Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER XLI. a.: Spinoza to * * * * * 1 (May or June, 1665). - The Chief Works of Benedict de Spinoza, vol. 2
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LETTER XLI. a.: Spinoza to * * * * * 1 (May or June, 1665). - Benedict de Spinoza, The Chief Works of Benedict de Spinoza, vol. 2 
The Chief Works of Benedict de Spinoza, translated from the Latin, with an Introduction by R.H.M. Elwes, vol. 2 De Intellectus Emendatione - Ethica. (Select Letters). Revised edition (London: George Bell and Sons, 1901).
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Spinoza to * * * * *1 (May or June, 1665).
[Spinoza urges his correspondent to be diligent in studying philosophy, promises to send part of the Ethics, and adds some personal details.]
I do not know whether you have quite forgotten me; but there are many circumstances which lead me to suspect it. First, when I was setting out on my journey,2 I wished to bid you good-bye; and, after your own invitation, thinking I should certainly find you at home, heard that you had gone to the Hague. I return to Voorburg, nothing doubting but that you would at least have visited me in passing; but you, forsooth, without greeting your friend, went back home. Three weeks have I waited, without getting sight of a letter from you. If you wish this opinion of mine to be changed, you may easily change it by writing; and you can, at the same time, point out a means of entering into a correspondence, as we once talked of doing at your house.
Meanwhile, I should like to ask you, nay I do beg and entreat you, by our friendship, to apply yourself to some serious work with real study, and to devote the chief part of your life to the cultivation of your understanding and your soul. Now, while there is time, and before you complain of having let time and, indeed, your own self slip by. Further, in order to set our correspondence on foot, and to give you courage to write to me more freely, I would have you know that I have long thought, and, indeed, been almost certain, that you are somewhat too diffident of your own abilities, and that you are afraid of advancing some question or proposal unworthy of a man of learning. It does not become me to praise you, and expatiate on your talents to your face; but, if you are afraid that I shall show your letters to others, who will laugh at you, I give you my word of honour, that I will religiously keep them, and will show them to no mortal without your leave. On these conditions, you may enter on a correspondence, unless you doubt of my good faith, which I do not in the least believe. I want to hear your opinion on this in your first letter; and you may, at the same time, send me the conserve of red roses, though I am now much better.
After my journey, I was once bled; but the fever did not cease, though I was somewhat more active than before the bleeding, owing, I think, to the change of air; but I was two or three times laid up with a tertian. This, however, by good diet, I have at length driven away, and sent about its business. Where it has gone, I know not; but I am taking care it does not return here.
As regards the third part of my philosophy, I will shortly send it you, if you wish to be its transmitter, or to our friend De Vries; and, although I had settled not to send any of it, till it was finished, yet, as it takes longer than I thought, I am unwilling to keep you waiting. I will send up to the eightieth proposition, or thereabouts.1
Of English affairs I hear a good deal, but nothing for certain. The people continue to be apprehensive, and can see no reason, why the fleet should not be despatched; but the matter does not yet seem to be set on foot. I am afraid our rulers want to be overwise and prudent; but the event will show what they intend, and what they will attempt. May the gods turn it all to good. I want to know, what our people think, where you are, and what they know for certain; but, above all things, I want you to believe me, &c.
LETTER XLII. (XXXVII.)
Spinoza to I. B.1
[Concerning the best method, by which we may safely arrive at the knowledge of things.]
Most learned Sir and dearest Friend,—
I have not been able hitherto to answer your last letter, received some time back. I have been so hindered by various occupations and calls on my time, that I am hardly yet free from them. However, as I have a few spare moments, I do not want to fall short of my duty, but take this first opportunity of heartily thanking you for your affection and kindness towards me, which you have often displayed in your actions, and now also abundantly prove by your letter.
I pass on to your question, which runs as follows: “Is there, or can there be, any method by which we may, without hindrance, arrive at the knowledge of the most excellent things? or are our minds, like our bodies, subject to the vicissitudes of circumstance, so that our thoughts are governed rather by fortune than by skill?” I think I shall satisfy you, if I show that there must necessarily be a method, whereby we are able to direct our clear and distinct perceptions, and that our mind is not, like our body, subject to the vicissitudes of circumstance.
This conclusion may be based simply on the consideration that one clear and distinct perception, or several such together, can be absolutely the cause of another clear and distinct perception. Now, all the clear and distinct perceptions, which we form, can only arise from other clear and distinct perceptions, which are in us; nor do they acknowledge any cause external to us. Hence it follows that the clear and distinct perceptions, which we form, depend solely on our nature, and on its certain and fixed laws; in other words, on our absolute power, not on fortune—that is, not on causes which, although also acting by certain and fixed laws, are yet unknown to us, and alien to our nature and power. As regards other perceptions, I confess that they depend chiefly on fortune. Hence clearly appears, what the true method ought to be like, and what it ought chiefly to consist in—namely, solely in the knowledge of the pure understanding, and its nature and laws. In order that such knowledge may be acquired, it is before all things necessary to distinguish between the understanding and the imagination, or between ideas which are true and the rest, such as the fictitious, the false, the doubtful, and absolutely all which depend solely on the memory. For the understanding of these matters, as far as the method requires, there is no need to know the nature of the mind through its first cause; it is sufficient to put together a short history of the mind, or of perceptions, in the manner taught by Verulam.
I think that in these few words I have explained and demonstrated the true method, and have, at the same time, pointed out the way of acquiring it. It only remains to remind you, that all these questions demand assiduous study, and great firmness of disposition and purpose. In order to fulfil these conditions, it is of prime necessity to follow a fixed mode and plan of living, and to set before one some definite aim. But enough of this for the present, &c.
Voorburg, 10 June, 1666.
LETTER XLIII. (XXXVIII.)
Spinoza to I. v. M.1
[Spinoza solves for his friend an arithmetical problem connected with games of chance. (Voorburg, Oct. 1, 1666.)]
LETTERS XLIV., XLV., XLVI. (XXXIX., XL., XLI.)
Spinoza to I. I.2
[1 ] Probably J. Bresser, a member of the Spinozistic Society formed at Amsterdam. See note to Letter XLII.
[2 ] See Letter XXXVIII., which fixes approximately the date of this.
[1 ] The third and fourth part of the Ethics were probably originally united.
[1 ] I. B. has been identified by some with John Bredenburg, a citizen of Rotterdam, who translated into Latin (1675) a Dutch attack on the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, but the tone of the letter renders this improbable. Murr and Van Vloten think that I. B. may be the physician, John Bresser, who prefixed some verses to the “Principles of Cartesian Philosophy.”
[1 ] It is not known who I. v. M. was. Letters XLIII.-XLVII. were written in Dutch.
[2 ] I. I. Probably Jarig Jellis, a merchant of Amsterdam and a Mennonite. He translated the Opera Posthuma into Dutch, 1677.