Talk:Ethics (Spinoza)

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A To Do List[edit]

  1. Add/Fix Citations
  2. Expand On God and Reorganize to cover substance/attribute/mode, substance monism/argument for God's existence, the debate over interpretation of modes (Curley/Bennett/Carierro/Della Rocca), God's causal influence on finite things, and the appendix. (about a paragraph each)
  3. Expand On the Nature and Origin of the Mind to cover parallelism, the relationship between God's mind and finite minds, Spinoza's digression on finite bodies/Spinoza's theory of memory, the adequacy of ideas/theory of truth. (about a paragraph each)
  4. Link to entropy and clarify that Spinoza believed that for every specific Substance it must either be the the only incarnation of that kind of Substance, or one of an infinite number of possible ones that have all occurred.
  5. Start On the Origins of the Affects. Have a paragraph on striving for existence and a paragraph on emotion.
  6. Start On Human Bondage. Have a paragraph on freedom of the will, a paragraph on the power of the affects.
  7. Start On The Power of the Intellect. Have a paragraph on restraining the affects, a paragraph on the love of God, a paragraph on eternity of the mind, and a paragraph on blessedness.
  8. Write two paragraphs on publication history.
  9. Write two paragraphs on reception.
  10. Rewrite intro to reflect changes to the article. (about three paragraphs) — Preceding unsigned comment added by A Friendly Spinozist (talkcontribs) 16:16, 28 December 2011 (UTC)

Changed Section Names[edit]

I changed the section names to reflect Edwin Curley's translation of Spinoza's section titles. I think this is better. Giving our own names risks commentating in a way we probably shouldn't. For instance, having the title "On God, or Nature" pushes a specific reading of part 1 (for the record I actually favor this reading) over others. Using faithful translations of Spinoza's own titles avoids pushing one interpretation over others. A Friendly Spinozist (talk) 17:33, 20 December 2011 (UTC)

Some Deletions With Rationale[edit]

I deleted "politics" from the fields in which Ethics presents radical new theories. It simply doesn't in this field. It talks very little about politics and when it does its views can already be found in the Leviathan.

I deleted "Lemmas" which seems to imply there are lemmas in ethics as a separate category from correlaries. Now, there might very well be. I don't see any glancing through, but there are some in Descartes's Principles. Regardless, if there are some in places that I am not looking there aren't very many of them. Therefore, I have replaced it with demonstration which appear for every proposition and are more notable at the very least.

I got rid of "in a mysterious sense." Spinoza would absolutely deny there is anything mysterious about it. Puzzling might be more appropriate but I just deleted it for now. I think the last paragraph handles that fine.

I changed the part about free will in the mind to freedom of the will. This is more consistent with the way Spinoza presents it. A Friendly Spinozist (talk) 17:12, 20 December 2011 (UTC)

Headline text[edit]

The Title[edit]

The article at present claims that the book's title is Ethics because the author wanted to show how "...the ethical and content life can be attained by the life of reason and thought." This is puzzling because a life that is ethical does not have to be filled with contentment, and a life of contentment may not be ethical. Ethics are related to right and wrong. Contentment is related to happiness and sorrow. Also, Spinoza clearly asserted that there are really no ethics at all. Spinoza wrote that right and wrong are merely conventions that have been adopted by society in general. In reality, there is no right or wrong, and therefore there are no ethics. He said: the state of nature everyone thinks solely of his own advantage, and according to his disposition, with reference only to his individual advantage, decides what is good or bad, being bound by no law to anyone besides himself.
— Ethics, Part IV, Prop. 37, Schol. 2

Also, sovereign natural right every man judges what is good and what is bad....
— Ibid.

If everyone lived according to reason, people would not hurt each other. However, because people are guided by their emotions, instead of their reason, there is no harmony among people. But, as far as ethics are concerned, good and evil, as well as right and wrong, are mere conventions that have been agreed upon by society and their governments. Therefore, Spinoza's book entitled Ethics shows that there really are no ethics, in absolute contrast to what is claimed in this Wikipedia article.Lestrade 01:31, 9 February 2006 (UTC)Lestrade

All pantheism must ultimately be shipwrecked on the inescapable demands of ethics, and then on the evil and suffering of the world. If the world is a theophany, then everything done by man, and even by the animal, is equally divine and excellent; nothing can be more censurable and nothing more praiseworthy than anything else; hence there is no ethics.

The Ethics vs "ethics" To help answer your question let me point out that Spinoza's "Ethics" is not the same as a generic philosophy of "ethics." What Spinoza proposes in his book of "Ethics" is a specific system for judgement. It is a robust system, somewhat mechanical even, that is based on both reason & dogma and it is the foundation of many other "ethical systems" of later philosophers such as Locke, Nietzsche, and Deleuze (etc.). As a system it as axiomatic principles which have universal application throughout the system. indeed, these principles may not be "ethiical" in a general philosophical sense, even though they constitute the rules of Spinoza's "Ethics." Dr.Crawboney 11:31, 15 October 2006 (UTC)Dr.Crawboney

According to red-linked User: Dr.Crawboney, Spinoza's book is a system of judgment. The title word is not to be taken in the "general philosophical sense." But, why use the word ethics, which already has a definite meaning? The word ethics denotes the study of what is good and what is right. Why give a word a meaning that has no relation to its accepted meaning? Are we to believe that ethics doesn't always mean ethics, but, rather, something else which we can choose arbitrarily? Spinoza's book, according to User:Dr.Crawboney's judgment, would have been better titled Judgment or A System of Judgment. Maybe it should have been called Reason. Also, on what dogma was Spinoza's system based?Lestrade 17:47, 16 October 2006 (UTC)Lestrade

For people who are interested in learning ways to win an argument, it may be worthwhile to note the clever device used by User:Dr.Crawboney. After it was shown that there are no ethics in Spinoza's book Ethics, User:Dr.Crawboney responded by simply saying that the word Ethics in the title doesn't really mean ethics. Ethics means something else, which is not actually specified.Lestrade 15:05, 17 October 2006 (UTC)Lestrade

It's kind of silly Lestrade. A system of prescriptive ethics seeks to tell you what you ought to do. Spinoza in his Ethics here, does indeed attempt to say what you ought to do. Therefore it is indeed an ethics. The "ethical life" merely being one in line with the 'ought.' -- 01:01, 7 March 2007 (UTC)

It's silly when a book is titled "Ethics" and hardly ever mentions values such as right, wrong, good, bad, and evil? When they are mentioned, the author claims that each natural human has to decide for himself as to what is right, wrong, good, bad, or evil. Spinoza claimed that nature is God. Therefore, essentially everything is divine and good when looked at under the broader, more general aspect of eternity (i.e., a very long time). This precludes ethics. Pantheism destroys the very essential idea of ethics, for there can be no virtue, as there can be no vice, where one is a part of the deity. Lestrade 20:05, 25 June 2007 (UTC)Lestrade

According to, (1) A system of prescriptive ethics seeks to tell you what you ought to do; (2) Spinoza in his Ethics…does indeed attempt to say what you ought to do; and (3) therefore it is indeed an ethics. However, with regard to (1), if I tell you that you ought to avoid crowds in which people are sneezing and coughing, am I propounding a system of ethics? Also, if I tell a young woman that she ought to have a companion if she walks home from a bar at 2:30 a.m., have I created a system of ethics? As for (2), I would like to know where, in his book, Spinoza attempts to say what the reader ought to do. Spinoza merely describes nature’s necessity as being a result of its prior conditions. These are ultimately based on the underlying character of "God," "Nature," "Being," or "Substance," which are different names for the same thing. "[W]hatever follows from the necessity of the nature of the efficient cause necessarily happens." (Part 4, Preface) For Spinoza, there is no "ought." Everything necessarily is the way that it is as a result of "divine" nature that is the basis of everything. No ought: no ethics.Lestrade (talk) 03:37, 16 January 2013 (UTC)Lestrade


One way to read Ethics and make sense of it is to note that in two places Spinoza wrote "God or Nature" (Deus sive Natura). This equivalence can be found in Part IV, Preface and in Part IV, Proposition IV, Proof. If you read "Nature" every time you see the word "God," then the whole book is understandable. When Einstein said that he worshiped Spinoza's God, he meant that he found happiness when he studied nature.Lestrade (talk) 16:19, 6 June 2008 (UTC)Lestrade

Absent ethics[edit]

In the "Reference to Ethics" chapter of his On the Will in Nature [1], Schopenhauer said that the title of Spinoza's book "sounds almost like irony." He said that Spinoza's book "Ethics might be said to bear the name like lucus a non lucendo [2] [It is a lucus (dark, wooded grove) because there is no lucendo (brightness) (from Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory, 6, 34). That is, naming something after its opposite, as in: it is called Ethics because there are no ethics in it] and it is only by means of sophistry that he has been able to tack his morality on to a system, from which it would never logically proceed. In general, moreover, he disavows it downright [straightforwardly] with revolting assurance." Schopenhauer then cited Spinoza's Ethics, Part IV, Proposition 37, Scholium 2, in which Spinoza wrote:

there is in the state of nature nothing which by universal consent is pronounced good or bad; for in the state of nature everyone thinks solely of his own advantage, and according to his disposition, with reference only to his individual advantage, decides what is good or bad, being bound by no law to anyone besides himself.

and also "by sovereign natural right every man judges what is good and what is bad…." Thus, Spinoza's book Ethics claims that there is no such thing as ethics. There is no universal good or bad.Lestrade (talk) 00:14, 20 October 2008 (UTC)Lestrade

The title is fitting as stating that there can be no ethics in its normal sense is important for the "field of ethics". Just as the title "On the flat Earth" is proper for the article proving the Earth is not flat, especially if at the time of publishing most were of the opinion that Earth is flat. Enemyunknown (talk) 14:24, 7 December 2008 (UTC)

Are you saying that Spinoza purposely titled his book Ethics in order to declare that there are no ethics? What do you mean by the phrase "in its normal sense"?Lestrade (talk) 17:46, 20 March 2009 (UTC)Lestrade

Ethical life[edit]

The article claims that Spinoza's system strives to "comprehend the meaning of an ethical life." Where does he define and discuss the "ethical life"? Where does he define and discuss life's meaning? For Spinoza, ethics are relative and everyone has their own definition of what is right.Lestrade (talk) 02:05, 21 March 2009 (UTC)Lestrade

The Consolation of Philosophy[edit]

Has any biographer discovered if Spinoza's philosophy (Ethics, Part I, PROP. XXXIII. Things could not have been brought into being by God in any manner or in any order different from that which has in fact obtained) comforted him when his friend Johan de Witt was butchered and disemboweled? That would be worldly wisdom or "practical" philosophy, indeed.

The bodies of the brothers De Witt, by Jan de Baen

Lestrade (talk) 03:25, 13 December 2009 (UTC)Lestrade

Proposed move[edit]

I suggest moving this page to Ethics (Spinoza) (currently a redirect here), a clearer title and in line with Wikipedia:Naming conventions, which suggests a title precise to identify the subject unambiguously. If there is general agreement, or no argument to the contrary, I will do so in a couple of days. Chick Bowen 16:51, 25 December 2009 (UTC)

Poor citation[edit]

The second paragraph has a quotation from a Penguin edition. The footnote shows the citation to be: Penguin Classics. Ethics. This, however, directs to the main Penguin webpage with no reference to Spinoza's book. Is the quotation from some editor's or translator's introduction? Who is the editor or translator? Moreover, the quotation lamely tries to associate the title of Spinoza's book with the vague concept of "an ethical life." Lestrade (talk) 18:29, 12 April 2010 (UTC)Lestrade

Ethica Ordine Geometrico Demonstrata [edit]

{{editsemiprotected}} Please redirect the full title, Ethica Ordine Geometrico Demonstrata, to Ethics (book). (talk) 18:15, 13 April 2010 (UTC)

Yes check.svg Done Excirial (Contact me,Contribs) 18:27, 13 April 2010 (UTC)
Thank you very much Exciral. (talk) 20:05, 13 April 2010 (UTC)

Someone’s judgment[edit]

The article begins with a subjective value judgment. “The work is notable, not only because it presents radically new theories across a range of fields -- metaphysics, theology, psychology, and ethics -- but also for the unusually rigorous approach it takes to defending them.” To whom is the book notable? Who judges it to be notable? What radically new theory of ethics does the book present?

On July 30, 1881, Nietzsche wrote the following to his friend Overbeck: “ I hardly knew Spinoza: that I should have turned to him just now, was inspired by ‘instinct.’ Not only is his overall tendency like mine — namely to make all knowledge the most powerful affect — but in five main points of his doctrine I recognize myself. This most unusual and loneliest thinker is closest to me precisely in these matters: he denies freedom of the will — teleological purpose — the moral world–order — the unegoistic — evil” [in fünf Hauptpunkten seiner Lehre finde ich mich wieder, dieser abnormste und einsamste Denker ist mir gerade in diesen Dingen am nächsten: er leugnet die Willensfreiheit — die Zwecke — die sittliche Weltordnung — das Unegoistische — das Böse]. So, according to Nietzsche, who is considered by many to have been a major philosopher, Spinoza did not believe in the truth of the very concepts that are the basis of ethics. These concepts seem to be perspectival and relative only to individual viewpoints, like the beginning words of the Wikipedia article. Sub specie aeternitatis [in the overall big picture] there are no such things as free will, a purpose for the world, a moral world order, non–egotism, and evil, according to both of these men. Spinoza's Ethics proposes that there are no absolute, objective ethics. Is this his radically new theory of ethics?Lestrade (talk) 17:03, 17 February 2012 (UTC)Lestrade

Mode ≠ property[edit]

The “Summary” section contains the following words: “Men and other natural things are his modes -- a term usually understood to mean properties.” This is definitely not true. The word “mode” is not usually equated with the word “property.” The word “mode” usually means “manner” or “way” (as in, the way in which a thing is known). Spinoza seemed to have used the words “attribute” and “mode” incorrectly.

(1) An attribute is customarily a property. If it is necessary, then it is an essence or essential attribute . If it is contingent, then it is an accidental property. Spinoza defied convention when he claimed that an attribute is solely an essence; for him, nothing in Nature (God) is contingent or accidental because everything is determined by its cause.

(2) A mode is the manner or way in which a thing is perceived or known. Spinoza erroneously claimed that a mode is a thing that is known of something else. "A thing that is known of something else," however, is the exact definition of a property or attribute. Lestrade (talk) 14:15, 17 June 2012 (UTC)Lestrade

  • I will expand on the above Spinozan definitions to better clarify his thought — let's also remember that translating Spinoza from Latin into English has not always been a successful endeavour (especially when done via a third language, such as Dutch, for instance...) --Monozigote (talk) 12:44, 22 March 2013 (UTC)


"The fourth part tessellates that humans are controlled entirely by such emotions." Uh, what? Even if that verb can be made to mean something here, it's not clear enough for a general reference work such as this. Anyone care to venture what that sentence might mean? --Tbanderson (talk) 15:52, 23 July 2013 (UTC)

Going back to replace the verb, I noticed that the descriptions of parts IV and V were a bit of a mess. I've rewritten them - see what you think, Spinozists! --Tbanderson (talk) 17:14, 25 July 2013 (UTC)