1. 5 Page double spaced2. No need for outside referencing3. Refer only to Spinoza’s Ethics, Part IE1p33: “Things could not have been produced by God in any other way or in any other order than is the case.” How strong of a claim is this? Clearly a) explain the claim Spinoza is making here and b) how Spinoza argues for the claim in the demonstration. Then evaluate the argument. (There are a few ways you can go about evaluating this argument. One option would be to see whether other passages in Part I are in tension with E1p33. Another option is to see whether there are any assumptions behind the argumentthat could be contested.)
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5 pages double spaced
Refer only to original context and given sources
Reconstruct the Argument
“Things could not have been produced by God in any other way or in any other order than is
the case.” How strong of a claim is this?
a) explain the claim Spinoza is making here
b) how Spinoza argues for the claim in the demonstration. Then evaluate the argument. (There
are a few ways you can go about evaluating this argument. One option would be to see
whether other passages in Part I are in tension with E1p33. Another option is to see whether
there are any assumptions behind the argument that could be contested.)
Ethics, Part I
A word from the editor . . .
Copyright © Jonathan Bennett
[Brackets] enclose editorial explanations. Small ·dots· enclose material that has been added, but can be read as
though it were part of the original text. Occasional bullets, and also indenting of passages that are not quotations,
are meant as aids to grasping the structure of a sentence or a thought. Every four-point ellipsis . . . . indicates the
omission of a brief passage that seems to present more difficulty than it is worth.
This version contains some awkward repetitions of the word ‘God’. They could be avoided through the use
of pronouns, but they present us with an unattractive choice. Using ‘he’, ‘him’, ‘his’ etc. of God invites the reader,
over and over again, to think of God as a person; while using ‘it’, ‘itself’ etc. pokes the reader in the ribs, over and
over again, with reminders that God is not a person. The former choice misrepresents Spinoza’s doctrine (his other
name for God is ‘Nature’), while the latter misrepresents his style. Writing in Latin, which lacks the distinction
between personal and impersonal pronouns, he didn’t have this problem.
First launched: July 2004
Amended: April 2007
The remaining boxes contain questions and comments by Lawhead. Throughout the text are
some comments and questions to help you engage with the reading. You do not need to turn
these in, but they may be useful in answering questions on the test. However, note that at the
end of the document is an essay question that you are to answer and turn in, which will
count as a quiz.
Spinoza is formidable reading. However, make an effort to understand the main points
he is getting at. (You probably won’t understand every detail.) There are some gaps. I have left
out passages that are particularly difficult or not relevant.
Spinoza begins by setting out 8 definitions. He does not think these are arbitrary or
stipulative definitions. Instead, he would claim they are “real definitions” that accurately state
the essence of the entity or concept. These are followed by 7 axioms. Like Euclid’s axioms,
these are considered to be self-evident to reason.
Ethics Demonstrated in Geometrical Order By Benedict
Spinoza Part I: God
D1: In calling something ‘cause of itself’ I mean that its essence involves existence, i.e. that its
nature can’t be conceived except as existing.
D2: A thing is said to be ‘finite in its own kind’ if it can be limited by something else of the same
For example, every body counts as ‘finite in its own kind’ because we can always conceive
another body that is even bigger. And a thought can be limited by – ·i.e. can count as finite because
of· – another thought ·that somehow exceeds it·. But a body can’t be limited by a thought or a
thought by a body.
D3: By ‘substance’ I understand: what is in itself and is conceived through itself, i.e. that whose
concept doesn’t have to be formed out of the concept of something else.
D4: By ‘attribute’ I understand: what the intellect perceives of a substance as constituting its essence.
D5: By ‘mode’ I understand: a state of a substance, i.e. something that exists in and is conceived
through something else.
D6: By ‘God’ I understand: a thing that is absolutely infinite, i.e. a substance consisting of an infinity
of attributes, each of which expresses an eternal and infinite essence.
I say ‘absolutely infinite’ in contrast to ‘infinite in its own kind’. If something is infinite only
in its own kind, there can be attributes that it doesn’t have; but if something is absolutely infinite its
essence ·or nature· contains every positive way in which a thing can exist – ·which means that it has
all possible attributes·.
D7: A thing is called ‘free’ if its own nature – with no input from anything else – makes it necessary
for it to exist and causes it to act as it does. We say that a thing is ‘compelled’ if something other
than itself makes it exist and causes it to act in this or that specific way.
D8: By ‘eternity’ I understand: existence itself when conceived to follow necessarily from the
definition of the eternal thing.
A thing is eternal only if it is absolutely (logically) necessary that the thing exists; for
something to be eternal it isn’t merely a matter of its existing at all times – it must necessarily exist.
Look at Definition 7. Why do you suppose that God will be the only entity that fulfills this
definition of being “free”? But notice, something is free if “its own nature . . . causes it to act as
it does.” Do you agree with Spinoza that someone can have his or her actions caused (by one’s
own nature) and, in that sense, be said to be free? (This will be an important issue at the end of
In Def. 8 Spinoza talks about necessity. Some propositions express necessary truths. For
example, “If a figure is a triangle, then its angles will add up to 180 degrees.” This is necessarily
true. It could not be otherwise. But can we apply necessity to existence itself? What would it
mean to say that something necessarily exists? What do you think Spinoza would claim
necessarily exists? Why would this entity have to have necessary existence?
A1: Whatever exists is either in itself or in something else. ·As we have already seen, a substance is
in itself, a mode is in something else·.
A2: What can’t be conceived through something else must be conceived through itself.
A3: From a given determinate cause the effect follows necessarily; and, conversely, if there is no
determinate cause no effect can follow.
A4: Knowledge of an effect depends on, and involves, knowledge of its cause.
A5: If two things have nothing in common, they can’t be understood through one another – i.e. the
concept of one doesn’t involve the concept of the other.
A6: A true idea must agree with its object.
A7: If a thing can be conceived as not existing then its essence doesn’t involve existence.
Look at Axiom 4. If I were writing your biography, what sort of things would I have to
understand in order to understand how you became the person you are? (In other words, you are
the effect. What are your causes?) Now look back at Definition 3 on substance. According to
this definition, why is God a substance, but you are not?
The remainder of this book consists of propositions (or theorems). Each one is followed by its
demonstration. The demonstrations are claimed to follow logically from the definitions, axioms,
and previously proven propositions. Spinoza believes that if you understand the definitions and
axioms, then you will be rationally compelled to believe them and, if so, you will find that his
propositions are rationally inescapable.
1: A substance is prior in nature to its states.
This is evident from D3 and D5.
2: Two substances having different attributes have nothing in common with one another.
This also evident from D3. For each ·substance· must be in itself and be conceived through itself,
which is to say that the concept of the one doesn’t involve the concept of the other.
3: If things have nothing in common with one another, one of them can’t be the cause of the
If they have nothing in common with one another, then (by A5) they can’t be understood through
one another, and so (by A4) one can’t be the cause of the other.
4: Two or more things are made distinct from one another either by a difference in their
attributes or by a difference in their states.
Whatever exists is either in itself or in something else (by A1), which is to say (by D3 and D5)
that outside the intellect there is nothing except substances and their states. So there is nothing
outside the intellect through which things can be distinguished from one another except
substances (which is to say (by D4) their attributes) and their states.
In the next series of propositions, Spinoza argues that there cannot be two substances (or two
gods) having the same nature. What is his argument? See my argument in the text on p. 248
where I formulate it from several passages.
5: In Nature there cannot be two or more substances having the same nature or attribute.
If there were two or more distinct substances, they would have to be distinguished from one
another by a difference either in their attributes or in their states (by 4). If they are
distinguished only by a difference in their attributes, then any given attribute can be possessed by
only one of them. Suppose, then, that they are distinguished by a difference in their states. But a
substance is prior in nature to its states (by 1), so we can set the states aside and consider the
substance in itself; and then there is nothing left through which one substance can be conceived
as distinguished from another, which by 4 amounts to saying that we don’t have two or more
substances ·with a single attribute·, but only one.
6: One substance can’t be produced by another substance.
In Nature there can’t be two substances that share an attribute (by 5), that is (by 2), there can’t be
two substances that have something in common with each other. Therefore (by 3) one substance
can’t be the cause of another, or be caused by it.
Corollary: A substance can’t be produced by anything else.
In Nature there are only substances and their states (as is evident from A1, D3, and D5). But
a substance can’t be produced by a·nother· substance (by 6). Therefore, a substance can’t be
produced by anything else at all.
This corollary is demonstrated even more easily from the absurdity of its contradictory. If a
substance could be produced by something else, the knowledge of it would have to depend on the
knowledge of its cause (by 4). And so (by D3) it wouldn’t be a substance.
7: It pertains to the nature of a substance to exist.
A substance can’t be produced by anything else (by the corollary to 6), so it must be its own
cause; and that, by D1, is to say that its essence necessarily involves existence, or that it pertains
to its nature to exist.
8: Every substance is necessarily infinite.
[The difficult demonstration of 8 has this at its core: if x is finite then it is limited by something
of the same kind as itself, i.e. something that shares an attribute with it; but no substance shares
an attribute with any other substance, so no substance can be limited in this way, so every
substance is infinite.]
In the second proof of Proposition 11 Spinoza asserts that not only the existence of something
has to have a sufficient reason, but also there has to be a reason for the non-existence of
anything. Think of something that doesn’t exist and the explanation for its non-existence. Do
you agree that the non-existence of something must have a cause or explanation? Spinoza
argues, if there is no reason or explanation for the non-existence of God, then God must
11: God, or a substance consisting of infinite attributes each of which expresses eternal and
infinite essence, necessarily exists.
If God didn’t exist, then (by A7) God’s essence would not involve existence; and (by 7) that is
absurd. Therefore God necessarily exists.
A second proof: For each thing there must be assigned a cause or reason for its existence (if it
exists) and for its nonexistence (if it doesn’t). . . . This reason or cause must be either contained
in, or lie outside of, the nature of the thing. For example, the very nature of a square circle
indicates the reason why it doesn’t exist, namely because it involves a contradiction; and the very
nature of a substance explains why it does exist, because that nature involves existence (see 7).
But the reason why [changing Spinoza’s example] a coin exists, or why it doesn’t exist, does not
follow from its nature but from the order of the whole of the physical world. For from this ·order·
it must follow either that the coin necessarily exists now or that it is impossible for it to exist
These things are self-evident. From them it follows that a thing necessarily exists if there is
no reason or cause that prevents it from existing. So if there is no reason or cause that prevents
God from existing or takes God’s existence away, it certainly follows that God necessarily exists.
But if there were such a reason or cause, it would have to be either in God’s very nature or
outside it and in another substance of a different nature. It couldn’t be in a substance of the same
nature as God’s, for the supposition that there is such a substance is, itself, the supposition that
God exists. So it would have to be a substance of a nature different from God’s; but such a
substance would have nothing in common with God (by 2) and so could neither give existence to
God nor take it away. So a reason or cause that takes away God’s existence couldn’t lie outside
the divine nature.
It would, then, have to be in God’s nature itself. That would mean that God’s nature involved
a contradiction, ·like the square circle·. But it is absurd to affirm this of a thing that is absolutely
infinite and supremely perfect. (·That is because a contradiction must involve something of the
form ‘P and not-P – a ‘square circle’ would be something that was ‘square and not square’
because ‘not square is contained in the meaning of ‘circle’ – and a thing that is infinite and
perfect is one whose nature involves nothing negative, so nothing of the contradictory form·.) So
there is no cause or reason – either in God or outside God – that takes God’s existence away.
Therefore God necessarily exists.
14: God is the only substance that can exist or be conceived.
Since God is an absolutely infinite thing, of whom no attribute expressing an essence of
substance can be denied (by 6), and God necessarily exists (by 11), if there were a substance
other than God it would have to be explained through some attribute of God; ·but explanations
can flow only within attributes, not from one attribute to another·; and so two substances with an
attribute in common would exist, which (by 5) is absurd. So no substance other than God can
exist; and none such can be conceived either, for if it could be conceived it would have to be
conceived as existing, and the first part of this demonstration shows that to be absurd. Therefore,
God is the only substance that can exist or be conceived.
First corollary: God is unique, i.e. (by 6) in Nature there is only one substance, and it is
Second corollary: An extended thing and a thinking thing are either attributes of God or (by A1)
states of God’s attributes.
Spinoza has just argued that there can only be one substance or one God. This idea is not very
controversial to many in Western culture. However, he goes on to argue that everything else that
exists does so as a mode or aspect of God. His thinking is that if something were completely
independent of God, rather than being of mode of God’s being, then it would be non-God and
would constitute a limitation of God’s being. Spinoza is forcing a dilemma on us. Either (a)
everything is a mode of God’s being or (b) there exist things outside of God’s being, hence God
is not infinite or all-inclusive, which would mean God is limited. What do you think of his
15: Whatever exists is in God, and nothing can exist or be conceived without God.
14 secures that apart from God there cannot exist (or be conceived) any substance, i.e. (by
D3) any thing that is in itself and is conceived through itself. But (by D5) modes can’t exist
or be conceived without a substance ·that they are modes of·. So modes can exist only in the
divine nature, and can be conceived only through that nature. But (by A1) substances and
modes are all there is. Therefore, everything is in God and nothing can be or be conceived
In Corollary 2 to Proposition 17, Spinoza argues that “God alone is a free cause.” By this he
means that there is nothing external to God that compels God to act. But, since everything has a
cause, the cause of God’s acts is the divine nature alone. In this sense, God is free (from external
compulsion). However, Spinoza goes on to argue against those who think that God being a free
cause entails that God has free will. By “free will” Spinoza means some sort of spontaneous
uncaused action, where one could do A just as easily as one could do not-A. But, could God
change the laws of mathematics? What on earth would that be like? Could God embrace
irrationality? Spinoza will argue that just as the laws of mathematics are what they (logically)
must be, so everything in the world is logically necessary.
Here is what I think Spinoza is getting at in the remaining propositions. 1. All of God’s
actions flow from the divine nature. 2. God’s nature is that of perfection. 3. Only one course of
events is consistent with divine perfection. 4. The world could have been different than it is only
if God’s nature had been different than it is. 5. However, the divine nature is unchangeable. 6.
Hence, the way things are is rationally necessary. What do you think of Spinoza’s reasoning?
17: God acts from the laws of the divine nature alone, and isn’t compelled by anything.
I have just shown (16) that from the necessity of the divine nature alone, or (what is the same
thing) from the laws of God’s nature alone, absolutely infinite things follow; and in 15 I have
demonstrated that nothing can be or be conceived without God – that all things are in God. So
there can’t be anything outside God by which God could be caused or compelled to act.
Therefore, God acts from the laws of the divine nature alone, and isn’t compelled by anything.
First corollary to 17: There is no cause, either extrinsically or intrinsically, which prompts God to
action, except the perfection of the divine nature.
Second corollary to 17: God alone is a free cause.
God alone exists only from the necessity of the divine nature (by 11 and first corollary to 14), and
acts from the necessity of the divine nature (by 17). Therefore (by D7) God alone is a free cause.
Note on 17: I. Some people think, regarding the things that I have said follow from God’s nature
(i.e. are in God’s power), that God could bring it about that they don’t happen, are not produced by
God; from which they infer that God is a free cause. But this is tantamount to saying that God can
bring it about that the nature of a triangle doesn’t require that its three angles are equal to two right
angles, or that from a given cause the effect would not follow – which is absurd.
Further, I shall show later, without help from 17, that God’s nature doesn’t involve either
intellect or will. I know of course that many think they can demonstrate that a supreme intellect and a
free will pertain to God’s nature; for, they say, they know nothing they can ascribe to God more
perfect than what is the highest perfection in us.
Moreover, while thinking of God as actually understanding things in the highest degree,
they don’t believe that God can bri …
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