Self-Preservation and Love in Spinoza's "Ethics"

Dissertation, Columbia University (2000)

In my dissertation I explore the relationship between Spinoza's conception of self-preservation and the various forms of love discussed in the Ethics. After considering his early conception of love in the first of four chapters, I show how love, in all its forms, is related to Spinoza's conception of conatus or striving to persist in existence. In contrast to other interpretations of the Ethics, I emphasize the non-teleological component of Spinoza's mature philosophy and argue that love, in particular intellectual love, constitutes an integral part of his ethical theory. As passionate love, love is described as having a negative effect on our ability to persevere or be causally effective. As an active affect, it is introduced as a love towards God that allows humans to undergo an increase in power of acting without imposing limits on their ability to produce effects. Finally, as the intellectual love of God, love is understood by Spinoza as a direct expression of the mind's eternity. As such it reflects his non-teleological approach most clearly. While love as a passive or active affect is judged merely in terms of its impact on our power of acting, intellectual love is not judged in terms of its contribution to our attempts to achieve immortality. Eternity is not a goal that can be achieved by means of a love for God. Hence, Spinoza's Amor Dei intellectualis does not constitute, as has been suggested in the literature, a simple retreat to a traditional conception of love. This claim is further supported by the fact that Spinoza's account of the various forms of love can be shown to be grounded in his epistemological distinction between imagination, reason and intuitive knowledge. As joy or blessedness accompanied by the idea of an internal cause, intellectual love flows out of the understanding of a form of persistence beyond immortality.
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