Spinoza is today considered the Philosopher of Modern Times, as Aristotle was the Philosopher of Antiquity. In spite of which, he remains the best known and least read of the great thinkers.
The Book of God, one of his earliest works, came to light only a hundred years ago in two slightly varying Dutch manuscripts. Its youthful author lived in turbulent times, when the Western world was torn by civil and religious strife, and bullies, bigots and pseudo-prophets vied for the ear of a fearful people. While Europe was in an uproar over the right church, Spinoza was seeking the right God. This book is the first known report of his findings. Appearing like a draft for his later Ethics, it is a Guide for the Bewildered. Those who see in philosophy no more than an intellectual exercise will have no difficulty dismissing it. But those imbued with the longing for a better and freer life will find here a most rewarding fountain of faith.
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The Book of God
By Baruch Spinoza
Philosophical LibraryCopyright © 1958 Philosophical Library, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Whatever we clearly and distinctly know to belong to the nature of a thing, we can also truly affirm of that thing. Now we can know clearly and distinctly that existence belongs to the nature of God.
The essence of things are from all eternity, and unto all eternity shall remain immutable.
The existence of God is essence.
We say that God is a being of whom all or infinite attributes are predicated, of which attributes every one is infinitely perfect in its kind. Now, in order to express our views clearly, we shall premise the four following propositions:
1. That there is no finite substance, but that every substance must be infinitely perfect in its kind, that is to say, that in the infinite understanding of God no substance can be more perfect than that which already exists in Nature.
2. That there are not two like substances.
3. That one substance cannot produce another.
4. That in the infinite understanding of God there is no other substance than that which is formaliter in Nature.
The reasons why we said that all these attributes, which are in Nature, are but one single being, and by no means different things (although we can know them clearly and distinctly the one without the other, and the other without another), are these:
1. Because we have found already before that there must be an infinite and perfect being, by which nothing else can be meant than such a being of which all in all must be predicated. Why? [Because] to a being which has any essence attributes must be referred, and the more essence one ascribes to it, the more attributes also must one ascribe to it, and consequently if a being is infinite then its attributes also must be infinite, and this is just what we call a perfect being.
2. Because of the unity which we see everywhere in Nature. If there were different beings in it then it would be impossible for them to unite with one another.
3. Because although one substance cannot produce another, and if a substance does not exist it is impossible for it to begin to exist, we see, nevertheless, that in no substance (which we none the less know to exist in Nature), when considered separately, is there any necessity to be real, since existence does not pertain to its separate essence. So it must necessarily follow that Nature, which results from no causes, and which we nevertheless know to exist, must necessarily be a perfect being to which existence belongs.
From all that we have so far said it is evident, then, that we posit extension as an attribute of God; and this seems not at all appropriate to a perfect being: for since extension is divisible, the perfect being would have to consist of parts, and this is altogether inapplicable to God, because He is a simple being. Moreover, when extension is divided it is passive, and with God (who is never passive, and cannot be affected by any other being, because He is the first efficient cause of all) this can by no means be the case.
To this we reply: (1) that "part" and "whole" are not true or real entities, but only "things of perception," and consequently there are in Nature neither whole nor parts. (2) A thing composed of different parts must be such that the parts thereof, taken separately, can be conceived and understood one without another. Take, for instance, a clock which is composed of many different wheels, cords, and other things; in it, I say, each wheel, cord, etc., can be conceived and understood separately, without the composite whole being necessary thereto. Similarly also in the case of water, which consists of straight oblong particles, each part thereof can be conceived and understood, and can exist without the whole; but extension, being a substance, one cannot say of it that it has parts, since it can neither diminish nor increase, and no parts thereof can be understood apart, because by its nature it must be infinite. And that it must be such, follows from this, namely, because if it were not such, but consisted of parts, then it would not be infinite by its nature, as it is said to be; and it is impossible to conceive parts in an infinite nature, since by their nature all parts are finite. Add to this still: if it consisted of different parts then it should be intelligible that supposing some parts thereof to be annihilated, extension might remain all the same, and not be annihilated together with the annihilation of some of its parts; this is clearly contradictory in what is infinite by its own nature and can never be, or be conceived, as limited or finite. Further, as regards the parts in Nature, we maintain that division, as has also been said already before, never takes place in substance, but always and only in the mode of substance. Thus, if I want to divide water, I only divide the mode of substance, and not substance itself. And whether this mode is that of water or something else it is always the same.
Division, then, or passivity, always takes place in the mode; thus when we say that man passes away or is annihilated, then this is understood to apply to man only in so far as he is such a composite being, and a mode of substance, and not the substance on which he depends.
Moreover, we have already stated, and we shall repeat it later, that outside God there is nothing at all, and that He is an Immanent Cause. Now, passivity, whenever the agent and the passivum are different entities, is a palpable imperfection, because the passivum must necessarily be dependent on that which has caused the passivity from outside; it has, therefore, no place in God, who is perfect. Furthermore, of such an agent who acts in himself it can never be said that he has the imperfection of a passivum, because he is not affected by another; such, for instance, is the case with the understanding, which, as the philosophers also assert, is the cause of its ideas. Since, however, it is an immanent cause, what right, has one to say that it is imperfect, howsoever frequently it is affected by itself? Lastly, since substance is [the cause] and the origin of all its modes, it may with far greater right be called acting than passive. And with these remarks we consider all adequately answered.
It is further objected, that there must necessarily be a first cause which sets body in motion, because when at rest it is impossible for it to set itself in motion. And since it is clearly manifest that rest and motion exist in Nature, these must, they think, necessarily result from an external cause. But it is easy for us to reply to this; for we concede that if body were a thing existing through itself, and had no other attributes than length, breadth, and depth, then, if it really rested there would be in it no cause whereby to begin to move itself; but we have already stated before that Nature is a being of which all attributes are predicated, and this being so, it can be lacking in nothing wherewith to produce all that there is to be produced.
Having so far discussed what God is, we shall say but a word, as it were, about His attributes: that those which are known to us consist of two only, namely, Thought and Extension; for here we speak only of attributes which might be called the proper attributes of God, through which we come to know Him [as He is] in Himself, and not [merely] as He acts [towards things] outside Himself. All else, then, that men ascribe to God beyond these two attributes, all that (if it otherwise pertains to Him) must be either an "extraneous denomination," such as that He exists through Himself, is Eternal, One, Immutable, etc., or, I say, has reference to His activity, such as that He is a cause, predestines, and rules all things: all which are properties of God, but give us no information as to what He is.
God is a being of whom all attributes are predicated; whence it clearly follows that all other things can by no means be, or be understood, apart from or outside Him. Wherefore we may say with all reason that God is a cause of all things.
That God alone is the only free cause is clear not only from what has just been said, but also from this, namely, that there is no external cause outside Him to force or constrain Him; all this is not the case with created things.CHAPTER 2
On Divine Providence
Providence is nothing else than the striving which we find in the whole of Nature and in individual things to maintain and preserve their own existence. For it is manifest that no thing could, through its own nature, seek its own annihilation, but, on the contrary, that every thing has in itself a striving to preserve its condition, and to improve itself. Following these definitions of ours we, therefore, posit a general and a special providence. The general [providence] is that through which all things are produced and sustained in so far as they are parts of the whole of Nature. The special providence is the striving of each thing separately to preserve its existence [each thing, that is to say], considered not as a part of Nature, but as a whole [by itself]. This is explained by the following example: All the limbs of man are provided for, and cared for, in so far as they are parts of man, this is general providence; while special [providence] is the striving of each separate limb (as a whole in itself, and not as a part of man) to preserve and maintain its own well-being.
1. God cannot omit to do what He does; He has, namely, made everything so perfect that it cannot be more perfect.
2. And, at the same time, without Him no thing can be, or be conceived.
Against all this others object: how is it possible that God, who is said to be supremely perfect, and the sole cause, disposer, and provider of all, nevertheless permits such confusion to be seen everywhere in Nature? Also, why has He not made man so as not to be able to sin?
Now, in the first place, it cannot be rightly said that there is confusion in Nature, since nobody knows all the causes of things so as to be able to judge accordingly. This objection, however, originates in this kind of ignorance, namely, that they have set up general Ideas, with which, they think, particular things must agree if they are to be perfect. These Ideas, they state, are in the understanding of God, as many of Plato's followers have said, namely, that these general Ideas (such as Rational, Animal, and the like) have been created by God; and although those who follow Aristotle say, indeed, that these things are not real things, only things of the mind, they nevertheless regard them frequently as [real] things, since they have clearly said that His providence does not extend to particular things, but only to kinds; for example, God has never exercised His providence over Bucephalus, etc., but only over the whole genus Horse. They say also that God has no knowledge of particular and transient things, but only of the general, which, in their opinion, are imperishable. We have, however, rightly considered this to be due to their ignorance. For it is precisely the particular things, and they alone, that have a cause, and not the general, because they are nothing.
God then is the cause of, and providence over, particular things only. If particular things had to conform to some other Nature, then they could not conform to their own, and consequently could not be what they truly are. For example, if God had made all human beings like Adam before the fall, then indeed He would only have created Adam, and no Paul or Peter; but no, it is just perfection in God, that He gives to all things, from the greatest to the least, their essence, or, to express it better, that He has all things perfectly in himself.
As regards the other [objection], why God has not made mankind so that they should not sin, to this it may serve [as an answer], that whatever is said about sin is only said with reference to us, that is, as when we compare two things with each other, or [consider one thing] from different points of view. For instance, if some one has made a clock precisely in order to strike and to show the hours, and the mechanism quite fulfills the aims of its maker, then we say that it is good, but if it does not do so, then we say that it is bad, nothwithstanding that even then it might still be good if only it had been His intention to make it irregular and to strike at wrong times.
We say then, in conclusion, that Peter must, as is necessary, conform to the Idea of Peter, and not to the Idea of Man; good and evil, or sin, these are only modes of thought, and by no means real, or any thing that has reality, as we shall very likely show yet more fully in what follows. For all things and works which are in Nature are perfect.CHAPTER 3
On Natura Naturans
We shall briefly divide the whole of Nature—namely, into Natura naturans and Natura naturata. By Natura naturans we understand a being that we conceive clearly and distinctly through itself, and without needing anything beside itself (like all the attributes which we have so far described), that is, God.
The Natura naturata we shall divide into two, a general, and a particular. The general consists of all attributes which depend immediately on God, of which we shall treat in the following chapter; the particular consists of all the particular things which are produced by the general mode. So that the Natura naturata requires some substance in order to be well understood.CHAPTER 4
On Natura Naturata
Now, as regards the general Natura naturata, or attributes, or creations which depend on, or have been created by, God immediately, of these we know no more than two, namely, motion in matter, and the understanding in the thinking thing. These, then, we say, have been from all eternity, and to all eternity will remain immutable. A work truly as great as becomes the greatness of the work's master.
All that specially concerns Motion, such as that it has been from all eternity, and to all eternity will remain immutable; that it is infinite in its kind; that it can neither be, nor be understood through itself, but only by means of Extension,—all this, I say, since it [Motion] more properly belongs to a treatise on Natural Science rather than here, we shall not consider in this place, but we shall only say this about it, that it is a Son, Product, or Effect created immediately by God.
As regards the Understanding in the thinking thing, this, like the first, is also a Son, Product, or immediate Creation of God, also created by Him from all eternity, and remaining immutable to all eternity. It has but one function, namely, to understand clearly and distinctly all things at all times; which produces invariably an infinite or most perfect satisfaction, which cannot omit to do what it does.CHAPTER 5
What Good and Evil Are
Some things are in our understanding and not in Nature, and so they are also only our own creation, and their purpose is to understand things distinctly: among these we include all relations, which have reference to different things, and these we call Entia Rationis [things of thought]. Now the question is, whether good and evil belong to the Entia Rationis or to the Entia Realia [real things]. But since good and evil are only relations, it is beyond doubt that they must be placed among the Entia Rationis; for we never say that something is good except with reference to something else which is not so good, or is not so useful to us as some other thing. Thus we say that a man is bad, only in comparison with one who is better, or also that an apple is bad, in comparison with another which is good or better.
All this could not possibly be said, if that which is better or good, in comparison with which it [the bad] is so called, did not exist.
Therefore, when we say that something is good, we only mean that it conforms well to the general Idea which we have of such things. But, as we have already said before, the things must agree with their particular Ideas, whose essence must be a perfect essence, and not with the general [Ideas], since in that case they would not exist.
As to confirming what we have just said, the thing is clear to us; but still, to conclude our remarks, we will add yet the following proofs:
All things which are in Nature, are either things or actions. Now good and evil are neither things nor actions. Therefore good and evil do not exist in Nature.
For, if good and evil are things or actions, then they must have their definitions. But good and evil (as, for example, the goodness of Peter and the wickedness of Judas) have no definitions apart from the essence of Judas or Peter, because this alone exists in Nature, and they cannot be defined without their essence. Therefore, as above—it follows that good and evil are not things or actions which exist in Nature.
Excerpted from The Book of God by Baruch Spinoza. Copyright © 1958 Philosophical Library, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Philosophical Library.
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Table of Contents
On Divine Providence,
On Natura Naturans,
On Natura Naturata,
What Good and Evil Are,
God and Man,
On Opinion, Belief, and Knowledge,
The Good in Man,
On Joy and Sorrow,
On Esteem and Contempt, Etc.,
On Hope and Fear, Etc.,
On Remorse and Repentance,
On Derision and Jesting,
On Glory and Shame,
On the True and the False,
On the Will,
On Will and Desire,
On Our Happiness,
On True Knowledge,
On the Immortality of the Soul,
On God's Love of Man,
On True Freedom,