prime ~ gallery ~ studies ~ links ~ project

Harold F. Hallett

On a Reputed Equivoque
in the Philosophy of Spinoza

Review of Metaphysics, 3 (1949)

Among the various ambiguities which have been invented (and I use the word equivocally) in the philosophy of Spinoza, and have been held to be fatal in respect of this or that part of it, or of the whole, none seems to have been so generally, and so undoubtingly, noted as his identification of the bodily correlate of the human mind with its physical object in Ethices II., xiii. And certainly no error (if it is an error) could be more fundamentally fatal to the whole speculation; an equivocal use of the term “idea” as at once the mental correlate of some neural or physiological state of the body of the percipient, and also the essentia objectiva of a thing extrinsic to that body – involving the simple identification of the human body with the object of the human mind that animates it – would seem to be a confusion at the source, infecting the whole system. 1


Yet this very confusion was confidently attributed to Spinoza by Pollock in what was the first thoroughgoing exposition of his philosophy written in English. 2 In the Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione, 3 Pollock tells us, an “idea” is “a conscious state of the knowing mind, in which the object known is represented”. “If I think of Peter, the state of my [189] consciousness is an idea of Peter according to Spinoza’s first usage of he term”; but, he says, Spinoza also conceives an “idea” of my mind as corresponding, not with Peter who is other than myself, but with my own body: and Pollock was evidently thinking of the Proposition I have named, which affirms that “the object of the idea constituting the human mind is the body... and nothing else”. He then goes on to remark, with the air of counsel hurriedly briefed to clear up a case against a taciturn prisoner in a few words of plain commonsense about the law, that “a man can easily think of his own body, but he is not always doing so, and when he does his thought will not be accurate unless he has learnt something of physiology. And even if every human being were an accomplished physiologist, the constant relation of the mind as a whole to the body as a whole would still be something different from the relation of the knowing to the known”. On the evidence of such naive and hasty lucubrations, the jury (with one or two doubting exceptions) have brought in a verdict of “Guilty” – and that in spite of the irrepressible aside of a footnote from counsel himself that “Spinoza himself once (sic) calls attention to the distinction: Eth. 2. 17, schol.” 4 – for is not the prisoner thus condemned out of his own mouth?

It will be my business in what follows to show, in my “longwinded” manner, 5 that we have here no callow confusion to be thus disposed of, but the very quintessence of Spinoza’s solution of the otherwise insoluble problems of human epistemology and ontology.

It might have been supposed that no one but an eminent lawyer applying his great powers beyond their scope could have been willing to make so dubious and laconic a plea with so little reflection; but evidently it is still possible for even a patient and critical mind, like that of my former teacher and honoured friend the late Henry Barker, in commenting on the [190] case, to attempt to substantiate it in “a rather fuller statement”. 6 Since, however, this more ample statement is based upon precisely the same fundamental assumptions, it is no matter for wonder that Barker has to conclude by agreeing with Pollock that “when Spinoza speaks of the mind as idea sive cognitio corporis, he is confused and is using the word idea in a new and strange way”. What is wonderful is that Barker, who makes real progress towards a resolution of the seeming equivocation by distinguishing two sets of relations, the causal and the “instrumental”, fails at the crucial point correctly to apply the results of his analysis by supposing that the two sets form a single series – whereas in obvious fact they belong to distinct perspectives: that of the percipient himself, and that of another percipient.


What, then, is this fundamental assumption which I have imputed to these writers as involving them in the judgement that Spinoza is “interpreting correspondence in two ways, epistemological and physiological, without clearly realizing that he was doing so”? I reply that it is their eccentric commonsense view of the nature of perception, derived from current post-Spinozistic empiricism, and infecting even the idealistic critics of that doctrine. It is commonly supposed that when a perceiver perceives an external object, e.g. the sun, “the sun (to quote Barker) as a cause sets up light waves which travel to the earth, affect the body or eye, and so initiate a physiological process which causes a brain change, in virtue of which, as a condition, perception of the sun takes place. The series of events that starts from the sun and has its physical (or physiological) termination in the brain is in its earlier stages a causal series, but in its last stage, viz. that in which perception takes place, and in which the brain functions as the organ or instrument of the mind, we had better describe it by another [191] adjective such as ‘instrumental’, for the relation of mind to body or brain is so intimate that the notion of causal action seems inappropriate”. 7 On this view we have a causal physical and physiological process followed by a psycho-physical “fact” or miracle – according as mind is regarded as epiphenomenal or “substantial”.

I suppose that this account of the processes and relations involved in perception strikes the commonsense empiricistic reader as a plain recital of fact, or of theory directly based on fact, and too obvious to be open to question – it must do so since so many otherwise astute philosophers have accepted it as the factual basis of the theory of perception – and that in spite of all the multiplex difficulties and paradoxes that have in it their fons et origo. Of scientists and the vulgar I need not speak, for their naiveties in this sphere can do little harm, and perhaps some good. Nevertheless, in truth, we have here not a description of perception as it is, and truly, for the perceiver, but only of the processes associated with perception as observed by a percipient other than the one whose perception is supposed to be under investigation. Nor even this, for the last and crucial stage in the process is by nature unobservable, and must be imputed. When this is taken as an account of perception in itself it is no wonder that we become involved in a farrago of absurdities: perceptio a non percipiendo! For just as in this observed process the perception alone is unobservable, and must be imputed as a “fact” or miracle, so per contra in perception itself, and for the perceiver, this objective process is nowhere to be found, but only the perceptual relation between the percipient mind and an object that it directly perceives: here it is the causal process that must be imputed.

Thus, of the two sets of relations distinguished by Barker, the one is experienced only by the percipient himself; the other is what is observed, not as relating the percipient and the sun in the act of perception, but as relating another man’s mind (conceived as in his head), his body, the medium, and the [192] sun as objects of external observation. Pollock and those who agree with him are involved in confusion because they appear to regard perception-in-act as a mere “shortcircuiting” of the elaborate processes observed by another, by which the causal processes are “telescoped-in”, and only the socalled “instrumental” remain in sight, by reason of the special position of the percipient viewing the causal processes as it were “end on”. Spinoza, on the contrary, is involved in no confusion since for him what is prior is the direct perception of the object, and the causal processes are “telescoped-out” by projection on the eccentric axes of another perceiver. He does not suppose that this direct perception is incorrigible, but it is not corrigible by reference to what another percipient directly perceives (and imputes) – for that too is equally corrigible, so that this way lies not correction but confusion. If we are to analyse perception, it is perception-in-act that we must investigate, and not perception as it is observed and imputed by another.


In perception-in-act, then, there is a direct perceptual relation of the percipient and the object that he perceives: how do we come to represent the perceptual relation of another percipient to the thing that we suppose him to be perceiving (“suppose” because he alone perceives it, and he cannot inform us that what he perceives is the thing that we perceive) as a set of causal relations between the thing and the perceiver’s central nervous system, followed by a psycho-physical “fact” or miracle? The man who perceives the sun does not at the same time perceive his own body or sense-organ with its cerebral connexions interposed between “him” and the sun. He is aware neither of a causal process with its terminal cerebral agitation, nor of any psycho-physical relation or transition “in his head”. True, when he thinks that he knows by other means how the sun should appear, and notes that for his perception it appears otherwise, he is apt (in the absence of any previously unnoted external condition, such as the dark glasses on his nose) to [193] assign the difference to the abnormality of his sense-organism. But this inference is posterior to his objective interpretation of the situation in physical, physiological and psycho-physical terms, and not the immediate deliverance of his own perception, nor based on any premiss thence derived. Indeed, if he does think of his own optical system (on the analogy of the dark glasses on his nose) as interposed between “him” and the sun, it is as a “transparency” which (by reason of commonsense assumptions) may be regarded as more or less darkened or contorted by optical defect, jaundiced by pathological condition, or over-stimulated to an eccentric response. In other sense no man can be said to see his own eye-in-act among the objects that he sees. And the same is true of his whole body regarded as the objective instrument of perception as it is conceived ab extra.

In actual perceptual experience, of course, the situation is complicated and confused in so far as one sense-organ is instrumental in the external observation of another as an object in the world of that element of the total perception for which it is not instrumental. With the hand we can feel the eye as an object in the world mediated by touch; with the eye we can see the hand as a visual object; and so forth. And it is all too easy and seductive to complete these partial objective appearances by way of imagination to the form of a body among (and like) the observed bodies of other men which, as objects, are not subject to this strict privation. The mirror seems to bear this out, though what the mirror shows is what another would see if placed behind the mirror with the mercury removed. Thus, though we cannot see our eye-in-act we believe that it is there just as others see it, and we feel it, and see it in the mirror, and we presume that it is but an accident of position that prevents us from seeing it directly for ourselves – an accident of bodily structure similar to that which prevents us from seeing the back of our neck (which also we can see in a mirror). Yet it is no mere accident, but the very essence of the situation: neither the eye itself, nor anything else, is standing in the way of the eye, and shutting it off from the sight of [194] itself. On the contrary, it is revealing itself as it is in act, and by so doing revealing its world of visual objects – as it were patterned upon its transparency. And so of all the sense-organs: their absence from the worlds of objects in relation to which (as distinct objects for other men) they appear as instrumental, is the very ground of their instrumentality: they are absent from among these objects because in some manner they are present in them all. We may go so far as to say that for visual perception the eye-in-act is the visual field in which the objects of vision are related and distributed – though its appearance as field reciprocates with the appearance of objects, partial or total, upon it. For the eye that sees no object sees not at all, and is no eye-in-act. 8 And so, mutatis mutandis, of the whole body in the complex perception of its world. The “body” which is the real correlate of the percipient mind is not the object of some other mind, is not the “body” as it is observed ab extra (and even in part by the mutual instrumentality of its members), but the “body” as is in itself, and which as affected by other bodies, is the object of the mind’s perception. The real correlate is the object, but not one of the objects constituting the mind’s world: it is the mind’s world operating as its measure of the real world that transcends it; it is the body with the affectiones concomitant with its relation with an extrinsic complement which thus only is represented in it. The body as it is in itself is, as it were, an instrument which manifests and measures the universe, and its affectiones are the “pointer-readings” to its other on the “scale” of its nature, by which that nature is in determinate reciprocation with its complement – a complement which is thus perceived in projection: in the form of the spatio-temporal transparency that is the objective appearance of the body itself in relation with its complement, decorated and shadowed with the unintelligible data which are the objective appearance of the transcendence of the world of others in relation with the body whose complement it is. As Berkeley [195] suggests, 9 the form of space timelessly objectifies the unimpeded agency of the body; and we may add that the durational “materials of sense” objectify the modifications of the body by reason of its response to the complex impedance of the other. And thus the world of perception is the objective appearance of the body as “affected” by its active complement in Nature, and its objectivity but a sign and symbol of the relative impotence of the body in comparison with the magnipotence of its complement. For bodies and the universe, in themselves, are not mere “things”, but agents, and their objective appearances but privations of mutual projection. 10


This brings me to Spinoza’s own account of the human body and its “affectiones”. By an affectio in general Spinoza means any state of an entity referable to what is distinct from the entity itself. “affectio”, “modus”, and “modificatio” are terms interchangeable save by special usage in different connexions (e.g. a “mode” or “affectio” of Substance is an [196] individual thing 11 which, again, may be variously “affected” by other individual things or “modes” of Substance – thus having its own “affectiones”; but even here the “modes” “affect” one another only because all are “affectiones” or “modes” of Substance). 12 Take now two interacting modes of Extension, e.g. a diminutive and a bulky body in impact: they can impinge on one another only because both are modes of Extension; their “action and reaction” at impact are “equal and opposite” because, as Newton says, 13 the vis insita of each is an evocation of the vis impressa of the other (the vis inertiae of each measuring only the complete impotence of its isolation – for, ex hypothesi, it has no other to accelerate or retard, and its “inertia” is its impotence to accelerate or retard itself); but the “affectiones” of the two bodies are different by reason of their difference of bulk – the diminutive body being most “affected”: their changes of speed being inversely proportional to their bulks. This is an elementary example of the general principle that the “affectio” of a thing is a function of its own nature and of the nature of the other by which it is “affected”; for though the affectio is a state of the thing itself, and belongs to it as a distinct entity, it is a state that is in part determined by the nature of its other. Because the mutually actualizing “action and reaction” are “equal and opposite”, and the bulks are different, the “affectiones” (i.e. the acceleration or retardation) are different in inverse proportion to their differing bulks. 14

Furthermore, these “affectiones” (as our example also illustrates) in the end constitute the things said to be “affected”. There can be no isolated body (for the vis inertiae of the isolated body is total impotence – it is actualized as vis insita only by reaction to vis impressa); save as affected by another it is nothing. We thus reach the general principle that a finite [197] thing is what it is solely by reason of its reciprocation with a complement, and has its perfect nature only by reciprocation with its exhaustive complement in Nature. It is thus that it is constituted by its affectiones, and what are commonly regarded as its special affectiones with respect to this or that selected other are but differentiations of its constitutive affectiones. As Whitehead has expressed the same doctrine (for “there is no new thing under the sun”) there are no “things” having “simple location” and standing in “external relations” with other things.

It is of first importance, however, not to fall into the error of supposing that this implies that a body is nothing but a conventional focus characterized by the resultant of world-forces as concentrated upon it (on the analogy of the “centre of gravity” of a body). This might be adequate enough as a description of any supposed mere point-instant on which these forces converge – for then the resultant is zero, and the point-instant nothing actual at all. Each body, on the contrary, is a part of the universe, affected not by the whole but by its complement in the whole; and in so far as it is actual it has its own nature as reactive to the action of that complement. Though an isolated body is nothing, as reactive to its complement it is actual with that complement. To return to our example: in impact, each of the impinging bodies has its vis insita evoked by the vis impressa from its other, and operating by way of reaction. 15 Thus, each body is a reactive localization of its complement, and its actuality is its reagency. It is thus only that the universe of bodies is actual: for if each were but the resultant at a conventional focus of the actions of all others, similarly defined, all [198] would be reduced to nonentity in a vicious circle of vires inertiae. And a world of point-instants would be doubly inert – the very acme of nonentity. 16

Each body, then, is the reactive focalization of its world, and when two bodies are conceived as affecting each other, their affectiones are not in truth modifications supervenient upon their otherwise wholly independent absolute natures, but differentiations of the integral reactivity of all other bodies as focalized in them. The reagency of each is the evocation of the agency of all others, and the affectiones of each are the changes in its abstract nature reciprocating with the abstracted agency of this or that extrinsic body. Here we are dealing with an abstracted partial system of bodies, and in that reference an affected body suffers a change of its abstracted nature, and its modification or “affectio” with respect to its other registers the change suffered by its actual nature as abstracted – a change which, in respect of its total nature may be either a privation or an achievement. For its other may be either an aid or a hindrance to its perfection. It cannot but change its abstract temporal actuality, but this change may either involve concretion with Nature or further abstraction from it.

In the interaction of finite bodies, therefore, the affectiones partake both of the nature of the body affected and of that of its other – its own nature being, as it were, the scale on which its pointer indicates the power of its other. Just as the galvanometer measures with its needle on its disc the value of this or that selected electromagnetic field only by reason of its inductive reaction to that field, so the human body reactively focalizes its world, so that its special affectiones are differential pointer-readings on its scales, distributively measuring the reagency to it of all other bodies in that world to which it is capable of reacting. And the principle must be fully generalized – for all bodies whatsoever, like the galvanometer and [199] the human body, are composed of parts similarly related in their orders to reciprocal complements, measuring them in their own ways, by the pointers of “affectio” on the scales of their own natures, ad indefinitum. The reactive essence of every finite body is a “pole” of the “universal” stress at that level in the hierarchy of Nature: an agency “equal and opposite” to the agency of its congruent complement.

In speaking of the “hierarchy of Nature” I am thinking of the doctrine of orders of corporeal individuality expounded by Spinoza in Ethices II., Lem. vii. Sch. An individual is actual, not by aggregation but by reciprocal action of its parts; “and each part is actual only as the reactive focalization of all others. Each part in so far as it is individual is a microcosm of the whole, and thus also ultimately of the macrocosm. It reproduces its whole, and the whole, in the degree in which its complement can affect it, i.e. in the degree of its microcosmicity; and the nature of the microcosm is contributed to the whole both as affected part and as reactive focalization of its complement in turn, in due measure, affecting that complement. But the “contribution” is not by way of addition, but by way of expression more or less eccentric according to the status of the part and its abstractedness.

I have made use of the analogy of the scale and pointer-reading, and it may be well to consider the adequacy of the analogue: measures are, of course, always relative to a unit of measurement, and the calibration of the scale of a measuring instrument is essentially conventional. Thus the value of a pointer-reading on a scale is absolute only in so far as an absolute unit can be provided. It is thus that in our mathematical formulae for expressing the laws of nature the pointer-readings of our instruments always qualify variables which stand for the absolute scales which the conventional scales of our instruments are made to represent. By themselves pointer-readings are of course without significance. The footrule measures distances, e clock durations, the galvanometer electromagnetic forces, and the human body the world of things by which it is affected, only in so far as these instruments, and the calibration of their [200] scales, can be taken to be absolute. In scientific practice the pointer-reading is significant because all that is required is a comparative measure of the variable; but for natural philosophy a more concrete attitude is desirable: the instrument is a part of the physical world short-circuiting its own nature in its scale as calibrated from a zero of abstract isolation, so that it gives only a differential measure of the abstracted other that differentially affects it. But when we come to deal with the human body, as the fundamental instrument of human observation, an instrument that is inescapable yet not itself observed in act (or capable of being calibrated in relation to an observed other), this shortcircuiting ceases to be tolerable to the philosopher, and he is compelled to note, not merely its comparative pointer-readings on its native scale, but also the nature of the variable itself which constitutes that scale, and makes it humanly absolute (though not therefore universally incorrigible). At least he must do so if he is to gain true knowledge of the physical universe which integrates the body and the world that transcends the bodily instrument of observation. Not merely the magnitude of the bodily affectiones but their nature must be considered – all, indeed, that the shortcircuiting of the instrument neglects when we merely take its pointer-reading. And, of course, even the precise instruments of the scientist require an observer who is no disembodied spectator of isolated observable apparatus. 17 Even a supposed generalized observer [201] is one that observes by means of a generalized human body, and not without a body, and it is the affectiones, individual or generalized, of the body that must provide an absolute (though not necessarily incorrigible) scale and pointer-reading for man’s knowledge of his complement under the shortcircuiting of the human body – and thus (under correction) of the world is the integration of the body and its complement. In a word, where natural science is rightly content to short-circuit (and thus exclude from Nature) the ineluctable body of the observer (individual or generalized) corrected to normality, natural philosophy must embark on a final movement of integration bringing the body of the observer within the ambit of Nature, not as one of the observables (for in act it is the instrument, and not one of the objects, of observation), but as the fundamental variable the variations of which alone register the nature of its complement, which is thus observed in its affected nature. The affectiones of the body are thus, as I have said, the pointer-readings that measure the nature of the body’s congruent complement on the scale of its reactive nature. What the mind observes is its own disc and pointer, and from these taken together, in the light of their presuppositions, we must gather the essential nature of the physical real. 18 Man [202] measures what is not man by his affectiones, and the world of observable Nature is thus his bodily affectiones projected upon, and decoratively shading, the screen of his partial community with his other with the unintelligible data of its partiality. But it is not from these data that knowledge of Nature as integrating man and his complement must be sought. Such knowledge must come from the emendation of their relativity as resulting from the human predicament; and that cannot be accomplished by any generalization or integration of their relativities. Knowledge of the whole is not to be sought in the perspective of the part, but only in the emendation of the part to the fashion of the whole – a process that is only possible in so far as the part is no mere section or selection of the whole, but its microcosm, reproducing in its limited form the nature of the macrocosm, and, in its own perspective, confusedly reproducing the nature of its complement. And a true natural philosophy must proceed by rational speculation (as opposed to imaginative guesswork), within the framework thus provided, to the determination of the nature of the physical macrocosm, and even of the negation that is implicit in its determinate nature as “physical”.


We are now in a position to understand the significance of Ethices II., xiii. with its elaboration and éclaircissements in the propositions, postulates and lemmata that follow. These are, of course, partly epistemological in character and partly physical, but it is with their physical significance that we are now concerned. Emphasis is repeatedly placed by Spinoza upon the “fitness of the body for doing or suffering many things” as reciprocating with the mind’s power of [203] understanding or perceiving many things 19 (a principle which is vitally prominent again in the ethical portions of the treatise). 20 The Lemmata then expound the broad principles of corporeal individuation and integration, beginning with “very simple bodies” 21 distinguished only by their “motion and rest, speed and slowness”. These are determined by one another, 22 in such a manner that the determination of each is a function of its own nature and also the nature of its other. 23 Spinoza then passes to the way in which complex individuals are constituted, and the relations holding between their simpler parts, in virtue of which they are individuals. The human body is thus constituted of parts which are affected in various ways by external things; 24 it retains “vestigia” of these affectiones, and in turn reacts on these things and thus affects them. 25 Further, each affectio of the body is a function of its own nature and of the nature of the external thing affecting it; so that in perceiving its own body with its affectiones it is eo ipso perceiving the natures of external things as involved in the nature of its own body: 26 more or less abstractly according to the hierarchical perfection or imperfection of the body; and more or less confusedly as it has less or more in common with external things, i.e. according as its affectiones correspond with the intrinsic natures of external things. 27

We have thus passed from the simple affirmation of Ethices II., xiii. that the human mind perceives only its own body, to the series of propositions and corollaries following the Lemmata (in which the hierarchical individuation of Nature is indicated) according to which the mind, in perceiving its own body with its affectiones, in the same act perceives the nature [204] of many things 28 in terms of their community (more or less limited and confused by projection upon the reference system of the body) with the body, 29 and as present distinct from the body by reason of the body’s reagency to their agency; 30 and further, the mind perceives its body, and knows it to exist, only through these same affectiones registering in it the actions of other things as evoking the reactions of the body. 31 Though the mind perceives only its body, yet to perceive the body as existing alone would be to perceive an illusion: for the body is nothing save as reactive focalization of its complement in Nature up to the measure of their community of essence, i.e. in so far as the body is “fit for doing or suffering many things”. In perceiving its body as affected the mind perceives its complement as affecting it: the body and its other are at once distinct as poles of a common stress, and identical as poles of a common stress. It is thus that in so far as the affectio confuses the natures of self and other (through defective community) they remain one for observation, yet distinct as mutual agents. Contrariwise, in so far as the affectio (by reason of perfect community) is clear and distinct, observation of an other gives place to love for another.

In mera experientia these conditions are operant together in various measures: in part, there must always be some measure of clarity in our affectiones, since all interaction is based on community; 32 in part, there is always some measure of [205] confusion in mera experientia, through which the other presents unintelligible content for observation – content the unintelligibility of which so darkens our awareness as to startle the commonsense consciousness into the fundamental empiricistic error of supposing that here we have “fact” par excellence, the reality of which, as resisting intellectual analysis, posits itself as transcendent. And beyond this, as with all human percipience, there is simple defect by reason of the stultitude of the human body. Thus there is formed the perception of a world of qualified “things” external to, and acting upon, one another: the “common order of nature” variously compounding the elements of objective datum, of relation, and of limitation – a world that is the body of the perceiver with its affectiones. mirrored to the mind in the speculum of the active other, of which the body is the otherwise unperceived reactive focalization.


What, then, is the true “pathway to Reality”? Broadly speaking it is the accommodation of the human body to the nature of the universe. But this is evidently a process subject to strict limitation: for the human body is, after all, only a subordinate part of Nature, a microcosm of the macrocosm which, as such, has its proper limitations. The most that can legitimately be sought is thus their extension to their limit, and (more especially) the clarification of, its affectiones – the broadening of mera experientia and the elucidation of its confusion. In Nature as it is in itself all things enjoy perfect community as flowing from their unique and indivisible source, and their affectiones are individually constitutive “without confusion of persons”. Confusion arises from the eccentric reference of all things to the partial self to which the part is decoyed by its own simultaneous partiality and distinctness; distinction is read as isolation with external relation, and the indivisible Nature that integrates self and complement is projected in the perspective of the part as a world of more or less unintelligible others from which the body-in-act is distributively absent (while yet forming a part [206] of it by distributive remainder – which remainder, by illegitimate imputation, is taken as total). Thus the proper defect of the part, with its proper perfection, becomes the source of the privation and eccentric projection of the remainder in the reference system of the part: an “imagination” that can only be corrected to yield a true view of the whole by “referring all things to God”, i.e. by so transcending the axes of the self as that both self and complement are understood as flowing from the undivided essence of Nature the absolute “origin” of the reference system of creation. In that creative perspective the human body is a microcosm reproducing in its measure the “fashion or make of the whole universe” 33, a reactive focalization of its complement in Nature, with which (in so far as the body is responsive to its other) it is identical in mode and distinct in agency – forming with it, as it were, a universal stress of “action and reaction equal and opposite”: a cross-section of the hierarchy of creation. 34 [207]


Aptness of the human mind for understanding Nature thus corresponds with the aptness of the human body “for doing and suffering many things”, and it will be well, in conclusion, to inquire into the degree and the limitations of this aptitude. There is nothing in Nature as veridically observed, or rightly inferred from what is so observed, that is not an affectio of the body of the observer, clearly and intelligibly identifying the natures of both body and its complement, or obscurely and unintelligibly combining them under unilateral reference to the axes of the body. In things as they are in themselves in the eternal stream of creation, in so far as there is community of nature in the body and its complement, they form the identity of a single stressed system the poles of which are mutually reactive. Projected upon the axes of the body, however, this mutuality is restricted and the identity destroyed so far as relates to reality, while being retained in appearance (hence the body-in-act and its complement for observation are identical), so [208] that the bodily affectiones confuse the natures of body and complement, and can be rightly imputed to neither in itself. In this eccentric perspective the way to truth seems to lie in the analysis of the affectiones so as to reconstruct body and complement in isolation. But this process can proceed but a little way (to parody Bacon – sufficient to “convince” positivism but not to “inform” metaphysics) sufficient to exclude perceptual illusions and objective obfuscations, but not to establish reality. For the body and its other are not as such isolable, but actively distinct while remaining internally related. Each is in the end constituted by its affectiones. Truth, therefore, lies not in the mere analysis of the bodily affectiones but in their emendation to intelligible form by the correction of the axes of reference by relation to which they are unintelligible. In so far as there is difference of nature between the body and its other (a difference necessarily embedded in identity) the body is inapt to react to the action of the other. And this stultitude must affect the mind’s cognizance of its other, in reality limiting it, and in appearance confusing its limited apprehension. Its limitation is its ignorance, its confusion the seat of error in so far as unintelligible affectiones are taken as verificatory norms, i.e. as revealing the character either of the body itself or of its other as it is in itself, as distinct interacting physical agents. Thus the power of the mind to understand Nature corresponds with the aptness of the body for actualizing its other by reaction to its agency; and the impotence of the mind to render its affectiones intelligible arises from the privation of the mutuality of body and other as agents-in-act by the unilateral projection of their stress upon its bodily pole.

Putting aside the problem of ignorance (founded upon bodily indifference to factors in the real), and of the grounds of our awareness of ignorance, as beyond our present scope, we may say that the intelligibility or otherwise of the objects of our cognizance measures the aptness or otherwise of our bodies for doing and suffering many things. 35 In fact, of course, [209] these objects are always in part intelligible and in part unintelligible – for mere data are nothing but “blind spots” on the field of mental vision. The resolution of the phenomenality of the “common order of nature” lies in the simultaneous integration of the body with its complement in Nature, and the emendation of the body’s eccentric perspective of Nature. And the one entails the other.

Further, this simultaneous integration and emendation is possible only because, and in so far as, the body is a microcosm of Nature, and thus at once finite in fact and infinite in principle, i.e. because, and in so far as. Nature integrates the body and its complement so that the body is a part of Nature apt to do and to suffer many things from its complement. As the body is finite in fact its objects are for it ineluctable (and this is the foundation of their unintelligible givenness: we continue to see the “straight staff bent in a pool” even after we have learnt the true cause of the appearance); as it is infinite in principle its objects are recognized as phenomenal (and this is the foundation of their reality under correction: “demonstrations are the eyes of the mind”). It is the finiteness, the partiality, of the body in Nature that abstracts our grasp of Nature; it is the self-centred eccentricity of the body that is the root of unintelligibility in the “common order of nature”, and of the topsyturvydom by which the body which, in act, is no object to the mind that animates it, is apprehended as [210] revealing an external world of reactive Nature decorated with mere data that are the affectiones of the body in its distributive reciprocity with a complement partially pulverized by abstraction from the “infinite, unique and indivisible” 36 Nature by relative isolation over against the body. The tail of the “Prince Rupert’s Drop” of Nature is broken off, and the whole resolved to fragments. In the creative integrity of Nature alone lies reality; in the relativity of the observation by one part of the others, phenomenality; and truth is to be found only through the realization of the relations of all microcosms with each other and with the macrocosm, characteristic of eternal creation. “Fact” may be “observed”, but “reality” can only be “loved”. All things must therefore be “referred to God”, 37 correcting the eccentricity of the self-isolated and self-referent microcosm; and in that “emendation of the understanding” the identity of the animated body with its reciprocating complement in Nature is known as active love for the reactive other, by which self and other are mutually constituted. For appearance, as in reality, finite self and other are one in modality, other in agency; and in its perfection this identity in otherness is but an abstractive differentiation of the “infinite love wherewith God loves himself” 38 in the creative action by which the infinite indeterminate potency is expressed in act in infinitely determinate form, as “infinite things follow in infinite ways from the necessity of the divine nature”. 39 For the integrity of Nature, like the integrity of love, is the union of the self with its absolute other that is also its complement and absolute expression; and from the relation of God and the world is derived, and abstracted as its dim reflection, the relation of the self with its intelligible other. [211] a reflection that is contorted and confused as the self deifies itself as cosmic, and is amply discredited by the appearance of unintelligible data in the transparency of its intellectual vision. So far, therefore, from such data constituting veriflcatory norms of certitude, they verify only the impotence of their recipients, and the “fall” that must follow upon their idle wish to be “as gods”. [212]

H.F. Hallett
King’s College, London

1 Other prominent examples of imputed incoherence (I say “imputed” to guard against the supposition that I recognize it as just in either case) are his reputed atomism in physics (based on his idea of the corpus simplicissimum) with his monism in natural philosophy, and his implied attribution of a measure of moral freedom to a being subject to universal necessity. But the former concerns only topics incompletely expounded – indeed in part avoided (Eth. II., xiii. Sch.) and in part left for further study (Ep. lxxxiii S.) and the latter would at worst but divorce the ethical doctrine from the ontology, and leave open a final problem which (as we now see) might be attacked (if not resolved) by a Kantian approach.
2 Spinoza, His Life and Philosophy, (2nd ed.), pp. 123-26.
3 Tract. de Intell. Emend., § 33.
4 Pollock, loc. cit., p. 125, n.
5 “I am carrying about a very solid and rather long-winded study of Spinoza’s philosophy... called Aeternitas, by one Hallett” (The Pollock-Holmes Letters. F. Pollock, August 29, 1931).
6 H. Barker, “Notes on the Second Part of Spinoza’s Ethics, (II)” (Mind, XLVII., N.S., p. 295).
7 H. Barker, loc. cit., pp. 295-96.
8 Sight, like all sense-perception, is essentially a function of a finite individual with respect to its other; the “eye of God” that “sees all things”, “sees” them as “conscience” within each.
9 Principles, § 116.
10 The application of these principles to the different senses as these are externally conceived is, of course, on no unvarying plan, though as conceived as senses-in-act the differences are less striking. Sight, in terms of which my exposition has, in the main, been fashioned (the world of sight having a greater temporal totality than the world of touch) presents objects at a distance from the objective eye, whereas touch is a contact-perception. Thus an account in terms of touch would, perhaps, seem to the unconverted less speculative than one in terms of sight, since here what lies on the near side of the common surface of contact is “body”, and what lies on the far side is the tactual “other”. But yet, I suggest, even this difference is but another example of the main principle, and what seem for another perceiver to be the limits of the “body” may not be its true limits for the percipient himself. The blind man (as Descartes points out) feels the pavement with the ferule of his stick; and when I observe Orion my eye-in-act (i.e. my total optical system) extends to the limit of my visual percipience – it “rests upon Orion” (vide “On Things in Themselves”, Philosophy XIV., 1939, p. 177, n.).
11 Eth. I., xxv. Cor.
12Affectio” is to be distinguished from “affectus” which is a disposition towards another arising from an affectio or state determined by that other.
13 Principia I., Def. iii.
14 Eth. II., Ax. i. post Lem. iii. Cor.
15 What this means is that the notion of otherwise isolated bodies impinging on one another is an abstraction: at impact they form a strained totum; as isolated they are but abstracted “poles” of “universal” stresses relative to themselves – and in that relation alone are actual. Thus the finite body is at once an abstraction taken alone, and an actual reactive “pole” of “universal” stress. Yet the universe as a whole suffers no stress, for it is complementary, not to any actual part of itself but, so to say, to the point-instant, which is nothing actual, and nothing distinct.
16 Those who have supposed that Spinoza’s doctrine entails the illusoriness of all finite modes in the integrity of Nature, have perhaps been influenced by some such error. I am not as yet able to say whether Whitehead himself does or does not, in whole or in part, avoid the error.
17 Many philosophers (and some scientists) have realized the importance of the observer in the understanding of Nature, but one and all have thought of the observer as a localized and dated mind to be corrected for by the elimination of all supposedly mental additions to the physical objects. This is a fundamental and far-reaching error. It is the body of the observer that is located and dated as an object, and is instrumental as the ineluctable instrument of perception. And it is the relativity of the objects of perception and science to this unnoted medium that cries aloud for correction in a credible natural philosophy.
    Perhaps I may be allowed to add, in this connexion, that it is this forgetfulness of the function of the body in perception that has led so many thinkers to embrace an idealistic philosophy. Realizing that the physical world is no isolated datum externally related to the percipient, they have hastily concluded that it is internally related to the percipient mind – an [201] error that has, perhaps, been made more credible by the absence for perception-in-act of the percipient’s own body from the observed world. And when they have brought themselves to consider the status of the percipient’s body in relation to his mind, they have been content to regard it as one of the objects internally related to his mind though accidentally occulted in the act of perception. Its essential instrumentality in perception has thus been at once allowed and ignored. The primary derelativization of which the observed world stands in need is of its relation to the body-in-act, and not of relation to finite mind; and this is a process that may require the re-interpretation of the nature of physical things as agents and reagents. out can hardly require their reduction to the status of “ideal contents” ordered by mental activity.
18 The same principle is also applicable to the instruments of scientific practice: we must know what they measure – the nature of the variables in the mathematical expressions of natural process and constitution. Mere pointer-readings are without significance save as we presume the nature of their measurables. Nor (though these are often reducible to functions of [202] the measures of more elementary variables – as “kinetic energy”, e.g., is a function of “mass” and “velocity”) can measures alone constitute a measurable, however simple it may be. Even “space-time” requires a foot-rule and a clock if it is to be measured – or some substitute for these.
19 Eth. II., xiii. Sch.
20 Cf. Eth. IV., xxxviii; V., xi., xiii., xxxix.
21Corpora simplicissima”.
22 Eth. II., Lem. iii.
23 Eth. II., Ax. i. post Lem. iii.
24 Eth. II., Post. iii. post Lem. vii.
25 Eth. II., Postt. iii., v., vi. post Lem. vii.
26 Eth. II., xvi. et Corr. i. et ii.
27 Eth. II., xxxviii, xxxix.
28 Eth. II., xvi. Cor. i.
29 Eth. II., xvi. Cor. ii.
30 Eth. II., xvii. It ought to be noted that Spinoza is here led, by his wish to explain the bases of fictitious imagination and memory (Eth. II., xvii. Cor., Sch., xviii. et Sch.), to leave unemphasized the real source of our belief in the present existence of external things, viz. their reagency to the agency of the body. For we do not, in fact, merely await a new affectio to exclude that which has occurred in order to discover whether a thing has been removed – we seek a new affectio by experimental activity But of course the agency and reagency of self and other are intuited as mutual.
31 Eth. II., xix.
32 Eth. I., iii.
33Facies totius universi” (Ep. lxiv.). As I have often said, the universal translation of “facies” as “face” in this phrase is most unfortunate, emphasizing as it does the danger of identification with the visible universe, or “common order of nature”.
34 To this cross-sectional structure there are set two limits: Nature as a whole, and the “point-instant”, neither of which is a self acted upon and reacting to a complement. The latter raises no special difficulty, for the point-instant is the zero focus of all stress in Nature – a mere ideal limit without modality, or even distinct place and date. The former, viz. Nature as a whole, might seem also, on the principles elaborated, to be an unreal limit in the absence of a complement awaking it to reaction. Such a supposition is based, however, on a too abstract reading of the character of the stresses of finite bodies in Nature. We think of two bodies as actualizing each other by impact, through which the vis impressa of each evokes the vis insita of the other – forgetting that two bodies can only impinge on each other if they are in motion relative to one another. But, indeed, just as a man who pushes a boat into the water presses the ground under his feet in the opposite direction, and the water presses backwards upon the boat, with equal force (the changes of relative motion in the system being changes in affectio in its parts by reason of these balanced pressures operating on bodies of unequal mass), so the reaction of bodies in impact are balanced by the assumed, but neglected, actions by which the bodies are in relative motion. Thus each body is not only a pole of external stress but [207] also the seat of internal stress, and is concretely actualized only thereby. In imputing relative motion to the impinging bodies, we are abstracting from their concrete setting in Nature, and supposing (with Descartes) that the motion belongs to the bodies, and that the impact of bodies thus constituted can provide a priori principles for the deduction of the results of impact of complex bodies, more or less elastic, regarded as “second order” phenomena. But all bodies are complex and in some measure elastic – nor can a Cartesian simple body be intelligibly conceived.  ABecause the actuality of a finite body is the reactive focalization of its complement in Nature, a multipolar stress balancing the multipolar stress of its complement, Nature as a whole is the very basis of the reality of both, and no mere ideal limit.
    A Descartes’s Rules of Motion in Impact, taken as directly applicable to empirical bodies, seem to assume perfect elasticity where change of direction is required, and perfect inelasticity where it is not. Hence the apparent contradiction of his assertions that all motion is relative, and that the result of the impact of two bodies with a given relative motion depends on whether both are moving in the same or opposite directions, or one is at rest. But, of course, Descartes himself never supposed that his Rules are capable of such direct application, seeing that all bodies are, for him, embedded in the plenum (vide Princip. Philos., II., Artt. 53, 56-60).
35 The difficulty that may here be raised is that the intelligible and unintelligible elements of objective Nature seem to be inextricable. A But [209] this is a problem only for those who regard the axe and the shovel as the sole implements of the philosopher. We are not bound to accept either the realism of commonsense, the abstract realism of science, or the physical unrealism of Berkeley – for the disjunction is based on the assumption that the percipient is a disembodied spectator of the universe. And no such observer is to be found. Doubtless the factors of illusion in our contemplated world do, in their degree, limit the reality of the factors of reality, just as the latter lend reality to the former. But this intelligible-unintelligible world is not given to disembodied mind, but is an abstraction of the physically real complement of the observer’s body as it is actualized relative to at body, and in active contrast with it as reactive focalization.
    A E.g. Berkeley’s refusal to separate sense-quality from extension, and to affirm the physical reality of the latter while denying it to the former.
36 Ep. xii,
37 Eth. II., xxxii.
38 Eth. V., xxxi, xxxvi.
39 Eth. I., xvl.