I covered parts one and two of Baruch Spinoza’s ‘Ethics’ in a previous essay and this time I’ll cover the third part of it, dealing with emotions. I was going to include the fourth part in this essay as well but getting through the third part turned out to be more of a slog than I had imagined. I won’t cover his summary of various concepts at the very of the third part either. It’s useful, fair play to him, but it’s not worth going through here, considering that it just repeats what’s covered before that.
It’s worth noting that what Spinoza means by emotions is not exactly what we tend to mean by that word. Some translators prefer to use affect(s) instead of emotion(s), perhaps because it’s closer to the Latin original, affectus/affectio. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari go with affect in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’ because it’s not about personal feelings or emotions, as such, as experienced by a person, but about a prepersonal capacity to affect and be affected or, in more plain terms, to act and be acted upon, as explained by their translator, Brian Massumi (xvi) in the translator’s notes.
Right, Spinoza (128) begins by arguing that humans are often treated “as a kingdom within a kingdom”. What he (128) means by this is that humans are often understood as deviating from nature or at least disturbing it, having “absolute control over [their] actions” and “determined solely by [themselves].” If this is not the case, the lack of absolute control and self-determination is then attributed to a lack or a flaw in the individual, to an infirmity or fickleness of that person, as he (128) goes on to add. In other words, unlike animals, humans are typically considered to be autonomous thinking subjects. Those who do not exhibit such autonomy and rationality, thus acting more like animals, are seen as flawed, which results in bemoaning, derision, despise and abuse, as he (128) goes on to specify how such people are often treated by others. I agree. That’s my experience of this as well. That’s how people get treated all the time. I’d say that the bemoaning, derision, despise and abuse is also extended to those who don’t agree with that presupposition, that humans are autonomous and rational. We can’t have wrongthink!
He (128) objects to people who seek to understand those who are deemed to be flawed in attempt to help people overcome their weakness, to help them attain absolute control and domination of their emotions. He (128) reckons that such people, like René Descartes, only manage to realize their own great intellect. To be clear, he (128) isn’t saying that great intellect doesn’t have its merits, but rather that it’s not all that there is. And again, I agree with him.
He (128-129) isn’t fond of treating human emotions as “human vice and folly”, as unreason. To connect this to what he states in the first and the second parts of the book, what I covered in my previous Spinoza essay, if reality, aka nature, aka substance, aka God, is indeed perfect, then human emotions cannot be understood as flaws of human nature, “repugnant to reason, frivolous, absurd, and dreadful”, as he (129) points out, because as imperfect as humans may seem to be, they are always as perfect or imperfect as they should be, by necessity, depending on how you want to assess that, God being perfect, humans being imperfect only in comparison to the absolute and eternal perfection of God. In other words, just to be clear about this, things are the way they are, always perfect, in their own right, thus never lacking anything, even if they may appear as imperfect to us, as lacking, as he (109) points out in part two of the book. We may be confused to think that they are imperfect or lacking, that we ourselves are imperfect or lacking, but, in reality, they are not. Instead, they are always as perfect as they should be, in their own right, at any given moment, by necessity. They could, of course, be otherwise, as things could always be different, but they’d still be perfect, in their own right, by necessity.
Following that introduction to what part three of the book is all about and why he wants to focus on emotions, he (129-130) moves on to provide his readers some definitions. Firstly, he differentiates adequate cause from inadequate or partial cause. The former has to do with causes that have effects that “can be clearly and distinctively perceived”, whereas the latter has to do with causes that have effects that cannot be attributed this way, as (129) specified by him. This leads him (129) to define the former as having to do with being active and the latter with being passive, regardless of whether what takes place happens in us or outside of us. Secondly, he defines (130) emotions as modification of bodies, “whereby the active power of the said body is increased or diminished, aided or constrained, and also the ideas of such modifications.” The bodies that are modified by emotions are themselves modifications of substance or, in short, modes, as defined by him (45) in the first part of the book. To link emotions to causes, he (130) differentiates between active emotions or activities, what it is that we are capable of, functioning as the adequate cause, and passions, what it is that happens passively, in us unbeknownst to us, functioning as the inadequate or partial cause.
Following those concise definitions, he (130) postulates that “[t]he human body can be affected in many ways, whereby its power of activity is increased or diminished, and also in other ways which do not render its power of activity either greater or less.” This simply means that something can affect us in ways that increase or decrease our capacity to act. It can also stay the same, meaning that it might have affected us, so that we haven’t been unaffected by it, whatever it is, but our capacity to act remains the same, despite any modifications of our bodies.
To link activity and passivity to how we think, he (130) states that our mind is active or passive, depending on whether we have adequate or inadequate ideas. This makes sense when you take into consideration how he (83, 95, 129) defines adequate and inadequate or partial causes and how things can be compounded, so that ideas can be adequate, function on their own, or inadequate, functioning as parts of something adequate.
To differentiate thinking from motion or rest, that is to say the mind from the body, he (131) states that thinking does not cause our bodies to move, nor does moving or resting cause us to think. To make more sense of this, it’s worth keeping in mind that thoughts and bodies are both things, that is to say modes, which pertain to the two attributes that we have access to, thought (incorporeality) and extension (corporeality), as he (55-56) points out in part one of the book. He (131) wants to emphasize this in this context:
“[M]ind and body are one and the same thing, conceived first under the attribute of thought, secondly, under the attribute of extension.”
So, when we think of causes, be they adequate or inadequate, while they can only “be conceived under one attribute or the other”, the activity or passivity has to do with the same thing, as he (131-132) goes on to specify. It’s just that we conceive the activity or passivity under one or the other attribute. He (132) acknowledges that this may be hard to comprehend, but, well, if you ask me, it does make sense. I mean, I don’t have to think in order for my body to do this or that, for example press these keys on this keyboard, the way I do. I just do, one by one. I don’t have to press the keys to make myself think either. It’s sort of happens, at the same time, hence the apparent simultaneity of it, even though we can, of course, only think of thoughts leading to other thoughts and bodies leading to other bodies, one attribute at a time. Anyway, he (132) really wants to emphasize this point, because it’s absurd to claim that the mind has control over the body, just as it is to claim that the body has control over the mind. In his (132) words:
“[W]hen men say that this or that physical action has its origin in the mind, which latter has dominion over the body, they are using words without meaning, or are confessing in specious phraseology that they are ignorant of the cause of the said action, and do not wonder at it.”
He (132) acknowledges that many will, nonetheless, assert the mind as dominating over the body. For example, it would appear that the body will not be affected if mind is not fit to think. In other words, someone might be considered healthy, but not mentally healthy, which is why that person does not behave as expected. He (132) objects to this by noting that the mind might not be fit to think because the body is not fit. In other words, someone might not be mentally healthy because they are not bodily healthy. He (133) uses the example of how our ability to think is altered when we sleep, just as our bodies are altered when we sleep. We could say the same about alcohol as it the changes that it has on our bodies, there and then, also affects our thinking. I think he (133) summarizes this well:
“I think everyone’s experience will confirm the statement, that the mind is not at all times equally fit for thinking on a given subject, but according as the body is more or less fitted for being stimulated by the image of this or that object, so also is the mind more or less fitted for contemplating the said object.”
Indeed. For example, if I consume alcohol, I may well end up being unfit for thinking this and/or that, whatever that may. I can’t say that everyone’s experience will confirm that because if you’ve never had alcohol or enough alcohol, you probably haven’t experienced that, but those who have can confirm that. That said, consuming alcohol may result in being fit for thinking this and/or that, whatever that may be. Again, if you haven’t had alcohol or not enough alcohol, you can’t confirm that, but if you have, you can confirm that.
He (132) mentions another possible objection, how people can decide to speak or to remain silent. He (133) counters this by humorously noting that wouldn’t it be lovely if people were able to do just that, but, as experience tells us, there’s no shortage of people who can’t keep whatever it is that they have on their mind to themselves. It’s so humorous that I’ll include his (133) version:
“I submit that the world would be much happier, if men were as fully able to keep silence as they are to speak. Experience abundantly shows that men can govern anything more easily than their tongues, and restrain anything more easily than their appetites[.]”
Haha! Priceless! And it’s only funny because it’s true. Sometimes people just can’t help themselves. Sometimes it’s also the other way around, so that we remain silent when it would have been better to speak. I totally agree with him (133-134) on this.
I have already covered how this works, what the limits of activity and passivity are. I have also provided some examples. That said, I think it’s worth summarizing it the way he (134) does:
“All these considerations clearly show that a mental decision and a bodily appetite, or determined state, are simultaneous, or rather are one and the same thing, which we call decision, when it is regarded under and explained through the attribute of thought, and a conditioned state, when it is regarded under the attribute of extension, and deduced from the laws of motion and rest.”
So, going back a bit, acknowledging that the body and the mind are in fact the one and the same thing or, rather, that they are two attributes of the same thing, distinct yet inseparable, we can assess this and/or that decision, for example to speak or to remain silent, as willed by us or as conditioned by our bodies. On one hand, we appear to be free to do as we like, yet experience tells us that it’s hardly the case. On the other hand, experience tells us that we are constrained by who we’ve become, yet it appears that we are free to do as we like at any given moment. Now, of course, this is just how we approach this issue either through one or the other attribute and not how we come to act, considering that all that is simultaneous. He (134) exemplifies this with how our memory works:
“[W]e cannot act by the decision of the mind, unless we have a remembrance of having done so.”
Agreed. You cannot remember something that you haven’t done or, at least, you cannot remember something that you don’t think you haven’t done. It’s the same the other way around, as he (134) goes on to add:
“[I]t is not within the free power of the mind to remember or forget a thing at will.”
In other words, we are always free to do as we like, but only within the confines of what we’ve become, as he (134) points out. Skipping ahead, ignoring the lengthy discussion about the state of things, because it reiterates much of what’s contained in parts one and two of the book, he (137) defines will as what we think of when we assess what we can or can’t do, i.e., our endeavor, solely in terms of mind or thought, taking into consideration only one of the two attributes, appetite as what we think of the same in terms of thought (mind) and extension (body), that is to say when we take into consideration both of the attributes, and desire, which is the consciousness of appetite. So, as I just pointed out, we are always free to do as we like, but only within the confines of what we’ve become. This is also why, for him (137), we don’t desire what’s good or, to be more accurate, what we deem to be good, but that we deem something to be good because we desire it. This is a crucial point that he (156) reiterates later on.
What is that we desire then? Well, he (136-138) doesn’t give us any readymade answers, except persistence or self-preservation or, should I say self-affirmation, considering that nothing can be or contains its own destruction, as only other things may do that to other things, inasmuch as they are capable of such. This has to do with what was already mentioned about perfection and imperfection, how things are always perfect the way they are, in themselves, even though we can, most certainly, think of them as being this or that perfect or imperfect. This also has to do with how we can think of ourselves, but how that can never be in the absence of our bodies, considering that our thought and extension are attributes of the same thing, as already pointed out and as he (138) points out in this context as well.
To be honest, as much as I’ve come to like his way of presenting things, he doesn’t always seem to follow his own rules. Perhaps it’s just a translation issue or I’m missing something crucial, but I don’t like how he (138) moves on to point that our bodies and minds exist in a certain state of perfection, be it a greater or a lesser state of perfection. I mean he is very adamant about things always being perfect as they are. Wouldn’t he negate God, i.e., substance, reality or nature, if it were possible for things not to not be the way they are supposed to be?
The way I understand that passage is that our bodies and thoughts have are always as perfect as they can be, so that the state of perfection, lesser or greater, is always relative to what it used to be. So, they are most or least perfect when our capacity to affect and be affected is maximized or minimized. It may seem contradictory to state that it’s both, to affect and be affected, considering how being affected can diminish affecting, but it isn’t at all contradictory because you do have to take both into account at the same time.
Let’s say that I say or do something which has an effect on you. That’s an act. If it is positive, it increases your capacity to affect and/or be affected. If it is negative, it diminishes your capacity to affect and/or be affected. That act could be something like tying your hands. It diminishes your capacity to act because you can’t use your hands properly. It doesn’t diminish your capacity to be acted upon though. That said, because it diminishes your capacity to act, your body is in a lesser state of perfection in terms of what it is capable of. I might also say that I’ll tie your hands, that is to say threaten you, without ever tying your hands. That act diminishes your capacity to act if it prevents you from doing something that you would otherwise do. It doesn’t have an effect on your body but on your thoughts, yet your body’s capacity to act has been diminished so that it is now in a lesser state of perfection. We can also reverse this. Maybe you are into being tied, so that your capacity to act actually increases, leading you to do things that you otherwise wouldn’t do or be capable of doing. Just saying that would come across as a promise to you, not as a threat. Now, of course, how that actually works really depends on the circumstances. Maybe you like bondage, maybe you don’t.
Anyway, he (139) reiterates what’s already been stated, that you can’t separate the body from the thought, even though they are distinct, but adds that whatever affects our bodies also affects our thoughts, be it positive or negative.
He (139-140) further elaborates the positive and the negative. Crucially, he argues that one’s mind seeks to conceive or imagine the good stuff, whatever helps to increase one’s capacity to act and be acted upon. Conversely, he adds that one’s mind also seeks to conceive or imagine the bad stuff, whatever diminishes or hinders one’s capacity to act and be acted upon, not because that’s good for oneself, no, no, but because it’s good to avoid the bad, to remember what’s bad, in order to prevent such from diminishing or hindering one’s capacity to act and be acted upon.
He (140) packs these two, the positive and the negative, into two words: love and hate. Firstly:
“Love is nothing else but pleasure accompanied by the idea of an external cause[.]”
“Hate is nothing else but pain accompanied by the idea of an external cause.”
Followed by a further clarification, in which he (140) adds that:
“[The one] who loves necessarily endeavours to have, and to keep present to [oneself], the object of [one’s] love[.]”
And, conversely (140):
“[The one] who hates endeavours to remove and destroy the object of [one’s] hatred.”
Now, this makes sense. The first instance is pretty self-explanatory. The second instance also makes sense, if you consider how removing the negative is tied to this or that thing that diminishes or hinders one’s capacity to act or be acted upon. If you remove it, if you destroy it, then it can no longer diminish or hinder one’s capacity to act or be acted upon.
He (140) adds to this formulation that it is also possible to be affected by more than one thing at a time, which leads to associating them with one another. This means that if you are affected by one of them, you are also affected by the others, even in their absence. To be clear, this doesn’t mean that you are literally affected by the others, but rather that you end up thinking that you are, which is functionally the same as if you were affected by them. These can be positive and/or negative. For example, you may end up associating eating ice cream with the warmth of sunshine or, alternatively, let’s say, tooth ache. In the first instance, you find pleasure in the taste of the ice cream as well as in the warmth of the sunshine, even when there is no sunshine. In the second instance, you find or may find pleasure in the taste of the ice cream, but it is accompanied by tooth ache which diminishes that pleasure at least to some extent. There needs to be no tooth ache. It’s enough that you think there is, which more or less ruins the pleasure of eating ice cream. It might also be that you seek to avoid eating ice cream because you have sensitive teeth or have had sensitive teeth, even though you do like the taste of ice cream. It’s just that the sensitivity issue takes precedence over the pleasure. Now, of course, it is also possible find pleasure in the taste ice cream and in the warmth of sunshine, while also finding it painful to eat ice cream. He (142) is very clear about this, that it is possible to find one thing both pleasurable and painful at the same time.
We can simplify this by saying that you love ice cream and you love sunshine, but you hate tooth ache because it involves pain. Eating ice cream, actual or imagined, and enjoying sunshine, actual or imagined, increase your capacity to act and be acted upon. You love it! Tooth ache, actual or imagined, decreases your capacity to act and be acted upon. You hate it! That said, that’s an oversimplification. How so? Well, the hatred of tooth ache does remove or destroy the tooth ache by preventing it from happening. So, in a sense, it’s not at all clear whether it’s a bad thing to hate something, inasmuch as it prevents one’s capacity to act and be acted upon from being diminished. Then again, the hatred of tooth ache may well be a bad thing for you, inasmuch as there would be no tooth ache. You may have had sensitive teeth in the past, caused by some ailment or dental procedure that needs extra time to heal on its own, which may no longer be the case. If it is no longer the case, that hatred of tooth ache prevents you from enjoying ice cream and thus diminishing your capacity to act and be acted upon. So, simply put, your hatred of tooth ache, likely well justified, ends up causing you to also hate ice cream, not because there is something inherently worth hating about ice cream (unless, perhaps, you are lactose intolerant), but because your hatred of something else has led you to hate it as well. Now, to further complicate this, while tooth ache is generally speaking a bad thing, yes, it may also be a good thing, inasmuch it leads to you to investigate why it happens. If you get your dentist to have a look and fix the issue, that bad thing has led to you to a good thing, which, in turn, allows you to take pleasure in ice cream. Maybe there’s also something else that’s wrong, that you just didn’t know of, and that then gets fixed, so a bad thing can also lead to a good thing, in ways that are often unimaginable.
Later on, he (144) points this out, how getting rid of something positive isn’t good for you, whereas getting rid of something negative is. Conversely, having to deal with something positive is good for you, as it remains pleasurable, whereas having to deal with something negative isn’t, as it remains painful. It’s pretty simple, really. In addition, to add bit of complexity to this, when something good happens to something or someone that we hate, we feel pained by that, as he (146) goes on to add. So, it’s not just about the pain we feel when something bad happens to something or someone that we love, about what he (147) calls grief, but also about the pain we feel when something good happens to something or someone that we hate, because we consider that what we hate to be reinforced or boldened by that, which, in turn, enables it or that person to incur pain in us. It might, of course, also be about envy, which he (147) defines as the hatred of people who, instead of us, gain something we would like ourselves to have. Then again, we might also flip-flop on that, if that something or someone we’ve come to hate, for some reason, now negatively affects something or someone else that we hate, it pushes us to love that something or someone, as he (146-147) goes on to specify.
We may also be tempted to take the quickest route, to simply remove that something that we hate, but we don’t always do that. The way he (156) explains this is that we abstain from hatred, from removing or destroying what we consider painful, because we fear (we’ll get to that shortly) something more painful might happen to us as a result. For example, we could do something like go through a red light because it pains us, because it makes us wait, but we don’t because we are aware that it might result in an injury, getting hit by a vehicle, and/or a fine for a traffic violation. This is what he (157) calls timidity or bashfulness if it involves shame (we’ll get to this…) and consternation (…and this…) if it involves vacillation (….in just a moment). And, again, this also works the other way around, as he (156) points out. If you love something but find something that you love more, you turn your attention to that instead, because it’s just more pleasurable to you. He (164-165) distinguishes wonder and veneration from consternation and horror. Wonder is about being captivated by something, in a positive sense, whereas consternation is about being captivated by something, but in a negative sense. In both case you are fixated on something, but for different reasons. Wonder turns into veneration if it has to do with other people and if their positive actions appear to be superior to our own actions. Furthermore, it can lead to not only veneration but also to devotion. Similarly, consternation turns into horror if it’s about other people and if their negative actions appear to surpass ours. It can also lead to derision and scorn. In both cases our love and hate towards such people becomes amplified. He (165) also adds that the opposite of being captivated by something, be it in a positive or a negative sense, is contempt. It has to do with how, instead of being captivated by something special in something, we imagine something else instead, hence our contempt towards it. That turns into derision if we already hate or fear it and scorn if it doesn’t make sense to us.
He (151) also reckons that our love or hate of something is fortified not only when others also love or hate it, but also when we imagine that they also love or hate it. In other words, it’s enough that we think they do, regardless of whether they actually do or don’t. It’s also enough that we think that they don’t love or hate what we love or hate for it to lead to what he (142, 151) calls vacillation, to the conflict of emotions.
We could also swap the ice cream with something that doesn’t really do anything for you, but, nonetheless, conjures up something positive or negative, something pleasurable or painful. This is why he (140-141) points out that the way this works can be accidental. I reckon most people have experienced this when they’ve said something to someone else, meaning no harm, but the other person takes it the wrong way, not because they want to take it the wrong way, but because whatever you said conjured up something negative that they’ve come to associate with it.
To summarize this discussion of pleasure and pain, love and hate, it’s possible for them to co-exist, so that, on one hand, whatever you are dealing with is something that you love, something that gives you pleasure, but, on the other hand, it is also something that you hate, something that causes you pain. This is why he (143) states “that one and the same object may be the cause of many and conflicting emotions.” This is what he (142) calls vacillation. This is related to the aforementioned flip-flopping.
He (143) acknowledges how the way this works not only has to do with the past, that is to say with one’s experiences, but also the future, but always as imagined from the present. He doesn’t explain it this way, but I like to explain it this way, so that to make more sense of this, imagine that you are in the future, which, of course, then functions as the present from which you assess the past, which is the actual present. Anyway, the point is that it doesn’t matter whether you are dealing with the past or the future because the past and the future are always assessed from the present, here and now. In his (143) words:
“[T]he body is affected by no emotion which excludes the existence of the thing, and therefore … the body is affected by the image of the thing, in the same way as if the thing were actually present.”
So, to be clear, as already established, the point he makes is that a body can affect a body and thought a thought. Imaginary things, things that don’t actually exist, whatever the mind conceives, still function as if they did.
From all this complexity of how emotions work, he (143-144) draws hope, fear, confidence, despair, joy and disappointment. Hope is about “inconstant pleasure”, when we can’t be sure whether something will be pleasurable or not, but we reckon it will be. Fear works the same way, as the “inconstant pain”, when we can’t be sure whether will be painful or not, but we reckon it will be. Hope becomes confidence and fear becomes despair once the doubt involved in hope and fear is removed, when we realize how things are panning out for us. Joy and disappointment is about when we look back at those moments of confidence or despair, when we feel joyous or disappointed about something that we simultaneously anticipated and doubted.
To add yet another layer of complexity to this, whatever we reckon as having a positive effect on something that we already consider positive, i.e., love, we’ll also find pleasure in that, i.e., love that as well, as he (145) points out. Conversely, if we consider something as having a negative effect on something that we consider to be positive, i.e., love, we’ll come to hate it, as he (145) also points out. How much one will love or hate that thing that affects what one already loves then depends on how much one loves it to begin with, as specified by him (145). I’d say that this only makes sense. If you are into something, if you think of it in positive light, you’ll be happy to see it being affected positively, but not negatively. Conversely, if aren’t that into it, if you don’t see it that positive light, you won’t really care what happens to it, be it positive or negative.
This is wonderful, really. I mean he isn’t taking any sides, nor appealing to something as inherently pleasurable, nor painful. It really depends on the circumstances. So, for example, if I find myself fuming over something like the mistreatment of my friend, someone I care about, it means that the pain inflicted upon my friend is also painful to me. If I don’t find myself pained by such, it means that that person isn’t really my friend and that I should call that person my friend. Conversely, if I’m happy about something good happening to my friend, it means that the pleasure of my friend pleasures me. If that’s not the case, if that doesn’t provide me pleasure, then, well, I really shouldn’t be calling that person my friend. Now, of course, we can replace that friend in my example with just about whatever, for example by some cause or even by that ice cream that I mentioned. Just think about, it makes sense.
What can be drawn from all this, according to him (145-146) is pity, when we share in someone else’s pain, the opposite of pity, when we share in someone else’s joy, which he has no name for (is it some sort of revelry?), approval, when we love someone for causing pleasure to someone else, and indignation, when hate someone for causing pain to someone else. I guess we could replace the persons here with things as well, as he (146) does on go on to mention things right after explaining these four emotions. He (146) adds that we tend to approve something good that happens to someone who reminds or resembles us and, conversely, take offense, feel indignation, when something bad happens to someone who reminds or resembles us. In plain terms, we tend to approve or disapprove something if we think that could have been me. He (148) seems to have this urge to further explain this, basically noting how we have this tendency to align with whatever appears to be the same as us, but really just similar (not the same!) to us, and, on the contrary, to say fuck it, fuck them, when whatever doesn’t appear to be the same as us, when it’s clearly dissimilar to us. For him (148-149), the former has to do with compassion, emulation and benevolence whereas the latter has to do with repugnance and, by all logic, malevolence.
This leads him (147-148) to define pride. For him, it occurs when one thinks of oneself, or what one loves, too highly. It also occurs when one thinks of what one hates too meanly, with too much hatred. It’s basically about thinking that you and your crew are the best shit ever and, conversely, everyone is simply shit, even though, obviously, it’s not that simple. I mean, okay, if you are great, then great. Good on you. But if that’s just about posing, then, well, you are poser, which is exactly why I don’t like pride, why I don’t like taking credit for something. I can say that I’m responsible for this and/or that, having done it or played a part, if asked, but I’m not fond of taking credit for something, even if my contribution has been considerable, even if it wouldn’t have happened without me. So, yeah, I don’t like it when someone says they are proud for having achieved this and/or that. I’m like, yeah, sure, sure, you did it all by yourself and no one helped you, it was all you and only you. Maybe that’s too harsh, so, I guess, you can have those brief moments of pride, when you are like nice, nice, well done, good for me, when appropriate, but that’s about it. I just don’t like the notion of pride. There’s just something really complacent about it, expecting others to acknowledge it and all.
You have to be careful with pride though. It’s one thing to point out that someone thinks too highly of themselves, but it’s another thing to mock their achievements for one’s own benefit, which is why he (148) states that thinking too highly of someone else results in over-esteem, i.e., overvaluing them, and that thinking too little of them results in disdain, undervaluing them.
He (150) defines ambition as someone’s desire to please others, i.e., to gain their approval, either by doing something or not doing something, in order to avoid their disapproval, as distinguished from kindliness, which has to do to with doing whatever it is that you are doing, or, alternatively, leaving it undone (but isn’t that sort of still doing something, just negated?) without care for the approval of others. He (150) links ambition to praise and blame, so that one gets praised, i.e., approved by others, or, alternatively, blamed, i.e., disapproved by others, for one’s actions or for the lack thereof. Note here how this doesn’t apply to kindliness, because, well, praise and blame are irrelevant if you don’t do something, whatever it is that you wish to do, or abstain from doing it for the sake of approval.
To give you an example of ambition and kindliness, I’d say that he would argue that charity is about the latter but not about the former. If you give something, if you seek to benefit others, you just do it, not because you want their praise for doing it, but because it is the kind thing to do. If you do it to gain recognition and praise, it’s about ambition. So, the next time you engage in some charitable act, just do it. Don’t think about it, just do it. Don’t ask for attribution. Don’t ask for people’s praise, for whatever it is that you do for them. Now, of course, it’s important that they approve what you do, that they agree with it, as opposed to disapprove it, that they don’t disagree with it, in the sense that whatever it is that you do is supposed to have a positive effect on them, not a negative effect on them. That’d be like walking all over them, telling them that what you do for them is for their own good.
I’d say it’s okay to benefit from a charitable act, inasmuch that’s not your motive to begin with, inasmuch you are indifferent to praise and blame, approval and disapproval. I’d say this also means that you have to be aware that your act of kindliness may not necessarily have the intended effect, which may result in blame, regardless of your lack of ambition. So, yeah, you do have to take that into account.
Then again, I guess he’d argue that kindliness is just that, that you just do it and take the hit if that’s what ends up happening. It’d be about ambition if you weighed on your options, to do or not to do, on the basis of what’s the likelihood of it being approved or disapproved.
Related to ambition and kindliness, he (158-159) notes that if our love is not met with gratitude or thankfulness, or, as I’d put it, appropriate gratitude or thankfulness, we’ll feel pain. For him (159) this has to do with how we tend to love what’s similar to us. To be brief, this is because we expect what’s similar to act similarly and if that’s not the case, we are pained by that, as he (159) points out.
He (150-51) further distinguishes love and hate from honor and shame. In summary, love and hate have to do with something external. You love or hate this or that. The point is that it’s just that, very direct. In contrast, honor and shame are about the pleasure and pain “accompanied by the idea of an external cause”, the point being that we may feel honored or ashamed if we are praised or blamed. If, however, there is no praise or blame involved, it’s not about feeling honored or ashamed, but about what he (151) calls self-complacency and repentance. He (151) then adds that this may lead to pride. I’d say this make sense, considering how I already mentioned that there is just something really complacent about pride. Another good word here is vanity, as he (151) goes on to add, how one “may imagine that [one] is pleasing to all, when in reality [one] may be an annoyance to all.”
Going back a bit here, to the earlier remark about how our love or hate of something is reinforced when others also love or hate it and when we think they love or hate it, he (151-152) notes that we are pushed to not only imagine such, but to make it so. In other words, we are tempted to want others to want what we want. For him (152) this is another definition of ambition, because it’s about wanting others to want exactly what you want and not something else.
Similarly, he (152) adds that we are also tempted to want what someone else has, even if that can only be had by one person at a time. Note how this leads to a conflict. If that person has it and can take delight in it, then you can’t have it and take delight in it. If you want to have it, in order to take delight in it, you must take it away from that other person, who, as a result then can’t take delight in it. This is another definition of envy for him (152). In addition, when we love something that loves something else more than us, our love of it turns into hatred of it and results in a rivalry with that something else, as we come to envy that something else for being loved by what we loved, as he (153) goes on to elaborate. Now, if you’ve ever been interested in someone, only for that someone to show affection to someone else, probably because that’s just how it is, how it already was, nothing against you, you’ve probably experienced this, which is why he (154) aptly labels this as jealousy. To be clear, that doesn’t have to be the case. It can also be that we think that it is the case. We may, for example, be jealous of someone when we think that the person we are interested in is interested in someone else, even when that’s not actually the case. He (154) points this out explicitly, noting that men tend to exhibit jealousy because they think women are theirs and not someone else’s, certainly not other men’s.
He (152) then further comments on our love of what we think as the same as us, or, to be more accurate, what we think of as similar to ourselves. I reckon this connects well with vanity, considering that it’s about the excessive love of oneself. How so? Well, he (152-153) notes that when we love something that’s similar to us, because it reminds us of ourselves, we also want that something to love us back. In other words, there is this desire for something, but also this desire to be desired. The way he (153) explains it is that when we love something similar to us, for being similar to us, like ourselves, we come to expect the same from that, because why wouldn’t it love us if it is like us? Makes sense. The problem with this is that it tends to result in complacency, a self-centered regard for oneself, instead of others, as he (153) goes on to point out.
This also works the other way around, as he (157-158) points out. If we think that others hate us, for no apparent reason, we’ll also hate them, because it only makes sense to hate your enemy, someone who hates you for no reason. He calls this anger (158). This results in vacillation if we think that those we love hate us for no apparent reason. If we don’t really think of anything about others who we think as hating us, we’ll seek to revenge that. This can then also be flipped back to positive. If we don’t think much of someone who then shows love for us, for no apparent reason, we are pushed to love them back, to show them gratitude or thankfulness, as he (158) refers to it.
He (158) also further comments on these, on reciprocal love and hate, noting that we appear to be “much more prone to take vengeance than to return benefits.” My guess is that we simply don’t do enough for others, so they don’t reciprocate. Instead, we probably think that others simply seek to gain something on our expense, so it’s like we are already geared up for vengeance. This actually reminds me of how bad faith works, as I’ve explained in another essay, but I’m not going to go on a tangent on that here. Anyway, relevant to bad faith, he (158) also adds that if our hatred, real or imagined, is undermined by being loved by our object of hatred, we vacillate, and if our hatred is stronger than the conflicting love, hatred prevails over love, resulting in cruelty. Then again, if your hatred is met by love that prevails, it’s like when you hate something and, all the sudden, the reason for that is gone, you just can’t do that anymore.
There is also the related issue of reinforcement. Some of this has been covered already, but here he (159) states that hatred tends to reinforce hatred. This shouldn’t be tough to understand, how hatred breeds hatred and how you have to be a proper hater to hate even those who show you at least some love.
To be properly negative again, for a moment, to further comment on jealousy, the more you expect to be loved, the more hatred it fuels in you if what you love, typically a person, loves or appears to love something else, typically another person, as he (154) also points out. On top of that, the more you loved, the more it will turn into hate, especially when contrasted with something that you end up hating but you didn’t love before, as noted by him (155). Simply put, you don’t really mind something if it wasn’t that important to you in the first place, but you do mind if it was important to you. To flip this, yet again, to be positive again, this also works the other way around, as he (159) goes on to add. If you’ve hated, and hated, like nothing compares, but then that object of your hate shows love to you, undermining your hatred to the point that love prevails, your love for your former enemy is now much, much greater than it would have been if that hadn’t been the case, if that love hadn’t prevailed over your hatred.
There’s an important caveat to how love and hate and pain and pleasure may become stronger by flipping from one to the other. As noted by him (159-160), you can’t just do one in order to do the exact opposite. Why? You simply don’t seek to be pained in order to be loved. You don’t harm yourself for the sake of recovery. He (160) also argues that if you seek to access a stronger form of love through hate, you’ll be continuously tempted to hate more and more, and more and more, just so that, in the end, the love would be stronger and stronger. The point here is that if you seek ever greater love or pleasure through hate or pain, there’ll be no limit to it and no end to it. For example, you don’t seek to get seriously ill, let’s say infected by a virtually uncurable disease, just so that you could enjoy the pleasure of being cured from it, rather miraculously, let’s say by getting a transplant from a person who just so happens to be immune to that disease, which then carries over to your immune system. To be clear, people have been cured of HIV following transplant procedures, but, no, I’m quite confident that they didn’t seek to get HIV just so that they make headlines later on. That’d be absurd, as he (160) points out.
Jealousy turns into something even more painful when we already hate the third party and when we’ve been loved by what’ve loved, as pointed out by him (154). On top of that, what else we’ve come to associate with that love will now also incite hatred in us, even though nothing about what we’ve associated to what we’ve loved gives us cause for hatred, as he (154) goes on to add. This pushes us to regain what we once loved but now hate as it should remove the pain caused by the others things, as he (154) points out. In short, it’s not that you want this or that back, typically a former lover, but everything that came with it, with that person. You just want your old life back because everything that was part of it, one way or another, now appears to be painfully absent. The whole thought process involved here, reminiscing about a lost love, is what he (155) calls regret.
This next one is a fairly little thing, but I guess it matters quite a bit, when you think of it. So, he (155) states that the greater the pain endured, the greater the effect it has on one’s capacity to act and be acted upon. That’s the little thing. In addition, the greater the pain involved, the more one wants to get rid of it, as he (155) goes on to add. That’s the important thing here. How so? Well, because the more pain is inflicted, the more obvious it is and the more one wants to get rid of it. It’s like how it is with force and resistance. The more you use force, the more it will invite resistance. This also works the other way around, as he (155) points out. The more something gives you pleasure, the more you want to keep it that way. So, if you have a sweet gig, you’ll want to keep it, which explains why people don’t want to do and/or say anything that might put it to risk.
To go back a bit, again, he (160) further specifies vacillation and similarity. So, in summary, when we have contradictory emotions, we don’t know whether to love or hate and who or what we should love or hate. In addition, we tend to love what’s similar to us and expect all that’s similar to us to act as we do, i.e., to love us. However, that’s not always the case. The problem with similarity is that it’s not about being the same. In short, as people, we are similar to many other people, not just this or that person. So, as he (160) goes on to point out, we are capable of hating what’s similar to us if it appears to hate what’s also similar to us. In other words, our love of something similar to us can trigger hatred towards something else similar to us, inasmuch it appears to us that what we are trigged to hate happens to hate what we love, despite the shared similarity. This also pains us, inasmuch as we, in our hate, succeed in removing, destroying or injuring what we’ve come to hate because of the similarity involved, as he (160) goes on to specify.
This issue that involves vacillation and similarity also has a temporal dimension. When we look back at that, having done that, we are, on one hand, pained by the conflict, having had to deal with it, and, on the other hand, rejoice in having dealt with it. The point he (160-161) makes here is that having to have gone through such, having to take sides with something similar against something also similar, pains us, even in retrospect because, well, we had to get rid of something similar. We rejoice because by doing so we made sure that something similar to us, what we love, wasn’t removed, destroyed or harmed in the process, or because by getting involved we managed to minimize the damage to what’s similar to us. Then again, our joy is shadowed by a certain pain coming from the realization of having to remove, destroy or harm something that we also loved. The problem here is, as you might realize yourself, that we simply cannot remain uninvolved or, well, I guess we can, but then we are letting something that we love perish or be harmed, which will, nonetheless, pain us because our love will be lost or be in danger of being lost.
It’s also worth noting that, for him (160), similarity is not just between individuals, let’s say me, you and someone else, but also between groups, what he calls “a class or nation”. He doesn’t elaborate this in this context, but I reckon this makes sense. We are certainly capable of imagining those similar to us as ‘the us group’ and those dissimilar to us as ‘the them group’. I think it’s also worth noting, and reiterating, that he isn’t saying that we, ‘the us group’, are all the same, nor that they, ‘the them group’, are all the same, so that’d we or they would belong to this or that group because of sameness. He (141-142) uses the word resemblance, which certainly isn’t a matter of sameness, but of similarity. This may seem like a small thing, but it changes everything. I’d say that we are most certainly tempted to think that we are the same within a group, that there is this essence of what’ make us us and them them, but that’s our idea of how things are, not how things are. As a side note, this is something that runs through his text, how it is enough that we think that this and/or that is the case for us to feel and act in certain ways, in relation to others. Things don’t actually have to be that way. It’s enough that we believe that things are this and/or that way.
Moving on! He shifts his attention to causes. He (161) comments on how we like to think that our love or hate for something is tied to that something, typically a person, and how our love or hate is conditioned by that, so that if we come to realize that it’s not the case, that we, in actuality, love or hate something because of something else, to this or that degree, our love or hate diminishes, to this or that degree. For example, if we love a person because we think that person did something for us but, later on, we are told that it was someone else, the person didn’t act alone or the person was forced to do that, our love for that person changes accordingly. He (161-162) actually further comments on the last bit, on volition, noting that it makes a great difference whether we reckon someone does something out of necessity or is free to do so. I think this is pretty obvious, but I’ll provide a couple of examples of this.
Right, let’s say that you ask someone to help you with something and that person says no to it. It’s not clear why the person says no to it. It might be that the person can’t help you or it might be that the person isn’t willing to help you. I don’t know about others but at least I let people off the hook if it is about the former. If it’s about the latter, it’s really telling to me about how that person feels about me. Now, don’t get me wrong, if you don’t know that person (which is why I didn’t specify the relation), you can’t really expect them to help you, to show you any love. It’s the same with a person who isn’t fond of you, not that you’d really ask such a person to help you. If that person is your friend, that person better tell you that they can’t help you, otherwise you’ll probably want to rethink your friendship. If its about the former and not the latter, it also better be the case that it is, otherwise you’ll really want to rethink your friendship because they are, in my view, seeking to gain from you, one way or another, sooner or later, but otherwise they’d not deal with you at all. To use Spinoza’s terms, if it turns out to be the case that your friend could help you but simply isn’t willing to help you, your love is bound to turn into hate, proportional to the level of friendship you thought you had. If you were barely friends, you probably won’t hate the person that much for such treachery, no biggie, but if you are really good friends, you’ll hate them a lot for it.
To flip that example on its head, we can also change the roles, to think of a case where someone asks you for help. Is that person asking you for help, just because that person needs your help, let’s say because you’d be perfect for the job, or is it because that person wants your help. How do you know which one it is? My answer is that if that person doesn’t otherwise associate with you, if they only make contact and speak to you when they need something from you, that person probably isn’t your friend. Chances are the person asks you because they know that you can help them. That person could ask someone else, an actual friend, but asks you because that person reckons you are a more suitable candidate for the task. That person could also pay someone at least equally good as you at the task to help but won’t because it would involve giving instead of just gaining. Does this mean that you shouldn’t help people, just because you aren’t their friend, just because you aren’t fond of them? No. That’s not the point here as you may actually gain a friend by doing that, as doing something for someone who doesn’t expect anything from you may changes their opinion of you. It’s rather that if people only deal with you when they need something from you, it is probably better for you to not associate with them. I realize that it might be me, my aura, my personality, fair enough, but I’m surprised how common this is, how people call you, how they message you, perhaps, at first, asking how you are doing, which is nice, only to then ask you for something, which is like, ah, okay, I see what’s going on here. I’m like … is that it? Is that all that I am to you?
This leads him (162) to note that love and hate seem to be amplified inasmuch we think that people are free to do as they like. Conversely, if we assume that the opposite is the case, we tend to let people off the hook. Yeah, I’d say that’s about right.
Moving on, skipping a head a bit, to another topic, he (165) recommends knowing oneself. In short, the better you know yourself, what you can and cannot do, what you can and cannot think, i.e., know your limits at any given time, the more in control you are and the more you’ll feel pleasure. The point here is that you are more capable of affecting and being affected the better you know yourself and your limits. I’d say that all that actually helps you to go beyond your limits, albeit only when assessed in retrospect as you are always within your own limits, no matter what. When that works, you’ll feel pleasure, but when that doesn’t work, you’ll feel pain, as he (166) goes on to add. This makes sense, in the sense that inasmuch as you feel like you can do it, you probably can do it, but inasmuch as you feel like you can’t do it, you probably can’t do it because you’ve let that thought take hold of you. In this context, what others think of you or, rather, what you think others think of you also matters, so that thinking that you are seen in a positive light will make you feel capable and, conversely, thinking that you are seen in a negative light will make you feel incapable. The former he refers to as self-love or self-complacency and the latter as humility. Note how he isn’t saying that knowing yourself is necessarily a positive thing. It can also end in self-indulgence.
He (168) moves on to summarize all this, noting that:
“There are as many kinds of pleasure, of pain, of desire, and of every emotion compounded of these, such as vacillations of spirit, or derived from these, such as love, hatred, hope, fear, [et]c., as there are kinds of objects whereby we are affected.”
In other words, he simply acknowledges that emotions tend to be compounded, rarely occurring separate from one another. This is further compounded by the compoundedness of what we deal with, as he (168) goes on to further specify:
“[T]he pleasure, which arises from, say, the object A, involves the nature of that object A, and the pleasure, which arises from the object B, involves the nature of the object B; wherefore these two pleasurable emotions are by nature different, inasmuch as the causes whence they arise are by nature different.”
Only to paraphrase this (168):
“So again the emotion of pain, which arises from one object, is by nature different from the pain arising from another object, and, similarly, in the case of love, hatred, hope, fear, vacillation, [et]c.”
The point here is that our capacity to act and be acted upon is conditioned by the capacity to act and be acted upon of everything else that we encounter, have encountered and will encounter in the future. It’s very here and now, it is what it is, way of explaining who we are. Stable identity is replaced by this, just this, that we are what we’ve become, as checked by everything else, which, of course, is also defined by the same way as just that, as what it is that they’ve become.
That may make it seem like he ends up contradicting himself, considering that part three is about emotions, what we all come to feel these emotions that he lists and defines, some more than others, only to indicate that none of us is the same. It’s like a lot of talk how we share in these emotions, only to say that it all depends on who we are or, rather, who we’ve become, and who others are or, to be more accurate, who they’ve become, but he isn’t contradicting himself. How so? Well, he isn’t saying that these are all the emotions that one may feel, but only some emotions that one may feel. His list is by no means exhaustive. Also, he isn’t saying that everyone will come to have this and/or that emotion, but rather that there are these tendencies, which, of course, depend on who we’ve become and who or what we come to deal with. This is why he (169) stresses that:
“Any emotion of a given individual differs from the emotion of another individual only in so far as the essence of the one individual differs from the essence of the other.”
This ties in with the discussion of kinds of knowledge in my previous Spinoza essay. In summary, he (109, 113-144) distinguishes between opinion/imagination, reason, and intuition, of which the first is always inadequate knowledge, i.e., confused, whereas the second and the third are always adequate knowledge, i.e., not confused knowledge. The first kind of knowledge deals with a bit of this and a bit of that, in a rather impressionistic and confused manner, whereas the second kind of knowledge draws what’s common between all those bits and bobs. While the second kind of knowledge improves upon the first kind of knowledge, so that it’s no longer confused, providing us with understanding of what’s common between this and that, but not between something else, but which has something else in common with something else, it gets removed from all that particularity, what makes this this and not that, and what makes that that and not this. I’d say that this is how we contemporarily understand knowledge, albeit there is a certain temptation to think that what Spinoza thinks as common is a matter of thinking what’s common or general between everything, i.e., what’s universal, which isn’t at all the case as commonality or generality of his second kind of knowledge is always a matter of thinking what’s common between this and that. That commonality may, of course, extend much further than just this and that, but it’s not about universals, whether this and/or that exhibit some universal feature or trait that is common. So, I’d say that it’s important to keep in mind that it’s always bottom-up, rather than top down. Anyway, only the third kind of knowledge gives us that particularity or, rather that singularity, the essence of something or someone. So, in short, to make sense of this, our emotions differ according to our essences, which, in itself, isn’t fixed. Instead, it’s defined as the capacity to act and be acted upon.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that he isn’t saying that just because everyone is unique, according to one’s essence, according to one’s capacity to act and be acted upon, one isn’t also limited by that. In other words, as he (170) goes on to note, a human is a human, whereas a horse is a horse, an insect is an insect, a fish is a fish and a bird is a bird, and even though we may have this and/or that in common with what else is there, we are not the same, nor, more importantly, can we think that we are something that we aren’t. Simply put, we are what we are, what we’ve become, not what we think we are, nor what we think we’ve become. What’s common is, of course, important. It’s a very practical way of dealing with things. That said, it’s not all there is to whatever or whoever we are dealing with.
That’s also why he (169) goes on to point out that certain emotions are very common, so that we keep being tempted by “luxury, drunkenness, lust, avarice, and ambition”, exhibiting “immoderate love of feasting, drinking, venery, riches, and fame.” As you might guess, he (169) juxtaposes these with moderation, “temperance, sobriety, and chastity”, arguing that they “indicate a power of the mind” over immoderate or unmoderated loves. This could, of course, be reversed, in some situation. I mean some people are just so, so overly moderated, you know, like total buzzkills, which is why I don’t totally buy into this, that we should learn to keep ourselves in check at all times. While he does have a point, about how we ought to moderate ourselves, so that we aren’t wont to indulge in luxury, drinking, lust, wealth and personal gain, the Friedrich Nietzsche in me thinks that he is being a bit of a party pooper here. Then again, moderation is not the same as abstinence, so, okay, fair enough, maybe he simply means that maybe, just maybe your life shouldn’t be only about those common temptations.
He (171) reiterates an earlier point, that some emotions are passive, what he (130, 171) also calls passions, whereas others are active, what he (130) also calls activities. This is not worth going into more detail as the point simply is that we may get pleasure or pain from passive and active emotions alike. What he (171) wishes to emphasize here, however, is that when we think in ways that result in the second or third kinds of knowledge, i.e., conceive adequate ideas, we get pleasure out of that activity. He (171-172) then specifies two kinds of strength of character or fortitude. Courage is the desire, i.e., conscious appetite, to preserve one’s being through reason, which involves conceiving adequate ideas, whereas highmindedness or generosity is the desire to do the same for others as guided by reason, to aid them and to unite with them in friendship. To link this back to his wont for moderation, he (172) notes that the aforementioned temperance and sobriety, as well as “the presence of mind in danger” and the like, all exhibit courage, being its varieties, whereas courtesy, mercy and the like exhibit highmindedness or generosity, being its variables.
He (172) wraps things up by stating that our appetites, what I’d call (unconscious) desires, are what drive us, pushing us to do and think, or just do if we collapse thinking into doing, of all kinds of things:
“[W]we are in many ways driven about by external causes, and that like waves of the sea driven by contrary winds we toss to and fro unwitting of the issue and of our fate.”
He doesn’t specify conscious or witting side of things or desires, i.e., conscious appetites, what I’d call reason and intuition, here, but I’d say that he by no means ignores them either. It’s rather that he wishes to emphasize that our desires, i.e., conscious appetites, what I’d call reasoning and intuition, are grounded on what drives us unconsciously. In short, our essence is just that, what we’ve become, as assessed at any given moment as our capacity to act and be acted upon. We like to think that we do or think this and/or that because we choose to do so, freely, but it’s actually not the case. We are only to free to do or think whatever, when we acknowledge that, when we seek to actively temper our passions, as he (169) points out.
I’m not a hundred percent fine with this though, considering how he comes across a bit of killjoy. I’d say it’s enough that you realize that we are not free the way we think we are or like to think we are. That already makes us aware of how our passions shape us, how they condition us, setting limits to what is thinkable and doable. Once you just accept that you are what you are, what you’ve become, not what you think you are or what you think you’ve become, you are free to think and do as you see fit, albeit always constrained by what you’ve become.
To be clear, I didn’t reach that conclusion by reading Spinoza. I reached it by reading Deleuze and Guattari. The conclusion is pretty much the same though. Maybe Spinoza puts more emphasis on how things are determined, but that’s about it. The cool thing is that once you come to that conclusion, you get so much more out of yourself as you are no longer simultaneously the master of yourself and the slave to yourself, as I’ve explained this on that essay on bad faith, explaining this through Jean-Paul Sartre’s work, and in some of my essays that concern ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’. It is also a real time saver as you no longer spend time thinking what you should and/or shouldn’t be, as you just are, at all times, which then leaves you a lot more time to get things done.
Others are not going to like this type of way of thinking though, because, for them, it’s just inconceivable. You’ll most likely appear to them like you are the smuggest person ever even though that couldn’t be further from the truth, as you couldn’t give less about pride, about defining yourself through achievements. They want everyone to be measured according to their track record, according to their past, but you keep moving on, acknowledging your deeds, yes, but treating as irrelevant for the present. This is exactly what distinguishes what Spinoza (147-148, 150) calls kindliness from pride and ambition. You really aren’t smug, or the like, because it doesn’t matter to you whether you are praised or blamed for what you do. You just do what you do, relying solely on your fortitude, on your reason and intuition, as Spinoza might explain it.
What matters right now is your capacity to act and be acted upon. It’s like do you want someone who used to be good or do you want someone who is good? To me, the answer to that question is a no-brainer. Of course I want someone who is good, instead of someone who used to be good. Then again, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be good if you used to be good though. Of course you can be good if you used to be good. I just don’t think it’s all relevant to the present whether you used to be good in the past. All I care is that you are good now, regardless of whether you used to be good or not. Also, if you are not good now, having been good in the past or not, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be good in the future. Why couldn’t you be good in the future? Of course you can be good in the future, even if you are not good right now.
Right, where was I? Well, that’s actually all there is to this essay as that was the last point he makes in part three before moving to provide a list of more concise definitions of the emotions that he has already covered by this point in the book. I’ll jump over it and continue from part four, but I’ll cover that for another essay. Like with parts one and two, what I like about part three is the consistency he has, how he can explain something as rudimentary as emotions with such clarity, while also triggiring certain emotions in you just by explaining how this and/or that emotion hits us, causing pleasure or pain, but without taking any sides, without telling how you should or should’n live your life. Okay, he does end up coming across as a bit preachy at times, but that’s probably just my take.
- Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari ( 1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
- Spinoza, B. ( 1884). The Ethics. In R. H. M. Elwes (Ed.), The Chief Works of Benedict de Spinoza: Vol. II (R. H. M. Elwes, Trans.) (pp. 43–271). London, United Kingdom: George Bell and Sons.