A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness: The God-intoxicated Spinoza(1632-1677).

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Rationalism has a long and convoluted history reaching as it does back to Pre-Socratic Philosophy. There is, however, a worthwhile distinction to be made between the Greek Rationalists and the “modern” rationalists beginning with the mathematician Descartes. Descartes form of rationalism forms a curious species of its own flirting as it does with Skepticism in its methodology. He is in search of a foundation that will provide certainty for our judgments and he employs in this search a method which he hopes will guide the activity of scientists in their search for knowledge.

Spinoza’s “Ethics” is a work that demonstrates in its form. at least a debt to the Cartesian Project, being composed as it is of axioms and definitions that determine the philosophizing that occurs in its five sections. Having said this these two philosophers, in spite of believing in the certainty of mathematical axioms and definitions have very different conceptions of Philosophy, Spinoza being the practical ethical philosopher in search of the knowledge of the Good and Descartes the theoretical metaphysical philosopher in search the knowledge of the true. Descartes and Spinoza inherit the scholastic obsession with Substance and Descartes oscillate uncomfortably between substance dualism and a reductive materialism. For Spinoza, on the other hand, there can be in logic only one substance, one Nature, one God, a position that reminds one of the poem of Parmenides invoking the goddess of truth “Aletheia”, a goddess of the unconcealment of Being which must include knowledge of the true and the good. In this context consider the following by Spinoza from his work Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione:

“After experience had taught me that all things which are ordinarily encountered in common life are vain and futile, and when I saw that all things which were the occasions and objects of my fears had in themselves nothing of good and evil except insofar as the mind was moved by them: I at length determined to inquire if there was anything that was a true good, capable of imparting itself, by which alone the mind could be affected to the exclusion of all else: whether indeed anything existed by the discovery and acquisition of which I might be put in possession of a joy continuous and supreme to all eternity.”

For Spinoza, as for Plato, both God and the Good appear to lie outside of our experience, outside of the sphere of operation of the imagination. Intellectual thought appears in this system to be necessary for the logical explication of Substance which has an infinite number of (essential) attributes. This is a logical attack on many Aristotelian concepts, including the central notions of hylomorphic theory, matter, form, potentiality, actuality, actualization process, and final cause. Spinoza manages to create a logical space for analysis that involves an investigation to what extent it is possible to regard Spinoza’s Substance as similar to Aristotelian form or principle. Spinoza, like Aristotle, certainly uses the Principle of Sufficient Reason in expressing the relationship between the modes or attributes of Substance: so to the extent that a reason for something can be a principle rather than merely a rule, is the extent to which we can concede that Spinoza’s idea of Substance appears to resemble Aristotle’s earlier thoughts on Substance. The Principle of Sufficient Reason is what the intellect uses to establish the essence of things naturally rules out any appeal to experience or the imagination. Spinoza claims that there is an infinite number of infinite modes of Substance but we as humans only have access to two these modes: extension and thought. There are also finite modes of substance that express their essence in the form of objects, events, and states of affairs and thought about objects, events, and states of affairs. For every object, event, and state of affairs, there is a thought and there are also thoughts about the smallest particles that can be seen or imagined. Individuals can, of course, be ignorant of these thoughts. The order and connection of extended matter appear to differ from the order and connection of ideas about extended matter: there appear to be, that is, both physical connections and relationships and conceptual connections and relationships. Note that this “dualism” is grounded in a logical monism. Both thought and extended matter are expressions of an infinite Substance that Spinoza calls God or Nature. God’s thought, being infinite, is obviously going to differ from finite human thought. God will always have adequate knowledge of all existence and essence in the world whereas our human inadequate knowledge requires the support of classification systems containing general terms referring to kinds of things in the world. God, on the other hand, thinks in terms of individual minds and individual men.

Substance, Nature, or God necessarily exist and it is necessarily true (de re necessity) that they exist. This is a very different conception of God to that found in religion where very often there is the troublesome image of God separated from his creation. This troublesome image led the ancient Greeks to postulate the existence of an intermediary Demiurge that created the world. Spinoza speaks of God being Nature and of both as being infinite in the sense that there is nothing that either God or Nature is not. God or Nature is causa sui, self causing entities and are immanent in the world. Many religions imagine God creating the world in Time which in logic, of course, implies that there was a time before the world was created, a time before God had performed this act and therefore a time when one could say of God that he had not yet created the world, thus disturbing our idea of his perfection. Our knowledge and classification systems presuppose a concept of linear time in which things come to be and pass away. God, however, is timeless and his thought is a pure activity that does not begin or end in time. It is therefore difficult to speak of the will of God and this is tied up with the idea of God being an immanent cause of an infinite number of infinite modes of Substance(of which we humans only know two: thought and extension). For an understanding of what is being referred to here, we need to look no further than the formal cause of Aristotle. The major difference between the two philosophers resides in the fact that Spinoza places more faith in Mathematical knowledge than does Aristotle. For Spinoza, the logical relationship between God and Nature is analogous to the relationship between a triangle and its essential properties(three angles, three sides). The possible weakness, however, of this Mathematical account is the possibility that the faculty of the imagination may have been involved in the formation of the axioms and definitions of Euclidean geometry. The “creation” of Non-Euclidean geometry proved to the satisfaction of many philosophers the fact that Euclidean axioms possessed merely a de dicto form of necessity rather than the de dicto form that Spinoza requires for the justification of his overall approach( An argument that both Plato and Aristotle appreciated)

But what, then, is God’s relation to the finite modes? For Spinoza, Gods essence is intimately related to Gods power and this is manifested in all “individuals” in nature striving to preserve themselves in their existence. Spinoza collapses the classificatory system of kinds and claims that even a speck of dust or a rock, are engaged in this “striving”, as is a human being. Both rocks and humans are modes of extension at different levels of complexity. Matter for Spinoza is not inert mass and even when it is at rest it possesses potential energy to move. Spinoza adds to his description of levels of complexity an account of the structure of complex bodies: they are composed of more simple individuals or bodies. An individual, for Spinoza, passing into or out of existence is merely a manifestation of a journey from the simple to the complex or the complex back into the simple. There is, for him, no drama surrounding the death of a complex human being as long as one has an adequate idea of what is happening as long as one is viewing the world sub specie aeternitatus. Death was more than an academic issue for the man who died at the age of 44 from damage to his lungs caused by glass fragments. he is reputed to have passed very calmly in Socratic fashion presumably looking forward to the dispersing of the matter of his body. For him what has died here is not Substance, i.e. substance has not gone out of existence. All that has happened is a modification of Substance and this is not to be feared. All that has happened is a complex individual has ceased in its striving to exist as that complex individual. The individual will not see what is happening to its body when it is dead because the mind will disintegrate.

We may also wonder what God’s relation to the infinite mode of thought can be. Thought is one of the infinite aspects under which we understand God. Medieval logic, under the influence of the early work of Aristotle on Substance, had begun to debate in very technical terms the form of the proposition which is that of a predicate predicating something of a subject, or, in other words, a form that states that substance possesses a particular attribute or property. The Aristotelian project, however, insisted that Science could only advance its positions by the classification of individuals into definable natural kinds discriminated by essential qualities or attributes. This is clearly a classification model dominated by qualities. One of the logical consequences of Medieval thought is that there have to be a plurality of substances which of course we can imagine to be the case but this is indeed problematic from the point of view of monism and the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Such a position raises the issue of finding some means to give an account of how these different substances interact with each other and when using the Principle of Sufficient Reason being able to give an acco8nt of what reasons there are for more than one substance existing. Even discussion of what it is that caused this individual substance becomes problematic because if something else caused this substance it could no longer meet the causa sui condition that Spinoza insists upon. This point is also involved in Spinoza’s earlier denial that if God and Nature are both causa sui neither could be the cause of the other. Finite modes such as triangles can possess essence without there being individuals that are triangular but God, Nature, and Substance, possessing as they do infinite numbers of attributes, admit of no separation of essence and existence(“The power of God is the same as his essence”(Ethics 1 proposition 33). As has been mentioned, however, two aspects of Substance present themselves to the human intellect in the form of Extension and Thought. The nature of their relation is complex but it can be said that for every extended individual(particle. even, object, state of affairs) there can be a thought about it, but we cannot conceive of thought as a modification of extension or vice versa. Spinozaäs view of extension was in fact far more systematic than the notion we find in the Cartesian position and it probably helped to pave the way for a new form of physical science based on Mathematical axioms and definitions of the kind we find, for example, in Newtons “Principia Mathematica”. In Spinoza’s system ideas have ideata or objects and this discussion brings us into the arena of the mind(body problem which so plagued Cartesian Philosophy. Given Spinoza’s refusal to countenance dualism we will not have to account for causal interactions between substances. One fascinating consequence of Spinoza’s monism, however, is that he regards the human mind as being constituted by the idea of the human body. We must be careful with this term “idea” which sometimes for Descartes merely meant “image”. For Spinoza, the term “idea” is a conception of a thing connected to assertion or negation: the conception of a winged horse, for example, asserts that horses have wings and the idea that there are no such things as winged horses are the refusal of the mind to assert that horses are winged. In real perceptual contexts seeing an actual horse will also involve asserting the existence of this individual before me stomping and snorting.

We will not find in Spinoza skeptical excursions into the Cartesian countryside of doubt. For Spinoza, perceiving something is asserting its existence. There is for him no bare coming into contact with the sense-data or images of men without an active application of these concepts which will involve some of the causes that have brought the horse into existence but only Gods thought contains knowledge of all the causes. Similarly, my knowledge of my own mind is incomplete or inadequate because I cannot completely survey the order that has brought it about. We can, of course, participate in this knowledge by understanding that my mind is the idea of an actually existing body. There is in Spinoza no significant reflective move, as there is in Descartes where there is a reduction of the idea of being a man to an idea that I am thinking about that man.. This latter thought has not special status in Spinoza’s account it is simply another thought about a fact in the world and possesses therefore no privileged status.

For Spinoza it appears as if every mental event asserts the existence of something. If, for example, I love somebody I assert the existence of that somebody. It also appears as if sensations are intensional: they are our way of being aware of the state of our body. Pain is asserting something about the body. We cannot fail to be reminded here of the Cartesian Meditation in which Descartes attempts to doubt the existence of his body. Firstly one could wonder whether it is possible to doubt the existence of a body in pain, and secondly, for Spinoza, such a doubt would be tantamount to doubting the existence of one’s mind. But, one may ask, what is this idea of the body and idea of? Firstly it is an idea of a finite mode of the attribute of extension. Our body, for Spinoza, must be a complex of individual composed of simpler bodies(whose history we are unaware of) and these will all possess the energy(motion or potential energy) required to strive to preserve their existence. The degree of energy these simpler bodies possess will also serve to keep themselves and each other in the relative positions(contact) they occupy. The complex individual in its turn will possess a more holistic power to strive to preserve its existence as a complex individual.

With a complex being such as ourselves, our striving to preserve ourselves in existence will have three psychological aspects: desire, pleasure, and pain. But the virtue of all our virtues is to preserve ourselves in the desired condition. All our activity is directed toward this Good which emanates(originates) not from an idea in my mind but from a bodily striving towards pleasure and avoidance of pain. the more complex a body is the greater is its powers. Animals, in comparison, are finite modes of life with fewer powers. They may, for example, not possess any idea of their minds–only human minds possess an idea of their bodies. Finite human beings, on this account, are not substances but rather possess essences which are expressions of substance and they are not self-determining entities given the fact that their existence is dependent upon external causes to themselves. We are, that is, only subsystems(parts) of Nature with a limited power of self-maintenance or conatus. Stuart Hampshire in his work “Spinoza” has the following interesting point to make:

“But the notion of conatus, or individual self maintenance, of which there is no equivalent in Descartes or in purely mechanical and atomistic cosmologies, is exactly the concept which biologists have often demanded as essential to the understanding of organic and living systems.”(p78)

Aristotle’s idea of “purpose” or “task” obviously surfaces in this discussion. For Aristotle different kinds of souls, all move for the telos of preserving their life and there is also a hierarchy of powers corresponding to more simple forms of life and more complex forms of life. Both Spinoza and Aristotle share the view that what we do is a function of our human nature. The most complex desire for Aristotle that manifests itself in human conatus is the desire for understanding which is also part of the process of imitating or participating in the activity of divine thinking and its comprehension of everything, the complete order of the physical world of extension and the logic of the relation of ideas in the realm of thought. Aristotle’s “definition of being human is we should recall “rational animal capable of discourse”. Here the “rational part of the definition refers as much to the potential for understanding as it does to the actualization of the rational in terms of the passing of laws and the understanding of principles or forms. We mention Aristotle in this context because many commentators believe that Spinoza was attempting to replace the worn out Aristotelian system which was standing in the way of the development of knowledge like a huge colossus. This may be a truth with modification.

For Spinoza, as for Aristotle the best life is the life of understanding what things are in themselves and why they are so. For Aristotle the virtuous life is one which actively pursues understanding in the realm of the good presumably because of an active emotion(to use Spinoza’s term) such as wonder. For Spinoza active emotions are to be preferred to passive emotions and he does not subscribe to the view that pure reason or pure intellect can be efficacious in sublimation of such passive emotions as fear and hatred. The active desire to understand(which is an active emotion for Spinoza) will be able to sublimate the passive emotions. Understanding the passive emotions of fear and hate for Spinoza, amounts to the extent to which we can understand the causes of these emotions whether in ourselves or other people. This will also involve understanding the consequences(effects) f hate and fear, e.g. aggression. Responding with aggression to ones hate or fear will, if one has an adequate idea of these emotions, only produce more hate and fear in the world, and as a consequence more aggressive destruction. When I have an adequate idea of myself these emotions lose their power over us. The emotion is thus transformed from a passion into an intellectual idea of the mind apprehended with clarity and distinctness. Powers are both actualities and dispositions to act. Insofar as emotion is a power and a disposition to act in a particular way toward an object and changing one’s apprehension of the object may be sufficient to change the passion involved. If we also focus on what caused the object or brought the object about I become aware of how the object could not be other than it is, become aware, that is, of its necessity. This kind of awareness is a movement toward the divine knowledge of adequate ideas apprehended clearly and distinctly, a blessed awareness of the world as a result of viewing the world sub specie aeternitatus. Psychoanalysis also uses this conception of object-relations and a more psychically distanced apprehension of the object in its therapeutic activity. Psychoanalysis also believes that understanding the nature of the object weakens its tendency to cause passive emotions in us. Love(Eros) is,, of course, a positive active emotion that for Spinoza is characterized in terms of conatus and more closely defined in terms of a striving to preserve the loved object in its existence(in its nature). Desire(consciousness of conatus) is logically prior to pleasure and pain and it would not be amiss to claim that the ultimate nature of thought ought to be defined by its desire to understand the world in order to preserve the nature of the organism and its hierarchy of powers.

The mind, for Spinoza, has its own purpose and nature and we have inadequate knowledge of its functioning, perhaps partly because we have inadequate knowledge of the idea of the body which forms the mind. Freud’s phases of psycho-sexual development may well have been influenced by this conception of the relationship between the mind and the body. Spinoza, like Freud, is committed toa close relation between the body and the mind. There cannot, for example, be a change in the body for which there is no idea and conscious awareness is not necessary. I may not, for example, be aware that I have a slight fever but I might be consciously aware of being thirsty: being aware that I am thirsty because I have a fever would be a move toward a more adequate idea of the changes occurring in my body. For Spinoza this connection of the idea of being thirsty with the idea of having a fever is a logical connection: the objects of these ideas cannot fall apart–of this, I must be certain, argues Spinoza. If we turn our attention away from the body and toward the world and the idea of ghosts in the world we might believe that the noise of a movement in a dark room was caused by the presence of a ghost. The cause of having failed dead people may be the cause which we are unaware of and becoming conscious of this cause could well suffice to rid oneself of the idea of a ghost in the room, as might the idea that all that is left of the dead is the matter of a decomposing body, i.e. the idea of the final and complete end of life of a being that has died suffices to remove the idea of a ghost moving in the dark. All these ideas of causes are designed to rid us of our habit of viewing the world sub specie humanitatis and designed to move us toward viewing the world or Nature sub specie aeternitatus.

Life, as has been pointed out earlier, is an Aristotelian issue which Freud pursued in his psychological theory, in particular when he referred to Eros, the life”Instinct” or drive. This echoes almost paradoxically the thoughts of Plato but it might also echo the thoughts of Spinoza in relation to conatus, suggesting in its turn an important issue in philosophical psychology, namely, the relation between the mind and its life(the title of a work by Hannah Arendt was “The Life of the Mind”). Brian O’ Shaughnessy in his work “The Will: a dual aspect theory” also suggests that the mind is in some sense “alive” and he claims the following:

“Life is necessarily the first ontological development amidst natural material objects–so that it may be that the only intrinsically de re necessarily vital phenomena apart from coming to life(and departing from life) are psychological phenomena. After all, psychologicality is the next great ontological shift after, and on the necessary basis of, the very first ontological movement, viz life. Then what do we mean in saying of the mind that it is alive? But what sort of thing is the mind? The mind consists, and exclusive of, the systematically and causally interrelated and often enduring phenomena of type psychological that occur in some animal.”(xix, vol 1)

O’ Shaughnessy shares then with Aristotle, Spinoza, and Freud the view that one of the key issues in the realm of philosophical psychology is the nature of the relation between the mind and the body. O Shaughnessy insists that the mind is dependent upon its owner, a person, and cannot, therefore, be a substantival entity, and the language being used here is reminiscent of what we encounter in Spinoza’s writings. Aristotle’s language is less related to the concept of Substance and more related to his later hylomorphic theory. For Aristotle life has a physical material substrate that is “formed” in various ways in accordance with various “principles” and this occurs at both biological and psychological “levels” using the mechanism of powers building upon powers in a process which Aristotle characterizes in terms of the actualizing of potentials. Spinoza simplifies this complex process with the use of his term “conatus”: he envisages the activity of preserving oneself in one’s existence as transformative as the organism becomes more and more complex, the culmination of this process being possibly the desire to understand requiring knowledge of various kinds. The goal of this process for Spinoza is to view the world sub specie aeternitatus. There is a concept of the individual in Spinoza but it does not resemble the solipsistic lonely individual we encounter in the Meditations of Descartes. The mind certainly is “alive for Spinoza in a way which would have been paradoxical for Descartes the mathematician. Psychological powers which include passive emotions such as hate and fear, as well as active emotions which have the power to sublimate passive emotions, produce the understanding required to view the world sub specie aeternitatus. These powers include the liberating of man from a state of servitude and form a rational moral attitude reminiscent of that which is aimed at in the New Testament of the Bible: that attitude expressed in the words of the apostles:”the truth will set you free”. According to Spinoza, we will no longer feel hatred for others when we appreciate the causal mechanisms operating in our social behaviour. The returning of hatred and violence with hatred and violence merely increases the level of hatred and violence in the world and our lives are consequently diminished rather than enhanced. This theme was resurrected in the work of Freud in the form of his “death instinct or drive “(Thanatos) almost on the eve of destruction(the second world war) and Freud’s work also served to play an important role in restoring the philosophical psychology of Aristotle and Spinoza to a central position in the arena of nineteenth-century culture. For Freud, the mind was a natural living phenomenon whose development could be charted in the way in which we chart the development of all living phenomena. The mind emerges from a body in the way a frog emerges from a tadpole. Failing to understand this complex process of development was failing to fully understand the causes of the mental phenomena one is confronted with in psychoanalytical therapy. Freud also focussed the light of his “science”(Philosophy?) on the phenomenon of the sick mind and replaced the “therapies” of the time(magnetism, hypnotism, hot and cold baths) with a more efficacious treatment for rational animals capable of discourse, namely a “talking cure”. The picture of 5000 women incarcerated in a mental institution in Paris was replaced with that of the Freudian couch and this was indeed symbolic of a more adequate idea of what to do with the anxiety that paralyzes a mind. Freud’s time was also a time of Science and scientific “products” in the form of technology were flowing into the Civilisation, transforming the world in accordance with a desire that wished to “master” nature. This desire was a part of a new and modern scientific view of the world that had two aspects to it. Firstly this view encouraged us to view ourselves and life forms as parts of the natural world like a wave or a flood and this secondly allowed us to lift ourselves narcissistically above such phenomena in a way that raised questions about our collective sanity. We were well on our way to believing that there was literally nothing that could not be done, i.e there were no natural limits to the ways in which we could transform our world and our lives. This was the environment in which Freud was working: walking a tightrope struggling to integrate the thoughts and assumptions of Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, Kant, and the Science of his time.

The concept of the will is only to be found in the work of Freud by Implication with the concept of “Libido” but it is to be found thematized in the works of Nietzsche and Adler. There was something standing in the way of identifying the will as a striving for understanding(in the name of the intellectual values for Aristotle and Kant) and in the name of our striving toward what we morally ought to do( the moral virtues for Aristotle and Kant). The spirit of Descartes and Hobbes appeared to prevail and prevent further analysis in the arena of philosophical psychology. This contrasted with medieval times when the will was a hotbed of discussion and the result of this was eventual stigmatization by the sanctions of the Church directed at Pelagianism. Kant managed to restore the validity of the concept in his Moral, Political, and Anthropological writings which were no doubt influenced by both Aristotle and Spinoza. In his work on “Anthropology” Kant pointed to the ontological distinction between those things that happen to man(e.g. passive emotions) and those things he actually does(e.g. assenting to something good, denying something bad). It is apparent that for Kant thought is an activity that lasts only so long as the activity lasts. Thought can be directed at the good or the true, asserting or denying them, with practical thought being directed to assenting to the good and denying the bad and theoretical thought assenting to or denying the truth. We find this division of the theoretical and the practical in the Philosophy of Aristotle.

The concept of the will is also to be found in Spinoza. Professor Brett has the following to say:

“For Spinoza, mind and body are aspects of a fundamental unity. The nature of the body is the cause of passions and affections: the nature of the mind is the cause of these ideas of bodily affections: and as these two, the physical and the psychic, events occur together, the emotions are states at once of mind and body. In this sense, and not in the Cartesian sense of interaction, the emotions. or affections are for Spinoza psychophysical. As the basis is a unity with two aspects, Spinoza begins with a tendency which belongs to that unity, namely the effort of self-preservation, the fundamental will to live or conatus quo unaquaeque res in suo esse(E., iii, 8). When this effort is referred to the mind alone it is called Will. Will is the name for the conatus when accompanied by the consciousness of its activity. When we regard it as arising out of the whole nature of man, mind and body, it is called “appetite”. Appetite can, therefore, be called the essence of man. If we add to this that appetite may be either unconscious or conscious we get the further distinction between appetite and desire(cupiditas), desire being appetite consciously apprehended as such.”(iii, 9)

Spinoza is also careful to motivate his account of the emotions by reference to the principle of sufficient reason. In constructing his philosophical framework he claims:

“I call an adequate cause whose effect can clearly and distinctly be perceived through it.”( p84)

A distinction between acting and suffering is also required:

“I say that we act or are active when something takes place within us or outside of us whose adequate cause we are…On the other hand I say we suffer or are passive when something when something takes place in us or follows from our nature of which we are only the partial cause.”

Spinoza then proceeds to define emotion :

“By emotion I understand the modifications of the body by which the power of action in the body is increased or diminished, aided or restrained, and at the same time the ideas of these modifications.”

Emotions, then, are of two kinds, active and passive, depending upon whether the ideas that accompany them are adequate or inadequate. Adequate ideas, as we have noted above, acknowledge adequate causes or conditions. The fear we experience at the thought of a ghost in the dark is real until further reflection dissipates the fear, resulting in the denial of the reality of the experience. The whole complex culminating perhaps in the thought”There are no ghosts, they are a figment of the imagination!”. Here the mind moves from a passive suffering state to an active higher state of perfection. What we are witnessing in the above “experience” of a ghost in the dark is the imagination “constructing” an object from the perceptual input of a sound in the dark. In Proposition XII (Origin and Nature of the Emotions) Spinoza then claims the following:

“the mind, as much as it can, endeavours to imagine those things which increase or help its power of acting.”

But why, after positing the idea of a ghost does the mind then posit the inexistence of the ghost?:(Proposition XIII)

When the mind imagines things which diminish or hinder the power of acting of the body, it endeavours as much as it can to remember things which will cut off their existence.”

Spinoza also calls attention to an important limitation of the imagination: (Proposition XIV):

“..the imaginations of our mind indicate rather the modifications of our body than the nature of external bodies.”

Fear, then, is directed more to the state of the body of the experiencer of fear than to states of affairs in the external world that have produced a sound in the dark. Fear is obviously related to pain which is defined by Spinoza as the movement of the mind to a lower state of perfection. The supervening of the idea that “Ghosts do not exist!” would then obviously be associated with the pleasure of relief and this defines a return to a higher state of perfection.

Brett summarises Spinoza’s position well in the following quote:

“The primary emotions are three in number: Laetitia (joy) tristitia (grief), and cupiditas (desire). These are not strictly coordinate but related rather as substance and accidents. Desire is the determination to action which arises directly from the tendency to self-preservation. Joy and grief are attributes of this fundamental state, arising from consciousness of success or failure in the effort. As the effort to attain fuller life is itself the very process of being(ipsa hominis essentia), joy and grief are the conscius equivalents of increased and decreased vitality(iii, II). The actual pleasure or pain are parts of these emotions, being strictly the corporal parts of the whole consciousness of increased or decreased vitality….The emotions, strictly speaking, involve an idea of the object: love, for example, is a mode of consciousness(cogitandi) as including the idea of the object loved. Thus appetite and desire differ as a blind impulse from conscious pursuit. Similarly, a mere feeling is blind and in that sense unconscious(devoid of any idea): emotion is a higher state involving more mentality. But emotions are inferior to intellectual operations because at this leel the ideas are “inadequate”, confused by the intrusion of factors due to the body.” (iii, 3)

So the transition from the fearful thought “Ghost!” to “there is no such thing as ghosts, they are figments of the imagination!” is a transition from emotion to intellect in spite of the fact that a type of pleasure might be involved. If pleasure is involved in the latter thought it is an intellectual kind of pleasure(unrelated to pain or relief from pain according to Plato). It is at this point that we learn about our passions and emotions and attain the state of virtue, the true telos of desire, the highest form of conatus. This takes us back to Aristotle and even further to the Delphic Oracle’s challenge to Socrates and everyone to “Know thyself!”. But it also links virtue to the Will and what is good, the completely timeless idea for Plato. Spinoza, however, avoids the dualism of the mind and the body that we encounter in the Philosophy of Descartes, by claiming that the idea of ghosts not existing is united to the emotion of pleasure in the same way in which the mind is united to the body. The idea of ghosts not existing is good in the sense that it is connected with a power of acting in the agent that does not have an external cause. Such an idea causes me to seek the real cause of the noise in the dark. Consciousness is evoked by Spinoza again in the section entitled “The Strength of the Emotions”, PRoposition VIII:

“The knowledge of good or evil is nothing else than the emotion of pleasure or pain, insofar as we are conscious of it.”

This knowledge through the power of acting (conatus) connected to it, is also in need of an account of what the perfect or imperfect, the good or the bad is. This section is particularly important in that it engages with an issue of historical and philosophical importance, namely, the Aristotelian notion of a final cause. The example that Spinoza uses to illustrate his position on this issue is perhaps unfortunate in that it is the idea of habitation related to the instrumental means of building a house. He chooses this example because it is evident to all that the idea of the house must be present before the power of acting of building the house is utilised. If this is the case, argues Spinoza then the idea of a house is an efficient and not a final cause. It is not absolutely certain that Aristotle is his target here but many philosophers have taken this to be the case, including A Kenny in his ” A New History of Western Philosophy”(Vol 3).

It is important, however, to remember that Aristotle’s discussion of final cause occurs in the context of examples of organic growth or human action involving cognitive development and the kind of changes being talked about are, for example, in the former case, the transformation of an immature organism (a tadpole) into a mature organism (a frog). the complete apparatus of hylomorphic theory is required in such cases if we are to completely explain the phenomena being described including, for example, the concepts of potentiality and actuality, form and matter, things retaining their identity through change and kinds of change. When therefore, in relation to his example taken from the realm of productive science, Spinoza claims that “nature does not act with an end in view”(p142) he is confounding the limited concept of biological nature(psuche) with the more all-embracing view of an infinite perfect God that is not moving from a state of imperfection toward a state of perfection. The example that Spinoza uses to found his case, that of the idea of habitation and the building of a house certainly involves a transformation of bricks and stones into a place of habitation that can be explained by a preceding idea but this is not the kind of transformation that Aristotle is discussing in his remarks. he would be the first to acknowledge that the material here is not necessarily connected to the product: it could well have been used, for example, to build a wall and an oven and these materials have been manipulated by external so-called “efficient” causes. In Spinoza’s language, these bricks and some may have themselves possessed a conatus, a striving to exist as bricks and stones, but neither for Aristotle nor for Spinoza could there have been a striving on their part to become a house. The elimination of the essences of kinds of things may be behind the example Spinoza felt forced to choose to illustrate his point. This also has an unfortunate effect upon Spinoza’s discussion of the good and the bad which he claims:

“..means nothing positive in things considered in themselves, nor are they anything else than modes of thought, or notions, which we form from the comparison of things mutually. For one and the same thing can at one time be good, bad and indifferent. E.g., music is good to the melancholy, bad to those who mourn and neither good nor bad to the deaf.”

The correction of this instrumental relativism will have to wait until the Philosophy of Kant where the instrumental desire for perfection will be questioned as a foundation for ethical thinking. In Kant’s ethics, we will find ourselves returned to a deontological conception of the good and the bad: a conception which is founded on an absolute conceåtion of a good will that has the power of universalizing the principle of one’s action into a universal law. this end-in-itself transcends the power we use to preserve ourselves in existence and is on the contrary projected outward as an imperative to treat others as ends in themselves dwelling in a community of ends.

Brett levels this criticism at Spinoza:

“..there is in Spinoza another vein of thought often overlooked. As he moves away from the Cartesian dualism and toward the concrete unity of the agent there is more and more evidence that Machiavelli and Hobbes areinfluences to be reckoned with, and the reflective reader will continually catch echoes from these writers as he follows Spinoza’s treatment of the fundamental conatus, or notes how rigidly he excludes the moral values when he deals with strength of motives.”

Given the above attitude toward the Good expressed by Spinoza in relation to music, it will also fall to Kant to restore a deontological view of the aesthetic Good when he claims that in aesthetic appreciation it is the form of the finality of the object that is an important constituent of this fundamentally “disinterested” yet subjective aesthetic attitude.

Spinoza is often accused of both atheism and pantheism. The former accusation probably is founded in religious malice but the latter is probably an accurate description. It is however, a strange form of pantheism that excludes the aesthetic attitude as conceived by Kantian Philosophy.

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