Thank you to everyone who gave up an hour or so of precious Finnish summer to take part in a discussion about bibliotherapy and Spinoza. I really didn’t expect so many of you to come, so apologies for there not being enough handouts to go around. And my gratitude to Ian, Liisa and all at Arkadia International Bookshop for inviting me and being such marvellous hosts.
Please check back to this blog in the next couple of days when I’ll be posting an annotated bibliography (reading list) of introductions and secondary literature on Spinoza, as well as some links.
As an appetizer, try this article by the foremost living translater of Spinoza’s works, Edwin Curley.
Meanwhile, for those who didn’t get a copy of their own, here is the handout I circulated, which includes bitesized samples from Spinoza’s master work, the Ethics.
Philosophical Bibliotherapy: reading Spinoza, finding freedom
I resolved at last to try to find out whether there was anything which would be the true good, of communicating itself, and which alone would affect the mind, all others being rejected – whether there was something which, once found and acquired, would continuously give me the greatest joy, to eternity (From the Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect).
1. I pass now in explaining those things which must necessarily follow from the essence of God…not, indeed, all of them, but only those that can lead us, by the hand, as it were, to the knowledge of the human mind and its highest blessedness (II introductory remark).
2. Whatever is, is in God, and nothing can be or be conceived without God. (IP15)
3. [T]he mind and the body are one and the same thing, which is conceived now under the attribute of thought, now under the attribute of extension (IIIP2S).
4. Most of those who have written about the affects, and men’s way of living, seem to treat, not of natural things, which follow the common laws of Nature, but of things which are outside Nature. Indeed they seem to conceive man in Nature as a dominion within a dominion. For they believe that man disturbs, rather than follows, the order of Nature, that he has absolute power over his actions, and that he is determined only by himself.
The affects, therefore, of hate, anger, envy, and the like, considered in themselves, follow with the same necessity and force of Nature as the other singular things. […]I shall consider human actions and appetites just as if it were a question of lines, planes, and bodies
5. By affect I understand affections of the body by which the body’s power of acting is increased or diminished, aided or restrained, and at the same time, the ideas of these affections […] if we can be the adequate cause of any of these affections, I understand by the affect an action; otherwise, a passion (IIID3).
The primary affects
6. …desire is appetite together with the consciousness of it. And appetite is the very essence of man, insofar as it is determined to do what promotes his preservation. (III Def. Affects I)
7. Joy is a man’s passage from a lesser to a greater perfection. (III Def. Affects II)
8. Sadness is a man’s passage from a greater to a lesser perfection (III Def. Affects III)
(In Part III and its appendix, Spinoza discusses numerous other affects, each directly or indirectly originating from desire, joy or sadness.)
9. Love is a joy, accompanied by the idea of an external cause (III Def. Affects VI).
10. Hate is a sadness, accompanied by the idea of an external cause
(III Def. Affects VII).
11. Anger is a desire by which we are spurred, from hate, to do evil to one we hate (III Def. Affects XXXVI).
12. Pity is a sadness, accompanied by the idea of an evil which has happened to another whom we imagine to be like us. (III Def. Affects XVIII).
13. Self-esteem is a joy born of the fact that a man considers himself and his own power of acting. (III Def. Affects XXV).
14. Self-esteem can arise from reason, and only that self-esteem which does arise from reason is the greatest there can be (IVP25).
15. Self-esteem is really the highest thing we can hope for. For no one strives to preserve his being for the sake of any end. And because this self-esteem is more an more encouraged and strengthened by praise, and on the other hand, more and more upset by blame, we are guided most by love of esteem and can hardly bear a life in disgrace (IVP25S).
The dis-ease: “bondage”
16. [I]t is clear that we are driven about in many ways by external causes, and that, like waves on the sea, driven by contrary winds, we oss about, not knowing our outcome and fate (IIP59S).
17. Man’s lack of power to moderate and restrain the affects I call bondage. For the man who is subject to affects is under the control, not of himself, but of fortune, in whose power he so greatly is that often, though he sees the better for himself, he is still forced to follow the worse (IV Preface).
18. [O]ne who is ignorant and is driven only by lust […] is […] troubled in many ways by external causes, and unable ever to possess true peace of mind, but he also lives as if he knew neither himself, nor God, nor things; and as soon as he ceases to be acted on, he ceases to be (VP42S).
The treatment – understanding and love
19. [W]e are a part of Nature, whose order we follow. If we understand this clearly and distinctly, that part of us which is defined by understanding, that is, the better part of us, will be entirely satisfied with this, and will strive to persevere in that satisfaction. For insofar as we understand, we can want nothing except what is true. Hence, insofar as we understand these things rightly, the striving of the better part of us agrees with the order of the whole of Nature (IV App XXXII).
20. It is clear the power of the mind over the affects consists:
I. In the knowledge itself of the affects;
II. In the fact that it separates the affects from the thought of an external cause, which we imagine confusedly;
III. In the time by which the affections related to things we understand surpass those related to things we conceived confusedly, or in a mutilated way;
IV. In the multiplicity of causes by which affections related to common properties or to God are encouraged;
V. Finally, in the order by which the mind can order its affects and connect them to one another.
[Insofar] as we understand the causes of sadness, it ceases to be a passion, that is, to that extent it ceases to be sadness (VP18S).
The cure – “freedom”
In life, therefore, it is especially useful to perfect, as far as we can, our intellect, or reason. In this one thing consists man’s highest happiness, or blessedness. Indeed, blessedness is nothing but that satisfaction of mind which stems from the intuitive knowledge of God (IV App IV).
21. The mind can bring it about that all the body’s affections, or images of things are related to the idea of God [or Nature].
22. He who understands himself and his affects clearly and distinctly loves God [or Nature], and does so the more, the more he understands himself and his affects (VP15).
23. Blessedness is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself; not do we enjoy it because we restrain our lusts; on the contrary, because we enjoy it, we are able to restrain them(VP42).
24. [T]he wise man…is hardly troubled in spirit, but being, by a certain eternal necessity, conscious of himself, and of God, and of things, he never ceases to be, but always possesses true peace of mind (VP42S).
Spinoza’s last words of encouragement
The Ethics closes with the following passage:
25. If the way I have shown to lead to those things now seems very hard, still, it can be found. And of course, what is found so rarely must be hard. For if salvation were at hand, and could be found without great effort, how could nearly everyone neglect it? But all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.
The above quotations (with cross-references removed, and some additions [in brackets]) are taken from The collected works of Spinoza edited and translated by Edwin Curley Vol. 1 (Princeton University Press 1985).
The same translation is also available in the Penguin Edition of the Ethics, (Penguin Classics 1996), with an introduction by Stuart Hampshire and in A Spinoza reader : the Ethics and other works, edited and translated by Edwin Curley
(Princeton University Press 1994).