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Spinoza’s philosophy is quite profound, and although his concept of God differs from the Judeo-Christian Model-a belief for which he suffered persecution, he nonetheless offers much of substance and beauty. If the Greeks, notably Sophocles, believed that suffering ennobles one before the Gods, then Spinoza's life in some many respects--from exile to persecution by his own people, the Jews, embodied Sophocles' universal. The following traditions / philosophers seemed to have influenced Spinoza:

Spinoza said,

The following primary source excerpts from Spinoza should be read in conjunction with the WEB SITES appended to Chapter XIX of Sophie. They are taken from The Story Of Philosophy by Will Durant (New York: Pocket Books, 1957), and from Spinoza’s treatise on ETHICS. Click here for the full text.

on the Nature of GOD:

1--I take a totally different view of God and nature from that which the later Christians usually entertain, for I hold that God is the immanent, and not the extraneous, cause of all things. I say, All is in God; all lives and moves in God...

2--By 'God' I mean a being absolutely infinite--that is, a substance consisting in infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality...There cannot exist in the universe two or more substances having the same nature or attribute.

3--...If several distinct substances be granted, they must be distinguished one from the other, either by the difference of their attributes, or by the difference of their modification...It is impossible that there should be in the universe two substances with an identical attribute, i.e. which have anything common to them both

4--...God, or substance, consisting of infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality, necessarily exists....If this be denied, conceive, if possible, that God does not exist: then his essence does not involve existence. But this is absurd. Therefore God necessarily exists...Perhaps there will be many who will be unable to see the force of this proof, inasmuch as they are accustomed only to consider those things which flow from external causes. Of such things, they see that those which quickly come to pass--that is, quickly come into existence--quickly also disappear; whereas they regard as more difficult of accomplishment --that is, not so easily brought into existence--those things which they conceive as more complicated.

5--Besides God no substance can be granted or conceived.

6--As God is a being absolutely infinite, of whom no attribute that expresses the essence of substance can be denied...and he necessarily exists...if any substance besides God were granted, it would have to be explained by some attribute of God, and thus two substances with the same attribute would exist, absurd; therefore, besides God no substance can be granted, or consequently be conceived. If it could be conceived, it would necessarily have to be conceived as existent; but this (by the first part of this proof) is absurd. Therefore, besides God no substance can be granted or conceived.

7--Clearly, therefore: 1. God is one, that is...only one substance can be granted in the universe, and that substance is absolutely infinite, as we have already indicated

8--...It follows: That extension and thought are either attributes of God or accidents ("affectiones") of the attributes of God.

9--Whatsoever is, is in God, and without God nothing can be, or be conceived.

10--...Proof--Besides God, no substance is granted or can be conceived...that is..nothing which is in itself and is conceived through itself. But modes can neither be, nor be conceived without substance; wherefore they can only be in the divine nature, and can only through it be conceived. But substances and modes form the sum total of existence...therefore, without God nothing can be, or be conceived.

11--Some assert that God, like a man, consists of body and mind, and is susceptible of passions. How far such persons have strayed from the truth is sufficiently evident from what has been said...For all who have in anywise reflected on the divine nature deny that God has a body. Of this they find excellent proof in the fact that we understand by body a definite quantity, so long, so broad, so deep, bounded by a certain shape, and it is the height of absurdity to predicate such a thing of God, a being absolutely infinite. But meanwhile by other reasons with which they try to prove their point, they show that they think corporeal or extended substance wholly apart from the divine nature, and say it was created by God. Where from the divine nature can have been created, they are wholly ignorant; thus they clearly show that they do not know the meaning of their own words. I myself have proved sufficiently clearly, at any rate in my own judgment... that no substance can be produced or created by anything other than itself. Further, I showed...that besides God no substance can be granted or conceived. Hence we drew the conclusion that extended substance is one of the infinite attributes of God. However, in order to explain more fully, I will refute the arguments of my adversaries, which all start from the following points:--

12--Extended substance, in so far as it is substance, consists, as they think, in parts, wherefore they deny that it can be infinite, or consequently, that it can appertain to God. This they illustrate with many examples, of which I will take one or two. If extended substance, they say, is infinite, let it be conceived to be divided into two parts; each part will then be either finite or infinite. If the former, then infinite substance is composed of two finite parts, which is absurd. If the latter, then one infinite will be twice as large as another infinite, which is also absurd.

13--Whenever, then anything in nature seems to us ridiculous, absurd or evil, it is because we have but a partial knowledge of things, and are in the main ignorant of that order and coherence of nature as a whole, and because we want everything to be arranged according to the dictates of our own reason; although in fact, what our reason pronounces bad is not bad as regards the order and laws of universal nature, by only as regards the laws of our own nature taken separately...As for the terms good and bad, they indicate nothing positive considered in themselves...For one and the same thing can at the same time be good, bad, and indifferent. For example, music is good to the melancholy, bad to mourners., and indifferent to the dead.

[This passage should remind you of something that happened to Sophie in the last Chapter. Click here to find additional philosophical background information.]

14--When you say that if I allow not in God, the operations of seeing, hearing, observing, willing, and the know not what sort of God mine is, I thence conjecture that you [his correspondent] believe there is no greater perfection than such as can be explained by the attributes aforesaid. I do not wonder at it; for I believe that a triangle , if it could speak, would in like manner say that God is eminently triangular, and a circle would say that God is eminently circular, and thus would every one ascribe his own attributes to God.


1--Spinoza reacted to the most important philosophical issue in the Seventeenth Century, the relationship between mind and matter, noting that the dualism does not exist--they are one, and what we see as a dualism depends on our point of view: "The body cannot determine the mind to think; nor the mind determine the body to remain in motion or at rest, or in any other state...the decision of the mind, and the desire and determination of the body ...are one and the same thing." He noted that same applies to the mind, disbelieving therefore, it the notion that different faculties (humors) combined to determine human action.

[Click here to access information on conventional Renaissance psychology.]

2--"...the intellect and the will are treated to this or that idea or volition as rockiness to this or that rock...will and intellect are one and the same thing, so a volition is merely an idea which, by richness of associations...has remained long enough in consciousness to pass over into action."

3--"Everything in so far as it is in itself, endeavours to persist in its own being; and the endeavor wherewith a thing seeks to persist in its own being is nothing else than the actual essence of that thing." Spinoza believes that for man on earth, such persistence may ethically be defined as the pleasure or pain coming from the satisfaction or frustration of an instinct [Durant, p. 178]. We must act this way because it is in accordance with our nature as part of the total pattern [God] that we only see imperfectly.

4--Thus, man is determined by the part he plays in the divine substance and is not really free: "There is in the mind no absolute or free will; but the mind is determined in willing this or that by a cause which is determined in its turn by another cause, and this by another, and so on to infinity."

5--"In so far as the mind conceives a thing according to the dictates of reason, it will be equally affected whether the idea be of anything present, past, or future." Reason is assisted in this process by the imagination which allows the consciousness to project the effects of the given action. [Durant, p. 184].

6--Man according to Spinoza thus has some measure of freedom in that reason, properly aided by imagination, can regulate passion: "We are free only where we know...Men who are good by reason--i.e. men who, under the guidance of reason, seek what is useful to them--desire nothing for themselves which they do not also desire for the rest of mankind."

7--"...The evil which ensues from evil deeds is not therefore less to be feared because it comes from necessity; whether our actions are free or not, our motives still are hope and fear. Therefore the assertion is false that I would leave no room for precepts and commands."

on Human Freedom:

[Comments from his Ethics: Part V--Of the power of the understanding, or of human freedom...The following outlines some essential points:]

1--mental freedom (“blessedness”) is the mind’s ability to control the emotions

2--Spinoza rejects the idea of Descartes that a dualism exists between mind and matter--they both as extension and thought are the only manifestations of God--God for Spinoza is the only substance.

3--Emotions for Spinoza are confused ideas that become misdirected passions. Reason and intuition are needed to clarify emotions and render them manageable--i.e., “an emotion is the idea of a modification of a body, and therefore must involve some clear and distinct conception.”

4--" a man who is not guided by reason, [appetites are]...passions...a man who lives by dictates of reason is in an activity or virtue which is called piety...all appetites or desires are only passions, in so far as they spring from inadequate ideas...”

5--True knowledge and peace comes when reason clarifies emotions. Spinoza argues that since we are microcosmically extension and thought and are part of the one substance that he calls God, we are determined and not really free, except to determine what our place in the pattern is of necessity [recall Plato], and this can only be done when our reason controls emotion properly: “The more this knowledge, that things are necessary, is applied to particular things, which we conceive more distinctly and vividly, the greater is the power of the mind over the emotions...”

6--"We have the power of arranging and associating the modifications of our body according to the intellectual order.”

7--"The best we can do, therefore, so long as we do not possess a perfect knowledge of our emotions, is to frame a system of right conduct, or fixed practical precepts, to commit it to memory, and to apply it forthwith to the particular circumstances which now and again meet is in life so that our imagination may become fully imbued therewith, and that it may be always ready to our hand...hatred should [for example] be overcome with love or high-mindedness.”

8--Spinoza gives the example of a poor man whose misdirected passions cause him to constantly lament his lack of wealth, and who constantly criticizes the rich for their misuse of money--he becomes intolerant of his own poverty and other’s riches. What the man needs to do is govern his emotions and appetites to “:gain a knowledge of the virtues and their causes, and to fill his spirit with the joy which arises from the true knowledge of them.” For Spinoza, that true knowledge is love of God,” meaning an understanding of our place (ordained by ‘divine necessity’).

9--"The love towards God must hold the chief place in the mind.” Using an Idea of Aristotle [Poetics], Spinoza argues that if we feel pain, but see it as an imperfectly realized idea, and contemplate the idea, the pain becomes pleasure. Recall, for example, Oedipus.

10--"Spiritual unhealthiness and misfortunes can generally be traced to excessive love for something which is subject to many variations [recall Boethius], and which we can never become masters of.”

11--Spinoza discusses the role of the imagination and memory in the process of ordering our emotions and contemplating God: "...further, to retain the usual phraseology, the modifications of the human body, of which the ideas represent external bodies as present to us, we will call the images of things... When the mind regards bodies in this fashion, we say that it imagines. I will here draw attention to the fact, in order to indicate where error lies, that the imaginations of the mind, looked at in themselves, do not contain error. The mind does not err in the mere act of imagining, but only in so far as it is regarded as being without the idea, which excludes the existence of such things as it imagines to be present to it. If the mind, while imagining non-existent things as present to it, is at the same time conscious that they do not really exist, this power of imagination must be set down to the efficacy of its nature, and not to a fault, especially if this faculty of imagination depend solely on its own nature--that is ...if this faculty of imagination be free. “ Thus, “imagination is the idea wherewith the mind contemplates a thing as present...therefore emotion is imagination, is so far as it indicates the present disposition of the body, therefore the mind is, only while the body endures, subject to emotions which are attributes to passions.”

12- Spinoza speaks of memory, “We now clearly see what 'Memory' is. It is simply a certain association of ideas involving the nature of things outside the human body, which association arises in the mind according to the order and association of the modifications (affections) of the human body. I say, first, it is an association of those ideas only, which involve the nature of things outside the human body: not of ideas which answer to the nature of the said things: ideas of the modifications of the human body are, strictly speaking those which involve the nature both of the human body and of external bodies. I say, secondly, that this association arises according to the order and association of the modifications of the human body, in order to distinguish it from that association of ideas, which arises from the order of the intellect, whereby the mind perceives things through their primary causes, and which is in all men the same. And hence we can further clearly understand, why the mind from the thought of one thing, should straightaway arrive at the thought of another thing, which has no similarity with the first; for instance, from the thought of the word 'pomum' (an apple), a Roman would straightaway arrive at the thought of the fruit apple, which has no similitude with the articulate sound in question, nor anything in common with it, except that the body of the man has often been affected by these two things; that is, that the man has often heard the word 'pomum,' while he was looking at the fruit; similarly every man will go on from one thought to another, according as his habit has ordered the images of things in his body. For a soldier, for instance, when he sees the tracks of a horse in sand, will at once pass from the thought of a horse to the thought of a horseman, and thence to the thought of war, &c.; while a countryman will proceed from the thought of a horse to the thought of a plough, a field, &c. Thus every man will follow this or that train of thought, according as he has been in the habit of conjoining and associating the mental images of things in this or that manner...The human mind has no knowledge of the body, and does not know it to exist, save through the ideas of the modifications whereby the body is affected.

13--Spinoza offers a conclusion regarding the above in terms of man’s relationship to to God, “--The human mind is the very idea or knowledge of the human body, which is in God, in so far as he is regarded as affected by another idea of a particular thing actually existing: or, inasmuch as the human body stands in need of very many bodies whereby it is, as it were, continually regenerated; and the order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of causes; this idea will therefore be in God, in so far as he is regarded as affected by the ideas of very many particular things. Thus God has the idea of the human body, or knows the human body, in so far as he is affected by very many other ideas, and not in so far as he constitutes the nature of the human mind; that is...the human mind does not know the human body. But the ideas of the modifications of body are in God, in so far as he constitutes the nature of the human mind, or the human mind perceives those modifications..., and consequently...the human body itself, and as actually existing; therefore the mind perceives thus far only the human body.

[NOTE: These ideas are echoed by Bacon who speak of the function of the mind in terms of its using foreconceits, emblems and sensible images.]

14--"The highest virtue of the mind is to know God.”

15--Our salvation, according to Spinoza, is..."the constant and eternal love towards God, or God’s love toward men.” This is like the bliss-station of Joseph Campbell, that the Bible calls “glory.” See also the Meditations of Donne: Click here.

16--Spinoza concludes by noting that people who pursue fortune, lusts etc. are not really free in that they are slaves to imperfectly realized ideas. True freedom is realizing that of necessity we are not free, except to know God--our place in the cosmos, “...therefore in proportion as the mind rejoices in this divine love or blessedness, has it the power of controlling lusts...”