February 14, 2008


Image of woman teaching geometry courtesy of wikipedia.

Welcome to the fourth installment of Spinoza Week at Goat Rope. Aside from the usual links and comments about current events, the theme this week is the life and work of that great 17th century philosopher. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier entries.

As mentioned before, Spinoza developed his pantheistc and deterministic views of the universe at length in his magnum opus The Ethics. In his view, all the universe is in God and in a sense is God. His God is not humanlike in any way and all things follow from the necessity of his nature.

There's no free will to be found anywhere in this system, including ourselves and our emotions, which are only a tiny part of the whole.

As he wrote at the beginning of Part III,

Most who have written on the emotions and on the manner of human life, seem to have dealt not with natural things which follow the universal laws of nature, but with things which are outside the sphere of nature: they seem to have conceived man in nature as a kingdom within a kingdom. For they believe that man disturbs rather than follows the order of nature, and that he has absolute power over his actions, and is not determined by anything else than himself.

He wasn't buying it. Why should be be any different than anything else?

...an infant thinks that it freely seeks milk, an angry child thinks that it freely desires vengeance, or a timid child thinks it freely chooses flight

when in fact all are driven by causes and passions of which they are not fully aware.

He treats of human emotions the same way he does everything else: like propositions in a geometry book:

...I shall regard human actions and appetites exactly as if I were dealing with lines, planes, and bodies.

The weird thing is that he does a pretty good job of it. He has come up with some amazingly succinct definitions of common human emotions and passions, breaking them down to their most basic level. Here are a few examples :

LOVE "is nothing else but pleasure accompanied by the idea of an external cause"

HATE is "pain accompanied by the idea of an external cause."

REPENTANCE "is pain accompanied by the idea of oneself as a cause"

SELF-CONTENTMENT "is pleasure accompanied by the idea of oneself as cause."

HOPE "is an inconstant pleasure arisen from the idea of a thing past or future, the outcome of which we still doubt to some extent."

FEAR "is an inconstant pain arisen from the idea of something past or future of whose outcome we doubt somewhat."

COMPASSION "is love in so far as it affects a man so that he rejoices at the happiness of another and is saddened at the harm he suffers."

PRIDE "is over-estimation of oneself by reason of self-love."

And so on.

The heart and paradox of The Ethics is the idea that by understanding the nature of the universe and of human emotions, we can gain a degree of freedom.

About which more tomorrow.

MORE ON THE CREDIT MELTDOWN from Business Week. Factoids: only 31% of American consumers pay off credit card debt each month, while 61$ don't and only 7% do without cards. Mean household credit card balance is around $7,000 (although I've seen higher figures).

R-E-S-P-E-C-T and how the US can regain it after the disastrous Bush years is the subject of this item from Alternet.

A 20,000 YEAR LAYOVER. Here's an interesting item on the latest scientific evidence about the peopling of America.

LESSONS FROM KILLER WHALES. Here's a review of what an animal trainer learned that works at home as well.

ARACOMA CASE. A worker from Massey Energy's Aracoma Mine has received immunity from federal prosecutors in exchange for testimony.


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