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MORE ABOUT SPINOZA (1632-1677)

Henry E. Allison | Herman De Dijn | Stuart Hampshire
Jonathan Israel | Pierre Macherey | Steven Nadler
Matthew Stewart | Michiel Wielema | Frederick Woodbridge

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God in Terms of the Concept of Substance (from Benedict de Spinoza, by Henry E. Allison, Boston 1975) Given the role attributed to substance (as the ultimate principle of explanation) by thinkers as diverse as Aristotle and Descartes, and given Spinoza's attempt to explain everything by reference to God, it was perfectly natural for Spinoza to endeavor to understand God in terms of the concept of substance. But in light of his unique view of nature and of the manner in which things depend on God, we should expect that Spinoza would construe substance in a rather different fashion. This difference is implicit in the definitions which Spinoza presents at the beginning of the first part of the Ethics. Substance is here defined as "that which is in itself, and is conceived through itself: in other words, that of which a conception can be formed independently of any other conception" (Def. III). Substance, so defined, is distinguished first from attributes, by which Spinoza means "that which the intellect perceives as constituting the essence of substance" (Def. IV), and then from modes, by which he means "the modifications [affectiones] of substance, or that which exists in, and is conceived through something other than itself" (Def. V).

Central to this conception is the total abandonment of the view of substance as the subject of predication or bearer of properties. Neither attributes nor modes are viewed by Spinoza, as they were for Descartes, as properties of substance, and thus they are not related to substance as qualities to a thing or predicate to a subject.There has been considerable debate concerning the precise status of attributes and this debate revolves around the meaning of the phrase "that which the intellect perceives as [tanquam] constituting". Some scholars, emphasizing the simplicity of substance and the identity of the attributes, have interpreted this in a basically subjective fashion and contended that the diversity of attributes is merely a result of the way in which the intellect perceives substance and does not therefore really pertain to substance as it is in itself. Others contend, on the contrary, that the diversity of attributes reflects a real or "objective" diversity in the nature of substance. Once again we cannot go into the details of this seemingly endless debate, but it does appear that the bulk of the evidence supports the objective interpretation. Spinoza's God is, after all, "a substance consisting of [italics Allison's] infinite attributes", and, as we have already seen, his whole philosophy culminates in a knowledge of God, who functions as the very principle of intelligibility. Now, as the definition makes clear, it is through the attributes that the intellect understands God, or substance, and it would seem to follow from this that if this knowledge is to be adequate, and Spinoza claims that it is, then these attributes must really pertain to the nature of God. To deny this would lead one to the rather paradoxical and un-Spinozistic conclusion that the principle of intelligibility is itself unintelligible.

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The Whole of Things (from Metaphysics as Ethics, by Herman De Dijn, in God and Nature: Spinoza's Metaphysics, edited by Yirmiyahu Yovel, Leiden 1991) In Spinoza's physics, the fundamental categories are the "common notions" and the general laws they imply concerning the nature and interrelations of parts. At most, one gets insight into the space-time continuum of all the parts and the law of the conservation of energy. In his metaphysics, however, the whole is identified as an infinite, sempiternal Whole, which is but an infinite mode of the divine substance. The whole, studied in physics by examining its parts, is interpreted in metaphysics as having not only a "surface" dimension (the whole constituted by the parts), but also a dimension of "depth", the infinite substance which underlies each of the individual parts as well as the whole. As Natura naturata, the whole can thus be seen to depend radically on substance or Natura naturans, God or substance being at the same time immanent and transcendent.

What is affirmed of God in Spinoza's rationalistic metaphysics is basically that only God or Nature deserves to be called substance, causa sui, free and eternal - all names which we undeservedly give to ourselves in our anthropocentric conceit. In applying these names to Nature as a substantive whole, Spinoza somehow "individualizes" the whole of things in which we live; this proves to be very important in the relationship between metaphysics and intuitive knowledge. In his metaphysical treatises, Spinoza shows - in the light of the objectifying insights of metaphysics and physics - how to reinterpret the old ethico-religious and metaphysical notions and problems such as God, Providence, mind and body, intellect and will, rationality, freedom, immortality. Their [correct] interpretation should ensure that all traces of anthropocentrism disappear. Yet, Spinoza was well aware that metaphysics, though for him a strictly cognitive project using the one scientific method, mos geometricus, had to be relevant to the search for salvation. As the continuation and the explication of the anti-anthropocentrism already present in the scientific attitude, this cognitive project was of direct relevance to the problem of salvation. Spinoza was aware that a kind of pedagogical steering of the cognitive project was necessary to arrive at the ultimate aim - salvation through contemplation - as quickly as possible: "I pass now to explaining those things which must necessarily follow from the essence of God, or [sive] the infinite and eternal Being - not, indeed, all of them ..., but only those that can lead us, by the hand, as it were, to the knowledge of the human Mind and its highest blessedness" (EIIpref). This guidance of the project leads to the development of a human science in which man objectively understands himself as truly a mode of substance, and to the elaboration of a scientific ethics.

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Introduction to Spinoza's Ethics (from Prof. Stuart Hampshire's Introduction to Prof. Edwin Curley's translation of Benedict de Spinoza's Ethics, 1994, London 1996) Spinoza begins his Ethics with arguments to prove that there must be a single self-subsistent substance, to be identified as 'Deus sive Natura', 'God or Nature', which is the cause, directly or indirectly, of all things, and which is self-created. This statement is a denial of the possibility of a transcendent creator, distinct from his creation, and a denial of the first principles of Judaism and of Christianity. God must be immanent in the natural order, the creator in its creation, if we are to avoid the incoherence of thinking of two substances in reality: a creator distinct from his creation. There could not have been an act of creation, as Jews and Christians claim that there has been; this would imply that God had reason to choose to create the actual world rather than other possible worlds. But what reason could there be other than the creator's nature which made the actual world the only possible world? We must think of the natural order as the unfolding of God's nature in accordance with eternal laws which consitute his essential nature. The origin of things is not to be found in an act of will, but rather in the rational order which constitutes God or Nature. These arguments for God's immanence undermine the orthodox tradition of Western morality and metaphysics, and they remove the need for any intermediary between God and man in the form of a Church and of a priesthood. We do not need any privileged revelation of God's intentions and we must not apply to God any part of the vocabulary that is applicable to finite human minds. [...]

Spinoza was always denounced during his life, and for a century afterwards, as not only an atheist, but also as a materialist and a determinist: that is, he claimed that all things, including persons, are determined in their actions by the laws of physics. The phrase 'Deus sive Natura', 'God or Nature', gives a sense in which he was an atheist, but he was a materialist with a difference and also a determinist with a difference. Human beings do not have supernatural souls and their processes of thought are inseparably linked to bodily processes. This entails that, for every change in a human mind, which can be explained in psychological terms, there must be a replica in the body which is a change to be explained in the terms of physical laws. This seems a form of materialism. Our mental powers and our physical powers are indissolubly linked - but we can learn to understand the natural order, at least in part, sub specie aeternitatis, under its aspect as an eternal framework and system of natural laws. Our knowledge of the intellectual order of things will always be fragmentary, because our powers of mind are limited and the intellectual order is unlimited and infinite. This is materialism with a difference, because God or Nature is as much an intelligible system of thought as a system of material objects. Spinoza's so-called determinism is the belief that all behaviour, whether of human beings or of other natural creatures, is to be explained by causes, but by causes of two contrasting kinds: causes that are eternally valid as explanations of their effects, and causes that are valid as explanations at a particular time and in particular circumstances. Any living thing's desire to avoid pain and death is an example of a cause of the first kind: my desire to avoid my particular neighbour provides a cause of my behaviour which explains it within the common order of causes in nature and sub specie durationis. The first kind of explanation is a complete explanation and the statement of it is a necessary truth. The second kind of explanation is incomplete, because the chains of causes stretch back in time without limit and stopping-point in the common order of nature. Our knowledge of this second kind of cause must always be comparatively unreliable because imperfect. There is an absolute distinction in Spinoza's philosophy between understanding some part of the intellectual order of things, which is knowledge of eternal truths, and the contrasting knowledge of things as they exist at a particular time in the common order of nature. Mathematics and the fundamental laws of physics (laws of motion) and laws of psychology (laws of thoughts) belong to the first category; the useful truths of medicine and of statecraft belong to the second category.

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Spinoza's System (from Radical Enlightenment, Jonathan I. Israel, Oxford 2001) Spinoza's starting point in the Ethics is a set of propositions about the nature of reality or substance, including the contention that 'every substance is necessarily infinite' (I Prop. VIII), which proceed in seemingly logical progression to his famous tenet, the 'foundation of his whole impious doctrine', as Spinelli calls it, that 'Except God [or Nature], no substance can exist or be conceived' (I Prop. XIV). Where Descartes' unassailable first step is his 'cogito, ergo sum', Spinoza's is his assertion that our idea of the totality of what is, of an infinite and eternal being - God (or Nature) - is clear, consistent, selfcontained, and undeniable. Since everything that exists, he contends, exists in God (or Nature), and substance, as he defines it, is what is absolutely independent in itself, there can be only one substance and therefore only one set of rules governing the whole of the reality which surrounds us and of which we are part. Whatever has been 'determined by God to produce an effect', he argues, 'cannot render itself undetermined' (I Prop. XXVII). From this he infers that every individual thing which is finite 'can neither exist, nor be determined, to produce an effect unless it is determined by another cause' which, also being finite and determined, must in turn be determined by another cause similarly finite and determined, and so on to infinity. Hence, it follows logically that 'in nature there is nothing contingent, but all things have been determined from the necessity of the divine nature to exist and produce an effect in a certain way' (I Prop. XXIX). Hence also the chain of necessity is infinite, and infinitely complex, and only partially knowable through human science, not because elements of the chain are conceptually beyond the reach of human reason but because science cannot empirically take account of the whole of such a sequence.

Prof. Jonathan I. Israel

It is at this point that Spinoza introduces his distinction between Natura Naturans and Natura Naturata, the first designating what exists independently in itself and conceived through itself, namely 'God, insofar as he is considered to be a free cause', that is, nature understood as the creative power or potential of Nature, the rules governing the working of the universe, the latter denoting, by contrast, the actuality or determinate state of nature: 'by Natura Naturata I understand whatever follows from the necessity of God's nature, or from any of God's attributes'. From this, Spinoza deduces that 'actual intellect, whether finite or infinite, like will, desire, love etc. pertain to Natura Naturata, not to Natura Naturans' (I Prop.XXXI), meaning that all manifestations of mind or minded-substance are part of Spinoza's single thinking-extended substance and therefore governed by the same set of rules - the rules of nature - as any other part of Natura Naturata. Hence it follows that 'will cannot be called a free cause, but only a necessary one' (I Prop. XXXII) and similarly that 'will and intellect are related to God's nature as motion and rest are, as are absolutely all natural things which by Proposition XXIX must be determined by God to exist and produce an effect in a certain way'. This yields Spinoza's proposition that God does not produce any effect by freedom of the will and that 'will does not pertain to God's nature any more than do the other natural things but is related to him in the same way as motion and rest, and all other things which, as we have shown, follow from the necessity of the divine nature and are determined by it to exist and produce an effect in a certain way'.

From here Spinoza proceeds to one of his most celebrated propositions: 'things could have been produced by God [or Nature] in no other way, and in no other order, than they have been produced' (Res nullo alio modo, neque alio ordine a Deo produci potuerunt, quam productae sunt) (I Prop. XXXIII). In his appendix to Part I of the Ethics, Spinoza claims to have demonstrated that while God is the 'free cause of all things', and the only free cause, all things have been predetermined by God, not through the freedom of his will 'but from God's absolute nature, or infinite power'. It should be noticed that, contrary to what is often asserted, this is not in any meaningful sense 'pantheism'. Since nothing is contingent, men too are determined in their conduct. That men suppose themselves to be free Spinoza ascribes to their consciousness of their desires and appetites while failing to perceive 'those causes by which they are disposed to wanting and willing, being ignorant of those causes' [cf. avidya].

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The Order of Things (from From Action to Production of Effects, by Pierre Macherey, in God and Nature: Spinoza's Metaphysics, edited by Yirmiyahu Yovel, Leiden 1991) Thus, inasmuch as God is, first of all, entirely in himself - or even 'that which is entirely in itself' - all things are in God. Furthermore, it is the relationship of inclusion or envelopment, binding the whole to its parts, which constitutes the reason for the divine 'action', i.e. which explains the order through which its absolute power manifests itself causally. Conversely, the partial chain of the modal 'production of effects' is included in this comprehensive order. For one thing does not produce another, in the sense of a particular production of effects, unless the common order of things on which it depends through the mediation of the immediate and mediate infinite modes (for instance, in the case of bodies, the general laws of motion and rest and the existence of the universe regarded as a single thing) is wholly involved in this production of effects. And, in relation to the divine action as a whole, the production of effects is like one of its modifications. This is why transitive causality, partes extra partes, is merely a trap if one separates it from the conditions imposed upon it by the absolute action of the whole, acting in itself according to the principle of immanent causality. According to Ethics part I definition 7, a thing is compelled which is determined by another to exist and to produce an effect in a certain and determinate manner; i.e., itself existing only as the effect of causes external to it, it operates as a cause in relation to external effects only to the degree that it is itself determined by a cause whose reason is not provided by it, because it does not depend on the limits by which it is particularized. It is this reasoning that permits Spinoza to conceive the infinite as actively present in the finite, without regarding this presence as a relation of transcendence.

Thus, the model of mechanical causality is not merely relativized, but contested in its very principle. Inasmuch as it is related to the existence of particular things, the apparent chain of causes and effects is only the surface expression (necessarily defective, since it is not self-sufficient) of a causal action which takes place continuously, and of which it provides only a provisional and incomplete perspective. One thing is the cause or the effect of another thing only subject to a reason to which all things are commonly subordinated, and which is not a reason of any single thing, determining its particular order uniquely and to the exclusion of any other order that might be possible. Nor does the order of things have its reason in things, because these are only its effects; moreover, to the degree that they result from it - in the sense of immanent rather than transitive causality - they are also in it as its partial realizations. Thus, immanent causality and transitive causality do not determine two independent orders of causality, at the intersection of which finite things would themselves be produced; rather it is one and the same order which, considered synthetically, as a whole, acts absolutely in itself, and when considered analytically, partes extra partes, distributes its production of effects according to particular relationships that are not autonomous because their reason is not in themselves.

It is here that we encounter a specifically ethical problem: depending upon whether one considers it from a total or partial viewpoint, one and the same thing can be free, in accordance with the law of its own action, or compelled, in accordance with the external chain of productions of effects in which it is caught up. Thus, to liberate oneself is not to escape the system of determination that links causes and effects, but, on the contrary, to return to the system in order to go deeper into it so as to seize and integrate its immanent necessity. To be free or to be compelled, to act or to produce effects, correspond to ways of being and doing that are subject to the rationality of the same laws. What distinguishes these ways of behaving is only the point of view developed in them with regard to this common rationality: submission to it, due to ignorance of or failure to take into account its all-encompassing determination; or total self-fulfillment in it, due to a recognition in it of the necessary - positive rather than restrictive - condition of self-actualization.

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About Divine Providence (from Spinoza's Theory of Divine Providence, a lecture by Prof. Steven Nadler, in Utrecht, on November 22, 2003) Even in Spinoza's system, there is room for a substantive conception of divine providence, one that is a part of but also (from the point of view of moral agents) of greater import than the universal causal sequences of general providence. For Spinoza, God (or Nature) rewards the virtuous. It does so not because there is a plan that it conceives and then willfully carries out, but simply because that is how nature necessarily works. It is a theory of divine providence without teleology. Providence is the inviolable causal order of nature, as this is determined by God/Substance. And built into that order is a system of rewards and punishments - not by intention or purpose, but by natural causes. The pursuit of virtue brings benefits by nature; correspondingly, the life of vice is attended by the lack of such benefits. The virtuous person, through his knowledge, naturally enjoys a kind of protection from nature's unpredictable influences and the psychological turmoil they bring. The vicious person, on the other hand, is at the mercy of the elements, living the life of bondage and 'tossed about' by the passions.

This kind of naturalistic and intellectualist conception of providence bears a strong resemblance to the views of some of Spinoza's medieval Jewish rationalist forebears. In fact, I believe that these parts of the Ethics were strongly influenced by what Spinoza read in Maimonides and Gersonides, the most important representatives of that tradition. For Maimonides and Gersonides (and for other radical rationalists), providence is not the active and particularized intervention of a purposive God, but rather the natural benefits of intellectual knowledge. Maimonides, for example, in the Guide of the Perplexed considers the question as to whether God, like a willful agent, actively rewards and punishes individuals for their obedience and transgressions, or whether providence works in a more uniform, subtle and natural way. He concludes that to enjoy God's providence is simply to possess intellectually and through one's own efforts the knowledge that 'overflows' from God, and that to be without providence is nothing more than to lack this beneficial understanding:

According to me, as I consider the matter, divine providence is consequent upon the divine overflow; and the species with which this overflow is united, so that it became endowed with intellect and that everything that is disclosed to a being endowed with intellect was disclosed to it, is the one accompanied by divine providence, which appraises all its actions from the point of view of reward and punishment. (The Guide of the Perplexed III.17)

Some individuals, through moral preparation and philosophical and religious study, acquire the necessary intellectual endowment - 'perfect apprehension' - and they enjoy the protection it brings; others are abandoned to their own devices and left unprotected before nature's ways:

If a man's thought is free from distraction, if he apprehends Him, may He be exalted, in the right way and rejoices in what he apprehends, that individual can never be afflicted with evil of any kind. (The Guide of the Perplexed III.51)

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Spinoza's Concept of God (from The Courtier and the Heretic, by Matthew Stewart, New Haven 2005) Spinoza's concept of God, or Nature, has this in common with the more pedestrian notions of divinity: God is the cause of all things. However, Spinoza hastens to add, God "is the immanent cause of things, and not the transitive cause". A 'transitive' cause lies 'outside' its effect. A watchmaker, for example, is the transitive cause of his watch. An 'immanent' cause is in some sense 'inside' or 'together with' that which it causes. The nature of a circle, for example, is the immanent cause of its roundness. Spinoza's claim is that God does not stand outside the world and create it; rather, God exists in the world and subsists together with what it creates: "All things, I say, are in God and move in God." In simple code: Spinoza's God is an immanent one.

Spinoza also refers to his 'God, or Nature' as 'Substance'. Substance is, very generally speaking, that stuff in which 'attributes' - the properties that make something what is - inhere. By way of skirting the arcane of Aristotelian and medieval metaphysics, one may think of substance as that which is 'really real', or the ultimate constituent(s) of reality. The most important thing about substance is that no substance can be reduced to the attribute of some other substance (which would then, of course, constitute the 'real' substance). Substance is where the digging stops - where all investigations come to an end.

The Courtier and the Heretic, by Matthew Stewart.

Before Spinoza, it was generally taken for granted that there are many such substances in the world. With a chain of definitions, axioms, and proofs, however, Spinoza claims to demonstrate once and for all that there can in fact be only one Substance in the world. This one Substance has 'infinite attributes' and is, as a matter of fact, God. Leibniz accurately sums it up: According to Spinoza, he notes, "God alone is substance, or a being subsisting through itself, or, that which can be conceived through itself."

According to Spinoza, furthermore, everything in the world is merely a 'mode' of an attribute of this Substance, or God. 'Mode' is just Latin for 'way', and the modes of God are simply the ways in which Substance (i.e. God, or Nature) manifests its eternal essence. Leibniz once again hits the nail on the head in his note on the discussion with Tshirnhaus: "All creatures are nothing but modes." [...]

Spinoza deduces many things from his concept of God, but one in particular deserves mention for its central role in subsequent controversies. In Spinoza's world, everything that happens, happens necessarily. One of the most notorious propositions of the Ethics is: "Things could not have been produced by God [or Nature] in any manner or in any order different from that which in fact exists." This is a logical inference from the proposition that the relation of God to the world is something like that of an essence to its properties: God cannot one day decide to do things differently any more than a circle can choose not to be round, or a mountain can foreswear the valley that forms on its side. The view that there is a 'necessary' aspect of things may be referred to by the sometimes inappropriate name of 'determinism'.

Of course, Spinoza acknowledges, in the world we see around us, many things seem to be contingent - or merely possible, and not necessary. That is, it seems that things don't have to be the way that they are: the earth might never have been formed; this book might never have been published; and so on. In fact, Spinoza goes on to say, every particular thing in the world is contingent when considered solely with respect to its own nature. In technical terms, he says that 'existence' pertains to the essence of nothing - save God. Thus, at some level, Spinoza stands for the opposite of the usual caricature of the determinist as reductivist, for, according to his line of thinking, we humans are never in a position to understand the complete and specific chain of causality that gives any individual thing its necessary character; consequently, we will never be in a position to reduce all phenomena to a finite set of intelligible causes, and all things must always appear to us to be at some level radically free. (In this sense, incidentally, he should count as a radical empiricist.) In somewhat less technical terms, we could say that, from a human point of view, everything must always seem contingent; even though from a divine or philosophical point of view, everything is nonetheless necessary. From the philosophical point of view - and only from the philosophical point of view - the dictinction between possibility and actuality vanishes: if something may be, it is; if it may not be, it is not. [emphasis added]

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The Irrelevance of Scripture in Spinoza (from the Introduction to The March of the Libertines, by Michiel Wielema, Hilversum 2004) Spinoza, in his groundbreaking treatise on the interpretation and authority of Scripture, the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (1670), came to the same result as Lodewijk Meyer [i.e. that Scripture can never teach anything that blocks the free progress of rational thought] though by a different route. Instead of subjecting Scripture to the test of reason, he extended the principle of accomodation so far as to hold that not just some parts but the whole of Scripture was 'adapted to the understanding of the common people' and therefore irrelevant for a rational mind. Spinoza showed that the Bible was a text that was culturally fully determined and that its meaning depended almost totally on its original context. By performing an internal analysis of Scripture's conceptual framework - investigating its meaning sola Scriptura, on the basis of biblical evidence alone - he made it evident, for example, that the prophets spoke in anthropomorphic languange about God because that was how they imagined him, and, similarly, that their views on the workings of nature reflected uninformed prejudices and superstitions. Yet for those who consider the Bible a book of faith these aspects can safely be ignored; they should concentrate on its persistent moral doctrine of righteousness and love. Faith, according to Spinoza, presupposes no more than a few simple and pious (not necessaily true) 'dogmas' which everyone is free and even obliged to adapt to his own understanding of the world. These seven 'dogmas of the universal faith'- about God's oneness, omnipresence, sovereignty, forgiveness and so on - were presented in chapter 14 of the Tractatus. There can thus be unity of faith and religion amid a wide variety of personal philosophical theologies, irrespective of confessions and church dogma. Spinoza concluded from his analysis that Scripture and faith leave reason and philosophy absolutely free because they have nothing whatsoever in common. Therefore, religion cannot be the source of restrictions to the inalienable right of free expression.

Spinoza's Tractatus, even more than his purely philosophical Ethics, would prove to be a great influence on thinkers who would gladly have seen the transformation of the public church into a community of enlightened and emancipated believers. Not all libertines actually drew on Spinozistic sources, though. As will become clear from our discussion, the typically Protestant tradition of anticlericalism and individual freedom (to which Spinoza adapted himself in the Tractatus) was an equally important source of inspiration for dissenting lay believers. They realized that the issue of biblical interpretation was among the most urgent. This issue had at least two dimensions. One was the question of authority: who was a legitimate interpreter of Scripture? Was the right to explain Scripture reserved for a select group of theologians and ministers, or did it extend also to lay believers? All libertines doubted the legitimacy of the traditional clergy-laity distinction and were serious in applying the notion of the 'priesthood of all believers' to create a more democratic religious community. Every individual was to be the final arbiter of biblical interpretation.

Another dimension was the related topic of biblical translation, in particular the authority of the States translation [of 1637, into Dutch] of the Bible . In the libertine milieu, both among the antinomians and among Cartesians and Spinozists, there was widespread criticism of the text of the States translation. As Balthasar Bekker was well aware, translators are at the same time interpreters and often import their own preconceptions and prejudices into the text they are translating - such as pagan prejudices concerning the reality and actions of the devil. Adrian Koerbagh even suggested that theologians deliberately mistranslated, or refused to translate scriptural terms in order to support their perverse doctrines with biblical evidence. Consequently, he spent a lot of effort (re-)translating those words and passages which he found particularly offensive. Among the antinomians, lay believers were actively encouraged to study the Bible as far as possible in its original languages (Hebrew in particular) so as to grasp its true liberating message which they thought was being systematically obscured by the official legalistic exegesis.

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Having a Place in Nature (from Spinoza, a lecture by Prof. Frederick J. E. Woodbridge (1867-1940), at Columbia University, 1933) Having a place in nature and belonging to nature is not having a place in New York and belonging to New York. [But] it might be a helpful exercise in understanding Spinoza, to put the two places side by side and observe their contrasted effects upon our attitude of mind. Which is the larger place; which the securer? In which are we the more cabined and confined? In which is the imagination the ampler and more expansive? In which are we the more lifted out of ourselves to the contemplation of imperishible things? In which do we feel the more intimately the pressure of something "deeply interfused whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, and the round ocean and the blue air and in the mind of man"? Placed over against nature, in contrast and in opposition to it, we may shrink to well-nigh nothing. Placed in nature, as completely belonging to it, is there then shrinkage or something else? Being in and belonging to New York, Chicago, London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Amsterdam, and being in and belonging to nature - Spinoza would have us reflect on the difference and discover what difference it makes, what difference in our attitude of mind and in the affections that arise within us.

He would have us carry the contrast into particulars. How do hunger, thirst and nakedness, poverty and riches, love and jealousy, friendship and enmity, health and disease, happiness and misery, life and death - how do they all look when we put ourselves in New York and belong to New York and when we put ourselves in nature and belong to nature? We may try the experiment at our leisure. Spinoza is convinced that if we try it thoroughly, our minds will find something different from that aching anxiety which destroys their peace.

But what is our place in nature? The question is now no longer one of geography. It is not a matter of latitude and longitude. It is not even a matter of length of days or of personal biographies. It is not ascertained by chart and compass or by reference to the calendar. It is discovered by the mind. It is the same place as that of the sands of the desert, or of the stars, if you will. It is a necessary place, a place, that is, which nature does not and can not get on without and without which neither we nor the sands of the desert can get on. It is the place which embraces all places and is all places embraced. It is belonging to all that can be belonged to and all that can be belonged to belongs to it. We must keep in mind that this is the mind's discovery. Geographically it is nonsense. The belongings, the property, of which it speaks, are not like those occasional possessions which pass from hand to hand. Although the mind borrows its words from geography and getting and spending, it has discovered something else. It has dicovered order, connection, interdependence, integrity, completeness, perfection. It has discovered essence, existence, idea and power. These do not define something to be found on a map or dated in a calendar. They define something without which nothing can be nor be conceived. Without it there could be no sands of the desert and no man to discover it. Put it into a definition with words which philosophers use, it turns out to be the definition of that which theologians name God. To belong to nature is to belong to what nature is, to belong to that without which neither the sands of the desert nor the people of New York could be at all. Spinoza is convinced of this. In the light of this conviction, he was convinced that that true good he sought could be found, that object which could evoke a changeless love for ever, the mind's love of God which is God's love itself.

to Duff about Spinoza (separate page)

to Immortality in Spinoza (separate page)

to Conatus in Spinoza (separate page)

to Substance Monism in Spinoza (separate page)

to full list of relevant excerpts

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From abroad: Please use the handy PayPal 'make a donation' link or instruct your bank to transfer your donation to the Advayavada Stichting, account NL83ABNA0814472079 at the ABN-AMRO Bank, Singel 548, 1017 AZ Amsterdam (BIC: ABNANL2A). All amounts welcome. Thank you very much!

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(last modified 12 August 2015)

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