Benedict de Spinoza is a Dutch philosopher who flourished in the second half the 17th century. His works usually focuses on a variety of subjects and reflects the influence of different sources such as Stoicism, Rationalism, Machiavellian, Descartes, and other philosophers and philosophies of his day. Spinoza's philosphy rembles closely to that of stoicism, which deals on the pursuit of happiness. Although very similar, Spinoza rejected the idea that reason defeats emotion, and reasoned that only stronger emotions can defeat emotion. This is evident in his most famous work, The Ethics. The Ethics prefaces the authors’ philosophy regarding various subjects such as God and nature, the human mind and its relation the human body, emotions and how it affects an individual’s decisions, and human freedom. The book is divided into five parts, which explains in detail the connection of each aspects.
The first part of the book illustrates the nature of properties of God. Spinoza begins by giving definitions, axioms, and propositions to give the reader the necessary context. He explains the various attributes of existence and the nature by which everything is conceived. He emphasized this by stating that there is necessarily for each individual existent thing a cause why it should exist. Spinoza defines God as substance consisting of infinite attributes, of which expresses eternal and infinite essentiality, therefore, must necessarily exists. Everything must have a designated cause or reason for existence, or in the contrary, reason for non-existence. If God, given substantial proof, does not exist, then there must be a necessary cause or reason. He states that a thing necessarily exists, if no cause or reason is given preventing its existence. He gives further proof of God’s necessary existence, such that if no proof is given preventing God’s existence, then God does necessarily exist. Spinoza further strengthens the existence of God by giving substantial proofs founded by logic, such as that existence is a form of power, and non-existence a negation of power. If everything that necessarily exists is mere finite beings, then such finite beings are more powerful than a being absolutely infinite, which he deems absurd, therefore, either nothing exists, or a being absolutely infinite necessarily exists also. He describes the connection between the nature of God’s existence and the nature of the existence of everything in the universe.
The second part of the book sequels the result of the existence of an eternal and infinite being, which is God. Spinoza explains that the mind is an extension of God’s essence, and therefore, anything that is conceived in the mind is essentially that of God’s essence. He states that God is the cause of an idea, in that he is a thinking thing. He also details the nature of the connection of the human mind and body. He demonstrates the virtues which constitutes the nature of the human mind in relation to external bodies, such as memory, and explains that memory is simply the certain association of ideas involving the nature of things outside the human body. He further illustrates the relationship of the human mind and body, in that the human mind is the very idea or knowledge of the human body. The mind is only able to perceive itself through modifications of the human body, and vice versa, thus, explaining the complexity of their connection to each other, and their connection to God. Spinoza also explains the nature by which the mind and the body perceive reality. The human mind always regards things as present in itself. He states that it is in the nature of reason to perceive things under a certain form of eternity. Spinoza enumerates the three forms of knowledge. The knowledge of the first kind, or perception, defines how our own bodies work in relation to how things really are. The knowledge of the second kind, or reason, encompasses knowledge of the features common to all things. The knowledge of the third kind, or intuitive knowledge, pertains to the relation of particular things to God.
The third part of the book focuses more on emotions as passivity of the soul. He states that everyone shapes his action accordibg to his emotions, and those with conflicting emotions do not know what they desire. Spinoza also introduces the idea that the mind is sometimes active and sometimes passive. Adequacy of ideas determines which state, whether active or passive, does the mind undergo. He explains that the mind undergoes transitions to greater perfections, characterized by pleasure, or lesser perfections, characterized by pain. These passive states of transition explain to us the emotions of pain and pleasure. He explains the nature of Love and Hate, in that love is simply pleasure accompanied external stimulation and hate being pain accompanied by external stimulations. Thus, it can be simplified that we are able to achieve greater perfections through love, and lesser perfections through hate. Spinoza further defines the nature of different emotions such as hope, fear, confidence, despair, joy, and disappointment and explains how these emotions are simply derivatives of pleasure and pain, and by extension, love and hate.
The fourth part of the book deals heavily on how emotions dictate the actions of an individual. Spinoza explained that man calls perfect what he sees when the thing corresponds to his preconcieved notion and calls imperfect what he sees when the thing does not correspond to his preconceived notions. Due to this, man seeks that which gives him pleasure and shuns that which gives him pain.
The fifth part of the book deals with human freedom. In this final chapter, Spinoza explains that the pursuit to freedom can only be achieved through reason. Spinoza denies the Stoic principle that emotions depend solely on our will, and that we could absolutely govern them. He claims that through reason, one can distinguish actions that aid the pursuit of virtue from actions that are harmful in nature. Spinoza explains that human passion is a deterrent to achieving true freedom, and that through seeing things as the way they are, not as what we want them to be, we can liberate ourselves from the bounds which hinder freedom and be truly free.