Re: [spinoza-ethics] Part 1, Def. 1
- Dear All,
Here are my comments on the first few definitions.
I. By cause of itself, I understand that whose essence involves
existence, or that whose nature cannot be conceived unless
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.
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...
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.
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).
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).
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
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.
- 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 madeI don't know what is meant by "classical arguments which imply that
> 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...
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:
...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 memay indicate a confusion that any given attribute of substance is simply
> 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...
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
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.
- 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:
========== Forwarded Post:
>The notion of mode and the relations of modes to substances is madeI wonder...if we grant the impossibility of a perpetual motion machine, how
>very difficult because Spinoza accepts classical arguments which
>imply that substance has no parts.
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
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
of a system considered as "closed."
On a speculative note, pertaining to no one in particular: perhaps the
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
to intuit what Spinoza means by "absolutely infinite." We need our
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.
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
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
with "other parts" that is easily conceived. Conceiving these "parts"
to me to be a very practical aspect of aiding my biological survival, and
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
insurmountable by this avenue, as our sample size is invariably minute.
Einstein further stated in his writings that all of science is an
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,
"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,
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
truthful if I merely state that I feel something, and in order to
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
he is mainly concerned with our reaching a state of being in harmony with
own, that we may understand as he does. I think I must work to integrate
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?