Superphysics Superphysics

Propositions 30-36

by Spinoza Icon
11 minutes  • 2213 words
Table of contents

30. Intellect, in function (actu) finite, or in function infinite, must comprehend the attributes of God and the modifications of God, and nothing else.

Proof: A true idea must agree with its object (Axiom 6).

In other words (obviously), that which is contained in the intellect in representation must necessarily be granted in nature.

But in nature (by Prop. 14, Coroll. 1) there is no substance save God, nor any modifications save those (Prop. 15) which are in God, and cannot without God either be or be conceived.

Therefore the intellect, in function finite, or in function infinite, must comprehend the attributes of God and the modifications of God, and nothing else. Q.E.D.

31. The intellect in function, whether finite or infinite, as will, desire, love, etc., should be referred to passive nature and not to active nature.

Proof: By the intellect we do not (obviously) mean absolute thought, but only a certain mode of thinking, differing from other modes, such as love, desire, etc., and therefore (Def. 5) requiring to be conceived through absolute thought.

It must (by Prop. 15 and Def. 6), through some attribute of God which expresses the eternal and infinite essence of thought, be so conceived, that without such attribute it could neither be nor be conceived.

It must therefore be referred to nature passive rather than to nature active, as must also the other modes of thinking. Q.E.D.


I do not here, by speaking of intellect in function, admit that there is such a thing as intellect in potentiality=

But, wishing to avoid all confusion, I desire to speak only of what is most clearly perceived by us, namely, of the very act of understanding, than which nothing is more clearly perceived.

For we cannot perceive anything without adding to our knowledge of the act of understanding.

32. Will cannot be called a free cause, but only a necessary cause.

Proof: Will is only a particular mode of thinking, like intellect; therefore (by Prop. 28) no volition can exist, nor be conditioned to act, unless it be conditioned by some cause other than itself, which cause is conditioned by a third cause, and so on to infinity.

But if will be supposed infinite, it must also be conditioned to exist and act by God, not by virtue of his being substance absolutely infinite, but by virtue of his possessing an attribute which expresses the infinite and eternal essence of thought (by Prop. 23).

Thus, however it be conceived, whether as finite or infinite, it requires a cause by which it should be conditioned to exist and act.

Thus (Def. 7) it cannot be called a free cause, but only a necessary or constrained cause. Q.E.D.

Coroll. 1 & 2

It follows:

  • That God does not act according to freedom of the will.
  • That will and intellect stand in the same relation to the nature of God as do motion, and rest, and absolutely all natural phenomena, which must be conditioned by God (Prop. 29) to exist and act in a particular manner.

For will, like the rest, needs a cause, by which it is conditioned to exist and act in a particular manner.

When will or intellect is granted, an infinite number of results may follow.

But God cannot on that account be said to act from freedom of the will, any more than the infinite number of results from motion and rest would justify us in saying that motion and rest act by free will.

This is why ‘will’ no more appertains to God than does anything else in nature, but stands in the same relation to him as motion, rest, and the like, which we have shown to follow from the necessity of the divine nature, and to be conditioned by it to exist and act in a particular manner.

33. Things could not have been brought into being by God in any manner or in any order different from that which has in fact obtained.

Proof: All things necessarily follow from the nature of God (Prop. 16), and by the nature of God are conditioned to exist and act in a particular way (Prop. 29).

If things, therefore, could have been of a different nature, or have been conditioned to act in a different way, so that the order of nature would have been different, God’s nature would also have been able to be different from what it now is; and therefore (by Prop. 11) that different nature also would have perforce existed, and consequently there would have been able to be two or more Gods. This (by Prop. 14, Coroll. 1) is absurd. Therefore things could not have been brought into being by God in any other manner, &c. Q.E.D.

Note 1

As I have thus shown, more clearly than the sun at noonday, that there is nothing to justify us in calling things contingent, I wish to explain briefly what meaning we shall attach to the word contingent; but I will first explain the words necessary and impossible.

A thing is called necessary either in respect to its essence or in respect to its cause; for the existence of a thing necessarily follows, either from its essence and definition, or from a given efficient cause.

For similar reasons a thing is said to be impossible; namely, inasmuch as its essence or definition involves a contradiction, or because no external cause is granted, which is conditioned to produce such an effect; but a thing can in no respect be called contingent, save in relation to the imperfection of our knowledge.

A thing of which we do not know whether the essence does or does not involve a contradiction, or of which, knowing that it does not involve a contradiction, we are still in doubt concerning the existence, because the order of causes escapes us,—such a thing, I say, cannot appear to us either necessary or impossible. Wherefore we call it contingent or possible.

Note 2

It clearly follows from what we have said, that things have been brought into being by God in the highest perfection, inasmuch as they have necessarily followed from a most perfect nature.

Nor does this prove any imperfection in God, for it has compelled us to affirm his perfection. From its contrary proposition, we should clearly gather (as I have just shown), that God is not supremely perfect, for if things had been brought into being in any other way, we should have to assign to God a nature different from that, which we are bound to attribute to him from the consideration of an absolutely perfect being.

I do not doubt, that many will scout this idea as absurd, and will refuse to give their minds up to contemplating it, simply because they are accustomed to assign to God a freedom very different from that which we (Def. 7) have deduced.

They assign to him, in short, absolute free will.

However, I am also convinced that if such persons reflect on the matter, and duly weigh in their minds our series of propositions, they will reject such freedom as they now attribute to God, not only as nugatory, but also as a great impediment to organized knowledge.

There is no need for me to repeat what I have said in the note to Prop. 17.

But, for the sake of my opponents, I will show further, that although it be granted that will pertains to the essence of God, it nevertheless follows from his perfection, that things could not have been by him created other than they are, or in a different order; this is easily proved, if we reflect on what our opponents themselves concede, namely, that it depends solely on the decree and will of God, that each thing is what it is. If it were otherwise, God would not be the cause of all things.

Further, that all the decrees of God have been ratified from all eternity by God himself. If it were otherwise, God would be convicted of imperfection or change.

But in eternity there is no such thing as when, before, or after; hence it follows solely from the perfection of God, that God never can decree, or never could have decreed anything but what is; that God did not exist before his decrees, and would not exist without them.

But, it is said, supposing that God had made a different universe, or had ordained other decrees from all eternity concerning nature and her order, we could not therefore conclude any imperfection in God.

But persons who say this must admit that God can change his decrees.

For if God had ordained any decrees concerning nature and her order, different from those which he has ordained—in other words, if he had willed and conceived something different concerning nature—he would perforce have had a different intellect from that which he has, and also a different will.

But if it were allowable to assign to God a different intellect and a different will, without any change in his essence or his perfection, what would there be to prevent him changing the decrees which he has made concerning created things, and nevertheless remaining perfect?

For his intellect and will concerning things created and their order are the same, in respect to his essence and perfection, however they be conceived.

Further, all the philosophers whom I have read admit that God’s intellect is entirely actual, and not at all potential; as they also admit that God’s intellect, and God’s will, and God’s essence are identical, it follows that, if God had had a different actual intellect and a different will, his essence would also have been different; and thus, as I concluded at first, if things had been brought into being by God in a different way from that which has obtained, God’s intellect and will, that is (as is admitted) his essence would perforce have been different, which is absurd.

As these things could not have been brought into being by God in any but the actual way and order which has obtained; and as the truth of this proposition follows from the supreme perfection of God;

We can have no sound reason for persuading ourselves to believe that God did not wish to create all the things which were in his intellect, and to create them in the same perfection as he had understood them.

But, it will be said, there is in things no perfection nor imperfection; that which is in them, and which causes them to be called perfect or imperfect, good or bad, depends solely on the will of God.

If God had so willed, he might have brought it about that what is now perfection should be extreme imperfection, and vice versa.

What is such an assertion, but an open declaration that God, who necessarily understands that which he wishes, might bring it about by his will, that he should understand things differently from the way in which he does understand them?

This (as we have just shown) is the height of absurdity. Wherefore, I may turn the argument against its employers, as follows= All things depend on the power of God.

In order that things should be different from what they are, God’s will would necessarily have to be different.

But God’s will cannot be different (as we have just most clearly demonstrated) from God’s perfection.

Therefore neither can things be different.

I confess, that the theory which subjects all things to the will of an indifferent deity, and asserts that they are all dependent on his fiat, is less far from the truth than the theory of those, who maintain that God acts in all things with a view of promoting what is good.

For these latter persons seem to set up something beyond God, which does not depend on God, but which God in acting looks to as an exemplar, or which he aims at as a definite goal.

This is only another name for subjecting God to the dominion of destiny, an utter absurdity in respect to God, whom we have shown to be the first and only free cause of the essence of all things and also of their existence. I need, therefore, spend no time in refuting such wild theories.

34. God’s power is identical with his essence.

Proof: From the sole necessity of the essence of God it follows that God is the cause of himself (Prop. 11) and of all things (Prop. 16 and Coroll.).

Wherefore the power of God, by which he and all things are and act, is identical with his essence. Q.E.D.

35. Whatsoever we conceive to be in the power of God, necessarily exists.

Proof: Whatsoever is in God’s power, must (by the last Prop.) be comprehended in his essence in such a manner, that it necessarily follows therefrom, and therefore necessarily exists. Q.E.D.

36. There is no cause from whose nature some effect does not follow.

Proof: Whatsoever exists expresses God’s nature or essence in a given conditioned manner (by Prop. 25, Coroll.). That is, (by Prop. 34), whatsoever exists, expresses in a given conditioned manner God’s power, which is the cause of all things, therefore an effect must (by Prop. 26) necessarily follow. Q.E.D.

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