Spinoza’s Ethics

Basically this , as I see it , is an attempt to explain the nature of the world we live in and a treatise of how to live in it.

You can find it at:

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/3800/3800-h/3800-h.htm

This was a book to read for the North Yorkshire Humanist’s Philosophy book club at:

https://nyhg.humanist.org.uk/

I am glad I had to read it for this meeting as I found it hard going and had to read secondary sources on the net to get an explanation. One explanation can be found at

https://partiallyexaminedlife.com/2010/08/24/episode-24-spinoza-on-god-and-metaphysics-3

The above should be a preview (you have to be a full member to hear everything) but it gives you an ok summary of the main points, notably about the nature of God.

The Ethics is divided into 4 parts.

Part 1 – Concerning God
(broke up into Axioms, Propositions, Appendix)

Summary: God is nature, all around, in us, is infinite, but not a conscious being like  one of traditional monotheism. God is the cause of our existence, though not our essence (not sure if this is meant that God does not exert influence over the will).
Part 2 – On the Nature & Origin of The Mind
(broke up into Definitions, Axioms, Propositions, Appendix)

Summary: mind as part of mass consciousness of nature, and by extension , God.

Part 3 – On the Origin and Nature of The Emotions
(broke up into Definitions, Postulates, Definitions of the Emotions, General Definitions of the Emotions)

Summary: Emotions are part of the body’s functions (in 3 parts – stimulation, merriment, pain), instinct is everywhere, even in animals. Emotions and self interest can work against us, must be able to identify the emotions and rise above them.

Part 4 – Of Human Bondage, or The Strength of the Emotions
– Of The Power of Understanding, of of Human Freedom
(broke up into Preface, Axioms, Propositions)
Summary: Influences of the emotions can be good or bad, depending on your situation and perspective. We are influenced by everything, but the highest good is the knowledge of God (this again does not comply with any traditional monotheistic beliefs). Do not live by the emotions , or be restricted by them. The way forward is through rationalism.
Overall, Spinoza meant the Ethics to be an organised approach, based on Euclidean geometry. In this respect, it’s not surprising that I found it too logical in parts
and too detached to have any real practical value. It’s a good book to study for from a strict philosophical point of view, but may have restricted practical value.

This sentiment was mirrored in the group and there is a sense in the book that Spinoza is denying the emotions than trying to live with them. This is impossible and Spinoza does come across a bit harsh at time, notably when talking about such emotions as pity. The group found similarities to Buddhism and Schopenhauer. Spinoza’s view on knowledge , as divided into 3 parts – imagination (bad), reason and intuition, was favourable though. Everyone thought it did need some explanation through reading secondary sources. I liked the idea of God as nature and infinite (as did most others). I found the idea of mind and body (extension) in agreement with nature to be a coherent argument also. The idea of rationalism as a guide to living is naive though. It definitely needs a few reading and a few diagrams.

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