‘Ethical Difference’: Spinoza and Deleuze (Part I)

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Two ideas motivate this inquiry into Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza. First, how does Deleuze envision the parallelism attributed to Spinoza as an ethical concept, as opposed to an ontological one? Second, how does this lead to Deleuze’s remarks regarding ethical difference in Spinoza’s Ethics? It is these two questions that are involved in this claim: “There is in Nature neither Good nor Evil, there is no moral opposition, but there is an ethical difference.” (Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, 261). What follows will be a close reading/overview of Spinoza on his own terms, with follow up posts regarding the intersections between Deleuze and Spinoza.

The Subject Of Parallelism

When approaching the claim that Spinoza argues for an understanding of mind-body dualism, conceived through parallelism, it is important to highlight to whom exactly this idea of parallelism pertains. If the parallelism of IIP7 pertains to human beings themselves, then we would be correct to claim that Spinoza, in fact, retains a form of mind-body dualism. If parallelism does not pertain to human beings themselves, then we must find in Spinoza’s text another subject to whom this idea would pertain, and the reasons why parallelism does not pertain to human existence. If we consider the propositions leading up to IIP7, we can begin to clarify our inquiry. Beginning from IIP1 up to IIP6 Spinoza does not mention, even once, the idea of human existence; nor is it the case that Spinoza’s main concern in these propositions is providing arguments for the nature of modal existence as such. Contrary to this reading, Spinoza’s prime concern in these pages is still with the nature of God and its expression through its infinite number of attributes.

Propositions 1 and 2 deal with the attributes of thought and extension, respectively. Moreover, Spinoza’s demonstrations and scholiums in these propositions make reference to God as the being in question. Regarding IIP1, Spinoza writes: “Singular thoughts, or this or that thought, are modes which express God’s nature in a certain and determinate way (by IP25C). Therefore (by ID5) there belongs to God an attribute whose concept all singular thoughts involve, and through which they are also conceived.” Regarding IIP2, the demonstration “proceeds in the same way as that of the preceding proposition.” From these two propositions, Spinoza argues IIP3 from the context of understanding God as an absolutely infinite being with an infinite power of thought: “In God there is necessarily an idea, both of his essence and of everything which necessarily follows from his essence.” That is to say, if God is an absolute being with an absolute power of thinking and existing and has attributes which express this infinite essence, then God has an infinite power of thinking from which an infinite number of things necessarily follow. Moreover, if it is the case that in God there is “necessarily an idea” both of his essence and existence and everything necessarily follows from this initial claim, it is clear that in God there is necessarily an idea (God’s own idea) for everything that follows from God’s essence. That is to say, if God’s intellect is truly infinite and necessary, then for every idea in God there is by necessity a thing which corresponds to this idea. This last point can be seen in IIP4 and VP22, respectively: “God’s idea, from which infinitely many things follow in infinitely many modes, must be unique;” “Nevertheless, in God there is necessarily an idea that expresses the essence of this or that human body, under a species of eternity.”

Following from what we have said thus far, and moving to IIP5 and IIP6, we see that Spinoza demonstrates his propositions, again, in terms of God. It is the case, both with the attribute of thought and the attribute of extension, that God is to be understood as the cause of each. Therefore, when we consider the attribute of thought itself; when we are seeking the “formal being of ideas;” we are not searching for the ways in which the modes of thought relate to the modes of extension. Rather, we are attempting to understand the relationship between the attribute of thought connected to its cause. Now, as stated in IA4 (“the knowledge of an effect depends on, and involves, the knowledge of its cause”), knowledge of the attributes of thought and extension rely upon connecting them with their cause, which is God, or Nature itself. Therefore Spinoza will write in his demonstration of IIP5, “the formal being of ideas admits God as its cause insofar as he is a thinking thing.” Regarding IIP6, Spinoza applies the same logic in the demonstration: “the modes of each attribute involve the concept of their own attribute, but not of another one, and so (by IA4) they have God for their cause only insofar as he is considered under the attribute of which they are modes, and not insofar as he is considered any other, q.e.d.”

Now we are in a better position to return to IIP7. As we have seen thus far, Spinoza has been arguing about the metaphysical relationship between substance and attributes and has not been dealing explicitly with anything that would lead to a consideration of these arguments in terms of mind-body dualism. However, another problem arises regarding this proposition. It would appear that Spinoza provides his readers with two forms of justification for IIP7: epistemological on the one hand, and metaphysical on the other. As he writes in the demonstration of IIP7: “For the idea of each thing caused depends on the knowledge of the cause of which it is the effect.” Here, we can see that Spinoza understands the order and connection of things and ideas as following the same logical structure as that of the knowledge of things, which depends on the knowledge of their cause. However, in the corollary, Spinoza offers a different justification: “From this it follows that God’s [NS: actual] power of thinking is equal to his actual power of acting. That is, whatever follows formally from God’s infinite nature follows objectively in God from his idea in the same order and with the same connection.” Thus it appears that Spinoza provides an epistemological and metaphysical justification for IIP7, which would tempt a reader to understand this proposition as pertaining to both modal existence (e.g., human beings) and God itself. However, these two justifications, which may seem to be at odds with one another rest on a shared idea running throughout Spinoza’s Ethics: the causal relations between God and the modes is not the same as the causal relations between the modes themselves.

However, the seeming contradiction between the epistemological and metaphysical justifications for IIP7 are done away with if we recall what was already made clear from IIP1 through IIP5; that is, for every idea in God there is necessarily a thing which corresponds to it. That is to say, the epistemological and metaphysical justifications Spinoza provides are related to God’s relation to itself. This relation of God to itself, as I am arguing is the case in Part II of the Ethics leading up to IIP7 means the following: God is the order and connection of things and ideas, because the subject in question regarding this order and connection is substance’s relation to itself, and not the a modes relationship with another, or multiple, modes. Thus, if God has an idea of itself which is identical to God’s expression of its essence, through the attribute of extension, it is because God’s essence involves the understanding of itself as first cause (causa sui). God as causa sui, then, isn’t merely the motor which drives Spinoza’s metaphysics; an axiom which serves as the explanation for how change occurs regarding modal existence. Rather, God as causa sui has a more profound role insofar as we understand God’s own knowledge of itself as meaning God’s own knowledge of itself as first cause.

Thus, if the knowledge of each thing depends on knowledge of its effect, God’s idea of itself always involves the understanding of God as cause of itself, and hence God’s own knowledge of itself, which expresses God’s infinite perfection and necessity. Moreover, the reason Spinoza argues for the relation of identity between ideas and things insofar as they pertain to God’s essence is by virtue of the fact that, in Spinoza’s system, there cannot be an attribute of God’s which is more powerful, or has more reality, than any other. Any claim which would seek to privilege one attribute (e.g., Thought) over another (e.g., Extension) would contradict the more fundamental claim that each attribute expresses God’s infinite essence and is therefore equivalent in reality, or its power of existing. At this point, and by way of summarizing what was just argued, it is instructive to recall Spinoza’s definition of God and attribute in light of my own reading of the argument laid out beginning with IIP1 up through IIP6. By God, Spinoza understands, “a being absolutely infinite, that is, a substance consisting of an infinity of attributes, of which each one expresses an eternal and infinite essence.” By attribute, Spinoza understands, “what the intellect perceives of a substance, as constituting its essence.”

With these definitions in mind and understanding the propositions leading up to IIP7 aa dealing with Gods relation to itself, it is now clear that insofar as we understand the intellect in this case to be God’s intellect (and not human intellect), God’s own idea involves the knowledge of itself as causa sui; where the knowledge of itself pertains to God’s understanding itself as the cause of the attributes and God’s expression through them. This would be the crucial point made in IIP7: the relation of identity between the attributes of thought and extension is consistent with Spinoza’s metaphysics because each attribute expresses God’s infinite and eternal essence, and has God as their cause. Moreover, the supposed “parallelism” between the attributes of thought and extension is misunderstood if it is taken to suggest any type of dualism operative in Spinoza’s work. As we have seen, God is the order and connection of ideas and things because substance is expressed through each attribute equally, or identically, and thus necessarily and infinitely.

Lastly, and by way of transition, we must take into account Spinoza’s own understanding of the difference between the substance and its modes (and specifically, the mode of human existence), if we are to understand how the notion of parallelism becomes important for thinking through Spinoza’s ethical theory. If it is the case that “parallelism” does not conclude in a mind-body dualism because it’s arguments pertain to the nature of substance, it is important to underscore the difference between the nature of substance and the nature of the human being if we are to avoid any further possible interpretations of a latent mind-body dualism in the Ethics.

To understand this difference, IIP10 provides us with a clear example and extension of IIP7, and how Spinoza differentiates substance and its modes. As he writes, “The being of substance does not pertain to the essence of man, or substance does not constitute the form of man.” In this proposition, Spinoza argues for a non-identical relation between the being, or essence, of substance and the “essence of man.” If both God and human beings shared the same essence – meaning the existence of two beings whose essence involves their existence as infinite and causa sui – then this would constitute two substances, which contradicts Part I of Spinoza’s Ethics. Spinoza has already shown the difference between the essence of God and the essence of human existence in Part I, and is as follows:

“For example, if twenty men exist in Nature…it will not be enough (i.e., to give a reason why twenty men exist) to show the cause of human nature in general; but it will be necessary in addition to show the cause why not more and not fewer than twenty exist. For (by III) there must necessarily be a cause why each [NS: particular man] exists. But this cause (by II and III) cannot be contained in human nature itself, since the true definition of man does not involve the number 20. So (by IV) the cause why these twenty men exist, and consequently, why each of them exists, must necessarily be outside each of them. For that reason it is to be inferred absolutely that whatever is of such a nature that there can be many individuals [of that nature] must, to exist, have an external cause to exist.”

Thus, the important difference between the “being of substance” and the “essence of man” is the difference between a) a being whose essence is infinite and indivisible, and a being whose essence is finite and divisible, and b) substance as causa sui and the cause of modal existence, and modal existence as a modification and effect of the attributes of substance. Therefore, the “being of substance” and the “essence of man” differ because the “essence of man” is dependent on, and involves, the “being of substance” as its cause, and therefore is not equivalent in its nature to substance, or God itself. As Spinoza writes regarding the essence of man, “it is something (by IP15) which is in God, and which can neither be nor be conceived without God, or (byIP25C) an affection, or mode, which expresses God’s nature in a certain and determinate way.”

Articulated in another way but equivalent in essence, we can say that the being of substance is freedom, while the essence of man is necessary and determined. As Spinoza writes, “That thing is called free which exists from the necessity of its nature alone, and is determined to act by itself alone. But a thing is called necessary, or rather compelled, which is determined by another to exist and to produce an effect in a certain and determinate manner.” Thus, IIP7 as it pertains to the being of substance reinforces, and is consistent with, Spinoza’s prior understanding of God as an infinite substance that is causa sui having an infinite number of attributes, where thought and extension are two attributes which constitute its essence and express, equally and therefore identically, the essence and power of substance itself. It is in this way that parallelism is a proposition on the equivalent powers expressed by each attribute, which have God as their cause, and not a proposition arguing for a mind-body dualism, whether in God or in human beings (since human beings, as modes, are expressions of God’s essence in a certain and determinate way).



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