After some reflections about the utility and singularity of philosophy, it is shown that the main utility of philosophy, following Spinoza, would be the perfection of human nature, with the aid of our understanding. Lastly, a synthesis is made of the path followed by Spinoza in his Ethica in the direction of this perfection.
The study deals with the matter of three of the most puzzling doctrines of Baruch Spinoza's system, the so-called 'final doctrines', which are intuitive knowledge, intellectual love of God, and the eternity of the (human) mind. Contrary to many commentators, but also in concordance with many others, this account strives to affirm the utmost importance of these doctrines to Spinoza's system as a whole, but mostly to his ethical theory. Focusing specifically on the cultivation of the human mind, the paper (...) offers partial analyses of the central notions of these doctrines and their conceptual contexts. It is argued that the cultivation of the human mind, i.e., its determination to its perfect activity, should be considered as Spinoza's ultimate ethical goal, and that the mind truly only advances to this goal by means of these cognitive, affective, and intellectual transformations of thinking. (shrink)
Metaphysics and ethics are two distinct fields in academic philosophy. The object of metaphysics is what is, while the object of ethics is what ought to be. Necessitarianism is a modal doctrine that appears to obliterate this neat distinction. For it is commonly assumed that ought (at least under normal circumstances) implies can. But if necessitarianism is true then I can only do what I actually do. Hence what I ought to do becomes limited to what I in fact do. (...) This is one widespread way of construing the danger that necessitarianism poses for ethics. There is, however, another way in which this collapse of what is with what ought to be can be construed. One could think of what is as already being what ought to be, of the two being one. On this picture, everything that is, is already valuable. In this thesis I explore the theory that being is intrinsically valuable. I do so by investigating the philosophy of perfection present in the works of the early modern rationalist Spinoza. For in his philosophy of perfection, I argue, we find being and value to be perfectly aligned. Hence, my reading challenges a widespread interpretation, according to which (ontological) perfection is divested of normativity in Spinozism. The position that all being is intrinsically valuable since it is perfect may be thought to be incompatible with human perfectionism. For what room can there be for human progress toward an ideal of perfection if all that exists, is necessarily perfect? The goal of the thesis is to respond to this question by providing a systematic interpretation of the metaphysics of human perfectibility in Spinoza’s philosophy. In order to achieve this goal, I undertake two tasks. First, I examine Spinoza’s multi-faceted philosophy of perfection. I distinguish between ontological and teleological perfection. Moreover, I argue that since Spinoza maintains that everything is perfect to the extent that it is, perfection shoulders the role of a transcendental within his system. In order to highlight the normative significance of transcendental perfection, I compare Spinoza’s thought with the transcendental theory of the good in Thomas Aquinas. In addition, I distinguish between ontological and speculative perfection. Speculative perfection is conscious awareness of ontological perfection. Second, I show how infinity plays an essential role in Spinoza’s ethics by indicating how we, by availing ourselves of this notion, are able to acquire a perspective on reality from which its ontological perfection may be discovered. On this basis, I am able to demonstrate the (relatively understudied) ethical and soteriological importance of Spinoza’s conception of infinity. I argue that it is because (a) Spinoza’s ideal of human perfection is speculative, and because (b) one will be able to establish the (ontological) perfection of things by deducing it from the divine essence only when one considers this essence absolutely infinite, that (c) the absolute infinity of the divine essence plays a significant role in Spinoza’s account of human perfection as consisting in conscious awareness of the value of all being. (shrink)
The present article deals with specific normative concepts of Spinoza’s ethical system and compares them to certain aspects of the theory of ethics of social consequences. At first, a way to approach the problem of normativity in Spinoza is presented, concentrating on the obligatory character of rational - or intellectual - motives. Then, theoretical evidence is presented which links Spinoza to normative-ethical consequentialism. The basis for a consequentialist model of Spinoza’s ethics is the concept of perfection, and on this basis (...) it seems possible to consider its compatibility with non-utilitarian forms of consequentialism, such as ethics of social consequences. Conclusively, the paper’s aim is to present the possibility of considering Spinozian consequentialism as a non-utilitarian consequentialism, while considering ethics of social consequences as a contemporary form of Spinozian consequentialism. (shrink)
Practices of the self are prominent in Spinoza, both in the Ethics and On the Emendation of the Intellect. The same can be said of Descartes, e.g., his Discourse on the Method. What, if anything, distinguishes their practices of the self? Michel Foucault’s concept of “spirituality” isolates how Spinoza ’s practices are relatively unusual in the early modern era. Spirituality, as defined by Foucault in The Hermeneutics of the Subject, requires changes in the ethical subject before one can begin philosophizing, (...) and claims to result in a complete transfiguration or perfection of the subject. Both these characteristics are present in Spinoza ’s Emendation while both are lacking in Descartes’ Discourse. Turning to the Ethics’ practices of the self, I show how affects can be moderated through other affects, and that this text establishes a thorough training of the self which will strengthen one’s overall power well into the future. My treatment of the Ethics differs in emphasis from many other readings which focus on reason’s power over affects, or on cognitive therapy which moderates individual affects to lessen current sadness. In both works, Spinoza ’s practices of the self promise significant changes to those who undergo them. (shrink)
While Spinoza claims that our good is both what increases our essential power and what helps us to satisfy our desires, he admits that people desire things that do not increase their power. This paper addresses this problem by arguing that Spinoza conceives of desires as expressions of our conatus , so that satisfying our desires necessarily increases our power and vice versa. This reading holds, in opposition to recent work, that Spinoza upholds a desire-satisfaction theory of the good, though (...) an unusual one, since our good is only determined by desires arising from our conatus , in other words, active desires. (shrink)
Spinoza insists that we can during the course of our lives increase that part of the mind that is constituted by knowledge, but he also calls that part of the mind its eternal part. How can what is eternal increase? I defend an interpretation on which there is a sense in which the eternal part of the mind can become greater without changing intrinsically at all.
In a short piece written most likely in the 1690s and given the title by Loemker of “On Wisdom,” Leibniz says the following: “...we see that happiness, pleasure, love, perfection, being, power, freedom, harmony, order, and beauty are all tied to each other, a truth which is rightly perceived by few.”1 Why is this? That is, why or how are these concepts tied to each other? And, why have so few understood this relation? Historians of philosophy are familiar with the (...) fact that both Spinoza and Leibniz place strong emphasis on the notion of power in giving their accounts of the human passions. But, while many scholars have explicated the relation between power and the passions (especially in Spinoza’s philosophy), there has been considerably less attention given to the nature of perfection and its relation to both power and the passions.2 Consider the following passages from Spinoza and Leibniz in which these two thinkers seem to bring together the issue of perfection and passion. In Ethics IIIp11s, Spinoza says the following: We see, then, that the Mind can undergo great changes, and pass now to a greater, now to a lesser perfection. These passions, indeed, explain to us the affects of Joy and Sadness. By Joy, therefore, I shall understand in what follows that passion by which the Mind passes to a greater perfection. And by Sadness, that passion by which it passes to a lesser perfection. The affect of Joy which is related to the Mind and Body at once I call Pleasure or Cheerfulness, and that of Sadness, Pain or Melancholy.3 And, in the Monadology §49, Leibniz says this: “The creature is said to act externally insofar as it is perfect, and to be acted upon [patir] by another, insofar as it is imperfect.”4 In other words, for Spinoza, the primitive passions of joy and sadness are cases in which a being’s perfection is increasing or decreasing, while, for Leibniz, any passion, it would.. (shrink)
In order to further clarify the meaning of Spinoza’s teachings, I will demonstrate in the following article that, according to the author of the Ethics, God is life, that the conatus, the internal dynamism of all singular things, are the manifestations of the life of God in different degrees, in the infinity of his modes relating to the infinity of his attributes, that virtue, the most perfect form of the conatus in man, is the “true life,” participation in the life (...) of God, accompanied by an adequate consciousness of itself, and finally, that the supreme virtue of the soul which is designated by the theologians’ word “salvation,” the fully joyous consciousness of things, oneself and God, which is accompanied by the idea of God, is the supreme attainment of life tied to the most perfect possible knowledge of the infinite essence of God in its direct relation with the singular essences of things. (shrink)