The Echoes of the Mind (9-13) Baruch Spinoza

Baruch Spinoza

Nothing in the universe is contingent, but all things are conditioned to exist and operate in a particular manner by the necessity of the divine nature. ~ Baruch Spinoza

Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) was born of Jewish-Portuguese parents in the Christian city of Amsterdam. In Spinoza’s salad days Amsterdam was the European center of intellectual freedom: attracting Descartes and Locke, who had experienced persecution elsewhere for their espoused beliefs.

In his youth Spinoza was initially impressed with Descartes. But he parted ways with Descartes’ conception of mind, matter, and God as being separate. Instead, Spinoza proposed the triad as aspects of the same substance: a form of neutral monism. (Neutral monism is the epistemology that the essence of existence is neither material nor mental, but energetic.) To Spinoza, God, Nature, and the mind were inseparable.

This concept ran counter to both Jewish and Christian religions. At 27, Spinoza was excommunicated from his synagogue. Members of the local Jewish community were expressly forbidden to communicate with him in any way, be in the same room with him, or to read any of his writings.

Spinoza supported himself by teaching, and by optical lens grinding and polishing, which caused his demise at the age of 44 from lung disease (inhaling glass). He consistently refused financial assistance from admirers, including Leibniz. Spinoza rejected the chair of philosophy at a nearby university because his acceptance would preclude criticizing Christianity.

While Spinoza had extensive correspondence with many philosophers of the day, only one of his books was published while he was alive, and that one anonymously. His major work, The Ethics Demonstrated with Geometrical Order, was published posthumously.

No matter how thin you slice it, there will always be two sides. ~ Baruch Spinoza

To Spinoza, the body and mind were like sides of the same coin: distinct but inseparable. Spinoza forged physiology and psychology into a unified system.

In so far as the mind sees things in their eternal aspect, it participates in eternity. ~ Baruch Spinoza

Spinoza’s mind-body unity flowed from his conceptualization of God as intelligent substrate. Nature is a reflection of God. Everything – organic and inorganic – emanates from a singular source, with physical and mental attributes: essentially a theistic animism.

The mind of God is all the mentality that is scattered over space and time, the diffused consciousness that animates the world. ~ Baruch Spinoza

The unity of mind and body was but one manifestation of monism throughout the universe. Spinoza’s position was a unified pantheism and panpsychism.

Spinoza believed in a natural order. That meant free will was a chimera.

Men are mistaken in thinking themselves free; their opinion is made up of consciousness of their own actions, and ignorance of the causes by which they are determined. ~ Baruch Spinoza

It made no sense to Spinoza to view God as the cause of all things and at the same time to believe that humans had a free will.

Spinoza was a hedonist. Good and evil were “nothing else but the emotions of pleasure and pain.” Spinoza meant pleasure as entertaining a clear idea: an understanding of the nature of something. Weakness and pain come when the mind entertains unclear ideas or is overwhelmed by passion.

All happiness or unhappiness solely depends upon the quality of the object to which we are attached by love. ~ Baruch Spinoza

Dwelling on momentary perceptions or passions has the mind in a passive mode which ultimately experiences pain. This is because sensory perceptions produce unclear ideas.

Passions, which Spinoza called “affects,” were not different from thoughts. Affects were instead undeveloped ideas. Though reason and passion were kindred, they presented themselves distinctly. Affects were nascent ideas that required clarity for control. Once understood a passion could be tamed by reason.

The mind must be engaged to develop clear ideas, which are not delivered automatically.

True virtue is life under the direction of reason. ~ Baruch Spinoza

To Spinoza, knowledge was a force for both morality and spirituality. Understanding Nature was the path to connecting to God.

The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free. ~ Baruch Spinoza

Spinoza considered self-preservation as the master motive: hence thoughts and behaviors aligned to survival.

Will and intellect are one and the same thing. ~ Baruch Spinoza

Spinoza distinguished between emotion and passion. Whereas emotion was linked with a certain thought, passion was unfocused: desire for stimulation. As passion is undirected it can cause maladaptive behavior and so must be harnessed by reason.

Thoughts and behaviors guided by reason are conducive to survival, whereas those propelled by passion are not. Spinoza recognized the power of passion to overwhelm good sense.

Reason is no match for passion. ~ Baruch Spinoza

Spinoza considered the basic emotions pleasure and pain. Spinoza showed how as many as 48 emotions could be derived from the interaction between basic emotions and life situations. No one prior to Spinoza had devoted so much detail to human emotion.

Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it. ~ Baruch Spinoza

Spinoza’s insistence that self-improvement comes by clarifying thoughts through analysis and rationally controlling passions anticipated Freudian psychoanalysis. Substitute the term passion with unconscious determinants of behavior and Freud subconsciously channeled Spinoza.