A Skeleton Key to Spinoza 

Howard Ferstler



As a helpful introduction to my 1975 Man and World article on Benedict de Spinoza (1632-1677), I have written the short, 2008 introduction below. The article reprint following the introduction has also been re-edited by me to make it grammatically a bit easier to digest. 

Both Spinoza and Georg Hegel have long been misinterpreted by critical philosophers as well as by admirers. Hegel’s secular and religious impact is well known, but Spinoza's non-anthropomorphic spirituality disconcerted a lot of people in the 17th and 18th centuries, and should people start reading him today he would probably again be both misunderstood and vilified. Indeed, his separation of ethical behavior from religious tenets centered upon divine punishment and postulated commands, plus his disavowal of the concept of a "temporal" afterlife in relation to the function of his "God" would clearly disconcert those who have their idea of God firmly in place. 

At the risk of misrepresenting and oversimplifying a complex philosophy, Spinoza’s God involves the "isness" or energy force that makes "reality" be what it is, and is completely unrelated to any human endeavors, hopes, fears, or prayers. In addition, Spinoza's "immortality" involves simply understanding the nature of non-temporal "eternity" and thinking of that automatically puts one beyond any concern about time, or even death. It is a kind of stoicism, and his view of God parallels that of St. Anselm, who has never struck me as a full-blown Christian. Hegel greatly admired Spinoza, and while Hegel was certainly reacting to Kant in a lot of his writings (who, at least in terms of metaphysics, he considered a lightweight), he is much more of a Spinozist than a Kantian. Closer to Aristotle than to Kant, too. 

Spinoza's ethical views, not to mention his approach to legal issues, are born out of knowledge rather than any coercive dictates postulated by men who set up puritanical rules for people to obey and who also mandate which gods to worship. (Such men not only want to make those rules, they also often want to be in a position to enforce them.) While some of those who opposed Spinoza and continue to oppose him had and still have a sincere belief that he was "wrong" about the nature of God, many others, including those with attitudes like Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor, were fearful of men like Spinoza. They were fearful, because they knew such individuals were "right" about God.  

Most people would agree that the rules and laws of civilization are vital for the well being of the masses, and certainly have important practical functions in any society. However, a radical approach would say that real philosophers need no postulated or even legislated rules, because they embrace what might be called rational pragmatism and will behave properly because they know “the good.” Obviously, this reminds us of both Plato and even Nietzsche, the latter of whom, believe it or not, also admired Spinoza.  

Of course, there is a problem with this approach to self legislation, because those who presume to be above the law and in a position to make their own self-generated rules are also in a position to do great harm - if they are not real philosophers. It can be assumed that most serial killers are this way, and certainly Hitler and Stalin felt they were in a position to make their own rules. Being a philosopher in the Spinozist tradition is dangerous business. This is why although Spinoza was radical when it came to free thought, he was very much a social conservative when it came to the stability of society as a whole. The Ethics were not written for everyman. Rather, the book was written for those few who, while reveling in the beauty of freely thinking about the “god being’s” place in the world, are not comfortable with letting unregulated thought run wild in society. 

Note. The original article reprinted below was scanned from a published copy. The footnotes did not scan properly (they were small numbers in the original), so the new version was edited in such a way that those footnote numbers are now within brackets. The notes referred to by the numbers will follow the main text at the very end, and although many of those notes merely involve page and text references, a number of them are careful explanations that are as important as some of the material within the body of the article. Spiritually, the article is almost as much about Hegel and Aristotle as about Spinoza, particularly regarding conclusions.  

Beyond Hegel and Nietzsche, Spinoza influenced and was admired by scads of other people, from Einstein to Maugham.

[The article: Man and World: An International Philosophical Review]



A Skeleton Key to Spinoza

 Howard William Ferstler

November, 1975  Edited and upgraded, September, 2008   

Benedict de Spinoza is one of four major philosophers who could legitimately be called "knowers" in that the whole of reality was embraced by them and was in a very real sense revealed to them. Aristotle and Plato are two others in this category, and we could legitimately claim G.W.F. Hegel as a fourth member of this group, although his style of writing has led some to consider  his profundity as merely another form of obscurity. 

Many who read his works see Spinoza's system as a linear, geometrical progression from definitions of the universal to a knowledge of particulars. Unfortunately, many others are no doubt put off by the "geometric" style.(1) Indeed, for those readers who cannot get past the endless definitions and propositions (especially in Part I) the system becomes a mélange of tautological statements, interconnected by some rather good psychological insights and examples of cynicism. If one resorts to close and thoughtful reading, however, it is obvious that Spinoza's "system" is both self-contained and expanding. Furthermore, it will be found to be a circular system, very similar to that created by Hegel as a dramatic voyage of discovery. 

The definitions at the beginning of the book and the treatment of God in particular, are meant to be tools to assist those who do not have the full truth already.(2) For those who do have a partial grasp of this truth those tools should become something quite different. In a nutshell, the tools at the beginning of The Ethics (the actual, “core” philosophy of Spinoza, which is continually revealed and developed throughout that work) cannot really be understood until the reader has worked his way through the book to its conclusion. Any particular point of view which an uninitiated reader has when he begins The Ethics must be at least temporarily put aside in favor of a sympathetic desire to understand Spinoza on his own terms. Incidentally, it pays to read the book with pencil in hand. 

Once begun, the work should be read through completely in order for its true meaning to sink in. Part I, in particular, cannot be clearly understood until all the remaining parts are thoroughly digested.(3) It is unlikely that any secondary source alone or any shortcut technique (including even this essay) will succeed in gaining complete access to the meaning of  Spinoza's philosophy. There is a definite "dramatic" or developmental foundation to Spinoza's thought.(4) 

Hegel felt that "to be a follower of Spinoza is the essential commencement of all Philosophy,"(5 ) and he was certainly on the mark. In Part I of The Ethics, Spinoza explains the basic foundation of his metaphysics and presents us with insights into the metaphysical systems of those who came before him - and of many of those who followed as well. Any instructor of philosophy worthy of the name knows, however, that to explain is not really enough. Individuals who do not "know" reality will write off Part I as circular argumentation or tricks with words. Spinoza appears to be merely giving a new name to nature: God is nature or God is everything around you and around everyone else as well. His argument, as found in the proofs and note to Proposition XI of Part I, reminds one of the Ontological Argument of St. Anselm: 

      The potentiality of non-existence is a negation of power, and contrariwise the potentiality of existence is a power, as is obvious. If, then that which necessarily exists is nothing but finite beings, such finite beings are more powerful than a being absolutely infinite, which is obviously absurd ; therefore, either nothing exists or else a being absolutely infinite necessarily exists also.(6)

This manner of reasoning carries little weight with many modern, critical thinkers. They may not mind calling nature "God" to humor the followers of Spinoza but they probably will mind the idea that all of this is something unique. Many who venture to read Part I of The Ethics are ready to write Spinoza off as a carry-over from the Middle Ages. This would not be a completely inaccurate view of Spinoza's basic outlook, at least in Part I. It is essential, however, that the reader understand that Part I is a multi-dimensional work in itself, designed to appeal to one kind of reader in one way and to an essentially different kind of reader in quite another. Spinoza indicates that Part I is a general statement, and that standing alone it is not really very good as a means of convincing a reader who has not been previously exposed to the truth. In a nutshell: 

      I have thought it worth while here to call attention to this, in order to show by this example how the knowledge of particular things, which I have called intuitive or of the third kind (II. xl. note ii), is potent, and more powerful than the universal knowledge, which I have styled knowledge of the second kind. For, although in Part I, I showed in general terms, that all things (and consequently, also, the human mind) depend as to their essence and existence on God, yet that demonstration, though legitimate and placed beyond the chances of doubt, does not affect our mind so much, as when the same conclusion is derived from the actual essence of some particular thing, which we say depends on God.(7)

As written, Part I is not really supposed to convince anyone. While it is the truth, that truth will not pull anyone up to its level when it is merely stated as a theological, or even logical, precept. The reader must, in a sense, be "shown" the truth. A gradual and dramatic revelation must take place and to get on this pathway one must begin with the Spinozist attributes discussed further into the book, and then analyze them to arrive at an adequate knowledge of genuine reality or the various things in the world.

Spinoza would say that individual things in the world are nothing but modifications of the attributes of God, or modes by which the attributes of God are expressed in a fixed and definite manner.(8) Consequently, at the beginning of the book we find ourselves looking at certain assumptions and truths that are initially unproven and then moving on in later sections to prove them. 

“The third kind of knowledge proceeds from an adequate idea of certain attributes of God to an adequate knowledge of the essence of Things…”(9) The same basic view is entertained in another of Spinoza's works: 

      Thus we can see that it is before all things necessary for us to deduce all our ideas from physical things that is, from real entities, proceeding, as far as may be, according to the series of causes, from one real entity to another real entity, never passing to universals and abstractions, either for tile purpose of deducing some real entity from them, or deducing them from some real entity.(10)

Spinoza could certainly not be mistaken for a typical mystic, nor could he be considered in the least obscure-unless one is willing to admit that the basic reality is obscure to careless observation. OK, let’s be frank, basic reality certainly is obscure, even for often very sharp minds. For Spinoza, "intellect, in function (actu) finite, or in function infinite, must comprehend the attributes of God and the modifications of God, and nothing else."(11) Doing things any other way if one wants to get to the basic core of reality leads to serious errors. 

Part I of The Ethics exists on three levels. First 2 it can be seen in much the same way as we view Aristotle's Categories. In that work, Aristotle defines certain terms which he will employ in his system. One term defined is substance it "is that which is neither predicable of a subject nor present in a subject; for instance, the individual man or horse."(12) Secondary substances are the species or genera which are subsumed under primary substances. Primary substances are the reference standard. Spinoza uses Aristotle's analysis in a rather unusual way: a substance cannot be predicated on anything else. A man is a man for Aristotle, because he is by nature a man. He is complete. For Spinoza, God is God because he is God. He is also complete. Needless to say, there is one great difference: there are a lot of substances by Aristotle's definition. Any complete thing is a substance when taken for what it is as a whole. For Spinoza, on the other hand, there is one substance only and everything is literally predicable of it.

Aristotle defines “the universal” as that which flows out of “the particular.” Universals are names and concepts which are ways of categorizing various particulars. Particulars are real substances for Aristotle and universals are our way of making them logical.(13) On the other hand, the universal is substance in itself for Spinoza, much like Plato, and particulars are the way the universal manifests itself to us. 

Part I can be seen in two ways. First, as a form of logic similar to what Hegel created in his system. For Hegel, “logic” was the real manifestation of the concept in the world - but as a concept only, and only in the mind. The thinker who knows reality will see that logic is the content of it. Logic is the real - the mental content in the mind of the perceptive thinker - devoid of worldly form.(14) Nature is the form of logic as it is manifested in space.(15) On the other hand, in Part I Spinoza outlines a conceptual structure which is certainly real. However, this structure cannot be understood if the reader does not already have a good grasp of reality as it is manifested in the visible world.(16)  

Second, Part I can be taken as the culmination of the whole body of Spinoza's philosophy. God is truth - the only truth - and once this is grasped (and it can be grasped by coming to understand Parts II, III, and IV) the reader is ready for the drawing together done in Part V. We read in Part II: 

      Hence we see, that the infinite essence and the eternity of God are known to all. Now as all things are in God, and are conceived through God, we can from this knowledge infer many things, which we may adequately know, and we may form that third kind of knowledge of which we spoke in the note to II. xi., and of the excellence and use of which we shall have occasion to speak in Part V.(17) 

The last chapter of The Ethics, namely Part V, is often considered the conclusion of The Ethics. However, it is more than that, for it summarizes the linear process of the three preceding chapters and raises the whole work to the level of a complete metaphysical system. In doing this, it finishes the process of integrating Part I into the work. Part I becomes the real conclusion and is the defining truth which is explained in the rest of the work. 

Part II, then, begins that process which "proceeds from an adequate idea of certain attributes of God to an adequate knowledge of the essence of things."(18) To drive that point home I will again quote a critical passage from Part V: 

      I have thought it worth while here to call attention to this, in order to show by this example how the knowledge of particular things which I have called intuitive or of the third kind (II. xi. note ii.), is potent, and more powerful than the universal knowledge, which I have styled knowledge of the second kind. For, although in Part I, I showed in general terms, that all things (and consequently,      also, the human mind) depend as to their essence and  existence on God, yet that demonstration, though legitimate and placed beyond the chances of doubt, does not affect our mind so much, as when the same conclusion is derived from the actual essence of some particular thing, which we say depends on God.(19)  

For Spinoza, the way to bring the reader to truth and make him grasp the reality of the whole is to lead him there by dealing with things which can be more easily grasped: attributes and modes (particulars) which can be visualized and understood. We thus have a process of development beginning. Part II begins to give us the information whereby we will be able fully to understand Part I for what it really is.

Probably the most important aspect of Part II is the discussion of the kinds of knowing.(20)  

The lowest level of knowledge is split into two parts in The Ethics for the purpose of clarification, but at bottom it still is one level of knowing and involves opinion and imagination. These flow from either confused experiences or confused symbols that result from inadequate reflection upon what one has seen or read. Operating at this mental level is not really "knowing" in the true epistemological sense, but merely a form of belief. Ironically, this kind of limited understanding is probably what Henry Oldenburg, one of Spinoza's correspondents, engaged in all the time.(21) 

The second level of knowing is the ideas we have of the properties of things. This level is more important than its being "second" would seem to indicate. It is important to see that it can be viewed in three ways. First, it can be seen as theoretical science in the modern sense; second, as another form of logic; and third, as the generalized truth which Spinoza himself admits is hard to grasp. This second kind of knowing is, in a way, consciousness itself and is valid. It is the truth. It is found in Part I and is Part I, when viewed conceptually. It is, as I have stated earlier, a form of logic - logic in the Hegelian tradition.  

Spinoza, however, as pointed out above, indicated that something like this which is in "general terms” is not as effective at teaching us of reality “as when the same conclusion is derived from the actual essence of some particular thing, which we say depends on God."(22) This seeming hair splitting is actually very important. Part II, as well as Parts III and IV are the third kind of knowledge in the process of development.  

This third kind of knowing is categorized as "'intuition" by some commentators, but could be more appropriately rendered as "insight." It is also a process and is the real knowledge of concrete, real things as they are in the process of existing. As such, the approach reminds one of the Naturphilosophie in Hegel's system.(23) It is an intimate knowledge of real things in the real world, but at a level which is fundamentally unstructured. On the other hand, the required structuring, that is, the conceptualization that is required to make the third kind of knowledge make sense, has been done in Part I. Therefore, we now have the attributes or modes of thought and extension which are real particulars but these must be conceptualized to fit into the schema of Part I.(24) They are the real-world form of the structured concept outlined in Part I.  

Moving on to Part III, we see that although this section may at first be thought of as an analysis of emotion in the tradition of Hobbes and Nietzsche, it is actually a good deal more than that. Spinoza is here continuing his analysis of the particulars of the world begun in Part II. Significantly, at this point we are working both upward and downward in Spinoza's system. We are moving downward into the real world to analyze man as he exists in a passive state, and here we often find man at his passionate worst. We begin to realize that Spinoza began his system with the philosopher already outside of Plato's mythical cave - but for Spinoza the cave is a part of reality too (indeed, a very real part) and he is taking us back inside to discover its meaning.  

While this journey (a reverse from Plato) is certainly a move "downward," we are, at the same time, working our way upward because the reader is increasing their knowledge of the real world which will, ultimately, allow them fully to understand that world in terms of Part I. This manner of teaching is, of course, a significant departure from the Platonic method and is a precursor to the more analytical method of Hegel. Or even Nietzsche: “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” Knowledge, any kind of knowledge, is power. Part I structured the whole and Parts II, III, and IV are proving the thesis of Part I by analyzing the only proofs available: the manifestations of the whole (God) in the world of perception; i.e., mind and emotion.  

The difference between Part II and Part III is that Part II dealt with the self-contained reality of mind thinking of itself as an attribute of God. In Part II, mind is conceived of as "the very idea or knowledge of the human body, which is in God..."(25) Part III, however, deals with the relation of the self to the outside world. When the self does not allow mind to rule, the real world makes the self a slave of that world. Part III is a brilliant psychological analysis of. the workings of the mind of the unthinking individual.  

"Human infirmity in moderating and checking the emotions I name bondage: for, when a man is a prey to his emotions, he is not his own master."(26) Thus begins Part IV, the lowest level reached in Spinoza's analysis of man in the world. It deals with two themes; one practical, the other spiritual. First, it deals with no-nonsense ethics. Indeed, it is, in a way the "ethics" of The Ethics and is concerned with "the right way of life."(27) Its second theme is important for those seeking the meaning of Part I, for it is an expansion of the analysis of the emotions begun in Part III. This expansion goes further into the analysis of the passions by showing us the consequences of being a part of God (both as a mode of thought and the physical world of extension) without understanding the relationship of "particular" thought to "universal" thought. To make headway in our search we must come to know that:  

      The power and increase of every passion, and its persistence in existing are not defined by the power, whereby we ourselves endeavor to persist in existing, but by the power of an external cause compared with our own.(28)  

On this lowest level we are seeing that a knowledge of particulars and our response to those particulars is a form of slavery which results from an ignorance of the whole. Yet, we find that this part of the work (just as with the previous parts) is gradually revealing this structure of the whole to us; a structure formulated in a static way previously in Part I, and which is now being made real for us by the technique pictured in the discussion of knowledge.(29) Part IV is the final stage in the analysis of the real world. It shows us how "human power is extremely limited, and is infinitely surpassed by the power of external causes..."(30) It is this knowledge which allows the perceptive reader to understand Part I and to become really free.  

Hopefully, by this time we have become aware that Spinoza is taking us on a mythic journey in the tradition of Homer, Plato, Dante, and Hegel. Spinoza, however, starts in heaven, leads us through hell, and, in doing this, leads us full circle back to the real meaning of heaven.  

The Ethics began at a high level which those who deal in superficialities would not understand (much the same way that superficial thinkers might not fully understand Plato's cave parable or Hegel‘s Phenomenology). From this high level, which is, remember, the second kind of knowledge, we found ourselves moving through a process which progressively revealed to us, by the third kind of knowledge, the meaning of the second kind. We came from a mere statement of universals to the revelation of the universal as found in the multitude of life‘s particulars.  

For those who do come to grasp the particulars and their relation to the universal, life will have a meaning above that entertained by the great mass of men. "The more we understand particular things, the more do we understand God."(31) Essentially, knowledge of the world is power and knowledge of the world is knowledge of God. Going further, right conduct becomes a matter of natural behavior(32) and such men have no conflict of passions; for, "an emotion, which is a passion, ceases to be a passion, as soon as we form a clear and distinct idea thereof."(33) If all men attained such a level of understanding, we would not have to concern ourselves about ethical conduct, for "in so far only as men live in obedience to reason, do they always necessarily agree in nature."(34) But all men do not, and so:  

      The best we can do, therefore, so long as we do not possess a perfect knowledge of our emotions, is to frame a system of right conduct, or fixed practical precepts, to commit it to memory, and to apply it forthwith to the particular circumstances which now and again meet us in life...(35)  

Politically and in terms of legal precepts, we find that The Ethics is both elitist and conservative. Most people will never understand themselves, their world, and the relationship between that world and themselves. That is why they are trapped by the environmental slave master which embraces the whole of reality. For such people as those, a set of well thought out, rational laws are the best answer. Such laws should be so designed "that men avoid inflicting injury through fear of incurring a greater injury themselves."(36) The mass of men must give up certain natural rights because they cannot cope with the irrationality of anarchy. Such laws, although based upon threat,(37) would best be passed during periods of rational thought (by a congress of learned legislators), in order to be most effective in curtailing irrational actions.  

On the other hand, for those who do understand themselves and do understand the relationship between themselves and the outside world, and thereby live in accordance with reason, a whole new realm is opened:  

      A free man thinks of death least of all things; and his wisdom is a meditation not of death but of life.(38)  

Part I, which analyzes the second kind of knowledge, will, for some individuals, lead to a desire to dig deeper into the details of reality:  

      The endeavor or desire to know things by the third kind of knowledge cannot arise from the first, but from the second  kind of knowledge.(39)  

To partially summarize, the statements of Part I should draw the true “lover of wisdom” through the remaining parts in order to discover how truth is revealed. He who does not care to finish The Ethics after reading Part I is condemned to be a slave of his passions. He who does finish and understands, will be introduced to the realm of immortality. This is a realm that can only be conceived by embracing God as "Existence" and which puts the individual on a subjective level with God. On this level, the individual understands his relation to God as a part of total reality.(40)  

To further summarize, Part V is not the culmination of The Ethics without understanding its vital connection to Part I. Part V summarizes coming to understand the relationship between the world of forms (attributes and modes) and the world of concept (God as totality or existence) and, therefore, reintroduces us to Part I.

The immortality referred to by Spinoza is not exactly in the Judeo/Moslem/Christian religious tradition. "Its existence cannot be defined in terms of time, or explained through duration..”(41) “Most men "confuse eternity with duration..."(42 )because they cannot do more than be conscious of the particulars of the world as mere particulars.(43) Relationships, on a larger scale, escape them because the only valid relationship is that of the particular to the totality:  

      Duration is only applicable to the existence of modes; eternity is applicable to the existence of substance ...(44)  

The philosopher will live at a level that allows him to be at one with the entirety of existence. "The intellectual love of God, which arises from the third kind of knowledge, is eternal."(45) And what is eternity? "By eternity, I mean existence itself..."(46)

Part I is no longer a mere tool that allows us to penetrate into reality. Instead, the God of Part I has become the manifested truth. As reality, God exists as substance or nature, but now that fact has meaning. Man (or woman) the individual is a mere part of God when he (or she) reacts only to the particulars of life. However, man (or woman) becomes God on an intellectual level and is immortal because knowledge of God is eternal.  

On the other hand, most people have knowledge in God which makes them slaves. They understand only their limited position in relation to other particulars but not in relation to the totality. They worship irrational mythologies and partake of the world in piecemeal fashion.  

Spinoza has a different take. The God envisioned by him is immanent Substance, which is Nature as perceived - and which is, therefore, existence itself. His God is Aristotle's God. For Aristotle, "there is something which causes motion without being moved, and this is eternal, a substance, and an actuality."(47) For Aristotle, matter exists in principle but is actually "real" by virtue of energy. Energy is what makes reality "real." Energy is God for Aristotle in the same spirit as Substance is God for Spinoza. Both are another name for reality or the world of nature and of man alive in nature. God becomes existence itself and the love of God becomes the love of existence itself. Spinoza affirms existence. Spinoza affirms life. Part V culminates our search and shows us the result of our endeavor to know and leads us back to the real meaning of God in Part I.



  All of the quotations from Spinoza were taken from his Chief Works,

volume 2, translated by R.H.M. Elwes (Dover Publications, 1951). These

were compared with the Latin edition of his Opera, volume. 1 (Nijhoff,

1914) and with The Ethics, preceded by On the Improvement of the

Understanding, edited by James Gutman (Hafner, 1949) and found to be

accurate enough.


1          Heinrich Heine, in his Religion and Philosophy in Germany, translated by John Snodgrass (Beacon Press, 1951) page 69, states that "the mathematical form gives to Spinoza's writings a harsh exterior. But this like the hard shell of the almond; the kernel is all the more agreeable."  

2        Hegel, G.W.F.: in his Science of Logic, 2 volumes, translated by W.H. Johnson and L.G. Struthers (George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1951) volume 1, page 80, "But to ask for clearness about cognition before the beginning of the science, is to demand that it shall be discussed outside of its precincts..."  

3          Spinoza, Ethics, Part II, Prop. XI, Note, in Works, volume 2, page 91. All further quotations from Spinoza will be from volume 2 of the Chief Works.  

4        The "Proof" to Proposition XLI of The Ethics, page 269, which states that Part V is not fully necessary to the ethical status of that work, appears to contradict my contention that the whole work must be read to be understood as a system. However, Spinoza is writing an "ethical" work and states "that the qualities attributable to courage and high- mindedness are of primary importance." The first four parts can lead one to ethical acts of virtue, but only by understanding the whole system can one feel joy in the actions of virtue and know truth. Part V tells us the author's goals regarding the higher rewards of knowledge beyond mere ethical behavior.  

5        Hegel: Lectures on the History of Philosophy, volume 3, translated by E.S. Haldane and F.H. Simson (Routledge and Kegan Paul, Ltd., 1955) page 257. On the same page, Hegel points out that "absolute substance is the truth, but it is not the whole truth." He feels that Spinoza has left out the process leading up to the conclusions of Part I. One of his more basic objections is the lack of subjective development in Spinoza's work. In the Science of Logic (volume 1, page 266), Hegel states that Spinoza "begins by defining the infinite as the absolute affirmation of the existence of any one Nature, and the Finite on the contrary as determinateness, or negation." Spinoza posits God as infinite and everything else as derivative of God or as a part (attribute or mode) of God. Hegel continues: "But with Spinoza, Substance and its absolute unity have the form of an inert, that is, of a not self-mediating, unity, or rigidity wherein the concept of the negative unity of the self (Subjectivity) has not yet found a place." Spinoza, from Hegel's point of view, seems to begin "in medias res" and has not progressed toward God from consciousness. Yet, we will show that Spinoza is progressing toward God in The Ethics. Profound as his observations were, Hegel did not fully grasp all the nuances of Spinoza's thought. For example, he was simply wrong when he came to consider the term "extension" as synonymous with "Being" (Science of Logic, volume 2, pages 168-169). For Spinoza, "extension" was merely one manifestation of "Being."  

6          Ethics, Part I, Prop. XI, Another Proof (page 52).  

7          Ethics, Part V, Prop. XXXVI, Note (pages 265-266).  

8          Ethics, Part I, Prop. XXV, Corollary (page 66).  

9          Ethics, Part V, Prop. XXV, Proof (page 260).  

10          Spinoza, On the Improvement of Human Understanding (page 36).  

11          Ethics, Part I, Prop. XXX (page 69). Hegel, in the Science of Logic (volume 1, page 126) has the best interpretation of "modes" and "attributes" that I have read: "He therefore conceived of them as Attributes, that is, as such as, having no separate persistence or Being-in-for-self, exist only as transcended, or as moments; or, rather, they are not even moments, since Substance is that which in itself is quite indeterminate, the Attributes (as also the Modes) being distinctions made by an external Understanding."  

12          Aristotle, "Categories" in The Basic works of Aristotle, edited by Richard McKeon (Random House, 1968) page 9.  

13      In the preface to The Philosophy of Right, translated, notes by T.M. Knox (Oxford University Press, 1967) page 10, we read: "What is rational is actual and what is actual is rational." What Hegel is saying is that the real world is, without man to perceive it, neither rational nor irrational, but it is actual. When perceived and understood by a thinking man, it is made rational because a thinking (rational) man understands it. An irrational man would not understand it and it would be for him irrational because he had failed to grasp its essence. Rationality and irrationality are man-created terms, used to describe a universe that has the potentiality to be understood. The particulars of it are made universal and rational by the human intellect. See also the Phenomenology of Mind, translated by J.B. Baillie (George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1966) page 600: "For knowing, is itself the process and movement of those abstract moments..." The unifying factor is the thinking individual who grasps the particulars and gives to them order by means of the ordering power of his mind.  

14      In the Science of Logic, volume 1, page 48) we read: "...logical science, I say, will be the reconstruction of those thought determinations which are thrown into relief by reflection, and by reflection are fixed as subjective forms, forms external to matter and content." Or again (page 65) "This is already evident from the fact that the Method is no-ways different from its object and content; for it is the content in itself, the Dialectic which it has in itself, that moves it on." Or still again (page 69) "The System of Logic is the realm of shades, a world of simple essentialities freed from all concretion of sense." In the section of his Science of Logic, entitled "With What Must the Science Begin?" (volume 1, pages 79-90) Hegel comes right out and all but literally says that it must begin with phenomenology! The development of certainty out of consciousness (with no doubt a bit of credit due to René Descartes) is his starting point. Spinoza, however, begins with a kind of logic of content.  

15          History would be its form in time (as development) but Spinoza does not do his developing out of history. Possibly the single biggest difference between Hegel and Spinoza is that the former adds another perceived Attribute to God: history, or the development of the concept (the whole or "content" of reality) in "time" as well as in space. The mode called thought manifests itself in time as well as in the simple thought of the "now." Mind remembers its past activities and reads of other past activities. In spite of its seeming profundity, Spinoza might have placed this type of knowledge on the lower levels of knowing.  

16          Ethics, Part V, Preface (page 244), has Spinoza's view of logic which further validates my contention that Part I is not designed to “teach” at all. Rather, it is a logical schema that the other parts build upon. Spinoza states that: "It is by no part of my design to point out the method and means whereby the understanding may be perfected, nor to show the skill whereby the body may be so tended as to be capable of the due performance of its functions. The latter question lies in the province of medicine [or science]; the former in the province of logic.” Spinoza's "logic" in Part I is a conceptual or content-filled logic in the sense that Hegel used it, and not a traditional logic.  

17          Ethics, Part II, Prop. XLVII, Note (page 18).  

18          Ethics, Part V, Prop. XXV, Proof (page 260). Also referred to in note number 9, above.  

19          Ethics, Part V, Prop. XXXVI, Note (pp. 765-266). Also referred to in note number 7, above. This is a quotation to keep in mind.  

20          Ethics, Part  II, Prop. XL, Note II (page 113).  

21      The "Correspondence" of Spinoza, in volume 2 of the Works, indicates a growing disillusionment on the part of Henry Oldenburg as he reads more and more of Spinoza's  material. See letters XVII (LXI) and XX (LXXI) for examples.  

22          Ethics, Part V, Prop. XXXVI, Note (page 266). This was also referred to in length in notes 7 and 19 above. A pivotal statement.  

23      In many respects The Ethics parallels Hegel's Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences. Part I is similar in approach to the Encyclopedia’s section on logic; Part II through IV to the section on nature (concrete particulars); and Part V to the section on mind. However, Hegel's "system" has four parts: logic, nature, and mind, plus phenomenology. Hegel’s Encyclopedia, of course, was designed to be a student's text, which would be supplemented by lectures. The Phenomenology of Mind (possibly better translated as Phenomenology of Spirit), Hegel's great symphony of circles, was to be the first part of his system and no such counterpart exists in Spinoza's works. See also note number 5 above for further discussion.  

24      I refer the reader back to note number eleven. Hegel conceptualizes thought and extension (nature), and also time, into one, coherent whole.  

25          Ethics, Part II, Prop. XIX, Proof (page 260).  

26          Ethics, Part IV, Preface (page 187).  

27          Ethics, Part IV, Appendix (page 236).  

28          Ethics, Part IV, Prop. V (page 194).  

29          Ethics, Part 11, Note II (page 113).  

30          Ethics, Part IV, Appendix XXXII (page 242).  

31          Ethics, Part V, Prop. XXIV (page 260).  

32          Ethics, Part IV, Prop. LIX, Proof (page 227).  

33          Ethics, Part V, Prop. III (page 248).  

34          Ethics, Part IV, Prop. XXXV (page 209).  

35          Ethics, Part V, Prop. X, Note (pages 252-253).  

36          Ethics, Part IV, Prop. XXXVII, Note II (page 214).  

37          Ethics, Part IV, Prop. XXXVII, Note II (page 214).  

38          Ethics, Part IV, Prop. LXVII (page 232).  

39          Ethics, Part V, Prop. XXVIII (page 261).  

40      This is somewhat different from Hegel, who has the comprehending individual become God.  

41          Ethics, Part V, Prop. XXIII, Note (page 260).  

42          Ethics, Part V, Prop. XXXIV, Note (page 264).  

43      In the Phenomenology of Mind (or Spirit), Hegel has an interesting discussion of belief and pure insight (Enlightenment). For Hegel, the religious mind has a feel for the totality (the universal) but fails to understand particulars. (Ironically, to do so on a religious level would undermine the foundation of belief, because belief founders on real-world details.) Particulars in the realm of the intellect, however, are normally dealt with by insight (which came into full bloom in the Enlightenment) and those who master particulars only, lack the ability to come to grips with the totality or the "concept." It might be better to divide the groups into mystics and true-believers. True-believers would be obsessed with the half-truths inherent in particulars (or in the mere observation of particulars without subsuming them into the whole) while mystics would simply "intuit" a state of bliss (blissful ignorance), and be ignorant of some very important details.  

44          "Correspondence", Letter XXIX (XII), page 318. This is a letter to Lewis Meyer, whom Spinoza appears to have taken more seriously than either Henry Oldenburg or Simon de Vries.  

45          Ethics, Part V, Prop. XXXIII (page 263).  

46          Ethics, Part I, Definition VIII (page 46).  

47          Aristotle, Metaphysics, translated, with commentaries and glossary by Hippocrates C. Apostle (Indiana University Press, 1966) Book A, 7, 1072a 25, page 204. To summarize: existence is activity. Potentiality is a principle which can become existent only as activity. And activity is another name for energy, which is the manifestation of God.


 posted by Brian Worley   Ex-Minister.org     November 7, 2009    All rights reserved

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