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IMMORTALITY IN SPINOZA

(RANDOM NOTES)

Introduction | Spinoza's last 20 propositions | Stuart Hampshire | Edwin Curley
George Santayana | Jonathan Israel | Steven Nadler | Univ. of Leeds
Univ. of Notre Dame | Internet Encyclopedia | Matthew Stewart | Will Durant
Roger Scruton | Richard Mason | Antonio Damasio | Henry Allison
Jonathan Bennett | Steven B. Smith | Nico van Suchtelen (in Dutch) | Genevieve Lloyd

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to Conatus in Spinoza (separate page)

Baruch (Benedict) de Spinoza (1632-1677)
In Advayavada Buddhism we are very interested in the 'God sive Nature' understanding of existence propounded by the Dutch philosopher Baruch (Benedict) de Spinoza (1632-1677). 'Spinozism is a monistic approach to philosophy in which all reality is held to consist of one only substance, usually termed God or Nature, of which both material things and thought (e.g. body and mind) are matching attributes, mirroring each other', an ontological parallelism or correlation of these two aspects of all things which we can understand and largely support.

However, according to Spinoza in the final pages of his Ethics (EVP22ff), the one substance can allegedly retain or retrieve a something from the mind of a human being that no longer exists in time, meaning that, according to Spinoza, the human mind has a temporal and a non-temporal part, which is, of course, dualism plain and simple. Spinoza states moreover that this non-temporal something of the human mind, which is somehow to be retained or retrieved by the one eternal substance, can furthermore grow in size during the lifetime of the human being (EVP38 and 39), which is contradictory, because change is, of course, a purely temporal phenomenon.

We believe instead that sentient beings are the only part of the whole of reality which has become capable of knowledge, and what man and other sentient beings have in common with the rest of existence is not thought of any kind, but rather their conatus, the innate striving or drive to persevere successfully in being of all things, and of which sentient cognition is certainly an element. This conatus is, in Advayavada Buddhism, the 'fourth' sign or mark or basic fact or feature of overall existence which is understood and experienced, from the human standpoint, as 'progress', and which is similar to Te, the 'virtuous power' of the Tao in Taoism.

We accept, indeed largely share, that God, or Nature, i.e. overall existence, has two (inseparable) parallel aspects: (physical) things, and the (non-physical) way in which things exist, i.e. how they are or become, i.o.w. act, over time, ranging, say, from molecular patterns to cognition and the human intellect (indeed, sometimes capable of viewing reality samadhically sub specie aeternitatis). "Substance thinking [thought] and substance extended [things] are one and the same substance, comprehended now through one attribute, now through the other" (EIIP7S). We do not accept, however, that apart from the human mode of extension itself, anything at all in existence displays anything like the human intellect or mind and, above all, that a part of this changing human intellect might moreover be in any way non-temporal or non-durational and soul-like as implied in the last propositions of the Ethics - we totally reject the idea of an essence of non-existence to accomodate such parts. The writer wonders, in fact, whether these few concluding propositions of the Ethics (which astonish so many) might not be apocryphal. What say you?

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Spinoza's last 'twenty' propositions in the Ethics, as translated by Edwin Curley (listed here, for quick reference, without demonstrations, etc.):
EVP21: The mind can neither imagine anything, nor recollect past things, except while the body endures.
EVP22: Nevertheless, in God there is necessarily an idea that expresses the essence of this or that human body, under a species of eternity [sub specie aeternitatis].
EVP23: The human mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the body, but something of it remains which is eternal.
EVP24: The more we understand singular things, the more we understand God.
EVP25: The greatest striving of the mind, and its greatest virtue is understanding things by the third kind of knowledge.
EVP26: The more the mind is capable of understanding things by the the third kind of knowledge, the more it desires to understand them by this kind of knowledge.
EVP27: The greatest satisfaction of mind there can be arises from this third kind of knowledge.
EVP28: The striving, or desire, to know things by the third kind of knowledge cannot arise from the first kind of knowledge, but can indeed arise from the second.
EVP29: Whatever the mind understands under a species of eternity, it understands not from the fact that it conceives the body's present actual existence, but from the fact that it conceives the body's essence under a species of eternity.
EVP30: Insofar as our mind knows itself and the body under a species of eternity, it necessarily has knowledge of God, and knows that it is in God and is conceived through God.
EVP31: The third kind of knowledge depends on the mind, as on a formal cause, insofar as the mind itself is eternal.
EVP32: Whatever we understand by the third kind of knowledge we take pleasure in, and our pleasure is accompanied by the idea of God as a cause.
EVP33: The intellectual love of God, which arises from the third kind of knowledge, is eternal.
EVP34: Only while the body endures is the mind subject to affects which are related to the passions.
EVP35: God loves himself with an infinite intellectual love.
EVP36: The mind's intellectual love of God is the very love of God by which God loves himself, not insofar as he is infinite, but insofar as he can be explained by the human mind's essence, considered under a species of eternity; that is, the mind's intellectual love of God is part of the infinite love by which God loves himself.
EVP37: There is nothing in Nature which is contrary to this intellectual love, or which can take it away.
EVP38: The more the mind understands things by the second and third kind of knowledge, the less it is acted on by affects which are evil, and the less it fears death.
EVP39: He who has a body capable of a great many things has a mind whose greatest part is eternal.
EVP40: The more perfection each thing has, the more it acts and the less it is acted on, and conversely, the more it acts, the more perfect it is.
EVP41: Even if we did not know that our mind is eternal, we would still regard as of the first importance morality, religion, and absolutely all the things we have shown (in Part IV) to be related to tenacity and nobility.
EVP42: Blessedness is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself; nor do we enjoy it because we restrain our lusts; on the contrary, because we enjoy it, we are able to restrain them.

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Stuart Hampshire, in Spinoza, An Introduction to his Philosophical Thought, 1951, 1988, Oxford 2005: It cannot be claimed that we can easily understand what exactly Spinoza meant when he wrote: "The human mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the body, but something of it, which is eternal, remains" (EVP23); certainly part of the explanation is to be found in the proposition "The mind conceives nothing under the form of eternity (sub specie aeternitatis), save insofar as it conceives the being of its own body under the form of eternity, that is, save so far as it is eternal" (EVP31D). It seems - but this must be conjectural - that we sometimes have experiences of complete and intuitive understanding, and that on such occasions we feel and know ourselves to be mentally united or identified with the eternal order of Nature; so far we know ourselves to be, in respect to that part of the life of our minds, eternal. This seems to be the ancient doctrine that the life of pure reason, of which we have occasional glimpses, is another kind of existence, utterly different from our ordinary life with its local and temporary attachments, and that it is senseless to speak either of decay or of prolongation in respect to this superior existence, in which all our experience is the enjoyment of eternal truths. But everyone must be left further to interpret these propositions as he can, or perhaps to confess that at this point he finds himself beyond the limits of literal understanding; it would be the work of a much longer study to show exactly where the limits of understanding may be expected to fall when we try to talk of the eternity of the human mind.

Stuart Hampshire, in the Introduction to Benedict de Spinoza's Ethics, translated by Edwin Curley, London 1996: That the mind or soul should survive by itself when the life of the body has ended is, for Spinoza, an unintelligible supposition: it suggests that the soul or mind is an individual, or quasi-substance, rather than a distinguishable aspect of the activity of an individual, who is a person. But in a famously obscure passage (EVP23) Spinoza asserts that 'The human mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the body, but something of it remains which is eternal'. He adds 'we feel and know by experience that we are eternal'. The claim is that, in so far as our thought is disconnected from memory and imagination, and is knowledge of eternal and necessary truths, our thought is disconnected from the limitations of time, and in this thinking we are united with the eternal aspect of Reality (God or Nature) as thought. We make this transition from thinking of ourselves as particular things in the constantly changing face of Nature, each with a particular standpoint and location in time, to thinking of ourselves as being, in our thinking, parts of the eternal framework of Reality.

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Edwin M. Curley, in The Immortality of the Soul in Descartes and Spinoza, University of Michigan website: Nor is the human mind a substance. It is rather a collection of modes of thought whose identity over time as the same collection is a function of the identity over time of the collection of modes of extension which constitute the human body. The body can remain the same body over a period of time during which it changes, during which some of the modes of extension which constitute the body are replaced by others, so long as the relations of motion and rest which the parts have to one another remain more or less constant during that period of time. The body has a certain tendency to maintain a constant ratio of the motion of its parts to one another. When it succeeds in doing that, it persists as one complex mode of extension. When it fails, it ceases to exist as that particular body. Its success in maintaining that ratio is constantly threatened by surrounding bodies which may disturb the ratio. The mind's duration as the particular mind it is depends on its body's success in maintaining the ratio of motion and rest among its parts. Man, whether conceived as a thinking thing or as an extended thing, is a part of nature, constantly striving to maintain itself [conatus], but constantly at risk of being put out of existence by some stronger force in its environment.

This does not seem to be particularly promising soil in which to grow a theory of the immortality of the soul, and I do not in fact think it will support any very traditional theory of immortality. What survives the destruction of the body, for Spinoza, is not the mind as that complete complex entity which was the reflection in thought of its body and endured as the thing it was so long as the body endured as the thing it was. It is only a portion of the mind which Spinoza proclaims to be eternal. That portion of the mind cannot retain any sense of itself as an individual existing over time, with those memories of its past which are essential to its continued identity as the same person. Continuity of memory is destroyed when the traces in the brain which record past experiences are destroyed. What survives must be something quite impersonal, with which we cannot really identify, and about whose fate we cannot deeply care. Nor is it important that we should. Spinoza is opposed to the Cartesian idea that we require the hope of reward and fear of punishment in the afterlife to motive a preference for the right over the useful. The reward of virtue is not blessedness in the world to come, but virtuous living itself (EVP42).

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George Santayana, in the Introduction to Spinoza's Ethics, translated by Andrew J. Boyle, 1910, London 1938: The point in religious philosophy at which Spinoza departed most from Jewish ideas, and approached (perhaps unawares) to those of the Greeks, was his doctrine of human freedom and immortality. In their ordinary acceptation both these things are excluded from his system. He was a fatalist, in the sense that he regarded everything that happens as perfectly inevitable, pre-ordained, and predictable. No idea of independent social relations, of dramatic give and take, between God and men, such as sacred history seems to assume, could be admitted by Spinoza, since for him God was not one personage in the drama of history amongst other personages, but rather the whole play of existence, in its total plot, movement, and moral. Furthermore, he conceived the human mind or soul as the consciousness accompanying the life of the human body. Therefore when the body perished, the soul was necessarily dissolved. Nor did the Jewish hope of resurrection, with its miraculous and self-magnifying quality, find any place in this philosophy. Nevertheless Spinoza used both the term freedom and the term immortality for things which he valued and accepted. Freedom, in his view, was equivalent to power. A man was free when his nature, being consistent and unified, was able to express itself clearly in his thought and work. Freedom meant virtue, in the old sense of the word; it meant faculty to do mightily and to do well; and this virtue implied or constituted happiness. Freedom, accordingly, lay not in indetermination of character, or freedom to have chosen anything else as readily as what one has actually chosen, but rather in efficiency of character, and liberty to carry out one's innate choice.

Immortality, in a similar fashion, was transformed by Spinoza from something temporal and problematic, an endlessly continued existence, into something timeless and intrinsic, a quality of life. It was not the length of a man's days that made him immortal, but the intellectual essence of his thoughts. The spirit shared the fate of the objects with which it identified itself. The soul absorbed in transitory things was itself transitory. One absorbed in eternal things was, to that extent, eternal. But what, we may ask, are eternal things? Nothing, according to Spinoza, is eternal in its duration. The tide of evolution carries everything before it, thoughts no less than bodies, and persons no less than nations. Yet all things are eternal in their status, as truth is. The place which an event fills in history is its inalienable place; the character that an act or a feeling possesses in passing is its inalienable character. Now, the human mind is not merely animal, not merely absorbed in the felt transition from one state of life to another. It is partly synthetic, intellectual, contemplative, able to look before and after and to see fleeting things at once in their mutual relations, or, as Spinoza expressed it, under the form of eternity.

To see things under the form of eternity is to see them in their historic and moral truth, not as they seemed as they passed, but as they remain when they are over. When a man's life is over, it remains true that he has lived; it remains true that he has been one sort of man, and not another. In the infinite mosaic of history that bit has its unfading colour and its perpetual function and effect. A man who understands himself under the form of eternity knows the quality that eternally belongs to him, and knows that he cannot wholly die, even if he would; for when the movement of his life is over, the truth of his life remains. The fact of him is a part forever of the infinite context of facts. This sort of immortality belongs passively to everything; but to the intellectual part of man it belongs actively also, because, in so far as it knows the eternity of truth, and is absorbed in it, the mind lives in that eternity. In caring only for the eternal, it has ceased to care for that part of itself which can die. But this sort of immortality is ideal only. He who, while he lives, lives in the eternal, does not live longer for that reason. Duration has merely dropped from his view; he is not aware of or anxious about it; and death, without losing its reality, has lost its sting. The sublimation of his interest rescues him, so far as it goes, from the mortality which he accepts and surveys. The animals are mortal without knowing it, and doubtless presume, in their folly, that they will live forever. Man alone knows that he must die; but that very knowledge raises him, in a sense, above mortality, by making him a sharer in the vision of eternal truth. He becomes the spectator of his own tragedy; he sympathises so much with the fury of the storm that he has no ears left for the shipwrecked sailor, though that sailor were his own soul. The truth is cruel, but it can be loved, and it makes free those who have loved it.

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Jonathan I. Israel, in Radical Enlightenment, Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750, Oxford 2001: Spinoza having now 'completed everything which concerns this present life', the final sections of the Ethics have an enigmatic, inscrutable quality, which many feel lacks the air of inevitability and logical cogency prevailing hitherto. Already in the Korte Verhandeling [Short Treatise, 2, 23] Spinoza enunciates his doctrine of the human soul as being in one sense mortal, that is, in so far as it is united with the body something that perishes with the body, but in another sense having a kind of immortality, that is, in so far as it is part of the cause of the soul's existence, that is, God (or Nature), it must, like the totality of everything, remain immutable and immortal. This then reappears in the Ethics as the celebrated teaching that 'the human mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the body, but something of it remains which is eternal' (V, Prop. XXIII). In explaining this, Spinoza stresses that [though] we do not attribute duration to the mind 'except while the body endures', nevertheless 'since what is conceived with a certain eternal necessity through God's essence itself is still something, this something which pertains to the essence of the mind will necessarily be eternal'. This element of immortality, however one explains it, clearly has to do with the mind's ability to grasp eternally true ideas and the notion that by dwelling on eternal things, as everyone must in some degree, one shares, as it were, in eternity.

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Steven Nadler, in Spinoza's Ethics, An Introduction, Cambridge 2006: Any body is nothing but a specific ratio of motion and rest among a collection of material parts. Its unity and individuality consist only in a relative and structured stability of minute bodies. And this is what is reflected in its essence, its eternal being. At this level, no question whatsoever is raised about whether the body actually exists in nature or not. Because it is outside all duration, making no reference to time, this essence of the body is eternal.

Now the essence of a body as an extended mode is in God (or Substance) under the attribute of Extension. It is 'eminently' contained within Extension as one of its infinite potentialities or possible generations. It is, in other words, just one out of infinitely many ways of being extended, and thus belongs as an eternal finite mode within Extension's immediate infinite mode. Given Spinoza's general parallelism between the attributes of Extension and Thought, and given the resulting and more particular parallelism in a human being between what is true of the body and what is true of the mind, there are, then, likewise - and necessarily - two aspects of the human mind, which is nothing other than the idea of the body. First, there is the aspect of the mind that corresponds to the durational existence of the body. This is the part of the mind that reflects the body's determinate relationships in space and time with other bodies surrounding it. Sensations and feelings - pain, pleasure, desire, revulsion, sadness, fear, and a host of other mental states - are all expressions in the mind of what is concurrently taking place in the body in its temporal interactions in the world. I feel pain when I stub my toe. These passions belong to the mind to the extent that the human being is a part of "the order of nature" and, through his body, subject to being affected by the world around him.

The parallelism also requires, however, that this part of the mind comes to an end when the duration of the body comes to an end, that is, at a person's death. When the body goes, there are no more pleasures and pains, no more sensory states. All the affections of the body of which these sensations, images, and qualia are mental expressions cease at death - the body is no longer "in the world" responding to its determinations. Thus, their correlative expressions in the mind cease as well. But there is another part of the mind - namely, that aspect of it that corresponds to the eternal aspect of the body. This is the idea or expression in the attribute of Thought of the body's extended essence; and just as the body's essence is an eternal finite mode in the immediate infinite mode of Extension, so the idea of the body's essence is an eternal finite mode in the immediate infinite mode of Thought, that is, in the infinite intellect. If the essence of the body, once its durational existence is over, is simply a possible but non-existing material thing in Extension, so the eternal part of the mind just is the idea of such a non-existing material thing. Like its correlate in Extension, this aspect of the mind is eternal. It is, therefore, a part of the mind that remains after a person's death.

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from Spinoza, Summary of his Philosophy, History of Modern Philosophy, University of Leeds website: Descartes believed he had discovered a proof of the natural immortality of the soul. Spinoza’s philosophy has no room for immortality - less even than Hobbes’s. The only sense in which the soul can be said to be immortal is that the idea of the body is eternal, as one component of the infinite system of ideas which constitutes God’s attribute of thought. But this is an immortality without life or consciousness. For Spinoza, we have only one brief life (in his case, all too brief), in which to overcome demeaning, passive emotions, and to achieve as deep an intellectual vision as possible of all things in God (or Nature).

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from Spinoza, History of Philosophy, chapter 56, University of Notre Dame website: We come now to the third stage in the moral emancipation of the human mind, namely, to that in which man attains to the intellectual love of God and the blessed immortality. In the fifth part of the Ethica Spinoza teaches that the mind, arriving at the culminating stage of intellectual development (scientia intuitiva) wherein it sees all things in God, "can bring it about that all bodily affections and images of things are referred to the idea of God" (EVP14). When this state is reached all passion ceases, and emotion and volition are absorbed in the knowledge and love of God (amor intellectualis Dei). This intellectual love of God is the highest kind of virtue, and it not only makes man free but also confers immortality. For this love has no relation to the body or to bodily states, and consequently it cannot in any way be affected by the destruction of the body. But here it naturally occurs to us to ask: What has become of the principle that to every mode of thought there corresponds a mode of extension? When the body perishes, what extension mode corresponds to the eternal thought which is bliss and immortality? Spinoza answers that, while the mode of extension which is the human body conditioned by time and space perishes, there remains the essence of the body which is conceived under a form of eternity [sub specie aeternitatis]. At the same time the sensitive and imaginative part of the soul perishes with the actual body, so that the ultimate conclusion is that both body and soul are partly mortal and party immortal (EVP20ff).

We must not overlook the fact that in his Ethica Spinoza speaks of the eternity rather than of the immortality of the soul; and by eternity he does not primarily mean unending duration, but a kind of rational necessity by which a thing forms, once for all, an integral part of the universe, although, of course, what is necessarily a part of the universe cannot cease to exist. Moreover, this eternity or deathlessness is a condition into which the soul enters in this life. "The immortality which is sanctioned by Spinoza's principles is not a quantative, but a qualitative endowment - not existence for indefinite time, but a quality of being above all time" (Caird, Spinoza, p.291). Spinoza does not conceive immortality as originally and equally inherent in all men; he conceives it as something to be acquired by each man for himself, and as capable of being acquired in different degrees.

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from Benedict De Spinoza, Eternity of the Mind, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy website: Spinoza's comment that a person who has attained the intellectual love of God "never ceases to be" is perplexing to say the least. It signals a commitment to the view that in some fashion or another the mind, or some part of it, survives the death of the body (EVP23). At first sight, this appears to be a violation of Spinoza's anti-dualist contention that mind and body are one and the same thing conceived under two different attributes. On the basis of this contention, one would expect him to reject the survival of the mind in any fashion. That he asserts it instead has understandibly been a source of great controversy among his commentators.

At least some of the problem can be cleared away by taking account of a crucial distinction that Spinoza makes between the existence of the body and its essence. The existence of the body is its actual duration through time. This involves its coming to be, the changes it undergoes within its environment, and its eventual destruction. By contrast, the essence of the body is non-durational. It is grounded in the timeless essence of God, specifically as one among the innumerable particular ways of being extended.

The importance of this distinction lies in the fact that, by appealing to the parallelism doctrine, Spinoza can conclude that there is a corresponding distinction with respect to the mind. There is an aspect of the mind that is the expression of the existence of the body, and there is an aspect of the mind that is the expression of the essence of the body. Spinoza readily concedes that the aspect of the mind that expresses the existence of the body cannot survive the destruction of the body. Such, however, is not the fate of the aspect of the mind that expresses the essence of the body. Like its object, this aspect of the mind is non-durational. Since only what is durational ceases to be, this aspect of the mind is unaffected by the destruction of the body. It is eternal.

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Matthew Stewart, in The Courtier and the Heretic, New Haven 2005: The intellectual love of God is the same thing as the knowledge of God contained in the first part of the Ethics. Spinoza identifies it as "the third kind of knowledge", or "intuition", in order to distinguish it from sense experience ("the first kind") and reflective knowledge that arises from the analysis of experience ("the second kind"). To know his God in the third way, Spinoza claims, is the same thing as to love God. Furthermore, this love is greater than any other possible love, and can never waiver. Since the individual is just a mode of God, the intellectual love of God is God's way of loving itself.

At this point, where we reach the long sought union of man and God (or Nature), Spinoza goes on to say, we achieve a kind of immortality. Contrary to what he seems to imply in his philosophy of mind, Spinoza now contends that "the human mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the body" [EVP23]. The eternal part of the mind, it turns out, is the "intellect" - the faculty with which we grasp the eternal truths of philosophy. The immortality Spinoza offers here, however, is not of the kind that would provide much solace for the superstitious: we take with us no personal memories of who we were or what we did in our journey to the eternal ideas, and we receive no rewards other than those that come from having such beautiful thoughts in the first place. In fact, Spinoza's immortality doesn't really occur "after" life; it is something more like an escape from time altogether. By immortality Spinoza means something like the union of the mind with ideas that are themselves timeless.

The end point of Spinoza's philosophy - the intellectual love of God, or blessedness - transfigures all that precedes it. It can sometimes sound paradoxical and more than a little mystical. It is the union of the individual and the cosmos, of freedom and necessity, of activity and passivity, of mind and body, of self-interest and charity, of virtue and knowledge, and of happiness and virtue. It is the place where all that which was previously relativized in Spinoza - the good, which was relative to our desires; freedom, which was relative to our ignorance; self-knowledge, which was relative to our imperfect perceptions of the body - suddenly reappears in the form of absolutes: absolute good, absolute freedom, and absolute knowledge.

It cannot be overlooked that Spinoza assigns a stupefying onus to the faculty of reason. It is one thing to say that reason can help bring order and acceptance to our emotional lives; it is quite another to say that it may lead us to supreme, continuous, and everlasting happiness in an eternal union with God. Spinoza's ambition for philosophy was, by any measure, extreme.

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Will Durant, in Spinoza, The Story of Philosophy, Andrey Maidansky website: As such parts of such a whole we are immortal. "The human mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the human body, but there is some part of it which remains eternal" (EVP23). This is the part that conceives things sub specie aeternitatis; the more we so conceive things, the more eternal our thought is. Spinoza is even more than usually obscure here; and after endless controversy among interpreters his language yet speaks differently to different minds. Sometimes one imagines him to mean George Eliot’s immortality by repute, whereby that which is most rational and beautiful in our thought and our lives survives us to have an almost timeless efficacy down the years. Sometimes again Spinoza seems to have in mind a personal and individual immortality; and it may be that as death loomed up so prematurely in his path he yearned to console himself with this hope that springs eternally in the human breast. Yet he insistently differentiates eternity from everlastingness: "If we pay attention to the common opinion or men, we shall see that they are conscious of the eternity of their minds; but they confuse eternity with duration, and attribute it to imagination or memory, which they believe will remain after death" (EVP34S). But like Aristotle, Spinoza, though talking of immortality, denies the survival of personal memory. "The mind can neither imagine nor recollect anything save while in the body" (EVP21). Nor does he believe in heavenly rewards: "Those are far astray from a true estimate of virtue who expect for their virtue, as if it were the greatest slavery, that God will adorn them with the greatest rewards; as if virtue and the serving of God were not happiness itself and the greatest liberty" (EIIP49SIVA). "Blessedness", reads the last proposition of Spinoza’s book, "is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself" (EVP42). And perhaps in the like manner, immortality is not the reward of clear thinking, it is clear thought itself, as it carries up the past into the present and readies out into the future, so overcoming the limits and narrowness of time, and catching the perspective that remains eternally behind the kaleidoscope of change; such thought is immortal because every truth is a permanent creation, part of the eternal acquisition of man, influencing him endlessly.

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Roger Scruton, in Spinoza, Oxford 1986: Spinoza includes in his discussion of man's blessedness a singular and somewhat Platonistic proof of man's immortality - or rather, of the less satisfactory proposition that 'the human mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the human body, but something of it remains which is eternal' (EVP23). The obscure proof of this proposition depends upon Spinoza's view that, through adequate ideas, the mind comes to see the world sub specie aeternitatis - in other words, without reference to time. The essence of the mind consists in the capacity for adequate ideas. The instantiation of this essence in time cannot be explained by adequate ideas, however, since they contain no temporal reference. Such ideas are given 'duration' only through their attachment to the mortal body, and not intrinsically: "Our mind therefore can be said to last, and its existence can be defined by a certain time, only in so far as it involves the actual existence of the body, and thus far only does it have the power to determine the existence of things by time, and to conceive them under the aspect of duration" (EVP23S).

Few commentators have found that proof (an earlier version of which occurs in his Short Treatise, II, 23) either convincing or wholly intelligible; for one thing, it seems to reject Spinoza's official theory of our embodiment. Nevertheless it is not without interest, in returning us to one of the fundamental problems of the system: the problem of time. Samuel Alexander argued that Spinoza, in common with many metaphysicians, 'failed to take time seriously' - like Plato, Leibniz, and many other rationalists, Spinoza considered time to be, in some ultimate sense, unreal. 'Duration', he argues (Correspondence XII), 'is only applicable to the existence of the modes; eternity is applicable to the existence of the substances'. Spinoza goes on to argue, in ways that bear a striking resemblance to the arguments of Kant, that 'measure, time and number are merely modes of thinking, or rather imagining' (C, ibid). When understanding the world through the senses, we see it as ordered in time, and diversified in space. We therefore apply to it temporal and arithmetical notions, which have no application to the underlying reality. The universe of reason is timeless, and all that is true of it is true eternally.

How then can a rational being exist in time, so as to possess a life with which he is identified? Spinoza may have agreed with Eliot, that 'the point of intersection of the timeless with time/Is an occupation for the saint'; but to reach that point is already to pass beyond it, into a world that is wholly free from duration and its constraints. In that world there is neither motion nor passion nor diversity, but an eternal immutable calm. Hence: "the wise man, in so far as he considered as such, is scarcely moved in spirit: but, being conscious of himself, of God, and of things, by a certain eternal necessity, he never ceases to be, but possesses eternally true complacency (acquiescentia) of spirit" (EVP42S).

It would be fitting to leave Spinoza's ethics on that remark, with which he himself brings it to its conclusion. But the reader will have noticed once again the suspicious thread which - were we to pull at it - might bring this noble edifice to ruin. At the heart of Spinoza's thought, lies the little word 'quatenus', which seems to take away everything that the philosopher proves, precisely by its over-willing help in proving it. By means of this word Spinoza repeatedly describes differences that are absolute and impassable (those between God and man, eternity and time, freedom and compulsion, action and passion, independence and dependence) as differences of degree, so suggesting a transition where no transition is possible.

Perhaps the most disturbing of all Spinoza's uses is in referring to man 'in so far as' his ideas are adequate. By this means he sometimes seems to suggest that we may have more or less adequate conceptions of one and the same thing, and therefore that adequacy too is a matter of degree. Such a suggestion is strictly comparable to the view that a proof might be more or less valid. The path that takes us to the wisdom and blessedness of Spinoza involves many such slides on the muddy quatenus. One of the pleasures in following his political philosophy is that we can leave the path to higher regions, and move more firmly and confortably downhill.

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Richard Mason, in The God of Spinoza, 1997, Cambridge 2001: More to the point, there is a major drawback to any understanding of Spinoza's view of eternity as a merging of part of the mind into a stream of divine consciousness. Although, as we have seen, the eternity of part of the mind implies nothing about the continuity of individual consciousness, it does include some undeniable element of personal identity. My thoughts and memories, in Spinoza's view, will not survive after death, but there will still be something of me that will 'remain'. Eternity will not consist in losing identity in a Weltgeist. The most serious obstacle to idealist readings of Spinoza (as argued in Chapter I) was the real, separate existence of individuals. With 'ideas', the point is more muted and much less distinct, but we can be sure that Spinoza gave no encouragement to any diminution or loss of individuality in the 'infinite intellect of God'. This must also apply to a loss of individualy in some form of 'transcendence', a notion Spinoza repudiated so strongly elsewhere that he is hardly likely to have embraced it here. One commentator [Lee Rice] has noted that 'most of what Spinoza has to say about individuation in the Ethics and elsewhere is expressed in terms of individual bodies'. It is striking that the Demonstration to Ethics, V, 23, on the eternity of part of the mind, sets off from 'the essence of the human body': 'In God there is necessarily a conception, or idea, which expresses the essence of the human body'. The same approach is repeated in the Scholium: 'As we have said, this idea, which expresses the essence of the body under a form of eternity, is a definite mode of thinking which pertains to the essence of mind, and which is necessarily eternal'. And Spinoza refers back to the preceding Proposition, also rooted in the body: 'there is necessarily in God an idea which expresses the essence of this or that human body under a form of eternity'.

This might seem strange, or unnecessary, in that he could as well have started directly from the mind, not the body. What he seems to be suggesting is that it is the individual's body which is the origin or source of identification. The point is not that the body has an anti-Cartesian epistemological priority over the mind - that we know it first - but that the idea or ideas which make up an individual mind acquire their identity by being ideas of a particular body (rather than of several bodies, or no bodies at all). And it looks as though Spinoza wanted that sort of identity or individuality to 'remain' even when a body has been destroyed. This was imparted in an ornate terminology of actual essences, but the basic thought is a fairly simple one. As [Alan] Donagan puts it, 'Ultimately, individual human minds differ from one another because the individual bodies whose affections are the objects of their primary constituents are different'. If this was indeed Spinoza's case, it was an interesting one: presumably the thought would be that the body is necessary at some time for identity, but not the continuing existence of the body. Rather, the appeal would be to something like an identity with the unity of ideas associated with a past body, or a body that had a duration at a particular time. It would be an exaggeration to say that we can find a well-worked-out defence for this view in the Ethics. The view is probably there, but a solid defence for it is not.

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Antonio Damasio, in Looking for Spinoza, Orlando 2003: Spinoza makes room for two different roads to salvation: one accessible to all, the other more arduous and accessible only to those with disciplined and educated intellects. The accessible road requires a virtuous life in a virtuous civitas, obedient to the rules of a democratic state and mindful of God's nature, somewhat indirectly, with the help of some of the Bible's wisdom. The second road requires all that is needed by the first and, in addition, intuitive access to understanding that Spinoza prized above all other intellectual instruments, and which is itself based on abundant knowledge and sustained reflection. (Spinoza regards intuition as the most sophisticated means of achieving knowledge - intuition is Spinoza's knowledge of the third kind. But intuition occurs only after we accumulate knowledge and use reason to analyze it.) Predictably, Spinoza thought nothing of the effort required to achieve the desired results: "How could it be that if salvation was ready at hand and within reach without much effort, it would be neglected by almost all? All that is excellent is as difficult to obtain as it is rare." (The Ethics, Part V, notes to Proposition 42.)

For the first kind of salvation, Spinoza rejects biblical narratives as God's revelation, but endorses the wisdom embodied in the historical figures of Moses and Christ. Spinoza saw the Bible as repository of valuable knowledge regarding human conduct and civil organization.

The second road to salvation assumes that the requirements of the first are properly met - a virtuous life assisted by a socio-political system whose laws help the individual with the task of being fair and charitable to others - but then it goes further. Spinoza asks for an acceptance of natural events as necessary, in keeping with scientific understanding. For example, death and ensuing loss cannot be prevented; we should acquiesce. The Spinoza solution also asks the individual to attempt a break between the emotionally competent stimuli that can trigger negative emotions - passions such as fear, anger, jealously, sadness - and the very mechanisms that enact emotion. Instead, the individual should substitute emotionally competent stimuli capable of triggering positive, nourishing emotions. To facilitate this goal Spinoza recommends the mental rehearsing of negative emotional stimuli as a way to build a tolerance for negative emotions and gradually acquire a knack for generating positive ones. This is, in effect, Spinoza as mental immunologist developing a vaccine capable of creating antipassion antibodies. There is a Stoic color to the entire exercice, although it must be noted that Spinoza criticized the Stoics for assumning that the control of the emotions could ever be complete. (He critized Descartes, too, for the same reason.) Spinoza was tough enough for my taste but not Stoic enough, it appears.

Spinoza's solution hinges on the mind's power over the emotional process, which in turn depends on a discovery of the causes of negative emotions, and on knowledge of the mechanics of emotion. The individual must be aware of the fundamental separation between emotionally competent stimuli and the trigger mechanism of emotion so that he can substitute reasoned emotionally competent stimuli capable of producing the most positive feeling states. (To some extent, Freud's psychoanalytical project shared these objectives.) Today, the new understanding of the machinery of emotion and feeling makes Spinoza's goal all the more achievable. Finally, Spinoza's solution asks the individual to reflect on life, guided by knowledge and reason, in the perpective of eternity - of God or Nature - rather than in the perspective of the individual's immorality.

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Henry A. Allison, in Benedict de Spinoza, Boston 1975: When we look beneath the theological cloak in which Spinoza presents his moral philosophy, we see that what it basically points to is the equation of both virtue and blessedness with knowledge. Virtue is power, and man's power for Spinoza, as it was in a very different sense for Bacon, is a function of his knowledge. Moreover, the very exercise of this power, i.e. rational thought, is the ultimate source of satisfaction, as it is that activity through which man realizes his true being or "acts" in the special Spinozistic sense of the word. This is, however, a rather aristocratic or "elitist" doctrine, as it would seem to restrict virtue and blessedness to a select few, viz. the philosophers, while condemning the great mass of mankind to a life of misery and bondage.

Now, Spinoza was obviously bothered by this problem, for as we shall see in our study of his political philosophy, he was constantly torn between his democratic sentiments and his scorn of the superstition and ignorance of the multitude (the typical intellectual's plight!). The same tension, and an ultimate decision in favor of the "wise", is reflected in the metaphysical solution of the problem of blessedness which he provides in the Ethics. The key to this solution is the notion of degrees of eternality. "We feel and know that we are eternal", he writes (EVP23S), apparently with reference to all men and not merely the philosophers. Just as we earlier saw that the human mind (meaning thereby every human mind) "has an adequate knowledge of the eternal and infinite essence of God", so we now see that, in consequence of this very knowledge, every mind has at least a vague insight into the true order of things, and some vestiges of "intellectual love" (the feeling which accompanies this insight). But as was the case with knowledge of God, most men confuse this genuine insight with their imaginative ideas. In this instance, "they confuse eternity with duration, and ascribe it to the imagination or the memory which they believe to remain after death" (EVP34S).

Thus, while all minds have an eternal part or aspect, not all minds are eternal to the same extent. The difference between minds and the degree of freedom and blessedness that they possess is a function of the extent of their adequate knowledge. The greater the extent of one's adequate knowledge, the less one will be subjected to the imagination and the ensuing passions, especially the fear of death (EVP38). This fear and the associated emotions, which would seem to be connected with the imaginative view of immortality, can, to be sure, never be completely overcome. But for the mind which has attained to the third kind of knowledge, "the part thereof which we have shown to perish with the body (V, xxi), should be of little importance when compared with the part which endures" (EVP38S). What perishes, of course, are the imagination and associated emotions, while what "endures", i.e. constitutes the true actuality of such a mind, is rational thought.

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Jonathan F. Bennett, in A Study of Spinoza's Ethics, 1984, Indianapolis 1987: I don't think that the final three doctrines [the mind's eternity, intuitive knowledge, and the intellectual love of God] can be rescued. The only attempts at complete salvage that I have encountered have been unintelligible to me and poorly related to what Spinoza actually wrote. They have thus doubly failed to present this part of the Ethics as something from which we can learn, and for me that is crucial. The courtly deference which pretends that Spinoza is always or usually right, under some rescuing interpretation, is one thing; it is quite another to look at him, as I have throughout this book, as a teacher, one who can help us to see things which we might not have seen for ourselves. That is showing him a deeper respect, but also holding him to a more demanding standard. But that high standard, in the second half of Part 5 is negligible. After three centuries of failure to profit from it, the time has come to admit that this part of the Ethics has nothing to teach us and is pretty certainly worthless.

Hampshire's treatment of the doctrine of the eternity of the mind is interesting. He deals with it sympathetically from a long way off, and confesses defeat when he comes close. […] I contend that instead of implying that Spinoza has brought us 'beyond the limits of literal understanding' and that this is acceptable because it is inherent in his chosen topic, we should say openly that Spinoza is talking nonsense and there is no reason for us to put up with it. […]

Perhaps he was trying to capture in his own terms some doctrines of others, e.g. Aristotle's views about immortality. […] Perhaps he was after all terrified of extinction, and convinced himself - through a scatter of perverse arguments and hunger for the conclusion - that he had earned immortality. Or perhaps [Frederick] Pollock's suspicion of mysticism was right. That was [C.D.] Broad's view: he said that the final doctrines are the 'philosophic expression of certain religious and mystical experiences which Spinoza and many others have enjoyed and which seem supremely important to those who have had them'. […]

Either way, it looks as though some passive affect - of fear or hope or excitement - clung stubbornly to the man and overcame his reason. Those of us who love and admire Spinoza's philosophical work should in sad silence avert our eyes from the second half of Part 5.

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Steven B. Smith, in Spinoza's Book of Life, New Haven 2003: Spinoza's arguments regarding divine love are further supported by his theory of the eternity of the mind sketched out in the final propositions of the Ethics. His "proof" of the eternity of the mind is often taken as evidence that at the end of the book he fell back on traditional dualist and theological beliefs about the immortality of the soul. To be sure, he sometimes writes as if the mind existed before the body and will continue to persist after the body perishes. "The human mind," he says, "cannot be absolutely destroyed with the body, but something of it remains which is eternal" (EVP23). In the scholium to this proposition, Spinoza makes a remarkable appeal to the reader's "experience" in support of his argument: There is … this idea, which expresses the essence of the body under a species of eternity, a certain mode of thinking, which pertains to the essence of the Mind, and which is necessarily eternal. And although it is impossible that we should recollect that we existed before the Body … still, we feel and know by experience that we are eternal. For the Mind feels these things that it conceives in understanding no less than those it has in the memory" (EVP23S). […]

Spinoza's theory of the eternity of the mind has caused fits for those who conceive him as a strict materialist for whom mind and body are one and the same. How can the mind persist after the extinction of the body? Spinoza denies that he is committed to Christian beliefs about personal immortality or an afterlife. Rather, the eternity of the mind is based on the recognition that the contents of our minds cease to be ours alone and become the common property of mind in general. At some level our ideas are not simply our ideas but belong to the common stock of knowledge. Euclid's theorems, for example are not simply the property of a man named Euclid who lived at a particular time and place, but take on a life of their own that confers a certain eternity to them. In this sense our bodies may cease to exist, but the contents of our minds may live on forever as a part of the knowledge of God or nature.

Despite Spinoza's "proof" of the eternity of the mind, the Ethics provides no clear or compelling account of how we can bootstrap ourselves into eternity. Much of the psychology of the work is devoted to showing that the mind cannot exist apart from the body. The mind, Spinoza continually reminds us, is not a separate soul substance but is itself embedded within a network of causal processes; as finite and limited, the mind will always share the limitations of the vessel within which it is contained. The mind is immanently connected to the body, not as a cause that makes the body function or gives it life, but as a part of a complex individuated substance that we call a person or a self. Given the embodied character of the mind, it is hard to see how we can ever rise above our own transitoriness as a finite mode of being to adopt the standpoint of eternity.

Even is we accept that Spinoza's doctrine of the eternity of the mind is not the same as theological doctrines of the immortality of the soul, he still leaves the reader with a host of unanswered questions. Do all minds have a share in eternity or only some? If only some minds do, which ones? Further, if it not the whole mind but only the "greatest part" that is eternal, what part of the mind is that? Finally, how can the mind be said to participate in eternity if it is fully articulated within nature, within the system of which it is a part? Presumably if nature is eternal, then mind, which is a part of nature, must share in that eternity. But if this is so, then the eternity of the mind pertains not to individual minds but to mind insofar as it is, along with extension, one of the two primary attributes of being. The Ethics seems to embody this ongoing tension between the desire to liberate the mind from the confines of time and the merely human perspective and a keen awareness of the limitations and embeddedness of the mind in a vast network of causal processes.

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Dr Nico van Suchtelen, in Benedictus de Spinoza, Ethica, 1915, 1927, 1947, Amsterdam 1974: Men verwarre Spinoza's 'eeuwigheid van de Geest' niet met een 'persoonlijk voortbestaan'. Onze persoonlijkheid immers is naar Spinoza's opvatting slechts een tijdelijke, vergankelijke bestaanswijze (modus) die afhankelijk is van onze lichaamsindrukken, zich met deze wijzigt en met het lichaam te gronde gaat (...) Dat de stellingen die over de eeuwigheid des Geestes handelen voor velen zo duister zijn ligt m.i. in de eerste plaats hieraan dat men, ofschoon Spinoza zelf er telkens voor waarschuwt, zijn onsterfelijkheid of eeuwigheid verwart met een 'voortbestaan in de tijd'. Maar een tweede aanleiding tot verwarring is dat Spinoza niet uitdrukkelijk genoeg doet uitkomen dat eigenlijk het Lichaam even eeuwig en onsterfelijk is als de Geest. Immers ook het individuele lichaam gaat met de dood als zodanig te gronde, ofschoon het als 'stof' (Uitgebreidheid) onvernietigbaar, eeuwig is. Het lijkt wel alsof Spinoza in de enigszins slordige Stelling 23 'De menselijke Geest kan niet met het Lichaam geheel en al te niet gaan', leert, dat dus het Lichaam wèl absoluut vernietigd wordt; maar het is duidelijk dat dit volkomen in strijd zou zijn niet alleen met de ervaring, maar met Spinoza's eigen leer (…) Een dualistische opvatting van Geest en Lichaam, als twee dingen, die gescheiden zouden kunnen worden, is in Spinoza's systeem ondenkbaar. Geest en stof, Denken en Uitgebreidheid, zijn bij Spinoza immers niet in eigenlijk zin verbonden, maar identiek, één en hetzelfde. Wat wij dus van de mens bij zijn dood zien teniet gaan, of liever zich oplossen, is zijn tijdelijke verschijning (bestaanswijze) als Geest-Lichaam, dus zijn lichamelijke èn geestelijke individualiteit. Voorzover hij echter stof-op-zichzelf is, d.w.z. God, gedacht als Uitgebreidheid, is zijn Lichaam eeuwig en in diezelfde zin is zijn Geest eeuwig, als keerzijde van dit eeuwige lichaam, als voorstelling ervan, als God, voorzover hij Denken is. Ons lichaam wordt 'stof', d.i. Uitgebreidheid zonder bepaalde vorm, en zo wordt onze geest 'Denken, Verstand', zonder 'verbeelding en herinnering', welke juist aan die bepaalde lichaamsvorm gebonden waren.
Hoe meer de mens nu 'één is met God', dat wil in de Spinozistische gedachtengang zeggen: hoe beter hij God begrijpt en hoe meer hij hem liefheeft d.w.z. hoe redelijker hij denkt en leeft, hoe meer hij ook doordrongen zal zijn van het besef van noodwendigheid en hoe minder de illusie van zijn tijdelijk bestaan en de vrees voor zijn dood hem zullen hinderen. Spinoza drukt dit, in een m.i. verwarrende beeldspraak, uit in de woorden: hoe het groter deel van zijn Geest zal overblijven. (English translation not available)

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Genevieve Lloyd, in Spinoza and the Idea of the Secular, Mededelingen vanwege het Spinozahuis, Voorschoten 2013: Spinoza saw the belief in immortality not as merely irrelevant to morals but as an obstancle to true virtue. For him, the dread of punishment after death was not just an inadequate basis for virtue; it was inimical to it. Virtue not only does not depend on the belief in an after-life; it depends on the rejection of that belief. In this respect, his approach to virtue echoes the ancient Epicurean/Lucretian philosophy. His rich but mystifying articulation of the eternity of the mind, in Part Five of the Ethics - whatever we make of it - is clearly not an orthodox doctrine of continued existence after bodily death, in any form which would allow for susceptibility to punishment or reward. For the basis of human well-being and virtue, Spinoza looked, not to an after-life, but to the joy associated in the present life with the love of a God who does not transcend Nature.

Spinoza was strongly committed to the rejection of the after-life; but he also passionately believed that the common perception of him as an 'atheist' was deeply, dangerously, misconstrued. It is in the striking conjunction of those two concerns - to reject prevailing beliefs in the after-life and to repudiate the perception of his philosophy as involving atheism - that we see most clearly how he prepared the way for the modern idea of the secular.

There is on the face of it something puzzling here. From our own temporal perspective - in the light of the connotations 'atheism' now has - Spinoza seems clearly to qualify as an atheist: he rejects the belief in a transcendent God, the belief in the supernatural. Yet I think it is also clear that he is genuine in his vehement rejection of the 'atheist' label. To see what is at stake here, I want now to look at some significant portions of his correspondence [not included here], which indicate, not only that he did not regard himself as an atheist, but that he thought that misconception threatened what he saw as the very core of his philosophy. He was deeply concerned about the imputation of atheism - not only fot he sake of his reputation, but fot the sake of the right understanding of what he describes as the 'true philosophy' for which he lived.

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