Spinoza's Concept of Power

Dissertation, Rice University (1994)

Abstract
Power, according to Spinoza, is God's essence. Hence understanding Spinoza's thoughts about power will help us understand Spinoza's God. Since Spinoza's metaphysics is the foundation for his ethics, this understanding will provide insights into the latter as well. ;I begin by examining Spinoza's interpretation of Descartes. This has God outside the universe recreating it each moment; otherwise it would cease to exist. Spinoza concludes that all events exist solely through God's power; neither minds nor bodies have power of their own. In other words, Spinoza's Descartes is an occasionalist. ;I then argue that the primary difference between Spinoza's God and Descartes' God is that Spinoza places God's power inside the universe, rather than outside. Spinoza's God is an immanent creative power: a power in all things which continually creates them, keeping the universe itself from disappearing. ;Next I explain why Spinoza thinks the existence of motion in the universe follows from God's power. Spinoza believes modes in extension are only differentiated by their motion. God's power necessarily creates infinitely many modes. Therefore, there must be motion. ;Next I argue that God's attributes include infinite powers of thought and of extension. Individual beings are finite modifications of these powers. This metaphysics is extended into Spinoza's ethics, showing that it is a system which describes how we share in God's power and how virtuous behavior increases our power, thereby increasing our joy. Then a discussion of power in Spinoza's epistemology shows that ideas are not conceived by him as inert, but as acts of understanding, which strive to maintain themselves in our minds and cause other ideas to follow from them. This leads to an examination of ways in which an individual person, by increasing knowledge of the passions that afflict him or her, is supposed to gain power over them. The concluding chapter speculatively ties the earlier discoveries to other important aspects of Spinoza's metaphysics, striving toward a more comprehensive understanding of Spinoza's God
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