Spinoza, Ethics, Part 3

Spinoza, Ethics, Part 3 - 55 Copyright Jonathan Bennett...

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Copyright © Jonathan Bennett Square [brackets] enclose editorial explanations. Small ·dots· enclose material that has been added, but can be read as though it were part of the original text. Occasional bullets are meant as aids to grasping the structure of a sentence or a thought. Four ellipses . . . . indicate the omission of a brief passage that seems to present more difficulty than it is worth. First launched: July 2004 * * * * * * * * * ETHICS DEMONSTRATED IN GEOMETRICAL ORDER By Benedict Spinoza Part III: The Origin and Nature of the Affects PREFACE [In Spinoza’s use of the term, ‘affects’ include emotions (such as anger) and immoderate desires (such as ambition). All they have in common is their tendency to influence human conduct, mostly for the worse.] Most of those who have written about the affects and men’s way of living write as though their topic was not natural things that follow the common laws of Nature but rather things that are outside Nature. Indeed they seem to think of man in Nature as a kingdom within a kingdom. They don’t think of man as following the order of Nature, ·going through his life in accordance with the causal forces at work within him and impinging on him from the outside·; rather, they think that man acts upon and interferes with Nature, having absolute power over his own actions and being determined only by himself. And they don’t explain human failings in terms of natural causes, but instead invoke I know not what vice of human nature which they bewail, or laugh at, or sneer at, or (as usually happens) curse. And the people who are regarded as godly are the ones who know how to censure most eloquently and cunningly the weakness of the human mind. It is true that some very distinguished men (to whose work and diligence I admit that I owe much) have written many admirable things about the right way of living, and given men advice full of prudence. But no-one, so far as I know, has determined the nature and powers of the affects, nor what the mind can do to moderate them. I know, of course, that the famous Descartes, although he too believed that the mind has absolute power over its own actions, nevertheless sought to explain human affects through their first causes, and at the same time to show how a mind can have absolute dominion over its affects. But in my opinion, he showed nothing but the cleverness of his intellect, as I shall show in the proper place. For now I wish to return to those who prefer to curse or laugh at the affects and actions of men, rather than understand them. To them it will doubtless seem strange that I should undertake to treat men’s vices and absurdities in the geometric [here = ‘deductive’] 55
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