Superphysics Superphysics
Chapter 1

Real Being, Fictitious Being, and Being of Reason

by Spinoza
9 minutes  • 1718 words

The goal of Part 1 is to show that ordinary Logic and Philosophy only exercise and strengthen the memory.

[Definition of Being.]

Let us begin, then, with Being, by which I understand ‘Everything which, when it is clearly and distinctly perceived, we find to exist necessarily or at least possibly.’

[The Chimera, the Fictitious Being and the Being of Reason are not beings. ]

From this definition, or, if you prefer, description, it follows thata Chimera, a Fictitious Being and a Being of Reason can in no way be classed as beings.

For a Chimera, of its own nature, cannot exist. (N.B. By the term ‘Chimera’, here and in what follows, is to be understood that whose nature involves open contradiction, as is more fully explained in Chapter 3.) A Fictitious Being excludes clear and distinct perception, because a man merely according to his fancy-and not unknowingly, as in the case of the false, but knowingly and wittingly- joins together what he wants to join and separates what he wants to separate.

Finally, a Being of Reason is nothing but a mode of thinking, which serves the more easily to retain, explain, and imagine things that are understood. Here it should be noted that by a mode of thinking we understand, as we explained in Schol. Prop. 15 Part I, all modifications of thought, such as intellect, joy, imagination, etc. [By what modes of thinking we retain things.] That there are certain modes of thinking that serve to retain things more firmly and more easily, and, when we wish, to recall them to mind or to set them before the mind, is an accepted fact for all those who make use of that well-known rule of memory. By this rule, in order to retain something that is quite new and impress it on the memory, we have recourse to another thing, familiar to us, that has something in common with it either in name or in actuality. Similarly, philosophers have arranged all natural things in fixed classes, to which they have recourse when they encounter something new. These classes they call genus, species, etc. [By what modes of thinking we explicate things. ] Again, we have modes ofthinking for explicating a thing by determining it in comparison with another thing. The modes of thinking by which we do this are called time, number, measure, and such others as there are. Of these, time serves to explicate duration, number (discrete quantity), and measure (continuous quantity). [By what modes of thinking we imagine things. ] Finally, because we are also accustomed to depict in our fantasy images of all the things that we understand, it comes about that we imagine nonbeings pOSitively as beings. For the mind, considered only in itself, because it is a thinking thing, has no greater power to affirm than to deny. But because to imagine is nothing other than to sense those traces found in the bra in from the motion of the spirits, which is excited in the senses by objects, such a sensing can only be a confused affirmation. Hence it comes about that we imagine as beings all the modes that the mind uses to negate, such as blindness, extremity or limit, boundary, and darkness. [Why beings of reason are not ideas of things, and yet are taken to be such. ] Hence it is evident that these modes of thinking are not ideas of things and can the senses at random, Without order or connection, and Insofar as we can be affected by them only through the senses; but they do not serve to exercISe the mtellect - P.B.] Appendix Containing Metaphysical Thoughts, Part I, Chapter I 179 in no way be classed as ideas. So they also have no object (ideatum) that exists of necessity or that can exist. The reason why these modes of thinking are taken for ideas of things is that they originate and arise so immediately from real beings that they are easily confused with them by those who do not pay careful attention. Hence they have even given them names as if to signifY beings existing outside our mind; and these beings, or rather nonbeings, they have called beings of reason. [Being is wrongly divided into Real Being and Being of Reason. ] And so it is easy to see how absurd is that division whereby being is divided into real being and being of reason, for they are dividing being into being and nonbeing, or into being and a mode of thinking. Still , I am not surprised that verbal or grammatical philosophers fall into errors like these, for they judge things from words, not words from things. [In what way a Being of Reason can be termed a mere nothing, and in what way it may be termed Real Being. ] No less absurdly does he speak who says that a being of reason is not a mere nothing. For if he seeks outside the intellect what is meant by those words, he will find it is mere nothing, whereas ifhe understands them as modes of thinking, they are true real beings. For when I ask what is species, I am only enqUiring into the nature of that mode of thinking that is in fact a being and is distinct from another mode of thinking. However, these modes of thinking cannot be termed ideas nor can they be said to be true or false, just as love cannot be called true or false, but only good or bad. So when Plato said that man is a featherless biped creature,2 he erred no more than those who said that man is a rational creature. For Plato knew no less than others that man is a rational creature, but he referred man to a certain class so that, when he wanted to think about man, by having recourse to the class that was easy for him to remember, he could immediately come to think of man. Indeed, it was Aristotle who was gravely at fault if he thought that by that definition of his he had adequately explained human essence. As to whether Plato was right, that is another question; but this is not the place for these matters. [In the investigation of things Real Beings should not be confused with Beings of Reason.] From all that has been said already, it is obvious that there is no agreement between real being and the objects (ideata) of a being of reason. Hence it is also easy to see how carefully, in our investigation of things, we must beware of confusing real beings with beings of reason. For it is one thing to enquire into the nature of things, and quite another to enquire into the modes by which we perceive things. If these are confused, we shall not be able to understand either modes of perceiving or nature itself. Indeed -and this is a point of greatest importance- it will be the cause of our falling into grave errors, as has happened to many before us. [How a Being of Reason and Fictitious Being are to be distinguished. ] It should also be noted that many people confuse a being of reason with a fictitious being, for they think that a fictitious being is also a being of reason because it has no existence 2 [See Plato, Statesman, 266e.] 180 Principles of Cartesian Philosophy oUlliide the mind. But if attention is correctly paid to the definitions just given of being of reason and fictitious being, a considerable difference will be found between them both from consideration of their cause and also from their own nature without regard to cause. For we defined fictitious being as the connecting of two terms by mere act of will without any gUidance of reason, and therefore a fictitious being can chance to be true. But a being of reason neither depends solely on the will nor does it consist of any terms joined together, as is quite obvious from the definition. So if someone asks whether a fictitious being is a real being or a being of reason, we should reply by repeating what we have just said, namely, that to divide being into real being and being of reason is a mistake, and so the question as to whether fictitious being is real being or being of reason is based on error. For it presupposes that all being is divided into real being and being of reason. [The division of Being.] But let us return to our theme, from which we now seem to have digressed somewhat. From the definition, or, if you prefer, the description of being already given, it is easy to see that being should be divided into being that exislli necessarily of illi own nature (i.e., whose essence involves existence) and being whose essence involves only possible existence. This last is divided into Substance and Mode, whose definitions are given in Arlli. 51, 52, and 56 of Part I Prine. Philosoph.; so it is not necessary to repeat them here. But concerning this division I want only this to be noted, that we expressly say that being is divided into Substance and Mode, not Substance and Accident For Accident is nothing more than a mode of thinking, inasmuch as it denotes only a relation [respectum]. For example, when I say that a triangle moves, motion is not a mode of the triangle, but of the body that moves. So motion is called accident in relation to the triangle, whereas in relation to body it is a real being or mode. For motion cannot be conceived without body, though it can without a triangle. Furthermore, for the better understanding of what has already been said and also of what is to come, we shall try to explain what it is that should be understood by the terms ’essence’, ’existence’, ‘idea’, and ‘potency’. In so doing we are also motivated by the ignorance of some people who do not recognize any distinction between essence and existence, or, if they do recognize it, they confuse what essence is with what idea is or what potency is. So for their sake and the sake of truth, we shall explain the matter as distinctly as possible in what follows.

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