Fruits of the Forest

Thanks to everyone who got up for 10.30am on a Monday morning  to talk about the Life of the Stoic at Forest Hill Library. What I didn’t tell you is that I realised on the bus there that I’d left all my notes and the hand-outs at home. Luckily I’d also emailed them to myself, but then it turned out that the public computers had all gone down temporarily, and for a moment I wondered if the Fates were conspiring against me.

Forest Hill Library

Forest Hill Library

What this provided me with was an excellent opportunity to ask the question, what would Epictetus have done? What I’m sure he would not do is to complain about it. For a start, a slave at birth, he would have suffered far worse than a little anxiety over  paperwork. As I mentioned in the session, he was once beaten so badly by his master, that he was crippled for life, and yet could still say, “No one suffers misfortune because of the actions of another” .

His words which have come down to us, give us more than a clue as to how he dealt with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune:

I must die; so must I die groaning too? I must be imprisoned; so must I grieve at that too? I must depart into exile; so can anyone prevent me from setting off with a smile, cheerfully and serenely?

I’ll be posting more about the ideas of the Stoics in the coming days and nights, so do check back. Or, click on the Follow button, to receive an email update every time the page is updated.

Meanwhile, please put any questions or feedback in the “Leave a Reply” box below.


Stoics in the Library

Epictetus illustration

Our next bibliotherapeutic outing is on Monday 1st September, 10:30am at Forest Hill Library. We will be talking about the Stoic philosophers, especially Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. In particular the session will look at their ethical ideas: what makes a life goes well.

The session is hosted by the Lively Minds group, aimed at people aged 55+. But if you’re younger in body as well as in spirit, I’m sure they won’t ID check you! No previous knowledge required. Just bring your curiosity and willingness to question your own assumptions. Oh, and your library card if you have one.

Admission Free

Monday 1 September 10.30AM to 12 noon  

Forest Hill Library

Forest Hill Library
Dartmouth Road
London SE23 3HZ

Advert on Lewisham Libraries web site.


Philosophical Bibliotherapy Session at the Philosophy Now Festival 8.9.13

ImageWhich work of philosophy  has changed the way you see the world and your place in it?

If philosophy has any point at all, surely it must be that it can help us to understand ourselves, our experience and how to live better lives. This isn’t to say that reading philosophy should always make us happy. Sometimes the function of a work is to disturb us, making us reassess our most cherished assumptions.

In this session we will talk about whether philosophy fulfils this therapeutic role of enabling us to if not find a cure, at least come to terms with the human condition. Bring your favourite book, or come prepared to talk about why it is important to you…and why you think other people should read it.

The session is happening: 12:00pm Sunday 8th September 2013

at the Philosophy Now Festival at Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL. Nearest tube: Holborn

This all-day festival will include 36 other events including talks, debates, workshops, and philosophical games for the whole family, and runs from 10:00 – 22:00.

Web page:


Twitter: @PhilosophyNow  hastag #PhilNowFest2013


Kiitos käynnistä!


Photo: Ian Bourgeot

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.

Or this one by Stephen Nadler.

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

UntitledI 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).

The affects

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
(III Preface).

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)

Other affects

(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).


Spinoza’s Ethics: understanding ourselves to find freedom

Saturday 13.7 at 4pm: Philosophical Bibliotherapy: Reading Spinoza, finding freedom, by John Heyderman

You are very welcome to visit us / Arkadia International Bookshop and “like” us if indeed you do!

Dear friend of Arkadia,

You are invited to Philosophical Bibliotherapy: Reading Spinoza, finding freedom, by John Heyderman on Saturday 13.7 at 4pm at Arkadia (Nervanderinkatu 11)

Bertrand Russell described him as “the noblest and most loveable of all the great philosophers.” Nietzsche called him “the purest sage”. Yet despite his growing popularity among social scientists, many people have never heard of the Dutch-Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) and fewer still have read his works.

This session will discuss Spinoza’s “Ethics” not just as a historical text but as living “medicine for the mind”. John Heyderman will present a personal view of how Spinoza can help us understand ourselves, our place in nature and ultimately how to live.

The presentation and discussion will be in English.

You are all most welcome.

Warm regards,


Entrance is free but a donation of €3 (or more!) to fund the event is suggested and would be most welcome.

John Heyderman is a former librarian from London. He studied philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, and wrote his dissertation on Spinoza and Davidson on the mind/body problem.