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0-534 -57 612-5


I - Introduction


2 - BasicMetaphysics


3 - Mind andBody


4 - Psychology


5 - EthicalDoctrine


6 - Method






Spinoza's philosophy is attractive and worth studying for many reasons,but perhapsthe most important is that it offers a unified and deepview of all the issueswhich matterto us philosophically,such as

the nature of

life. There are three fundamentalfeatures of his philosophy which particularly contributeto its unity-the doctrine of substancemonism, the unrelenting naturalism, and the geometric mode of exposition

which Spinozaemploysin the Ethics. The doctrine of substancemonism is the hallmark of Spinoza's philosophy. Spinozawas neitherthe first nor the last philosopherto espousemetaphysicalmonism,or the doctrine that reality is one. The first was Parmenides(ca. 500 B.C.E.) who maintainedthat what is (reality) is eternal, immutable,homogeneous,continuous,immobile, completeand whole, "like the bulk of a well-roundedsphere".l In the

reality, human nature, what we can know and the good

late nineteenthcentury the British Idealists conceived of reality as a singleall-embracingexperience(the absolute),within which all finite experienceswere somehowsubsumed.2Spinoza'smonism is superior to both of thesedocffines,but in different ways. Unlike Parmenides, Spinozadoesnot deny the reality of difference, but rather explains it. The contrastbetweenSpinoza's monism and that of the British Idealists

First, unlike the

is more complex, but two points canbe made briefly.

British ldealists, Spinoza does not

mind-extension and thought are equally real in his philosophy. Second,in offering the principle of the unity of a single experienceto explainthe unity of reality, the British Idealistsgave us little more than

reduce or subordinate mafier to


a metaphor which raises more questions than it

principlesexplainthe uniff of a singleexperience?Spinoza'sdoctrine

of substancemonism, however,providesa basisfor his articulationof

principleswhich explaintheunity of reality.



Another less immediately evident but pervasive and unifying

feature of

Spinozais committed to explainingand analyzingeverythingin natural


naturalizedtheology. 3 Spinozatitled the first part of his Ethics "On God," and God is both the beginningand the end of his philosophyin the sensethat He is the ultimate causein terms of which everything must be understood,and the ultimate object that we seekto know and love. Yet his views on God and His relation to the world bearonly a superficialresemblanceto thoseof traditional monotheism.God is not a being who transcendsnature,but God and the world are one, divine law is nothing but naturallaw, andGod's power is identicalwith that of naturalthings. In his anthropologyhumanbeingsarenot distinguished from othersby a transcendentpurpose,by their free will, or even by their possessionof a soul or mind. Nothing in nature has a transcendentpurpose or end for which it exists. There are no final

causes. Nothing acts by freedom of the will, but everything is determinedby antecedentnecessity. And everything is animate or besouled,althoughin differentdegrees(panpsychism). Animals areno more unfeeling machines than are humans, although their feelings differ from humanfeelings. Spinoza'sethical docffine is also completely naturalistic. Terms such as "good" and "beautiful" do not denote any real property of things but only how we are affectedby them. We call things "good"

becausewe desirethem, not vice versa. Values originatefrom us, not from a transcendentsource,and are relative to us. The only objective

sense which

advantageousto humannature.

Spinoza's philosophy is

its thoroughgoing naturalism.


Spinoza even


one recent commentator aptly put

can be given to "good"

is that of being genuinely

Perhapsthe most obviouslyunifying-and at the sametime most


exposition in which his major work, the Ethics, t

containsa completeexpositionof his entire maturephilosophyand is written in the style of Euclid's Elements. In it Spinozaproceedsfrom explicitly stated definitions, axioms and postulatesto propositions, which are demonstrated from the former along with previously demonstratedpropositions. Commentatorshave offered a variety of reasonsto explainwhy Spinozachosethe geometricalform to expound his philosophy. According to onethe geometricalmethodof expositon was particularly suited to Spinoza's subject matter, with the logical

of Spinoza's philosophy is the geometricalform of

cast. The Ethics


relation of ground and consequentreflecting what he saw as the actual relation of causeand effect.a Another has suggestedthat he used it both for pedagogical reasons-to give a clear presentation to his


according to yet another he used it becauseit was abstract,enabling

him at onceto suppresshis own personalityand avoid appealsto sense experienceor emotion, and be the "mouthpiece" of reasonitself.6 My own view is that there are deeperand more compelling reasonswhy

Spinozachosethe geometric method. One is that it is chiefly through seeingthe interconnectednessof his entire philosophy that a readercan be convincedof its truth. Another is the practical value of a structured framework of thought. In any case,the exerciseof putting his thought into the geometrical form had a uniffing effect, fostering his aim of explaining all things in terms of a fairly small setof basicconceptsand principles. In the following account of Spinoza's philosophy I have tried to interprethis doctrinesand his demonstrationsin ways which show their strengthandminimize internal conflicts. But Spinozais not a "perfect" philosopher. There are well-known problems both with his substance monism and his attempt to maintain naturalism, as well as puzzlesand inconsistenciesat other points in his doctrine. And there are logical

erors in many of these flaws, but I

them, Spinoza seemsto me to have achieveda degree of successin formulating a comprehensive and unified theoretical and practical philosophywhich no other thinker hasbeenableto match. My expositionof Spinoza's philosophy is basedprimarily on the Ethics, since only this work contains his mature basic philosophical

doctrines. With the exception of my final chapter,which deals with various aspectsof his philosophical method, I have more or less followed the order in which topics are treated in the Ethics. My discussionof methodcomeslastbecauseSpinoza'smethodologyneeds to be understoodin terms of his substantivephilosophy. In many placesI have presentedSpinoza's doctrines againsta (very roughly sketched) background of those of Descartes. This procedureis useful for understandingSpinozafor two reasons. One is that Descartesis probably Spinoza's most important philosophical


conceal his

ideas from

hostile readers.s


his demonstrations. I have not focused on finding have not tried to gloss over'them either. Despite

predecessor.We know from his Descartes' "Principles of Philosophy" that Spinozahad an excellent and thoroughunderstandingof Descartes, and that his views in fact developed againstthis background. The

second is that in a vast number of its

philosophy is radically different from that of Descartes;viewing the

two in contrastis highly illuminating and enhancesthe understanding


of Spinoza.


SpinozawasbornNovember24, 1632,in Amsterdam.tHir family were SpanishJewswho had emigrated,via Portugalto the Netherlands

in the previous generation. In the NetherlandsJews enjoyed relative freedom from persecution;many, including Spinoza's father, were active in Dutch commerce. Spinoza was given a traditional Jewish

education within the community.

learningHebrew. He learnedDutch asa resultof living in Amsterdam,

and in his earlytwentiesmasteredLatin.

appearto havebeenoriginally written in Latin. The detailsof Spinoza's

life reveal a man who lived in accordancewith the values implied by his doctrines-knowledge, independenceof mind, personal integrity,

and a broad concernfor one's fellow human beings.

biographers, J. M.

character, even though Colerus, a

docffines"impious andabsurd."8

At the ageof trventy-four Spinozawas officially "anathematized" or excommunicatedby the eldersof the AmsterdamJewishcommunity. This meant he was forbiddento associatewith any Jewsfrom then on,

and they were likewise forbidden to associatewith him or to

writings. Why this event took place is a matter of some speculation. The official proclamation of excommunication referred to "the abominable heresies practiced and taught by him" and "other enorrnitiescommittedby him" for which therewere "many trustworthy

witnesses."e J.M. Lucas,the only biographerof Spinozawho actually knew him, recountshow he was enticed by some false friends into


with God's being

that he found nothing in the bible which was inconsistent

He grew up speakingSpanishand

All of his philosophicalworks

Both his early

Lucas and Colerus (Johann Kohler) praise his

Lutheran minister, found his


corporeal, angels' being

mere phantoffis,and the

soul's being nothingmore than the principle of life. They then spread

nrmors abouthim and reportedhim to the authoritiesof the synagogu, who called him to appearbefore them "to give and account of his faith."l0 At the hearing,the falsefriendstestified

that they hadheardhim scoff at the Jewsas"superstitious peopleborn andbred in ignorance,who do not know what God is, andwho neverthelesshavethe audacityto speakof themselvesasHis people,to the disparagementof other nations. As for the Law, it was institutedby a man who was forsoothbetterversedthan theywere in the matterof Politics, but who was hardly more enlightenedthanthey were in Physicsor evenin Theology;with an ounceof good senseone



could discoverthe imposture,and onemustbe asstupidasthe Hebrewsof thetime of Mosesto believethatgallantman."ll

One explanation as to


Spinoza was deemed to have

committed acts worthy of permanentexcommunication is that the religious authorities, fearful of giving offence to the Dutch, were

protecting the place of the Jews of Amsterdam within the larger


excommunicationof Spinozawas a way of dissociatingthe community from someonewhose views were heretical and dangerousfrom the point of view of Christianity.l2 Yirmiyahu Yovel, howver, points out thatat the time of Spinoza's excommunication,the positionof the Jews in Amsterdamwas relativelysecure.Yovel's explanationis that, faced with the continuous task of integrating new Marrano arrivals into Jewishculture, the leadersof the Amsterdam Jewish community saw Spinoza's views and actions as a threat to the survival of the community becausethey tendedto underminethe authority of religious and cultural tradition.13 Lucas' report of the testimonygiven against Spinoza(above)tends to supportthis explanation

Although philosophy was the main work of Spinoza'slife, he learnedthe craft of lens-grindingby which he partly supportedhimself. While this activity probably contributed to his early death, it also provideda connectionwith someof the leadingscientificfiguresof the duy,such as Huygens.For his subsistencehe had in addition a small annuityleft to him by a friend and disciple who died at an early ?Ee, Simon DeVries. But he declined offers of greater support from DeVries,and later, an offer of a pensionfrom the King of France in returnfor the dedicationof a work to him. He alsodeclinedan offer of a professorshipat the Universityof Heidelberg,partly bcausehe feared that teaching duties would interfere with his efforts to develop his philosophy, and also becauseit came with the expectationthat he

would not "disturb the publicly establishedreligion" (letter 47).ta hiswords











I do not know within what limits the freedomto philosophise must be confined if I am to avoid appearingto disturbthe


In 1960he left Amsterdamandmoved to the village of Rijnsburg, near Leyden, in order to have peaceand solitude in which to write. While at Rijnsburg he is thought to have wriffen the (unfurished) Treatiseon the Emendation of the Understanding,the Short Treatiseon God, Man and His Well-Being, Descartes' "Principles of Philosopfu, and a draft of at leastthe first part of his major work, theEthics. The work on the philosophy of Descarteswas begun with the aim of


instructing a private pupil, but at the instigation of friends, was expandedand publishedin 1663. It is his only work to be published underhis namein his lifetime.

In 1663he moved again,to Voorburg, near the Hague. Here he was introducedto Jan DeWitt, the Grand Pensionaryof Holland. By June, 1665,a draft of what was to becomeparts III and IV of theEthics

was nearly completed.

eventsand his proximity to them, Spinoza laid it asideto work on his

But, evidently stimulatedby currentpolitical

Theologico-Political Treatise. The Dutch Republic, whose center of governrnentwas the Hague,was a loosefederationof sevenprovinces, of which the richest and most influential was Holland. DeWitt stood for religious tolerationand freedomof expression;he was opposedby

the Calvinist clergy andotherswho wantedto establisha statereligion, who supportedthe Prince of Orange. The struggle between the two camps was complicated by setbacksin the war with England and Sweden (1665-1667), and later the war with England and France

(1672). Spinoza became a friend

corespondence Spinoza declared that his aim in writing the

Theologico-Political Treatise was to expose the prejudices of

theologians, vindicate himself against the charge of

defend the freedom of philosophizing and saying what one thinks (letter 30). When he publishedit in 1670,the situationwas dangerous

enoughthat he had to do so anonymously,eventhough its publication wasunderthe protectionof DeWitt. In 1670 Spinozamoved to the Hague and resumedwork on the


thousandmen invadingtheNetherlands,the peoplelookedto the Prince

of Orange to save the country, casting blame on the DeWitts for the unpreparednessof the Dutch. While Jan DeWitt was visiting his brother Cornelius, imprisoned at the Hague, a mob broke in and


uncharacteristically-overcome with emotion. (Lucas reports that he Hr wrote a placarddenouncingthe act which he

intendedto post at the scene. His landlord, however, discernedthe danger and locked him inside, thus preventing him from meeting a similar fate from the mob.

In the last few years of his life Spinoza finished his Ethics and worked on a political treatiseand a Hebrew grammar. When the mere rumor of the impending publication of the Ethics stirred up

controversy,he postponedit indefinitely.

of consumption, from which he had suffered for many years. Following his death the Ethics was published in the Opera Postuma, along with the Treatise on the Emendation of the (Jnderstanding

and supporter of



atheism, and


years later, with

a French army of over a hundred

murdered both brothers. When Spinoza heard this news he

He died February 21, 1677


(unfinished),the Political Treatise (unfinished), (unfinished),and someof his correspondence.


the Hebrew Grammar


I Pa.renides, Fragment8, l. 43.

2 A. E. Taylor's Elements of Metaphysics,Book


provides a highly readable exposition of metaphysicalmonism. 3

Donagan 1988, 32


this version of

Donaganwas the first

commentatorto stressSpinoza'snafuralism.





Joachim,12 -


Wolfson,I, 22 = 24,53 - 59.




r0 Wolf 1927,44 -




reportedin Pollock,


Spinoza, translated by of Spinoza.


wol f 1927,4g - 12 Pollock,16.

t3 Youel 1989,12-13. toRrf.rences


My accountof

biographies 'of

corespondence, and the

presentedin PollockandWolf 1910.

Spinoza's life draws on the






extensive biographical sketches







JeanMaximilian Lucas is

believed to be the anonymousauthor of The Life of the Late




to Spinoza's correspondencewill be given in the text. All quotationsfrom the correspondenceare from TheLetters,trans.SamuelShirley. tt wolf 1927,65.


The Historical Roots of Spinoza'sNotion of Substance

For Spinoza,everything that is real falls into one of two basic

categories,substanceor mode.

Substanceis defined as "what is in

inself and is conceivedthrough itself,i.e.,that whoseconceptdoesnot require the conceptof anotherthing, from which it must be formed" (I

dft3); mode as "the affections of a substance,or that which is in another through which it is also conceived" (Idfns). t These two categoriesare meant to be exclusiveand exhaustiveof what there is. Somethingcannotbe both in itself and in another;and everythingrnust

be either in itself or in another(Iaxl).

substanceand mode hasgenerallybeentakento be that betweena thing or subject and its properties or states (although we shall consider

anotherinterpretationbelow, pp. 23 - 28). The conceptof substanceultimatelytracesback to Aristotle,who wrote in the Categories that

Substance,in the truestandprimary andmost definite senseof the word, is that which is neitherpredicableof a subjectnor presentin a subject;for instance,the individualmanor horse.2

Aristotle's conception of substanceemergesfrom an analysis partly basedon grammar, in which the basic divisions are between individuals(Socrates,Trigger) , propertiesof individualsor "accidents" (short, tan), and kinds of individuals or properties (animal, horse, color). Propertiesor accidentsmust exist in an individual subject;i.e.,



there cannotbe shortnessapart from an individual that is short. Kinds of thingsultimatelyrequireindividualsof which they arepredicted,i.e., animal is predicatedof horse, but horse is predicatedof individual horses(Trigger). Individual things such as Socratesand Trigger do not exist in a subjectandarenot predicatedof anything. We do not say,for example,that'oHorseis a Trigger." Aristotle appearsto concludefrom these asymmetriesthat primary substancesare the most basic of everything that exists. He points out that "if [primary substances] did not exist, it would be impossiblefor anything else to exist" and "primary substancesaremost properly called substancesin virtue of the fact that they are the entities which underlie everything else, and that everything elseis either predicatedof them or presentin them".' One might object to this by pointing out that there cannot be propertyless subjectsany more than there can be subjectlessproperties-socrates (a subject)mustbe running or walking or standingor sitting or reclining, etc. Aristotle may have been influenced by the asymmetry of grammaticalform which does not allow terms denoting individuals to occupy a predicativeposition. ("Socrates"can only be a grammatical subject.) The asymmetry of grammar, however, does not show that

there is an asymmetryin

the existential dependencerelation of subject

andproperties. Aristotle went on to state,however,that

The mostdistinctive mark of substanceappearsto be that, while remainingnumericallyoneandthe same,it is capableof admittingcontraryqualities.o

A substanceis that which can (and does) remain the same identicalthing throughchange. If the color of Socrates'face changes becausehe remainsa long time in the sun, then the original color (white) ceasesto exist, and a new color (tan) takes its place. But Socrates remains the same individual throughout the change. Aristotle's primary substancesthen,may be viewed as more basicthan their propertiesand asunderlying them in the sensethat asthe subjects in which thepropertiesexist,they persistthroughchangeof properties. The notion of substanceas a subject in which propertiesmust exist is alsoexpressedby Spinoza'simmediatepredecessorDescartes when he writesthatthe term "substance"

appliesto everythingin which whateverwe perceive

immediatelyresides,&sin a subject,or to every thing by 'whatever

meansof which whateverwe perceiveexists. By we perceive'is meant any property,quality or affributeof

which we havea real idea. The only ideawe haveof a substanceitsell in the strictsense,is that it is the thing in

which whateverwe



In his Principles of Philosophy, however,Descartesdistinguished

two notions of substance. The first construessubstanceas "a thing

which exists in

existence."6By this definition God is the only substance. But in

another sense of the term, namely "things that need only the

concurence of God in order to exist" Descartestells us that corporeal substanceandmind (createdthinking substance)aresubstances.T Although the notion of substanceas a subjectof propertiesand predicationis commonto DescartesandAristotle,Descartes'additional criterion of independentexistencesignificantlyrestrictswhat can count as a substanceeven when that condition is weakenedto allow for

substanceswhich dependthe concurrenceof God alone.

bodies, such as that of

suffer destructionfrom natural causes,hencefail to qualiry as created substance. Only body "in general" or matter taken as a whole is

properly considereda substance.The mind or soul,however,which on Descartes'view is a thing entirely distinct from body, is a substance, i.e.,a thing which is incomrptibleby natureandunableto ceaseto exist unlessGod deniesit his concuffence.t

Spinoza'sdefinition of substanceas that which conceived through itself, taken in conjunctionwith

mode as "that which is in anotherthroughwhich it is also conceived"

suggeststhat he too thinks of

properties (modes) must exist, and as a thing whose existence is independentof other things.eBut whereasArisiotle took the term to apply to ordinary individuals such as men and horses,and Descartes

took it to apply (in not the samebut in relatedsenses)to God, mafferas

a whole and createdminds, Spinozaadoptedthe radical position that thereis only onesubstance,namely God,or "substanceconsistingof an

infinity of

a mode of, or in, the one substanceor God. According to Spinozawhat

Descartes held to

properties) of the two fundamental types of created substance-

extensionandthought-are properly understoodasattributesof the one

absolutely infinite

(Aristotle's primary

understoodasmodesof that one substance.

Spinoza's basic doctrine of substanceis developedin the first fourteen propositionsof Ethics I, which culminatein the demonstration


such a way as to depend on no other thing for its


a human being or horse,easily and inevitably

is in itself and is the definition of

substanceas the subject in which

attributes," and consequently,that everythingelsemustbe

be the principal attributes (unvarying essential

substance; and







are properly

ExceptGod,no substancecanbe or be conceived(lpla).

We can begin to understandSpinoza'ssubstanceby tracing the routeby which he reachesthis startlingconclusion.


Basic Metaphysics

Spinoza'sArgument for SubstanceMonism

In outline Spinoza'sargumentthat there is only one substance-

absolutely infinite

simple(Ipl4dern). It is asfollows:

substanceor God-appears

straightforward and



There cannotbe two substancesof the sameattribute (Ip5).

God is a substanceconsisting of

an infurity




3. God necessarilyexists (IpI I ).

4. Any substanceother than God would have to have some

attribute in common with God (from 2). Conclusion:No substancebesidesGod can exist or be conceived


We shall examine the reasoningbehind each premise of Spinoza's argument.


Clearly the notion of "afiribute" is a key one here.


defines an attribute as "what the intellect perceivesof a substance,as

constituting its essence" (Idfn4). He thinks it follows from this definition along with that of substance("what is in itself and is

conceivedthrough itself'-Idfn3)

appearsthen that what

must be conceivedthrough itself ' (Ipl0). It

Spinozameansby an attributeis very like what Descartesmeansby his notion of a principalattribute,which he elaboratedasfollows:

that "Each attribute of a


A substancemay indeedbe known through any attribute at all' but eachsubstancehasoneprincipal property which constitutesits natureandessence,andto which all its other propertiesarereferred. Thus extensionin length, breadthand depth constitutesthe natureof corporealsubstance;and thought constitutesthe natureof thinking substance. Everything elsewhich canbe attributedto body presupposes extension,andis merely a modeof an extendedthing; and similarly, whateverwe find in the mind is simply one of the variousmodesof thinking. For example,shapeis

unintelligibleexceptin an

imagination,sensationandwill areintelligible only in a thinking thing. By contrast,it is possibleto understand

extensionwithout shape

; while

. andthoughtwithout imagination


or sensation


So Spinozais in agreernentwith Descartesinsofaras he thinks of attributesas conceptually basic, essentialfeaturesof substance,and even with respectto what known attributesof substancethere are, namely extensionand thought. He disagreeswith Descartes,however, in holding that no two substancescan have the sameattribute(Ip5). For Descartes,all finite minds sharethe principleattributeof thought. Spinoza'sreasoningfor Ip5 restspartly on Ip4, that

Two or more distinctthingsaredistinguishedfrom one


by a differencein the affributesof the

substancesor by a differencein their affections.

This propoositionis Spinoza'sversionof a metaphysicalprinciple (madefamousby Leibniz) known asthe ldentity of Indiscernables.In

more familiar terminology it saysthat any numerically distinct things

must have sorne qualitative difference, or

(numericallydistinct)thingswhich haveall the samequalitites,This is

a controversialissuein philosophy,and Spinoza'sIp4 merelyexpresses

this principle in his own terms,ratherthan provesit.

In his systemthe

only real qualitative differences are differencesof the attributes,or differencesof the affections(modes),of substance. Applied to substance,Ip4 says: if there are two (or more) numerically distinct substances,they must have different attributesor different affections. For example,two substancescould differ in one's being extendedand the other's being thinking; or they might both be

extendedanddiffer in one's having a cubic shape,andthe otherhaving

a sphericalshape. But accordingto Ip4 they must-if

there cannot be two

they aretwo-

differ in

one of theseways. With Ip5, however, Spinozais claiming

that fwo

numerically distinct substancescannot differ

merely in their

affections and not in their attributes; that is, there cannot be two numerically distinct extendedsubstances,one of which is a cube and the other a sphere. He arguesthat if there is merely a differencein the affectionsof substance,then

sincea substanceis prior in natureto its affections(by P1),if the affectionsare put to one sideand [the substance]is consideredin itsell i.e.,(by D3 and,4,'6),consideredtruly, one cannotbe conceivedto be distinguishedfrom another,i. e., (by P4),therecannotbe many,but only one [of the same natureor attribute], e..d. (Ip5dem)

One might think Spinoza is begging the question here, or assuming the very point he wishes to prove. Why assumethe affections can be put to one side?r2 What he has in mind, I think is somethinglike this. Considertwo bodies,A, which is red all over,and



B, which is blue all over. This qualitativedifferenceis not what makes

A and B two different things; rather it is becauseA and B are two

different thingsthat they can differ in overall color. So, to explain why

A and B aretwo different things (that is, to say what makesthem two)

we needto find somemore fundamentalproperty in which they differ. Supposeit is their location in space. (We know no two bodiescan be

in the sameplace.) Again, being in differentlocationsdoesn't seemto

explain why A andB aredifferent; rather it is becausethey are different

that they areableto be at different locations. Perhapsthe problem is that we are looking for the properties which make A and B distinct among the wrong type of properties. Color and location are what might be called nonessentialproperties, that is, propertieswhich a thing can lose without itself going out of existence(which includesbecoming a different thing). An essential property is one which a thing cannot lose without going out of existence. Clearly a body can lose its color (a red body can become blue) or changeits location without going out of existence. What is essentialto a body? Propertiessuch as being extended,having some shapeandsize(butnot any particularshapeor size),somecolor, and so on. But thesequalitiesare oneswhich A andB and all bodiessharein common. Hence these essentialpropertiesare not propertieswhich

make one body different from another.

inclined to say that A's being numerically different from B is just a matter of brute fact, not something which can be explained by their differing in some qualitativeway. But if we do this we are simply taking a different position than Spinozaappearsto be taking in Ip4,5, andtheir demonstrations.We are denying,while Spinozais assuming, that numerical difference must be explainedby qualitative difference.

His conclusionwould be that if you strip away all the nonessential propertiesof two bodies,and you leaveonly what is necessaryfor them (as bodies)to remain in existence,what is left is only undifferentiated body. This is so becausethere is nothing left which could differentiate one body from another.To connectthis with Spinoza's demonstration


substance. A substancecan change its modes without going out of existence;henceno particularmode is essentialto a substance.Thus, when Spinozais consideringwhat distinguishesone substancefrom another it is reasonablefor him to "put aside" the modifications of substanceand consideronly its attributes. And sincehe assumes(lp4) that any numerical distinction must be based on a qualitative distinction, it follows that there cannot be two substancesof the same natureor attribute.

At this point we rnight be

Ip5, recall that an attribute is what constitutes the essence of




The second premiseof the argumentis basedon the definitionof God (Idfrt6), and consequently,might seem invulnerableto objection. Writers have different intentions,however, in setting forth defuritions. Sometimesa writer merely intendsto speciff how shewill usea term, or the meaningthe term will have in her discussion. At othertimes a writer intendsto assertwhat shetakesto be the necessaryandsufficient propertiesof a thing. The former is called a stipulativedefinition; the latter a realdefinition.

Simon DeVries, who was both a friend and studentof Spinoza, wrote to him on behalf of a group engagedin studying an early draft of the Ethics, requesting him to explain his views on the nature of definition. Spinozaresponded:

Thereis the definition that servesto explicatea thing whose essencealoneis in questionandthe subjectof doubt,andthere

is the definition which is put forward simply for examination. The former,sinceit hasa determinateobject,must be a true definition,while this neednot be so in the lattercase

. tA] definition eitherexplicatesa thing asit existsoutsidethe

intellect-and then it shouldbe a true

explicatesa thing asit is conceivedby us,or canbe

conceived.And in that

be conceived,not conceivedastrue

definition is onewhich is not conceived(letter9).


--or it

lit is required]merelythat it

Sothena bad

Borrowing an examplecitedby DeVriesto illustratea bad definitionof

the latter sort, Spinoza added that if someone says that "two

lines enclosingan areaare to be called figurals" then "if by a strai[ht

line he meanswhat we all mean,the thing is plainly incon6iuuble, and so thereis no definition." In this passageit appearsthat Spinoza recognized two types of

definition, coinciding with what we have called real and stipulative definitions, and that he held the former should be true, but tlie latter needonly be logicallyconsistentor conceivable.Given that Spinoza's letter was intendedto addressdifficulties encounteredby a group of personsstudying his work, it is somewhat surprising that he doeJnot say of which type his own definitions are intended to be. And,

unfornrnately,although he addressesthe topic

nowheredoeshe explicitly saythat the definitionswith which he starts are either real or stipulative. Commentatorshave been divided as regardsthe questionof how to take Spinoza'sdefinitions in the Ethics. But it seemsclear that we must take them as being put forth as real, thus subject to evaluation as true or false, since otherwise the Ethics


of definition elsewhere,



would be a mere logical exerciseandnot a demonstationof the nature of things.t' From the standpointof Cartesianism,therewas an objectionto his definition of God, which would apply even if that definition were

accordingto Descartes,every

offeredmerely as stipulative. Recallthat

substancehas only one principal attributewhich "constitutes its nature and essence." The reasonwhy a substancecan have only one such affribute is that such attributesare able to be conceived or understood by us entirely independentlyof one another. Therefore,sinceGod can

createthings to be in whatever way we are able to conceive them, it follows that substanceswith different principal attributes are able to exist separately;and whenevertwo things can exist separatelythey are ra

separatethings. It is not surprising then that in the same leffer in which he

requestedSpinoza'sviews on defurition,DeVrieswrote "you seem,Sir, to supposethat the natureof substanceis so constitutedthat it can have

severalattributes,which you havenot yet proved

this remarkhe called into questionthe conceivability of the definition

of God as "substanceconsistingof an infinity of atffibutes,each of which expressesan eternalandinfinite essence." In his responseto DeVries Spinozaclaimed to have given two proofsthat a substancecanhavemorethan one attribute:

." (letter 8).


[T]he first

every entity is conceivedby us under someattribute,andthe more reality or being an entity has,the more atffibutesareto

be attributedto it. Hencean absolutelyinfinite entity mustbe


decisive-states that the more attributesI attributeto any entity, the more existenceI am bound to attributeto it; that is, the more I conceiveastruly existent. The exactcontrary

would be the caseif I hadimagineda chimeraor somethingof that sort (letter 9).

is asfollows: It is clearbeyond all doubt that

A secondproof-and

this proof I take to be

What Spinozahere calls the first proof appearsin the Ethics as Ip9 that "The more reality or being eachthing has, the more attributes belongto it." In its demonstrationSpinozamerely cites the definition of attribute (Idft4). A line of thought similar to that involved in the secondproof appearsin theEthics in Spinoza'sthird and fourth proofs for the existenceof God (IpI I sch), which are discussedbelow. As proofs of the point at issue-whether or not the nature of substanceis suchthat it can have more than one attribute-both points seemto beg the question.

the relation between

Clearly Spinoza held a

conception of

substanceand its essentialattributeswhich was different from that of



Descartes,and he acknowledgedthis difference when he wrote in the scholiumto Ipl0 that

From thesepropositionsit is evidentthatalthoughtrvo attributesmay be conceivedto be really distinct(i.e.,onemay be conceivedwithout the aid of the other),we still cannot infer from that that they constitutetwo beings , or two different substances.For it is of the natureof a substancethat eachof its attributesis conceivedthrough itself, sinceall the affributes it hashavealwaysbeenin it together,andonecouldnot be producedby another,but eachexpressesthe reality or being of substance(lp lOsch).

Thus, although Spinoza agreeswith Descartesthat the attributes of substanceare conceivedindependentlyof one another,he explicitly rejects the latter's reasoning to the conclusion that they therefore constitute the essencesof distinct substances. I shall return to the irnportant questionof how Spinoza understandsthe relation between substanceand its attributesbelow, in the final sectionof chapter3. For now we shall simply accept the logical consistency,or as Spinoza would S&y,the conceivabilityof the definition of God. We shall also not raise any question regarding the truth of Spinoza's definition of God, but a few things need to be said about what it means. The full definition is

By God I understanda being absolutelyinfinite, i.e.,a substanceconsistingof an infinify of attributes,of which each one expressesan eternaland infinite essence.

Exp.: I sayabsolutelyinfinite,not infinite in its own kind, for if somethingis only infinite in its own kind, we can

deny infinite attributesof it

infinite, whateverexpressesessenceandinvolvesno negation

pertainsto its essence(Idfn6).

but if somethingis absolutely

Recall that an attribute is a conceptually basic, essentialproperty of substance.When Spinozasaysthat God is "substanceconsistingof an infinity of attributes" he need not be taken to mean that God has an actually infinite numberof such conceptuallybasicessentialproperties, but rather that He has all possible attributes. ("Infinite" means "not bounded" or "not limited.") As we have alreadymentioned,Spinoza

agrees with


althoughhe seemsto leaveopenthe possibilitythattheremay be more, it is consistentwith the definition of God that extensionand thoughtbe

the only attributes.

God's attributes "expresses an eternal and inf,urite

Descartesthat extension and thought are attributes of Spinoza nowhere mentions any other attributes, and

Each of



essence"or is infinite (unlimited) in its own kind. There is, in other words,nothing extendedoutsideof God's attributeof extensionwhich limits extension, and nothing outside of God's attribute of thought which limits His thought. In Ethics II Spinoza demonstratesthat thought and extension are attributes of God from the fact of their (intellectually)perceivedinfinity or unlimitedness in their own kind (IIp I sch, 2dem). SinceGod consistsof all possibleunlimited-in-their- own-kind essences,He is absolutelyinfinite. Finally, since God consistsof all possible attributes,it follows that any other substancewould have to have someattributein common with God (step4 of the argument).


Spinoza offers four separateproofs (three in the demonstration,

one in the scholium) for IpI l, that "God,

infinite attributes,eachof which expresseseternaland infinite essence, necessarilyexists." We shallfocusour discussionhereon the third and fourth because,for a numberof reasons,neither the first nor the second appearsto be a satisfactorydemonsffationthat an absolutely infinite substanceexists. In the history of philosophywe can distinguishtwo basictypes of argumentfor the existenceof God. One is a priori, or basedentirely on our understandingof concepts,of which the conceptof God is the most crucial. The other is a posteriori or empirical-based at leastpartly on somefact or facts known through experience. Examplesof the latter kind includethe argumentfrom design,which is basedon the premise that the world and things in it are like an intricate machine with the partsfashionedand put togetherin a way to serveparticular functions in the whole; and Descartes'argument for the existenceof God in Meditation lll which relies on the premise that he experienceswithin himself an idea of a perfectbeing. rs The foremostexample of an a priori proof for God's existence is Anselm's famous ontological argument in which he arguesthat from the mere concept of God as "somethingthan which nothing greatercan be thought," it follows that

God must exist, since to supposethat such a being does not exist involvesa contradiction.16Thenotion of "necessaryexistence"or of a beingwhich "existsnecessarily"or "whose essenceinvolvesexistence" is closelyrelatedto the a priori form of argumentation. It is becauseit is believedto be possibleto reasonmerely from the conceptof God- whatGod is, or His essence-to the conclusionthat He exists,that God is said to exist necessarilyor that His essenceis said to involve existence.Thus Spinozalays it down as an axiorn that "If a thing can

or a substanceconsistingof



be conceivedas not existing,its essencedoesnot involve existence" (Iax7), or less cumbersomely,"If the essenceof a thing involves existence,thenit mustbe conceivedasexisting." Spinoza'sfourth proof for God's existenceis an a priori proof:

[S]ince being ableto existis power, it follows thatthe more reality belongsto the natureof a thing, the more powersit has, of itselt to exist. Therefore,an absolutelyinfinite Being,or God, has,of himself,an absolutelyinfinite power of exiiting. For thatreason,he existsabsolutely(lpllsch).

This argumentexplicitly statesa principle on which the inference, from the conceptof God to the fact that He exists,is supposedto rest.

That principle is that the more reality a thing has,the more powers it

hasto exist. Unfortunately it

is not obvious to a modern.rab.r, even

granting that God's nature is such that He has an absolutely infinite power of existing, how or that it follows that God in fact exists.

PossiblySpinozahas in mind that it would be contradictoryto


that a being with an absolutelyinfinite power of existing did not exist

sincethat would be to supposethat there could be some ti*itation on


fhere he

argues that since ability to exist is power, then, granting that we

finite beings are more

powerful (at least with respect to their capacity to exist) than an absolutelyinfinite being. Spinozadownplaysthis argumentbecauseit restson the a posteriori claim that we ourselvesexist; but it has the

virtue of showing exactly how the advanceis made from the conceptof God as having absolutely infinite power to the conclusionthat God exists.

The advantage and importance of both these argumentscan be

seen by contrasting them briefly with the first.

Spinozareasonsfrom lp7 that "It pertainsto the natureof substinceto

exist," to the conclusion that an absolutely infurite substancemust


Spinoza had no other argument for the

conceivable substance. If

existenceof God or substanceconsisting of an infinity of attributes,

then the most he could concludefrom the additionalpremisethat no

two substancescan sharethe samenature or attribute (Ip5) would

that either God existsand no othersubstanceexistsor thaf a plurality of

substances(all having different attributes) exists and God does not

exist- The principle on which Spinoza'sthird and