their centre in God, and to be moved only by the passion for good in general, “the intellectual love of God.” In the treatise De Emendatione Intellectus, Spinoza takes up this contrast in the first instance from its moral side. “All our felicity or infelicity is founded on the nature of the object to which we are joined by love.” To love the things that perish is to be in continual trouble and disturbance of passion; it is to be full of envy and hatred towards others who possess them; it is to be ever striving after that which, when we attain it, does not satisfy us; or lamenting over the loss of that which inevitably passes away from us; only “love to an object that is infinite and eternal feeds the soul with a changeless and unmingled joy.” But again our love rests upon our knowledge; if we saw things as they really are we should love only the highest object. It is because sense and imagination give to the finite an independence and substantiality that do not belong to it, that we waste our love upon it as if it were infinite. And as the first step towards truth is to understand our error, so Spinoza proceeds to explain the defects of common sense, or in other words, of that first and unreflected view of the world which he, like Plato, calls opinion. Opinion is a kind of knowledge derived partly from hearsay, and partly from experientia vaga. It consists of vague and general conceptions of things, got either from the report of others or from an experience which has not received any special direction from intelligence. The mind that has not got beyond the stage of opinion takes things as they present themselves in its individual experience; and its beliefs grow up by association of whatever happens to have been found together in that experience. And as the combining principle of the elements of opinion is individual and not universal, so its conception of the world is at once fragmentary and accidental. It does not see things in their connexion with the unity of the whole, and hence it cannot see them in their true relation to each other. “I assert expressly,” says Spinoza, “that the mind has no adequate conception either of itself or of external things, but only a confused knowledge of them, so long as it perceives them only in the common order of nature, i.e. so long as it is externally determined to contemplate this or that object by the accidental concourse of things, and so long as it is not internally determined by the unity of thought in which it considers a number of things to understand their agreements, differences and contradictions.”
There are two kinds of errors which are usually supposed to exclude each other, but which Spinoza finds to be united in opinion. These are the errors of abstraction and imagination; the former explains its vice by defect, the latter its vice Vices of abstraction and imagina-tion. by excess. On the one hand, opinion is abstract and one-sided; it is defective in knowledge and takes hold of things only at one point. On the other hand, and just because of this abstractness and one-sidedness, it is forced to give an artificial completeness and independence to that which is essentially fragmentary and dependent. The word “abstract” is misleading, in so far as we are wont to associate with abstraction the idea of a mental effort by which parts are separated from a given whole; but it may be applied without violence to any imperfect conception, in which things that are really elements of a greater whole are treated as if they were res completae, independent objects, complete in themselves. And in this sense the ordinary consciousness of man is often the victim of abstractions when it supposes itself most of all to be dealing with realities. The essences and substances of the schoolman may delude him, but he cannot think these notions clearly without seeing that they are only abstract elements of reality, and that they have a meaning only in relation to the other elements of it. But common sense remains unconscious of its abstractness because imagination gives a kind of substantiality to the fragmentary and limited, and so makes it possible to conceive it as an independent reality. Pure intelligence seeing the part as it is in itself could never see it but as a part. Thought, when it rises to clearness and distinctness in regard to any finite object, must at once discern its relation to other finite objects and to the whole,—must discern, in Spinozistic language, that it is “modal” and not “real.” But though it is not possible to think the part as a whole it is possible to picture it as a whole. The limited image that fills the mind’s eye seems to need nothing else for its reality. We cannot think a house clearly and distinctly in all the connexion of its parts with each other without seeing its necessary relation to the earth on which it stands, to the pressure of the atmosphere, &c. The very circumstances by which the possibility of such an existence is explained make it impossible to conceive it apart from other things. But nothing hinders me from resting on a house as a complete picture by itself. Imagination represents things in the externality of space and time, and is subjected to no other conditions but those of space and time. Hence it can begin anywhere and stop anywhere. For the same cause it can mingle and confuse together all manner of inconsistent forms—can imagine a man with a horse’s head, a candle blazing in vacuo, a speaking tree, a man changed into an animal. There may be elements in the nature of these things that would prevent such combinations; but these elements are not necessarily present to the ordinary consciousness, the abstractness of whose conceptions leaves it absolutely at the mercy of imagination or accidental association. To thought in this stage anything is possible that can be pictured. On the other hand, as knowledge advances, this freedom of combination becomes limited, “the less the mind understands and the more it perceives the greater is its power of fiction, and the more it understands the narrower is the limitation of that power. For just as in the moment of consciousness we cannot imagine that we do not think, so after we have apprehended the nature of body we cannot conceive of a fly of infinite size, and after we know the nature of a soul we cannot think of it as a square, though we may use the words that express these ideas.” Thus, according to Spinoza, the range of possibility narrows as knowledge widens, until to perfected knowledge is lost in necessity.
From these considerations it follows that all thought is imperfect that stops short of the absolute unity of all things. Our first imperfect notion of things as isolated from each other, or connected only by co-existence and succession, is a mere Insuffici-ency of the individual. imagination of things. It is a fictitious substantiation of isolated moments in the eternal Being. Knowledge, so far as it deals with the finite, is engaged in a continual process of self-correction which can never be completed, for at every step there is an element of falsity, in so far as the mind rests in the contemplation of a certain number of the elements of the world, as if they constituted a complete whole by themselves, whereas they are only a part, the conception of which has to be modified at the next step of considering its relation to the other parts. Thus we rise from individuals of the first to individuals of the second order, and we cannot stop short of the idea of “all nature as one individual whose parts vary through an infinite number of modes, without change of the whole individual.” At first we think of pieces of matter as independent individuals, either because we can picture them separately, or because they preserve a certain proportion or relation of parts through their changes. But on further consideration, these apparent substances sink into modes, each of which is dependent on all the others. All nature is bound together by necessary law, and not an atom could be other than it is without the change of the whole world. Hence it is only in the whole world that there is any true individuality or substance. And the same principle applies to the minds of men. Their individuality is a mere semblance caused by our abstraction from their conditions. Isolate the individual man, and he will not display the character of a thinking being at all. His whole spiritual life is bound up with his relations to other minds, past and present. He has such a life, only in and through that universal life of which he is so infinitesimal a part that his own contribution to it is as good as nothing. “Vis qua homo in existendo perseverat limitata est, et a potentia causarum externarum infinite superatur.” What can be called his own? His body is a link in a cyclical chain of movement which involves all the matter of the world, and which as a whole remains without change through all. His mind is a link in a great movement of thought, which makes him the momentary organ and expression of one of its phases. His very consciousness of self is marred by a false abstraction, above which he must rise ere he can know himself as he really is.
“Let us imagine,” says Spinoza in his fifteenth letter, “a little worm living in blood which has vision enough to discern the particles of blood, lymph, &c., and reason enough to observe how one particle is repelled by another with which it comes into contact, or communicates a part of its motion to it. Such a worm would live in the blood as we do in this part of the universe, and would regard each particle of it, not as a part, but as a whole, nor could it know how all the parts are influenced by the universal nature of the blood, and are obliged to accommodate themselves to each other as is required by that nature, so that they co-operate together according to a fixed law. For if we suppose that there are no causes outside of the blood which could communicate new motions to it, and no space beyond the blood, nor any other bodies to which its particles could transfer their motion, it is certain that the blood as a whole would always maintain its present state, and its particles would suffer no other variations than those which may be inferred from the given relation of the motion of the blood to lymph, chyle, &c. And thus in that case the blood would require to be considered always as a whole and not as a part. But since there are many other causes which influence the laws of the nature of blood, and are in turn influenced thereby, other motions and other variations must arise in the blood which are not due to the proportion of motion in its constituents but also to the relation between that motion and external causes. And therefore we cannot consider the blood as a whole, but only as a part of a greater whole.”“Now we can think, and indeed ought to think, of all natural bodies in the same manner in which we have thought of this blood, for all bodies are surrounded by other bodies, and reciprocally determine and are determined by them, to exist and operate in a fixed and definite way, so as to preserve the same ratio of motion and rest in the whole universe. Hence it follows that every body, in so far as it exists under a certain definite modification, ought to be considered as merely a part of the whole universe which agrees with its whole, and thereby is in intimate union with all the other parts; and since the nature of the universe is not limited like that of the blood, but absolutely infinite, it is clear that by this nature,
- Eth. i. schol. 29.
- De Emend. viii. § 38.
- Eth. ii. lemma, 7 schol.
- Eth. iv. 3.