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Spinoza

Section II: Nature does not aim at an end

We now come to section II. (bottom of Pg. 111) So Spinoza has explained why men are inclined to believe that all things act for an end. He is now going to show that Nature has no end set before it and that "final causes are nothing but human fictions ." Spinoza claims he has already established this by showing the origin of the prejudice, and that in the body of Book I he has established that "all things proceed by a certain eternal necessity of Nature, and with the greatest perfection" Spinoza goes on to argue that the doctrine of final causes takes away God's perfection -- for if God acts for the sake of some end, then he necessarily wants something that he lacks, and to say that God lacks something is to say that It is not perfect. Another point Spinoza makes is that those who assign ends to all things reduce all things to ignorance - because if we trace the causes of any given event back, we end with the will of God, "that is the sanctity of ignorance." This is so because if God has free will like humans, once we trace the chain of causes back to God's will, there will be no reason or explanation of why one thing was chosen rather than another. (This is the point of the example of the man who dies from a stone falling off the roof as he walks by.) Spinoza remarks (top of Pg. 113) that similarly "...when they see the structure of the human body, they are struck by foolish wonder, and because they do not know the causes of so great an art, they infer that it is constructed, not by mechanical, by divine, or supernatural art..." (The wonders of the construction of the human body are often used to motivate the teleological argument.) So, anyone who tries to investigate causes in nature as any intelligent educated person should, and seeks to understand and not wonder at them "is generally considered an impious heretic and denounced by those who the people honor as interpreters of Nature and the gods."

Section III: Good and evil, and the nature of skepticism

In the third section we come to Spinoza's explanation of those remarkable pairs of terms, good and evil and so forth. The basic point about good and evil, is that people take things which are in their interest as good and those which are not as evil. Thus they define good as whatever conduces to health and worship of God. He says (Pg. 113) that those whose condition he has analyzed "do not understand the nature of things, but only imagine them, affirm nothing concerning things, and take the imagi nation for the intellect..." So, here we have the Cartesian distinction between sense, imagination and intellect used to explain the errors of those who have not reached true understanding! Spinoza continues with the other examples he proposes to explain (those which do not depend on free will which he proposes to treat later) -- and the explanation for all the rest is roughly the same. In each case, people take what is of advantage to them as the standard (See Pg. 114 first paragraph for a clear summary of this point). Thus, Spinoza says (bottom of Pg. 113) that things "which we can easily imagine are especially pleasing to us, men prefer order to confusion, as if order were anything in Nature more than a relation to our imagination."

What is really interesting about this discussion is the treatment of relativity of views and the skepticism it engenders. Spinoza treats this as simply yet another case of mistaking the imagination for the understanding! (See the three paragraphs on Pp. 114-5 which start "All of those things show sufficiently...")

 

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