Spinoza's Simplified Ethics. Part 1: The understanding of God, Propositions 30-36
Propositions: 30-36, Intellect and the Understanding of God
Proposition 30: Intellect, in function (actu) finite, or in function infinite, must comprehend the attributes of God and the modifications of God, and nothing else.
Proof: A true idea must agree with its object (Axiom 6).
In other words (obviously), that which is contained in the intellect in representation must necessarily be granted in nature.
But in nature (by Prop. 14, Coroll. 1) there is no substance save God, nor any modifications save those (Prop. 15) which are in God, and cannot without God either be or be conceived.
Therefore the intellect, in function finite, or in function infinite, must comprehend the attributes of God and the modifications of God, and nothing else. Q.E.D.
Proposition 31: The intellect in function, whether finite or infinite, as will, desire, love, etc., should be referred to passive nature and not to active nature. Proof.—By the intellect we do not (obviously) mean absolute thought, but only a certain mode of thinking, differing from other modes, such as love, desire, etc., and therefore (Def. 5) requiring to be conceived through absolute thought.
It must (by Prop. 15 and Def. 6), through some attribute of God which expresses the eternal and infinite essence of thought, be so conceived, that without such attribute it could neither be nor be conceived.
It must therefore be referred to nature passive rather than to nature active, as must also the other modes of thinking. Q.E.D.
Note: I do not here, by speaking of intellect in function, admit that there is such a thing as intellect in potentiality:
But, wishing to avoid all confusion, I desire to speak only of what is most clearly perceived by us, namely, of the very act of understanding, than which nothing is more clearly perceived.
For we cannot perceive anything without adding to our knowledge of the act of understanding.
Proposition 32: Will cannot be called a free cause, but only a necessary cause. Proof.—Will is only a particular mode of thinking, like intellect; therefore (by Prop. 28) no volition can exist, nor be conditioned to act, unless it be conditioned by some cause other than itself, which cause is conditioned by a third cause, and so on to infinity.
But if will be supposed infinite, it must also be conditioned to exist and act by God, not by virtue of his being substance absolutely infinite, but by virtue of his possessing an attribute which expresses the infinite and eternal essence of thought (by Prop. 23).
Thus, however it be conceived, whether as finite or infinite, it requires a cause by which it should be conditioned to exist and act.
Thus (Def. 7) it cannot be called a free cause, but only a necessary or constrained cause. Q.E.D.
Coroll. 1 & 2: It follows:
That God does not act according to freedom of the will.
That will and intellect stand in the same relation to the nature of God as do motion, and rest, and absolutely all natural phenomena, which must be conditioned by God (Prop. 29) to exist and act in a particular manner.
For will, like the rest, needs a cause, by which it is conditioned to exist and act in a particular manner.
When will or intellect is granted, an infinite number of results may follow.
But God cannot on that account be said to act from freedom of the will, any more than the infinite number of results from motion and rest would justify us in saying that motion and rest act by free will.
For that reason, will no more appertains to God than does anything else in nature, but stands in the same relation to him as motion, rest, and the like, which we have shown to follow from the necessity of the divine nature, and to be conditioned by it to exist and act in a particular manner.
Proposition 33: Things could not have been brought into being by God in any manner or in any order different from that which has in fact obtained. Proof: All things necessarily follow from the nature of God (Prop. 16), and by the nature of God are conditioned to exist and act in a particular way (Prop. 29).
If things, therefore, could have been of a different nature, or have been conditioned to act in a different way, so that the order of nature would have been different, God's nature would also have been able to be different from what it now is; and therefore (by Prop. 11) that different nature also would have perforce existed, and consequently there would have been able to be two or more Gods. This (by Prop. 14, Coroll. 1) is absurd.
Therefore things could not have been brought into being by God in any other manner, &c. Q.E.D.
Note 1: As I have thus shown, more clearly than the sun at noonday, that there is nothing to justify us in calling things contingent, I wish to explain briefly what meaning we shall attach to the word contingent; but I will first explain the words necessary and impossible.
A thing is called necessary either in respect to its essence or in respect to its cause; for the existence of a thing necessarily follows, either from its essence and definition, or from a given efficient cause.
For similar reasons a thing is said to be impossible; namely, inasmuch as its essence or definition involves a contradiction, or because no external cause is granted, which is conditioned to produce such an effect;
but a thing can in no respect be called contingent, save in relation to the imperfection of our knowledge.
A thing of which we do not know whether the essence does or does not involve a contradiction, or of which, knowing that it does not involve a contradiction, we are still in doubt concerning the existence, because the order of causes escapes us,—such a thing, I say, cannot appear to us either necessary or impossible. Wherefore we call it contingent or possible.
Note 2: It clearly follows from what we have said, that things have been brought into being by God in the highest perfection, inasmuch as they have necessarily followed from a most perfect nature.
Nor does this prove any imperfection in God, for it has compelled us to affirm his perfection.
From its contrary proposition, we should clearly gather (as I have just shown), that God is not supremely perfect, for if things had been brought into being in any other way, we should have to assign to God a nature different from that, which we are bound to attribute to him from the consideration of an absolutely perfect being.
I do not doubt, that many will scout this idea as absurd, and will refuse to give their minds up to contemplating it, simply because they are accustomed to assign to God a freedom very different from that which we (Def. 7) have deduced.
They assign to him, in short, absolute free will.
However, I am also convinced that if such persons reflect on the matter, and duly weigh in their minds our series of propositions, they will reject such freedom as they now attribute to God, not only as nugatory, but also as a great impediment to organized knowledge.
There is no need for me to repeat what I have said in the note to Prop. 17.
But, for the sake of my opponents, I will show further, that although it be granted that will pertains to the essence of God, it nevertheless follows from his perfection, that things could not have been by him created other than they are, or in a different order;
this is easily proved, if we reflect on what our opponents themselves concede, namely, that it depends solely on the decree and will of God, that each thing is what it is. If it were otherwise, God would not be the cause of all things.
Further, that all the decrees of God have been ratified from all eternity by God himself. If it were otherwise, God would be convicted of imperfection or change.
But in eternity there is no such thing as when, before, or after; hence it follows solely from the perfection of God, that God never can decree, or never could have decreed anything but what is; that God did not exist before his decrees, and would not exist without them.
But, it is said, supposing that God had made a different universe, or had ordained other decrees from all eternity concerning nature and her order, we could not therefore conclude any imperfection in God.
But persons who say this must admit that God can change his decrees.
For if God had ordained any decrees concerning nature and her order, different from those which he has ordained—in other words, if he had willed and conceived something different concerning nature—he would perforce have had a different intellect from that which he has, and also a different will.
But if it were allowable to assign to God a different intellect and a different will, without any change in his essence or his perfection, what would there be to prevent him changing the decrees which he has made concerning created things, and nevertheless remaining perfect?
For his intellect and will concerning things created and their order are the same, in respect to his essence and perfection, however they be conceived.
Further, all the philosophers whom I have read admit that God's intellect is entirely actual, and not at all potential; as they also admit that God's intellect, and God's will, and God's essence are identical, it follows that, if God had had a different actual intellect and a different will, his essence would also have been different; and thus, as I concluded at first, if things had been brought into being by God in a different way from that which has obtained, God's intellect and will, that is (as is admitted) his essence would perforce have been different, which is absurd.
As these things could not have been brought into being by God in any but the actual way and order which has obtained; and as the truth of this proposition follows from the supreme perfection of God;
We can have no sound reason for persuading ourselves to believe that God did not wish to create all the things which were in his intellect, and to create them in the same perfection as he had understood them.
But, it will be said, there is in things no perfection nor imperfection; that which is in them, and which causes them to be called perfect or imperfect, good or bad, depends solely on the will of God.
If God had so willed, he might have brought it about that what is now perfection should be extreme imperfection, and vice versa.
What is such an assertion, but an open declaration that God, who necessarily understands that which he wishes, might bring it about by his will, that he should understand things differently from the way in which he does understand them?
This (as we have just shown) is the height of absurdity. Wherefore, I may turn the argument against its employers, as follows: All things depend on the power of God.
In order that things should be different from what they are, God's will would necessarily have to be different.
But God's will cannot be different (as we have just most clearly demonstrated) from God's perfection.
Therefore neither can things be different.
I confess, that the theory which subjects all things to the will of an indifferent deity, and asserts that they are all dependent on his fiat, is less far from the truth than the theory of those, who maintain that God acts in all things with a view of promoting what is good.
For these latter persons seem to set up something beyond God, which does not depend on God, but which God in acting looks to as an exemplar, or which he aims at as a definite goal.
This is only another name for subjecting God to the dominion of destiny, an utter absurdity in respect to God, whom we have shown to be the first and only free cause of the essence of all things and also of their existence. I need, therefore, spend no time in refuting such wild theories.
Proposition 34: God's power is identical with his essence. Proof: From the sole necessity of the essence of God it follows that God is the cause of himself (Prop. 11) and of all things (Prop. 16 and Coroll.).
Wherefore the power of God, by which he and all things are and act, is identical with his essence. Q.E.D.
Proposition 35: Whatsoever we conceive to be in the power of God, necessarily exists. Proof: Whatsoever is in God's power, must (by the last Prop.) be comprehended in his essence in such a manner, that it necessarily follows therefrom, and therefore necessarily exists. Q.E.D. Proposition 36: There is no cause from whose nature some effect does not follow. Proof: Whatsoever exists expresses God's nature or essence in a given conditioned manner (by Prop. 25, Coroll.).
That is, (by Prop. 34), whatsoever exists, expresses in a given conditioned manner God's power, which is the cause of all things, therefore an effect must (by Prop. 26) necessarily follow. Q.E.D.
I have explained God's nature and properties.
I have shown:
is and acts solely by the necessity of his own nature
is the free cause of all things
how he is so
that all things are in God, and so depend on him
that without him they could neither exist nor be conceived
lastly, that all things are predetermined by God, not through his free will or absolute fiat, but from the very nature of God or infinite power.
I have further, where occasion afforded, taken care to remove the prejudices, which might impede the comprehension of my demonstrations.
Yet there still remain misconceptions which might prove very grave hindrances to the understanding of the concatenation of things, explained above.
All such opinions come from the common notion that all things in nature act as men themselves act, with an end in view.
It is accepted that God himself directs all things to a definite goal.
It is said that God made all things for man, and man that he might worship him.
First I ask, why does this opinion obtain general credence?
Why do all men so naturally adopt it?
Secondly, I will point out its falsity.
Lastly, I will show how it has caused prejudices about good and bad, right and wrong, praise and blame, order and confusion, beauty and ugliness, and the like.
However, this is not the place to deduce these misconceptions from the nature of the human mind.
it will be sufficient here, if I assume as a starting point, what should be universally admitted:
that everyone is born ignorant of the causes of things,
that all have the desire to seek for what is useful to them, and
that they are conscious of such desire.
That people think themselves free inasmuch as they are conscious of their volitions and desires, and never even dream, in their ignorance, of the causes which have disposed them so to wish and desire.
That people do all things for an end, namely, for that which is useful to them, and which they seek.
Thus it comes to pass that people only look for a knowledge of the final causes of events.
When these are learned, they are content, as having no cause for further doubt.
If they cannot learn such causes from external sources, they are compelled to turn to considering themselves, and reflecting what end would have induced them personally to bring about the given event.
Thus they, necessarily judge other natures by their own.
Further, as they find in themselves and outside themselves many means which assist them not a little in the search for what is useful, for instance, eyes for seeing, teeth for chewing, herbs and animals for yielding food, the sun for giving light, the sea for breeding fish, etc., they come to look on the whole of nature as a means for obtaining such conveniences.
As they are aware that they found these conveniences and did not make them, they think they have cause for believing, that some other being has made them for their use.
As they look upon things as means, they cannot believe them to be self—created;
But, judging from the means which they are accustomed to prepare for themselves, they are bound to believe in some ruler or rulers of the universe endowed with human freedom, who have arranged and adapted everything for human use.
They are bound to estimate the nature of such rulers (having no information on the subject) in accordance with their own nature.
Therefore, they assert that the gods ordained everything for the use of man, in order to:
bind man to themselves and
obtain from him the highest honor.
Hence it also follows that everyone thought out for himself, according to his abilities, a different way of worshipping God, so that God might:
love him more than his fellows, and
direct the whole course of nature for the satisfaction of his blind cupidity and insatiable avarice.
Thus, the prejudice developed into superstition, and took deep root in the human mind.
For this reason, everyone strove most zealously to understand and explain the final causes of things.
But in their endeavor to show that nature does nothing in vain, i.e. nothing which is useless to man, they only seem to have demonstrated that nature, the gods, and men are all mad together.
Consider, I pray you.
The result: among the many helps of nature they were bound to find some hindrances, such as storms, earthquakes, diseases, etc.
So they declared that such things happen, because the gods are angry at some wrong done to them by men, or at some fault committed in their worship.
Experience day by day protested and showed by infinite examples, that good and evil fortunes fall to the lot of pious and impious alike.
Still they would not abandon their inveterate prejudice.
For it was easier for them to class such contradictions among other unknown things of whose use they were ignorant.
and thus to retain their actual and innate condition of ignorance, than to destroy the whole fabric of their reasoning and start afresh.
They therefore laid down as an axiom, that God's judgments far transcend human understanding.
Such a doctrine might have been enough to conceal the truth from the human race for all eternity, if mathematics had not furnished another standard of verity in considering solely the essence and properties of figures without regard to their final causes.
There are other reasons besides math, which might have caused men's minds to be directed to these general prejudices, and have led them to the knowledge of the truth.
There is no need to show at length, that nature has no particular goal in view, and that final causes are mere human figments.
I think this is evident enough both from the causes and foundations on which I have shown such prejudice to be based, and also from Prop. 16, and the Corollary of Prop. 32.
In fact, all those propositions in which I have shown, that everything in nature proceeds from a sort of necessity, and with the utmost perfection.
However, I will add a few remarks to utterly overthrow the doctrine of a final cause.
It considers the cause as an effect, and vice versa.
It makes that which is by nature first to be last, and that which is highest and most perfect to be most imperfect.
Passing over the questions of cause and priority as self—evident, it is plain from Props. 21, 22, 23 that the effect is most perfect which is produced immediately by God;
The effect which requires for its production several intermediate causes is, in that respect, more imperfect.
But if those things which were made immediately by God were made to enable him to attain his end, then the things which come after, for the sake of which the first were made, are necessarily the most excellent of all.
Further, this doctrine does away with God's perfection.
For, if God acts for an object, he necessarily desires something which he lacks.
Certainly, theologians and metaphysicians draw a distinction between the object of want and the object of assimilation.
Still they confess that God made all things for the sake of himself, not for the sake of creation.
They are unable to point to anything prior to creation, except God himself, as an object for which God should act, and are therefore driven to admit (as they clearly must), that God lacked those things for whose attainment he created means, and further that he desired them.
We must not omit to notice that the followers of this doctrine, anxious to display their talent in assigning final causes, have imported a new method of argument in proof of their theory—namely, a reduction, not to the impossible, but to ignorance.
Thus, showing that they have no other method of exhibiting their doctrine.
For example, if a stone falls from a roof on to someone's head and kills him, they will demonstrate by their new method, that the stone fell in order to kill the man.
For, if it had not by God's will fallen with that object, how could so many circumstances (and there are often many concurrent circumstances) have all happened together by chance?
Perhaps you will answer that the event is due to the facts that the wind was blowing, and the man was walking that way.
They will insist: "But why was the wind blowing, and why was the man at that very time walking that way?"
If you again answer, that:
the wind had then sprung up because the sea had begun to be agitated the day before the weather being previously calm, and
the man had been invited by a friend,
They will again insist:
"But why was the sea agitated, and why was the man invited at that time?"
They will pursue their questions from cause to cause, until finally you take refuge in the will of God—in other words, the sanctuary of ignorance.
So, again, when they survey the frame of the human body, they are amazed.
Being ignorant of the causes of so great a work of art, conclude that it:
has been fashioned, not mechanically, but by divine and supernatural skill, and
has been so put together that one part shall not hurt another.
Hence anyone who seeks for the true causes of miracles, and strives to understand natural phenomena as an intelligent being, and not to gaze at them like a fool, is set down and denounced as an impious heretic by those, whom the masses adore as the interpreters of nature and the gods.
Such persons know that, with the removal of ignorance, the wonder which forms their only available means for proving and preserving their authority would vanish also.
After men persuaded themselves, that everything which is created is created for their sake, they were bound:
to consider as the chief quality in everything that which is most useful to themselves, and
to account those things the best of all which have the most beneficial effect on mankind.
Further, they were bound to form abstract notions for the explanation of the nature of things, such as goodness, demerit, order, confusion, warmth, cold, beauty, deformity, and so on.
From the belief that they are free agents arose the further notions of praise and blame, sin and merit.
I will speak of these latter in the chapter on human nature.
I will briefly explain the former here.
Everything which conduces to health and the worship of God they have called good.
Everything which hinders these objects they have styled bad.
Inasmuch as those who do not understand the nature of things do not verify phenomena in any way, but merely imagine them after a fashion, and mistake their imagination for understanding, such persons firmly believe that there is an order in things, being really ignorant both of things and their own nature.
When phenomena are of such a kind, that the impression they make on our senses requires little effort of imagination, and can consequently be easily remembered, we say that they are well—ordered.
If the contrary, that they are ill—ordered or confused.
Things which are easily imagined are more pleasing to us.
People prefer order to confusion—as though there were any order in nature, except in relation to our imagination.
They say that God has created all things in order.
Thus, without knowing it, attributing imagination to God, unless they would have it that God foresaw human imagination, and arranged everything, so that it should be most easily imagined.
If this is their theory, they would not, perhaps, be daunted by the fact that we find an infinite number of phenomena, far surpassing our imagination, and very many others which confound its weakness.
The other abstract notions are nothing but modes of imagining, in which the imagination is differently affected:
Though they are considered by the ignorant as the chief attributes of things, inasmuch as they believe that everything was created for the sake of themselves;
According as they are affected by it, style it good or bad, healthy or rotten and corrupt.
For instance, if the motion which objects we see communicate to our nerves were conducive to health, the objects causing it are styled beautiful.
If a contrary motion were excited, they are styled ugly.
Things which are perceived through our sense of smell are styled fragrant or fetid.
If through our taste, sweet or bitter, full-flavored or insipid.
If through our touch, hard or soft, rough or smooth, etc.
Whatsoever affects our ears is said to give rise to noise, sound, or harmony.
In this last case, there are men lunatic enough to believe, that even God himself takes pleasure in harmony;
Philosophers have persuaded themselves that the motion of the heavenly bodies gives rise to harmony.
All of these show that everyone judges things according to the state of his brain, or rather mistakes for things the forms of his imagination.
We need no longer wonder that there have arisen all the controversies we have witnessed, and finally skepticism.
Human bodies agree in many respects.
But they differ in very many others.
What seems good to one seems bad to another.
What seems well-ordered to one, seems confused to another.
What is pleasing to one displeases another, and so on.
It is commonly said: "So many men, so many minds; everyone is wise in his own way; brains differ as completely as palates."
It show that people:
judge things according to their mental disposition, and
rather imagine than understand.
If they understood phenomena, they would be convinced or attracted by what I have urged, as mathematicians attest.
We have now perceived, that all the explanations commonly given of nature:
are mere modes of imagining, and
do not indicate the true nature of anything, but only the constitution of the imagination.
Although they have names as if they were entities existing externally to the imagination, I call them imaginary entities than real ones.
Therefore, all arguments against us drawn from such abstractions are easily rebutted.
Many argue in this way:
If all things follow from a necessity of the absolutely perfect nature of God, why are there so many imperfections in nature such as
things that go putrid,
confusion, evil, sin, etc.
But these reasoners are easily confuted.
For the perfection of things is to be reckoned only from their own nature and power.
Things are not more or less perfect, according as they delight or offend human senses, or according as they are serviceable or repugnant to mankind.
To those who ask why God did not so create everyone to be governed only by reason, I answer because:
matter was not lacking to him for the creation of every degree of perfection from highest to lowest; or,
more strictly, because the laws of his nature are so vast, as to suffice for the production of everything conceivable by an infinite intelligence, as I have shown in Prop. 16.
I have noted such misconceptions.
If there are any more of the same sort, everyone may easily dissipate them for himself with the aid of a little reflection.