From Modern Philosophy: Essential Selections, by James Fieser


Copyright 2015, updated 3/1/2019





The Highest Good

Overview of Spinoza's Views

The Mathematical Method of Proof

Proof of God's Existence as the Only Substance

God does not Willfully Direct the Course of Nature

The Human Mind

Human Bondage to the Passions

Against Miracles

Free speech

The High Cost of Doing Philosophy: Spinoza’s Excommunication and Self-Censorship

Study Questions



Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677) was born in Amsterdam, a son of a moderately wealthy Jewish merchant who immigrated there from Portugal to avoid the inquisition. Spinoza was educated in his local Jewish Talumdic school, but left it at age 17 to work in his father’s business. At age 23 he was excommunicated from the Amsterdam Jewish community for the “abominable heresies practiced and taught by him,” which likely refers to unorthodox views of God that he may have discussed with others prior to anything he published. His response to the condemnation was “This compels me to nothing which I should not otherwise have done”. Within a few years he relocated to a new town about 20 miles south, and took up the occupation of lens grinding as a means of self-sufficiency. By age 29, he composed his first two works, though both remained unfinished and unpublished during his life. In 1663 he published the first of only two works that would appear in print during his life, René Descartes's Principles of Philosophy. During this time, he began writing his most important work The Ethics, which he circulated in draft form among young friends in Amsterdam who formed something like a Spinoza study group. However, fearing that the work’s unorthodox religious views would get him into trouble, he set it aside and, in hopes of changing the political climate, composed his Theological Political Treatise, which defends free expression. This appeared anonymously in 1770, but was immediately met with harsh criticism. Spinoza continued writing his Ethics and another political work, but he died in 1677 from a respiratory illness, probably silicosis resulting from lens grinding. After his death, his friends recovered the manuscript of The Ethics from a desk drawer and had it published posthumously in the same year. The selections below are from all the above-mentioned works by Spinoza.

        In his earliest unpublished work, Improvement of the Understanding, Spinoza proposes a method for discovering truths. In this he lays out a goal that extends through all his writings: the aim of science is to understand the union between the mind and the whole of nature. In his next unpublished work, Short Treatise on God, he presents the key themes of his metaphysics, which he develops in greater detail in his Ethics. Foremost is his view that God is identical with nature as a whole, a view which nineteenth-century philosophers dubbed “pantheism”, literally meaning all-God. It is like drawing a line around the entire universe and saying that the contents within that line equals God. This stands in sharp contrast from the view in traditional Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which sees God as a non-three-dimensional being that exists outside the universe. Spinoza’s pantheism, though, is unique. He maintains that God is a single substance with an infinite number of attributes, but the only ones that we can know are his attributes of thought (i.e., spirit-mind) and extension (i.e., three dimensional matter), since those are the two attributes that we as humans share with God. God’s two attributes of thought and extension are superimposed on each other (or co-extensive with each other), like two infinitely vast parallel universes, where God’s thoughts are restricted to events in the physical world which follow strict laws of nature. Thus, for Spinoza, God is nature, and he uses the terms “God” and “Nature” interchangeably. Good and evil do not exist within God-Nature itself, but instead are values that we humans impose on it. Humans are merely small pieces of God’s mind and body, we have no free will since nature is a giant machine and we are just small parts of it. There is no afterlife since our mechanical bodies are mortal and our souls strictly parallel our bodies. While there is no such thing as free will, true freedom is a type of understanding that comes from knowledge of our body-soul union with God-Nature.

        In The Principles of Descartes' Philosophy, Spinoza argues that the mathematical style of proof is the best way to discover truth in non-mathematical areas of inquiry, such as philosophy. This enables us to rise from merely probable evidence to certainty. Spinoza followed his own advice to the extreme when composing The Ethics. The work is divided into five Parts. He opens Part One with a set of 8 definitions and 7 axioms, and from these he deduces 36 propositions about God. His major task is to prove that God does not exist independently of nature, but, instead, there exists only a substance that is God-Nature. The argument is this:


1. There cannot exist in the universe two or more substances having the same nature or attribute (Proposition 5)

2. God (defined as a substance consisting of infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality) necessarily exists. (Proposition 11)

3. Therefore, besides God, no substance can be granted or conceived. (Proposition 14)


The intuition is that if two things shared the same set of attributes, then they would be the same thing. Since, by definition, God contains all attributes, then God is the only thing that exists. No matter what other thing you might postulate as existing outside of God, such as a three-dimensional universe, God already contains that attribute of three-dimensionality in an infinite degree. Thus, that three-dimensional universe is already part of God. Some philosophers give anthropomorphized accounts of a God such as Zeus who has a finite body and passions. However, Spinoza argues, God cannot have a finite body since God is infinite. Other philosophers wrongly argue that God must be incorporeal and have no three-dimensional body at all; he rejects this too. He concludes Part One with an Appendix in which he argues that God-Nature has no free will and everything occurs “by the necessity of the divine nature.” As such, God does not willfully direct the course of nature and does not act with any purpose in view. We humans superstitiously believe that God willfully guides external events for our benefit since we cannot guide those ourselves.

             In Parts Two and Three of The Ethics, Spinoza discusses the nature of the human mind. A first issue is what we now call the mind-body problem: our minds are non-three-dimensional souls, but our bodies are three-dimensional matter; it thus requires a virtual miracle to move information from one realm to the other. Descartes' solution to this problem was that the pineal gland in the center of our brains is the gateway between our physical bodies and immaterial souls. For Spinoza, however, the two realms do not need to interact with each other. For, my soul-mind exist in one realm (or parallel universe), while my physical body exists in the other, and since both realms are attributes of God’s single substance, they both unfold simultaneously without interacting with each other. My human mind itself, according to Spinoza is just a collection of various perceptions of my various bodily actions. Human emotions, he argues, are purely mechanical, and arise from the same necessity and causal force as anything else in nature. As such, Spinoza proposes to lay down the rules that govern even our worst emotions, including hatred, anger and envy. On the issue of human free will, he argues that my thoughts have no causal force over my bodily actions, and the illusion of free will results in part from our ignorance of the physical causes of human actions. Every existing thing has built into it an inner striving to exist, and what we call “desire” is just conscious awareness of an inner striving.

             In Part Five of The Ethics, Spinoza describes how we are enslaved by negative human emotions, with very limited ability to restrain them through reason or religion. This bondage is a powerlessness to control our emotions, whereby even when we see what is better for us we nevertheless do the worse. While human reason cannot eliminate this bondage, he argues that there are ways that we might reduce the force of the passions, and he offers several remedies for this. For one, if we understand the necessity behind unfortunate events, then we can accept them with less emotion. For another, we can associate unfortunate events with moral rules, such as that we should respond to hatred with love.

             Spinoza’s Theological and Political Treatise was a controversial work, an example of which is the analysis of miracles that it contains. The common conception of miracles, according to Spinoza, is that the power of God is distinct from the power of nature, and thus violating laws of nature is thought to be a clear sign of divine providence. Against this view he argues that nothing occurs in nature in violation of her universal laws, and thus the idea of a miracle as a violation of nature is an absurdity. How, then, should we view accounts of miracles in scripture? He argues they depict events that in fact happened by nature but are expressed dramatically to inspire devotion. The Theological and Political Treatise is also famous for being an early defense of free speech. He argues that People's minds cannot be controlled by others, and a government that attempts to do this is tyrannical. While some restraint on speech is needed to preserve peace, nevertheless, the true aim of government is liberty. Further, the government should permit philosophical speculation even with controversial ideas. Public expression of such views may create social problems, but no more so than the problems that arise through luxury, envy, avarice, drunkenness, which society permits because they cannot be prevented.


THE HIGHEST GOOD (from Treatise on the Improvement of the Understanding, composed 1656)


Knowledge of Union between Mind and the Whole of Nature

I will here only briefly state what I mean by true good, and also what is the nature of the highest good. In order that this may be rightly understood, we must bear in mind that the terms good and evil are only applied relatively, so that the same thing may be called both good and bad, according to the relations in view, in the same way as it may be called perfect or imperfect. Nothing regarded in its own nature can be called perfect or imperfect; especially when we are aware that all things which come about, do so according to the eternal order and fixed laws of nature.

             However, human weakness cannot comprehend this order in its own thoughts, but meanwhile man conceives a human character much more stable than his own, and sees that there is no reason why he should not himself acquire such a character. Thus he is led to seek for means which will bring him to this degree of perfection, and calls everything which will serve as such means a true good. The chief good is that he should arrive, together with other individuals if possible, at the possession of the aforesaid character. What that character is we will show in due time, namely, that it is the knowledge of the union existing between the mind and the whole of nature.

             This, then, is the end for which I strive, to acquire such a character myself, and to endeavor that many should attain to it with me. In other words, it is part of my happiness to lend a helping hand, that many others may understand even as I do, so that their understanding and desire may entirely agree with my own. In order to bring this about, it is necessary to understand as much of nature as will enable us to attain to the abovementioned character, and also to form a social order such as is most conducive to the attainment of this character by the greatest number with the least difficulty and danger. We must seek the assistance of Moral Philosophy and the Theory of Education; further, as health is no insignificant means for attaining our end, we must also include the whole science of Medicine, and, as many difficult things are by contrivance rendered easy, and we can in this way gain much time and convenience, the science of Mechanics must in no way be despised.

             But, before anything else, a means must be devised for improving the understanding and purifying it, as far as may be at the outset, so that it may apprehend things without error, and in the best possible way. Thus it is apparent to everyone that I wish to direct all sciences to one end and aim, so that we may attain to the supreme human perfection which we have named; and, therefore, whatsoever in the sciences does not serve to promote our object will have to be rejected as useless. To sum up the matter in a word, all our actions and thoughts must be directed to this one end.


Knowledge of the Understanding is the Foundation from which we Deduce Eternal Truths

Here, to return to my purpose, I will only try to set forth what seems necessary for enabling us to attain to knowledge of eternal things, and to define them under the conditions laid down above.

With this end, we must bear in mind what has already been stated, namely, that when the mind devotes itself to any thought, so as to examine it, and to deduce from it in proper order all the legitimate conclusions possible, any falsehood which may lurk in the thought will be detected. But if the thought is true, the mind will easily proceed without interruption to deduce truths from it. This, I say, is necessary for our purpose, for our thoughts cannot proceed without a foundation.

             If, therefore, we wish to investigate the first thing of all, it will be necessary to supply some foundation which may direct our thoughts towards it. Further, since method is reflective knowledge, the foundation which must direct our thoughts can be nothing other than the knowledge of that which constitutes the reality of truth, and the knowledge of the understanding, its properties, and powers. When this has been acquired we will possess a foundation from which we can deduce our thoughts, and a path whereby the intellect, according to its capacity, may attain the knowledge of eternal things, allowance being made for the extent of the intellectual powers.


OVERVIEW OF SPINOZA'S VIEWS (from A Short Treatise on God, composed 1660)


God’s Existence can be Proven both A Priori and A Posteriori (1.1)

. . . From all this, then, it follows clearly that we can prove both a priori and a posteriori that God exists. Better, indeed, a priori. For things which are proved in the latter [a posteriori] way must be proved through their external causes, which is a manifest imperfection in them, inasmuch as they cannot make themselves known through themselves, but only through external causes. God, however, who is the first cause of all things, and also the cause of himself, makes himself known through himself. Hence one need not attach much importance to the saying of Thomas Aquinas, namely, that God could not be proved a priori because he, indeed, has no cause.


God is a single Substance with Infinite Attributes including Thought and Extension (1.2)

Now that we have proved above that God is, it is time to show what he is. Namely, we say that he is a being of whom all or infinite attributes are predicated, of which attributes everyone is infinitely perfect in its kind. Now, to express our views clearly, we shall premise the four following propositions:

1. That there is no finite substance, but that every substance must be infinitely perfect in its kind, that is to say, that in the infinite understanding of God no substance can be more perfect than that which already exists in Nature.

2. That there are not two like substances.

3. That one substance cannot produce another.

4. That in the infinite understanding of God there is no other substance than that which is formaliter [i.e., Aristotelean form] in Nature. . . .


Having so far discussed what God is, we will say just a word, so to speak, about his attributes: that those which are known to us consist of two only, namely, Thought and Extension. For here we speak only of attributes which might be called the proper attributes of God, through which we come to know him [as he is] in himself, and not [merely] as he acts [towards things] outside himself. All else, then, that men ascribe to God beyond these two attributes, all that (if it otherwise pertains to him) must be either an "extraneous denomination," such as that he exists through himself, is eternal, one, immutable, etc., or, I say, has reference to his activity, such as that he is a cause, predestines, and rules all things: all which are properties of God, but give us no information as to what he is. . . .


God as Nature (2.19)

. . . Now to prove that there is a body in Nature, can be no difficult task for us, now that we already know that God is, and what God is; whom we have defined as a being of infinite attributes, each of which is infinite and perfect. Since extension is an attribute which we have shown to be infinite in its kind, it must therefore also necessarily be an attribute of that infinite being. As we have also already demonstrated that this infinite being exists, it follows at once that this attribute also exists.

             Moreover, since we have also proved that outside Nature, which is infinite, there is, and can be, no being, it is clearly seen that this effect of body through which we become aware [of it] can proceed from nothing else than from extension itself, and by no means from something else which (as some will have it) has extension in an eminent degree: for (as we have already shown in the first chapter) there is no such thing. . . .


Secondary Attribute: God is an Immanent Cause (1.3)

We will now begin to consider those attributes [of God] which we called Propria [i.e., secondary attributes that say nothing about God's substance]. And, first of all, how God is a cause of all things. Now, we have already said above that one substance cannot produce another ; and that God is a being of whom all attributes are predicated ; from which it clearly follows that all other things can by no means be, or be understood, apart from or outside him. Accordingly, we may say with all reason that God is a cause of all things. As it is usual to divide the efficient cause in eight divisions, let me, then, inquire how and in what sense God is a cause. First, then, we say that he is an emanative or productive cause of his works ; and, in so far as there is activity, an active or operating cause, which we regard as one and the same, because they involve each other. Secondly, he is an immanent, and not a transeunt cause [i.e., a mental cause affecting something outside the mind], since all that he produces is within himself, and not outside him, because there is nothing outside him. . . .


Secondary Attribute: Divine Providence as Striving Within Nature (1.5)

The second [non-essential] attribute, which we call a proprium [of God] is his Providence, which to us is nothing else than the striving which we find in the whole of Nature and in individual things to maintain and preserve their own existence. For it is manifest that nothing could, through its own nature, seek its own annihilation, but, on the contrary, that everything has in itself a striving to preserve its condition, and to improve itself. Following these definitions of ours we, therefore, posit a general and a special providence. The general [providence] is that through which all things are produced and sustained in so far as they are parts of the whole of Nature. The special providence is the striving of each thing separately to preserve its existence [each thing, that is to say], considered not as a part of Nature, but as a whole [by itself]. This is explained by the following example: All the limbs of man are provided for, and cared for, in so far as they are parts of man, this is general providence; while special [providence] is the striving of each separate limb (as a whole in itself, and not as a part of man) to preserve and maintain its own well-being. . . .


Attributes that God does not Have (1.7)

. . . It is now also time for us to consider the things which they ascribe to God, and which do not, however, pertain to him, such as omniscient, merciful, wise, and so forth, which things, since they are only certain modes of the thinking thing, and can by no means be, or be understood without the substances whose modes they are, can, consequently, also not be attributed to him, who is a Being subsisting without the aid of anything, and solely through himself. . . .


Good and Evil are only Relations, and Do Not Exist within Nature (1.10)

In order to explain briefly what good and evil are in themselves, we will begin thus.

             Some things are in our understanding and not in Nature, and so they are also only our own creation, and their purpose is to understand things distinctly: among these we include all relations, which have reference to different things, and these we call Entia Rationis [things of reason]. Now the question is, whether good and evil belong to the Entia Rationis or to the Entia Realia [real things]. But since good and evil are only relations, it is beyond doubt that they must be placed among the Entia Rationis. For we never say that something is good except with reference to something else which is not so good, or is not so useful to us as some other thing. Thus we say that a man is bad, only in comparison with one who is better, or also that an apple is bad, in comparison with another which is good or better.

             All this could not possibly be said, if that which is better or good, in comparison with which it [the bad] is so called, did not exist.

             Therefore, when we say that something is good, we only mean that it conforms well to the general Idea which we have of such things. But, as we have already said before, the things must agree with their particular Ideas, whose essence must be a perfect essence, and not with the general [Ideas], since in that case they would not exist. . . .


Humans as Part of God (2, Preface)

Having, in the first part, discoursed on God, and on the universal and infinite things, we will proceed now, in the second part, to the treatment of particular and finite things; though not of all, since they are innumerable, but we will only treat of those which concern man. In the first place, we will consider here what man is, in so far as he consists of certain modes (contained in the two attributes which we have remarked in God). I say of certain modes, for I by no means think that man, in so far as he consists of spirit, soul, or body, is a substance. Because, already at the beginning of this book, we proved (1) that no substance can have a beginning; (2) that one substance cannot produce another; and lastly (3), that there cannot be two like substances.

             As man has not been in existence from eternity, is finite, and is like many men, he can be no substance; so that all that he has of thought are only modes of the attribute thought which we have attributed to God. Again, all that he has of form, motion, and other things, are likewise [modes] of the other attribute which is attributed by us to God. . . .


Against Free Will (2.16)

Now that we know the nature of good and evil, truth and falsity, and also wherein the well-being of a perfect man consists, it is time to begin to examine ourselves, and to see whether we attain to such well-being voluntarily or of necessity.

             To this end it is necessary to inquire what the will is, according to those who posit a will, and wherein it is different from desire. Desire, we have said, is the inclination which the soul has towards something which it chooses as a good. From this it follows that before our desire inclines towards something outside, we have already inwardly decided that such a thing is good, and this affirmation, or, stated more generally, the power to affirm and to deny, is called the will.

             It thus turns on the question whether our affirmations are made voluntarily or necessarily, that is, whether we can make any affirmation or denial about a thing without some external cause compelling us to do so. Now we have already shown that a thing which is not explained through itself, or whose existence does not pertain to its essence, must necessarily have an external cause; and that a cause which is to produce something must produce it necessarily; it must therefore also follow that each separate act of willing this or that, each separate act of affirming or denying this or that of a thing, these, I say, must also result from some external cause. So also the definition which we have given of a cause is, that it cannot be free. . . .


Against Immortality of the Soul (2.23)

If only we consider attentively what the soul is, and from where its change and duration originate, then we will easily see whether it is mortal or immortal. Now we have said that the soul is an idea which is in the thinking thing, arising from the reality of a thing which exists in nature. From this it follows that according to the duration and change of the thing, so must also be the duration and change of the soul. We remarked, at the same time, that the soul can become united either with the body of which it is the idea, or with God, without whom it can neither be, nor be known.

             From this, then, it can easily be seen, (1) that, if it is united with the body alone, and that body happens to perish, then it must perish also; for when it is deprived of the body, which is the foundation of its love, it must perish with it. But (2) if it becomes united with some other thing which is and remains unchangeable, then, on the contrary, it must also remain unchangeable and lasting. For, in that case, through what will it be possible for it to perish? Not through itself; for as little as it could begin to exist through itself when it did not yet exist, so little also can it change or perish through itself, now that it does exist.

             Consequently, that thing which alone is the cause of its existence [i.e., the body], must also (when it is about to perish) be the cause of its non-existence, because it happens to change itself or to perish.


Against the Existence of Devils (2.25)

We will now briefly say something about devils, whether they exist or do not exist, and it is this. If the Devil is a thing that is completely opposed to God, and has absolutely nothing from God, then he is precisely identical with nothing, which we have already discussed before. If, with some, we represent him as a thinking thing that absolutely neither wills nor does any good, and so sets himself, once for all, in opposition to God, then surely he is very wretched, and, if prayers could help, then one ought to pray for his conversion.

             But let us just see whether such a wretched thing could even exist for a single moment. If we do so, we will immediately find out that it cannot. For whatever duration a thing has results entirely from the perfection of the thing, and the more essence and Godliness things possess, the more lasting are they. Therefore, as the Devil has not the least perfection in him, how should he then, I think to myself, be able to exist? Add to this, that the persistence or duration of a mode of the thinking thing only results from the union in which such a mode is, through love, joined to God. As the precise opposite of this union is supposed in the case of the Devils, they cannot possibly exist!

             As, however, there is no necessity whatever why we should posit the existence of devils, why then should they be posited? For we need not, like others, posit devils in order to find [in them] the cause of hatred, envy, wrath, and such-like passions, since we have found this sufficiently, without such fictions.


Knowledge of Body-Soul Union through Love (2.22)

. . . For as the whole of Nature is but one only substance, and one whose essence is infinite, all things are united through Nature, and they are united into one [being], namely, God. Now, as the body is the very first thing of which our soul becomes aware (because as already remarked, nothing can exist in Nature, the idea of which is not in the thinking thing, this idea being the soul of that thing) so that thing must necessarily be the first cause of the idea.

             But, as this idea can by no means find rest in the knowledge of the body without passing on to the knowledge of that without which the body and idea could neither be, nor be understood, so (after knowing it first) it becomes united with it immediately through love. This union is better understood, and one may gather what it must be like, from its action with the body, in which we see how through knowledge of, and feelings towards corporeal things, there arise in us all the effects which we are constantly becoming aware of in the body, through the movements of the [vital] spirits. Therefore (if once our knowledge and love come to embrace that without which we can neither be, nor be understood, and which is in no way corporeal) how incomparably greater and more glorious will and must be the kind of effects resulting from this union; for these must necessarily be commensurate with the thing with which it is united. When we become aware of these excellent effects, then we may say with truth, that we have been born again. For our first birth took place when we were united with the body, through which the activities and movements of the [vital] spirits have arisen. But this our other or second birth will take place when we become aware in us of entirely different effects of love, commensurate with the knowledge of this incorporeal object, and as different from the first as the corporeal is different from the incorporeal, spirit from flesh. This may, therefore, all the more justly and truly be called regeneration, inasmuch as only from this love and union does eternal and unchangeable existence ensue, as we will prove.


True Freedom through Knowledge of Union with God (2.26)

The true understanding can never perish; for in itself it can have no cause to destroy itself. . . . From all that has been said it may now be very easily conceived what is human freedom, which I define to be this. It is, namely, a firm reality which our understanding acquires through direct union with God, so that it can bring forth ideas in itself, and effects outside itself, in complete harmony with its nature; without, however, its effects being subjected to any external causes, so as to be capable of being changed or transformed by them. Thus it is, at the same time, evident from what has been said, what things there are that are in our power, and are not subjected to any external causes. We have likewise also proved here, and that in a different way from before, the eternal and lasting duration of our understanding, and, lastly, which effects it is that we have to value above all others.


THE MATHEMATICAL METHOD OF PROOF (from The Principles of Descartes' Philosophy, 1663, Preface)


The Mathematical Method the Best Way to Discover Truth

It is admitted by all who have any claims to superior intelligence that the method of mathematics, viz., the method by which conclusions are demonstrated from definitions, postulates, and axioms is the best method of obtaining and imparting truth. Rightly so; for as certain knowledge of an unknown object can only be obtained through facts previously known, there must of necessity be certain premises on which the whole superstructure of human knowledge rests, provided it does not fall of its own weight, or succumb to some slight attack from without. No one who has paid any attention to the noble study of mathematics can doubt its definitions or postulates or axioms. For definitions are but a very open explanation of the terms and names under which the subject is discussed, and the postulates and axioms of mathematics, or the general ideas of the mind, cannot be denied by anyone who understands the use of his vocabulary.

             Nevertheless mathematicians are almost the only ones committed to such a method. Others employ a method radically different from this, namely, a method where the end is attained through definitions and logical division interspersed with numerous questions and explanations. For almost all believe, and many well informed persons have asserted that this method is peculiar to mathematics and should be abjured in all other branches of study. Therefore they, in their discussions, are unable to offer absolute proof, but are compelled to reason by analogy and from probable evidence. They produce a whole medley of ponderous volumes in which nothing is established with certainty, but which are full of contending views; what is in one place asserted is presently, and for a similar reason, denied. So much so that the mind eager for eternal truth, when it had hoped to find the tranquil expanse of its own desire, and crossing this with propitious speed to gain the haven of true cognition, finds itself on a tempestuous sea of thought tossed about and overcome, surrounded by storms of contending belief, and lost amid waves of uncertainty, without hope of rescue.

             There are some, however, who, regretting this wretched plight of Philosophy, in order that they may leave to posterity some studies beside mathematics established with absolute certainty, have departed from the ancient method to this new path, difficult though it be. Some of these have put into literary form the philosophy now accepted and accustomed to be taught in the schools; others have set in order new systems elaborated through their own reflection. Although for years the task was undertaken in vain, at length that splendid star of our century Rene Descartes arose, who, after he had made clear the mathematical truth that was inaccessible to the ancients, and everything desired by his contemporaries, also discovered this fundamental principle of all knowledge. By means of this truth he was able to elaborate and establish many things with mathematical certainty. To anyone who attends to his writings, which cannot be too highly praised, this will be as evident as the midday sun.





             1. By that which is self-caused, I mean that of which the essence involves existence, or that of which the nature is only conceivable as existent.

             2. A thing is called finite after its kind, when it can be limited by another thing of the same nature; for instance, a body is called finite because we always conceive another greater body. So, also, a thought is limited by another thought, but a body is not limited by thought, nor a thought by body.

             3. By substance, I mean 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.

             4. By attribute, I mean that which the intellect perceives as constituting the essence of substance.

             5. By mode, I mean the modifications of substance, or that which exists in, and is conceived through, something other than itself.

             6. By God, I mean a being absolutely infinite -- that is, a substance consisting in infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality.

             Explanation. -- I say absolutely infinite, not infinite after its kind: for, of a thing infinite only after its kind, infinite attributes maybe denied; but that which is absolutely infinite, contains in its essence whatever expresses reality, and involves no negation.

             7. That thing is called free, which exists solely by the necessity of its own nature, and of which the action is determined by itself alone. On the other hand, that thing is necessary, or rather constrained, which is determined by something external to itself to a fixed and definite method of existence or action.

             8. By eternity, I mean existence itself, in so far as it is conceived necessarily to follow solely from the definition of that which is eternal.

             Explanation. -- Existence of this kind is conceived as an eternal truth, like the essence of a thing, and, therefore, cannot be explained by means of continuance or time, though continuance may be conceived without a beginning or end.



             1. Everything which exists, exists either in itself or in something else.

             2. That which cannot be conceived through anything else must be conceived through itself.

             3. From a given definite cause and effect necessarily follows; and, on the other hand, if no definite cause be granted, it is impossible that an effect can follow.

             4. The knowledge of an effect depends on and involves the knowledge of a cause.

             5. Things which have nothing in common cannot be understood, the one by means of the other; the conception of one does not involve the conception of the other.

             6. A true idea must correspond with its ideate or object.

             7. If a thing can be conceived as non-existing, its essence does not involve existence.


Propositions 1-13

             1. Substance is by nature prior to its modifications. Proof. This is clear from Definitions 3 and 5.

             2. Two substances, whose attributes are different, have nothing in common. . . .

             3. Things which have nothing in common cannot be one the cause of the other. . . .

             4. Two or more distinct things are distinguished one from the other, either by the difference of the attributes of the substances, or by the difference of their modifications. . . .

             5. There cannot exist in the universe two or more substances having the same nature or attribute. . . .

             Proof. If several distinct substances are granted, they must be distinguished one from the other, either by the difference of their attributes, or by the difference of their modifications (Prop. 4). If only by the difference of their attributes, it will be granted that there cannot be more than one with an identical attribute. If by the difference of their modifications (since substance is naturally prior to its modifications, Prop. 1.), it follows that, setting the modifications aside and considering substance in itself, that is truly, (Deff. 3 and 6), there cannot be conceived one substance different from another,—that is (by Prop. 4), there cannot be granted several substances, but one substance only. Q.E.D.

             6. One substance cannot be produced by another substance. . . .

             7. Existence belongs to the nature of substance. . . .

             8. Every substance is necessarily infinite. . . .

             9. The more reality or being a thing has the greater the number of its attributes. . . .

             10. Each particular attribute of the one substance must be conceived through itself. . . .

             11. God, or substance, consisting of infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality, necessarily exists.

             Proof. -- If this is denied, conceive, if possible, that God does not exist: then his essence does not involve existence. But this (by Prop. 7) is absurd. Therefore God necessarily exists. . . .

             12. No attribute of substance can be conceived from which it would follow that substance can be divided.

             13. Substance absolutely infinite is indivisible. . . .


God is the Only Substance (Ethics, 1.15, 1.11)

             Prop. 14. Besides God no substance can be granted or conceived.

             Proof. As God is a being absolutely infinite, of whom no attribute that expresses the essence of substance can be denied (by Def . 6), and he necessarily exists (by Prop. 11); if any substance besides God were granted, it would have to be explained by some attribute of God, and thus two substances with the same attribute would exist, which (by Prop. 5) is absurd; therefore, besides God no substance can be granted, or, consequently, be conceived. If it could be conceived, it would necessarily have to be conceived as existent; but this (by the first part of this proof) is absurd. Therefore, besides God no substance can be granted or conceived. Q.E.D.

             Corollary 1. Clearly, therefore: 1. God is one, that is (by Def. 6) only one substance can be granted in the universe, and that substance is absolutely infinite, as we have already indicated (in the note to Prop. 10).

             Corollary 2. It follows: 2. That extension and thought are either attributes of God or (by Ax. 1) accidents (affectiones) of the attributes of God.


God's Extension: Infinite and Indivisible, not a Finite and Divisible Body (Ethics, 1.15)

             Prop. 15. Whatsoever is, is in God, and without God nothing can be, or be conceived.

             Proof. – Besides God, no substance is granted or can be conceived (by Prop. 14), that is (by Def . 3) nothing which is in itself and is conceived through itself. But modes (by Def . 5) can neither be, nor be conceived without substance; for this reason they can only be in the divine nature, and can only through it be conceived. But substances and modes form the sum total of existence (by Ax. 1), therefore, without God nothing can be, or be conceived. Q.E.D.


Against Those who Say that God has a Finite, Human-like Body

Note: Some assert that God, like a human, consists of body and mind, and is susceptible of passions. How far such persons have strayed from the truth is sufficiently evident from what has been said. But these I pass over. For all who have in any way reflected on the divine nature deny that God has a [finite] body. Of this they find excellent proof in the fact that we understand by body a definite quantity, so long, so broad, so deep, bounded by a certain shape, and it is the height of absurdity to predicate such a thing of God, a being absolutely infinite.


Against Those who say that God is Not an Extended Substance

But meanwhile by the other reasons with which they try to prove their point, they show that they think corporeal or extended substance is totally apart from the divine nature, and say it was created by God. From which cause the divine nature can have been created, they are completely ignorant; thus they clearly show, that they do not know the meaning of their own words. I myself have proved sufficiently clearly, at any rate in my own judgment (Coroll. Prop. 6, and Note 2, Prop. 8), that no substance can be produced or created by anything other than itself. Further, I showed (in Prop. 14), that besides God no substance can be granted or conceived. Hence we drew the conclusion that extended substance is one of the infinite attributes of God. However, in order to explain more fully, I will refute the arguments of my adversaries, which all start from the following points:

             [Their first argument is that] extended substance, in so far as it is substance, consists, as they think, in parts, for this reason they deny that it can be infinite, or, consequently, that it can pertain to God. This they illustrate with many examples, of which I will take one or two. If extended substance, they say, is infinite, let it be conceived to be divided into two parts; each part will then be either finite or infinite. If the former, then infinite substance is composed of two finite parts, which is absurd. If the latter, then one infinite will be twice as large as another infinite, which is also absurd.

             Further, if an infinite line is measured out in foot lengths, it will consist of an infinite number of such parts. It would equally consist of an infinite number of parts, if each part measured only an inch. Therefore, one infinity would be twelve times as great as the other.

             Lastly, if from a single point there be conceived to be drawn two diverging lines which at first are at a definite distance apart, but are produced to infinity, it is certain that the distance between the two lines will be continually increased, until at length it changes from definite to indefinable. As these absurdities follow, it is said, from considering quantity as infinite, the conclusion is drawn, that extended substance must necessarily be finite, and, consequently, cannot appertain to the nature of God.

             The second argument is also drawn from God's supreme perfection. God, it is said (inasmuch as he is a supremely perfect being) cannot be passive. But extended substance, in so far as it is divisible, is passive. It follows, therefore, that extended substance does not appertain to the essence of God.

             Such are the arguments I find on the subject in writers, who by them try to prove that extended substance is unworthy of the divine nature, and cannot possibly pertain to it. However, I think an attentive reader will see that I have already answered their propositions. For all their arguments are founded on the hypothesis that extended substance is composed of parts, and such a hypothesis I have shown (Prop. 12, and Coroll. Prop. 13) to be absurd. Moreover, anyone who reflects will see that all these absurdities (if absurdities they be, which I am not now discussing) -- from which it is sought to extract the conclusion that extended substance is finite, do not at all follow from the notion of an infinite quantity, but merely from the notion that an infinite quantity is measurable, and composed of finite parts. Therefore, the only fair conclusion to be drawn is that infinite quantity is not measurable, and cannot be composed of finite parts. This is exactly what we have already proved (in Prop. 12). For this reason the weapon which they aimed at us has in reality recoiled upon themselves. If, from this absurdity of theirs, they persist in drawing the conclusion that extended substance must be finite, they will in good truth be acting like a man who asserts that circles have the properties of squares, and, finding himself thereby landed in absurdities, proceeds to deny that circles have any center, from which all lines drawn to the circumference are equal. For, taking extended substance, which can only be conceived as infinite, one, and indivisible (Props. 8, 5, 12) they assert, in order to prove that it is finite, that it is composed of finite parts, and that it can be multiplied and divided. . . .


Determinism in God’s Nature (Ethics, 1.29, 1.32)

Prop. 29. Nothing in the universe is contingent, but all things are conditioned to exist and operate in a particular manner by the necessity of the divine nature.

             Proof. Whatsoever is, is in God (Prop. 15). But God cannot be called a thing contingent. For (by Prop. 11) he exists necessarily, and not contingently. Further, the modes of the divine nature follow therefrom necessarily, and not contingently (Prop. 16); and they thus follow, whether we consider the divine nature absolutely, or whether we consider it as in any way conditioned to act (Prop. 27). Further, God is not only the cause of these modes, in so far as they simply exist (by Prop. 24, Coroll.), but also in so far as they are considered as conditioned for operating in a particular manner (Prop. 26). If they be not conditioned by God (Prop. 26), it is impossible, and not contingent, that they should condition themselves; contrariwise, if they be conditioned by God, it is impossible, and not contingent, that they should render themselves unconditioned. For this reason, all things are conditioned by the necessity of the divine nature, not only to exist, but also to exist and operate in a particular manner, and there is nothing that is contingent. Q.E.D. . . .


Prop. 32. Will cannot be called a free cause, but only a necessary cause.

             Proof. Will is only a particular mode of thinking, like intellect. Therefore (by Prop. 28) no volition can exist, nor be conditioned to act, unless it be conditioned by some cause other than itself, which cause is conditioned by a third cause, and so on to infinity. But if will be supposed infinite, it must also be conditioned to exist and act by God, not by virtue of his being substance absolutely infinite, but by virtue of his possessing an attribute which expresses the infinite and eternal essence of thought (by Prop. 23). Thus, however it be conceived, whether as finite or infinite, will requires a cause by which it should be conditioned to exist and act. Thus (Def. 7) it cannot be called a free cause, but only a necessary or constrained cause. Q.E.D.

             Corollary 1.—Hence it follows, first, that God does not act according to freedom of the will.


Free Necessity, not Free Will (Letter, Spinoza to G.H. Schaller, October 1674)

I say that a thing is free, which exists and acts solely by the necessity of its own nature. Thus also God understands himself and all things freely, because it follows solely from the necessity of his nature, that He should understand all things. You see I do not place freedom in free decision, but in free necessity. However, let us descend to created things, which are all determined by external causes to exist and operate in a given determinate manner. In order that this may be clearly understood, let us conceive a very simple thing. For instance, a stone receives from the impulsion of an external cause, a certain quantity of motion, by virtue of which it continues to move after the impulsion given by the external cause has ceased. The permanence of the stone’s motion is constrained, not necessary, because it must be defined by the impulsion of an external cause. What is true of the stone is true of any individual, however complicated its nature, or varied its functions, inasmuch as every individual thing is necessarily determined by some external cause to exist and operate in a fixed and determinate manner.

             Imagine further, I ask, that a stone, while continuing in motion, should be capable of thinking and knowing, that it is endeavoring, as far as it can, to continue to move. Such a stone, being conscious merely of its own endeavor and not at all indifferent, would believe itself to be completely free, and would think that it continued in motion solely because of its own wish. This is that human freedom, which all boast that they possess, and which consists solely in the fact, that men are conscious of their own desire, but are ignorant of the causes whereby that desire has been determined. Thus an infant believes that it desires milk freely; an angry child thinks he wishes freely for vengeance, a timid child thinks he wishes freely to run away. Again, a drunken man thinks, that from the free decision of his mind he speaks words, which afterwards, when sober, he would like to have left unsaid. So the delirious, the talkative, and others of the same sort think that they act from the free decision of their mind, not that they are carried away by impulse. As this misconception is innate in all men, it is not easily conquered. For, although experience abundantly shows, that men can do anything rather than check their desires, and that very often, when a prey to conflicting emotions, they see the better course and follow the worse, they yet believe themselves to be free; because in some cases their desire for a thing is slight, and can easily be overruled by the recollection of something else, which is frequently present in the mind.





In the foregoing I have explained the nature and properties of God. I have shown that (1) he necessarily exists, (2) that he is one, (3) that he is, and acts solely by the necessity of his own nature, (4) that he is the free cause of all things, and how he is so, (5) that all things are in God, and so depend on him, that without him they could neither exist nor be conceived, and (6) that all things are predetermined by God, not through his free will or absolute fiat, but from the very nature of God or infinite power. I have further, where occasion offered, taken care to remove the prejudices which might impede the comprehension of my demonstrations. Yet there still remain misconceptions, not a few which might and may prove very grave hindrances to the understanding of the ordering of things, as I have explained it above. I have therefore thought it worthwhile to bring these misconceptions before the bar of reason.

             All such opinions spring from the notion commonly entertained, that all things in nature act as men themselves, act, namely, with an end in view. It is accepted as certain, that God himself directs all things to a definite goal (for it is said that God made all things for humans, and humans that he might worship him). I will, therefore, consider this opinion, asking first, why it obtains general credence, and why all men are naturally so prone to adopt it. Secondly, I will point out its falsity. Lastly, I will show how it has given rise to prejudices about good and bad, right and wrong, praise and blame, order and confusion, beauty and ugliness, and the like.


People Think that God acts Purposefully since they wrongly assume that People act Purposefully

However, this is not the place to deduce these misconceptions from the nature of the human mind. It will be sufficient here, if I assume as a starting point, what ought to be universally admitted, namely, that all people are born ignorant of the causes of things, that all have the desire to seek for what is useful to them, and that they are conscious of such desire. From here it follows, first, that people think themselves free inasmuch as they are conscious of their volitions and desires, and never even dream, in their ignorance, of the causes which have disposed them so to wish and desire. Secondly, that people do all things for an end, namely, for that which is useful to them, and which they seek.

             Thus it happens that they only look for a knowledge of the final causes of events, and when these are learned, they are content, as having no cause for further doubt. If they cannot learn such causes from external sources, they are compelled to turn to considering themselves, and reflecting what end would have induced them personally to bring about the given event, and thus they necessarily judge other natures by their own. Further, as they find in themselves and outside themselves many means which assist them not a little in their search for what is useful, for instance, eyes for seeing, teeth for chewing, herbs and animals for yielding food, the sun for giving light, the sea for breeding fish, etc., they come to look on the whole of nature as a means for obtaining such conveniences. Now as they are aware that they found these conveniences and did not make them, they think they have cause for believing, that some other being has made them for their use. As they look upon things as means, they cannot believe them to be self-created. But, judging from the means which they are accustomed to prepare for themselves, they are bound to believe in some ruler or rulers of the universe endowed with human freedom, who have arranged and adapted everything for human use.

             They are bound to estimate the nature of such rulers (having no information on the subject) in accordance with their own nature, and therefore they assert that the gods ordained everything for the use of humans, in order to bind humans to themselves and obtain from him the highest honor. Hence also it follows that everyone thought out for himself, according to his abilities, a different way of worshipping God, so that God might love him more than his fellows, and direct the whole course of nature for the satisfaction of his blind greed and insatiable avarice. Thus the prejudice developed into superstition, and took deep root in the human mind; and for this reason everyone strove most zealously to understand and explain the final causes of things; but in their attempt to show that nature does nothing in vain, nothing which is useless to humans, they only seem to have demonstrated that nature, the gods, and men are all mad together. Consider, I ask you, the result: among the many helps of nature they were bound to find some hindrances, such as storms, earthquakes, diseases, etc., so they declared that such things happen, because the gods are angry at some wrong done them by men, or at some fault committed in their worship. Day by day, experience protested and showed by infinite examples that good and evil fortunes fall to the circumstance of pious and impious alike. Still they would not abandon their inveterate prejudice, for it was more easy for them to class such contradictions among other unknown things of whose use they were ignorant, and thus to retain their actual and innate condition of ignorance, than to destroy the whole fabric of their reasoning and start afresh.

             They therefore laid down as an axiom, that God's judgments far transcend human understanding. Such a doctrine might well have sufficed to conceal the truth from the human race for all eternity, if mathematics had not furnished another standard of truth in considering solely the essence and properties of figures without regard to their final causes. There are other reasons (which I need not mention here) besides mathematics, which might have caused men's minds to be directed to these general prejudices, and have led them to the knowledge of the truth.


God does not Act from a Purpose

I have now sufficiently explained my first point. There is no need to show at length that nature has no particular goal in view, and that final causes are mere human figments. This, I think, is already evident enough, both from the causes and foundations on which I have shown such prejudice to be based, and also from Prop. 16., and the Corollary of Prop. 32, and, in fact, all those propositions in which I have shown, that everything in nature proceeds from a sort of necessity, and with the utmost perfection. However, I will add a few remarks, in order to overthrow this doctrine of a final cause utterly. That which is really a cause it considers as an effect, and vice versa: it makes that which is by nature first to be last, and that which is highest and most perfect to be most imperfect. Passing over the questions of cause and priority as self-evident, it is plain from Props. 21, 22, and 23 that that effect is most perfect which is produced immediately by God. The effect which requires for its production several intermediate causes is, in that respect, more imperfect. But if [to the contrary] those things which were made immediately by God were made to enable him to attain his end, then the things which come after, for the sake of which the first were made, are necessarily the most excellent of all.

             Further, this doctrine does away with the perfection of God: for, if God acts for an object, he necessarily desires something which he lacks. Certainly, theologians and metaphysicians draw a distinction between the object of want and the object of assimilation. Still they confess that God made all things for the sake of himself, not for the sake of creation. They are unable to point to anything prior to creation, except God himself, as an object for which God should act, and are therefore driven to admit (as they clearly must), that God lacked those things for whose attainment he created means, and further that he desired them.

             We must not omit to notice that the followers of this doctrine, anxious to display their talent in assigning final causes, have imported a new method of argument in proof of their theory – namely, a reduction, not to the impossible, but to ignorance; thus showing that they have no other method of exhibiting their doctrine. For example, if a stone falls from a roof onto someone's head, and kills him, they will demonstrate by their new method, that the stone fell in order to kill the man. For, if it had not by God's will fallen with that object, how could so many circumstances (and there are often many concurrent circumstances) have all happened together by chance? Perhaps you will answer that the event is clue to the facts that the wind was blowing, and the man was walking that way. "But why," they will insist, "was the wind blowing, and why was the man at that very time walking that way?" If you again answer, that the wind had then sprung up because the sea had begun to be agitated the day before, the weather being previously calm, and that the man had been invited by a friend, they will again insist: "But why was the sea agitated, and man invited at that time?" So they will pursue their questions from cause to cause, till at last you take refuge in the will of God – in other words, the sanctuary of ignorance. So, again, when they survey the frame of the human body, they are amazed; and being ignorant of the causes of so great a work of art, conclude that it has been fashioned, not mechanically, but by divine and supernatural skill, and has been so put together that one part will not hurt another.

             Hence anyone who seeks for the true causes of miracles, and strives to understand natural phenomena as an intelligent being, and not to gaze at them like a fool, is set down and denounced as an impious heretic by those, whom the masses adore as the interpreters of nature and the gods. Such persons know that, with the removal of ignorance, the wonder which forms their only available means for proving and preserving their authority would vanish also. But I now quit this subject, and pass on to my third point.


Belief in God's Willful Guidance of Nature Distorts Value Judgments

After people persuaded themselves that everything which is created is created for their sake, they were bound to consider as the chief quality in everything that which is most useful to themselves, and to account those things the best of all which have the most beneficial effect on humankind. Further, they were bound to form abstract notions for the explanation of the nature of things, such as goodness, badness, order, confusion, warmth, cold, beauty, deformity, and so on. From the belief that they are free agents arose the further notions praise and blame, sin and merit.

             I will speak of these latter hereafter, when I treat of human nature; the former I will briefly explain here.

             Everything which conduces to health and the worship of God they have called good, everything which prevents these objects they have styled bad. Those who do not understand the nature of things do not verify phenomena in any way, but merely imagine them after a fashion, and mistake their imagination for understanding. Such persons firmly believe that there is an order in things, being really ignorant both of things and their own nature.

             When phenomena are of such a kind that the impression they make on our senses requires little effort of imagination, and can consequently be easily remembered, we say that they are well-ordered. If the contrary, we say that they, are ill-ordered or confused. Further, as things which are easily imagined are more pleasing to us, people prefer order to confusion – as though there were any order in nature, except in relation to our imagination – and say that God has created all things in order. Thus, without knowing it, attributing imagination to God, unless, indeed, they would have it that God foresaw human imagination, and arranged everything, so that it should be most easily imagined. If this is their theory, they would not, perhaps, be daunted by the fact that we find an infinite number of phenomena, far surpassing our imagination, and very many others which confound its weakness. But enough has been said on this subject.

             The other abstract notions are nothing but modes of imagining, in which the imagination is differently affected, though they are considered by the ignorant as the chief attributes of things, inasmuch as they believe that everything was created for the sake of themselves. According as they are affected by it, they style it good or bad, healthy or rotten and corrupt. For instance, if the motion which objects we see communicate to our nerves be conducive to health, the objects causing it are styled beautiful; if a contrary motion be excited, they are style ugly.

             Things which are perceived through our sense of smell are styled fragrant or stinking; if through our taste, sweet or bitter, full-flavored or insipid; if through our touch, bard or smooth etc. Whatever affects our ears is said to give rise to noise, sound, or harmony. In this last case, there are people crazy enough to believe that even God himself takes pleasure in harmony. There are plenty of philosophers who have persuaded themselves that the motion of the heavenly bodies gives rise to harmony – all of which instances sufficiently show that everyone judges of things according to the state of his brain, or rather mistakes for things the forms of his imagination. We need no longer wonder that there have arisen all the controversies we have witnessed, and finally skepticism: for, although human bodies in many respects agree, yet in very many others they differ; so that what seems good to one seems bad to another; what seems well ordered to one seems confused to another; what is pleasing to one displeases another, and so on. I need not further enumerate, because this is not the place to treat the subject at length, and also because the fact is sufficiently well known. It is commonly said: "So many men, so many minds; everyone is wise in his own way; brains differ as completely as palates." All of which proverbs show, that men judge of things according to their mental disposition, and rather imagine than understand: for, if they understood phenomena, they would, as mathematics attest, be convinced, if not attracted, by what I have urged.

             We have now perceived, that all the explanations commonly given of nature are mere modes of imagining, and do not indicate the true nature of anything, but only the constitution of the imagination. Although they have names, as though they were entities, existing externally to the imagination, I call them entities imaginary rather than real; and, therefore, all arguments against us drawn from such abstractions are easily rebutted.

             Many argue in this way. If all things follow from a necessity of the absolutely perfect nature of God, why are there so many imperfections in nature, such as, for instance, things corrupt to the point of putridity, loathsome deformity, confusion, evil, sin, etc. But these reasoners are, as I have said, easily confuted, for the perfection of things is to be reckoned only from their own nature and power. Things are not more or less perfect, according as they delight or offend human senses, or according as they are serviceable or repugnant to humankind. To those who ask why God did not so create all people so that they should be governed only by reason, I give no answer but this: because matter was not lacking to him for the creation of every degree of perfection from highest to lowest; or, more strictly, because the laws of his nature are so vast, as to suffice for the production of everything conceivable by an infinite intelligence, as I have shown in Prop. 16.

             Such are the misconceptions I have undertaken to note; if there are any more of the same sort, everyone may easily dissipate them for himself with the aid of a little reflection.




Mind-body Parallelism: The Order of Events are the Same in Both Realms (Ethics 2.7, 3.2)

The order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things. . . . Hence God’s power of thinking is equal to his realized power of action--that is, whatsoever follows from the infinite nature of God in the world of extension, follows without exception in the same order and connection from the idea of God in the world of thought.

             Before going any further, I wish to recall to mind what has been pointed out above--namely, that whatsoever can be perceived by the infinite intellect as constituting the essence of substance, belongs altogether only to one substance: consequently, substance thinking and substance extended are one and the same substance, comprehended now through one attribute, now through the other. So also, a mode of extension and the idea of that mode are one and the same thing, though expressed in two ways. This truth seems to have been dimly recognized by those Jews who maintained that God, God’s intellect, and the things understood by God are identical.

             For example, a circle existing in nature and the idea of the existing circle, which is also in God, are one and the same thing, which is explained through different attributes. Therefore, whether we conceive nature under the attribute of Extension, or under the attribute of Thought, or under any other attribute, we will find one and the same order, or one and the same connection of causes, i.e., that the same things follow each other. . . .

             Mind and body are one and the same thing, conceived first under the attribute of thought, secondly, under the attribute of extension. Thus it follows that the order or concatenation of things is identical, whether nature be conceived under the one attribute or the other; consequently the order of states of activity and passivity in our body is simultaneous in nature with the order of states of activity and passivity in the mind.


The Human Mind is a Composite of Ideas about the Composite of Parts of the Human Body (Ethics 2.13)

The object of the idea constituting the human mind is the body, in other words a certain mode of extension which actually exists, and nothing else. . . .

             We thus understand, not only that the human mind is united to the body, but also the nature of the union between mind and body. However, no one will be able to grasp this adequately or distinctly, unless he first has adequate knowledge of the nature of our body. The propositions we have previously advanced have been entirely general, applying not more to men than to other individual things, all of which, though in different degrees, are animated. For of everything there is necessarily an idea in God, of which God is the cause, in the same way as there is an idea of the human body. Thus whatever we have asserted of the idea of the human body must necessarily also be asserted of the idea of everything else. Still, on the other hand, we cannot deny that ideas, like objects, differ one from the other, one being more excellent than another and containing more reality, just as the object of one idea is more excellent than the object of another idea, and contains more reality.

             Thus, to determine wherein the human mind differs from other things, and wherein it surpasses them, it is necessary for us to know the nature of its object, that is, of the human body. What this nature is, I am not able here to explain, nor is it necessary for the proof of what I advance, that I should do so. I will only say generally, that in proportion as any given body is more suited than others for doing many actions or receiving many impressions at once, so also is the mind, of which it is the object, more suited than others for forming many simultaneous perceptions; and the more the actions of one body depend on itself alone, and the fewer other bodies concur with it in action, the more suited is the mind of which it is the object for distinct comprehension. We may thus recognize the superiority of one mind over others, and may further see the cause, why we have only a very confused knowledge of our body, and also many related questions, which I will, in the following propositions, deduce from what has been advanced.


The Mechanical Causes of Human Emotions (Ethics Part 3, Introduction)

Most writers on the emotions and on human conduct seem to be treating of matters outside nature rather than of natural phenomena following nature’s general laws. They appear to conceive man to be situated in nature as a kingdom within a kingdom. For, they believe that he disturbs rather than follows nature’s order, that he has absolute control over his actions, and that he is determined solely by himself. They attribute human infirmities and indecisiveness, not to the power of nature in general, but instead to some mysterious flaw in the nature of man, which accordingly they bemoan, deride, despise, or, as usually happens, abuse. He, who succeeds in hitting of the weakness of the human mind more eloquently or more acutely than his fellows, is looked upon as a seer. Still there has been no lack of very excellent men (to whose toil and industry I confess myself much indebted), who have written many noteworthy things concerning the right way of life, and have given much wise advice to mankind. But no one, so far as I know, has defined the nature and strength of the emotions, and the power of the mind against them for their restraint.

             I do not forget, that the illustrious Descartes, though he believed that the mind has absolute power over its actions, strove to explain human emotions by their primary causes, and, at the same time, to point out a way, by which the mind might attain to absolute dominion over them. However, in my opinion, he accomplishes nothing beyond a display of the acuteness of his own great intellect, as I will show in the proper place. For the present I wish to revert to those, who would rather abuse or deride human emotions than understand them. Such persons will, doubtless think it strange that I should attempt to treat of human vice and folly geometrically, and should wish to set forth with rigid reasoning those matters which they cry out against as repugnant to reason, frivolous, absurd, and dreadful. However, such is my plan. Nothing happens in nature, which can be attributed to a flaw within it; for nature is always the same, and everywhere one and the same in her efficacy and power of action. That is, nature’s laws and ordinances, whereby all things happen and change from one form to another, are everywhere and always the same. Thus, there should be one and the same method of understanding the nature of all things whatsoever, namely, through nature’s universal laws and rules. Thus the passions of hatred, anger, envy, and so on, considered in themselves, follow from this same necessity and efficacy of nature. They answer to certain definite causes, through which they are understood, and possess certain properties as worthy of being known as the properties of anything else, the contemplation of which in itself affords us delight. I will, therefore, examine the nature and strength of the emotions according to the same method, as I previously employed in my investigations concerning God and the mind. I will consider human actions and desires in exactly the same manner, as though I were concerned with lines, planes, and solids.


Bodily Movements not Caused by the Mind (Ethics 3.2)

I can scarcely believe, until the fact is proved by experience, that men can be induced to consider the question calmly and fairly, so firmly are they convinced that it is merely at the command of the mind, that the body is set in motion or at rest, or performs a variety of actions depending solely on the mind’s will or the exercise of thought. However, no one has yet laid down the limits to the powers of the body, that is, no one has as yet been taught by experience what the body can accomplish solely by the laws of nature, in so far as she is regarded as extension. No one yet has gained such an accurate knowledge of the bodily mechanism, that he can explain all its functions; nor need I call attention to the fact that many actions are observed in the lower animals, which far transcend human wisdom, and that sleepwalkers do many things in their sleep, which they would not attempt to do when awake: these instances are enough to show, that the body can by the sole laws of its nature do many things which the mind wonders at.


Everything Strives to Persist, Human Desire is Consciousness of Human Striving (Ethics, 3.6, 3.9)

Prop. 6. Everything, in so far as it is in itself, strives to persist in its own being.

             Proof. Individual things are modes whereby the attributes of God are expressed in a given determinate manner (1.15); that is (1.24), they are things which express in a given determinate manner the power of God, whereby God is and acts. Now nothing contains in itself anything whereby it can be destroyed, or which can take away its existence (3.4); but contrariwise it is opposed to all that could take away its existence (3.5). Therefore, in so far as it can, and in so far as it is in itself, it strives to persist in its own being. Q.E.D. . . .

             Prop. 9. The mind, both in so far as it has clear and distinct ideas, and also in so far as it has confused ideas, strives to persist in its being for an indefinite period, and of this striving it is conscious.

             Proof. The essence of the mind is constituted by adequate and inadequate ideas (3.3), therefore (3.4), both in so far as it possesses the former, and in so far as it possesses the latter, it strives to persist in its own being, and that for an indefinite time (3.8). Now as the mind (2.23) is necessarily conscious of itself through the ideas of the modifications of the body, the mind is therefore (3.7) conscious of its own striving.

             Note. This striving, when referred solely to the mind, is called will, when referred to the mind and body in conjunction it is called appetite. It is, in fact, nothing other than man’s essence, from the nature of which necessarily follow all those results which tend to its preservation; and which man has thus been determined to perform.

             Further, between appetite and desire there is no difference, except that the term desire is generally applied to men, in so far as they are conscious of their appetite, and may accordingly be thus defined. Desire is appetite with consciousness of it. It is thus plain from what has been said, that in no case do we strive for, wish for, long for, or desire anything, because we deem it to be good, but on the other hand we deem a thing to be good, because we strive for it, wish for it, long for it, or desire it.




Summary: Passions Dominate us and are Resistant to Religion or Reason (Political Treatise, composed 1675, Chapter 1)

This is certain, and we have proved its truth in our Ethics, that men are of necessity liable to passions, and so constituted as to pity those who are ill, to envy those who are well off, and to be prone to vengeance more than to mercy. Moreover, every individual wishes the rest to live after his own mind, and to approve what he approves, and reject what he rejects. So it happens that, as all are equally eager to be first, they fall to strife, and do their utmost mutually to oppress each other; he who comes out conqueror is more proud of the harm he has done to the other, than of the good he has done to himself. Although all are persuaded that religion, on the contrary, teaches every man to love his neighbor as himself, that is to defend another’s right just as much as his own, yet we showed that this persuasion has too little power over the passions. Religion benefits, indeed, in the hour of death, when disease has subdued the very passions, and man lies inert, or in temples, where men hold no traffic, but least of all, where it is most needed, in the lawcourt or the palace. We showed too, that reason can, indeed, do much to restrain and moderate the passions, but we saw at the same time, that the road, which reason herself points out, is very steep; so that such as persuade themselves, that the multitude or men distracted by politics can ever be induced to live according to the bare dictate of reason, must be dreaming of the poetic golden age, or of a stage-play.


Limits of Human Reason over Emotions (Ethics 4, Preface, 4.17, Appendix)

I term "bondage" the human weakness in controlling and curbing the emotions: for, when a man is a prey to his emotions, he is not his own master, but lies at the mercy of fortune: so much so, that he is often compelled, while seeing that which is better for him, to follow that which is worse. . . .

             I think I have now shown the reason, why men are moved by opinion more readily than by true reason, why it is that the true knowledge of good and evil stirs up conflicts in the soul, and often yields to every kind of passion. This state of things gave rise to the exclamation of [Ovid] the poet: “The better path I gaze at and approve, the worse I follow.” Ecclesiastes seems to have had the same thought in his mind, when he says, “He who increases knowledge increases sorrow.”

             I have not written the above with the object of drawing the conclusion that ignorance is more excellent than knowledge, or that a wise man is on a par with a fool in controlling his emotions. However, I wrote so because it is necessary to know the power and the infirmity of our nature, before we can determine what reason can do in restraining the emotions, and what is beyond her power. . .

             Thus in life it is more than anything else useful to perfect the understanding, or reason, as far as we can, and in this alone a person's highest happiness or blessedness consists. Indeed blessedness is nothing else but the contentment of spirit, which arises from the intuitive knowledge of God. Now, to perfect the understanding is nothing else but to understand God, God’s attributes, and the actions which follow from the necessity of his nature. Consequently, for the man who is led by reason, the ultimate aim (that is, the highest desire whereby he seeks to govern all his fellows) is that by which he is brought to the adequate conception of himself and of all things within the scope of his intelligence.


Reducing the Passions through Knowledge of Necessity, Association with Moral Rules (Ethics 5, preface, 5.6)

At length I pass to the remaining portion of my Ethics, which is concerned with the way leading to freedom. I will therefore examine here of the power of reason, showing how far reason can control the emotions, and what is the nature of mental freedom or blessedness. We will then be able to see, how much more powerful the wise man is than the ignorant. It is no part of my design to point out the method and means whereby the understanding may be perfected, nor to show the skill whereby the body may be so tended, as to be capable of the due performance of its functions. The latter question lies in the province of medicine, the former in the province of logic. Here, therefore, I repeat, I will treat only of the power of the mind, or of reason; and I will mainly show the extent and nature of its dominion over the emotions, for their control and moderation. That we do not possess absolute dominion over them, I have already shown. Yet the Stoics have thought, that the emotions depended absolutely on our will, and that we could absolutely govern them. But these philosophers were compelled, by the protest of experience, not from their own principles, to confess, that no slight practice and zeal is needed to control and moderate them. Someone tried to illustrate this by the example (if I remember rightly) of two dogs, the one a house-dog and the other a hunting-dog. For by long training it could be brought about, that the house-dog should become accustomed to hunt, and the hunting-dog to cease from running after hares. . . .

             Prop. 6. The mind has greater power over the emotions and is less subject to it, in so far as it understands all things as necessary. . . .

             Note. The more this knowledge, that things are necessary, is applied to particular things, which we conceive more distinctly and vividly, the greater is the power of the mind over the emotions, as experience also testifies. For we see, that the pain arising from the loss of any good is lessened, as soon as the man who has lost it perceives that it could not by any means have been preserved. So also we see that no one pities an infant, because it cannot speak, walk, or reason, or lastly, because it passes so many years, as it were, in unconsciousness. Whereas, if most people were born full-grown and only one here and there as an infant, everyone would pity the infants; because infancy would not then be looked on as a state natural and necessary, but as a fault or delinquency in nature; and we may note several other instances of the same sort. . . .


Reducing the Passions by Associating Misfortune with Moral Rules (Ethics 5, 5.10)

Prop. 10. So long as we are not assaulted by emotions contrary to our nature, we have the power of arranging and associating the modifications of our body according to the intellectual order. . . .

             Note. By this power of rightly arranging and associating the bodily modifications we can guard ourselves from being easily affected by evil emotions. For (5.7) a greater force is needed for controlling the emotions, when they are arranged and associated according to the intellectual order, than when they are uncertain and unsettled. The best we can do, therefore, so long as we do not possess a perfect knowledge of our emotions, is to frame a system of right conduct, or fixed practical precepts, to commit it to memory, and to apply it immediately to the particular circumstances which now and again meet us in life, so that our imagination may become fully imbued therewith, and that it may be always readily available. For instance, we have laid down among the rules of life (4.46 and note) that hatred should be overcome with love or chivalry, and not retaliated with hatred in return. Now, that this precept of reason may be always available in time of need, we should often think over and reflect upon the wrongs generally committed by people, and in what manner and way they may be best warded off by high-mindedness. We will thus associate the idea of wrong with the idea of this precept, which accordingly will always be ready for use when a wrong is done to us (2.18).

             If we also keep in readiness the notion of our true advantage, and of the good which follows from mutual friendships, and common fellowships; further, if we remember that complete acceptance is the result of the right way of life (4.52), and that men, no less than everything else, act by the necessity of their nature: in such case I say the wrong, or the hatred, which commonly arises therefrom, will engross a very small part of our imagination and will be easily overcome. . . . Those who have been ill received by a woman they love think of nothing except the inconstancy, deceit, and other stock faults of the fair sex. But they consign all of these to oblivion immediately when they are again taken into favor by their sweetheart. . . .


Summary of Remedies to Reduce Passions (5.20)

I have now gone through all the remedies against the emotions, or all that the mind, considered in itself alone, can do against them. From this it appears that the mind’s power over the emotions consists:

             1. In the actual knowledge of the emotions (5.4 note).

             2. In the fact that it separates the emotions from the thought of an external cause, which we conceive confusedly (5.2 and 4. note).

             3. In the fact, that, in respect to time, the emotions referred to things, which we distinctly understand, surpass those referred to what we conceive in a confused and fragmentary manner (5.7).

             4. In the number of causes whereby those modifications are fostered, which have regard to the common properties of things or to God (5.9, 11).

             5. Lastly, in the order wherein the mind can arrange and associate, one with another, its own emotions (5.10. note and 12, 13, 14).


Our Understanding is Eternal (Ethics 5.23)

Prop. 23. The human mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the body, but there remains of it something which is eternal.

             Note. This idea, which expresses the essence of the body under the form of eternity, is, as we have said, a certain mode of thinking, which belongs to the essence of the mind, and is necessarily eternal. Yet it is not possible that we should remember that we existed before our body, for our body can bear no trace of such existence, neither can eternity be defined in terms of time, or have any relation to time. Nevertheless, we feel and know that we are eternal. For the mind feels those things that it conceives by understanding, no less than those things that it remembers. For the eyes of the mind, whereby it sees and observes things, are none other than proofs. Thus, although we do not remember that we existed before the body, yet we feel that our mind, in so far as it involves the essence of the body, under the form of eternity, is eternal, and that thus its existence cannot be defined in terms of time, or explained through duration. Thus our mind can only be said to endure, and its existence can only be defined by a fixed time, in so far as it involves the actual existence of the body. Thus far only has it the power of determining the existence of things by time, and conceiving them under the category of duration. . . .


Mental Freedom over Emotions is a Difficult Task (Ethics 5.42)

I have thus completed all I wished to set forth touching the mind’s power over the emotions and the mind’s freedom. From this it appears how powerful the wise person is, and how much he surpasses the ignorant person who is driven only by his lusts. For the ignorant man is not only distracted in various ways by external causes without ever gaining the true submission of his spirit, but moreover lives, as it were, unaware of himself or of God, or of things. As soon as he ceases to suffer, he also ceases to be.

             But the wise man, in so far as he is regarded as such, is scarcely at all disturbed in spirit. But, being conscious of himself, and of God, and of things, by a certain eternal necessity, never ceases to be, but always possesses true submission of his spirit.

             If the way which I have pointed out as leading to this result seems exceedingly hard, it may nevertheless be discovered. It must be hard since it is so seldom found. If salvation were ready at hand and could without great labor be found, how could it be possible that it should be neglected by almost all men? But all excellent things are as difficult as they are rare.


AGAINST MIRACLES (Theological-Political Treatise, 1670, Sect. 6)


Popular Conceptions of Miracles

As men are accustomed to call divine the knowledge which transcends human understanding, so also do they call divine, or the work of God, anything of which the cause is not generally known. For the masses think that the power and providence of God are most clearly displayed by events that are extraordinary and contrary to the conception they have formed of nature, especially if such events bring them any profit or convenience. They think that the clearest possible proof of God’s existence is afforded when nature, as they suppose, breaks her accustomed order, and consequently they believe that those who explain or try to understand phenomena or miracles through their natural causes are doing away with God and his providence. They suppose, indeed, that God is inactive so long as nature works in her accustomed order, and vice versa, that the power of nature and natural causes are idle so long as God is acting. Thus they imagine two powers distinct one from the other, the power of God and the power of nature, though the latter is in a sense determined by God, or (as most people believe now) created by Him. What they mean by either, and what they understand by God and nature they do not know, except that they imagine the power of God to be like that of some royal potentate, and nature’s power to consist in force and energy. . . .


Everything in Nature follows Universal Laws

Nothing, then, occurs in nature in violation of her universal laws; indeed, everything agrees with them and follows from them, for whatever comes to pass, comes to pass by the will and eternal decree of God. That is, as we have just pointed out, whatever comes to pass, comes to pass according to laws and rules which involve eternal necessity and truth. Nature, therefore, always observes laws and rules which involve eternal necessity and truth, although they may not all be known to us, and therefore she keeps a fixed and immutable order. . . . We can again conclude that a miracle, whether in violation of, or beyond, nature, is a mere absurdity. Therefore, that what is meant in Scripture by a miracle can only be a work of nature, which surpasses, or is believed to surpass, human comprehension. . . .


Miracles in Scripture happened by Nature, but are Expressed Dramatically to Inspire Devotion

Thus it is plain that all the events narrated in Scripture came to pass naturally, and are referred directly to God because Scripture, as we have shown, does not aim at explaining things by their natural causes, but only at narrating what appeals to the popular imagination, and doing so in the manner best calculated to excite wonder, and consequently to impress the minds of the masses with devotion. If, therefore, events are found in the Bible which we cannot refer to their causes, indeed, which seem entirely to contradict the order of nature, we must not hesitate but assuredly believe that whatever did really happen happened naturally. This view is confirmed by the fact that in the case of every miracle there were many attendant circumstances, though these were not always related, especially where the narrative was of a poetic character. . .

             But perhaps someone will insist that we find many things in Scripture which seem in no way explicable by natural causes, as for instance, that the sins of men and their prayers can be the cause of rain and of the earth’s fertility, or that faith can heal the blind, and so on. But I think I have already sufficiently answered this: I have shown that Scripture does not explain things by their secondary causes, but only narrates them in the order and the style which has most power to move people, and especially uneducated people, to devotion. Therefore scripture speaks inaccurately of God and of events, seeing that its object is not to convince the reason, but to attract and lay hold of the imagination. If the Bible were to describe the destruction of an empire in the style of political historians, the masses would remain unstirred, whereas the contrary is the case when it adopts the method of poetic description, and refers all things immediately to God. When, therefore, the Bible says that the earth is barren because of men’s sins, or that the blind were healed by faith, we ought to take no more notice than when it says that God is angry at men’s sins, that he is sad, that he repents of the good he has promised and done; or that on seeing a sign he remembers something he had promised, and other similar expressions, which are either thrown out poetically or related according to the opinion and prejudices of the writer.

             We may, then, be absolutely certain that every event which is truly described in Scripture necessarily happened, like everything else, according to natural laws. If anything is there set down which can be proved in set terms to contravene the order of nature, or not to be deducible therefrom, we must believe it to have been foisted into the sacred writings by irreligious hands; for whatsoever is contrary to nature is also contrary to reason, and whatsoever is contrary to reason is absurd, and, ipso facto, to be rejected.


FREE SPEECH (Theological-Political Treatise, 1670, Sect. 20)


Impossibility of Controlling People's Minds

If men's minds were as easily controlled as their tongues, every king would sit safely on his throne, and government by compulsion would cease. For every subject would shape his life according to the intentions of his rulers, and would consider a thing true or false, good or evil, just or unjust, in obedience to their dictates. However, we have shown already (Chapter 17) that no man's mind can possibly lie wholly at the disposition of another, for no one can willingly transfer his natural right of free reason and judgment, or be compelled to do so. For this reason, a government which attempts to control minds is deemed tyrannical. It is considered an abuse of sovereignty, and a usurpation of the rights of subjects, to seek to prescribe what will be accepted as true, or rejected as false, or what opinions should motivate men in their worship of God. All these questions fall within a man's natural right, which he cannot renounce even with his own consent.

             I admit that human judgment can be biased in many ways, and to an almost incredible degree. Thus, while exempt from direct external control, it may be so dependent on another man's words, that it may justly be said to be ruled by him. But although this influence is carried to great lengths, it has never gone so far as to invalidate the statement that every man's understanding is his own, and that brains are as diverse as palates. . . .


Governments should restrict Speech only for Sound reasons

I grant that it [i.e., the sovereign power] has the right to rule in the most violent manner, and to put citizens to death for very trivial causes, but no one supposes it can do this with the approval of sound judgment. Nay, inasmuch as such things cannot be done without extreme peril to itself, we may even deny that it has the absolute power to do them, or, consequently, the absolute right; for the rights of the sovereign are limited by his power.

             Thus, no one can abdicate his freedom of judgment and feeling, and every man is by indefeasible [i.e., non-overturnable] natural right the master of his own thoughts. It follows from this that men, thinking in different and contradictory ways, cannot without disastrous results be compelled to speak only according to the dictates of the supreme power. Not even the most experienced, to say nothing of the multitude, know how to keep silent. Men's common failing is to confide their plans to others, even when there is need for secrecy. Thus a government would be most harsh which deprived the individual of his freedom of saying and teaching what he thought. It would be moderate if such freedom were granted. Still, we cannot deny that authority may be injured just as much by words as by actions. Hence, although the freedom we are discussing cannot be entirely denied to subjects, its unlimited concession would be most destructive. We must, therefore, now inquire, how far such freedom can and ought to be conceded without danger to the peace of the state, or the power of the rulers, and this, as I said at the beginning of Chapter 16, is my principal object.

             From the explanation given above regarding the foundations of a state, it plainly follows that the ultimate aim of government is not to rule or restrain by fear, nor to demand obedience, but, on the contrary, to free every man from fear, so that he may live in all possible security. In other words, it is to strengthen his natural right to exist and work, without injury to himself or others.

             No, the object of government is not to change men from rational beings into beasts or puppets, but to enable them to develop their minds and bodies in security, and to employ their reason unshackled; neither showing hatred, anger, or deceit, nor watched with the eyes of jealousy and injustice. In fact, the true aim of government is liberty.


Reasonable Governmental restraints on Seditious Speech

Now, we have seen that in forming a state the power of making laws must either be vested in the body of the citizens, or in a portion of them, or in one man. Men’s free judgments are very diverse, each one thinking that he alone knows everything, and complete unanimity of feeling and speech is out of the question; for these reasons it is impossible to preserve peace, unless individuals give up their right of acting entirely on their own judgment.

             Therefore, the individual justly relinquishes the right of free action, though not of free reason and judgment; no one can act against the authorities without danger to the state, though his feelings and judgment may be in conflict with them. He may even speak against them, provided that he does so from rational conviction, not from fraud, anger, or hatred, and provided that he does not attempt to introduce any change on his private authority.

             Suppose, for example, that a man shows that a law is opposed to sound reason, and should therefore be repealed. Suppose that he submits his opinion to the judgment of the authorities (who, alone, have the right of making and repealing laws), and all the while does not act contrary to that law. He has thus served the state with merit, and has behaved as a good citizen should. But if he accuses the authorities of injustice, and stirs up the people against them, or if he seditiously tries to abolish the law without their consent, he is a mere agitator and rebel.

             Thus we see how an individual may declare and teach what he believes, without injury to the authority of his rulers, or to the public peace. Namely, he does so by leaving in their hands the entire power of legislation as it affects action, and by doing nothing against their laws, even though he is often compelled to act in contradiction to what he believes, and openly feels, to be best.

             Such a course can be taken without detriment to justice and duty. In fact it is the course which a just and dutiful man would adopt. We have shown that justice depends on the laws of the authorities, so that no one can be just who violates their accepted decrees. Rather, as we have pointed out in the preceding chapter, the highest regard for duty is exercised in maintaining public peace and tranquility, and these could not be preserved if every man were to live as he pleased. Therefore it is simply undutiful for a man to act contrary to his country's laws; for, if the practice became universal the ruin of states would necessarily follow. . . .


Freedom of Philosophical Speculation, Even with Controversial Ideas

However, I do not deny that there are some doctrines which, while they are apparently only concerned with abstract truths and falsehoods, are yet put forward and published with unworthy motives. This question we have discussed in Chapter 15, and shown that reason should nevertheless remain unshackled. We should hold to the principle that a man's loyalty to the state should be judged from his actions only, like his loyalty to God, namely, from his charity towards his neighbors. If we do this, we cannot doubt that the best government will allow freedom of philosophical speculation, no less than of religious belief. I confess that from such freedom inconveniences may sometimes arise. But what question was ever settled so wisely that no abuses could possibly arise from them? He who seeks to regulate everything by law is more likely to arouse vices than to reform them. It is best to grant what cannot be abolished, even though it is in itself harmful. Consider how many evils result from luxury, envy, avarice, drunkenness, and the like; yet, even though they are vices, they are tolerated because they cannot be prevented by legal enactments. How much more then should free thought be granted, considering that it is in itself a virtue and that it cannot be crushed! Besides, the evil results can easily be checked, as I will show, by the secular authorities, not to mention that such freedom is absolutely necessary for progress in science and the liberal arts. For no man follows such pursuits to advantage unless his judgment is entirely free and unhampered.

             But let us grant that freedom may be crushed, and men be so bound down, that they do not dare to utter a whisper, except at the bidding of their rulers. Nevertheless this can never be carried to the degree of making them think according to authority. For, the necessary consequences would be that men would daily be thinking one thing and saying another, to the corruption of honesty, that mainstay of government, and to the fostering of hateful flattery and disloyalty, from which arise stratagems, and the corruption of every good art. . . .

             How much better would it be to restrain popular anger and rage, instead of passing useless laws, which can only be broken by those who love virtue and the liberal arts, thus paring down the state till it is too small to protect men of talent. What greater misfortune for a state can be conceived than that honorable men should be sent like criminals into exile, because they hold diverse opinions which they cannot disguise? What, I say, can be more hurtful than that men who have committed no crime or wickedness should, simply because they are enlightened, be treated as enemies and put to death, and that the scaffold, the terror of evil-doers, should become the arena where the highest examples of tolerance and virtue are displayed to the people with all the marks of disgrace that authority can devise?

             He that knows himself to be upright does not fear the death of a criminal, and shrinks from no punishment. His mind is not wrung with remorse for any disgraceful deed: he holds that death in a good cause is no punishment, but an honor, and that death for freedom is glory.

             What purpose then is served by the death of such men, what example is proclaimed? The cause for which they die is unknown to the idle and the foolish, hateful to the turbulent, loved by the upright. The only lesson we can draw from such scenes is to flatter the persecutor, or else to imitate the victim. . . .


Amsterdam as an Example of Free Speech

In order to prove that from such freedom no inconvenience arises, which cannot easily be checked by the exercise of the sovereign power, and that men's actions can easily be kept in bounds, though their opinions be at open variance, it will be well to cite an example. Such a one is not very, far to seek. The city of Amsterdam reaps the fruit of this freedom in its own great prosperity and in the admiration of all other people. For in this most flourishing state, and most splendid city, men of every nation and religion live together in the greatest harmony, and ask no questions before trusting their goods to a fellow-citizen, save whether he be rich or poor, and whether he generally acts honestly, or the reverse. His religion and sect is considered of no importance: for it has no effect before the judges in gaining or losing a cause, and there is no sect so despised that its followers, provided that they harm no one, pay every man his due, and live uprightly, are deprived of the protection of the magisterial authority. . . .



I have thus shown the following:

             1. That it is impossible to deprive men of the liberty of saying what they think.

             2. That such liberty can be conceded to every man without injuring the rights and authority of the sovereign power, and that every man may retain it without injury to such rights, provided that he does not presume upon it to the extent of introducing any new rights into the state, or acting in any way contrary, to the existing laws.

             3. That every man may enjoy this liberty without detriment to the public peace, and that no inconveniences arise therefrom which cannot easily be checked.

             4. That every man may enjoy it without injury to his allegiance.

             5. That laws dealing with speculative problems are entirely useless.

             6. Lastly, that not only may such liberty be granted without prejudice to the public peace, to loyalty, and to the rights of rulers, but that it is even necessary for their preservation. For when people try to take it away, and bring to trial, not only the acts which alone are capable of offending, but also the opinions of mankind, they only succeed in surrounding their victims with an appearance of martyrdom, and raise feelings of pity and revenge rather than of terror.




Trapped by his Fellow Talmudic Students

Among the most devout [students in the Amsterdam Talmudic school] and the most eager to converse with him, young men, who claimed to be his most intimate friends, persuaded him to tell them his true feelings. They told him that “whatever they were, he had nothing to fear from them, their curiosity having no other purpose than to clear their doubts.” 

             The young student [i.e., Spinoza], astonished at this speech, hesitated for some time without answering them. But in the end, finding himself pressed by their persistence, he said to them, laughing, "that they had Moses and the prophets who were true Israelites, and that they had decided everything; that they followed them without scruple, if they were true Israelites.” 

              “As far as their authority goes,” said one of these young men, "I do not see that there is an immaterial Being, that God has no body, nor that the soul is Immortal, nor that the angels are a real substance. What do you think?” he continued, addressing our student. “Does God have a body? Are there angels? Is the soul immortal?” 

              “I confess,” says the student [i.e., Spinoza], “that, finding nothing immaterial or incorporeal in the Bible, there is no difficulty in believing that God is a body, and especially since God, being great, as the prophet-king speaks [in Psalms 98], it is impossible to understand greatness without extension, and, consequently, without a body. As to the spirits, it is certain that Scripture does not say that they are real and permanent substances, but mere ghosts called angels, because God uses it to declare his will. In such a way that angels and all other species of spirits are invisible only because of their very obscure and diaphanous matter, which can be seen only as we see ghosts in a mirror, in a dream, or in the night. As Jacob, sleeping, angels ascend on a ladder and descend. This is why we do not read that the Jews excommunicated the Sadducees, for not believing in angels, because the Old Testament says nothing of their creation. As for the soul, wherever Scripture speaks of it, this word of soul is simply taken to express life, or for all that is alive. It would be useless to look for something to support its immortality. On the contrary, it is visible in one hundred places, and it does not nothing is easier than to prove it; but this is neither the time nor the place to talk about it. 

             "The little you say," replied one of the two friends, "would convince the most skeptical; but it is not enough to satisfy your friends, who need something more solid, joined that matter is important to be only scratched. We leave you now only if you take it up another time.” The student [i.e., Spinoza], who was only trying to end the conversation, promised them everything they wanted. But afterwards he carefully avoided all occasions when he perceived that they were trying to stir him up. 


Excommunication of Spinoza by the Amsterdam Jewish Community (Amsterdam Talmud Torah Congregation, July 27, 1656)

The chiefs of the council declare that having long known the evil opinions and works of Baruch de Espinoza, they have tried by several ways and expectations to withdraw him from his evil ways, and they are unable to find a remedy, but on the contrary have had every day more knowledge of the abominable heresies practiced and taught by him, and of other enormities committed by him, and have of this many trustworthy witnesses, who have deposed and borne witness in the presence of the said Espinoza, and by whom he stood convicted; all which having been examined in the presence of the elders, it has been determined with their assent that the said Espinoza should be excommunicated and cut off from the nation of Israel ; and now he is hereby excommunicated with the following anathema.

             With the judgment of the angels and of the saints we excommunicate, cut off, curse, and anathematize Baruch de Espinoza, with the consent of the elders and of all this holy congregation, in the presence of the holy books: by the 613 precepts which are written therein, with the anathema where with Joshua cursed Jericho, with the curse which Elisha laid upon the children, and with all the curses which are written in the law. Cursed be he by day and cursed be he by night. Cursed be he in sleeping and cursed be he in waking, cursed in going out and cursed in coming in. The Lord shall not pardon him, the wrath and fury of the Lord shall henceforth be kindled against this man, and shall lay upon him all the curses which are written in the book of the law. The Lord shall destroy his name under the sun, and cut him off for his undoing from all the tribes of Israel, with all the curses of the firmament which are written in the book of the law. But ye that cleave unto the Lord your God, live all of you this day.

             We warn you, that none may speak with him by word of mouth nor by writing, nor show any favor to him, nor be under one roof with him, nor come within six feet of him, nor read any paper composed or written by him.


The Ethics not Published (Letter, Spinoza to Oldenburg, July 22, 1675)

When I received your letter of the 22nd July, I had set out to Amsterdam for the purpose of publishing the book I had mentioned to you [i.e., the Ethics]. While I was negotiating, a rumor circulated that I had in the press a book concerning God, wherein I tried to show that there is no God. This report was believed by many. Hence certain theologians, perhaps the authors of the rumor, took occasion to complain of me before the prince and the magistrates. Moreover, the stupid Cartesians, being suspected of favoring me, tried to remove the slander by abusing everywhere my opinions and writings, a course which they still pursue. When I became aware of this through trustworthy men, who also assured me that the theologians were everywhere lying in wait for me, I determined to put off publishing till I saw how things were going, and I proposed to inform you of my intentions. But matters seem to get worse and worse, and I am still uncertain what to do.

             Meanwhile I do not like to delay any longer answering your letter. I will first thank you heartily for your friendly warning, which I should be glad to have further explained, so that I may know, which are the doctrines which seem to you to be aimed against the practice of religion and virtue. If principles agree with reason, they are, I take it, also most serviceable to virtue. Further, if it be not troubling you too much I beg you to point out the passages in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus which are objected to by the learned, for I want to illustrate that treatise with notes, and to remove if possible the prejudices conceived against it.




Please answer all of the following questions.


1. According to Spinoza, what is the chief good and how can we attain it (in Improvement of the Understanding)?

2. According to Spinoza, what are the main components of God's nature (in Short Treatise 1.1, 1.2 and 2.19)?

3. What are Spinoza’s conceptions of general providence and special providence (in Short Treatise 1.5)?

4. According to Spinoza, what are the attributes that God does not have (in Short Treatise 1.7)?

5. According to Spinoza, what are the main components of human nature (in Short Treatise Part 2 Preface, 2.16, and 2.23)?

6. According to Spinoza, what are the main features of the mathematical method (in Principles, Preface)?

7. According to Spinoza, what are some of the arguments offered by traditional philosophers to show that God has no extended body, and what is Spinoza's response to these (in Ethics, 1.15)?

8. Why, according to Spinoza, do people think they act for a purpose (in Ethics 1, Appendix)?

9. What are Spinoza's arguments for why God does not act for a purpose (in Ethics 1, Appendix)?

10. According to Spinoza, how do value judgments arise within human nature (in Ethics 1, Appendix)?

11. What is Spinoza's argument for mind-body parallelism (in Ethics 2.7, 3.2)?

12. What are the main points of Spinoza’s discussion of the mind as ideas about the body (in Ethics 2.13)?

13. How have writers on the subject of emotions typically addressed the issue, and how does Spinoza attempt to approach it differently (in Ethics Part 3, Introduction)?

14. What is Spinoza's explanation for why people wrongly believe that they act freely (in letter to Schaller)?

15. What are the main features of Spinoza’s notion of striving (in Ethics 3.6, 3.9)?

16. According to Spinoza what is human bondage and what are some of the ways to reduce the influence of the passions (Ethics Parts 4 and 5)?

17. According to Spinoza, what aspect of our mind is eternal (in Ethics 5.23)?

18. In Spinoza's discussion of miracles, why do people commonly believe in miracles, and how are we to interpret scriptural passages that discuss miracles (in Theological-Political Treatise, Section 6)?

19. According to Spinoza, what are the restrictions on free speech that governments may reasonably impose on its citizens (in Theological-Political Treatise, Section 20)?

20. According to Spinoza, why should governments allow philosophers freedom to speculate even with controversial ideas (in Theological-Political Treatise, Section 20)?

21. Short essay: please select one of the following and answer it in a minimum of 150 words.

             a. Spinoza's philosophy was often described as atheistic since he interchangeably describes the cosmos as "God" and "nature". Discuss whether the accusation of atheism is justified. Keep in mind that, for Spinoza, God-Nature includes the attributes of both thought and extension.

             b. Spinoza argues that God does not willfully direct the course of nature. Explain and evaluate his arguments for this.

             c. Discuss Spinoza's arguments against free will and whether you agree.

             d. Spinoza argues that our souls are not immortal (Short Treatise 2.25), yet our understanding is eternal (Ethics 5.23 and 5.42 Preface). Explain his position on these seemingly conflicting points.

             e. Explain and evaluate Spinoza's argument against miracles.

             f. Explain and evaluate Spinoza's position on freedom of speech.

             g. George Berkeley makes the following criticism of Spinoza's geometric style of deduction: "Allow a man the privilege to make his own definitions of common words, and it will be no hard matter for him to infer conclusions which in one sense shall be true and in another false, at once seeming paradoxes and manifest truisms. For example, let but Spinoza define natural right to be natural power, and he will easily demonstrate that 'whatever a man can do' he hath a right to do" (Alciphron, 7). How might Spinoza respond to Berkeley's criticism?

             h. Spinoza's central supposition in his argument for substance monism is that two substances cannot share the same attribute. Leibniz gives the following criticism of this supposition: "I reply that a paralogism seems to lurk here. For two substances can be distinguished by attributes, and yet have some common attribute, provided they also have in addition some which are unique. For example, A(cd) and B(de); the attribute of the one being cd, of the other, de" ("Notes on Spinoza's Ethics," c.1679). Explain Leibniz's criticism and how Spinoza might respond.

             i. Voltaire makes the following criticism of Spinoza’s denial of divine providence: “How can you prove to us that the thought which gives motion to the stars, which animates man, which does everything, can be a modality, and that the excrements of a toad and a worm should be a modality of the same sovereign Being?” (The Ignorant Philosopher, Spinoza). Discuss Voltaire’s point, and how might Spinoza respond.

             j. John Stuart Mill argued that many errors in modern philosophy result from a fallacy that "causes must necessarily resemble their effects, and that like could only be produced by like." For example, red rose petals can cure blood disease, and things in motion can only be caused by other things in motion. According to Mill, Spinoza commits this fallacy in the third proposition of the Ethics, which states that "Things which have nothing in common cannot be one the cause of the other." Mill argues that "Spinoza, ever systematically consistent, pursued the doctrine to its inevitable consequence, the materiality of God" (System of Logic, 1843, 5.3.8). Discuss Mill’s criticism and how Spinoza might respond.

             k. John Dewey makes the following criticism of Spinoza’s view of God: “In truth, Spinoza is a juggler who keeps in stock two Gods--one the perfect infinite and absolute being, the other the mere sum of the universe with all its defects as they appear to us. When he wishes to show God as the adequate cause of all, to explain truth, inculcate morality, his legerdemain brings the First before us; when finite things, change, error, etc., are to be accounted for, his Second appears--the God who does things not in so far as he infinite, and who is affected with the idea of finite things” (“The Pantheism of Spinoza”, 1882). Explain Dewey’s point and how Spinoza might respond.