The Spinozist

writing by Paul Mendrik

Wisdom and Contentment in Spinozism

January 1, 2020

Spinoza's Ethics does not fully deploy a doctrine of happy wisdom until after it has criticized ontological idealism and dualism. God is nothing more than infinite Nature considered under its multiple attributes, including thought and extension . It is in this immanent framework that the human mind can build its wisdom and bliss. Released from the prejudice that considers passion a sin or a vice, the free man can only see it as a subjugation. Not that of desire, but that of ignorance and imagination which deters desire from realisation. Spinoza's thinking is new and radical, desire is the essence of man, the foundation of virtue is the effort to persevere in being, that is, in existence. Desire, as a power of existence, increases or decreases by expressing itself as joy or sadness. Good is thus constituted by the positive movement of desire, joy is good, sadness is always bad.

More specifically, it is active joy that is always good, not passive joy, produced by passion or imagination. Active joy alone is able to express the best part of the essence of desire (that is to say, of the individual), and thus to constitute itself as free action because it is autonomous. This freedom can only be obtained through the dynamic work of reason. A privileged instrument of liberation through knowledge, reason is exercised in distinct ways that Spinoza calls the genres of knowledge. Knowledge of the first kind, created by opinion (knowledge by hearsay) and by imagination (knowledge by images and words), can only be the source of our servitude, that is to say of our dependence on blind passions and the misunderstood world. Only the other two kinds of knowledge will be sources of freedom, that is, of autonomy. Knowledge of the second kind is discursive reason which proceeds by reasoning and deduction, that is to say by a logical course and a chain of truths and knowledge, allowing for a rigorous form of demonstrations which order the data of experience and self-awareness. This type of reasoning is universal and reflexive: valid for all and based on self-reflection (by the idea of ​​the idea which is, literally, the reflexive method). It is this reasoning which enables the knowledge and the order of the affects into an order valid for perception. This form of knowledge, if it were exclusive, would be insufficient for its abstract and indirect (arbitrary) character. This is why Spinoza defines a third kind of knowledge which is simultaneously discursive and intuitive. It is not a mysterious or mystical knowledge of the absolute, but both a rational and indirect (intuitive) comprehension of the relationship between a given and finite thing (mode) and infinite reality ( attribute) of which it is a modification. Knowledge of the third kind is the intuitive apprehension (indirect view, as in 6/3 = 8/4) of the link between singular beings and the infinite domain of which they are part. An idea is inscribed in infinite thought, a body is inscribed in infinite extension. This third kind of knowledge, also called Intuitive Science, will be the privileged source of the intellectual love of God, that is to say of the joy which flows from the consciousness of totality and from our inner adequacy to all that is Being and its rational necessity. This liberating movement through knowledge restores the entire context of the causes and reasons for each passion and replaces incomplete (inadequate) knowledge with complete (adequate) knowledge, passion becomes action because a passive affect becomes an active affect. However, Spinoza knows full well that reason alone is not powerful enough. Its energy comes from desire, and therein lies the originality and modernity of Spinozism. For Spinoza, desire is the essence of man, and especially desire for joy. Only the desire for joy can motivate the work of reason (be it reflexive or intuitive), and reason itself is only liberating because it makes it possible to increase the autonomy of action, that is to say the power or force to exist (vis extendi). Through the rational knowledge of his affects, and by the rational and intuitive knowledge of Nature (which is the whole of the Being), the free man thus reaches the highest bliss through the very exercise of this wisdom which enables its release. Happy wisdom is then, is to be in agreement with oneself (self-satisfaction) and in agreement with the world and the Whole of which the subject is an integral part. Philosophy can then experience beatitude, which is the highest form of joy, and even bliss. It is both freedom and salvation, self-awareness and the experience of being. Our debt to Spinozism is considerable, and the elucidation of this philosophy of joy, so long ignored, can become conducive for our time. The fact remains that if the Spinozist inspiration (in terms of joy and the desire to be) is present in our direct research, it cannot be identified with Spinozism. Happy freedom, cannot be accommodated, as in Spinoza, by a deterministic conception which, by reducing physical and material events to a infinite series of causes and effects, would negate the very possibility of an act of conscience which is an act of inception and enactment.