So far as they exist, they must be conceived as parts of the divine substance, but when we look directly at that divine substance their separate existence altogether disappears.
It has, however, been already mentioned that this ascending movement of abstraction does not at once and directly bring Spinoza to the absolute unity of substance. The principle that “determination is negation,” and that therefore Soul and
body. the absolute reality is to be found only in the indeterminate, would lead us to expect this conclusion; but the Cartesian dualism prevents Spinoza from reaching it. Mind and matter are so absolutely opposed, that even when we take away all limit and determination from both, they still retain their distinctness. Raised to infinity, they still refuse to be identified. We are forced, indeed, to take from them their substantial or substantive existence, for there can be no other substance but God, who includes all reality in himself. But though reduced to attributes of a common substance, the difference of thought and extension is insoluble. The independence of individual finite things disappears whenever we substitute thought for imagination, but even to pure intelligence, extension remains extension, and thought remains Spinoza’s
dualism. thought. Spinoza seems therefore reduced to a dilemma; he cannot surrender either the unity or the duality of things, yet he cannot relate them to each other. The only course left open to him is to conceive each attribute in its turn as the whole substance, and to regard their difference as the difference of expression. As the patriarch was called by the two names of Jacob and Israel, under different aspects, each of which included the whole reality of the man, so our minds apprehend the absolute substance in two ways, each of which expresses its whole nature. In this way the extremes of absolute identity and absolute difference seem to be reconciled. There is a complete parallelism of thought and extension, “ordo et connexio idearum idem est ac ordo et connexio rerum,” yet there is also a complete independence and absence of relation between them, for each is the whole. A thing in one expression cannot be related to itself in another expression. Hence in so far as we look at the substance under the attribute of thought, we must take no account of extension, and in so far as we look at it under the attribute of extension, we must equally refuse to take any account of thought. This parallelism may be best illustrated by Spinoza’s account of the relation of the human soul and body. The soul is the idea of the body, and the body is the object of the soul, whatever is in the one really is in the other ideally; yet this relation of object and subject does not imply any connexion. The motions and changes of the body have to be accounted for partly by itself, partly by the influence of other bodies; and the thoughts of the soul in like manner have to be accounted for partly by what God thinks as constituting the individual mind, and partly by what he thinks as constituting the minds of other individuals. But to account for thought by the motions of the body, or for the motions of the body by thought, is to attempt to bridge the impassable gulf between thought and extension. It involves the double absurdity of accounting for a thing by itself, and of accounting for it by that which has nothing in common with it.
In one point of view, this theory of Spinoza deserves the highest praise for that very characteristic which probably excited most odium against it at the time it was first published, namely, its exaitation of matter. It is the mark of an imperfect Spinoza’s
idealsim. spiritualism to hide its eyes from outward nature, and to shrink from the material as impure and defiling. But its horror and fear are proofs of weakness; it flies from an enemy it cannot overcome. Spinoza’s bold identification of spirit and matter, God and nature, contains in it the germ of a higher idealism than can be found in any philosophy that asserts the claims of the former at the expense of the latter. A system that begins by making nature godless, will inevitably end, as Schelling once said, in making God unnatural. The expedients by which Descartes keeps matter at a distance from God, were intended to maintain his pure spirituality; but their ultimate effect was seen in his reduction of the spiritual nature to mere will. As Christianity has its superiority over other religions in this, that it does not end with the opposition of the human to the divine, the natural to the spiritual, but ultimately reconciles them, so a true idealism must vindicate its claims by absorbing materialism into itself. It was, therefore, a true instinct of philosophy that led Spinoza to raise matter to the co-equal of spirit, and at the same time to protest against the Cartesian conception of matter as mere inert mass, moved only by impulse from without. “What were a God that only impelled the world from without?” says Goethe. “It becomes him to stir it by an inward energy, to involve nature in himself, himself in nature, so that that which lives and moves and has a being in him can never feel the want of his power or his spirit.”
While, however, Spinoza thus escapes some of the inconsequences of Descartes, the contradiction that was implicit in the Cartesian system between the duality and the unity, the attributes and the substance, in his system becomes explicit. When so great emphasis is laid upon the unity of substance, it becomes more difficult to explain the difference of the attributes. The result is, that Spinoza is forced to account for it, not by the nature of substance itself, but by the nature of the intelligence to which it is revealed. “By Logical
physics. substance,” he says, “I understand that which is in itself, and is conceived through itself. By attribute I understand the same thing, nisi quod attributum dicatur respectu inteltectus substantiae certum talem naturam tribuentis.” Hence we are naturally led with J. E. Erdmann to think of the intelligence dividing the substance as a kind of prism that breaks the white light into different colours, through each of which the same world is seen, only with a different aspect. But if the intelligence in itself is but a mode of one of the attributes, how can it be itself the source of their distinction?
The key to this difficulty is that Spinoza has really, and almost in spite of his logical principles, two opposite conceptions of substance, between which he alternates without ever bringing them to a unity. On the one hand, in accordance with the principle that determination is negation, substance must be taken as that which is utterly indeterminate, like the Absolute of the Buddhist, which we can characterize only by denying of it everything that we assert of the finite. In this view, no predicate can be applied univocally to God and to the creatures; he differs from them, not only in existence, but in essence. If we follow out this view to its legitimate result, God is withdrawn into his own absolute unity, and no difference of attributes can be ascribed to him, except in respect of something else than himself. It is owing to the defects of out intelligence that he appears under different forms or expressions; in himself he is pure being, without form or expression at all. But, on the other hand, it is to be observed, that while Spinoza really proceeds by abstraction and negation, he does not mean to do so. The abstract is to him the unreal and imaginary, and what he means by substance is not simply Being in general, the conception that remains when we omit all that distinguishes the particulars, but the absolute totality of things conceived as a unity in which all particular existence is included and subordinated. Hence at a single stroke the indeterminate passes into the most determinate Being, the Being with no attributes at all into the Being constituted by an infinite number of attributes. And while, under the former conception, the defect of our intelligence seemed to be that it divided the substance, or saw a difference of attributes in its absolute unity, under the second conception its defect lies in its apprehending only two out of the infinite multitude of these attributes.To do justice to Spinoza, therefore, we must distinguish between the actual effect of his logic and its effect as he conceived it. The actual effect of his logic is to dissolve all in the ultimate abstraction of Being, from which we can find no way back to the concrete. But his intent was simply to relate all the parts to that absolute unity which is the presupposition of all thought and being, and so to arrive at the most concrete and complete idea of the reality of things. He failed to see what is involved in his own principle that determination is negation; for if affirmation is impossible without negation, then the attempt to divorce the two from each other, the attempt to find a purely affirmative being, must necessarily end in the barest of all abstractions being confused with the unity of all things. But even when the infinite substance is defined as the negative of the finite, the idea of the finite becomes an essential element in the conception of the infinite. Even the Pantheist, who says that God is what finite things are not, in spite of himself recognizes that God has a relation to finite things. Finite things may in his eyes have no positive relation to God, yet they have a negative relation; it is through their evanescence and transitoriness, through their nothingness, that the eternal, the infinite reality alone is revealed to him. Spinoza is quite conscious of this process, conscious that he reaches the affirmation of substance by a negation of what he conceives as the purely negative and unreal existence of finite things, but as he regards the assertion of the finite as merely an illusion due to our imagination, so he regards the correction of this illusion, the negation of the finite as a movement of reflection which belongs merely to our intelligence, and has nothing to do with the nature of substance in itself. We find the true affirmation by the negation of the negative, but in itself affirmation has no relation to negation. Hence his absolute being is the dead all-absorbing substance and not the self-revealing spirit. It is the being without determination, and not the being that determines itself. There is no reason in the nature of substance why it should have either attributes or modes; neither individual finite things nor the general distinction of mind and matter can be deduced from it. The descending movement of thought is not what Spinoza himself said it should be, an evolution, but simply an external and empirical process by which the elements dropped in the ascending movement of abstraction are taken up again with a merely nominal change. For the sole difference in the conception of mind and matter as well as in the conception of individual minds and bodies which is made by their reference to the idea of God, is that they lose their substantive character and become adjectives. Aristotle objected to Plato that his ideas were merely αίσθητὰ ἀἲδια, that is, that his idealization of the world was merely superficial, and left the things idealized very much what they were before to the sensuous consciousness; and the same may be
- Epist. 27.
- Eth. ii. 7.
- Epist. 27.
- Eth. i. schol. 17.