Ethics by Spinoza : A moral, ontological and metaphysical work
Ethics is an ambitious work and multifaceted. Ambitious in its subject matter as critical Spinoza all traditional philosophical conceptions of God, of man and the universe. Ambitious also by Spinoza because his method is to demonstrate the truth about God, about nature, man, religion and the good life. Indeed, Spinoza proceeds by definitions, axioms, corollaries and scholia, ie mathematically.
While Spinoza’s Ethics covers theology, anthropology or ontology and metaphysics, he chose the term “ethics” because he posits that happiness comes from a liberation from superstition and passions. In other words, ontology is seen as a way to demystify the world and enable man to live according to reason.
Ethics is indeed the best summary of Spinoza’s philosophy.
The Ethics of Spinoza: God or Nature
“By God, I mean a being absolutely infinite, that is to say, a substance consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses eternal and infinite essence.” (Spinoza quotes) God is infinite, necessarily existing (that is to say, because of himself, causa per se), single substance of the universe. There is only one substance in the universe is God, and everything is in God.
Here is a summary of the proposals:
Proposal 1: A substance is prior in nature to its affections.
Proposal 2: Two substances having different attributes have nothing in common with one another.
Proposition 3: If things have nothing in common with another, one of them can not be the cause of the other.
Proposition 4: Two or more distinct things are distinguished from each other, either by a difference in attributes [natures or essences] substances or by a difference in their affections [their accidental properties].
Proposition 5: In nature, there can be two or more substances of the same nature
Proposition 6: A substance can not be produced by another substance.
Proposition 7: It is the nature of a substance to exist.
Proposition 8: Every substance is necessarily infinite.
Proposition 9: A portion of reality or being that has everything, a larger number of attributes belong
Proposition 10: Each attribute of the same substance must be conceived through itself.
Proposition 11: God, that is to say, a substance consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses eternal and infinite essence, necessarily exists
Proposal 12: nil attribute of a substance can not be formed a true concept of which it follows that this substance could be diviséeDe no attribute of a substance can not be formed a true idea of which it follows that this substance could be divided
Proposition 13: A substance absolutely infinite is indivisible.
Proposition 14: No substance other than God can be given or designed.
This proves that God is infinite, necessary and without cause, proceeds in three simple steps. First, Spinoza states that two substances can share an attribute or essence. Then he proves that there is a substance with infinite attributes. It follows, by concluding that the existence of this infinite substance precludes the existence of any other substance. For if there should be a second substance, there should be an attribute or gasoline. But since God has all possible attributes. Therefore, there can be, besides God, no other substance.
If God is the only substance, then all the rest are existing in God. These things are in God’s attributes, Spinoza calls modes.
What are the consequences of this conception of God? God is seen by Spinoza as an immanent God, a universal cause which ensures the continuity of all that exists. What constitutes a break with the God of Revelation, which is presented as a transcendent cause in the world. Spinoza, the world exists necessarily because the divine substance has the attribute of existence, whereas in the Judeo-Christian tradition, God could not create the world.
Proposal 29: There is nothing given contingent in nature, but everything is determined by the necessity of the divine nature to exist and to produce some effect in some way
There are, however, differences in how things depend on God. Some parts of the universe are governed by God directly and necessarily: it is the “infinite modes”, which includes the laws of physics, the truths of geometry, the laws of logic. Individual and particular things are causally more distant from God. Finite modes are disorders of the attributes of God.
Spinoza’s metaphysics of God is best summarized by the following sentence: “God or Nature”, “Deus, sive Natura” in Latin. According to Spinoza, nature has two sides: one active and one passive. First, there is God and his attributes, from which everything else follows: it is the Natura natura, “nature naturing”. The rest, which is assigned by God and his attributes, is Naturata Natura, “nature natured”.
Thus, the fundamental insight of Spinoza in the first book is that nature is an indivisible whole, without cause, substantial. Outside of nature, there is nothing, and all that exists is a part of nature. This unique nature, unified and necessary is what Spinoza calls God. Because of the inherent necessity of nature, there is no teleology in the universe: nothing has to end. The order of things is simply following God with an inviolable determinism. All the talk about God’s plans, intentions or goals are just fictions anthropomorphists.
Spinoza’s Ethics : The Man
In the second part, Spinoza turns to the origin and nature of human beings. The two attributes of God that we know are the extension and thought.
If God is indeed matter, it does not mean that God has a body. Indeed, God is not the material itself, but an extension of its essence. For the extension and thought are two distinct species that have absolutely nothing in common. Modes (or expressions of extension) are physical organs, modes of thought are ideas. Because the extension and thought have nothing in common, the two realms of matter and mind are causally closed systems and heterogeneous.
One of the pressing issues of the philosophy of the seventeenth century, and perhaps the most famous legacy of the dualism of Descartes, the problem is the ratio of two radically different substances such as mind and body, the question of their union and their interaction. Spinoza, in effect, denies that the human being is a union of two substances. The human mind and body are both expressions of a single thing: the person. And because there is no interaction between mind and body, the mind-body problem (body / mind) does not arise.
Spinoza’s Ethics : Knowledge
The human mind, as God, has ideas. Spinoza engages in a detailed analysis of the composition of the human being, because its aim is to show how the human being is a part of nature, unlike those who think of man as an empire within an empire . This has serious ethical implications. First, it implies that human beings do not have freedom. Because our minds and events in our mind are ideas which exist in the causal series of ideas that flow from God, our actions and our wills are necessarily determined, like other natural events. “The spirit is determined to wish this or that by a cause which is also determined by another, and this again by another, and so on to infinity”
According to Spinoza, nature is always the same, and its power to act is the same everywhere. Our feelings, our love, our anger, our hatred, our desires, our pride, are governed by the same necessity.
Our affections are divided into actions and passions. When the cause of an event lies in our own nature, more specifically, our knowledge or adequate ideas, then it is an action. But when something happens but the cause is inadequate (outside of our nature), then we are passive. As the Spirit acts or suffers, Spinoza says that the mind increases or decreases its ability to be. He calls the conatus, sort of existential inertia, our tendency to persevere in being.
Spinoza is freedom and to reject evil passions, those that make us passive, for the benefit of joyful passions, those that make us active, and therefore autonomous. The passions are good related to knowledge, ideas adequate amount stored by man. In other words, it must free itself from our dependence on the senses and imagination, of what affects us and rely as much as possible about our rational faculties.
And joy increases our power to act. All human emotions, insofar as they are passions, are directed outwards. Awakened by our passions and desires, we seek or shun the things we attribute the cause to joy or sadness.
Spinoza’s Ethics: Virtue and Happiness
Virtue in Spinoza, is the path to happiness. Indeed, the virtue is to live according to the understanding, which aims to increase our knowledge and understanding of nature. The mind lives according to the conatus and research what is good for us. The ultimate knowledge, or third kind of knowledge, refers to knowledge of the essence of things, not in their temporal dimension, but under the aspect of eternity. Ultimately, it is the knowledge of God that leads to happiness, purpose of man.
Spinoza’s ethical theory is not without resemblance to Stoicism, which asserts that world events elude us, only our view of the fatality can free us from the sadness. The sage understands that Spinoza was an integral part of nature and he pleased. The wise man therefore is free and autonomous as it accompanies the nature, fits perfectly into it: the knowledge closer to God.