardly doubtful that for Descartes the finite soul substance was more nearly a congener of the divine substance than was finite extended substance. The doctrine of innate ideas and the ontological argument, when stripped of their formal elements, depend upon the awakening of the soul to its own finiteness and imperfection; and the germination of this thought is the necessary implication of the budding comprehension of a perfect being. The enlightenment of the mind is primarily just this discovery of the correlative notions of the perfection of the infinite being and the imperfection of the finite being. Now such a process connotes a certain peculiar intimacy between soul and God. This insight is the divinity of the finite mind. Thus the application of the term "idea" to at least some of the notions possessed by the finite mind in the dawning of rational comprehension is rendered facile by this implied relationship between finite and infinite mind sustance. The widening of the field of usage of the term comes with the acceptance of the psychological consequences of the dualism of substances in the special form of the relation of two substances in one human being. So Spinoza's wider usage of the term may be ascribable to Cartesian example. The esse ideae means the being of essence as known or cognized or comprehended, as object of the (finite) mind. But if this account is accurate, new light is thrown upon the legitimacy of the common "Cartesian" interpretation of Spinoza, and upon Spinoza's interpretation of Descartes. For Spinoza, in accepting certain relatively novel terminological usages of Descartes, does not necessarily accept every such usage and all the Cartesian implications of terms. For the new application of the term "idea" in Descartes, shared by Spinoza whether derived from Descartes or not, retroactively facilitates Spinoza's understanding of Descartes as primarily concerned with essence, and helps to explain his neglect of, or indifference to, the spiritualistic psychological connotations of the term in his predecessor's writings.

The kinship of the Cogitata Metaphysica and the Rules for the Direction of the Mind in their outlook upon problems is evident. As has been observed above, we are not here concerned with demonstrating important influences of the Rules for the Direction of the Mind upon Spinoza. It would be an exceedingly difficult matter to corroborate such a claim. The point of interest is that the starting-points of both thinkers contained striking similarities, and that a more adequate conception of their work is provided when we view them as pursuing divergent paths, as they carry out their work, although starting from similar beginnings, rather than by involuting Spinoza's doctrine with the Cartesian speculations as a later stage of one development.

Spinoza proceeds from the Cogitata Metaphysica without signal deviations from the general position therein indicated. Descartes, on the other hand, does change in more than one momentous way from the thought scheme of the Rules for the Direction of the Mind. Within the limits of this essay these differences can only be summarized. Descartes's test of truth in this work is logical immediacy, the self-evidence of the logical entity or simple nature. To this Spinoza subscribes and to this he holds fast. But Descartes switches over to psychological immediacy, the certainty of the self-conscious soul in its awareness of its own states. The duality of existence, the spiritualistic psychology, influence, and are influenced by, the acute problems of teleology and mechanism, freedom and determinism, and personal immortality. Spinoza calmly accepts the consequences of the new science of nature, and passes on to doctrines concerning freedom, immortality, and teleology that could hardly have been other than exasperating and heretical to a true Cartesian. In the interplay of forces that drove Descartes to the new positions, the duality of existence emerges, more significant as result than as cause. Spinoza either escapes these forces, or does not succumb to them, or finally may have remained insusceptible to many considerations that were vital to other men of his day because they were uncongenial to his native interests. He is not driven to the doctrine of existence as dual, nor does the doctrine, through the mediation of Descartes, affect him more than superficially. And there is good reason for saying that Spinoza never fully realized what the issues that resulted from the duality of substances really implied. In short, Spinoza was never truly a Cartesian.

                                                                  [ Albert G. A. Balz ] 


*) Dit is een enigszins merkwaardige stelling, daar de Regulae toen Spinoza zijn PPC schreef nog niet in druk verschenen waren. Wel gingen er manuscripten rond, Leibniz kon er een kopen in 1670 in Amsterdam, maar er is geen enkele evidentie dat Spinoza in 1663 over zo'n manuscript zou hebben kunnen beschikken.
Cf. Edwin Curley, "Spinoza - as an exposer of Descartes," in: Siegfried Hessing, Speculum Spinozanum 1677-1977. Routlegde &Kegan, London etc, 1977, p. 133-142, hier p. 138. Ook opogenomen in: Genevieve Lloyd (ed.): Spinoza. Critical assessments, (London, 2001, vol. I, part iii, pp. 133-9