Superphysics Superphysics
Chapter 1


by Spinoza
7 minutes  • 1305 words

How a community governed as a Monarchy or as an Aristocracy should be organised as to not degenerate into a Tyranny.

CHAPTER 1 [Introduction ] 1


Philosophers look upon the passions by which we are assailed as vices, into which men fall through their own fault. So it is their custom to deride, bewail, berate them, or, if their purpose is to appear more zealous than others, to execrate them. They believe that they are thus performing a sacred duty, and that they are atta ining the summit of wisdom when they have learnt how to shower extravagant praise on a human nature that nowhere exists and to revile that which exists in actuality. The fact is that they conceive men not as they are, but as they would like them to be.

As a result, for the most part it is not ethics they have written, but satire; and they have never worked out a pol itical theory that can have practical application, only one that borders on fantasy or could be put into effect in Utopia or in that golden age of the poets where there would naturally be no need of such. Therefore, while theory is believed to be at variance with practice in all practical sciences, this is particularly so in the case of political theory, and no men are regarded as less fit for governing a state than theoreticians or philosophers.

[2] Statesmen, on the other hand, are believed to aim at men’s undoing rather than their welfare, and they have a reputation for cunning rather than wisdom. No doubt experience has taught them that there will be vices as long as there are men ‘> So while they seek to anticipate human wickedness, employing those arts which they have learnt from long experience and which men habitually practise when guided by fear rather than by reason, they appear to be the enemies of religion, especially so to theologians, who believe that sovereign powers ought to deal with public affairs according to the same moral principles as are binding on the private individual. Yet there can be no doubt that statesmen have written about political matters much more effectively than philosophers. For since exNotes are by Steven Barbone and Lee Rice (maIO annotators for this work) and translator Sarrruel Shirley.

I [Chapter titles m brackets were added by the editors of the TP.-S.B.IL.R.]

2 [Tacitus, Histories IV, lXXIV, 2.]

Chapter 1 68 1 perience has been their guide, there is nothing they have taught that is remote from practice.l

[3] Indeed, I am fully convinced that experience has revealed every conceivable form of commonwealth’ where men may live in harmony, and also the means whereby a people may be governed or restra ined within fixed bounds. So I do not believe that our researches in this field can lead us to anything not at variance with experience and practice that has not already been discovered and tried.

For human nature is such that men cannot live without some common code of law,’ and such codes have been instituted and public affairs conducted by men of considerable intelligence, both astute and cunning. So it is hardly credible that we can conceive anything of possible benefit to the community that opportunity or chance has not already suggested and that men engaged in public affairs and concerned for their own security have not already discovered.

[4] Therefore in turning my attention to political theory it was not my purpose to suggest anything that is novel or unheard of, but only to demonstrate by sure and conclusive reasoning such things as are in closest agreement with practice, deducing them from human nature as it really is.

And in order to enquire into matters relevant to this branch of knowledge in the same unfettered spirit as is habitually shown in mathematical studies, I have taken great care not to deride, bewail, or execrate human actions, but to understand them. So I have regarded human emotions such as love, hatred, anger, envy, pride, pity, and other agitations of the mind not as vices of human nature but as properties pertaining to it in the same way as heat, cold, storm, thunder, and such pertain to the nature of the atmosphere. These things, though troublesome, are inevitable, and have definite causes through which we try to understand their nature. And the mind derives as much enjoyment in contemplating them aright as from the knowledge of things that are pleasing to the senses.

[5] For this much is quite certa in, and proved to be true in our Ethics, that men are necessarily subject to passions, and are so constituted that they pity the unfortunate, envy the fortunate, and are more inclined to vengeance than to compassion. Furthermore, each man wants others to live according to his way of thinking, approving what he approves and rejecting what he rejects. Consequently, since all men are equally desirous of preeminence, they fall to quarrelling and strive their utmost to best one another; and he who emerges victorious is more elated at having hindered someone else than at having ga ined an advantage for himself. And although all are convinced that rel igion, on the other hand, teaches that each should love his neighbour as himself, that is, that he should uphold another’s right just as his own, we have shown that this conviction is of little avail

3 [The allUSion IS to Machiavelli, who also argued that the pnnciples of pubhc morahty are not the same as those of mdividual ethics.]

4 [The Latin civitas is usually rendered “commonwealth” ID what follows.]

5 [extra commune aliquod jU8. TIlls IS the rust tIme Spmo:za uses the term jus, a very difficult term to render mto the modern Idiom. In what follows, jus IS usually rendered as “law” or “righf’ depending on the sense and context of the passage III which It IS used 1

against the passions. It is effective, no doubt, at death’s door, that is, when sickness has subdued the passions and a man lies helpless; or again in places of

worship where men have no dealings with one another; but it has no weight in law-court or palace, where it would be needed most of all. We have also shown that reason can indeed do much to control and moderate the passions; but at the same time we have seen that the path taught by reason is a very difficult one, so that those who believe that ordinary people or those who are busily engaged in public business can be persuaded to live solely at reason’s behest are dreaming of the poets’ golden age or of a fairy tale.

[6J SO if the safety of a state6 is dependent on some man’s good faith, and its affairs cannot be properly administered unless those responsible for them are willing to act in good faith, that state will lack all stability. If it is to endure, its government must be so organised that its ministers cannot be induced to betray their trust or to act basely, whether they are guided by reason or by passion. Nor does it matter for the security of the state what motives induce men to administer its affairs properly, provided that its affairs are in fact properly administered. Freedom of spirit or strength of mind is the virtue of a private citizen: the virtue of a state is its security.

[7J Finally, since all men everywhere, whether barbarian or civilised, enter into relationships with one another and set up some kind of civil order, one should not look for the causes and natural foundations of the state in the teachings of reason , but deduce them from the nature and condition of men in general. This I propose to do in the next chapter.

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