said of Spinoza’s negation of finite things. It was an external and imperfect negation, which did not transform the idea of the finite, but merely substituted the names of attributes and modes for the names of general and individual substances.
The same defective logic, by which the movement of thought in determining the substance is regarded as altogether external to the substance itself, is seen again in Spinoza’s conceptions of the relations of the attributes to each other. Adopting the Cartesian opposition of mind and matter, he does not see, any more than Descartes, that in their opposition they are correlative. Or if he did see it (as seems possible from a passage in his earliest treatise), he regarded the correlation as merely subjective, merely belonging to our thought. They are to him only the two attributes which we happen to know out of the infinite number belonging to God. There is no necessity that the substance should manifest itself in just these attributes and no others, for abstract substance is equally receptive of all determinations, and equally indifferent to them all. Just because the unity is merely generic, the differences are accidental, and do not form by their union any complete whole. If Spinoza had seen that matter in itself is the correlative opposite of mind in itself, he need not have sought by abstracting from the difference of these elements to reach a unity which is manifested in that very difference, and his absolute would have been not substance but spirit. This idea he never reached, but we find him approximating to it in two ways. On the one hand, he condemns the Cartesian conception of matter as passive and self-external, or infinitely divisible—as, in short, the mere opposite of thought. And sometimes he insists on the parallelism of extension and thought at the expense of their opposition in a way that almost anticipates the assertion by Leibnitz of the essential identity of mind and matter. On the other hand, he recognizes that this parallelism is not complete. Thought is not like a picture; it is conscious, and conscious not only of itself, but of extension. It transcends therefore the absolute distinction between itself and other attributes. It is only because he cannot rid himself of the phantom of an extended matter as a thing in itself, which is entirely different from the idea of it, that Spinoza is prevented from recognising in mind that unity that transcends all distinctions, even its own distinction from matter. As it is, his main reason for saying that intelligence is not an attribute of God, but merely a mode, seems to be this, that the thought of God must be conceived as producing its own object, i.e. as transcending the distinction of subject and object which is necessary to our intelligence. But this argument of itself points to a concrete quite as much as to an abstract unity. It is as consistent with the idea of absolute spirit as with that of absolute substance. Spinoza’s deliberate and formal doctrine is undoubtedly the latter; but he constantly employs expressions which imply the former, as when he speaks of God as causa sui. The higher idea inspires him, though his consciousness only embraces the lower idea.
The ethical philosophy of Spinoza is determined by the same principles and embarrassed by the same difficulties as his metaphysics. In it also we find the same imperfect conception of the relation of the positive to the negative elements, Spinoza’s
system. and, as a consequence, the same confusion of the highest unity of thought, the affirmation that subordinates and transcends all negation with mere abstract affirmation. Or, to put the same thing in ethical language, Spinoza teaches a morality which is in every point the opposite of asceticism, a morality of self-assertion or self-seeking, and not of self-denial. The conatus sese conservandi is to him the supreme principle of virtue; yet this self-seeking is supposed, under the guidance of reason, to identify itself with the love of man and the love of God, and to find blessedness not in the reward of virtue, but in virtue itself. It is only confusion of thought and false mysticism that could object to this result on the ground of the element of self still preserved in the amor Dei intellectualis. For it is just the power of identifyihg himself with that which is wider and higher than his individual being that makes morality possible to man. But the difficulty lies in this, that Spinoza will not admit the negative element, the element of mortification or sacrifice, into morality at all, even as a moment of transition. For him there is no dead self, by which we may rise to higher things, no losing of life that we may find it. For the negative is nothing, it is evil in the only sense in which evil exists, and cannot be the source of good. The higher affirmation of our own being, the higher seeking of ourselves which is identical with the love of God, must therefore be regarded as nothing distinct in kind from that first seeking of our natural self which in Spinoza’s view belongs to us in common with the animals, and indeed in common with all beings whatever. It must be regarded merely as a direct development and extension of the same thing. The main interest of the Spinozistic ethics therefore lies in observing by what steps he accomplishes this transition, while excluding altogether the idea of a real division of the higher and the lower life, the spirit and flesh, and of a conflict in which the former is developed through the sacrifice of the latter.
Finite creatures exist only as modes of the divine substance, only so far as they partake in the infinite, or what is the same thing with Spinoza, in the purely affirmative or self-affirming nature of God. They therefore must also be self-affirming. They can never limit themselves; their limit lies in this, that they are not identified with the infinite substance which expresses itself also in other modes. In other words, the limit of any finite creature, that which makes it finite, lies without it, and its own existence, so far as it goes, must be pure self-assertion and self-seeking. “Unaquaeque res quantum in se est in suo esse perseverare conatur,” and this conatus is its very essence or inmost nature. In the animals this conatus takes the form of appetite, in man of desire, which is “appetite with the consciousness of it.” But this constitutes no essential difference between appetite and desire, for “whether a man be conscious of his appetite or no, the appetite remains one and the same thing.” Man therefore, like the animals, is purely self-asserting and self-seeking. He can neither know nor will anything but his own being, or if he knows or wills anything else, it must be something involved in his own being. If he knows other beings, or seeks their good, it must be because their existence and their good are involved in his own. If he loves and knows God it must be because he cannot know himself without knowing God, or find his supreme good anywhere but in God.
What at first makes the language difficult to us is the identification of will and intelligence. Both are represented as affirming their objects. Descartes had prepared the way for this when he treated the will as the faculty of judging or giving assent to certain combinations of ideas, and distinguished it from the purely intellectual faculties by which the ideas are apprehended. By this distinction he had, as he supposed, secured a place for human freedom.}} Admitting that intelligence is under a law of necessity, he claimed for the Will a certain latitude or liberty of indifference, a power of giving or withholding assent in all cases where the relations of ideas were not absolutely clear and distinct. Spinoza points out that there is no ground for such a distinction, that the acts of apprehension and judgment cannot be separated from each other. “In the mind there is no volition, i.e. no affirmation or negation which is not immediately involved in the idea it apprehends,” and therefore “intellect and will are one and the same thing.” If, then, there is no freedom except the liberty of indifference, freedom is impossible. Man, like all other beings and things, is under an absolute law of necessity. All the actions of his will, as well as of his intelligence, are but different forms of the self-assertive tendency to which he cannot but yield, because it is one with his very being, or only ideally distinguishable therefrom. There is, however, another idea of liberty. Liberty as the opposite of necessity is an absurdity—it is impossible for either God or man; but liberty as the opposite of slavery is possible, and it is actually possessed by God. The divine liberty consists in this, that God acts from the necessity of his own nature alone, and is not in any way determined from without. And the great question of ethics is, How far can man partake in this liberty? At first it would seem impossible that he should partake in it. He is a finite being, whose power is infinitely surpassed by the power of other beings to which he is related. His body acts only as it is acted on, and his mind cannot therefore apprehend his body, except as affected by other things. His self-assertion and self-seeking are therefore confused with the asserting and seeking of other things, and are never pure. His thought and activity cannot be understood except through the influence of other things which lie outside of his consciousness, and upon which his will has no influence. He cannot know clearly and distinctly either himself or anything else; how then can he know his own good or determine himself by the idea of it?
The answer is the answer of Descartes, that the apprehension of any finite thing involves the adequate idea of the infinite and eternal nature of God. This is the primary object of intelligence, in which alone is grounded the possibility of knowing either ourselves or anything else. In so far as our knowledge is determined by this idea, or by the ideas of other things, which are referred to this idea and seen in its light, in so far its action flows from an internal and not an external necessity. In so far, on the other hand, as we are determined by the affections of the body, ideas in which the nature of our own body and the nature of other things are confused together, in so far we are determined by an external necessity. Or to put the same thing in what has been shown to be merely another way of expression, in so far as we are determined by pure intelligence we are free, but in so far as we are determined by opinion and imagination we are slaves.From these premises it is easy to see what form the opposition of reason and passion must necessarily take with Spinoza. The passions belong to our nature as finite; they are grounded on, or rather are but another form of inadequate ideas; but we are free only in so far as our ideas either immediately are, or can be made, adequate. Our idea of God is adequate ex vi termini; our ideas of the affections of our body are inadequate, but can be made adequate in so far as they are referred to the idea of God. And as the idea of God is purely affirmative, this reference to the idea of God implies the elimination of the negative element from the ideas of the affections of the body, “for nothing that is positive in a false idea is removed by the presence of truth as such.” Brought into
- Tractatus de Deo et homine. ii.
- Epist. 29, 70.
- Eth. i. schol. 17.
- Eth. iv. schol. 22.
- Eth. iii. 6, 7.
- Eth. iii. 9.
- Eth. iii. Def. Affect. 1.
- Eth. ii. 49.
- Eth. ii. 45.
- Eth. iv. 1.