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


I. The Function Of Parallelism In Spinoza’s Ethical Theory

However, there is perhaps still another proposition in Spinoza’s Ethics, which would present a possible contradiction with our prior argument regarding the metaphysical status of IIP7. In IIIP2 Spinoza writes that: “The body cannot determine the mind to thinking, and the mind cannot determine the body to motion, to rest, or to anything else (if there is anything else).” Thus, even if we have successfully refuted a mind-body dualism regarding IIP7, it would seem that Spinoza’s claim in IIIP2 adds a further implication to his arguments in IIP7. Not only is the order and connection between ideas and things one and the same; now, the order of ideas (thought) and the order of things (extension) appears to lack causal relations between each other when they modally exist in the form of human beings. By turning our attention to Spinoza’s reference to IIP7 and his justification in the scholium in IIIP2 we can begin to understand how, even at this moment in Spinoza’s larger argument, the parallelism thesis still does not argue for the absence of any interaction between the mind and the body, and its relevance for a Spinozist ethical theory.

Spinoza writes that his argument regarding IIIP2 is “more clearly understood from what is said in IIP7S, namely, that the mind and the body are one and the same thing, which is conceived now under the attribute of thought, now under the attribute of extension.” If Spinoza’s demonstration for IIIP2 now concerns human existence in relation to IIP7, what is the logical function of this appeal to God as justification? And how does this relate to the seeming parallelism between the mind and the body? The parallel relation arises, as we have seen, due to the causal relations between the attributes of thought and extension. For Spinoza, thought does not bring about the attribute of extension and extension does not bring about the attribute of thought (parallelism), rather it is God who is the cause of both thought and extension, which are understood to be expressions of God’s essence.

However, even considering the relationship between God and the attributes, Spinoza makes it clear that the attributes of thought and extension are simply two ways of understanding substance itself: “thinking substance and extended substance are one and the same substance, which is now comprehended under this attribute, now under that.” If there is a separation in the causal order of the attributes of thought and extension at the metaphysical level, it is because thought and extension do not determine each other; thought cannot bring about the essence of extension and extension cannot bring about the essence of thought. It is only God as initial cause which expresses his essence and brings into existence the attributes of thought and extension. This would, then, be the reason for Spinoza proceeding in his demonstration of IIIP2 in the following manner: “All modes of thinking have God for a cause, insofar as he is a thinking thing, and not insofar as he is explained by another attribute (by IIP6). So what determines the mind to thinking is a mode of thinking and not of extension, that is (by IID1), it is not the body.” Given these remarks regarding the metaphysical implications of the demonstration of IIIP2, we can now turn our attention toward the epistemological and ethical consequences of Spinoza’s justification.

If the attributes of thought and extension with their corresponding mode of mind and body, respectively, are one and the same substance only considered in two different manners, two main consequences follow from this: i) the mind and the body are united in the same individual, which can be explained in two ways and ii) the distinction between thought and extension, between mind and body is not a metaphysical difference since they express one and the same substance, but an ethical distinction.

Regarding the first point the emphasis must be placed on explanation, since this is the content of Spinoza’s demonstration of IIIP2 and serves as his epistemological argument in relation to parallelism. As we have just seen, when God is understood to be the cause of the modes of thinking and extension, it is to be understood in terms of how God is explained and how we can infer from the existence of a finite mode, the infinite being of God itself: “All modes of thinking have God for a cause, insofar as he is a thinking thing, and not insofar as he is explained by another attribute (by IIP6).” This would constitute the way in which parallelism is at once an argument about the identity in the power of existing if we consider any attribute in relation to others, while also arguing for the mode by which we can come to understand ourselves, in relationship to others, and to substance.

Regarding the second consequence drawn from IIIP2, and while there is no metaphysical difference between thought and extension given their unity in substance and their equal expression of God’s infinite essence, there is an important distinction between the mind and the body insofar as Spinoza’s aim is to  refute false ideas concerning human freedom, and provide a systematic understanding of how human beings can moderate and restrain their affects, or how we can overcome our own bondage. We can see the importance of this ethical distinction by considering first our experience of the world, and then by the affects which determine our actions as they relate to human beings. In the scholium of IVP1, which states that “Nothing positive which a false idea has is removed by the presence of the true insofar as it is true,” Spinoza provides us with an example of how the knowledge of the relationship between our body and the sun is at once affected by the immediate sensual experience of the sun, and the way in which this experience is tempered, and therefore conceived properly, in terms of true ideas. As Spinoza writes,

“For example, when we look at the sun, we imagine it to be about two hundred feet away from us. In this we are deceived so long as we are ignorant of its true distance; but when its distance is known, the error is removed, not the imagination, that is, the idea of the sun, which explains its nature only so far as the body is affected by it. And so, although we come to know the true distance, we shall nevertheless imagine it as near us.”


With the example of our body’s relationship to the sun, we can see that what is altered in this experience is not the presence of the sun itself (which is not removed once we have a true idea). Rather, what is altered is our understanding of that which remains present to us. Therefore, our true ideas regarding the sun afford us the capacity to act in such a way that is in accordance with this idea. With true ideas we say that while the sun remains present and seems as if it is two hundred feet away, we also know that the sun is much further away regardless of the way in which it affects our body. By this example, then, Spinoza provides a first glimpse into how it is that true ideas, and the second kind of knowledge, allows us to temper and restrain the affects which determine our actions.

In the case of relations between human beings and inadequate and adequate ideas, Spinoza writes that, “Man’s lack of power to moderate and restrain the affects I call bondage. For the man who is subject to affects is under the control, not of himself, but of fortune, in whose power he so greatly is that often, though he sees the better for himself, he is still forced to follow the worse.”

Therefore, if Spinoza seeks to provide his readers with a framework by which one can restrain their affects, it is necessary for him to develop a way to distinguish the affects of the mind from the affects of the body; the failure of which, becomes the image of the saddened individual in Parts III and IV, who only has confused and mutilated ideas about themselves and Nature.

By taking human bondage as the problem he set out to solve, we can see Spinoza’s extension of the arguments in IIP7 and IIIP2 and their ethical importance in the demonstration of IVP7:

“An affect, insofar as it is related to the mind, is an idea by which the mind affirms of its body a greater or lesser force of existing than before (by the general Definition of the Affects [II/203/29-22]). When, therefore, the mind is troubled by some affect, the body is at the same time affected with an affection by which its power of acting is increased or diminished. Next, this affection of the body (by P5) receives from its cause its force for persevering in its being, which, therefore, can neither be restrained nor removed, except by a corporeal cause (by IIP6) which affects the body with an affection opposite to it (IIIP5), and stronger than it (by A1).”


Thus, if it is important to understand what affects are limiting and restraining our persevering in our striving and in what way, the distinction between the mind and the body becomes Spinoza’s own method of diagnosing what is truly good and truly evil for human existence. The failure to make this distinction is seen in the scholium of IIIP2:

“…human affairs, of course, would be conducted far more happily if it were equally in man’s power to be silent and to speak. But experience teaches all too plainly that men have nothing less in their power than their tongue, and can do nothing less than moderate their appetites. That is why most men believe that we do freely only those things we have a weak inclination toward…but that we do not at all do freely those things we seek by a strong affect, which cannot be calmed by the memory of another thing.”


Or again, as Spinoza returns to this very problem later in Part III when he writes:

“A thing we imagine to be free must be perceived through itself, without others (by ID7). So if we imagine it to be the cause of joy or sadness, we shall thereby love or hate it (by P13S), and shall do so with the greatest love or hate that can arise from the given affect (by P48). But if we should imagine as necessary the thing which is the cause of this affect, then (by the same ID7) we shall imagine it to be the cause of the affect, not alone, but with others. And so (by P48) our love or hate toward it will be less, q.e.d.”

Thus, we fail to temper and restrain our affects insofar as we believe our affections to be free; that is, insofar as we perceive our affects through themselves alone, which Spinoza has already shown to be proper to the first kind of knowledge. Additionally, the importance of the ethical distinction for moderating the affects is equally due to the fact that one must understand whether their affects relate primarily to the powers of the mind (understanding and reason) or the powers of the body (reasons of speed and slowness). The reason being that, in the same way that we do not have a free determination of the movement and rest of our own body, we do not have a free decision in terms of the mind: “we can do nothing from a decision of the mind unless we recollect it. For example, we cannot speak a word unless we recollect it. And it is not in the free power of the mind to either recollect a thing or forget it.” This is to say, regarding the powers of the mind and its striving toward understanding, it can be hindered by an affect whether past or present. As Spinoza reiterates in IVP6, “The force of any passion, or affect, can surpass the other actions, or power, of a man, so that the affect stubbornly clings to the man.” Thus, in order to moderate our affects, it is insufficient to simply understand the relationship between our persevering in relation to other bodies. It is equally necessary to understand those affects which restrain and diminish our power of understanding.

When Spinoza writes that it is “Because men believe themselves free, these affects are very violent,” it is for the reason of men having confused and inadequate ideas, and failing to understand the ethical (and not metaphysical) distinction between the mind and the body that affects are made violent. Moreover, the epistemological implications for the example of the individual who fails to make this ethical distinction is the individual who exists at the level of the first kind of knowledge, since they base their actions and thoughts on confused and inadequate ideas. It is from the first kind of knowledge that men believe themselves free since they are merely conscious of their actions precisely because this belief rests on a knowledge of effects alone, divorced from their causes.

Additionally, our actions which arise from this first kind of knowledge are not vicious because they refer primarily to our selves more than to others, since the nature of ideas is such that, “the ideas which we have of external bodies indicate the condition of our own body more than the nature of the external bodies.” Rather, the problem Spinoza sees in the relationship between the first kind of knowledge and acting from certain affects is meant to underscore the fact that we would attempt to seek out what is most useful for ourselves solely on the basis of a distorted and confused understanding of what it would mean to ‘seek one’s own advantage’ in the first place. As Spinoza writes,

“This sadness, accompanied by the idea of our own weakness is called humility. But joy from considering ourselves, is called self-love or self-esteem. And since this is renewed as often as a man considers his virtues, or his power of acting, it also happens that everyone is anxious to tell his own deeds, and show off his powers, both of body and of mind and that men, for this reason, are troublesome to one another. From this it follows, again, that men are by nature envious (see P24S and P32S), or are glad of their equals’ weakness and saddened by their equals’ virtue […] But if he relates what he affirms of himself to the universal idea of man or animal, he will not be so greatly gladdened. And on the other hand, if he imagines that his own actions are weaker, compared to others’ actions, he will be saddened (by P28), and will strive to put aside this sadness, either by wrongly interpreting his equals’ actions or by magnifying his own as much as he can. It is clear, therefore, that men are naturally inclined to hate and envy.”

Thus, it is by way of clear and distinct ideas regarding what affects our striving that we move from the first to the second kind of knowledge. As seen above, Spinoza envisions the man of the first kind of knowledge as a man of envy, sadness, hate, and so on, while the man of the second kind of knowledge has the ability to temper these affects by way of the universal idea of man. Or as Spinoza writes regarding the relationship between the striving of the mind and adequate and inadequate ideas:

“The essence of the mind is constituted by adequate and by inadequate ideas (as we have shown in P3). So (by P7) it strives to persevere in its being both insofar as it has inadequate ideas and insofar as it has adequate ideas; and it does this (by P8) for an indefinite duration. But since the mind (by IIP23) is necessarily conscious of itself through ideas of the body’s affections, the mind (by P7) is conscious of its striving, q.e.d.”

Thus, we strive to persevere in our being regardless of the kinds of knowledge we have. Moreover, and insofar as we have inadequate ideas regarding the unity of the mind and the body, and insofar as we think of the mind as determining the body, we will not be able to understand which affects afflict the mind and restrain its power of understanding, just as we will not be able to understand what affections of the body restrain its power of acting. For this reason Spinoza writes, “An affect cannot be restrained or taken away except by an affect opposite to, and stronger than, the affect to be restrained.”

In the last instance, the question of the ethical distinction between the mind and the body rests on this primary concern: what are the affects which determine my striving to persevere in my being? Do they aid or restrain my striving? Are they joyous or saddening? And do they aid or restrain my power of movement and rest, or my power of understanding and use of reason? By making the ethical distinction, Spinoza allows us to understand ourselves, and our relation to others, in light of these nuances regarding the affects. If we have seen that it is our striving in accordance with the first kind of knowledge which gives rise to sad affects and constitutes human bondage, it is by way of the second kind of knowledge which gives rise to an association of human beings which is beneficial for all. As Spinoza writes, “Men still find from experience that by helping one another they can provide themselves much more easily with the things they require, and that only by joining forces can they avoid the dangers which threaten on all sides.” It is by understanding what is common to all men, by way of the common notion of Man, that we come to see how human beings agree in certain and determinate ways. Therefore, while we strive to persevere in our being, it is our striving in accordance with this second kind of knowledge (reason) that we strive in such a way that not only benefits ourselves but others as well. This common notion of Man, in light of the second knowledge, understands our striving as the same striving as other human beings insofar as they are understood as modifications of thought and extension, both which express God’s essence. This would be the meaning of Spinoza’s statement that “man is a God to man,” which is made possible by the ethical difference of the powers of the mind and the powers of the body, each which constitute our striving in the world.

III. Parallelism As Ethical Distinction

The examples of the sad individual populates Spinoza’s Ethics: the madman, the chatterbox, the drunk, the child, those who believe Nature’s telos is man, those who rely on the sadness of others for the exercise of their own power, the envious person who takes pleasure in another’s lack of power, and so on. What unites all these individuals is the idea that they believe themselves free because they are conscious of their actions and ignorant of the causes which determine them. As I have been arguing, the arguments found in IIP7 and IIIP2, do not serve the the purpose for a proof regarding a non-interaction between the mind and the body. Spinoza’s arguments regarding his supposed “parallelism” do not set out to show how the mind and the body are unrelated, or separated. Nor do his arguments provide a deepening of any supposed mind-body dualism. Rather, the thesis regarded as “parallelism” in Spinoza’s work ought to be understood in its ethical valence.

First, in terms of their metaphysical meaning as understanding God as the cause of the attributes of thought and extension. Second, in terms of their epistemological meaning as understanding the powers of the mind and the powers of the body as united in each individual and constitutive of their power of striving. Third, in terms of their ethical implications insofar as it is necessary to understand what aids and restrains our understanding of the necessary and essential causal relations. Thus, in Spinoza’s vision of ethical life, the ethical distinction between mind and body serves as a diagnostic in order for us to strive in accordance with reason. It is for these reasons that Spinoza cannot be said to posit a parallel relation between the mind and the body, and must be understood to pose this as an ethical distinction, since the Ethics is a work which sets as its task an understanding of human freedom in relation to all the causes which exert their power over ourselves and others. On this point Spinoza’s word puts it best:

“My account of the matter, the view I have arrived at, is this: no deity, nor anyone else, unless he is envious, takes pleasure in my lack of power and my misfortune; nor does he ascribe to virtue our tears, sighs, fear, and other things of that kind, which are signs of a weak mind. On the contrary, the greater the joy with which we are affected, the greater the perfection to which we pass, that is, the more we must participate in divine nature.”



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