Front Page Titles (by Subject) X.: Spinoza (1632-1677) — Relations to Descartes . - The Method, Meditations and Philosophy of Descartes
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
X.: Spinoza (1632-1677) — Relations to Descartes . - Réné Descartes, The Method, Meditations and Philosophy of Descartes 
The Method, Meditations and Philosophy of Descartes, translated from the Original Texts, with a new introductory Essay, Historical and Critical by John Veitch and a Special Introduction by Frank Sewall (Washington: M. Walter Dunne, 1901).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Spinoza (1632-1677) — RelationstoDescartes.
Leibnitz, speaking of the philosophy of Descartes, said it was the antechamber of the truth. At another time, he tells us that Spinozism is an exaggerated Cartesianism (le Spinozisme est un Cartésianisme outré). Again, he says, “ Spinoza has cultivated only certain seeds of the philosophy of Descartes.” There can, I think, be no doubt that Spinoza was stimulated to speculation by Descartes; and also that he found in Descartes' writings certain points which, when exclusively considered, tended to suggest his own doctrines as a complement or development. But that he truly interpreted the main and characteristic features of the philosophy of Descartes, or carried out its proper tendency, or logically added to it certain results, I emphatically deny.
In the first place, Descartes' philosophy is by method distinctly one of intuition and experience. No one can read the Method without feeling that the writer is seeking relief from scholasticism, and that you have done with the Schoolmen — with their abstractions and their deductions. The healthy branch of modern experimental thought is there. You feel it in the cogito ergo sum— in the criterion of clearness and distinctness of ideas— and particularly in his first proof of the existence of God, founded on the fact of the personal existence and yet imperfection of being revealed in human consciousness. But Spinoza absolutely disdains experience and observation. To him a conviction or fact of consciousness, however deeply or thoroughly tested, by analytic reflection is nothing. He no doubt speaks of his philosophical method as reason founded on immediate intuition; but when we come to examine his intuition, it turns out to be merely definition — and arbitrary definition. There is no analysis of consciousness whatever — no founding on intuition or fact. It is the method of Pure Reason, all through — a return, disguise it as you may, to the method of scholastic abstraction and deduction. Spinoza professes to deduce the facts of consciousness, and consciousness itself, from the infinite substance and its attributes. And he holds, with Malebranche, that knowledge through consciousness and of the facts of consciousness is obscure and confused. Descartes no doubt aimed at deduction, but it was a deduction professedly founded on facts of consciousness as the clearest sphere of human knowledge. At the same time, he exaggerated the importance and the use of it; and there is an obvious tendency, especially in the Principles, to supersede his original or intuitive method by the demonstrative or deductive, — to fall away, in fact, from the investigation of the real unto the shadowy sphere of the abstract. At the same time, the order of the Principles may fairly enough be regarded as merely a synthetic way of putting the results of a foregone analysis. If Spinozism be regarded as in method a development of Descartes, it was not of his original and fruitful method, but of his later unfaithfulness in the use of that method.
Descartes' alienation from his original method of conscious verification arose mainly from his assuming that whatever is clearly and distinctly conceived in the idea of an object may be predicated as really true of that object. This, with all its obvious fallacy and confusion, was adopted by Spinoza, and carried to exaggeration by him, with a thorough indifference to the psychological method of Descartes, the only means of giving the idea truth, or relevancy to fact. With such a postulate, it is easy to see how Spinoza proceeded. We have only to get the preliminary idea of all things as clear and distinct, and then from this we can readily evolve all subsequent ideas or conceptions. The universe will then be comprehended by us not in its parts merely, but as a whole. The beginning of all will be grasped, and each part of the whole will be apprehended in its relation to the preceding part, and thus to the first of things. It will, accordingly, be known truly for what it is, because it will be known in all its actual relations to preceding facts, and in all its possible relations to succeeding developments. This is, no doubt, a very fine conception of the aim of human knowledge. Whether it is merely a dream or a reality is, of course, a matter of argument. If we could reach a knowledge of the absolute totality of being, or of the universe at any given point in its development, we should gain a knowledge which is absolutely convertible with all possible knowledge in each given stage; and if we could thus follow the evolutions we should make our knowledge convertible with, or representative of, the whole of actual and possible being. But such an ideal of knowledge is impossible, unless on the assumption that the totality of being can be first grasped by definition, as figure in mathematics, and its various possible combinations therefrom evolved. And this is merely to assume in method or premises what requires to be proved in result or conclusion. What would be our test of the completeness or adequacy of our definition? What, then, would be the guarantee of the totality of our knowledge in any given stage? The assumption of a casual relation between the stages does not help us, for we have to ascertain in the first stage the totality of the cause. And here, even on Spinoza's own admission, the doctrine must be held to break down. For while the first substance possesses an infinity of attributes, of these we knew only two — extension and thought. It is thus utterly impossible for us, through the grasp of these partial forms of being, to conceive all being, and follow the evolutions of its totality. This would be merely an illogical identification of the part with the whole,—reasoning, in fact, from the finitude of our knowledge to the infinitude of things.
Of course, Spinoza grandly distinguishes this demonstrative method of knowledge from that of vulgar opinion and belief. This is partial and abstract, and worth nothing. It does not see the connections of things, and thus fails of their truth. It proceeds without examination or reflection. It accepts common opinions. Spinoza's whole writing of this sort has been relegated long ago to the limbo of misconception, and should have been left there. It has been stated over and over again by the opponents of a demonstrative system of philosophy, that the alternative alone conceived by Spinoza, and alone contemplated by those who virtually accept his method, is a simple caricature of the method which they follow. It has been shown repeatedly that the common opinions of mankind (or the common sense of mankind, as it is called), form simply the materials of philosophical analysis and criticism. Hamilton, for example, tells us most explicitly that philosophy is not to be constituted by “an appeal to the undeveloped beliefs of the irreflective many,” but “ through a critical analysis of those beliefs.” We may therefore set aside as utterly beside the point, as, in fact, due either to ignorance or perversion, the misrepresentations of the method of the psychological school constantly made by followers of Spinoza and Hegel. The question as to whether we can grasp the universe as a whole of development cannot even be fairly approached, until the upholders of the affirmative position show that they understand the nature of the psychological method.
What gives a somewhat ludicrous aspect to this misrepresentation of the psychological method, is the fact that when we come to examine closely certain points in the deductive systems, we find that, while despising psychology, they have really nothing to give us except this very common sense of mankind which they so haughtily reject. Spinoza, for example, the ideal of the man who had a contempt for common sense and all its accessories, is found after all to be dependent on it for his selection of the fundamental notions of his system. It appears that in his review of the notions current among mankind there are some which are inadequate and confused; others which are clear and distinct. Among the former class are Being, Something, Freedom, Final Cause; while among the clear and distinct are Cause, Substance, God, or the Infinite Substance. When we seek for some sort of test of this apparently arbitrary selection, we find that the former are relegated to unreality and untruthfulness, because they are notiones universales merely — meaning, possibly, generalizations. But the others, such as Substance and Cause, are held to be clear and true, because they are notiones communes; and when we ask what the meaning of this is, we find that they are something common to all minds and all things. What is this but an appeal to the common-sense of mankind, and in its unscientific and irreflective form? If, moreover, we apply the test of community in the things to the relegated notions of Being or Something, it will certainly occur to us that the distinction is one rather of caprice and petulance than of logical or consistent thought. Freedom and Final Cause stood rather in the way of his deduction; by all means, therefore, let them be set aside as obscure and confused. The truth is, that any deductive system is nothing more than a mere hypothesis, or has no basis higher than unsifted data, so long as it is not grounded on direct and complete pyschological analysis of the facts.
But even this misrepresentation is comparatively of little moment when we look on the deductive systems — such as that of Spinoza — in relation to the full contents of the human consciousness. It is here the principle of their method reduces itself to an absolute contradiction. The data which the method assumes, and from which it proceeds to develop the universe of being, have no higher guarantee than those very facts of human consciousness relating to Personality, Freedom, and Morality, which they undoubtedly subvert. It is here that the common experience of mankind, when psychologically tested as fact, comes into collision with the conclusions of the deductive system; and ere the facts of common experience are swept away, it must be shown that the so-called ideas of Substance and Cause have any higher or other guarantee in our consciousness than these other ideas, and are entitled to override them. What guarantee can any philosophy give for the idea of Substance for example, or even Pure Being or Pure Thought, which cannot be equally, even more, given for Personality and Freedom? I do not mean the Spinozistic or Hegelian caricatures of those ideas, but the conceptions of them actually given or implied in consciousness. A deductive system which sweeps away these conceptions must, in its spirit of superior wisdom, show how mankind, in their whole history and highest purposes and actions, have been deluded into believing themselves as more than the mere necessitarian movements with consciousness which Spinoza and Hegel allow them to be. But even if it can show this, it must do it at the expense of allowing the principles of moral action and of true speculative thought, to be, as a matter of fact, in diametrical contradiction. When the contest takes this form, we know which side must speedily go to the wall.
But take the method of Spinoza as a whole. What is the assumption on which it proceeds? Entirely the geometric method of conception, borrowed no doubt from things both latent and expressed in the writings of Descartes. This means postulates, definitions, and axioms. The geometrical definitions refer to one uniform idea, manifesting itself in various forms, but never transcending itself. This conception is the idea of extension, coexistent points or magnitude. It begins with the elementary perception of point, or the minimum visibile; it goes on to the generation of line and then of surface, or what we know ordinarily as extension. Now we need not consider either the source of the conceptions of point, line, and surface, or the guarantee of them. It is sufficient for our purpose at present to note that these are capable of definition, and that the knowledge which admits of being deduced from them, or the notion at the root of them, never passes beyond the initial conception. It is extension of line and surface at first; it is this and its relations all through. In fact, we are here dealing with abstractions. The definitions are abstractions, or, if you choose, constructions from data,— elementary data of sense. These data are unchangeable, irreversible by us, and hence they and their relations may be said to be necessary. Given certain definitions, we may, by means of postulate and axiom, work out the consequent truths or deductions to their utmost result as ideal combinations. This is the geometrical method. But is such a method at all possible either in Physics or Metaphysics? Here, confessedly, we deal with the real or concrete. We have to look at the contents of experience — of space and time; at what we call the phenomenal world; and we have to consider the relations or the parts of this world to the preceding parts, and to each other, as it were, all around. We have to look at it in time and space. This is the physical point of view. Metaphysically, we must still keep in view this concrete world. But the metaphysical questions relate to the nature of its reality, its origin, order, development. What it is, whence it is, how it has become, whither it is tending,— these questions cannot be discussed without dealing in the same way with the world of consciousness — with the nature, origin, and destiny of the Self or Ego in consciousness — as far as this may be competent and consistent with the conditions of intelligibility. Without doubt those contents are in time, or in time and space. They are the materials which we have to examine — if possible, to deduce in their order. We have to show, in fact, on such a method, the causal relations of the whole terms of reality; we have to show also the necessary connection of every idea — certainly of every universal idea, be it form of perception or of thought proper — in the human consciousness. We must, in a word, deduce from some primary conception — some primary possibility, clearly and distinctly conceived, the typical idea, at least in every physical generalization, the universal law or condition which is in every act of human cognition.
Now the question is, Is the method of Spinoza—is, in fact, any deductive method whatever — able to do this? Let us look at the physical problem as undertaken by the deductive method. “ Real and physical things,” Spinoza tells us, “cannot be understood so long as their essence is unknown. If we leave essences out of view, the necessary connection of ideas which should reproduce the necessary connection of objects is destroyed.”
Now we shall not ask the method to condescend to the contingent facts of time and space — to the passing individuals of the moment. We shall test it simply by general ideas. We shall ask it to show that one form of concrete being can be the ground of the anticipation or prediction of another, which we have not yet experienced as following from it, or in connection with it. Would the clear and distinct knowledge of the constituent elements of a body enable us in any case beforehand to predict its sensible effect, provided this effect is specifically different in its appearance to the senses from the original body or cause? In the case, for example, of two given chemical elements, could any analysis of these enable us even to conceive or to anticipate, far less determine necessarily — apart from experience of the actual sequence — the character of the new resultant body? Even suppose there were the most perfect mathematical knowledge of the proportions of the elements, would it be possible to pass from this numerical knowledge to the new object — say from two gases to the fluid we call water? No scientific inquirer would maintain such a position, and he would be wholly right.
But the case is much stronger when we have a sensible body appreciable by one sense the effect of which is an impression or quality apprehensible only by another sense. Suppose we have a complete apprehension of the particular molecular motion which precedes the sensation of heat, should we be able simply from this knowledge to predict, even conceive, the wholly new sensation absolutely apart from any given sequence in which it occurred? The thing is impossible. Motion is an object of one sense, heat of another. In other words, there must be an appeal to a new form of organic susceptibility. The same is true of the vibration preceding sound; of the molecular motion issuing in light or color; of the pain or pleasure we feel from sensational stimuli; of every effect, of food, or poison, on the human organization; indeed, of the whole sphere of physical causality. The truth is, that if this method of deduction were possible in a single instance, there would be no logical barrier to our deduction of the whole ideas embodied in the laws of the physical universe out of the primordial atoms. And if the impossibility of anticipation hold in one case, it will hold in all. Hence the conclusion is obvious, that even if we knew the actual state of the totality of phenomena in the world at any given time, we should be utterly unable to predict through this its actual state in the subsequent moment. But an absolutely demonstrative physics is about the vainest of dreams. Physical sequences cannot even be anticipated after this fashion; far less can they be necessarily determined.
But does this method fare any better in Metaphysics in the hands of Spinoza?
Now, first, looking at these definitions, will it be said that we have anything like a clear and distinct knowledge of the meaning even implied in the terms in which they are couched? Take, for example, the definition of substance, which is really at the root of the whole matter. Spinoza tells us that by substance he understands “that which exists in itself and is conceived per se; ” in other words, “ that the conception of which can be formed without need of the conception of anything else.” As thus stated, there can of course be but one substance. Have we even any such conception as this? Is this expression more than a mere form of words? Is there anything in experience or consciousness into which these terms can be translated? Consciousness, which is all-embracing, implies discrimination of thinker and thought or object,— a relation between knower and known. Can an object corresponding to the terms of a substance existing in itself, and conceived per se, appear or be in my consciousness? There can be nothing before it; there can be nothing else along with it; it must be at once thinker and thought. It must be the simple indifference of subject and object, absolutely beyond every form of predication. Is the realization of such an object in our consciousness compatible with the conditions of intelligibility or meaning? Yet it is of this we are said to have a clear and distinct idea:—and it is from this that we are able to deduce the Universe of Being.
Now, let us compare this conception of Substance with the same notion in the system of Descartes. “By Substance we can conceive nothing else than a thing which exists in such a way as to stand in need of nothing beyond itself in order to its existence. And in truth there can be conceived but one Substance which is absolutely independent, and that is God. We perceive that all other things can exist only by help of the concourse of God. And accordingly, the term substance does not apply to God and the creatures univocally.” Again, he says: “By the name God, I understand a Substance which is infinite [eternal, immutable], all-knowing, all-powerful, and by which I myself and everything that exists, if any such there be, was created.” He tells us that “Substance cannot be first discovered merely from its being a thing which exists independently, for existence by itself is not apprehended by us. We easily, however, discover substance itself from any attribute of it, by this common notion, that of nothing there can be no attributes, properties, or qualities; for, from perceiving that some attribute is present, we infer that some existing thing or substance to which it may be attributed is also of necessity present.” This is obviously a totally different conception from that of Spinoza. Descartes denies entirely the apprehension or conception of being per se. Even his infinite Substance implies predication and relation. And the notion Substance implies experience to begin with, and a relation involved in experience. Here, at least, the conditions of intelligibility are not violated. We can put a meaning into the words without intellectual felo de se. And yet we are told that Spinoza simply carried out the principles of Descartes. If to reverse the principles of a system as a starting-point is to carry them out to their logical results, Spinoza has that merit. What he did really was to take one element of a complete experience, or implicate of experience, and to set up, as a first or starting-point, the abstraction which he illegitimately severed from the intelligible conditions recognized by Descartes.
But what of the relation of those ideas to experience or reality? Are they adequate conceptions of what is? They are conceptions or definitions, no doubt, framed by the mind; and by help of postulates and axioms all their implied relations can be evolved out of them. But what then? Do they or their relations touch experience at all? Supposing we get the primary conception of all things, the question arises, What is the relation of the conceptions following this and flowing from it to the order of things? Now here we have the gross incongruity of the Spinozistic method. One might have expected that, if clear and distinct conceptions are to be set at the head of reality, clear and distinct conceptions following them in necessary order would have been all that is necessary, or at least all that we could legitimately get from such a hypothesis. But no. It seems that those ideas are essentially representative of things. The definitions or hypotheses set at the head of the system express the essence, the inner nature of things — otherwise they are useless. There is a dualism, therefore; there is an order of things as well as of thoughts; and there is a complete correspondence, or, as he expresses it, identity between the order of ideas and the order of things. And thus id quod in intellectu objective continetur debet necessario in natura dari. Here we are back again at subjective and objective. There is the subjective idea — the clear and distinct idea corresponding to the objective reality. But what guarantee have we, on the system, of an objective reality or order of things at all? How do we pass from clear and distinct idea of Substance or Cause to what lies entirely beyond the order of ideas? What legitimate deduction can be made from clear and distinct idea, except only another clear and distinct idea? And can this be regarded as representing something called nature, which, in the first instance, it never directly knew? From the primary, clear, and distinct idea, if you can get it, you may also get its sequences; but these will only be ideas following on ideas. The conception that they are representative of an order of things beyond them, or that there is such an order at all, is a mere hypothesis, and one wholly illegitimate.
But Spinoza grounds the notion that there is a correspondence between thought and extension, so strict that the former is the mirror of the latter, on their supersensible identity in the same substance. He says that mind and body are “unum et idem individuum, quod jam sub cogitationis sub extensionis attribute concipitur.” Extension and Thought are thus said to be two fundamental attributes of the same substance, therefore really the same, differing only in appearance or phenomenally. Bodies are modes of the former; finite thought or souls are modes of the latter. Hence the representative order of ideas corresponds to the formal order of nature. As an expositor has expressed it, “ Soul and body are the same thing, but expressed in the one case only as conscious thought, in the other as material existence. They differ only in form, so far as the nature and life of the body — so far, that is, as the various corporeal impressions, movements, functions, which obey wholly and solely the laws of the material organism, spontaneously coalesce in the soul to the unity of consciousness, conception, and thought.” It is needless to criticise language of this sort, though commonly enough to be met with. It has neither coherency nor intelligibility. It slurs over the real difficulty of the whole problem, as to whether the unconscious nerve-action can pass or be transmuted into any form of consciousness: it does not even touch the question of proof, but takes refuge in mere assumptive verbalism. Nor is it of the slightest moment to the argument to say that extension and thought are related as common attributes to the one substance. This, even if established, means simply that they are supersensibly one; whereas the question before us is as to their correspondence or identity in our experience.
But is this conception of Substance, or God, truly convertible with the Reality? Can we at any one time, in any one act, or in any one category of thought, embrace Being in its all-comprehending totality? This is the real pretension of Spinozism. We can have a thought — viz, that of Substance within which lies the whole content of Being, only waiting development. The assumption here is that Notional Reality, called sometimes Thought, is identical with Being, and that in its evolutions and relations we find the true Universe. But such a conception is an impossibility from the first. Bare, or mere being, mere is or isness, is all which such a conception contains. Extensively this embraces everything actual and possible; but it is not, in the first instance, even conceivable perse, any more than the isolated singular of sensation is; and, in the second place, it has of itself no comprehension or content. It is incapable of passing into anything beyond itself. Hegel would object to Spinoza's position here, by saying that while he was on the right line he made his substance “a pure affirmation,” incapable thus of development. When Spinoza made it that, he made it too much,— more than the indeterminate or unconditioned was entitled to. And when it is sought to be added that “pure affirmation” must be held to imply “negation,” we are simply glossing over the difficulty by applying to so-called notions of what is above experience, conceptions and laws which have a meaning only in the sphere of objects in definite consciousness. Moreover, a notion which issues necessarily in negation, which goes “out of itself,” in the metaphorical fashion of the dialectic, and so returns enriched — with its negation absorbed— is quite entitled to be relegated to the sphere of the very “purest Reason.”
Spinoza's demonstration is, in short, the grossest form of petitory assumption. It is not even attempted to be proved that the definitions of substance and attribute and mode, with which he starts, have objects corresponding to them in experience. All that is alleged as a ground of this is the clearness and distinctness of the ideas. Nay, it is the boast of the system that objects are deduced from them, and set in their necessary relations. But the definitions are merely postulates. All that can be claimed for them is this character: Let the term substance stand for so-and-so; let the terms attribute and mode do the same,— and here are the necessary consequences. But this cannot give more than a hypothetical system of formal abstractions; and what is more, it can yield only petitory conclusions. Before the system becomes real and typical of experience, it must be shown that the definitions correspond to objects of experience. This, however, cannot be done; in fact, they are assumptions, which transcend experience from the first; and if it could be done, it would be fatal to the system as one of pure reason. Nay, it cannot even be shown that the method has a right to the use of the terms Substance, Attribute, and Mode at all. These are simply stolen from the language of experience. And as to the definition of substance itself, it is essentially empty; for, as has been remarked, the substance defined is neither clearly conceived as the subject of inherence nor as the cause of dependence.
The contrast is not the less if we look at the results of the two methods. The analytic observation of Descartes yields a personal conscious being—and a personal conscious Deity, with definite attributes given to him on the analogy of our experience. The deduction of Spinoza, starting from a purely indeterminate abstraction called substance, gives us. as the only reality of the Ego, a mode of thought, or a collection of the modes of thought. Thought and Extension are the two attributes of this indeterminate substance, which, as such, is neither, and yet both. Of these attributes, again, there are modes; and the modes of thought are ideas, and the soul is one of those ideas, or rather an assemblage of them. This is man,— it is simply an anticipation of David Hume's “bundle of impressions.” This we may substitute for the personal Ego of Descartes.
If we look a little more closely into the matter, we shall find that the vaunted idealism of Spinoza is really, when brought to the test, the merest vulgar empiricism. Something he calls idea is the root or ground of the human soul. But we are immediately told that idea means nothing apart from object or ideatum. But what is the ideatum? It turns out to be body. The body makes the idea adequate or complete. We have constant asseveration of this point. The whole system of Spinoza is a roundabout way of coming to say that finite thought is an act dependent on object for its reality, and this object is body. Now we may here fairly set aside the big talk of the system about substances and conceptions. It turns out that the only thought we really know is dependent on body or organization. We had substance to begin with,— the pure idea; yet when we come to our own consciousness, this does not come down in the line of thought from the infinite substance. This is dependent as with Hobbes or Gassendi, on a bodily organization, begged in knowledge for the sake of giving reality to finite thought! What, when tested in experience does all this come to, except the most vulgar form of empiricism? If idea — the movement of finite thought — be impossible unless as cognizant of bodily object, and object be essential to its reality,— what is it but a reflex of organization? Of course I may be told that extension is an attribute of Deity, and that, in knowing it, I know God. But I am afraid that if every act of knowledge even in sense is constituted by the object or ideatum called body, I must be limited to that object and its sphere. And as any hypothesis about substance and its attributes must be regarded by me as a mere form of doubtful imagining, Spinoza is merely the precursor of those specious high forms of idealism, which in their essence coincide actually with the lowest forms of empiricism and negation. Like empirical systems, they really abolish difference, and thus may be expressed equally in the language of the lowest sensationalism and the highest idealism.
But what adds to the marvel of the whole matter is that this idea, which we venture to call self or self-consciousness, is really the reflex of certain bodily movements. These are forms of extension, no doubt; yet their reflection is what we must take for the unity of mind. In other words, the sum of movements in the body, becoming object of the idea, gives rise to the conception of the unity of self. The idea has nothing except what it gets from the ideatum. This is a series or assemblage of bodily movements; and these, mysteriously reflected, form in consciousness the hallucination of self and self-identity. Should we not be thankful for demonstration in metaphysics!
We have seen what kind of Deity Descartes found and represented. What is the Deity of Spinoza? It is this Substance, if you choose. But taken in itself, it is wholly indeterminate; it has no attribute. Yet it necessarily clothes itself in two Attributes, which we chance to know — viz, Thought and Extension. But Divine or Infinite thought is not conscious of itself, is not consciousness at all. It knows neither itself nor its end; yet it works out through all the fullness of space and time. It is the blind unconscious immanent in all things,— in what we call souls, and in what we call bodies—in consciousness and extension. Deity in himself thus, as natura naturans, is utterly void of intelligence: he is at the best a possibility of development into attributes and modes; though how he is so much, being wholly indeterminate to begin with, it is hard to see. Such a Deity is incapable of purpose or conscious end. He is an order of necessary development without foresight; he knows not what he is about to do; it is doubtful whether he even knows or cares for what he has done. He has neither intelligence to conceive, nor will to realize a final cause. He is impersonal, heartless, remorseless. Submit to him you may; nay, must. Love him you cannot. His perfection is the sum simply of what is, and must be. Call it good or evil, it is really neither, but the neutrum of fate. This Deity of Spinoza was neither identical with the Deity of Descartes, nor is it a logical development of his principles. It is a Deity simply at once pantheistic and fatal. And this is not a necessary or logical conception following from the free and intelligent creator of Cartesianism. It is in the end but another name for the sum and the laws of things; and throwing out intelligence from the substance at starting, it illogically credits it with ideas in the shape of modes in the end. The Deity of Descartes was an expansion of a personal consciousness; not, as this is, and is necessarily; a simple negation alike of intelligence and morality.
The lowering, almost effacing, of individuality in the system of Descartes, is no doubt the great blot, and that which most readily led to Spinozism. When me conscious as a fact is resolved into thought as the essence of my being — and when the external world is stripped of every quality save extension, and is thus reduced to absolute passivity,— we are wholly in the line of abstract thought. We are now dealing with notions idealized, not realities, or notions realized. The res cogitans and the res extensa are essentially abstractions. The life we feel in consciousness, the living forms we know in nature, are no more. We are on the way to the modes of Spinoza, but we are by no means called upon to accept either his identification of those entities,— thought or extension — or to embrace the incoherent verbalism of the indeterminate substance and its attributes.
The indistinctness with which Descartes lays down the position of the conservation of the finite is a point which no doubt suggested a kind of Spinozistic solution. He makes conservation as much a divine act as creation. There is nothing, he holds, in the creature itself, or in the moments of its duration, which accounts for its continued existence. Divine power is as much needed through time for this continuity of life, as divine creation was needed at the first. This doctrine might conceivably be regarded as implying that the actual power or being of the creature is at each moment a direct effect from God, or, as a pantheist would put it, a manifestation of the substance immanent in all things. This latter was of course the Spinozistic solution of the problem. But the idea of dynamic force of Leibnitz,—the self-contained and self-developing power of the monad — going back to the one primitive unity, or original monad of all, and yet preserving a certain temporal individuality, — was a more logical solution and supplement than the immanent substance of Spinoza. God acted once and for all. He delegated his power to finite substances. Though these could not act on each other, they could spontaneously act. The true disciple of Descartes is thus not driven necessarily to the Spinozistic solution, even if we throw out of account Geulincx's doctrine of Occasional Causes. The logical successor of Descartes was certainly Leibnitz, not Spinoza. It was Leibnitz who caught the true spirit and the essential features of the system, and in many ways carried it on to a broader and fuller development. Spinoza's was a retrograde movement into the antiquated verbalistic thought.
Not satisfied, apparently, with contradicting the consciousness of man in personal experience and in history regarding himself and his nature, Spinoza ends by contradicting his own speculative system, in setting up a theory of morals. First of all, man, the subject of moral obligation is a temporary necessary mode of the infinite attribute,—unconscious thought; and all his poor thoughts and volitions, are equally necessary developments. Yet he is to be held as capable of moral action and subject to moral law. Surely such a conception should in proper Spinozistic fashion be rigorously put down as a mere illusion, on the part of the mode of consciousness which conceits itself to be, and to be free, when the only reality is the Infinite, and there is nothing in time or space which is but as it must be, or rather nothing save necessary appearance.
Spinoza was logically right when he said that there is no good or bad with God; that repentance is a weakness unworthy of a man of true knowledge. But an ethic after that is an impossibility.
But it may be said, and it is attempted to be made out, that the finite or differenced reality is a necessary part of the Infinite—is developed from it as a part of moment,— that this is a manifestation of the Infinite — that it is as necessary to the Infinite as the Infinite is to it. Without meanwhile questioning the assumptions here involved, I have to ask, How far does such a doctrine lead us? The finite or thing differenced from the Infinite has various forms. What reality can there be in finite knowledge? Difference and distinction are merely in appearance. The yes and the no, the true and the false, the good and the bad, the veracious and the unveracious, are merely in seeming and appearance. Each is an abstract view: the real behind all this show is the identity of their difference; it is the Infinite out of which they come, and into which they are to be withdrawn. This Infinite is an identity of all thoughts and things. In this case, is not the whole of finite knowledge and belief a simple illusion — a deceit played out upon me the conscious thinker? In fact, it subsists by difference —yes and no are finite determinations, and they are differences. Are these equally manifestations of the Infinite in every given notion? In that case everything I assert as true is also false, and the false is just as much a manifestation of the Infinite as the true is. I oppose justice and injustice — veracity and non-veracity: these are different—opposite. Their very reality consists in the difference between them being and being permanent. But if each is a manifestation, and a necessary manifestation, of the same transcendent being or infinite, if this infinite is in them equally, and they in it equally, then they are really the same; and as the Infinite goes on developing itself, we may well expect their final absorption or identification. This doctrine of a necessary manifestation of the Infinite in every finite form of thought, in every general idea, is, if possible, worse as a moral and theological theory than even the vague indefinite of Spinoza. But such an Infinite is really empty phraseology. It is the mere abstraction of being, without difference or distinction, subsisting equally in all that is. To say that it is the ultimate truth of all is merely to say that all the differenced is; hence all the differenced is the same.
A philosophy whose logical result is the abolition of the distinction between good and evil, or the representation of it as only a temporal delusion,—which scorn repentance and humility, and the love of God to his creatures, as irrational weaknesses,— may be fairly questioned in its first principles. It may call itself the highest form of reason, if it chooses, but it is certain to be repudiated, and properly so, by the common consciousness of mankind. It is an instance, also, of the injury to moral interests which is inseparable from the assumption involved in a purely deductive or reasoned-out system of philosophy, that knowledge must be evolved from a single principle,—possibly a purely intellectual one,— whereas the body of our knowledge, speculative and ethical, reposes on a series of co-ordinate principles, which are mutually limitative, yet harmonious.
It is claimed for Spinoza as a superlative philosophical virtue, that he was entirely free from superstition,—had a hearty and proper abhorrence of what is called common-sense,— held ordinary opinion as misleading, being abstract and imaginative. He was thus the proper medium for the passage of the immanent dialectic, a proper recipient of the rays of the “pure reason.” This enabled him to see things in their true relations,—their relations to each other, and the whole which they constitute,— and to see also that things are not to be judged by the relation which they may appear to have to man. The truth on this point is, that he was a man of extreme narrowness, and incapable from his constitution of appreciating the power and the breadth of reality, and shut out nearly from the whole circle of true and wholesome human feeling. His freedom from superstition as seen in the light of his critical exegesis, means a total ignoring of the supernatural or divine element in revelation. Miracle is in his eyes impossible, to begin with, and prophecy is only an ecstatic imagination. His contempt for common-sense and common opinion is so extravagant, that he wholly misses the germ of fact which gives life and force to these, and which a careful analyst of human nature cannot afford to despise. From this bias he failed entirely to appreciate psychological facts, and properly to analyze them. This analysis, carried as far back as you choose, shows that personality, free-will, responsibility, are immediate internal convictions which lie at the very root of our moral life. But these, however well guaranteed by consciousness, are to be mutilated or wholly set aside in the interest of a narrow deduction. The conviction of free-will is a delusion. We have only forgot the necessary determinations. Will and intelligence, two of the most obviously and most vitally distinct factors in our mental life, are submitted to no proper analysis. They are simply identified. Spinoza was wholly destitute of imagination; he decries it; and it is deemed sufficient to put it aside from philosophy as subject to no other conditions than those of space and time. But imagination, of its appropriate kind, is as necessary to the philosopher as to the historian or the poet. It is the means of keeping his abstract thought vital,— of helping to realize its true meaning, individualizing it and saving it from verbalism. In a philosophy which professes to represent the universe in its absolute totality, why should the function of imagination be mutilated or ignored? This leanness of spirit in Spinoza is not atoned for by the force of his reasoning. It only becomes painfully apparent in the series of statements said to be demonstrated, and in the arrogant spirit with which he treats both Aristotle* and Bacon. The truth is, that his demonstration has no true coherency. It is faulty in its most vital point,— the connection between the indeterminate or Substance, and the attributes of Thought and Extension, or indeed any attribute whatever. It was an attempt to reduce the universe to a necessary order of development. But this necessary order is wholly incompatible with an indeterminate basis. Such a necessity of development is itself a determination or attribute, and one that begs the whole possibility of anything flowing from such a basis. The attribute of Thought, moreover, given to Substance,— i. e., Divine or Infinite Thought,—is wholly void even of consciousness; and yet this is ultimately to develop into the modes of consciousness known as human souls. This involves the absurdity of supposing that the unintelligent Substance as virtually a cause or ground, ultimately issues in intelligence. A demonstration of this sort is the merest incoherent verbalism.
[*]He speaks of ≪a certain Greek philosopher named Aristotle≫ (Tractatus, c. vii.); and Bacon is “a little confused.”