Notes from Spinoza's Ethics by George Elliot

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Spinoza's Ethics-Princeton University Press (2020)

Benedictus de Spinoza

George Eliot’s Spinoza An Introduction

Time: 2021-08-03 02:28

As Brilmyer has shown, Middlemarch abounds with “descriptions of humans as material substances and geometrical forms, which operate both as metaphors for personalities and—more literally—as descriptions of the plasticity of character,” amounting to what Brilmyer calls a “physics of character,” which explores “the bodily sensitivity, impressionability, and the propensity toward habit formation that produce characterological change throughout time.” The process of character formation, she explains, “is one of neither passive imprintation nor heroic self-formation.” George Eliot depicts individuals in action not as expressions of fixed essences but as “loosely structured material formations, softly bounded forms open to reconfiguration or change” and “nebulous relational fields.”123 These amorphous selves are given cohesion and constancy by the “gum or starch” of habit and tradition: as Middlemarch’s narrator explains,even the most “indefinite minds enclose hard grains of habit”

Very similar to composite self from Buddha.

Part I: Of God

Time: 2021-08-03 14:16

Many imagine God after the likeness of a man, consisting of body and mind, and liable to passions; but how far such people are from the true knowledge of God, is sufficiently apparent from what has already been demonstrated. Them, however, I pass by; for all who have in any degree contemplated the nature of God, deny that God is corporeal; and they bring excellent proof of this when they urge that by a body we understand some quantity with length, breadth and depth, some determinate figure, a conception which it is the height of absurdity to apply to God, i.e. to the absolutely infinite being. Meanwhile, other reasons, by which they endeavour to demonstrate the incorporeality of God, clearly show that they altogether exclude corporeal or extended substance from the divine nature, and regard it as created by God. But by what divine power it could have been created they are entirely ignorant; which plainly proves that they do not understand what they themselves say.

Time: 2021-08-03 15:46

Prop. XVII. God acts solely from the laws of his nature and is not constrained by any other being.Dem. That an infinity of modes absolutely follows solely from the necessity of the divine nature, or (which is the same thing) solely from the laws of nature, we have just shown in prop. XVI;26 and under prop. XV we have demonstrated that nothing can exist or be conceived besides God—that all things are in God. Consequently nothing external to him can exist by which he can be determined or compelled; and therefore God acts solely from the laws of his nature and is constrained by no other being; q.e.d.

Time: 2021-08-03 15:50

Schol. Others suppose God to be a free cause on the ground that he can, as they imagine, effect that those things which we have shown to follow from his nature, i.e. which are in his power, should not come into existence, or should not be produced by him. But this is equivalent to saying that God can cause that it should not follow from the nature of a triangle that its three angles should be equal to two right angles; or that from a given cause no effect should follow; which is absurd.

Time: 2021-08-03 15:55

Further, to say a few words here on the intelligence [intellectus] and will which are commonly attributed to God, if intelligence and will belong to the eternal essence of God, something else must be understood by these attributes than what people usually understand by them. For the intelligence and will which constitute the essence of God must differ toto caelo from our intelligence and will, and indeed can agree in nothing else than in name: they resemble each other as the dog, a heavenly constellation, resembles the dog, a barking animal.

Time: 2021-08-03 16:00

Dem. For God (by def. 6) is a substance which (by prop. XI) necessarily exists; i.e. (by prop.VII) to the nature of which belongs existence, or (which is the same thing) from the simple definition of which it follows that it exists; and thus (by def. 8) God is eternal.

If God is eternal does that mean God cannot precede time, therefore created with the universe?

Time: 2021-08-03 17:56

God did not exist before his decrees and cannot exist without them. But, say they, although it be supposed that God made another nature of things.

Time: 2021-08-03 18:07

Further, as within themselves and outside themselves they discover many means which are highly conducive to the pursuit of their own advantage, for example, eyes to see with, teeth to masticate with, vegetables and animals for food, the sun to give them light, the sea to nourish fish, etc., so they come to consider all natural things as means for their benefit; and because they are aware that these things have been found and not prepared by them, they have been led to believe that some one else has adapted those means to their use. For after considering things in the light of means, they could not believe these things to have made themselves; but arguing from their own practice of preparing means for their use, they must conclude that there is some ruler or rulers of nature endowed with human freedom, who have provided all these things for them and have made them all for the use of men.

Time: 2021-08-03 18:10

For it was easier to them to class these phenomena among other things the use of which was unknown to them, and thus retain their present and innate condition of ignorance, than to destroy all the fabric of their belief and excogitate a new one. Accordingly they presuppose as certain that the wisdom of the Gods far transcends the human understanding: a position which would assuredly suffice eternally to hide the truth from the human race, if mathematics, which is concerned not with causes [fines] but solely with the essences and properties of figures, had not shown us another law of truth. Other causes however, besides mathematics, may be assigned (though to enumerate them here is superfluous) which might incite people to call in question these common prejudices and so lead them to the true knowledge of things.

Time: 2021-08-03 18:24

Nor must it be left unnoticed that the followers of this doctrine who wish to show their ingenuity in assigning final causes to things, have introduced a new kind of argument in its support, viz. a reductio not ad absurdum but ad ignorantiam: an evidence that no other mode of argument would sustain their doctrine. If, for example, a stone were to fall from some height on a man’s head and kill him, they would in this way demonstrate that the stone fell in order to kill the man. For unless it had fallen to that end by the will of God, how could so many circumstances (for these circumstances are often numerous) have concurred to produce this end? You will answer perhaps that it happened because the wind blew and the man was passing that way. But they will insist: why should the wind blow at that moment? Why should the man be passing by at that moment? If you again reply that the wind had then risen because on the preceding day the sea, previously tranquil, had begun to be agitated, and that the man had been invited by a friend, they will further ask, there being no end to this kind of questioning: why was the sea agitated? Why was the man invited at that particular time? And so they will not cease to ask the cause of causes until you have taken refuge in the will of God,i.e. in ignorance. Again, when they see the structure of the human body they are struck with astonishment and because they are ignorant of the causes of this complex structure, they conclude that it has been framed and so constituted that one part does not injure the other, not by natural forces but by divine or supernatural art. And this is the reason why any one who inquires into the true causes of miracles, and seeks to understand natural things like an instructed person, and not simply to be amazed at them like a fool, is held and proclaimed to be heretical and impious by those whom the vulgar venerate as the interpreters of nature and the gods. For they know that if ignorance were done away with, wonder, their only means of arguing and of enforcing their authority, would be done away with too. But I quit this subject and proceed to the one which I have determined to treat of in the third place.

Part II: On the Nature and Origin of the Mind

Time: 2021-08-04 12:00

I say secondly, that this concatenation is formed according to the order and concatenation of the affections of the human body, that I may distinguish it from the concatenation of ideas which is formed according to the order of the intellect, which is the same in all men, and by which things are perceived in their first causes. And hence we further clearly understand why the mind passes instantaneously from the idea of one thing to that of another which has no resemblance to the former; as, for example, on thinking of the word pomum a Roman immediately thought of a fruit, which has no resemblance to that articulate sound, nor anything in common with it, except that the body of the same person was often simultaneously affected by these two things, i.e., that the same man often heard the word pomum when he saw the fruit; and thus each man passes from one thought to another,according to the order which habit has given to the images of things in his body. A soldier, for example, on seeing the footsteps of a horse in the sand, will always pass from the thought of a horse to that of a rider and from thence to the thought of war etc. But a rustic will pass from the thought of a horse to that of a plough, of a field, etc.; and so each person according as he is accustomed to join and link together the images of things in this or that manner, will have this or that succession of ideas.

Time: 2021-08-04 12:00

The human mind does not know the human body, or know it to exist, except by the ideas of the affections which the body experiences.

Time: 2021-08-04 13:46

Prop. XLVIII. There is no absolute or free will in the mind, but [the mind] is determined to will this or that by a cause which is also determined by another cause, and this again by another, and so on in infinitum. Dem. The mind is a certain and determinate mode of thought (by prop. XI, Part II) and therefore (by coroll. 2, prop. XVII, Part I) cannot be the free cause of its actions, i.e. cannot have an absolute power of willing and not willing; but must be determined to will this or that (by prop. XXVIII, Part I) by a cause, which is also determined by another and this again by another, etc.; q.e.d.

Part III: On the Origin and Nature of the Emotions

Time: 2021-08-04 16:05

Many have written on the emotions and actions of men as if they were not treating of natural things which follow from the common laws of nature, but of things which lie beyond the domain of nature; they appear, indeed, to regard man in nature as an imperium in imperio—a state within a state. For they believe that man rather disturbs than follows the order of nature,that he has absolute power over his actions, and that he is determined by nothing besides himself. They refer the cause of human weakness and inconstancy not to the common forces of universal nature, but to I know not what vice in human nature, which they therefore bewail,deride, despise, or, more frequently, detest; and he who is especially eloquent and acute in his invectives against the impotence of the human mind is regarded as divinely wise.

Time: 2021-08-04 16:56

From what has been said we understand the nature of hope [Spes], fear [Metus],confidence [Securitas], despair [Desperatio], joy [Gaudium], and remorse [Conscientiae morsus].Hope is nothing else than an intermittent pleasure arising from the image of a past or future thing, concerning the issue of which we are doubtful; fear, on the contrary, is an intermittent pain also arising from the image of a dubious event. If the doubt connected with these emotions be removed, hope becomes confidence and fear becomes despair; that is to say, joy or sadness [Laetitia vel Tristitia] arising from the image of a thing which we have feared or hoped.Joy [Gaudium] is pleasure [Laetitia] arising from the image of a past event, concerning the occurrence of which we have doubted. Lastly, remorse is the grief [Tristitia] opposed to joy [Gaudio].

Part IV: On the Servitude of Man and on the Power of the Passions

Time: 2021-08-04 22:36

Prop. XXII. No virtue can be conceived prior to this, namely, the effort to preserve oneself. Dem. The effort to preserve self* is the essence of a being (according to prop. VII, Part III). If therefore any virtue could be conceived prior to this effort, it must follow (by def. 8, Part IV)that the essence of the being could be conceived prior to itself; which (as is self-evident) is absurd. Therefore no virtue, etc.; q.e.d. Coroll. The effort to preserve self is the first and only foundation of virtue. For nothing can be conceived prior to this principle (by preceding prop.) and no virtue is conceivable without it (by prop. XXI, Part IV).

Time: 2021-08-04 22:41

Prop. XXVII. We know nothing certainly to be good or evil, except that which really conduces to understanding, or which can impede understanding. Dem. The mind so far as it reasons, desires nothing else than to understand, and judges nothing to be a good to itself, except what conduces to understanding (by preceding prop.). But the mind (according to prop. XLI and XLIII, Part II, see also schol.) has no certitude of things except in so far as it has adequate ideas, or (what by schol. 2, prop. XL, Part II is the same thing)so far as it reasons. Therefore we know nothing certainly to be good except what conduces to understanding; and on the other hand we know nothing certainly to be bad, except what impedes understanding; q.e.d.

Time: 2021-08-04 22:42

The highest object the mind can understand is God, i.e. (by def. 6, Part I) the absolutely infinite being, without whom (by prop. XV, Part I) nothing can exist or be conceived. And therefore (by prop. XXVI and XXVII, Part IV) the highest good of the mind, or (by def. 1, Part IV) that which is most useful to it, is the knowledge of God. Further, so far as the mind understands, so far only does it act (by prop. I and III, Part III), and so far only (by prop. XXIII,Part IV) can it be absolutely said to act from virtue. Hence the absolute virtue of the mind is to understand. But the highest object that the mind can understand is God (as I have already demonstrated). Therefore the highest virtue of the mind is to know God; q.e.d.

Time: 2021-08-04 23:01

These are the positions which in the scholium of prop. XVIII, Part IV I promised to demonstrate; and it is clear from them that the law of not killing brutes is founded rather on vain superstition and womanish compassion than on sound reason. Our reason indeed teaches us that the necessity of seeking what is useful to us unites us with other men; but not to brutes or to things which differ from us in nature; on the contrary, we have the same right over them as they have over us. Nay, as the right of every being is measured by his virtue or power, men have a far greater right over brutes than brutes [have] over men. Not that I deny sentiment to brutes: but I deny that therefore we are not justified in consulting our own benefit in using them according to our pleasure, and treating them as it best suits us; since they are not in accordance with our nature and their emotions differ in nature from ours.

Time: 2021-08-05 01:59

It is therefore of the first importance in life to perfect the intellect as far as possible,and in this one point consists the supreme felicity or blessedness [felicitas seu beatitudo]of man. For blessedness is nothing else than the peace of mind [animi acquiescentia]which springs from the intuitive knowledge of God; and to perfect the intellect is nothing else than to understand God and the attributes and actions of God which follow from the necessity of his nature. Hence the ultimate aim of the man who is led by reason, i.e. his highest desire, by which he endeavours to govern all other desires, is that which leads to the adequate knowledge of himself and of all objects which can be embraced by his intelligence [intelligentiam].

Part V: On the Power of the Intellect, or, On Human Liberty

Time: 2021-08-05 10:05

poor man is constantly talking of the abuse of riches and the vices of the wealthy; by which he produces no other effect than to afflict himself and manifest to others that he is unable to bear with equanimity not merely his own poverty but also the fact that other men are wealthy.

Time: 2021-08-05 10:09

He who clearly and distinctly understands his emotions loves God, and loves him in proportion as he understands [himself and] his emotions.7

Time: 2021-08-05 10:10

Prop. XVII. God is free from passions, and is affected with neither pleasure nor pain. Dem. All ideas, so far as they belong to God, are true (by prop. XXXII, Part II), i.e. (by def. 4,Part II) they are adequate; and therefore (by general def. of emotions) God is free from passions. Further, God cannot pass either to a higher or a lower degree of perfection (by coroll.2, prop. XX, Part I); and therefore (by def. 2 and 3 of emotions) he is affected with no emotions of pleasure or pain; q.e.d. Coroll. God, properly speaking, loves no one and hates no one. For God (by preceding prop.) is affected with no emotion either of pleasure or pain, and consequently (by def. 6 and 7 of emotions) he neither loves nor hates.

Time: 2021-08-05 10:11

Prop. XIX. He who loves God, cannot desire that God should love him in return. Dem. If a man desired this, he would (by coroll. prop. XVII, Part V) desire that God, whom he loves, should not be God, and consequently (by prop. XIX, Part III) he would desire to experience pain; which (by prop. XXVIII, Part III) is absurd. Therefore he who loves God, etc.;q.e.d.

Time: 2021-08-05 10:13

Hence it appears that the power of the mind over the emotions consists: I. In the knowledge of the emotions. (See schol. prop. IV, Part V.) II. In the separation of the emotions from the idea of external causes which we imagine confusedly. (See prop. II with schol. and prop. IV, Part V.) III. In time, by means of which emotions relating to things that we understand,triumph over those relating to things that we conceive in a confused and mutilated manner. (See prop. VII, Part V.) IV. In the multitude of causes by which the emotions relating to the common properties of things, or to God, are encouraged. (See prop. IX and XI, Part V.) V. In the order in which the mind can arrange its emotions and link them together.(See schol. prop. X, Part V and prop. XII, XIII, and XIV, Part V.)