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Will and Ariel Durant

The Story of Civilization
Volume eight. The Age of Louis XIV

Simon & Schuster, New York 1963

Chapter XXII: Spinoza: 1632-77

I. The young heretic
II. Theology and politics
III. The Philosopher
IV. God
V. Mind
VI. Man
VII. Reason
VIII. The state
IX. The chain of influence

I. The young heretic

This strange and lovable character, who made the boldest attempt in modern history to find a philosophy that could take the place of a lost religious faith, was born in Amsterdam on November 24, 1632. His ancestors can be traced to the town of Espinosa, near Burgos, in the Spanish province of Leon. They were Jews who, as conversos to Christianity, included scholars, priests, and Cardinal Diego d’Espinosa, onetime grand inquisitor. 1 Part of the family, presumably to escape the Spanish Inquisition, migrated to Portugal. After a period of residence there, at Vidigueira, near Beja, the grandfather and father of the philosopher moved to Nantes in France, and thence, in 1593, to Amsterdam. They were among the first Jews who settled in that city, eager to enjoy the religious freedom guaranteed in 1579 by the Union of Utrecht. By 1628 the grandfather was regarded as head of the Sephardic community in Amsterdam; at various times the father was warden of the Jewish school there and president of the organized charities of the Portuguese synagogue. The mother, Hana Debora d’Espinoza, came to Amsterdam from Lisbon. She died when Baruch was six years old, leaving him a consumptive heredity. He was brought up by the father and a third wife. As «Baruch» was Hebrew for blessed, the boy was later named Benedictus in official and Latin documents.

In the synagogue school Baruch was given a predominantly religious education, based upon the Old Testament and the Talmud; there was also some study of Hebrew philosophers, especially Abraham ibn Ezra, Moses ben Maimon, and Hasdai Crescas, with perhaps some dippings into the Cabala. Among his teachers were two men of prominence and ability in the community, Saul Morteira and Manasseh ben Israel. Outside of school Baruch received, in Spanish, considerable instruction in secular subjects, since his father wished to prepare him for a business career. In addition to Spanish and Hebrew he learned Portuguese, Dutch, and Latin, with later a touch of Italian and French. He developed a fondness for mathematics, and made geometry the ideal of his philosophical method and thought.

It was natural that a youth of exceptionally active mind should raise some questions about the doctrines transmitted to him in the synagogue school. Perhaps even there he had heard of Hebrew heresies. Ibn Ezra had long ago pointed out the difficulties involved in ascribing to Moses the later parts of the Pentateuch; Maimonides had proposed allegorical interpretations of some otherwise indigestible passages in the Bible, 2 and had suggested some doubts about personal immortality, 3 and about Creation as against the eternity of the world. 4 Crescas had ascribed extension to God, and had rejected all attempts to prove by reason the freedom of the will, the survival of the soul, and even the existence of God. In addition to these predominantly orthodox Jews, Spinoza must have read Levi ben Gerson, who had reduced Biblical miracles to natural causes, and had subordinated faith to reason, saying, «The Torah cannot prevent us from considering to be true that which our reason urges us to believe». 5 And only recently, in this Amsterdam community, Uriel Acosta had challenged the belief in immortality, and, humiliated by excommunication, had shot himself (1647). The vague recollection of that tragedy must have deepened the turmoil in Spinoza’s mind when he felt slipping from him the upholding theology of his people and his family.

In 1654 his father died. A daughter claimed the whole estate; Spinoza contested her claim in court, won his case, and then turned over to her all of the legacy but a bed. Now dependent upon himself, he earned his bread by grinding and polishing lenses for spectacles, microscopes, and telescopes. In addition to tutoring some private pupils, he became an instructor in the Latin school of Frans van den Ende, ex-Jesuit, freethinker, dramatist, and revolutionary. 6 There Spinoza improved his Latin; perhaps he was stimulated by van den Ende to study Descartes, Bacon, and Hobbes; he may now have dipped into the Summa theologiae of Thomas Aquinas. He seems to have fallen in love with the headmaster’s daughter; she preferred a more affluent suitor, and Spinoza, so far as we know, made no further move toward marriage.

Meanwhile he had begun to lose his faith. Probably before reaching the age of twenty he had ventured, with all the pain and trepidation that such moltings bring to sensitive spirits, upon some exciting ideas – that matter may be the body of God, that angels may be phantoms of the imagination, that the Bible said nothing of immortality, that the soul is identical with life. 7 He might have kept these proud heresies to himself had his father lived; and even after his father’s death he might have remained silent had not some friends importuned him with questions. After much hesitation, he confessed to them the tremors of his faith. They reported him to the synagogue.

It has often been pointed out, but must always be borne in mind, that the leaders of the Jewish community in Amsterdam were in a difficult position in dealing with heresies that attacked the fundamentals of the Christian as well as the Jewish creed. The Jews enjoyed in the Dutch Republic a religious toleration denied them elsewhere in Christendom; but that could be withdrawn if they tolerated among themselves ideas that might unsettle the religious basis of morality and social order. According to the biography of Spinoza written in the year of his death by a French refugee in Holland, Jean Maximilien Lucas, the students who reported Baruch’s doubts falsely added the charge that he had expressed scorn of the Jewish people for thinking itself especially chosen by God, and for believing that God was the author of the Mosaic Code. 8 We do not know how far we can trust this account. In any case the Jewish leaders must have resented any disruption of the faith that had been a tower of strength and a well of comfort to the Jews through centuries of bitter suffering.

The rabbis summoned Spinoza, and chided him for disappointing the bright hopes that his teachers had held for his future in the community. One of these teachers, Manasseh ben Israel, was absent in London. Another, Saul Morteira, pleaded with the youth to abandon his heresies. In fairness to the rabbis we must note that Lucas, though strongly sympathetic with Spinoza, records that when Morteira recalled the loving care he had given to the education of his favorite pupil, Baruch «answered that in return for the trouble Morteira had taken in teaching him the Hebrew language, he [Spinoza] would now be glad to teach his instructor how to excommunicate». 9 This seems quite out of character with all else that we hear of Spinoza, but we must not let our affections select the evidence; and (to vary a remark of Cicero’s) there is hardly anything so foolish but we can find it in the lives of the philosophers.

We are told that the synagogue leaders offered Spinoza an annual pension of a thousand gulden if he would promise to take no hostile step against Judaism, and would show himself from time to time in the synagogue. 10 The rabbis appear to have invoked against him at first only the «lesser excommunication», which merely excluded him, for thirty days, from intercourse with the Jewish community. 11 We are told that he accepted this sentence with a light heart, saying, «Good; they are forcing me to do nothing that I would not have done of my own free will»; 12 probably he was already living outside the Jewish quarter of the city. A fanatic tried to assassinate him, but the weapon only tore Spinoza’s coat. On July 24, 1656, the religious and secular authorities of the Jewish community solemnly pronounced from the pulpit of the Portuguese synagogue the full excommunication of «Baruch d’Espinosa», with all the customary curses and prohibitions: no one was to speak or write to him, or do him any service, or read his writings, or come within the space of four cubits’ distance from him. 13 Morteira went before the Amsterdam officials, notified them of the charges and the excommunication, and asked that Spinoza be expelled from the city. They sentenced Spinoza to «an exile of some months». 14 He went to the nearby village of Ouverkerk, but soon returned to Amsterdam.

His knowledge of Hebrew won him several friends in a little circle of students led by Lodewijk Meyer and Simon de Vries. Meyer had degrees in philosophy and medicine; in 1666 he published Philosophiae Sacrae Scripturae interpres, which subordinated the Bible to reason; it may have reflected – or influenced – the views of Spinoza. De Vries, a prosperous merchant, was so fond of Spinoza that he wished to give him two thousand florins; Spinoza refused to take them. When de Vries neared death (1667) he proposed, being unmarried, to make Spinoza his heir; Spinoza persuaded him to leave the entire estate to a brother; the gratified brother offered him an annuity of five hundred florins; Spinoza accepted three hundred. 15 Another Amsterdam friend, Johan Bouwmeester, wrote to Spinoza, «Love me, for I love you with all my heart». 16 Next to philosophy, friendship was the chief support of Spinoza’s life. In one of his letters he wrote:

Of all the things that are beyond my power, I value nothing more highly than to be allowed the honor of entering into bonds of friendship with people who sincerely love truth. For, of things beyond our power, I believe there is nothing in the world which we can love with tranquility except such men. 17

He was not quite a recluse, nor an ascetic. He approved «good food and drink, the enjoyment of beauty and growing plants, the hearing of music, visits to the theater»; 18 it was on such a visit that the attempt had been made to kill him. He had still to fear attack; on his signet ring was one word: Caute, carefully. 19 But far more than amusements, more even than friendship, he loved privacy and study and the peace of a simple life. According to Bayle it was «because the visits of his friends too much interrupted his speculations» 20 that Spinoza in 1660 left Amsterdam to live in the quiet village of Rijnsburg – «town on the Rhine» – six miles from Leiden. The Collegiants, a Mennonite sect resembling the Quakers, made their headquarters there, and Spinoza found welcome in one of their families.

In that modest dwelling, now preserved as the Spinozahuis, the philosopher wrote several minor works, and Book I of the Ethics. He composed in 1662 a Short Treatise on God, Man, and His Well-Being; but this was largely a reflection of Descartes. More interesting is the fragment De Intellectus Emendatione (On the Improvement of the Intellect), which was set aside, unfinished, in that same year. Within its forty pages we get a preview of Spinoza’s philosophy. We feel the loneliness of the outcast in its first sentences:

After experience had taught me that all things that frequently take place in ordinary life are vain and futile; when I saw that all the things I feared, and which feared me, had nothing good or bad in them save in so far as the mind was affected by them, I determined at last to inquire whether there might be anything which might be truly good and able to communicate its goodness, and by which the mind might be affected to the exclusion of all other things.

He felt that riches could not do this, nor fame (honor), nor the pleasures of the flesh (libido); turmoil and grief are too often mingled with these delights. «Only the love towards a thing eternal and infinite feeds the mind with pleasure ... free from all pain». 21 This could have been written by Thomas a Kempis or Jakob Bohme; and indeed there always remained in Spinoza a note and mood of mysticism that may have come to him from the Cabala, and now found nourishment in his solitude. The «eternal and infinite good» which he had in mind could be termed God, but only in Spinoza’s later definition of God as one with nature in its creative powers and its laws. «The greatest good», says the Emendatione, « the knowledge of the union which the mind has with the whole of nature. ... The more the mind understands the order of nature, the more easily it will be able to liberate itself from useless things»; 22 here is Spinoza’s first phrasing of the «intellectual love of God» – the reconciliation of the individual with the nature of things and the laws of the universe.

This eloquent little treatise states also the aim of Spinoza’s thinking, and his understanding of science and philosophy. «I wish to direct all sciences in one direction or to one end, namely, to attain the greatest possible human perfection; and thus everything in the sciences that does not promote this endeavor must be rejected as useless». 23 Here is quite a different strain from that which we heard in Francis Bacon; the progress of the sciences is a delusion if they merely increase man’s power over things without improving his character and desires. That is why the chef-d’oeuvre of modern philosophy will be called Ethics despite its long metaphysical prelude, and why so much of it will analyze the bondage of man to desire, and his liberation through reason.

II. Theology and politics

The circle of gentlemen students whom Spinoza had left behind in Amsterdam heard that he had begun, for a pupil in Rijnsburg, a geometrical version of Descartes’ Principia philosophiae. They importuned him to complete it and send it to them. He did, and they financed its publication (1663) as Renati Des Cartes Principia Philosophiae more geometrico demonstrata. We need note only three things about it: that it expressed Descartes’ views (for example, on free will), not Spinoza’s; that it was the only book of Spinoza’s printed in his lifetime over his own name; and that in an appended fragment, Cogitata metaphysica, he suggested that time was not an objective reality, but a mode of thinking. 24 This is one of several Kantian elements in Spinoza’s philosophy.

In Rijnsburg he made some new friends. The great anatomist Steno became acquainted with him there. Henry Oldenburg, of the Royal Society, coming to Leiden in 1661, went out of his way to visit Spinoza, and was deeply impressed; returning to London, he began a long correspondence with the unprinted but already famous philosopher. Another Rijnsburg friend, Adriaan Koerbagh, was summoned before an Amsterdam court (1668), charged with «intemperate» opposition to the prevailing theology; one magistrate sought to implicate Spinoza as the source of Koerbagh’s heresies; Koerbagh denied this, and Spinoza was spared; but the young heretic was sentenced to ten years in prison, where he died after he had served fifteen months of his term. 25 We can understand why Spinoza did not rush into print.

In June, 1663, he moved to Voorburg, near The Hague. For six years he lived in the home of an artist, still polishing lenses and composing the Ethics. The desperate defensive war of the United Provinces against Louis XIV frightened the Dutch government into tighter restrictions on the expression of ideas. Nevertheless Spinoza published anonymously, in 1670, a Treatise on Theology and Politics that became a milestone in Biblical criticism. The title page of this Tractatus theologico-politicus stated the purpose: «to set forth that freedom of thought and speech not only may, without prejudice to piety and the public peace, be granted, but that also it may not, without danger to piety and the public peace. be withheld». Spinoza disclaimed atheism, supported the fundamentals of religious belief, but undertook to show the human fallibility of those Scriptures upon which the Calvinist clergy based their theology and intolerance. The clergy in Holland were using their influence, and their Biblical texts, to oppose the party led by the de Witts, which favored liberal thought and negotiations for peace; and Spinoza was warmly devoted to that party and to Jan de Witt.

As I marked the fierce controversies of philosophers raging in Church and state, the source of bitter hatred and dissension ..., I determined to examine the Bible afresh in a careful, impartial and unfettered spirit, making no assumptions concerning it, and attributing to it no doctrines which I do not find clearly therein set down. With these precautions I constructed a method of scriptural interpretation. 26

He noted and illustrated the difficulty of understanding the Hebrew of the Old Testament; the Masoretic text – which filled in the vowels and accents omitted by the original writers – was partly guesswork, and could hardly give us an indisputable prototype. He profited much, in the earlier chapters of this treatise, from Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed. He followed Abraham ibn Ezra and others in questioning the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. He denied that Joshua had composed the Book of Joshua; and he ascribed the historical books of the Old Testament to the priest-scribe Ezra, of the fifth century B.C. The Book of Job, he thought, was a Gentile production translated into Hebrew. Not all these conclusions have been accepted by later research; but they were a brave advance toward understanding the composition of the Bible; and they preceded by eight years the more scholarly Critique du Vieux Testament (1678) of Richard Simon. Spinoza pointed out that in several instances the same story or passage was repeated in different places in the Bible, sometimes in the same words, sometimes in divergent versions; the one case suggesting common borrowing from an earlier manuscript, the other raising the question as to which account was the Word of God. 27 There were chronological impossibilities and contradictions. In his Epistle to the Romans (III, 20-28) Paul taught that man can be saved only by faith, not by works; the Epistle of the Apostle James (II, 24) taught precisely the opposite; which was God’s view and Word? Such diverse texts, the philosopher pointed out, have generated bitterest – even murderous – quarrels among theologians, not the good conduct that a religion should inspire.

Were the Old Testament prophets the voice of God? Evidently they were not ahead of the knowledge shared by the educated classes of their time; «Joshua», for example, took it for granted that the sun, until he «stopped» it, revolved around the earth. 28 The prophets excelled not in learning but in intensity of imagination, enthusiasm, and feeling; they were great poets and orators. They may have been divinely inspired, but if so it was by a process that Spinoza confessed himself unable to understand. 29 Perhaps they dreamed that they saw God; and they may have believed in the reality of their dream. So we read of Abimelech that «God said unto him in a dream» (Gen. xx, 6). The divine element in the prophets was not their prophecies but their virtuous lives; and the theme of their preaching was that religion lies in good conduct, not in sedulous ritual.

Were the miracles recorded in the Bible real interruptions of the normal course of nature? Did the sins of men bring down fire and flood, and did the prayers of men give fertility to the earth? Such stories, Spinoza suggested, were used by the Scriptural authors to reach the understanding of simple men and move them to virtue or devotion; we must not take them literally.

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 or done, or that, on seeing a sign, he remembers something he had promised; these and similar expressions are either thrown out poetically, or related according to the opinions and prejudices of the writer. We may be absolutely certain that every event which is truly described in Scripture necessarily happened – like everything else – according to natural law; and 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 contrary to reason, and whatsoever is contrary to reason is absurd. 30

This was probably the most forthright declaration of independence yet made for reason by a modern philosopher. So far as it was accepted, it involved a revolution of profounder significance and results than all the wars and politics of the time.

In what sense, then, is the Bible the Word of God? Only in this: that it contains a moral code that can form men to virtue. It contains also many things that have led – or been adapted – to human deviltry. For the generality of men (too obsessed with daily cares to have leisure or capacity for intellectual development) the Biblical stories can be a beneficent aid to morality. But the emphasis of religious teaching should always be upon conduct rather than creed. It is a sufficient creed to believe in «a God, that is, a supreme being who loves justice and charity», and whose proper worship «consists in the practice of justice and love towards one’s neighbor». No other doctrine is necessary. 31

Aside from that doctrine, thought should be free. The Bible was not intended to be a textbook of science or philosophy; these are revealed to us in nature, and this natural revelation is the truest and most universal voice of God.

Between faith or theology and philosophy ... there is no connection, or affinity. ... Philosophy has no end in view save truth; faith ... looks for nothing but obedience and piety. ... Faith, therefore, allows the greatest latitude in philosophical speculation, allowing us without blame to think what we like about anything, and only condemning, as heretics and schismatics, those who teach opinions that tend to produce hatred, anger, and strife. 32

So Spinoza, in his own optimistic variation, renewed Pomponazzi’s distinction between two truths, the theological and the philosophical, each of which, though contradictory, may be allowed to the same person in the one case as a citizen, in the other as a philosopher. Spinoza would allow to secular officials the right to compel obedience to the laws; the state, like the individual, has the right of self-preservation. But he adds:

With religion the case is widely different. Since it consists not so much in outward action as in simplicity and truth of character, it stands outside the sphere of law and public authority. Simplicity and truth of character are not produced by the constraint of laws, nor by the authority of the state; no one the whole world over can be forced or legislated into a state of blessedness; the means required for such a consummation are faithful and brotherly admonition, sound education, and, above all, free use of the individual judgment. ... It is in every man’s power to wield the supreme right and authority of free judgment ... and to explain and interpret religion for himself. 33

The public practice of religion should be subject to state control, for though religion may be a vital force in molding morality, the state must remain supreme in all matters affecting public conduct. Spinoza was as firm an Erastian as Hobbes, and followed him in subordinating the Church to the state, but he cautioned his readers, «I speak here only of the outward observances, ... not of ... the inward worship». 34 And (probably having Louis XIV in mind) he rose to hot indignation in denouncing the use of religion by the state for purposes contrary to what he conceives as basic religion – justice and benevolence.

If, in despotic statecraft, the supreme and essential mystery be to hoodwink the subjects, and to mask the fear, which keeps them down, with the specious garb of religion, so that men may fight as bravely for slavery as for safety, and count it not shame but highest honor to risk their blood and their lives for the vainglory of a tyrant; yet in a free state no more mischievous expedient could be planned or attempted. [It is] wholly repugnant to the general freedom ... when law enters the domain of speculative thought, and opinions are put on trial and condemned on the same footing as crimes, while those who defend and follow them are sacrificed not to public safety, but to their opponents’ hatred and cruelty. If deeds alone could be made the ground of criminal charges, and words were always allowed to pass free, ... seditions would be divested of every semblance of justification, and would be separated from mere controversy by a hard and fast line. 35

In examining the Scriptures Spinoza faced the fundamental issue between Christians and Jews: Had Christianity been unfaithful to Christ in rejecting the Mosaic Law? In his opinion that Law was intended for the Jews in their own state, and not for other nations, not even for the Jews themselves when living in an alien society; only the moral laws in the Mosaic Code (like the Ten Commandments) have eternal and universal validity. 36 Some passages in Spinoza’s discussion of Judaism reveal a strong resentment of his excommunication, and an anxiety to justify his rejection of the synagogue’s teachings. But he joined the Jews in hoping for their early restoration to an autonomous Israel. «I would go so far as to believe that ... they may even raise up their state anew, and God may elect them a second time». 37

He made several approaches to Christianity. He apparently read the New Testament with increasing admiration for Christ. He rejected the notion of Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead, 38 but he found himself in such sympathy with the preaching of Jesus that he conceded to him a special revelation from God:

A man who can by pure intuition comprehend ideas which are neither contained in, nor deducible from, the foundation of our natural knowledge, must necessarily possess a mind far superior to those of his fellow men; nor do I believe that any have been so endowed save Christ. To him the ordinances of God leading to salvation were revealed directly without words or visions, so that God manifested himself to the Apostles through the mind of Christ, as he formerly did to Moses through the supernatural voice. In this sense the voice of Christ, like the voice which Moses heard, may be called the voice of God; and it may be said that the wisdom of God (wisdom more than human) 39 took upon itself in Christ human nature, and that Christ was the way of salvation. I must at this juncture declare that those doctrines, which certain churches put forward concerning Christ, I neither affirm nor deny, for I freely confess that I do not understand them. ... Christ communed with God mind to mind. Thus we may conclude that no one except Christ received the revelation of God without the aid of imagination, whether in words or vision. 40

This olive branch offered to the Christian leaders could not conceal from them that the Tractatus theologico-politicus was one of the boldest pronouncements yet made in the conflict between religion and philosophy. Hardly had it appeared when the church council of Amsterdam (June 30, 1670) protested to the Grand Pensionary of Holland that so heretical a volume should be allowed to circulate in a Christian state. A synod at The Hague, petitioned him to ban and confiscate «such soul-destroying books». 41 Lay critics joined in the attack upon Spinoza; one called him Satan incarnate; 42 Jean Le Clerc described him as «the most famous atheist of our time»; 43 Lambert van Velthuysen accused him of «craftily introducing atheism ... destroying all worship and religion from the very foundation». 44 Luckily for Spinoza, the Grand Pensionary, Jan de Witt, was one of his admirers, who had already conferred upon him a small pension. As long as de Witt lived and ruled, Spinoza could rely on his protection. That was to be for only two years.

III. The Philosopher

In May, 1670, shortly after publication of the Tractatus, Spinoza moved to The Hague, perhaps to be nearer to de Witt and other influential friends. For a year he stayed in the house of the Widow van Velen; then he passed to the home of Hendrik van der Spyck on the Pavilioensgracht; this building was bought in 1927 by an international committee, and is preserved as the Domus Spinozana. There he remained to the end of his life. He occupied one room on the top floor, and slept in a bed that during the day could be folded into the wall. 45 He «was sometimes three whole months without stepping out of doors», Bayle tells; perhaps his consumptive lungs made him fearful of the winter damp. But he had many visitors, and (again according to Bayle) he occasionally «visited persons of importance ... to discourse of state affairs», which «he understood well». 46 He continued to polish lenses; Christian Huygens commented on their excellence. 47 He kept an account of his expenditures; we learn therefrom that he lived on four and a half sous per day. His friends insisted on helping him, for they must have seen that his confinement to the house, and the dust from his lens polishing, were aggravating his constitutional ailment.

The protection that he received from Jan de Witt ended when a mob assassinated both the de Witt brothers in the streets of The Hague (August 20, 1672). Hearing of the murder, Spinoza wished to go out and denounce the crowd to its face as ultimi barbarorum, the lowest barbarians, but his host locked the door and prevented him from leaving the house. 48 Jan de Witt’s will left Spinoza an annuity of two hundred francs. 49 After the death of de Witt the civil power fell to Prince William Henry, who needed the support of the Calvinist clergy. When a second edition of the Tractatus theologico-politicus appeared in 1674, the Prince and the Council of Holland issued a decree prohibiting the sale of the book; and in 1675 the Calvinist consistory of The Hague published a proclamation bidding all citizens to report at once any attempt to print any writing by Spinoza. 50 Between 1650 and 1680 there were some fifty edicts, by church authorities, against the reading or circulation of the philosopher’s works. 51

Perhaps such prohibitions shared in spreading his fame into Germany, England, and France. On February 16, 1673, Johann Fabritius, professor in the University of Heidelberg, wrote «to the very acute and renowned Philosopher Benedictus de Spinoza» in the name of the liberal Elector of the Palatinate, Prince Charles Louis:

His Serene Highness ... has commanded me to write to you ... and ask whether you are willing to accept an ordinary professorship of philosophy in his illustrious university. You will be paid the annual salary which the ordinary professors enjoy today. You will not find elsewhere a prince more favorable to distinguished geniuses, among whom he reckons you. You will have the utmost freedom of philosophizing, which he believes you will not misuse to disturb the publicly established religion ...

Spinoza replied on March 30:

Most Honourable Sir:
If I had ever experienced a wish to take on a professorship in any faculty, I could have desired no other than that which is offered me through you by his Serene Highness the Elector Palatine. ... Since, however, it was never my intention to give public instruction, I cannot be induced to embrace this glorious opportunity ... For first, I think that if I want to find time for instructing youth, then I must desist from developing my philosophy. Secondly, ... I do not know within what limits that freedom of philosophizing ought to be confined in order to avoid the appearance of wishing to disturb the publicly established religion. For schisms arise not so much from an ardent love of religion as from men’s various dispositions, or the love of contradiction. ... I have already experienced these things while leading a private and solitary life; much more then are they to be feared after I shall have risen to this degree of dignity. Thus you see, Most Honored Sir, that I am not holding back in the hope of some better fortune, but from love of peace. 52

Spinoza was fortunate in his refusal, for in the following year Turenne devastated the Palatinate, and the university was closed.

In May, 1673, amid the invasion of the United Provinces by a French army, an invitation came to Spinoza from a colonel in that army to visit the Great Conde’ at Utrecht. Spinoza consulted the Dutch authorities, who may have seen in the invitation an opportunity to open negotiations for a desperately needed truce. Both sides gave him safe-conducts, and the philosopher made his way to Utrecht. Meanwhile Conde’ had been sent elsewhere by Louis XIV; he sent word (according to Lucas) 53 asking Spinoza to wait for him; but after several weeks another message said that he was indefinitely delayed. It was apparently at this time that Marechal de Luxembourg advised Spinoza to dedicate a book to Louis, assuring him of a liberal response from the King. 54 Nothing came of the proposal. Spinoza returned to The Hague, to find that many citizens suspected him of treason. A hostile crowd gathered about his house, shouting insults and throwing stones. «Do not be troubled», he told his landlord; «I am innocent, and there are many ... in high places who well know why I went to Utrecht. As soon as you hear any disturbance at your door I will go out to the people, even if they should treat me as they treated the good de Witt. I am an honest republican, and the welfare of the Republic is my aim». 55 His host would not let him go, and the crowd dispersed.

He was now forty-one. A portrait in the Domus Spinozana at The Hague shows him as a fine type of Sephardic Jew, with flowing black hair, heavy eyebrows, black, bright, and slightly somber eyes, a long straight nose, altogether a rather handsome face, if only in comparison with Hals’s Descartes. «He was extremely neat in his appearance», reported Lucas, «and never left his house without wearing clothes that distinguished the gentleman from the pedant». 56 His manners were grave but amiable. Oldenburg noted his «solid learning combined with humanity and refinement». 57 «Those who have been acquainted with Spinoza», wrote Bayle, «...all say that he was sociable, affable, honest, friendly, and a good moral man». 58 To his neighbors he spoke no heresy; on the contrary, he encouraged them to continue their church attendance, and occasionally he accompanied them to hear a sermon. 59 More than any other modern philosopher he achieved a tranquillity born of self-control. He rarely replied to criticism; he dealt with ideas rather than personalities. Despite his determinism, his uprooting from his people, and his illness, he was far from being a pessimist. «Act well», he said, «and rejoice». 60 To know the worst and believe the best might have been the motto of his thought.

Friends and admirers made a path to his door. Walter von Tschirnhaus persuaded him to let him see the manuscript of the Ethics. «I beg you», wrote the mathematician-physicist, «to help me with your usual courtesy wherever I do not rightly grasp your meaning». 61 Probably through this eager student Leibniz won access to Spinoza (1676), and presumably to the still unpublished masterpiece. The surviving members of Dr. Meyer’s circle in Amsterdam came to see him, or were among his correspondents. His letters to and from European scholars shed unexpected light upon the intellectual climate of the time. Hugo Boxel repeatedly urged him to admit the reality of ghosts. In 1675 the anatomist Steno sent from Florence a touching appeal for Spinoza’s conversion to Catholicism:

If you wish, I shall willingly take upon myself the task of showing you ... wherein your teachings are behind ours, although I should wish that you ... would offer to God a refutation of your own errors ... in order that if your first writings have turned aside a thousand souls from the true knowledge of God, the recantation of them, reinforced by your own example, may lead back to him a thousand thousand with you as with another Augustine. I pray with all my heart that this grace may be yours. Farewell. 62

The fascination of Catholicism captured also Albert Burgh, son of Spinoza’s friend Conraad Burgh, treasurer general of the United Provinces. Albert, like Steno, had become a convert while traveling in Italy. In September, 1675, he wrote to Spinoza not so much soliciting as challenging him to accept the Roman Catholic faith:

How do you know that your philosophy is the best among all those which have ever been taught in the world, or are actually taught now, or ever will be taught in the future? ... Have you examined all those philosophies, ancient as well as modern, which are taught here and in India and everywhere throughout the world? And even if you have duly examined them, how do you know that you have chosen the best? ...

If, however, you do not believe in Christ, you are more wretched than I can say. But the remedy is easy: return from your sins, and realize the fatal arrogance of your wretched and insane reasoning. ... Will you, you wretched little man, vile worm of the earth, ... dare, in your unspeakable blasphemy, to put yourself above the Incarnate, Infinite Wisdom? ...

From your principles you will not explain thoroughly even one of those things which are accomplished in witchcraft ..., nor will you be able to explain any of the stupendous phenomena among those who are possessed by demons, of all of which I have myself seen various instances, and I have heard most certain evidence. 63

Spinoza, in part, replied (December, 1675):

What I could scarcely believe when it was related me by others, I at last understand from your letter; that is, that not only have you become a member of the Roman Church ... but that you are a very keen champion of it, and have already learned to curse and rage petulantly against your opponents. I had not intended to reply to your letter, ... but certain friends who with me had formed great hopes for you from your natural talent, earnestly prayed me not to fail in the duty of a friend, and to think rather of what you recently were than of what you now are. ... I have been induced by these arguments to write to you these words, earnestly begging you to be kind enough to read them with a calm mind.
   I will not here recount the vices of priests and popes to turn you away from them, as the opponents of the Roman Church are wont to do. For they usually publish these things from ill-feeling, and ... in order to annoy rather than instruct. Indeed, I will admit that there are found more men of great learning, and of an upright life, in the Roman than in any other Christian Church; for since there are more ... members of this Church, there will also be found in it more men of every condition. ... In every Church there are many very honest men who worship God with justice and charity ... For justice and charity are the surest sign of the true Catholic faith ..., and wherever these are found, there Christ really is, and where they are lacking, there Christ also is not. For by the spirit of Christ alone can we be led to the love of justice and charity. If you had been willing duly to ponder these facts within yourself, you would not have been lost, nor would you have caused bitter sorrow to your parents. ...
   Your asked me, how I know that my philosophy is the best among all those which have ever been taught in the world, or are taught now, or will be taught in the future. This, indeed, I can ask you with far better right. For I do not presume that I have found the best philosophy, but I know that I think [it] the true one. ... But you who presume that you have at last found the best religion, or rather the best men, to whom you have given over your credulity, how do you know that they are the best among all those who have taught other religions, or are teaching them now, or will teach them in the future? Have you examined all those religions, both ancient and modern, which are taught here and in India, and everywhere throughout the world? And even if you have duly examined them, how do you know that you have chosen the best? ...
   Do you regard it as arrogance and pride because I use my reason, and acquiesce in that true Word of God which is in the mind and can never be depraved or corrupted? Away with this deadly superstition; acknowledge the reason which God has given you, and cultivate it, if you would not be numbered among the brutes. ... If you will ... examine the histories of the Church (of which I see you are most ignorant), in order to see how false are many of the Pontifical traditions ... and by what ... arts the Roman Pontiff, six hundred years after the birth of Christ, obtained sovereignty over the Church, I doubt not that you will at last come to your senses. That this may be so, I wish you from my heart. Farewell. 64

Burgh joined the Franciscan order, and died in a monastery in Rome.

Most of Spinoza’s extant correspondence was with Oldenburg. We are surprised to find that much of it deals with science, that Spinoza carried on experiments in physics and chemistry, and that his letters are illustrated with many diagrams. This correspondence was interrupted in 1665. Oldenburg was arrested in 1667, and was held in the Tower of London on suspicion of dealing with a foreign power. On his release he turned to religion, and when he resumed correspondence with Spinoza (1675) he joined in the effort to win him back to some form of orthodox Christianity. He begged him to take the story of Christ’s resurrection not allegorically but literally. «The whole Christian religion and its truth», he thought, «rests on this article of the Resurrection; and if it is taken away, the mission of Christ and his heavenly teaching collapse». 65 He finally gave up Spinoza as a lost soul, and discontinued the correspondence (1677).

All through the years from 1662 Spinoza had been working on the Ethics. As early as April, 1667, he wrote to Oldenburg that he was thinking of publishing it, but «I am naturally afraid lest the theologians ... take offense, and with their usual hatred attack me, who utterly loathe quarrels». 66 Oldenburg urged him to publish, «however much the theological quacks may growl», 67 but Spinoza still hesitated. He allowed some friends to read parts of the manuscript, and probably profited from their comments, for he repeatedly revised the treatise. The clamor aroused by the Tractatus theologico-politicus justified his caution. The murder of the de Witts, and the suspicions directed against him after his visit to the French army, further troubled him; and it was not till 1675 that he made another move to put the Ethics into print. He reported the results to Oldenburg:

At the time when I received your letter of 22 July, I was setting out for Amsterdam with the intention of getting printed the work about which I have written to you. While I was engaged in this matter a rumor was spread everywhere that a book of mine about God was in the press, and that in it I endeavored to show that there is no God. This rumor was believed by many. Therefore certain theologians ... seized the opportunity of bringing complaints against me before the Prince and the magistrates. ... When I heard all this ... I decided to postpone the publication I was preparing. 68

He put the manuscript away, and turned to writing a treatise on the state, Tractatus politicus, but death came upon him before he could finish it.

On February 6, 1677, Georg Hermann Schuller, a young physician, wrote to Leibniz: «I fear that Mr. Benedictus Spinoza will soon leave us, as the consumption ... seems to grow worse every day». 69 Two weeks later, while the rest of the household were absent, the philosopher entered upon his final suffering. Schuller alone (not Meyer, as formerly supposed) was with him at the time. Spinoza left instructions that his modest belongings be sold to pay his debts, and that such manuscripts as he had not burned be published anonymously. He died on February 20, 1677, without any religious ministrations. 70 He was buried in a cemetery of the New Church of The Hague, near the tomb of Jan de Witt. The manuscripts – chiefly the Ethics, the Tractatus politicus, and the treatise On the Improvement of the Intellect – were prepared for the press by Meyer, Schuller, and others, and were printed at Amsterdam toward the end of 1677.

And so we come at last to the book into which Spinoza had poured his life and solitary soul.

IV. God

He called it Ethica ordine geometrico demonstrata, first because he thought of all philosophy as a preparation for right conduct and wise living, and second because, like Descartes, he envied the intellectual asceticism and logical sequence of geometry. He hoped to build, on the model of Euclid, a structure of reasoning in which every step would follow logically from preceding proofs, and these would at last be irrefutably derived from axioms universally received. He knew that this was an ideal, and he could hardly have supposed it proof against error, for he had by a similar method expounded the Cartesian philosophy, with which he did not agree. At least the geometrical scheme would make for clarity; it would check the confusion of reason by passion, and the concealment of sophistry with eloquence. He proposed to discuss the behavior of men, and even the nature of God, as calmly and objectively as if he were dealing with circles, triangles, and squares. His procedure was not faultless, but it led him to rear an edifice of reason imposing in its architectural grandeur and unity. The method is deductive, and would have been frowned upon by Francis Bacon; but it claimed to be in harmony with all experience.

Spinoza began with definitions, mostly taken from medieval philosophy. The words he used have changed their meaning since his day, and now some of them obscure his thought. The third definition is fundamental: «I understand Substance to be that which is in itself and is conceived through itself; I mean that, the conception of which does not depend upon the conception of another thing from which it must be formed». He does not mean substance in the modern sense of material constituents; our use of the word to mean essence or basic significance comes closer to his intent. If we take literally his Latin term substantia, it indicates that which stands under, underlies, supports. In his correspondence 71 he speaks of «substance or being»; i.e., he identifies substance with existence or reality. Hence he can say that «existence appertains to the nature of substance», that in substance, essence and existence are one. 72 We may conclude that in Spinoza substance means the essential reality underlying all things.

This reality is perceived by us in two forms: as extension or matter, and as thought or mind. These two are «attributes» of substance; not as qualities residing in it, but as the same reality perceived externally by our senses as matter, and internally by our consciousness as thought. Spinoza is a complete monist: these two aspects of reality – matter and thought – are not distinct and separate entities, they are two sides, the outside and the inside, of one reality; so are body and mind, so is physiological action and the corresponding mental state. Strictly speaking, Spinoza, so far from being a materialist, is an idea list: he defines an attribute as «that which the intellect apprehends of substance as constituting its essence»; 73 he admits (long before Berkeley was born) that we know reality, whether as matter or as thought, only through perception or idea. He believes that reality expresses itself in endless aspects through an «infinite number of attributes», of which we imperfect organisms perceive only two. So far, then, substance, or reality, is that which appears to us as matter or mind. Substance and its attributes are one: reality is a union of matter and mind; and these are distinct only in our manner of perceiving substance. To put it not quite Spinozistically, matter is reality externally perceived; mind is reality internally perceived. If we could perceive all things in the same double way – externally and internally – as we perceive ourselves, we should, Spinoza believes, find that «all things are in some manner animate» (omnia quodammodo animata); 74 there is some form or degree of mind or life in everything. Substance is always active: matter is always in motion; mind is always perceiving or feeling or thinking or desiring or imagining or remembering, awake or in sleep. The world is in every part of it alive.

God, in Spinoza, is identical with substance; He is the reality underlying and uniting matter and mind. God is not identical with matter (therefore Spinoza is not a materialist), but matter is an inherent and essential attribute or aspect of God (here one of Spinoza’s youthful heresies reappears). God is not identical with mind (therefore Spinoza is not a spiritualist), but mind is an inherent and essential attribute or aspect of God. God and substance are identical with nature (Deus sive substantia sive natura) and the totality of all being (therefore Spinoza is a pantheist).

Nature has two aspects. As the power of motion in bodies, and as the power of generation, growth, and feeling in organisms, it is natura naturans – nature «creating» or giving birth. As the sum of all individual things, of all bodies, plants, animals, and men, it is natura naturata – generated or «created» nature. These individual entities in generated nature are called by Spinoza modi, modes – transient modifications and embodiments of substance, reality, matter-mind, God. They are part of substance, but in our perception we distinguish them as passing, fleeting forms of an eternal whole. This stone, this tree, this man, this planet, this star – all this marvelous kaleidoscope of appearing and dissolving individual forms – constitute that «temporal order» which, in On the Improvement of the Intellect, Spinoza contrasted with the «eternal order» that in a stricter sense is the underlying reality and God:

By series of causes and real entities I do not understand ... a series of individual mutable things, but the series of fixed and eternal things. For it would be impossible for human weakness to follow up the series of individual mutable things [every stone, every flower, every man] ... Their existence has no connection with their essence [they may exist, but need not], or ... is not an eternal truth ... This [essence] is only to be sought from fixed and eternal things, and from the laws inscribed in those things as in their true codes, according to which all individual things are made and arranged; nay, these individual and mutable things depend so intimately and essentially (so to speak) on these fixed ones, that without them they can neither exist nor be conceived. 75

So a single, specific triangle is a mode; it may but need not exist; but if it does it will have to obey the laws – and will have the powers – of the triangle in general. A specific man is a mode; he may or may not exist; but if he does he will share in the essence and power of matter-mind, and will have to obey the laws that govern the operations of bodies and thoughts. These powers and laws constitute the order of nature as natura naturans; they constitute, in theological terms, the will of God. The modes of matter in their totality are the body of God; the modes of mind in their totality, are the mind of God; substance or reality, in all its modes and attributes, is God; «whatever is, is in God». 76

Spinoza agrees with the Scholastic philosophers that in God essence and existence are one – His existence is involved in our conception of His essence, for he conceives God as all existence itself. He agrees with the Scholastics that God is causa sui, self-caused, for there is nothing outside him. He agrees with the Scholastics that we can know the existence of God, but not his real nature in all his attributes. He agrees with St. Thomas Aquinas that to apply the masculine pronouns to God is absurd but convenient. 77 He agrees with Maimonides that most of the qualities we ascribe to God are conceived by weak analogy with human qualities.

God is described as the lawgiver or prince, and styled just, merciful, etc., merely in concession to popular understanding and the imperfection of popular knowledge 78 ... God is free from passions, nor is he affected with any emotion [affectus] of joy or sorrow 79 ... Those who confuse divine with human nature easily attribute human passions to God, especially if they do not know how passions are produced in the mind. 80

God is not a person, for that means a particular and finite mind; but God is the total of all the mind (all the animation, sensitivity, and thought) – as well as of all the matter – in existence. 81 «The human mind is part of a certain infinite intellect» 82 (as in the Aristotelian-Alexandrian tradition). But «if intellect and will appertain to the eternal essence of God, something far else must be understood by these two attributes than what is commonly understood by men». 83 «The actual intellect, ... together with will, desire, love, etc., must be referred to the natura naturata, not to the natura naturans»; 84 that is, individual minds, with their desires, emotions, and volitions, are modes or modifications, contained in God as the totality of things, but not pertaining to Him as the law and life of the world. There is will in God, but only in the sense of the laws operating everywhere. His will is law.

God is not a bearded patriarch sitting on a cloud and ruling the universe; He is «the indwelling, not the transient, cause of all things». 85 There is no Creation, except in the sense that the infinite reality – matter-mind – is ever taking new individual forms or modes. «God is not in any one place, but is everywhere according to his essence». 86 Indeed, the word cause is out of place here; God is the universal cause not in the sense of a cause preceding its effect, but only in the sense that the behavior of anything follows necessarily from its nature. God is the cause of all events in the same way that the nature of a triangle is the cause of its properties and behavior. God is «free» only in the sense that He is not subject to any external cause or force, and is determined only by His own essence or nature; but He «does not act from freedom of will»; 87 all His actions are determined by His essence – which is the same as to say that all events are determined by the inherent nature and properties of things. There is no design in nature in the sense that God desires some end; He has no desires or designs, except as the totality contains all the desires and designs of all modes and therefore of all organisms. In nature there are only effects following inevitably from antecedent causes and inherent properties. There are no miracles, for the will of God and the «fixed and unchanged order of nature» are one; 88 any break in «the chain of natural events» would be a self-contradiction.

Man is only a small part of the universe. Nature is neutral as between man and other forms. We must not apply to nature or to God such words as good or evil, beautiful or ugly; these are subjective terms, as much so as hot or cold; they are determined by the contribution of the external world to our advantage or displeasure.

The perfection of things is to be judged by their nature and power alone; nor are they more or less perfect because they delight or offend the human senses, or because they are beneficial or prejudicial to human nature 89 ... If, therefore, anything in nature seems to us ridiculous, absurd, or evil, it is because we know only in part, and are almost entirely ignorant of, the order and interdependence of nature as a whole; and also because we want everything to be arranged according to the dictates of our human reason. In reality that which reason considers evil is not evil in respect to the order and laws of nature as a whole, but only in respect to the laws of our reason. 90

Likewise there is no beauty or ugliness in nature.

Beauty ... is not so much a quality of the object beheld, as an effect in him who beholds it. If our sight were longer or shorter, if our constitutions were different, what we now think beautiful we should think ugly. ... The most beautiful hand, seen through the microscope, will appear horrible 91 ... I do not attribute to nature either beauty or deformity, order or confusion. Only in relation to our imagination can things be called beautiful or ugly, well-formed, or confused. 92

Order is objective only in the sense that all things cohere in one system of law; but in that order a destructive storm is as natural as the splendor of a sunset or the sublimity of the sea.

Are we justified, on the basis of this «theology», in calling Spinoza an atheist? We have seen that he was not a materialist, for he did not identify God with matter; he says quite clearly that «those who think that the Tractatus [theologico-politicus] rests on the identification of God with nature – taking nature in the sense of a certain mass of corporeal matter – are entirely wrong». 93 He conceived God as mind as well as matter, and he did not reduce mind to matter; he acknowledged that mind is the only reality directly known. He thought that something akin to mind is mingled with all matter; in this respect he was a panpsychist. He was a pantheist, seeing God in all things, and all things in God. Bayle, Hume, and others 94 considered him an atheist; and this term might seem justified by Spinoza’s denial of feeling, desire, or purpose in God. 95 He himself, however, objected to «the opinion which the common people have of me, who do not cease to accuse me falsely of atheism». 96 Apparently he felt that his ascription of mind and intelligence to God absolved him from the charge of atheism. And it must be admitted that he spoke repeatedly of his God in terms of religious reverence, often in terms quite consonant with the conception of God in Maimonides or Aquinas. Novalis would call Spinoza «der Gottbetrunkene Mensch», the God-intoxicated man.

Actually he was intoxicated with the whole order of nature, which in its eternal consistency and movement seemed to him admirable and sublime; and in Book I of the Ethics he wrote both a system of theology and the metaphysics of science. In the world of law he felt a divine revelation greater than any book, however noble and beautiful. The scientist who studies that law, even in its pettiest and most prosaic detail, is deciphering that revelation, for «the more we understand individual objects, the more we understand God». 97 (This sentence struck Goethe as one of the profoundest in all literature.) It seemed to Spinoza that he had honestly accepted and met the challenge implicit in Copernicus – to reconceive deity in terms worthy of the universe now progressively revealed. In Spinoza science and religion are no longer in conflict; they are one.

V. Mind

Next to the nature and operation of the cosmos the greatest puzzle in philosophy and science is the nature and operation of the mind. If it is difficult to reconcile an omnipotent benevolence with the neutrality of nature and the fatality of suffering, it seems just as hard to understand how an apparently external and material object in space can generate an apparently immaterial and spaceless idea, or how an idea in the mind can become a motion in the body, or how idea can contemplate idea in the mystery of consciousness.

Spinoza tries to avoid some of these problems by rejecting Descartes’ assumption that body and mind are two different substances. Body and mind, he believes, are one and the same reality, perceived under two different aspects or attributes, just as extension and thought are one in God. There is then no problem of how body acts upon mind or vice versa; every action is the simultaneous and unified operation of both body and mind. Spinoza defines mind as «the idea of the body»; 98 i.e., it is the psychological (not necessarily the conscious) correlate or accompaniment of a physiological process. The mind is the body felt from within; the body is the mind seen from without. A mental state is the inside, or internal aspect, of bodily action. An act of «will» is the mental accompaniment of a bodily desire that is moving into physical expression. There is no action of the «will» upon the body; there is a single action of the psychophysical (mental-material) organism; the «will» is not the cause, it is the consciousness of the action. «The decision of the mind, and the desire and determination of the body are ... one and the same thing, which, when considered under the attribute of thought ..., we call a decision (decretum), and which, when considered under the attribute of extension, and deduced from the laws of motion and rest, is called a determination» (a finished action). 99 Hence «the order of the actions and passions [movements] of our body are simultaneous in nature with the order and passions of the mind». 100 In all cases of the supposed interaction of mind and body the actual process is not the interplay of two distinct realities, substances, or agents, but the single action of one substance, which, seen from outside, we call body, and which, seen from within, we call mind. To every process in the body there is a corresponding process in the mind; «nothing can happen in the body which is not perceived by the mind». 101 But this mental correlate need not be a thought; it may be a feeling; and it need not be conscious; so a sleepwalker performs any number of actions while he is «unconscious». 102 This theory has been called «psychophysical parallelism»; however, it supposes parallel processes not in two different entities, but in one psychophysical unity doubly seen.

On this basis Spinoza proceeds to a mechanistic description of the knowledge process. Probably following Hobbes, he defines sensation, memory, and imagination in physical terms. 103 He takes it as evident that most knowledge originates in impressions made upon us by external objects; but he admits to the idealist that «the human mind perceives no external body as actually existing save through ideas of modifications in its body». 104 Perception and reason, two forms of knowledge, are derived from sensation; but a third and higher form, «intuitive knowledge», is derived (Spinoza thinks) not from sensation but from a clear, distinct, immediate, and comprehensive awareness of an idea or event as part of a universal system of law.

Anticipating Locke and Hume, Spinoza rejects the notion that the mind is an agent or entity possessing ideas; «mind» is a general or abstract term for the succession of perceptions, memories, imaginations, feelings, and other mental states. «The idea of the mind, and the mind itself» at any moment, «are one and the same thing». 105 Nor are there any distinct «faculties» such as intellect or will; these also are abstract terms for the sum of cognitions or volitions; «intellect or will have reference in the same manner to this or that idea, or to this or that volition, as ‘stoniness’ to this or that stone, or ‘man’ to Peter or Paul». 106 Neither do idea and volition differ; a volition or act of «will» is merely an idea that has «affirmed itself» 107 (i.e., has lasted long enough to complete itself in an action, as ideas, if unimpeded, automatically do). «The decision of the mind ... is nothing but the affirmation which the idea necessarily involves insofar as it is an idea 108 ... Will and intellect are one and the same thing». 109

From another standpoint what we call will is simply the sum and play of desires. «By desire ... I understand all the efforts, impulses, appetites, and volitions of a man, which ... not infrequently are so opposed to one another that he is drawn hither and thither, and knows not where to turn». 110 Deliberation is the alternating domination of body-and-thought by conflicting desires; it ends when one desire proves powerful enough to maintain its corresponding mental state long enough to pass into action. Obviously (says Spinoza) there is no «free will»; the will at any moment is just the strongest desire. We are free insofar as we are allowed to express our nature or our desires without external hindrance; we are not free to choose our own nature or our desires; we are our desires. «There is in no mind absolute or free will, but the mind is determined for willing this or that by a cause which is determined in its turn by another cause, and this again by another, and so on to infinity». 111 «Men think themselves free because they are conscious of their volitions and desires, but are ignorant of the causes by which they are led to wish and desire»; 112 it is as if a stone flung through space should think it is moving and falling of its own will. 113

Possibly the Calvinist fatalism in the «climate of opinion» that Descartes and Spinoza lived in as residents of Holland may have shared with the Galilean mechanics (Newton’s Principia had not yet appeared) in molding the mechanistic theory in Descartes and the determinist psychology in Spinoza. Determinism is predestinarianism without theology; it substitutes the primeval vortex or nebula for God. Spinoza followed the logic of mechanism to its bitter end; he did not, like Descartes, confine it to bodies and animals; he applied it to minds as well, as he had to, since to him mind and body were one. He concluded that the body is a machine, 114 but he denied that determinism makes morality useless or insincere. The exhortations of the moralist, the ideals of the philosophers, the stigma of public condemnation, and the penalties of the courts are still valuable and necessary; they enter into the heritage and experience of the growing individual, and therefore into the factors that form his desires and determine his will.

VI. Man

Into this apparently static philosophy Spinoza inserts two dynamic elements: first and generally, that matter and mind are everywhere united, that all things are animated, that they have in them something akin to what in ourselves we call mind or will; second and specifically, that this vital element includes in everything a conatus sese preservandi – an «effort at self-preservation». «Everything insofar as it is in itself endeavors to preserve its own being», and «the power or endeavor of anything ... to persist in its own being is nothing else than ... the essence of that ... thing». 115 Like the Scholastic philosophers who said that esse est agere (to be is to act) and that God is actus purus (pure activity); like Schopenhauer, who saw in will the essence of all things; like those modern physicists who reduce matter to energy – Spinoza defines the essence of each being through its powers of action; «the power of God is the same as his essence»; 116 in this aspect God is energy (and energy might be named, in addition to matter and mind, as a third attribute which we perceive as constituting the essence of substance or reality). Spinoza follows Hobbes in ranking entities according to their capacity for action and effectiveness. «The perfection of things is estimated solely from their nature and power» 117 – but in Spinoza perfect means per-factum, complete.

Consequently he defines virtue as a power of acting or doing; «by virtue and power (potentia) I understand the same thing»; 118 but we shall see that this «potency» means power over ourselves perhaps even more than power over others. 119 «The more each one seeks what is useful to him – i.e., the more he endeavors and is able to preserve his being – the more he is endowed with virtue. ... The endeavor to preserve oneself is the only basis of virtue». 120 In Spinoza virtue is biological, almost Darwinian; it is any quality that makes for survival. In this sense, at least, virtue is its own reward; «it is to be desired for its own sake; nor is there anything more excellent or more useful to us ... for the sake of which virtue ought to be desired». 121

As the endeavor for self-preservation (the «struggle for existence») is the active essence of anything, all motives derive from it, and are ultimately self-seeking. «Since reason postulates nothing against nature, it postulates, therefore, that each man should love himself, and seek what is useful to him – I mean what is truly useful to him – and desire whatever leads man truly to a greater state of perfection [completion], and finally that each one should endeavor to preserve his being as far as in him lies». 122 These desires need not be conscious; they may be unconscious appetites lodged in our flesh. Taken altogether, they constitute the essence of man. 123 We judge all things in terms of our desires. «We do not strive for, wish, seek, or desire anything because we think it to be good; we judge a thing to be good because we ... desire it». 124 «By good (bonum) I understand that which we certainly know to be useful to us». 125 (Here is Bentham’s utilitarianism in one sentence.)

All our desires aim at pleasure or the avoidance of pain. «Pleasure is man’s transition from a lesser state of perfection [completion, fulfillment]». 126 Pleasure accompanies any experience or feeling that enhances the bodily-mental processes of activity and self-advancement. 127 «Joy consists in this, that one’s power is increased». 128 Any feeling that depresses our vitality is a weakness rather than a virtue. The healthy man will soon slough off the feelings of sadness, repentance, humility, and pity; 129 however, he will be readier than the weak man to render aid, for generosity is the superabundance of confident strength. Any pleasure is legitimate if it does not hinder a greater or more lasting pleasure. Spinoza, like Epicurus, recommends intellectual pleasures as the best, but he has a good word for a great variety of pleasures.

There cannot be too much merriment. ... Nothing save gloomy ... superstition prohibits laughter. ... To make use of things, and take delight in them as much as possible (not indeed to satiety, for that is not ... delight), is the part of a wise man; ... to feed himself with moderate pleasant food and drink, and to take pleasure with perfumes, ... plants, dress, music, sports, and theaters. 130

The trouble with the conception of pleasure as the realization of desires is that desires may conflict; only in the wise man do they fall into a harmonious hierarchy. A desire is usually the conscious correlate of an appetite which is rooted in the body; and so much of the appetite may remain unconscious that we have only «confused and inadequate ideas» of its causes and results. Such confused desires Spinoza called affectus, which may be translated by emotions. He defines these as «modifications of the body by which the power of action in the body is increased or diminished ... and at the same time the ideas of these modifications» 131 – a definition vaguely recognizing the role of internal (endocrine) secretions in emotion, and remarkably anticipating the theory of C.G. Lange and William James that the bodily expression of an emotion is the direct and instinctive result of the cause, and that the conscious feeling is an accompaniment or result, not a cause, of the bodily expression and response. Spinoza proposed to study the emotions – love, hate, anger, fear, etc. – and the power of reason over them, «in the same manner ... as if I were dealing with lines, planes, and bodies»; 132 not to praise or denounce them but to understand them; for «the more an emotion becomes known to us, the more it is within our power, and the less the mind is passive to it». 133 The resulting analysis of the emotions owed something to Descartes, perhaps more to Hobbes, but it so improved upon them that when Johannes Müller, in his epochal Physiologie des Menschen (1840), came to treat of the emotions, he wrote: «With regard to the relations of the passions to one another, apart from their physiological conditions, it is impossible to give any better account than that which Spinoza has laid down with unsurpassed mastery» 134 – and he proceeded to quote extensively from the Ethics.

An emotion becomes a passion when, through our confused and inadequate ideas of its origin and significance, its external cause dictates our feeling and response, as in hatred, anger, or fear. «The mind is more or less subject to passions according as it has more or less adequate ideas». 135 A man with poor powers of perception and thought is especially subject to passion; it is such a life that Spinoza describes in his classic Book IV, «Of Human Bondage». Such a man, however violent his action may be, is really passive – is swept along by an external stimulus instead of holding his hand and taking thought. «We are driven about by external causes in many ways, and, like waves driven by contrary winds, we waver and are unconscious of the issue and our fate». 136

Can we free ourselves from this bondage, and become in some measure the masters of our lives?

VII. Reason

Never completely, for we remain part of nature, subject (as Napoleon was to say) to «the nature of things». And since the emotions are our motive force, and reason can be only a light and not a fire, «an emotion can neither be hindered nor removed save by a contrary and stronger emotion». 137 Hence society rightly seeks to moderate our passions by appealing to our love of praise and rewards, our fear of blame and punishment. 138 And society rightly labors to instill in us a sense of right and wrong as another check to passion. Conscience, of course, is a social product, not an innate endowment or divine gift. 139

But to use the imaginary rewards and punishments of a life after death as stimulants to morality is an encouragement to superstition and quite unworthy of a mature society. Virtue should be – and is – its own reward, if we define it, like men, as ability, intelligence, and strength, and not, like cowards, as obedience, humility, and fear. Spinoza resented the Christian view of life as a vale of tears, and of death as a door to heaven or hell; this, he felt, casts a pall over human affairs, clouding with the notion of sin the legitimate aspirations and enjoyments of men. To be daily thinking of death is an insult to life. «A free man thinks of nothing less than of death, and his wisdom is a meditation not on death but on life». 140

Nevertheless Spinoza seems at times to flutter around the idea of immortality. His theory of mind and body as two aspects of the same reality committed him in logic to view their death as simultaneous. He affirms this quite clearly: «The present existence of the mind, and its power of imagining, are taken away as soon as the mind ceases to affirm the present existence of the body»; 141 and again: «The mind can imagine nothing, nor can it recollect anything that is past, except while the body exists. 142 In Book V some hazy distinctions appear. «If we look at the common opinion of men, we shall see that they are indeed conscious of the eternity of their minds, but they confound this with duration, and attribute it to imagination and memory, which they believe remain after death». 143 Insofar as the mind is a series of temporal ideas, memories, and imaginations connected with a particular body, it ceases to exist when that body dies; this is the mortal duration of the mind. But insofar as the human mind conceives things in their eternal relationships as part of the universal and unchanging system of natural law, it sees things as in God; it becomes to that extent part of the divine eternal mind, and is eternal.

Things are conceived as actual in two ways by us, either insofar as we conceive them to exist with relation to certain time and space, or insofar as we conceive them to be contained in God [the eternal order and laws], and to follow from the necessity of the divine nature [those laws]. But those things which are conceived in this second manner as true or real we conceive under a certain species of eternity [sub quadam specie aeternitatis – in their eternal aspect], and their ideas involve the eternal and infinite essence of God. 144

When we see things in that timeless way we see them as God sees them; our minds to that extent become part of the divine mind, and share eternity.

We attribute to the human mind no duration which can be defined by time. But as there is nevertheless something else which is conceived under a certain eternal necessity through the essence of God, this something will be necessarily the eternal part which appertains to the mind 145 ... We are certain that the mind is eternal insofar as it conceives things under the species of eternity. 146

Let us suppose that in contemplating the majestic sequence of apparent cause and effect according to apparently everlasting laws, Spinoza felt that through «divine philosophy» he had escaped, like some sinless Buddha, from the chain of time, and had shared in the viewpoint and tranquility of an eternal mind.

Despite this seeming reach for the moon, Spinoza devoted most of his concluding Book V, «Of Human Liberty», to formulating a natural ethic, a fount and system of morals independent of survival after death, though fondly using religious terms. One sentence reveals his starting point: «An emotion which is a passion ceases to be a passion as soon as we form a clear and distinct idea of it» 147 – that is, an emotion aroused in us by external events can be reduced from passion to controlled feeling by letting our knowledge play upon it until its cause and nature become clear, and its result in action can, through remembered experience, be foreseen. One method of clearing up an emotional state is to see the events that begot it as part of a chain of natural causes and necessary effects. «Insofar as the mind understands all things as necessary, it has more power over the emotions, and is less passive to them» 148 – less given to passions. No one becomes passionate at what he considers natural and necessary. Anger at an insult can be cooled by viewing the offender as the product of circumstances outreaching his control; grief over the passing of aged parents can be moderated by realizing the naturalness of death. «The endeavor to understand is the first and only basis of virtue», 149 in Spinoza’s sense of this word, for it reduces our subjection to external factors, and increases our power to control and preserve ourselves. Knowledge is power; but the best and most useful form of that power is power over ourselves.

So Spinoza works his Euclidean way to the life of reason. Recalling his three kinds of knowledge, he describes merely sensory knowledge as leaving us too open to domination by external influences; rational knowledge (reached by reasoning) as gradually freeing us from bondage to the passions by letting us see the impersonal and determined causes of events; and intuitive knowledge – direct awareness of the cosmic order – as making us feel ourselves part of that order and «one with God». «We should expect and bear both faces of fortune with an equal mind; for all things follow by the eternal decree of God in the same way as it follows from the essence of a triangle that its three angles will make two right angles». 150 This escape from thoughtless passion is the only true freedom; 151 and he who achieves it, as the Stoics used to say, can be free in almost any condition in any state. The greatest gift that knowledge can give us is to see ourselves as reason sees us.

On this naturalistic basis Spinoza arrives at some ethical conclusions surprisingly like Christ’s:

He who rightly knows that all things follow from the necessity of divine nature, and come to pass according to eternal, natural, and regular laws, will find nothing at all that is worthy of hatred, laughter, or contempt, nor will he deplore anyone; but as far as human virtue can go, he will endeavor to act well ... and rejoice. 152 ...  Those who cavil at men, and prefer rather to reprobate vices than to inculcate virtues ..., are a nuisance both to themselves and to others. 153 ...  A strong man hates no one, is enraged with no one, envies no one, is indignant with no one, and is in no wise proud. 154 ...  He who lives under the guidance of reason endeavors as much as possible to repay hatred, rage, contempt, etc., with love and nobleness. ... He who wishes to avenge injuries by reciprocal hatred will live in misery. Hatred is increased by reciprocated hatred, and, on the contrary, can be demolished by love. 155 ...  Men under the guidance of reason ... desire nothing for themselves which they do not also desire for the rest of mankind. 156

Does this control of emotion by reason contradict, as some 157 have thought, Spinoza’s admission that only an emotion can overcome an emotion? It would unless the following of reason could itself be raised to an emotional level and warmth. «A true knowledge of good and evil cannot restrain any emotion insofar as the knowledge is true, but only insofar as it is considered as an emotion». 158 This need, and perhaps a desire to kindle reason with phrases hallowed by piety and time, led Spinoza to the final and culminating thought of his work – that the life of reason must be inspired and ennobled by the «intellectual love of God». Since God, in Spinoza, is the basic reality and invariable law of the cosmos itself, this amor intellectualis dei is not the abject propitiation of some nebular sultan, but the wise and willing adjustment of our ideas and conduct to the nature of things and the order of the world. Reverence for the will of God and an understanding acceptance of the laws of nature are one and the same thing. Just as the mathematician finds a certain awe and ecstasy in viewing the world as subject to mathematical regularities, so the philosopher may take the deepest pleasure in contemplating the grandeur of a universe moving imperturbably in the rhythm of universal law. Since «love is pleasure accompanied by the idea of an external cause», 159 the pleasure we derive from viewing – and adapting ourselves to – the cosmic order rises to the emotion of love toward the God who is the order and life of the whole. Then «love toward a being eternal and infinite fills the mind completely with joy». 160 This contemplation of the world as a necessary result of its own nature – of the nature of God – is the ultimate source of content in the mind of the sage; it brings him the peace of understanding, of limitations recognized, of truth accepted and loved. «The highest good (summum bonum) of the mind is the knowledge of God, and the highest virtue of the mind is to know God». 161

Thus Spinoza mated the mathematician and the mystic in his soul. He still refused to see in his God a spirit capable of returning man’s love, or of rewarding litanies with miracles; but he applied to his deity the tender terms that for thousands of years had inspired and comforted the simplest devotees and the profoundest mystics of Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Cold in the solitude of his philosophic empyrean, longing to find something in the universe to receive his adoration and his confidence, the gentle heretic who had viewed the cosmos as a geometrical diagram ended by seeing and losing all things in God, by becoming, to the confusion of posterity, the God-intoxicated «atheist». The compulsion to find meaning in the universe made the exile from every faith conclude his seeking with the vision of an omnipresent divinity, and an exalting sense that, if only for a moment, he had touched eternity.

VIII. The state

Perhaps, when Spinoza had finished the Ethics, he felt that, like most Christian saints, he had formulated a philosophy for the use and salvation of the individual rather than for the guidance of citizens in a state. So, toward 1675, he set himself to consider man as a «political animal», and to apply reason to the problems of society. He began his fragmentary Tractatus politicus with the same resolve that he had made in analyzing the passions – to be as objective as a geometer or a physicist:

That I might investigate the subject matter of this science with the same freedom of spirit as we generally use in mathematics, I have labored carefully not to mock, lament, or execrate human actions, but to understand them; and to this end I have looked upon passions, such as love, hatred, anger, envy, ambition, pity, and the other perturbations of the mind, not in the light of vices of human nature, but as properties just as pertinent to it as are heat, cold, storm, thunder, and the like to the nature of the atmosphere. 162

Since human nature is the material of politics, Spinoza felt that a study of the state should begin by considering the basic character of man. We might understand this better if we could imagine man before social organization modified his conduct by force, morality, and law; and if we would remember that underneath his general and reluctant submission to these socializing influences he is still agitated by the lawless impulses that in the «state of nature» were restrained only by fear of hostile power. Spinoza follows Hobbes and many others in supposing that man once existed in such a condition, and his picture of this hypothetical savage is almost as dark as in The Leviathan. In that Garden of Evil the might of the individual was the only right; nothing was a crime, because there was no law; and nothing was just or unjust, right or wrong, because there was no moral code. Consequently «the law and ordinance of nature ... forbids nothing ... and is not opposed to strife, hatred, anger, treachery, or in general anything that appetite suggests». 163 By «natural right», then – i.e., by the operations of «nature» as distinct from the rules and laws of society – every man is entitled to whatever he is strong enough to get and to hold; and this is still assumed between species and between states; 164 hence man has a «natural right» to use animals for his service or his food. 165

Spinoza moderates this savage picture by suggesting that man, even in his first appearance on the earth, may have been already living in social groups. «Since fear of solitude exists in all men – because no one in solitude is strong enough to defend himself and procure the necessaries of life – it follows that men by nature tend towards social organization». 166 Men, then, have social as well as individualistic instincts, and society and the state have some roots in the nature of man. However and whenever it came about, men and families united in groups, and the «natural right», or might of the individual was now limited by the right or might of the community. Doubtless men accepted these restrictions reluctantly, but they accepted them when they learned that social organization was their most powerful tool for individual survival and development. So the definition of virtue as any quality that makes for survival – as «the endeavor to preserve oneself» 167 – has to be enlarged to include any quality that makes for the survival of the group. Social organization, the state despite its restraints, civilization despite its artifices – these are the greatest inventions that man has made for his preservation and development.

Therefore Spinoza anticipates Voltaire’s answer to Rousseau:

Let satirists laugh to their hearts’ content at human affairs, let theologians revile them, let the melancholy praise as much as they can the rude and barbarous isolated life, let them despise men and admire the brutes; despite all this, men will find that they can prepare with mutual aid far more easily what they need. ... A man who is guided by reason is freer in a state where he lives according to common law than in solitude where he is subject to no law. 168

And Spinoza rejects also the other end of the law-less dream – the utopia of the philosophical anarchist:

Reason, can, indeed, do much to restrain and moderate the passions, but we saw ... that the road which reason herself points out is very steep; so that such as persuade themselves that the multitude ... can ever be induced to live according to the bare dictates of reason must be dreaming of the poetic golden age, or of some stage play. 169

The purpose and function of the state should be to enable its members to live the life of reason.

The last end of the state is not to dominate men, nor to restrain them by fear; rather it is to set free each man from fear, that he may live and act with full security and without injury to himself or his neighbor. The end of the state ... is not to make rational beings into brute beasts and machines [as in war]; it is to enable their bodies and their minds to function safely. It is to lead men to live by, and to exercise, a true reason. ... The end of the state is really liberty. 170

Consequently Spinoza renews his plea for freedom of speech, or at least of thought. But yielding, like Hobbes, to fear of theological fanaticism and strife, he proposes not merely to subject the church to state control, but to have the state determine what religious doctrines shall be taught to the people. Quandoque dormitat Homerus.

He proceeds to discuss the traditional forms of government. As became a Dutch patriot resenting the invasion of Holland by Louis XIV, he had no admiration for monarchy, and he sharply counters Hobbes’s absolutism:

Experience is supposed to teach that it makes for peace and concord when all authority is conferred upon one man. For no political order has stood so long without notable change as that of the Turks, while none have been so short-lived, nay, so vexed by seditions, as popular or democratic states. But if slavery, barbarism, and desolation are to be called peace, then peace is the worst misfortune that can befall a state. ... Slavery, not peace, comes from the giving of all power to one man. For peace consists not in the absence of war, but in a union and harmony of men’s souls. 171

Aristocracy, as «government by the best», would be fine if the best were not subject to class spirit, violent faction, and individual or family greed. «If patricians ... were free from all passion, and guided by mere zeal for the public welfare ..., no dominion could be compared with aristocracy. But experience itself teaches us only too well that things pass in quite a contrary manner». 172

And so Spinoza, in his dying days, began to outline his hopes for democracy. He who had loved the mob-murdered de Witt had no delusions about the multitude. «Those who have had experience of how changeful the temper of the people is, are almost in despair. For the populace is governed not by reason but by emotion; it is headlong in everything, and easily corrupted by avarice and luxury». 173 Yet «I believe democracy to be of all forms of government the most natural, and the most consonant with individual liberty. In it no one transfers his natural right so absolutely that he has no further voice in affairs; he only hands it over to the majority». 174 Spinoza proposed to admit to the suffrage all males except minors, criminals, and slaves. He excluded women because he judged them by their nature and their burdens to be less fit than men for deliberation and government. 175 He thought that ruling officials would be encouraged to good behavior and peaceful policies if «the militia should be composed of the citizens only, and none of them be exempted; for an armed man is more independent than a man unarmed». 176 The care of the poor, he felt, was an obligation incumbent on the society as a whole. 177 And there should be but a single tax:

The fields, and the whole soil, and, if it can be managed, the houses, should be public property, that is, the property of him who holds the right of the commonwealth; and let him lease them at a yearly rent to the citizens. ... With this exception, let them all be free and exempt from every kind of taxation in time of peace. 178

Then, just as he was entering upon the most precious part of his treatise, death took the pen from his hand.

IX. The chain of influence

In the great chain of ideas that binds the history of philosophy into one noble groping of baffled human thought, we can see Spinoza’s system forming in twenty centuries behind him, and sharing in shaping the modern world. First, of course, he was a Jew. Excommunicated though he was, he could not shed that intensive heritage, nor forget his years of poring over the Old Testament and the Talmud and the Jewish philosophers. Recall again the heresies that must have startled his attention in Ibn Ezra, Maimonides, Hasdai Crescas, Levi ben Gerson, and Uriel Acosta. His training in the Talmud must have helped to sharpen that logical sense which made the Ethics a classic temple of reason. «Some begin» their philosophy «from created things», he said, «and some from the human mind. I begin from God». 179 That was the Jewish way.

From the philosophers traditionally most admired he took little – though in his distinction between the world of passing things and the divine world of eternal laws we may find another form of Plato’s division between individual entities and their archetypes in the mind of God. Spinoza’s analysis of the virtues has been traced to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. 180 But «the authority of Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates», he told a friend, «has not much weight with me». 181 Like Bacon and Hobbes, he preferred Democritus, Epicurus, and Lucretius. His ethical ideal may echo the Stoics; we hear in it some tones of Marcus Aurelius; but it was fully consistent with Epicurus.

He owed more to the Scholastic philosophers than he realized, for they came to him through the medium of Descartes. They too, like Thomas Aquinas in the great Summa, had attempted a geometrical exposition of philosophy. They gave him such terms as substantia, natura naturans, attributum, essentia, summum bonum, and many more. Their identification of existence and essence in God became his identification of existence and essence in substance. He extended to man their merger of intellect and will in God.

Perhaps (as Bayle thought) Spinoza read Bruno. He accepted Giordano’s distinction between natura naturans and natura naturata; he may have taken term and idea from Bruno’s conato de conservarsi; 182 he may have found in the Italian the unity of body and mind, of matter and spirit, of world and God, and the conception of the highest knowledge as that which sees all things in God – though the German mystics must have spread that view even into commercial Amsterdam.

More immediately, Descartes inspired him with philosophical ideals, and repelled him with theological platitudes. He was inspired by Descartes’ ambition to make philosophy march with Euclid in form and clarity. He probably followed Descartes in drawing up rules to guide his life and work. He adopted too readily Descartes’ notion that an idea must be true if it is «clear and distinct». He accepted and universalized the Cartesian view of the world as a mechanism of cause and effect reaching from some primeval vortex right up to the pineal gland. He acknowledged his indebtedness to Descartes’ analysis of the passions. 183

The Leviathan of Hobbes, in Latin translation, obviously evoked much welcome in Spinoza’s thought. Here the conception of mechanism was worked out without mercy or fear. The mind, which in Descartes was distinct from the body and was endowed with freedom and immortality, became, in Hobbes and Spinoza, subject to universal law, and capable of only an impersonal immortality or none at all. Spinoza found in The Leviathan an acceptable analysis of sensation, perception, memory, and idea, and an unsentimental analysis of human nature. From the common starting point of a «state of nature» and a «social compact» the two thinkers came to contrary conclusions: Hobbes, from his royalist circles, to monarchy; Spinoza, from his Dutch patriotism, to democracy. Perhaps it was through Hobbes that the gentle Jew was led to Machiavelli; he refers to him as «that most acute Florentine», and again as «that most ingenious ..., foreseeing man». But he escaped the confusion of right with might, recognizing that this is forgivable only 184 among individuals in the «state of nature», and among states before the establishment of effective international law.

All these influences were tempered and molded by Spinoza into a structure of thought awe-inspiring in its apparent logic, harmony, and unity. There were cracks in the temple, as friends and enemies pointed out: Oldenburg ably criticized the opening axioms and propositions of the Ethics, 185 and Überweg subjected them to a Germanically meticulous analysis. 186 The logic was brilliant, but perilously deductive; though based upon personal experience, it was an artistry of thought resting upon internal consistency rather than objective fact. Spinoza’s trust in his reasoning (though what other guide could he have?) was his sole immodesty. He expressed his confidence that man can understand God, or essential reality and universal law; he repeatedly avowed his conviction that he had proved his doctrines beyond all question or obscurity; and sometimes he spoke with an assurance unbecoming in a spray of foam analyzing the sea. What if all logic is an intellectual convenience, a heuristic tool of the seeking mind, rather than the structure of the world? So the inescapable logic of determinism reduces consciousness (as Huxley confessed) to an epiphenomenon – an apparently superfluous appendage of psychophysical processes which, by the mechanics of cause and effect, would go on just as well without it; and yet nothing seems more real, nothing more impressive, than consciousness. After logic has had its say, the mystery, tam grande secretum, remains.

These difficulties may have shared in the unpopularity of Spinoza’s philosophy in the first century after his death; but resentment was more violently directed against his critique of the Bible, prophecies, and miracles, and his conception of God as lovable but impersonal and deaf. The Jews thought of their son as a traitor to his people; the Christians cursed him as a very Satan among philosophers, an Antichrist who sought to rob the world of all meaning, mercy, and hope. Even the heretics condemned him. Bayle was repelled by Spinoza’s view that all things and all men are modes of the one and only substance, cause, or God; then, said Bayle, God is the real agent of all actions, the real cause of all evil, all crimes and wars; and when a Turk slays a Hungarian it is God slaying Himself; this, Bayle protested (forgetting the subjectivity of evil) was a «most absurd and monstrous hypothesis». 187 Leibniz was for a decade (1676-86) strongly influenced by Spinoza. The doctrine of monads as centers of psychic force may owe something to omnia quodammmodo animata. At one time Leibniz declared that only one feature of Spinoza’s philosophy offended him – the rejection of final causes, or providential design, in the cosmic process. 188 When the outcry against Spinoza’s «atheism» became universal, Leibniz joined in it as part of his own conatus sese preservandi.

Spinoza had a modest, almost a concealed, share in generating the French Enlightenment. The leaders of that combustion used Spinoza’s Biblical criticism as a weapon in their war against the Church, and they admired his determinism, his naturalistic ethic, his rejection of design in nature. But they were baffled by the religious terminology and apparent mysticism of the Ethics. We can imagine the reaction of Voltaire or Diderot, of Helvetius or d’Holbach, to such statements as «The mental intellectual love towards God is the very love of God with which God loves himself». 189

The German spirit was more responsive to this side of Spinoza’s thought. According to a conversation (1780) reported by Friedrich Jacobi, Lessing not only confessed that he had been a Spinozist through all his mature life, but affirmed that «there is no other philosophy than Spinoza’s». 190 It was precisely the pantheistic identification of nature and God that thrilled the Germany of the romantic movement after the Aufklärung under Frederick the Great had run its course. Jacobi, champion of the new Gefühlsphilosophie, was among the first defenders of Spinoza (1785); it was another German romantic, Novalis, who called Spinoza «der Gottbetrunkene Mensch»; Herder thought that he had found in the Ethics the reconciliation of religion and philosophy; and Schleiermacher, the liberal theologian, wrote of «the holy and excommunicated Spinoza». 191 The young Goethe was «converted» (he tells us) at his first reading of the Ethics; henceforth Spinozism pervaded his (nonsexual) poetry and prose; it was partly by breathing the calm air of the Ethics that he grew out of the wild romanticism of Götz von Berlichingen and Die Leben des Jungen Werthers to the Olympian poise of his later life. Kant interrupted this stream of influence for a while; but Hegel professed that «to be a philosopher one must first be a Spinozist»; and he rephrased Spinoza’s God as «Absolute Reason». Probably something of Spinoza’s conatus sese preservandi entered into Schopenhauer’s «will to live» and Nietzsche’s «will to power».

England for a century knew Spinoza chiefly through hearsay, and denounced him as a distant and terrible ogre. Stillingfleet (1677) referred to him vaguely as «a late author [who] I hear is mightily in vogue among many who cry up anything on the atheistical side». A Scottish professor, George Sinclair (1685), wrote of «a monstrous rabble of men who, following the Hobbesian and Spinosian principle, slight religion and undervalue the Scripture». Sir John Evelyn (1690?) spoke of the Tractatus theologico-politicus as «that infamous book», a «wretched obstacle to the searchers of holy truth». Berkeley (1732), while ranking Spinoza among «weak and wicked writers», thought him «the great leader of our modern infidels». 192 As late as 1739 the agnostic Hume shuddered cautiously at the «hideous hypothesis» of «that famous atheist», the «universally infamous Spinoza». 193 Not till the romantic movement at the turn of the eighteenth into the nineteenth century did Spinoza really reach the English mind. Then he, more than any other philosopher, inspired the youthful metaphysics of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley and Byron. Shelley quoted the Tractatus theologico-politicus in the original notes to Queen Mab, and began a translation of it, for which Byron pledged a preface; a fragment of this version came into the hands of an English critic, who, taking it for a work by Shelley himself, called it a «schoolboy speculation ... too crude for publication entire». George Eliot translated the Ethics with virile resolution, and James Froude 194 and Matthew Arnold 195 acknowledged the influence of Spinoza on their mental development. Of all the intellectual products of man, religion and philosophy seem to endure the longest. Pericles is famous because he lived in the days of Socrates.

We love Spinoza especially among the philosophers because he was also a saint, because he lived, as well as wrote, philosophy. The virtues praised by the great religions were honored and embodied in the outcast who could find a home in none of the religions, since none would let him conceive God in terms that science could accept. Looking back upon that dedicated life and concentrated thought, we feel in them an element of nobility that encourages us to think well of mankind. Let us admit half of the terrible picture that Swift drew of humanity; let us agree that in every generation of man’s history, and almost everywhere, we find superstition, hypocrisy, corruption, cruelty, crime, and war: in the balance against them we place the long roster of poets, composers, artists, scientists, philosophers, and saints. That same species upon which poor Swift revenged the frustrations of his flesh wrote the plays of Shakespeare, the music of Bach and Handel, the odes of Keats, the Republic of Plato, the Principia of Newton, and the Ethics of Spinoza; it built the Parthenon and painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; it conceived and cherished, even if it crucified, Christ. Man did all this; let him never despair.

1 Kayser, Spinoza, 41.
2 Maimonides, Guide to the Perplexed, I, Introd.; II, Props.
3 III, Props. 22, 30, etc.
4 Ibid., II, pp. 17f.
5 II, Prop. 2, Introd.; Zeitlin, Maimonides, 151.
6 Later van den Ende served the Dutch as a secret agent in Paris; he was captured by the French government, and was hanged (1676). [Martin, H., Louis XIV, I, 403.]
7 Jewish Encyclopedia, VIII, 29.
8 Lucas, Life of Spinoza, in Clark, Great Short Biographies, 718.
9 Ibid., 719, 720.
10 Graetz, History of the Jews, V, 93.
11 Ibid.
12 Lucas, 720.
13 Graetz, V, 94.
14 Lucas, 722.
15 Wolf, A., in Spinoza, Correspondence, 49.
16 Kayser, 137.
17 Spinoza, Correspondence, 146, Letter xix.
18 Spinoza, Ethics, Part IV, Prop. 45, Scholium II.
19 Waxman, History of Jewish Literature, II, 263.
20 Bayle, Selections, 305.
21 Spinoza, On the Improvement of the Intellect, Nos. 1-10.
22 Ibid., Nos. 13 and 41.
23 No. 16.
24 Roth, Leon, Spinoza, p. 25.
25 Brunschvicg, L., Spinoza et ses contemporains, p. 138.
26 Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, Pref.
27 Ibid., Ch. ix.
28 Ch. ii, p. 33.
29 Ch. i, p. 24.
30 Ch. vi, p. 92.
31 Ch. xiv, p. 186.
32 Ibid., p. 189.
33 Ch. vii, p. 118.
34 Ch. xix, p. 245.
35 Preface, p. 5.
36 Ibid., p. 8.
37 In Kayser, 202.
38 Correspondence, 348 (Letter LXXV).
39 Cf. the Sophia of the Book of Wisdom, and the Logos of the Fourth Gospel.
40 Tractatus, Ch. i, p. 18.
41 Kayser, 247.
42 Meyer, R. W., Leibniz and the 17th Century Revolution, 47.
43 Ibid., 46.
44 Kayser, 168-69.
45 Ibid., 231.
46 Bayle, Selections, 305-6.
47 Brunschvicg, 140.
48 Ibid., 146.
49 Lucas, in Clark, 724. Some scholars question the acquaintance of Spinoza with Jan de Witt. Cf. Clark, The Seventeenth Century, 223n.
50 Kayser, 249-51.
51 Putnam, Censorship of the Church of Rome, II, 255.
52 Correspondence, Letter XLVIII.
53 Lucas, 725.
54 Brunschvicg, 141.
55 Kayser, 262-65; Enc. Brit., XXI, 234b.
56 Lucas, 725.
57 Correspondence, Letter I.
58 Bayle, Selections, 306.
59 Ibid., 307.
60 Spinoza, Ethics, iv, 50, scholium.
61 Correspondence, Letter LXV.
62 Letter LXVII.
63 Ibid.
64 Letter LXXVI.
65 Letter LXXIX.
66 Letter VI.
67 Letter VII.
68 Letter LXVIII.
69 Kayser, 298.
70 Bayle, Selections, 308.
71 Letter IX.
72 Ethics, i, 8; Scholium II.
73 Ibid., i; Definition IV.
74 ii, 13, scholium.
75 On the Improvement of the Intellect, Nos. 99-101.
76 Ethics, i, 15.
77 Language usually makes Nature feminine and God masculine; by identifying them Spinoza does more justice to the female or productive principle in reality. Perhaps the masculinization of God was part of the patriarchal subordination of woman, who is, after all, the main stream of human reality.
78 Tractatus, p. 65.
79 Ethics, v, 17.
80 Ibid., i, 8; Scholium II.
81 Cf. Wolfson, H, Philosophy of Spinoza, II, 158.
82 Letter XXXII; Ethics, ii, 11, corollary.
83 Ethics, i, 17, note.
84 Ibid., i, 31.
85 Ibid., 18.
86 Letter LXXV.
87 Ethics, i, 32, Corollary 1.
88 Tractatus, pp. 44, 92.
89 Ethics, i, appendix.
90 Tractatus, p. 202.
91 Letter LIV.
92 Ethics, i, appendix.
93 Letter LXXIII.
94 Including Wolfson, H., II, 348.
95 Letter XIX.
96 Letter XXX.
97 Ethics, v, 24.
98 ii, 13.
99 ii, 2, scholium.
100 Ibid.
101 ii, 12.
102 Ibid.
103 ii, 17-18.
104 ii, 26.
105 ii, 21.
106 ii, 48, scholium; Letter II.
107 Ethics, ii, 49.
108 iii, 2, scholium
109 ii, 49, corollary.
110 iii, Definition I.
111 ii, 48.
112 i, appendix.
113 Letter LVIII.
114 Ethics, i, appendix.
115 iii, 6-7.
116 i, 34.
117 i, appendix.
118 iv, Definition VIII.
119 v, 20, scholium.
120 iv, 20, 22, corollary.
121 iv, 18, scholium.
122 Ibid.
123 iii, 59.
124 iii, 9, scholium.
125 iv, Definition I.
126 iii, appendix.
127 iii, 11, scholium; iv, 59.
128 iii, appendix. Nietzsche echoes these definitions. «What is good? All that enhances the feeling of power... What is happiness? The feeling that power is increasing». [Nietzsche, Antichrist, No. 2.]
129 Ethics, iv, 45, scholium; iv, 50, 53-54.
130 iv, 42, 45, Scholium II.
131 iii, Definition III.
132 iii, Introd.
133 v, 3, corollary.
134 Müller, Johannes, Physiologie des Menschen (1840), II, 543-48.
135 Ethics, iii, I, corollary.
136 iii, 59, scholium.
137 iv, 7.
138 iv, 51, scholium; 58, scholium.
139 iii, 59; Definition XXVII.
140 iv, 67.
141 iii, 12, scholium.
142 v, 21.
143 v, 34, scholium.
144 v, 29, scholium.
145 v, 23.
146 v, 31, scholium.
147 v, 3.
148 v, 6.
149 iv, 26.
150 ii, end.
151 iv, 68.
152 iv, 50, scholium.
153 iv, appendix, xiii.
154 iv, 73.
155 iv, 46.
156 iv, 48, scholium.
157 E.g., Bidney, Psychology and Ethics of Spinoza, 246.
158 Ethics, iv, 14.
159 Ibid., iii, appendix, Definition vi.
160 Improvement of the intellect, Introd.
161 Ethics, iv, 28.
162 Tractatus Politicus, i, 4.
163 Ibid., ii, 8.
164 Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, Ch. xvi, p. 201;Tractatus Politicus, ii, 4.
165 Ethics, iv, 37, Scholium I.
166 Tractatus Politicus, vi, I.
167 Ethics, iv, 20, 22.
168 Ibid., 35, scholium; 73.
169 Tractatus Politicus, i, 5.
170 Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, Ch. xx, p. 259.
171 Tractatus Politicus, vi, 4.
172 Ibid., xi, 2.
173 Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, Ch. xxvii.
174 Ibid.
175 Tract. Pol., xi, 4.
176 Ibid., vii, 17.
177 Ethics, iv, appendix, 17.
178 Tract. Pol., vi, 12.
179 In Bevan and Singer, Legacy of Israel, 451.
180 Wolfson, H., Spinoza, II, 233f.
181 Letter to Hugo Boxel, in Correspondence, 290.
182 Jewish Encyclopedia, XI, 517.
183 Ethics, iii, preface; v, preface.
184 Tract. Pol., x, i; v, 7.
185 Oldenburg to Spinoza, in Correspondence, Letter III.
186 Überweg, History of Philosophy, II, 64-74.
187 Bayle, article «Spinoza».
188 Jewish Enc., XI, 519.
189 Ethics, v, 36.
190 Garland, Lessing, 174.
191 Brandes, G., Main Currents of 19th Century Literature, I, 170; III, 257; IV, 75.
192 Robertson, Free thought, II, 168.
193 Hume, Treatise on Human Nature, Book I, Part iv, No. 5; Vol. I, pp. 228-29.
194 Froude, Short Studies in Great Subjects, I, 219-67.
195 Arnold, Matthew, «Spinoza», in Essays in Criticism.