Space & Time: Notes on Nietzsche’s Interpretation of Anaximander and Heraclitus

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“That which truly is, concludes Anaximander, cannot possess definite characteristics, or it would come-to-be and pass away like all the other things. In order that coming-to-be shall not cease, primal being must be indefinite. The immortality and everlastingness of primal being does not lie in its infinitude or its inexhaustibility, as the commentators of Anaximander generally assume, but in the fact that it is devoid of definite qualities that would lead to its passing. Hence its name, “the indefinite.” Thus named, the primal being is superior to that which comes to be, insuring thereby eternity and the unimpeded course of coming-to-be. This ultimate unity of the “indefinite,” the womb of all things, can, it is true, be designated by human speech only as a negative, as something to which the existent world of coming-lo-be can give no predicate. We may look upon it as the equal of the Kantian Ding an sick…“Rather, when he saw in the multiplicity of things that have come-to-be a sum of injustices that must be expiated, he grasped with bold fingers the tangle of the profoundest problem in ethics. He was the first Greek to do so. How can anything pass away which has a right to be?”

–Nietzsche, Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, p. 47-8.


It may strike some as odd; this return to the ‘pre-Platonics’ as a means to comprehend the philosophical and historical constitution of the problem of space and time in relation to thought. However, as we will see below, by reminding ourselves of what Nietzsche valorized in his reading of the pre-Platonic thinkers we will better understand the way in which space and time remain metaphysically distinct and yet mutually condition the other’s actualization. Namely, the reality of space and the reality of time are the cause of the unification of reality and not the principle of the unity of reality as such. And it is precisely this difference between that which is a cause of unification and that which is the principle of unity that is present with Nietzsche’s reading of Anaximander and Heraclitus. As will be shown, both space and time can be legitimately said to cause unity without claiming that it is due to the primacy of space over time, or the primacy of time over space, that defines the principle of unity – or the requirements that need to be met in order for unity to be actualized.

I). The Ethical Question Behind Every Question of Metaphysics

To begin, two quotes from Nietzsche bear citing since they illuminate the way that Heraclitus himself addressed the same problem that concerned Anaximander but in a more sophisticated manner. Nietzsche writes the following:

“Rather, when he [Anaximander] saw in the multiplicity of things that have come-to-be a sum of injustices that must be expiated, he grasped with bold fingers the tangle of the profoundest problem in ethics. He was the first Greek to do so. How can anything pass away which has a right to be?” (p. 48).

“…he puts a question to all creatures: “What is your existence worth? And if it is worthless, why are you here? Your guilt, I see, causes you to tarry in your existence. With your death, you have to expiate it. Look how your earth is withering, how your seas are diminishing and drying up; the seashell on the mountain top can show you how much has dried up already. Even now, fire is destroying your world; some day it will go up in fumes and smoke. But ever and anew, another such world of ephemerality will construct itself. Who is there that could redeem you from the curse of coming-to-be?” (p.48).

For Nietzsche, then, there are two implicit claims being made regarding the nature and structure of reality: 1). If something has a right to exist, then it must not cease to exist. 2). If something does not have a right to exist, it must cease to exist since it should not have been in the first place and it is through this finite being’s death that Time delivers its justice in accord with its impersonal and eternal nature (we have here an account of a quasi-temporal definition of natural right). Here Nietzsche’s interpretation recapitulates Anaximander’s own position without much controversy: the legitimacy regarding the existence or non-existence of a thing is determined according to the ordinance of Time-itself. In addition to the impersonal nature of the justice given through the Time of the Apeiron, the ‘ethical’ question that motivates Anaximander is interpreted as a question about the value of existence vis-á-vis the fact of finite existence.

In other words, how one answers the question ‘what value does an existent have?’ – as meaningful/valuable or meaningless/valueless –  is what determines the ‘right to exist’ in accordance with the ordinance of this Time-of-ApeironThus, we have the equation between ethics and the meaning/value of existence; where the meaning/worth of one’s life is the true concern for that branch of philosophy termed ‘ethics.’ On Nietzsche’s interpretation, if one’s existence is meaningful one can be legitimately deemed (judged/evaluated) as innocent and just, and if one’s existence is meaningless one can be legitimately deemed (judged/evaluated) as criminal and unjust. These categories of innocence and guilt are determined from the perspective of Time as such.

However, innocence and guilt are determined from the perspective of Time not because history will be our judge (that is, not because we are some how free from taking responsibility of our actions in the present since the truth and value of their consequences for humanity can only be assessed in the fullness of time). Rather, it is because the future of History as such is constituted by the act of judging, evaluating, and determining the meaning/value of existence in the present and as it relates to the past. At this juncture, Time is what determines the ethical valence of the living and the dead according to a wholly impersonal criteria.

II). Space and Time: Essentially Distinct While Mutually Conditioning 

If Anaximander is praised by Nietzsche for understanding the essentially ethical (or, as he sometimes phrases it, ‘moral’) preoccupation regarding our concern with the nature and structure of reality, it is Heraclitus who is elevated to the status of the most significant pre-Platonic since he provides us with an insight into Anaximander’s problematic; one which hinges on the relationship between what causes (or gives) order to the perpetual process of the coming-into-being and passing-out-of-being of finite things. As Nietzsche writes,

“Heraclitus achieved this [overcoming Anaximander’s aporia of the eternal coming-to-be as not having fully eliminated from existence-as-coming-into-being] by means of an observation regarding the actual process of all coming-to-be and passing away. He conceived it under the form of polarity, as being the diverging of a force into two qualitatively different opposed activities that seek to re-unite. Everlastingly, a given quality contends against itself and separates into opposites; everlastingly these opposites seek to re-unite. Ordinary people fancy they see something rigid, complete and permanent; in truth, however, light and dark, bitter and sweet are attached to each other and interlocked at any given moment like wrestlers of whom sometimes the one, sometimes the other is on top. Honey, says Heraclitus, is at the same time bitter and sweet; the world itself is a mixed drink which must constantly be stirred. The strife of the opposites gives birth to all that comes-to-be; the definite qualities which look permanent to us express but the momentary ascendancy of one partner. But this by no means signifies the end of the war; the contest endures in all eternity […] the Will to Live, which is seen as a self-consuming, menacing and gloomy drive, a thoroughly frightful and by no means blessed phenomenon. The arena and the object of the struggle is matter, which the natural forces alternately try to snatch from one another, as well as space and time whose union by means of causality is this very matter” (p. 54-56).

What is clear, in this passage, is that both space and time have a reality that is not simply subsumable, or identical, to one another. The nature of space and the nature of time are independent of the nature and reality of the other. Additionally, what we see here is what constitutes Heraclitean becoming. That is, the eternal struggle and perpetual war without end that is at the heart of the reality of things is interpreted as the mutual determination or influence that space and time have upon one another. Thus, while space and time remain essentially and qualitatively different they are actualized, or instantiated, in a co-constituting relationship. Thus, space and time are essentially distinct and logically non-identical while being existentially conditioned by their relationship to each other. Thus, when Nietzsche posits the eternal struggle as the fight over how space and time are unified by means of causality, this suggests to us that what gives order and structure to the world is how either space or time is actualized as the determining factor in-the-last-instance within a specific historical juncture, or a specific moment in the infinite process of becoming.

III). Concluding Remarks: from the Ethical to the Political

The main consequence of space and time’s contingency in terms of their existence as the cause of unity in the world, and regarding any further political analysis, is the following: at certain periods in history and under certain determinate conditions it is space (spatialization/globalization/the means of production) that acts as that which determines the reality and ordering of geopolitical life. At other moments in history and under certain determinate conditions it is time (temporalization/global synchrony/the relations of production/superstructural determination) that act as the determining and organizing factor of the reality of geopolitical life.

As Heraclitus already understood, what causes the world to be unified is the endless struggle between space and time. In other words, space and time must be understood as the cause of unification and not the principle of the unity of reality as such. Thus, both space and time can be legitimately said to cause unity without claiming that it is due to either space or time, taken as an exclusive disjunct, that serves as the principle of the unification of reality as such. Thus, what motivates Nietzsche to baptize Heraclitus as the most innocent of philosophers is this distinction between what is a cause and what is a principle for the unification of reality.






‘5 Theses on the Politics of Cruelty’ – Hostis: A Journal of Incivility

cross-chair- josef svoboda

(A preview from the forthcoming Issue of Hostis: A Journal of Incivility)

I). The politics that seduces us is not ethical, it is cruel.

We contrast the politics of cruelty to the politics of ethics. Ethics goes all the way back to the Greeks, whose ethics was the study of ‘the good life.’ Our interests do not lie in being better than our enemies.There is only cheap satisfaction in telling yourself that you have more exciting sex, stronger friendships, or fiercer personal convictions. The point is not to be better, but to win. Perhaps this leaves a bad taste in some mouths. However, we ask: is ethics not just a last resort for the impotent? Are ethical people what is left after struggles collapse into impossibility, futility, or counterproductivity

If abandoning ethics leaves one disturbed, it is because ethics is a wholly personal affair. To be ethical today is not even reformist – it is politics rendered as fantasy, a live action role play of those who ‘mean well.’ The sphere of ethical life is a world of braggarts and bullies looking for others to affirm that they have made the right personal choices. Ethics valorizes the virtue of activist intentions while leaving the systemic destruction of globally-integrated capital intact. In other words, it is fueled by the elitism of ‘being better than everyone else.’ And the problem with elitism is that it plunges us back into the milieu.

Cruelty has no truck with the individualism of ethics. It does not guide political action with virtue or best intentions. We are not looking to win the respect of those we wish to defeat. Ethics is the trap laid for those who walk the earth searching for respite from the destruction and violence of capital and the state. There is no use in making peace with an enemy whose realized interests entail your subjugation. There was nothing ‘ethical’ about the colonial world. And as Fanon reminds us, it could only be destroyed by giving up on an ‘ethical’ method. It is in this sense that a politics of cruelty picks up the old adage that one must ‘destroy what destroys you’.

II). Few emotions burn like cruelty.

It is already old wisdom that emotions are at stake when we talk about becoming ‘politicized.’ Emotions are what render the speculative and abstract into a lived reality. Winning is not simply a question of having the right ideas or right principles, this is why we define politics as the transformation of ideas into a whole mode of existence where one’s principles are at the same time one’s impulsion toward the world. If the politics of cruelty follows from the belief that we must destroy what destroys us, the emotion of cruelty is revenge. Only this taste for revenge offers resistance to the voices of this world that tell us to put up with the daily violence done to us. To feel cruel is to know that we deserve better than this world; that our bodies are not for us to hate or to look upon with disgust; that our desires are not disastrous pathologies. To feel the burning passion of cruelty, then, is to reclaim refusal. We refuse to compromising ourselves and the million tiny compromises of patriarchy, capitalism, white-supremacy, heter/homo-normativity, and so on. As such, the subject of cruelty no longer convinces themselves to love the world or to find something in the world that redeems the whole. Simply put: the subject of cruelty learns to hate the world. The feeling of cruelty is the necessary correlate to the politics of cruelty; learning to hate the world is what correlates to the political task of destroying what destroys us all. And as we already noted, it is because these two principles have a long history behind them that a politics of cruelty does not posit itself as a novelty: The Women’s Liberation movements are correct in saying: We are not castrated, so you get fucked.

III). Those motivated by cruelty are neither fair nor impartial.

Fairness is the correlate to the ‘ethics-as-politics’ paradigm. Why? Because fairness suggests that we relate to everyone in the same way. There is nothing about this world that encourages universal fairness or acting according to mutual support of any and all interests. Rather, we live in a world where everyone is pitted against each other – we have a structurally determined interest to be mean and to succeed at the expense of others. Fairness, as it currently exists, is the fairness of neoliberal competition; a state sponsored ‘state of nature’. Impartiality is the counter-tendency to the subject of cruelty. Unlike the cruel subject who understands that there can be no agreement made between capital and its dispossessed, the impartial subject furthers the myth that agreements can and should be found between the two parties. Impartiality is the idea that power is symmetrical and that a social contract can give this symmetry its proper force through law.

We know that we are in the midst of a civil war. We act as partisans. And as in any war, we have friends and enemies. For our enemies, we have nothing but disdain, hatred, and cruelty. Our only engagement with them is when it strategically advances our side in the conflict. For our friends, we extend care, support, and solidarity.

Some say that capital and the state operate through cruelty; and contrary to their cruelty, our struggle is to take the higher ground. This is to misunderstand what few things are unique to our position. Our enemies must reproduce their bases of power, which is takes a costly investment in corrupt political systems, crumbling industrial infrastructure, and expensive wars of ideology. As anarchists, we do not need to reproduce much  – we do not need to justify our actions, we do not need to be consistent in our activities, and we need not defend any of the institutions of this world. To limit ourselves even more than our enemies by following the narrow path of ethics is to give up our only advantage.

IV). Their actions speak with an intensity that does not desire permission, let alone seek it.

There is a qualitative difference between the cruelty exercised by us and the cruelty of capital and its State(s). In the United States, there is the idea that the 18th amendment guarantees the protection of citizens from ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ This was to juridically curtail the power of the State over and against its citizenry. But due to the explicitly bourgeois heritage from which it emerges, this guarantee against State-cruelty only goes as far as the eyes of the State can see; that is, only insofar as two isolated individuals are coming into conflict with one another, and where the State intervenes impartially as the mediating third term. It is in this way that the curtailing of State-cruelty remains within the logic of recognition: metrics of intelligibility only pertain to situations of isolated actions. State recognition ignores situations of collective antagonism. What is more, is what we gain via the channels of State recognition (e.g., desegregation in the 1950’s) was already being eroded through other State sanctioned economic mechanisms (e.g., redlining as early as the 1930’s). The conclusion should be obvious by now: State-recognition is nothing more than the continuation of war by other means.

Thus, if our politics of cruelty seeks to destroy what destroys us coupled to its subjective correlate of revenge – which means our learning to hate the world while staving off the internalization of those norms which teach us to hate ourselves – then it is clear that our political-cruelty cannot treat the state and capital as reliable sources for recognition since what we want and need cannot be tolerated by globally integrated capital and thus pre-emptively renders us all variations of pathological, trouble-making, hysterical, killjoys alike.

V). While social anarchism sings lullabies of altruism, there are those who play with the hot flames of cruelty.

Altruism comes in at least two variants. The first is already well known; the emphasis on collectivist ethics that diffuses any antagonism through its criteria of absolute horizontalism. The second, more insidious, is a zealous altruism; here the emphasis is placed on the absolute destruction of the individual put in the service of actualizing an Idea. These are not the actions of the dispossessed. Rather, it is the altruism of an anarchists crucifixion. If the latter at least agrees that struggle is an ineluctable fact of politics, the zealous altruists weakness still lies in his belief that to engage in civil war means to burn out in the process. For every form of communal horizontalism that defers the moment of attack there is a correlating tendency to collapse heroism and martyrdom. Additionally, it is true that we have said that our political-cruelty seeks to destroy what destroys us. However, this does not necessitate the assertion that real transformation means our own self-destruction. There is a world of difference between converting structural oppression into a fight for abolition and identifying existential abolition as the proper means toward the abolition of capital as such. In a word: “Even if we had the power to blow it [the State] up, could we succeed in doing so without destroying ourselves, since it is so much a part of the conditions of life, including our organism and our very reason? The prudence with which we must manipulate that line, the precautions we must take to soften it, to suspend it, to divert it, to undermine it, testify to a long labor which is not merely aimed against the State and the powers that be, but directly at ourselves.”

That said, the first iteration of altruism should not be given scant attention precisely because of its prevalence. In place of weaponizing our feelings of cruelty, social anarchism substitutes a straight forward Habermasianism sutured to the mantra of ‘returning to a class based analysis’. This helps some sleep at night. Contra these political sedatives, we again confront the history and cruelty of our politics. What is at stake is the feminist lesson we must never forget: that the personal is political; that few emotions burn and catalyze collective insubordination like those of pain, vengeance, and cruelty. The lesson is that the efficacy of political-cruelty lies not in the never ending reflections and discussions on what pains us; rather, that emotions such as cruelty are what constitute the armature of our collective antagonism.

Frankenstein Revenge Poster

A Brief Note For Enemies And Allies:

We could care less about those whose politics amounts to being a good ‘friend’ to those who struggle, or being a good ‘ally’ by reading up on the history of people of color, queers, and so on. A politics of cruelty is not a politics of friendship; since we do not see a softer world here because sociability has its cruelties, friendship has its rivalries, and opinion has its antagonisms and bloody reversals.

Friendship is already too Greek, too philosophical, and too European for our politics of cruelty. In its place, we should reinvigorate the politics of the Guayaki in Paraguay or the many tribes in that territory known as Zoma. That is, political cruelty does not seek to be included into the universality proposed by the history of Western capitalism and instead seeks to find the means of escaping from a universality that was never ours from the start. For those who would prefer reductive formulations, we could say that while the West continues its process of inclusion and expansion, our political-cruelty maintains its relation to the Outside. To our enemies who get off on finding contradictions that abound in this politics of cruelty we say to them ‘all the better!’ For them, whose desire is to be the intelligible subjects of globally integrated capital, these contradictions are mere impasses on their road to being exceptions to the rule. To our allies, who opt for a politics of cruelty, we say ‘savor these supposed contradictions!’ From the point of view of political-cruelty a contradiction simply means that we have a weapon with more than one side.

Between Badiou and Spinoza: On Epistemic Conditioning and The Doctrine of Parallelism

L'Avenç - Ramón Casas

“The true is generic, even when being is the power of singularities.”

— Alain Badiou, ‘Spinoza’s Closed Ontology’

(short essay currently in progress…)

0. Intro

In a short essay from the 1990’s, Alain Badiou addresses the persuasive force and fundamental shortcoming of Spinoza’s philosophy: it’s force, says Badiou, is that Spinoza has thoroughly proven that ‘Being can only be thought more geometrico.’ Spinoza’s shortcoming, however, stems from his treatment of Being independent from temporal determination by way of the Event. It is for this reason that Badiou claims that a theory of the event is the necessary supplement to Spinozism, in order to account for categories such as ‘indeterminacy, difference, subject, undecidability…” and so on. In a certain sense, Badiou’s criticism of Spinoza is reminiscent of the charge leveled by Hegel, which claimed that while philosophy must begin with Spinozism since it directs thought toward the Absolute, Spinoza must be rendered as a moment within the progression of dialectical thought since Spinoza’s Substance, by itself, remains static. Badiou formulates the criticism in the following manner: “The true is generic, even when being is the power of singularities.” In other words, the problem of Spinozism is how to account for the movement from the Infinite to the finite, from infinite intellect to finite intellect, and from substance to subject. However, what I want to show is that Badiou’s critique of Spinoza rests on several reconceptualizations of Spinoza’s own concepts; some reconceptualizations which are justifiable and some which remain untenable from the perspective of Spinozism.

Badiou will insist on treating the infinite intellect and extended things as separate, and on claiming that infinite intellection has an additional form of determination that is not found in extended things. Additionally, Badiou insists that there are three additional assumptions behind the arguments for the status of substance, substance’s relation to itself and things in the world, and its essence: namely, what is assumed in substance is a ‘proof of difference,’ what is assumed regarding the relation of substance and its modes additional to causality is ‘coupling’ and ‘inclusion,’ and what is assumed in the essence, or identity, of substance is an exceptional subject that is ‘heterogenous’ to Being itself. By reconstructing how this critique proceeds, we will be able to see that while it appears to be plausible that we can justifiably treat the infinite intellect and extended things as separate and coupled, Badiou’s claim that an infinite intellect has an additional form of determination that is not found in extended things misses all the necessary theoretical justifications found in the doctrine of parallelism; a mistake on Badiou’s part that at the same time grounds his entire critique.

1. The Implicit Assumption Of A ‘Proof of Difference’

Problems arise for Spinoza with the status of the relationship between substance and its attributes. That is, what underlies the relationship between substance and its attributes isn’t simply logical identity (e.g., substance is its attributes). Rather, this relation is constituted by some notion of difference, which gives rational grounding for the existence of an infinite number of attributes. This notion of difference is defined in two main ways. Implicit in Spinoza’s thought, this idea of ‘infinite substance’ conveys what Badiou calls a ‘determination of the indeterminate.’ That is, the role played by the term Infinite is one of Substances own internal determinations of itself, by virtue of its essence (causa sui). Second, the infinite nature of substance is expressed, numerically/quantitatively, through an infinite number of attributes. This means, then, that each attribute must be different in kind from, and therefore cannot be collapsed back into, every other attribute.

Now, while it might not seem like a real obstacle given the implication of difference in kind between the attributes of substance, Badiou underscores that the problem of the relation between attributes and substance arises because of how Spinoza conceives of attributes themselves; namely, as “operations of the intellect” that “give meaning to God’s existential singularization as infinite substance.” That is to say, if attributes are simply the conceptual mediators which arise from the intellects attempt to know and understand Substance, what is it about the intellect itself that gives it this specific function and capacity? That is, in Badiou’s own words, “the intellect is operative, but what is the ontological status of its operation?” It is by raising the question of the metaphysical status of the intellect itself that Badiou will build his critique of Spinoza.

In order to do this, Badiou begins by affirming Spinoza’s own definition of the intellect as a mode of the attribute of thought, and by affirming that the infinite intellect is a mode, also infinite, and follows logically and necessarily from the attribute of thought itself. Additionally, the intellect functions as a ‘measure of the power of God’ insofar as God is a thinking thing, and when considered under the attribute of Thought, God’s power is understood to be infinite: ‘All the things that it can intellect…are held to exist.’ However, Badiou takes this idea of God’s infinite intellection being equivalent to the infinite power of God as being separable and distinct from any other attribute of substance. It is this claim that sets up Badiou’s critique and should be quoted at length:

“Clearly, no other infinite mode imaginable by us posses such a capacity for measuring God’s power. This holds in particular for the other example of an immediate infinite mode given by Spinoza, movement and rest, which is supposed to be the correlate of infinite intellect on the side of extension. For it is obvious that no general prescription about God’s power follows from the pure concept of movement and rest.”

What is the possible justification for Badiou’s claim that it is only the powers of the infinite intellect that can serve as an adequate, and true, measure of God’s power? It is, for Badiou, the fact that what differentiates the metaphysical status of infinite modes of Thought from those infinite modes Extension is that an “infinite intellect presupposes an entirely different determination, one which is extrinsic. For the intellect, whose components are ideas, is equally well determined by what it intellects, or by what the idea is an idea of. ” Badiou’s reading is in fact corroborated by Spinoza in Part II of the Ethics in the propositions where he deals with the nature of the mind as the idea we have of our body (extended thing) in its relation to other bodies (extended things). For Spinoza, it is true that the ideas we have of bodies are conditioned by their relation to my own body and their relations to other extended things: “A human mind perceives the nature of many bodies together with the nature of its own body” (EIIP16Cor1); “The ideas that we have of external bodies are more informative about the condition of our own body than about the nature of the external bodies. I have explained this by many examples in the Appendix of Part I” (EIIP16Cor2).

In other words, on Badiou’s reading, the intellect is privileged precisely because it exists as a mode which is determined internally according to its attribute and externally according to the objects of the intellect. Here we begin to see what is at stake in beginning with the relationship between substance and its attributes: if the attributes are the conceptual mediators through which the intellect gains knowledge of substance, and if the infinite number of attributes are truly distinct from one another, then there will be certain properties of each attribute that cannot be found in others. In this case, the property that is specific to the infinite intellect is being determined by the attribute to which it belongs (Thought) and by the object of its activity (extended things). However, as we will see, it is from this idea that there is a type of extrinsic conditioning of the mind by extended things in the operations of the intellect that give Badiou the suspicion that the doctrine of parallelism is untenable since it fails to correctly thematize the minds dependence on extended things.

2. ‘Coupling’ contra Parallelism

Now, even if we are to accept this reading of the relationship between the infinite intellect and things in the world, the first major critique leveled against Spinoza by Badiou, is the following: while Spinoza’s argument for the parallelism between ideas and things seems to ensure the unity between the mind and the body, between our knowledge of the world and the essence of the world itself, Badiou insists that what grounds this union must be found in something other than the essential form of relation that substance has with itself; namely, causality. In other words, Badiou’s first major criticism of Spinoza regards the very connection between ideas and things themselves and is built upon his first claim that the mind is not only internally determined by the attribute of Thought but also extrinsically determined by the attribute of Extension. If Spinoza has barred any causal relation between Thought and Extension (since substance is the only true cause of things), and if causality is the essential and necessary way in which substance relates to itself, then how do the attributes of Thought and Extension relate to one another if not through a causal connection?

Regarding this problem of the unity of the attributes of substance, Badiou posits that what needs to supplement the thesis of parallelism is what he terms ‘coupling.’ This term, which is derived from Spinoza’s claim that a true idea is an idea that agrees with its object (EIA6), suggests that while Spinoza does not have an explicit account for how thought and extension are united, Spinoza holds the belief that what gives an idea its truth-value is an ideas agreement with its ideatum. It is because this argument hinges on the term agreement that Badiou will call ‘coupling’ a normative practice. That is, the coupling of mind and body is normative insofar as the criteria for the truth-value of ideas is their ‘agreement’ with their objects. Here we arrive at Badiou’s second major criticism: it is because the norm of agreement, which constitutes a true ideas, cannot be said to have a causal relationship with an infinite intellect that the idea of ‘coupling’ becomes necessary.

Now, if this operation of ‘coupling’ becomes necessary for an infinite intellect, then this underscores the fact of the difference in kind between attributes and gives Badiou reason to conclude that there is something specific to the infinite intellect that cannot be found in any other attribute. That is, if the thesis of parallelism were in fact true – that the same order and connection underlies both ideas and things – then the process of coupling with its norm of agreement would not be necessary. The fact of its necessity in Spinoza’s account leads Badiou to claim that

“…it is impossible to conceive of (or for the intellect to represent) a structure isomorphic with that of the intellect itself in any attribute other than thought. Consequently, the attribute of thought is not isomorphic with any of the other attributes, not even in terms of the relation of causality alone.”

Therefore, on Badiou’s reading of Spinoza, not only does the parallelism thesis fail at the level of uniting the attributes of substance with substance itself; Spinoza’s argument for parallelism even fails to overcome what many have thought Spinoza of resolving: namely, the existence of a difference in kind between mind and body, between res cogita and res extensa. On the Badiouian reading, the difference which guarantees that each attribute of substance is not simply interchangeable with every other one ensures that each attribute of substance will have something particular to itself. It is from these specific determinations proper to each attribute, and from Spinoza’s refutation of the idea that any two attributes have a causal relationship to one another, that the unity of the mind with the body, of Thought with Extension in substance, cannot be rationalized in the form of causality and must be said to be a relation of ‘coupling.’

3. Substance’s Heterogeneity

The third and final criticism of Spinoza regards the passage from the infinite to the finite; a problem, which according to Badiou, “constitutes the greatest impediment for Spinozist ontology.” In connection with the prior discussion regarding the infinite intellect, Badiou’s suspicion regarding this passage from the infinite to the finite can be formulated in the following way: Spinoza provides his understanding of the passage from the finite to the infinite, via the intellect, in part II of the Ethics. In propositions 38 to 40, Spinoza argues that what constitutes ‘reason’ is the construction of common notions; whose characteristic of being ‘common’ is derived from the shared properties of various things in the world. That is to say, on the basis of these common notions, rational activity is made possible. However, says Badiou, the status of truth in this Spinozist view ultimately renders Truth itself general and universal. As Badiou writes, “there is no true knowledge of that singular body of which our mind is the idea. But the finite intellect necessarily has a true idea of what is common to all bodies, and consequently of what is not singular, as soon as it is able to couple with it.”

While the claim that Spinozist truth is only ever general and universal may be seen, from within Spinoza’s system, as a virtue, it is here where Badiou’s ultimate objection can be understood. If truth can never be said of singular, finite, and particular things (Badiou’s claim that being is the power of singularities) and only of those things which are ‘most common’ to all things, then Spinoza has merely demonstrated the basic determinations of substance – infinite, eternal, etc. – without having given us the reasons, or causes, by which we can think and understand the particularity of things. It is for this reason that Badiou gives the title of a ‘closed ontology’ to his essay on Spinoza and concludes, in a critical light: ‘All truth is generic. Alternatively: what is thinkable of being is mathematical.’ Thus, when Badiou criticizes Spinoza for assuming that Substance is in fact heterogenous to Being itself, it is to indicate how the general and universal determinations of things via the second kind of knowledge (reason) do not in fact give us access to Substance itself. Rather, the type of knowledge derived through ‘common notions’ can only be said in a general manner, excluding the possibility of us having knowledge of particular and singular things on their own terms.

4. Critiquing Badiou’s Critique

What should be clear by now is that Badiou’s critique of Spinoza rests, fundamentally, on his disagreement with the sufficiency of Spinoza’s understanding of the relationship between the attributes of Thought and Extension and how their relationship is played out in terms of the doctrine of parallelism. For Badiou, while no two attributes of substance can be interchangeable with any other, Badiou’s argument is that what is true of the attribute of Thought (intrinsic and extrinsic determination) is not true of Extension (mere extrinsic determination). It is Thoughts dual determination – internally via its attribute and externally via the bodies it cognizes – that renders suspect the doctrine of parallelism since parallelism appears to claim that what is true of Thought is also true of Extension. It is the same order and connection of things which is found, each time, whether we consider things from the vantage point of Thought or from the perspective of Extension. However, this cannot be the case for Badiou since Thought appears to have an additional form of determination viz-á-viz extended things and thus, what is true for Thought cannot be said to be true for Extension. Thus, for Badiou, a more robust theory of ‘coupling’ will need to supplant Spinoza’s theory of parallelism. Now, very quickly, I want to underscore that while Badiou’s criticisms are persuasive, they overlook crucial features of Spinoza’s doctrine of parallelism and thus lead more to a misunderstanding between Badiou and Spinoza than any type of critique proper.

The reason why Badiou’s critique of Spinoza’s parallelism leads to so many misunderstandings is due to a certain type of confusion, or a certain equivocation between what Badiou calls ‘determination’ and what Spinoza calls ‘causality’. For Badiou, as we saw, Thought is determined in two directions while Extension is merely determined according to its own attribute. However, the claim that the mind is determined both by its attribute and by the modes of Extension in no way contradict Spinoza’s thesis of parallelism since what Spinoza denies in terms of the relationship between the mind and extended things is not ‘determination’ understood as conditions for thoughts operations. Rather, what Spinoza denies is any ‘causal’ connection between the mind and extended things, where ‘causality’ here means nothing other than ‘the reasons for why something exists’. That is, the body does not cause the mind nor does the mind cause the body simply because neither one nor the other brings their correlate into existence. In other words, the very fact that human cognition is conditioned by the very nature of cognitive activity as well as by the objects of its activity is explicitly affirmed and accepted by Spinoza unproblematically since this plurality of conditionality does not give us the reasons, or the causal connections adequate for understanding things from the point of view of Substance, for what gives existence to thought and extension respectively. Thus, the thesis of parallelism is less a thesis about the co-constituting, or co-conditioning, of the mind and the body and rather a thesis about how each term in the relation is not what gives existence to the other (to assume that one term in fact gives existence to its correlate is to move from Spinoza to Descartes, since for Descartes it was the operations of the mind that explained the nature of the body).

Four Kinds of Causality in BK1 of Spinoza’s Ethics


“There are those who feign a God, like man, consisting of a body and a mind, and subject to passions. But how far they wander from the true knowledge of God…Them I dismiss.”

                                                                                            – Spinoza, E1P15Schol.

Coming to terms with Book I of Spinoza’s Ethics is nothing short of coming to terms with a rigorous account of a de-humanized and secular God. For someone like Hegel, Spinoza’s God was nothing short of an ‘abyss of annihilation,’ where the Absolute remained within itself and failed to effectively produce the world (substance does not become subject). However, there is something amiss regarding such criticism. In my estimation, Book I of the Ethics not only argues for the existence of substance; rather, it makes the more relevant claim that god as conceived in Medieval philosophy and its traces in Early Modern philosophy grounds itself on a fundamental misunderstanding. Perhaps in what would be a shocking moment for the reader, Spinoza writes in the Appendix of BKI that “[A]ll the prejudices I here undertake to expose depend on this one: that men commonly suppose that all natural things act, as men do, on account of an end; indeed, they maintain as certain that God himself directs all things to some certain end, for they say that God has made all things for man, and man that he might worship God.” (E1Appendix). However, this seemingly out of place remark is clarified in various propositions – E1P24, E1P25, E1P15Schol., and E1P18. What is common to these propositions of the Ethics is a sustained argument for God as both immanent and efficient cause rather than God as a combination of transitiveemanative, and final cause of all things.

The ideas of transitive, emanative, and final cause are the modes of justifying a conception of a voluntaristic, and anthropomorphized, being. Why? For the very reason that, according to Medieval thought, God creates the world according to his image and solely on his own will to do so. That is to say, the world is conceived as distinct from God, and moreover, the world corresponds to an idea of the world which exists in God’s intellect. Therefore, God not only produces things outside of himself (transitive cause), but God also relies upon something internal to himself to produce those external things (emanative cause). This set of claims lead to understandings of God not only as divine creator, but also as a being (if this being is truly perfect, just, good, etc.,) who would need to appeal to these very concepts which are outside of himself, to bring them into existence. This would violate the idea of God as an omnipotent since there would be things which exceed God’s existence (the ideas of a good world) which God would rely upon in order for the world to exist. Since God would necessarily rely upon these conceptions for the existence of things, this would mean that God’s own existence as divine creator would rely upon something other than itself for its own existence. However, this violates the very understanding of God as omnipotent and therefore as a being who need not rely on anything else for its own existence as God. If God would need to rely on something other than itself, this would constitute an imperfection in God’s existence. And here we can see the contradiction: God appears to be both perfect and yet reliant upon things outside of himself for his own existence as God, while at the same time supposedly being that which is omnipotent, omniscient, etc., and therefore as that which exists without the need of anything else for its existence.

If these problems inherent in the conception of God are not enough, Spinoza adds to these objections a third: God, understood as final cause, is an additional contradiction since if God acts according to some end, this would reinforce the very ideas of God’s transitive and emanative causality of all things, while attempting to provide a moral justification for the existence of all things. That is to say, God as final cause could take the form of the being who decides the “best of all possible worlds,” and despite the redemptive features of such a conception of God, it still commits us to having to decide between God as striving toward something outside of itself to satisfy its own existence. Here, again, we come against the same set of contradictions: God as being both reliant on things outside of himself for his own existence, while at the same time being the kind of being which is all powerful and needs no other beings for his existence. Here we should say, along with Deleuze, that “[M]oral chattering replaces true philosophy” (EPS, 255).

So what is Spinoza’s reply? For Spinoza, God is nothing but the immanent (E1P18) and efficient (E1P25) cause of all things.  It because God is substance; is that which exists necessarily, that God is the immanent cause of all things. Put in another way, if we truly commit ourselves to the idea of God as that which does not need anything other than itself for its existence, then we also commit ourselves to the idea that everything which exists and happens, exists and happens “in” God – there is nothing “outside’ of God to which we could appeal for the reason or cause for some things existence. It is for this reason, that substance never needs to go beyond itself since everything which exists involves substance necessarily. Therefore, God as the cause of all things is simply the idea of a form of causality that remains completely internal to substance itself.

Additionally, God is the efficient, and not final, cause of all things – or the principle of change and movement of all things. For Spinoza, God is an efficient cause because it is God which allows for the existence of an infinite number of attributes and an infinite number of modes. Interestingly enough, Spinoza writes that “God is the efficient cause of all things which can fall under an infinite intellect” (E1P16Cor1). The significance of this passage is seen in relationship to any attempt to understand God as final cause. If God were the final cause of all things, God would necessarily be acting according to some determined end, or finality, which would reside in the intellect of God. As was state earlier, this is the picture of God inherited from the Medievals and perpetuated by Early Modern thinkers. Contrary to this position, and due to the number of problems we encounter in this conception of God, Spinoza’s idea of God as efficient, and not final, cause of all things relies on the Principle of Sufficient Reason. The efficient cause of all things, this cause being that which is reason for why things exist and how they exist, is the proper form of causality if we understand God in a non-anthropomorphic way (as not acting according to a will, according to an idea or model of a good world, etc.). God is simply the reason, or cause for the existence of all things. It is this definition of God, as simple as it may be, that Spinoza continuously argues for throughout BK1 of the Ethics. Thus, when Spinoza writes in the Appendix of BK1 that his motivation arises from dispensing with the fundamental prejudice of God as being akin to human existence, acting according to an end, etc., it is not to provide us with a static picture of God as Hegel would have it. Rather, it is the simultaneous attempt to do away with ideas which try to humanize the divine, while at the same provide an image of God, or Nature, as the productive/causal principle which inheres in all things. As Deleuze was wont to say, it is because God exists that everything is possible.

‘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.”


‘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).