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Re: [spinoza-ethics] Part 1, Def. 1

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  • holmes@catseye.idbsu.edu
    Dear All, Here are my comments on the first few definitions. --Randall Holmes Thus Spinoza: I. By cause of itself, I understand that whose essence involves
    Message 1 of 4 , May 1, 2000
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      Dear All,

      Here are my comments on the first few definitions.

      --Randall Holmes

      Thus Spinoza:

      I. By cause of itself, I understand that whose essence involves
      existence, or that whose nature cannot be conceived unless
      existing.

      At the risk of wandering into a minefield, I will report my firm
      professional opinion (I am a mathematician, so I am entitled to one)
      that this is not a definition. That doesn't mean it is not a valid
      statement in Spinoza's system!

      The problem is that it is clear from later discussion that "cause
      of itself" is a subspecies for Spinoza of the undefined notion of
      "cause" in general. So he cannot actually be defining "cause of itself"
      here; I would rather read this as an axiom.

      That said, I understand this in the following way. For Spinoza, a cause
      is something like an "explanation". That which is the cause of itself
      is "self-explanatory", and, in a negative sense, cannot be "explained"
      by reference to anything else.

      Thus Spinoza:

      II. That thing is called "finite in its own kind" which can
      be limited by another thing of the same nature. For example, a
      body is called finite because we can always conceive of another
      which is greater. So a thought is limited by another thought, but
      a body is not limited by a thought, nor a thought by a body.

      Spinoza's understanding of the words "finite" and "infinite" needs to
      be examined carefully as we go along, especially when he talks about
      the mathematical infinite (which I will claim is often best viewed as
      not being properly "infinite" at all). This definition suggests to me
      that anything infinite must be _maximal_; it must be the greatest
      possible thing of its kind. An infinite thought must subsume all
      other thoughts, for example. God viewed under the attribute of
      thought thinks every thought without exception...

      Thus Spinoza:

      III. By substance I understand that which is in itself and which
      is conceived through itself; in other words, that the conception of
      which does not need the conception of another thing from which it
      must be formed.

      This has very much the same flavor as the first definition. In this
      case, I don't dispute that it is a definition :-) Substance is that
      which is self-explanatory, and moreover only explicable through itself.

      Thus Spinoza:

      IV. By attribute I understand that which the intellect perceives
      of substance as constituting its essence.

      When we contemplate a substance, we view it under some particular
      aspect. This aspect is its attribute. (More about this later).

      Thus Spinoza:

      V. By mode I understand the modifications of substance, or that which
      is in another thing through which also it is conceived.

      The notion of mode and the relations of modes to substances is made
      very difficult because Spinoza accepts classical arguments which imply
      that substance has no parts. I believe that these classical arguments
      are wrong (they rest on an equivocation) and that modes are easily
      understood when this confusion is removed. But I'll talk about this
      later. In any event, extended bodies are modes of God as extended
      substance, while thoughts are modes of God as thinking substance (this
      much is uncontroversial).

      Thus Spinoza:

      VI. By God I understand Being absolutely infinite, that is to say,
      substance consisting of infinite attributes, each expressing
      eternal and infinite essence.

      Explanation: I say absolutely infinite but not infinite in its own
      kind, for of whatever is infinite only in its own kind we can deny
      infinite attributes, but to the essence of whatever is absolutely
      infinite pertains whatever expresses essence and involves no
      negation.

      Using my paraphrase of "infinite" above, God is the "maximal" being;
      my interpretation of this (with which not everyone will necessarily agree!)
      is that God includes all "other" beings. We get the first glimpse here of
      the idea that a substance may have more than one attribute -- in fact,
      Spinoza will endeavor to prove that God (by definition) has all attributes
      that any substance has and so is the only substance.

      There is more to say about some of this, of course.
    • Terry Neff
      Hi Randall and All, I believe I follow most of your meaning but there are a few things that are not quite clear to me. ... I don t know what is meant by
      Message 2 of 4 , May 1, 2000
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        Hi Randall and All,

        I believe I follow most of your meaning but there are a few things that
        are not quite clear to me.

        > The notion of mode and the relations of modes to substances is made
        > very difficult because Spinoza accepts classical arguments which imply
        > that substance has no parts. I believe that these classical arguments
        > are wrong (they rest on an equivocation) and that modes are easily
        > understood when this confusion is removed...

        I don't know what is meant by "classical arguments which imply that
        substance has no parts." In my own thinking I am learning to set aside the
        belief that someone else must have already or subsequently covered these
        topics better than Spinoza has and that Spinoza must be confused on various
        points because they do not fit with my own or others expressed thoughts. I
        have begun, now and then, to "Know" directly that Substance, as defined by
        Spinoza, and more importantly, as revealed by my own Understanding is
        infinite, indivisible, and not composed of parts. But of course, whether I
        say this or Spinoza says this an individual can only know it through their
        own understanding, not through the authority of any written word, nor
        through ready imagination or abstraction.

        My sense is that the idea of "infinite" is being used differently in
        your example from what Spinoza intends. He discusses the different ways in
        which the term is used and warns that in regard to substance he is neither
        using it in an abstract, mathematical sense nor as limitless counting. This
        is discussed in E1P8Note, E1P15Note and elsewhere. For instance:

        ====== E1P15Note:
        ...If anyone asks me the further question, Why are we naturally prone to
        divide quantity? I answer, that quantity is conceived by us in two ways; in
        the abstract and superficially, as we imagine it; or as substance, as we
        conceive it solely by the intellect. If, then, we regard quantity as it is
        represented in our imagination, which we often and more easily do, we shall
        find that it is finite, divisible, and compounded of parts; but if we
        regard it as it is represented in our intellect, and conceive it as
        substance, which it is very difficult to do, we shall then, as I have
        sufficiently proved, find that it is infinite, one, and indivisible.
        ======

        Also, in his letters to Christian Huyghens and more directly in a
        letter to Lewis Meyer:

        ======= Letter 29 (12):
        ...Everyone regards the question of the infinite as most difficult, if not
        insoluble, through not making a distinction between that which must be
        infinite from its very nature, or in virtue of its definition, and that
        which has no limits, not in virtue of its essence, but in virtue of its
        cause; and also through not distinguishing between that which is called
        infinite, because it has no limits, and that, of which the parts cannot be
        equalled or expressed by any number, though the greatest and least
        magnitude of the whole may be known; and, lastly, through not
        distinguishing between that, which can be understood but not imagined, and
        that which can also be imagined. If these distinctions, I repeat, had been
        attended to, inquirers would not have been overwhelmed with such a vast
        crowd of difficulties. They would then clearly have understood, what kind
        of infinite is indivisible and possesses no parts; and what kind, on the
        other hand, may be divided without involving a contradiction in terms. They
        would further have understood, what kind of infinite may, without solecism,
        be conceived greater than another infinite, and what kind cannot be so
        conceived. All this will plainly appear from what I am about to say...
        =======

        What you say here:

        > This definition suggests to me
        > that anything infinite must be _maximal_; it must be the greatest
        > possible thing of its kind. An infinite thought must subsume all
        > other thoughts, for example...

        may indicate a confusion that any given attribute of substance is simply
        equivalent to an infinite mode (or even an infinite number of finite modes)
        of that attribute. He has warned us to start with Substance, which is very
        difficult to do, not with modes, which is very easy to do but which leads
        us astray when we then try to go on to conceive substance by the aid of
        such modes. You say that "an infinite thought must subsume all other
        thoughts" and I believe you are implying that the attribute of thought is
        "an infinite mode of thought" which it is not. A thought is a mode of the
        attribute of thought. An attribute is "that which the intellect perceives
        as constituting the essence of substance" which "is in itself, and is
        conceived through itself: in other words, that of which a conception can be
        formed independently of any other conception." But the modifications of
        substance are "that which exists in, and is conceived through, something
        other than itself." The attribute of thought is not an infinite mode of
        itself, it is not a mode at all but is in itself and conceived through
        itself.

        Also, although we can conceive that there are an infinite number of
        modes of any given attribute that attribute itself is not made up of or
        composed by bringing together an infinite number of modes. The attribute is
        prior in nature to its modes. Extension is not a limitless number bodies
        (finite things). It "contains" infinite bodies not in the sense that those
        bodies are distinct, self-existent things collected together but rather
        that since the attribute of extension is in itself and conceived through
        itself there can be no other attribute of this kind that could limit it or
        its modifications and also the attribute cannot be really divided into
        parts but only modally.

        Boy, now I've got a big job in front of me to see if I can make any
        sense out of the words that came pouring forth from my imagination.
        Although I can bring Spinoza's words together in different order from what
        he wrote it's the ideas that are important since I want my Understanding,
        if possible, to be that which Spinoza expresses was clear to him and which
        brought him the Highest Joy.

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts, you have helped me to think a little
        more deeply than I seem to do on my own.

        Terry
      • Terry Neff
        Hi All, A friend who has been following the postings to the Spinoza lists but is currently unable to participate directly asked me to pass the following on for
        Message 3 of 4 , May 1, 2000
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          Hi All,

          A friend who has been following the postings to the Spinoza lists but
          is currently unable to participate directly asked me to pass the following
          on for him:

          Terry

          ========== Forwarded Post:
          >The notion of mode and the relations of modes to substances is made
          >very difficult because Spinoza accepts classical arguments which
          >imply that substance has no parts.

          I wonder...if we grant the impossibility of a perpetual motion machine, how
          do physicists describe the manner by which the extended cosmos, if it is
          composed of parts, can avoid coming to a dead halt? I suppose some suggest
          that it will, as the "big bang" collapses. But Spinoza indicates that
          motion
          belongs to the very essence of matter/energy, which seems to fit with the
          hypothetical perpetual motion of a single attribute of extension, precisely
          as described by Spinoza; a system open unto itself, so to say, with no
          "parts" that appear susceptible to entropy, an apparently necessary
          property
          of a system considered as "closed."

          On a speculative note, pertaining to no one in particular: perhaps the
          notion
          of the "universe" as a closed system, admitting of parts and the overall
          effects of entropy, is actually an anthropomorphic projection of minds that
          are likewise lacking integration and are closed, in the sense of being
          unable
          to intuit what Spinoza means by "absolutely infinite." We need our
          understandings improved...

          Einstein claimed that matter was either infinite or finite in mass, and we
          could learn which by determining whether the ratio of matter to empty space
          increased or decreased as the volume being considered increased. As the
          ratio approaches zero, the likelihood that matter is infinite increases.
          If
          there is no empty space (or matter conceived as isolated "billiard balls"),
          as a ratio of zero seems to me to imply, then mustn't the "parts" we
          observe
          be imaginary, or things of reason only? Otherwise, what is separating one
          part from another? Think about the nature of an organic creature, such as
          man, and a process such as respiration; here is a constant blending going
          on
          with "other parts" that is easily conceived. Conceiving these "parts"
          seems
          to me to be a very practical aspect of aiding my biological survival, and
          is
          the wont of my senses. But my understanding is striving for integration.

          Einstein points out that we come up against with the problem of the size of
          the sample we are examining when trying to find the ratio mentioned, hence
          the answer to the question regarding the infinitude of matter seems
          actually
          insurmountable by this avenue, as our sample size is invariably minute.
          Einstein further stated in his writings that all of science is an
          elaboration
          of "everyday" thinking, by which I feel he means reason and imagination.
          Science, in other words, takes sense-data for its basic point of departure,
          and this foundation seems inadequate for penetrating to the essence of
          things. It remains to the individual to discover what may be apprehended
          through his own intuition, which discoveries may be described to others by
          means of signs intelligible to the senses. But, to quote Wittgenstein,
          only
          "important nonsense" results when attempts are made to actually explain
          metaphysical truths. It is roughly like attempting to describe a toothache
          to an individual with perfect dental health. So, the last time I checked,
          in
          my perfunctory amateurish manner, metaphysics were rather out of favor with
          the professional philosophy community.

          Perhaps some of the above is what Gurdjieff generally called "wiseacreing"
          and "lying." It is "lying" because, as a carpenter with a background in
          music, I've never had a math class beyond high school geometry, or any
          physics courses, and I don't know many facts about science generally. So,
          certain aspects of what I've brought out may be fairly naive...yet...I can
          be
          truthful if I merely state that I feel something, and in order to
          understand
          Spinoza's definitions adequately, I feel that a whole new level of thinking
          is needed. However, I also think it is generally a requirement to tackle
          them at the level of reason first, ever mindful that Spinoza has stated
          that
          he is mainly concerned with our reaching a state of being in harmony with
          his
          own, that we may understand as he does. I think I must work to integrate
          the
          parts of myself, that I may begin to reflect more potently on the idea of
          modes/attributes...after all, it says somewhere that we are "created in His
          image. Could this direction of finding the unity of understanding prior to
          the fragmentary ideas operative in my own nature have something to do with
          the esoteric meaning of such a seemingly outslandish remark?
          ======================
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