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The Collected Works of Spinoza Volume I
By Edwin Curley
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS Copyright © 1985 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect
The Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect (TdIE), a short, difficult, but fascinating discourse on method, was first published in Spinoza's Opera posthuma in 1677. But as the editors of that collection tell us in their preface, both its style and its content show it to be one of Spinoza's earliest works. If the reference in Letter 6 to a "whole short work" (integrum opusculum) is indeed to this treatise, as scholars have generally assumed, then a draft of it must have existed at least by early in 1662, and quite likely Spinoza wrote it before that.
Various forward references in Spinoza's notes to this treatise indicate that at some stage of his work on it Spinoza conceived it as introductory to another work, to be called (perhaps) Philosophy, a work which would have discussed in a systematic way topics in philosophical theology (II/29, n. z), philosophy of mind (II/15, n. o), epistemology (II/14, nn. k and l), ethics (II/6, n. a; II/7, n. b; II/8, n. c), and perhaps much else (cf. II/9, n. d). Some of the references suggest a work more like the Short Treatise than the Ethics, and Gebhardt argued that the "short work" referred to in Letter 6 was a two-part work, with the TdIE as a methodological prolegomenon to the more systematic KV. According to Gebhardt (I/407), the Latin original of the KV was already in existence when Spinoza began writing the TdIE around the time of Letter 6. But if what I have suggested above is correct (see n. 2), then Gebhardt must be wrong at least about the date of composition of the TdIE. Mignini would argue that Gebhardt is wrong also in thinking that the TdIE was an integral part of the short work Spinoza refers to in Letter 6. Emphasizing the incompleteness of our text of the TdIE, he contends that it could not have been correctly described in Letter 6 as having been composed and that it is earlier than the KV, not merely in date of composition, but also in the stage of the development of Spinoza's thought that it represents. If Mignini's arguments for the priority of the TdIE are not conclusive, he has, I think, at least established that there is no reason to regard the KV as the earlier work. So at this stage the position would seem to be that, if the TdIE is not in fact earlier that the KV, it was probably written at about the same time as the KV and as an introduction to it.
In its importance for the study of the development of Spinoza's thought, the Treatise on the Intellect invites comparison with Descartes' Regulae. Both are early, unfinished works that show the direction of their author's thought at a formative stage, that indicate the problems concerning him and the solutions he was inclined toward. Both discuss certain important themes more fully than does any work their author later published. But both works also need to be read with the consciousness that the lines of thought presented in them may not have proved ultimately to be satisfactory to the author.
For example, some have argued that in this treatise Spinoza has not fully emancipated himself from Descartes on the distinction between will and intellect, and it seems clear that he does tend to confuse mind and intellect. I would argue that the discussion of the four kinds of knowledge is not clearly thought out. And Joachim has suggested that the whole work may have been intended only to present a popular, imprecise exposition of Spinoza's thought on these topics.
The most important question, perhaps, is whether the whole concept of method, as Spinoza here presents it, is not incoherent, and so doomed to failure. On the one hand, the truth is supposed to require no sign, and having a true idea is supposed to be sufficient to remove doubt (§ 36); on the other, the method is supposed, among other things, to teach us what a true idea is, and how to distinguish it from other perceptions (§ 37).
But whatever reservations we may have about the doctrine of this work, it is clear that in the main it continued to satisfy Spinoza for some years. A letter to Bouwmeester in 1666 (Letter 37) repeats some of the Treatise's main themes — that the intellect, unlike the body, is not subject to chance, external causes, but has the power of forming clear and distinct ideas; that it is necessary above all to distinguish between the intellect and the imagination (this being identified with distinguishing between true ideas and all the rest, the false, fictitious and doubtful). And an interchange with Tschirnhaus in 1675 (Letters 59 and 60) indicates that Spinoza had communicated something similar to him informally, and had given Tschirnhaus some reason to expect that before long he would publish his treatise on method.
Naturally, then, there have been a variety of suggestions as to why the Treatise never was published in Spinoza's lifetime. The editors of the Opera posthuma remark that the importance of the topic, the deep contemplations and extensive knowledge it required, made Spinoza's progress with it very slow. Appuhn suggests that Spinoza broke off the composition because he could not see any satisfactory solution to the problems raised at the end (§§ 102-103, 106-110), and that he did not return to finish it because he came to think it more important to concentrate on his other works on moral and political philosophy (the Ethics, the Theological-Political Treatise, and the Political Treatise). Koyré, on the other hand, tends to emphasize the difficulty raised in § 46 (see the note to II/18/1-2). Ironically, Joachim's excellent commentary on this work itself remained unfinished at his death because he was unable to resolve to his satisfaction the problem of how Spinoza meant to conclude the Treatise.
If the character of this work as unfinished, highly problematic, and only posthumously published invites comparison with Descartes' Regulae, the apparently autobiographical character of the opening sections equally invites comparison with the Discourse on Method. The tone of the two works is quite different, of course. The dissatisfaction Descartes presents as leading him to philosophy is with the uncertainty of the learning that had been imparted to him as a student. Spinoza's dissatisfaction is with the insufficiency of the ends men commonly pursue.
Of course scholars have doubted whether these opening passages should be taken as strictly autobiographical (just as they have doubted the accuracy of Descartes' account of his life in the Discourse). As Koyré remarks (Koyré 2, xix), the theme de vero bono et de contemptu mundi is as old as the world itself. Various Stoic authors (e.g., Marcus Aurelius and Seneca) have been cited. And Elbogen calls attention to the work of a medieval Jewish author, Shem Tov Falaquera, whose Ha-Mevak-kesh similarly offers knowledge as the path to salvation. However that may be, it remains, as Koyré also remarks, highly significant that Spinoza should begin a treatise on method by reflecting on the true good.
The paragraph numbers in brackets are those introduced by Bruder and are included for ease in making and following references. Lettered footnotes are Spinoza's, numbered footnotes are mine. I have adopted the lettering of Gebhardt's edition, though (even allowing for differences in the Latin alphabet) it is not entirely consecutive.
[II/4] NOTICE TO THE READER 1
This Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect etc., which we give you here, kind reader, in its unfinished [NS: and defective] state, was written by the author many years ago now. He always intended to finish it. But hindered by other occupations, and finally snatched away by death, he was unable to bring it to the desired conclusion. But since it contains many excellent and useful things, which — we have no doubt — will be of great benefit to anyone sincerely seeking the truth, we did not wish to deprive you of them. And so that you would be aware of, and find less difficult to excuse, the many things that are still obscure, rough, and unpolished, we wished to warn you of them. Farewell.
[II/5] Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect  and on the way by which it is best directed toward the true knowledge of things 2
 After experience had taught me that all the things which regularly occur in ordinary life are empty and futile, and I saw that all the  things which were the cause or object of my fear had nothing of good or bad in themselves, except insofar as [my] mind was moved by them, I resolved at last to try to find out whether there was anything which would be the true good, capable of communicating itself, and which alone would affect the mind, all others being rejected — whether there  was something which, once found and acquired, would continuously give me the greatest joy, to eternity.
 I say that I resolved at last — for at first glance it seemed ill-advised to be willing to lose something certain for something then uncertain. I saw, of course, the advantages that honor and wealth bring, and that I would be forced to abstain from seeking them, if I wished to devote  myself seriously to something new and different; and if by chance the greatest happiness lay in them, I saw that I should have to do without it. But if it did not lie in them, and I devoted my energies only to acquiring them, then I would equally go without it.
 So I wondered whether perhaps it would be possible to reach my new goal — or at least the certainty of attaining it — without changing  the conduct and plan of life which I shared with other men. Often I tried this, but in vain. For most things which present themselves in life, and which, to judge from their actions, men think to be the highest [II/6] good, may be reduced to these three: wealth, honor, and sensual pleasure. The mind is so distracted by these three that it cannot give the slightest thought to any other good.
 For as far as sensual pleasure is concerned, the mind is so caught up in it, as if at peace in a [true] good, that it is quite prevented from thinking of anything else. But after the enjoyment of sensual pleasure  is past, the greatest sadness follows. If this does not completely engross, still it thoroughly confuses and dulls the mind.
The mind is also distracted not a little by the pursuit of honors and wealth, particularly when the latter is sought only for its own sake, because it is assumed to be the highest good.  But the mind is far  more distracted by honor. For this is always assumed to be good through itself and the ultimate end toward which everything is directed.
Nor do honor and wealth have, as sensual pleasure does, repentance as a natural consequence. The more each of these is possessed, the more joy is increased, and hence the more we are spurred on to increase  them. But if our hopes should chance to be frustrated, we experience the greatest sadness. And finally, honor has this great disadvantage: to pursue it, we must direct our lives according to other men's powers of understanding — fleeing what they commonly flee and  seeking what they commonly seek.
 Since I saw that all of these things stood in the way of my working toward this new goal, indeed were so opposed to it that one or the other must be given up, I was forced to ask what would be more useful to me. For as I say, I seemed to be willing to lose the  certain good for the uncertain one. But after I had considered the matter a little, I first found that, if I devoted myself to this new plan of life, and gave up the old, I would be giving up a good by its nature uncertain (as we can clearly infer from what has been said) for one uncertain not by its nature (for I was seeking a permanent good) but only in respect to its attainment.
  By persistent meditation, however, I came to the conclusion that, if only I could resolve, wholeheartedly, [to change my plan of life], I would be giving up certain evils for a certain good. For I saw that I [II/7] was in the greatest danger, and that I was forced to seek a remedy with all my strength, however uncertain it might be — like a man suffering from a fatal illness, who, foreseeing certain death unless he employs a remedy, is forced to seek it, however uncertain, with all  his strength. For all his hope lies there. But all those things men ordinarily strive for, not only provide no remedy to preserve our being, but in fact hinder that preservation, often cause the destruction of those who possess them, and always cause the destruction of those who are possessed by them.
  There are a great many examples of people who have suffered persecution to the death on account of their wealth, or have exposed themselves to so many dangers to acquire wealth that they have at last paid the penalty for their folly with their life. Nor are there fewer examples of people who, to attain or defend honor, have suffered most  miserably. And there are innumerable examples of people who have hastened their death through too much sensual pleasure.
 Furthermore, these evils seemed to have arisen from the fact that all happiness or unhappiness was placed in the quality of the object to which we cling with love. For strife will never arise on account of  what is not loved, nor will there be sadness if it perishes, nor envy if it is possessed by another, nor fear, nor hatred — in a word, no disturbances of the mind. Indeed, all these happen only in the love of those things that can perish, as all the things we have just spoken of can do.
 But love toward the eternal and infinite thing feeds the mind  with a joy entirely exempt from sadness. This is greatly to be desired, and to be sought with all our strength.
But not without reason did I use these words if only I could resolve in earnest. For though I perceived these things [NS: this evil] so clearly in my mind, I still could not, on that account, put aside all greed,  desire for sensual pleasure and love of esteem.
 I saw this, however: that so long as the mind was turned toward these thoughts, it was turned away from those things, and was thinking seriously about the new goal. That was a great comfort to me. For I saw that those evils would not refuse to yield to remedies. And [II/8] although in the beginning these intervals were rare, and lasted a very short time, nevertheless, after the true good became more and more known to me, the intervals became more frequent and longer — especially after I saw that the acquisition of money, sensual pleasure, and  esteem are only obstacles so long as they are sought for their own sakes, and not as means to other things. But if they are sought as means, then they will have a limit, and will not be obstacles at all. On the contrary, they will be of great use in attaining the end on account of which they are sought, as we shall show in its place.
  Here I shall only say briefly what I understand by the true good, and at the same time, what the highest good is. To understand this properly, it must be noted that good and bad are said of things only in a certain respect, so that one and the same thing can be called both good and bad according to different respects. The same applies  to perfect and imperfect. For nothing, considered in its own nature, will be called perfect or imperfect, especially after we have recognized that everything that happens happens according to the eternal order, and according to certain laws of Nature.
 But since human weakness does not grasp that order by its own thought, and meanwhile man conceives a human nature much stronger  and more enduring than his own, and at the same time sees that nothing prevents his acquiring such a nature, he is spurred to seek means that will lead him to such a perfection. Whatever can be a means to his attaining it is called a true good; but the highest good is to arrive — together with other individuals if possible — at the enjoyment  of such a nature. What that nature is we shall show in its proper place: that it is the knowledge of the union that the mind has with the whole of Nature.
 This, then, is the end I aim at: to acquire such a nature, and to strive that many acquire it with me. That is, it is part of my happiness  to take pains that many others may understand as I understand, so that their intellect and desire agree entirely with my intellect and desire. To do this it is necessary, first to understand as much of Nature [II/9] as suffices for acquiring such a nature; next, to form a society of the kind that is desirable, so that as many as possible may attain it as easily and surely as possible.
 Third, attention must be paid to Moral Philosophy and to Instruction  concerning the Education of children. Because Health is no small means to achieving this end, fourthly, the whole of Medicine must be worked out. And because many difficult things are rendered easy by ingenuity, and we can gain much time and convenience in this life, fifthly, Mechanics is in no way to be despised.
Excerpted from The Collected Works of Spinoza Volume I by Edwin Curley. Copyright © 1985 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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