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Posts Tagged ‘monistic theory’

Spinoza was one of the most original thinkers of ‘modern’ philosophy. Highly unorthodox, he lived a simple and basic life. He rejected academic fame as it would have constrained his intellectual progress and independence. This best reflects his stance on the practical object of philosophy and the emotional sense that we can not be happy with impermanent things such as fame, riches and pleasure.

This philosophical thought is closest to Buddhism. As he is very much opposed to institutionalised religion, he experienced great hostility from the church and his contemporaries did not understand him. However, Spinoza was a deep  religious thinker as his belief in God was profound in his philosophy. He tries to explain the sense that there is an eternal unity to the universe. This unity is illustrated in that the universe is made of the same substance and this substance is God itself. Everything is made from Him, He is infinite and unfolds Himself to the world.

Spinoza arrives at this view of the universe through rationalistic observation in the quest for certain knowledge. For him, knowledge regarded in the highest esteem is intuitive knowledge. Viewing how he lived his own life, we can see he practically tried to live according to his philosophy. He was a man who tried to rise above passions and individual perspective. In this was he is not exclusively rationalistic, opposing to start from individual perspective.

Spinoza takes Substance as his starting point and the idea which is to be “the source of all other ideas”. He defines Substance as “that which is in itself, is conceives through itself.” The Ethics makes tight arguments for substance monism. A substance is, in this view, what exists in itself. It does not involve the idea of any other thing: it is conceived through itself. The question what it is seems to be answered simply by the affirmation that it is.[1] There is only one substance: God. He exists simply as everything. Spinoza believed that God, Man, and the physical world were all part of one substance, and that everything, both physical and spiritual, was an extension of God. This is Pantheistic monism, the belief that all of reality is in some sense made of the same substance, and this substance is God. Spinoza’s conception of knowledge starts from the idea of the whole, and for which all other ideas have a meaning and reality only as they are determined by or seen in the light of the idea as a whole. Spinoza’s definitions in Book 1 of the Ethics provide strong arguments for substance monism. Attributes, argues Spinoza, is not just any property of a substance, but its very essence. A mode is what exists in another and is conceived through another.

“By mode I understand the affectations of a substance, or that which is in another through which it is also conceived.”[2] Spinoza goes on to argue through propositions that God is the one and only substance. “In nature there cannot be two or more substances of the same nature or attribute.”[3] If two or more substances were to exist, they would be different, either there would be a difference in modes or difference in attributes. Spinoza proposes that there can be no two substances with the same attributes nor one common attribute; all substances are different, have different sets of attributes, therefore these must derive from the same substance. “Except God, no substance can be or be conceived.”[4] Since God possesses every attribute, if any substance other than God were to exist, it would possess an attribute in common with God. But since there cannot be two or more substances with a common attribute, there can be no substance other than God. Everything is one and the same thing. This view is closest to Buddhism and eastern philosophies. This rejection of classical theism found Spinoza in conflict with institutionalised religion.

Spinoza supposed God to be a being such that if God exists at all, he exists by his very nature, not deriving his existence from anything external to itslef. Thus conceived, God cannot be thought of as ever coming into existence or ever ceasing to exist. In brief, it is all that exists, it simply is all. Reality itself, maintaining whatever exists, exists only in God and can have no existence apart from God.[5]

Human beings are finite, constantly aware of something greater than themselves. An emotion, for Spinoza, is a confused idea. In this way, emotions are unreliable and misleading. Individual perspectives are heavily influenced by emotions, therefore can not be reliable. We must therefore rise above our emotional states to tap into a higher knowledge. Spinoza defined three different types of knowledge. What he distinguishes as knowledge of the first kind is inadequate knowledge. This comprises knowledge of random experiences and knowledge from signs. These lack rational order and are associated with previous experiences or basic knowledge. It is characterised by bondage and suffering of those who are ruled by the emotions and trust their sense perception.

The second form of knowledge in the hierarchy of Spinoza’s three distinguished knowledge areas is that of reason. This is derived from the formation of adequate ideas of the common properties of things and the movement by way of deductive inference to the formation of adequate ideas of other common properties. This order of ideas is rational. The third kind of knowledge is the highest form of knowledge, called intuitive knowledge. It is through this that we can gain ‘the intellectual love of God.’ It involves the understanding of necessity of nature and the inevitability of human mortality. There is an indication that the connection between the individual essence and the essence of God is grasped in a single act of apprehension and is not arrives at by any kind of deductive process. How this is possible is never explained.[6]


[1] John Caird, LL.D. Spinoza. Pp.134

[2] Ethics. Def. 5.

[3] Ethics. Prop. 5.

[4] Ethics. Prop. 14.

[5] M.W.F. Stone. The Philosophy of Religion. Pp.294

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