Benedict de Spinoza
Benedict de Spinoza, or Baruch d'Espinoza, lived (1632-1677) in Amsterdam. He was a glass grinder whose philosophical work caused his excommunication from the Jewish synagogue.
Spinozism includes the belief that all existence consists of only one substance, such as God or nature. Under this view, everything from mind to matter is merely a manifestation of the one true reality. Evil has only a fleeting existence in the mind or heart, and is extinguished in due course by the divine Whole.
1. There is at least one substance of the universe. 2. God exists, and is of a substance. 3. God is infinite in attributes. 4. For there to be two substances, they must differ in attributes. 5. God has all of the attributes, so no substance may differ from that substance, therefor there is only one substance, God.
Benedict Spinoza, by birth a Jew and then a deserter from Judaism, and finally an atheist, was a native of Amsterdam. He was a systematic atheist whose method was new, although he shared the fundamentals of his doctrine with several other ancient and modern philosophers, both European and oriental. Spinoza was the first to reduce atheism to a system and to turn it into a body of tightly woven doctrine, according to the method of the geometers, but otherwise his ideas were not new. It was already believed a long time ago that the entire universe was only substance and that God and the world were a single being. It is not certain that Straton, the Peripatetic philosopher, held this opinion, although he is known to have taught that the universe or nature was a simple being and a single substance. What is clear is that he recognised no other god but nature. As he was completely indifferent to the atoms and the vacuum of Epicurus, it might be imagined he made no distinction between the different parts of the universe, but this does not necessarily follow. One can only conclude that his views were much closer to Spinozism than to the atomic system. It could even be argued that he did not teach, as the atomists did, that the world was new and the product of chance, but taught, like the Spinozists, that nature produced it of necessity and for all eternity.
The theory of the world’s soul, which was so common among the ancients, and which constituted the main part of the Stoics’ system, is fundamentally the same as Spinoza’s. This would appear more clearly if Stoicism had been expounded by geometers. But as Stoic writing owes more to the method of the rhetoricians than to the dogmatic method, and as Spinoza on the contrary strove for precision, without any recourse to figurative language, which so often obscures the true ideas in a body of doctrine, it results that we can find several major differences between his system and that of the world’s soul. Those who wish to maintain that Spinozism is more coherent must also admit that it is less orthodox, since the Stoics did not remove providence from God’s keeping, but reunited in Him the knowledge of all things, while Spinoza attributes to Him only partial and very limited knowledge. Read these words of Seneca:
Eundem quem nos, jovem intelligunt, custodem, rectoremque universi, animum ac spiritum, mundani hujus operis dominum & artificem, cui nomem omne convenit. Vis illum fatum vocare? Non errabis: hic est ex quo suspensa sunt om - nia, causa causarum. Vis illum providentiam dicere? Recte dicis. Est enim cujus consilio huic mundo providetur. Vis illum naturam vocare? Non peccabis. Est enim ex quo nata sunt omnia, cujus spiritu vivimus. Vis illum vocare mundum? Non falleris. Ipse est enim totum quod vides, totus suis partibus inditur, & se sustinens vi suâ. Quoest. natur. book II. chap xlv (“They have recognised the same Jupiter as us, the guardian and moderator of the universe, the soul and spirit of the whole, the architect and the master of this great edifice, the world. All these names are appropriate: Will you call him destiny? The name is well chosen, since everything depends on him and he contains in himself the causes of all causes. Will you call him providence? You are right again. His wisdom provides all the needs of the world, controls its order and directs its movements. Would you prefer to call him nature? You are not mistaken, since he gave birth to everything, and it is his breath that animates us. Finally, will you give him the name of ‘world’? This would be no less appropriate, since he is everything you see entirely disseminated in his own parts and supporting himself through his own energy.”).
Elsewhere he writes:
Quid est autem, cur non existimes in eo divini aliquid existere, qui Dei par est? Totum hoc quo continemur, & unum est & Deus, & socii ejus sumus & membra. Epist. 92 (“And why should we not imagine something divine in a being that is part of the divinity? The universe, which includes us, is a single thing, and that thing is God. We are the companions and members of it.”).
One should also read Cato’s speech in Pharsal, Book Four, and above all consider the following lines of verse:
Est - ne Dei sedes nisi terra & pontus & acr, Et coelum & virtus? Superos quid quoerimus ultra? Jupiter est quodcumque vides, quocumque moveris (Has God any habitation except earth and sea and air and heaven and virtue? Why do we seek the Highest beyond them? Jupiter is everywhere you look, everywhere you go).
To return to Spinoza, it is universally agreed that he was virtuous, sober, moderate, peace-loving, disinterested, and even generous. His heart was stained with no dishonourable vice. This is strange, but after all it is no more surprising than the fact there are people living very bad lives who have a complete faith in the Gospels. Natural goodness and equity did for Spinoza what the attractions of pleasure failed to do. From his obscure retirement came first the work he called the Theolgico-Political Treatise, because here he examines religion in itself and in relation to the practice of civil government. Since the certainty of revelation is the foundation of faith, the first efforts of Spinoza are turned against the prophets. He does all he can to undermine our ideas about them and all we draw from their prophesies. He confines the prophets’ merits to the science of morals. He does not admit that they had any great knowledge of nature or the perfections of the Supreme Being. If we follow Spinoza, in fact, they knew no more and perhaps even less than we do.
Moses, for example, imagined a jealous, complacent and vindictive God, which is hard to reconcile with the idea we should have of the divinity. Regarding miracles, about which so much is told in the Scriptures, Spinoza found they were untrue. Supernatural prodigies, in his opinion, are impossible. They disturb the natural order and such disturbances are contradictory. Lastly, to set us free and to put us at our ease, he destroyed all the authority of the Old Testament in a single chapter. It was not, he said, the work of the authors whose names it bears, so that the Pentateuch, for instance, is not the work of Moses, but a compilation of ancient texts badly transcribed by Esdras. The origin of the other sacred books is no more respectable.
Spinoza shocked and scandalised Europe with a theology that had no other foundation than the authority of his own word. His was not just a slight deviation from orthodoxy. His first work was only the first exercise of his forces. In the second he went much further. This was his ethical treatise, in which, giving full rein to his philosophic meditations, he plunges the reader into the heart of his atheism. It is mainly to this audacious monstrosity that he owes the fame he has achieved among unbelievers in our times. It is not true that his followers are numerous. Very few people are suspected of adhering to his doctrine, and among those that are suspected of it, there are few who have studied him, and still fewer who have understood him and could trace the real outline or develop the guiding thread of his principles. His most sincere followers admit that Spinoza is incomprehensible, and that his philosophy → is for them above all a perpetual enigma. In the end, if they give him their support, it is because he intrepidly denies what they secretly do not really believe.
If we descend into the black depths in which Spinoza moved, we will discover a series of abysses into which this daring thinker threw himself almost from the first. We will find some clearly false propositions and others that are highly debatable; arbitrary notions substituted for natural principles and truths; a misuse of mostly misinterpreted terms, a heap of misleading equivocations and a fog of palpable contradictions.
Before revealing the system’s weaknesses, it is worthwhile expounding it. Spinoza maintains that 1. a substance cannot produce another substance. 2. nothing can be made from nothing, because it would be a manifest contradiction for God to work on nothingness, for him to create being from non-being, light from darkness and life from death. 3. there is only one substance, since the name of substance can only be applied to what is eternal and independent of all higher causes, to what exists by itself and necessarily. All of these qualities belong to God alone, so that there is no other substance in the universe but God.
Spinoza adds that this unique substance, which is neither divided nor divisible, possesses an infinite number of attributes, including extension and thought. All extended bodies in the universe are the modifications of this substance as extension, and the souls of human beings are the modifications of this substance as thought. But the whole remains motionless and loses nothing of its essence as a result of a few small, rapid, momentary changes. So a man never ceases to be what he really is, whether he is awake or asleep, casually relaxing or acting energetically. Let us look at Bayle’s objections to this doctrine.
1. It is impossible for the universe to be a unique substance. Everything that has extension necessarily has parts, and everything that has parts is composite. As the parts of extension cannot exist without the other parts, it follows either that extension in general is not a substance or that each part of extension is a particular substance, distinct from all the others. Now, according to Spinoza , extension in general is the attribute of a substance. On the one hand, he admits along with other philosophers that the attributes of a substance are not really different from this substance. One must therefore conclude that each part of extension is a particular substance, thus ruining the foundations of the author’s system. To escape from this absurdity, Spinoza cannot say that extension in general is distinct from God’s substance, because if he said so, he would be maintaining that this substance is in itself not extended and could thus never have acquired all three dimensions, except by creating them, since it is clear that extension cannot come out of or emanate from a non-extended subject, except by means of creation. Yet Spinoza did not at all believe that nothing could be made from nothing. It is also clear that a non-extended substance by its very nature can never become a three-dimensional subject, since how then would it be possible for the three dimensions to be placed on this mathematical point? They would therefore exist without a subject, and would consequently be a substance. Thus if Spinoza admitted a real distinction between substance and God, and extension in general, he would be obliged to say that God could be composed of two distinct substances, namely of his non-extended being and extension. He is thus forced to recognise that extension and God are one and the same; and since elsewhere he maintains that there is only one substance in the universe, he is obliged to teach that extension is a simple being and as non-composite as mathematical points. But can he be serious in maintaining such an idea? Isn’t it obvious that the number 1000 is composed of one thousand units, that a body measuring 100 inches is made up of one hundred truly distinct parts, each of which has the extension or length of one inch?
To overcome such a pressing difficulty, Spinoza replies that extension is not made up of parts but of modifications. But has he acquired any advantage by changing words? He can avoid the word ‘part’ as much as he likes, he can substitute the words mode or modification as much as he likes, but what difference does it make? Have the ideas associated with the word part suddenly disappeared? Do they not also apply to the word modification ? Are the signs and nature of difference any less real or obvious if matter is divided into modifications or into parts? All this is chimerical. The idea of matter still remains that of a composite being, of a mass of several different substances. We can prove this as follows:
Since modalities cannot exist without the substance that they modify, substance must necessarily be found wherever there are modalities. Substance must even necessarily be multiplied according to the degree that the incompatible modifications are multiplied between them. It is obvious, and no Spinozist can deny it, that a square shape and a circular shape are incompatible in the same piece of wax. Therefore the substance that is modified by the square shape cannot be the same substance as the one that is modified by the round shape, otherwise the square shape and the round shape would exist in a single subject at the same time, and that is impossible.
2. If it is absurd to make God extension, since it means taking away His simplicity and treating Him as the composition of an infinite number of parts, then what can we say if we imagine Him also reduced to the lowest form of nature, making him material, since matter is the theatre of all corruptions and all change? The Spinozists, however, maintain that He cannot be divided, arguing their case with the most frivolous and coldest quibbling ever seen. For matter to be divisible, they say, one of its parts would have to be separated from the others by empty space, and such a thing never happens. But this is to give a poor definition of division. In reality, we are as separated from our friends when the space between us is occupied by other men standing in a line as when the space is full of earth. Are not both ideas and language turned upside down if we argue that matter reduced to ashes and smoke cannot be separated?
3. We shall see even more monstrous absurdities when considering Spinoza’s god as the subject of all the modifications of thought. It is already very difficult to reconcile extension and thought in a single substance. Yet it is not at all here a question of an alloy, like that between metals, or a blend, like water and wine, since all they need is juxtaposition . But the alloy of thought and extension must mean their identity . I am sure that if Spinoza had come across such an embarrassing problem in another school of thought, he would have judged the whole school to be unworthy of his attention. Yet he gave little notice to this matter when defending his own cause, proving that those who censure others’ ideas with the most disdain can be highly indulgent towards themselves. Spinoza was no doubt completely indifferent to the mystery of the Trinity, and was amazed that a great number of people dare to speak of a being constituted by three hypostasis, even though, strictly speaking, he himself attributes to the divine nature as many persons as they are individuals on Earth. He regarded people who believe in transubstantiation as fools when they say that a man can be in several places at the same time, that he can be alive in Paris, dead in Rome, etc. Yet he argued that extended, unique and indivisible substance is simultaneously everywhere, and is in one place cold, in another place hot, sad here and happy there, etc.
If there is something certain and incontestable in human knowledge, it is this proposition: one cannot affirm truly of the same subject, from the same points of view, and at the same time, two terms that contradict each other. For example, it is impossible to say without lying that Peter is well and Peter is very ill . The Spinozists destroy this idea and justify it to such an extent that you can no longer be sure what their standard of truth is, because if such propositions are false, then none can be guaranteed as true. Let us show that this axiom is completely erroneous in Spinoza’s system and establish as an incontrovertible maxim that all the predicates that are given to a subject, in order to indicate everything it does or everything that happens to it, are pertinent strictly and physically for substance and not its accidental properties. When we say that iron is hard and heavy, and that it sinks in water, we are not at all asserting that hardness is hard, that heaviness is heavy, etc. Such language would be a complete mockery. In fact we mean that the extension that composes the iron is resistant, has weight, and sinks in water. In the same way, when we say that a man denies, affirms, is angry, flatters, praises, and so on, we include all these attributes in the very substance of his soul, and not in his thoughts, insofar as they are accidents or modifications. If therefore it were true, as Spinoza maintains, that men are the modalities of God, we would be mistaken in saying Peter denies this, he wants that, he wants this, he says that such and such is true, because, according to Spinoza’s system, it is in fact God who denies, wants and affirms, and consequently all the denominations that result from all the thoughts of men should be strictly and physically included in the substance of God. From this it follows that God hates and loves, denies and affirms the same things at the same time and according to all the necessary conditions, and consequently the rule that we have mentioned concerning contradictions is false, since one cannot deny, if we examine all the conditions strictly, that some men love and affirm what other men hate and deny. Let us go further: the contradictory terms ‘want’ and ‘not want’ apply, according to all these conditions, at the same time, to different men. In Spinoza’s system, therefore, they must apply to the unique and indivisible substance that we call God. It is therefore God who simultaneously forms the act of wanting and who does not form it regarding the self-same object. Two contradictory terms are used about Him, thus overturning the first principle of metaphysics. A squared circle is no bigger contradiction than a substance that loves and hates the same object at the same time. This is what false delicacy means. Here we have a man who could not tolerate minor difficulties, whether they belonged to Aristotelianism, Judaism or Christianity, but who embraced with all his heart a hypothesis that allies two terms as opposed as the square and the circle and who turns an infinity of discordant and incompatible attributes, and all the variety and antipathy of thoughts that human beings hold true at the same time, into a single, perfectly simple and indivisible substance. It is usually said that quot capita, tot sensus (there are as many opinions as there are heads); but according to Spinoza , all the feelings of all men are in a single head. Even writing down such ideas is enough to refute them.
4. But if it is physically speaking an incredible absurdity that a simple and unique subject should be modified at the same time by the thoughts of all men, then it is an execrable abomination when one looks at the question from the point of view of morality.
Is the infinite being, the necessary and supremely perfect being, in fact in the least bit firm, constant and unchanging? ‘Unchanging’? In fact, he will never at any moment be the same; his thoughts will succeed one another uninterruptedly and without end; the same configuration of passions and feelings will never occur again. All this is hard to accept. But there is worse. His continuous mobility will still contain many constant elements in the sense that, for every good thought, the infinite being will have a thousand others that are extravagant, impure and abominable. He will produce in himself all the madness, dreams, dirt and baseness of the human race; he will not only be the efficient cause, but also the passive subject; he will be joined with them through the most intimate union that can be conceived, because we have here a penetrable union or rather a real identity, since a mode is not truly distinct from the modified substance. Many great philosophers, unable to understand that it is compatible with the idea of a supremely good being to allow man to be evil and unhappy, have postulated two principles, good and evil. But here is a philosopher who supports the idea that God is both the agent and the object of all the crimes and the miseries of man. That men hate each other, murder each other in the middle of a forest, gather together in armies to kill each other, that the victors sometimes devour the defeated—this is understandable because they are distinct from each other. But that men, mere modifications of the same being, and with God alone acting through them, the same God in many forms, modifying himself in Turk, modifying himself in Hungarian, that there should be wars and battles—this is what surpasses all the monsters and all the fantastic insanities of the maddest brains that have ever been locked up in mental asylums. Thus, in the system of Spinoza , anyone who says, the Germans have killed ten thousand Turks , is speaking mistakenly and incorrectly, unless he understands by this, God, modified in Germans, has killed ten thousand Turks; and thus all the words used to express what people do to each other have no other true meaning than this: God hates himself, he demands grace of himself, he refuses it, persecutes himself, kills himself, eats himself, slanders himself and sends himself to the scaffold . This would be less inconceivable if Spinoza had represented his god as a unity of several distinct parts, but on the contrary he reduced him to the most perfect simplicity, to the unity of substance, to indivisibility. Spinoza thus pours out the most infamous and furious extravagances, which are infinitely more ridiculous that those of the poets evoking the pagan gods.
5. Two further objections. There have been philosophers who were sufficiently impious to deny that God exists, but they did not push their extravagance as far as saying that if He existed, He would not be a perfectly happy nature. The greatest sceptics of antiquity said that all men have an idea of God, according to which he is a living, happy, incorruptible nature who is perfect in his bliss and in no way susceptible to evils. It was without doubt an extravagance bordering on madness not to reunite immortality and happiness in the divine nature. Plutarch refutes this absurdity of the Stoics very well. But however mad this Stoic fantasy was, it did not take away from the gods their happiness during their lives. The Spinozists are perhaps the only ones who have reduced the divinity to misery. And what misery? Sometimes so great that it throws him into despair and he would reduce himself to nothingness if he could. He tries to, taking away from himself everything that can be taken away; he hangs himself or throws himself off a cliff, unable to bear the horrendous sadness that is eating away at him. These are not declamations, but are the result of a precise and philosophic language, because if man is a mere modification, he himself does nothing. It would be an impertinent, clownish and burlesque phrase to say joy is merry, sadness is sad . A similar phrase in the system of Spinoza affirms, man thinks, man suffers, man hangs himself, etc . All these propositions must be said of a substance of which man is only the mode. How was anyone able to imagine that an independent nature that exists by itself and that possesses infinite perfections should be subject to all the unhappiness of the human race? If some other nature forced him to give himself up to his unhappiness and to feel pain, one would not find it so strange that it should act with the aim of making itself unhappy; one would say that it has to obey a higher force. It is apparently to avoid a greater evil that it gives itself gallstones, diarrhoea, high fevers, rabies, etc. But the divinity is alone in the universe; nothing commands it, nothing calls on it to obey and nothing prays to it. It is its own nature, says Spinoza , that induces it in certain circumstances to give itself a heavy sorrow or a great pain. But, I would reply, isn’t there something monstrous and inconceivable about such a fatality?
The very strong reasons brought against the doctrine that our souls are a portion of God have still more solidity when used against Spinoza . It was objected to Pythagoras in a work by Cicero that three falsehoods result from this doctrine: 1. that the divine nature is torn into pieces; 2. that it would be unhappy as often as men; 3. that the human mind would be ignorant of nothing, since it would be God.
6. I would like to know Spinoza’s aim in rejecting some doctrines and putting forward others. Does he want to teach us the truth? Does he want to refute falsehoods? But has he any right to say that falsehood exists? The thoughts of ordinary philosophers, those of the Jews or the Christians, are they not modes of the infinite being as much as those of Spinoza’s ethical doctrine? Are they not realities that are as necessary for the perfection of the universe as all philosophic speculation? Do they not come from a necessary cause? How, therefore, does Spinoza dare raise any objections to them? Secondly, does he not claim that nature, whose modalities these realities are, acts of necessity, that it always goes its own way, that it can neither deviate, stop nor—since it is unique in the universe—will any exterior cause ever stop it or set it on the right path? Is there therefore anything less useful than the lessons of this philosopher? It is apparently up to him, a mere modification of substance, to tell the infinite being what it should do. Will it hear? And if it hears, could it take advantage of it? Does it not always act according to the full strength of its forces, without knowing where it is going or what it is doing? A man like Spinoza would remain perfectly immobile if he reasoned correctly. If such a theory were true, he would say that the necessary action of nature will prove it without his efforts; if his theory were not true, then all his writings would be of no importance.
Spinoza’s system is clearly so shocking to the system that his greatest admirers recognise that if he had really taught the theories he is accused of, then he would deserve to be condemned, but they claim that he has been misunderstood. Their apologies, far from excusing him, show clearly that the enemies of Spinoza have refuted and destroyed him so well that the only argument his supporters have left is the one used by the Jansenists against the Jesuits, namely, that his ideas were not as had been thought. This is what Spinoza’s apologists have been reduced to. To show that no one can dispute his enemy’s triumph, it is enough to agree that Spinoza really taught what is attributed to him, and that he contradicted himself grossly and did not know what he wanted. He is accused of the crime of saying that all particular beings are modifications of God. It is clear that this is indeed his doctrine, since his fourteenth proposition says precisely this, Præter Deum nulla dari neque concipi potest substantia ( No other substance can exist or be conceived except God ), and that he states in his fifteenth, quidquid est, in Deo est, & nihil sine Deo neque esse neque concipi potest . ( Everything that is, exists in God, and nothing can exist nor be conceived without substance ). He proves this by saying that everything is mode and substance and that the modes cannot exist or be conceived without substance. So were an apologist for Spinoza to speak in this way, saying ‘If it were true that Spinoza had taught that all particular beings are modes of the divine substance...’, then his opponents’ victory would be complete, and I would not contest it, but what I would contest is when Spinozists say, ‘I do not believe that the doctrine they have refuted is in his book’. When apologists for Spinoza says so, what exactly is missing? Only a formal admission of the defeat of their hero, since obviously the dogma in question is present in Spinoza’s Ethics .
It mustn’t be forgotten that this impious man was by no means ignorant of the inevitable derivations of his system, because he made fun of the existence of ghosts. Yet there is no philosophy → which has less right to deny their existence. Spinozists must recognise that everything in nature thinks and that man is not the most enlightened or most intelligent modification of the universe. They must therefore admit the existence of demons. When it is supposed that a supremely perfect spirit has pulled creatures from nothingness, without being determined by his nature to do so, but through a free choice and for his own pleasure, then one can deny that there are angels. If you ask why such a creature has not produced other spirits than the soul of man, it will be answered that such was his pleasure, stat pro ratione voluntas (his will is held to be reason). No reasonable reply can be made to this, unless you prove the fact that there are angels. But when it is imagined that the Creator did not act freely and that he has exhausted the full extent of his powers, without choice or rules, and that moreover thought is one of his attributes, then it would be a mockery to maintain there are no such things as demons. One is forced to concede that the thought of the Creator has been modified not only in the bodies of men, but all over the universe too. As well as the animals we know of, there must be an infinite number that we do not know of, and which surpass us in enlightenment and malice, as much as we surpass, in this respect, dogs and cattle. For it would be the least reasonable thing in the world to imagine that the mind of man is the most perfect modification that could be produced by an infinite being acting to the full extent of its powers. We can conceive no natural link between thinking and the brain, and that is why it is necessary to believe that a creature without a brain is as capable of thinking as a creature organised as we are. What could have brought Spinoza to deny what is said of spirits? Why did he think that there is nothing in the world that is able to inspire in us the sight of a ghost, to make a noise in a bedroom, and to cause all the magical phenomena mentioned in books? Did he believe that, to produce these effects, a body as material as man’s is needed, and that in this case, demons could not exist in the air, nor enter our houses, nor disappear from sight? But such an idea would be ridiculous. The mass of flesh of which we are composed is less a help than a hindrance to spirit and force—I mean, mediating force, or the ability to apply instruments that are most apt to produce great effects. It is from this facility that the most surprising actions of man are born. Thousands upon thousands of examples prove it. A thin and pale engineer, as small as a dwarf, can do more things than two thousand savages who are stronger than Milo. A machine ten thousand times smaller than an ant could produce greater effects than an elephant. It could discover the inanimate parts of animals and plants and be placed at the heart of the deepest mainsprings of our brains and turn a switch so that we could see ghosts and hear noises. If doctors knew about the basic cells and the hidden combination of parts in plants, minerals and animals, they would also discover the instruments that can disrupt them, and could apply these instruments as needed to produce new arrangements that would transform good meat into poison and poisons into good meat. Such doctors would be incomparably more skilful than Hippocrates; and if they were small enough to enter the brain and the human organs, they would cure whatever they wanted, and could bring about the strangest imaginable illnesses at will. Everything comes down to this question: is it possible for an invisible modification to be more enlightened and more evil than man? If Spinoza replies in the negative, then he is unaware of the consequences of his own hypotheses and is arrogant and lacking in principles.
If his reasoning had been consistent, he would not have dismissed the fear of hell as a fantasy. You can believe as much as you like that the universe is not the work of God and that it is not ruled by a simple, spiritual nature that is independent of it, but at the very least you must admit that there are certain things that have intelligence and desires and which seek to preserve their power, which exercise their authority over others, ordering them to do this or do that, punishing them, mistreating them and taking terrible revenge on them. Is the world not full of such things? Aren’t we all aware of it through our own experience? To imagine that all the beings of this nature are to be found only on Earth, which is a mere speck in comparison with the universe, is obviously a completely irrational idea. Reason, spirit, ambition and hate are supposed to be more common on Earth than elsewhere. Why? Could anyone produce either a good or a bad explanation? I think not. Our eyes teach us that the immense space we call the heavens , where such rapid and active movement takes place, is as capable as the Earth of producing human beings and as susceptible of being divided into different dominations as we are. We do not know what happens in the heavens, but if we consult our reason alone, we are forced to concede that it is highly likely or at least possible there are powerful beings who spread both their empire and their light on our world. Perhaps we are under their jurisdiction: they make laws, which they reveal to us by the guiding light of our conscience, and are violently angry with those who transgress them. It is enough for this to be possible to throw atheists into doubt. There is only one way to be without fear, and that is to believe in the mortality of the soul. We would thereby escape the anger of these beings, for otherwise they could be more terrifying than God himself. At our deaths we might fall into the hands of some savage master, and it would be in vain for us to hope that a few years of torment would be enough. A limited nature would have no sort of moral perfection and could follow his own whims and passions regarding the punishments he inflicted. He could very well resemble a Phalaris and a Nero, people capable of leaving their enemies in a prison cell for all eternity, if they could have possessed everlasting authority. Could one hope that the evil being might not last forever? But how many atheists are there who claim that the sun never had a beginning and will never have an end?
To apply all this to Spinoza’s followers, let us recall that their principles force them to recognise the immortality of the soul, since they see themselves as modes of an essentially thinking being. Let us recall that they are forced to admit there are modes that get angry with others, that obstruct them, that torture them, that make their torments last as long as they can, that condemn them to the galleys all their lives, and that would make such torture last forever if death did not intervene on both sides. Tiberius and Caligula, two monsters hungry for carnage, are famous examples. Let us recall that a Spinozist invites ridicule if he simply admits that the universe is full of ambitious, sad, jealous and cruel modes. Let us remember, last of all, that the essence of human modes does not consist in bearing a heavy weight of flesh. Socrates was Socrates from the day of his conception or soon afterwards; everything he had at that time could remain intact after a fatal illness had stopped the circulation of his blood and the beating of his heart in the material body in which he had grown up. He was therefore the same mode after his death as he was in life, if we consider only the essence of his person. Thus through his death he did not escape justice or the caprice of his invisible persecutors, who are able to follow him wherever he goes and mistreat him in all the visible shapes he might adopt.
M. Bayle, who strove ceaselessly to identify the inexactness of the ideas of Spinoza’s supporters, claims that all their arguments concerning miracles are only a pathetic play on words and that they are ignoring the consequences of their own system if they deny that miracles are possible. To show their bad faith and their illusions on the subject, he says it is enough to point out that by rejecting the possibility of miracles, they are arguing that God and nature are the same being, so that if God did anything contrary to the laws of nature, He would be contradicting Himself, which is impossible. Please speak clearly and unambiguously and say that the laws of nature are not the work of a free legislator who knew what he was doing, but are the result of a blind and necessary cause, and nothing can happen that is contrary to these laws! Your own thesis would then speak against miracles. This would be sophistry, but at least you would be speaking frankly. But let us leave these generalities and ask the Spinozists what they think of the miracles mentioned in the Scriptures. They categorically deny everything that cannot be attributed to some sleight of hand. Let us pass over the effrontery needed to challenge facts of this nature, and let us attack them on their principles. Do you not say that the power of nature is infinite? And would it be so if there were nothing in the universe that could make a dead man live again? Would it be so if there were only one way to create men, that of ordinary procreation? Do not pretend that our knowledge of nature is infinite. You deny such divine understanding, in which, in your view, the knowledge of all possible beings is united. But by dispersing knowledge, you do not deny it is infinite. Therefore you must maintain that nature knows everything, in the same way that we say that mankind can speak all languages. One man cannot speak them all, but some men understand certain languages and other men understand others. Can you deny that the universe contains nothing that could understand how our bodies are made? If this were so, you would be contradicting yourselves, since you would no longer recognise that God’s knowledge is shared out in countless ways, and God would not know how to make our bodies. So if you wish to reason correctly, admit there is some modification that knows how to do it. Admit that it is perfectly possible for nature to resuscitate a dead man, and that your master contradicted his own ideas, ignoring the consequences of his principle claiming that if he could have been convinced of the resurrection of Lazarus, he would have smashed his own system to smithereens and would have embraced without repugnance the ordinary Christian faith. This is enough to prove to the followers of Spinoza that they contradict their own hypotheses when they deny the possibility of miracles or—to speak without ambiguity—the very possibility of the events recounted in the Scriptures.
Several people have claimed that Mr Bayle completely misunderstood Spinoza’s doctrine, which must appear very strange concerning such a subtle and insightful mind. Bayle proved, but at the expense of this system, that he understood it perfectly well. He dealt it fresh blows that the Spinozists were unable to parry. This is how he reasons. I attribute to Spinoza the fact of teaching: 1. that there is only one substance in the universe; 2. that this substance is God; 3. that all individual beings—the sun, the moon, the plants, animals, men, their movements, ideas, imagination, desires—are the modifications of God. I now ask the Spinozists, did your master teach this or not? If he taught it, you cannot say that my objections have the error known as ignoratio elenchi , ignorance of the state of the question. Because my objections presuppose that such was his doctrine and I attack it only on those grounds. I am therefore safe and sound, and it would be wrong if anyone claimed I have refuted what I have not understood. If you say that Spinoza did not teach the three theorems mentioned above, I ask you why did he so express himself as to give the impression that he wanted passionately to persuade his readers that he was teaching these very three things? Is it laudable or fine to use a common style, without associating words with the same ideas as other men, and without warning us of the new meaning he has given them? But to discuss this matter in more detail, let us try to find out where the misunderstanding might lie. It is not in relation to the word substance that I could be mistaken, since I have not at all contradicted Spinoza’s idea on this point. I have admitted his supposition, that to earn the name of substance, something must be independent of all cause, or exist by itself necessarily and eternally. I do not think I could have been wrong in attributing to him the idea that only God has the nature of substance. If there were any misconception in my arguments, it could only consist in my giving to the words modalities, modifications, modes meanings which Spinoza did not intend. Once again, if I mistook him, it would be his fault. I understood these terms as they are always understood. The general doctrine of the philosophers is that the idea of being contains within it two species, substance and contingency, and that substance exists by itself, ens per se subsistens , and contingency exists in another, ens in alio . Now to exist by itself, in their view, means only to depend on some immanent subject, and as that is true, in their view, of matter, angels and the soul of man, they admit two sorts of substances, one uncreated and one created. They then subdivide created substance into two species. One of these is matter and the other is our soul. As regards accident, in essence it depends so much on its immanent subject that it could not exist without it; that is its essential character. Descartes always understood it in this way. Now since Spinoza had been a great Cartesian, our reason dictates that we should understand that he gave these terms the same sense as Descartes did. If this is so, by modification of substance he simply means a way of being that has the same relation to substance through material shape, movement, rest, situation, etc, as pain, affirmation, love, etc has to the soul of man, since this is what Cartesians mean by modes . But if we suppose that substance is what exists by itself, independently of all efficient cause, then Spinoza could not have meant that matter or men are substances; and since, following the common doctrine, he only divided being into two species, that is, into substance and modification of substance, he must have meant that matter and the soul of man were only modifications of substance, that there is only one substance in the universe, and that this substance is God. The only question remaining would be to know if he subdivided the modification of substance into two species. If he adheres to this subdivision, and he considers one of the two species to be what the Cartesians and other Christian philosophers call created substance , and the other species to be what they call accident or mode , there will be no difference of opinion between them and him, and it will be easy to reconcile his system with orthodoxy and to make all his supporters faint, since people only want to be Spinozists because it is thought that he totally overturned the Christian system and the existence of an immaterial God who governs all things with sovereign liberty. From which we can conclude in passing that the Spinozists and their adversaries agree perfectly well about the meaning of the words modification of substance . They all believe that Spinoza only used it to designate a being that has the same nature as what Cartesians call mode , and that by this word he never understood a being that would have the properties or the nature of what we call created substance .
If we are to go to the heart of the matter, then this is how we should argue with a Spinozist. Does the true and unique character of modification apply to matter in relation to God or does it not? Before you reply, let me explain the intrinsic nature of modification with some examples. It must be inherent in a subject in the way that movement is in a body and thought is in the soul of man. It is not enough to be a modification of the divine substance, to subsist in the immensity of God, to be penetrated with him, surrounded on all sides, to exist by virtue of God, to be able to exist neither without him nor outside him. Divine substance must also be the inherent subject of a thing, just as it is commonly said that the human soul is the inherent subject of feeling and pain, and the body is the inherent subject of movement, rest and the human form. Now if you reply that in Spinoza’s view the substance of God is in fact the inherent subject neither of extension, movement nor human thought, I will admit that your philosophy → is orthodox and that it has not deserved the objections raised against it, but simply deserved to be criticized for finding an extremely complex way of embracing a theory that everyone knows and for developing a new system that was built only on the ambiguity of a word. If however you say that Spinoza claimed that the divine substance is the inherent subject of matter and of all the diversity of extension and of thought, in the same way that according to Descartes, extension is the inherent subject of movement, the soul of man is the inherent subject of sensations and passions, then I have all I asked for. This is how I understood Spinoza and it is on this point that all my objections are based.
At the core of all this is a question of fact regarding the real meaning of the word modification in Spinoza’s system. Should we consider it as the same thing as a created substance or understand it more in the sense it has in the system of Descartes? I think the latter solution is correct, since otherwise Spinoza would have recognised the existence of beings that are distinct from the divine substance, which would have been created either from nothing or from matter that was distinct from God. Now it would be easy to prove by a large number of passages in his books that he admits neither one of these things. In his view, extension is an attribute of God. It follows that God essentially, eternally, necessarily is an extended substance and that extension is as much one of his properties as existence; from which it follows that particular forms of extension such as the sun, the Earth, the trees, the bodies of animals and the bodies of men are in God, as the schoolmen suppose that they are in primary matter. Now if these philosophers suppose that primary matter is simple and perfectly unique, they would conclude that the sun and the Earth are really the same substance. Spinoza would therefore have to conclude the same thing. If he did not say that the sun is composed of the extension of God, he would have to admit that the extension of the sun was created from nothing; but he denies the creation, and is therefore obliged to say that the substance of God is the material cause of the sun, is what composes the sun, subjectum ex quo; and consequently that the sun is not distinct from God, that it is God Himself, and God in his entirety, since, in his view, God is not a being composed of different parts. Let us suppose for a moment that a mass of gold had the power to convert itself into plates, dishes, chandeliers, bowls, etc. It would not be at all distinct from these plates and dishes. If we added that it is a simple and not a composite mass, then we would be certain that it is wholly present in each plate and in each chandelier, since if it were not wholly present, it would be divided into different pieces; it would therefore be composed of parts, which contradicts the supposition. So these reciprocal or convertible proportions would be true, the chandelier is the mass of gold, the mass of gold is the chandelier . This is the image of Spinoza’s God, who has the force to change himself or to modify himself or to be modified as Earth, moon, sea, tree, etc and to be absolutely one, without any composition of his parts. It is thus true to assert that the Earth is God, that the moon is God, that the Earth is God in his entirety, that the moon is too, that God is the Earth, that God in his entirety is the moon.
These are the only three ways according to which the modifications of Spinoza are in God; but none of them corresponds to what other philosophers have said about created substance. It is in God, they say, and in its efficient cause, and consequently it is truly and totally distinct from God. But, according to Spinoza , beings are in God, like the effect is in the material cause, or like contingency is in an immanent subject, or like the form of a chandelier is in the pewter it is made from. The sun, the moon and trees, inasmuch as they are three dimensional, are in God as in the material cause of which their extension is composed. Thus there is an identity between God and the sun, etc. The same trees, inasmuch as they have a form that distinguishes them from stones, are in God, as the form of the chandelier is in the pewter. To be a chandelier is only a form of being of the pewter. The movement of the body and the thoughts of men are in God, as the contingency of the Peripatetics is in the created substance. These are entities inherent in their subject, and that are not at all composed of them, and are not part of them.
An apologist for Spinoza would maintain that the philosopher does not attribute bodily extension to God, but only an intelligible extension, one which is not imaginable. But if the extension of the bodies that we see and that we imagine is not the extension of God, then where did it come from and how was it made? If extension was produced from nothing, then Spinoza is orthodox and his system becomes null and void. If it was produced from the intelligible extension of God, then this is again a real creation, since intelligible extension, being only an idea, and not really having three dimensions, cannot supply the content or the matter of the extension formally existing outside of understanding. Besides that, if we distinguished two kinds of extension, one intelligible, belonging to God, and the other imaginable, belonging to the body, we would also have to admit two subjects for these extensions that are distinct from each other, and then the unity of substance would be overturned and all of Spinoza’s edifice would fall to the ground.
Mr. Bayle, as can be seen in everything we have said, mainly concentrated on the idea that extension is not a composite being, but a substance unique in number. The reason he gives is that Spinozists affirm that this is not in fact where the difficulty lies. They believe that they are on shakier ground when asked how thought and extension can be united in the same substance. There is something bizarre in this. If it is certain according to our general notions that extension and thought have no affinity with each other, then it is even more obvious that extension is composed of truly distinct parts. Nonetheless Spinozists understand the first difficulty better than the second, and they treat the latter as a mere bagatelle in comparison. When Mr Bayle has beaten them so well at the heart of their system, where they thought they were in safe position, how will they counter attacks on their weak points? What is surprising is that Spinoza, who had so little respect for proof and reason, should have so many partisans and supporters of his system. It is his specious method which has misled them, and not, as sometimes happens, an array of seductive principles. His followers believe that a philosopher who used geometry, who proceeded by axioms, definitions, theorems and lemmas, must have followed the progress of truth too well for them to discover errors instead. They judged the content by the form—a hurried decision inspired by laziness. They did not see that his axioms were only very vague and uncertain propositions, that his definitions were inexact, bizarre and defective or that their leader ended up in the middle of paralogisms where his presumption and his fantasies had led him.
The first point in which Spinoza erred, the source of his mistakes, is found in the definition he gives of substance. I understand by substance, he says, what is in itself and is conceived by itself, that is, that of which the conception has no need of the conception of another thing from which it must be formed . This is a meretricious definition, since it can have a true and a false meaning. Either Spinoza defines substance in relation to contingency or in relation to existence. But however he defines it, his definition is false or at least is of no use to him since 1. if he defines substance in relation to contingency, then one could conclude that substance is a being that exists in itself independently of an immanent subject. Now Spinoza cannot use such a definition to demonstrate that there is only a single, unique substance in the world. It is obvious that trees, stones, angels and men exist independently of an immanent subject. 2. If Spinoza defines substance in relation to existence, then his definition is again wrong. This definition, when correctly understood, means that substance is a thing of which the idea does not depend on another idea, and this supposes that nothing had formed it, but that it contains a necessary existence. Now this definition is wrong, since by such mysterious language Spinoza means either that the very idea of substance or essence and the definition of substance is independent of all cause, or else that existing substance subsists so much by itself that it cannot depend on any cause. The first meaning is so absurd and of such little help to Spinoza that one cannot believe he had it in mind, since it amounts to saying that the definition of substance cannot produce another definition of substance, which is ridiculous and impertinent. However logical Spinoza might be, I will never believe that he gave such a definition of substance to prove that one substance cannot produce another, as if it were impossible, with the pretext that a definition of substance cannot produce another definition of substance. Spinoza must have meant, by his convoluted definition of substance, that substance exists so much by itself that it cannot depend on any cause. Now it is this definition that all the philosophers attack. They will tell you that the definition of substance is simple and indivisible, especially when considered in opposition to nothingness, but they will deny that there is only one substance. It is one thing to say that there is only one definition of substance, and quite another to say that there is only one substance.
Setting aside the ideas of metaphysics and the words essence, existence, and substance , which have no distinction between them, except in the various conceptions of understanding, we must speak intelligibly and in more human terms, and say that since there are two sorts of existence, one necessary and the other contingent, then there are also necessarily two sorts of substance, one that exists of necessity, which is God, and the other, which only borrows its existence and enjoys it thanks to the first being, and which are His creations. Spinoza’s definition is therefore worthless. It mixes up what must necessarily be distinguished: essence, which he calls substance , and existence. The definition he gives to prove that a substance cannot produce another is as ridiculous as the reasoning used to prove that a man is a circle: by man, I understand a round figure; a circle is a round figure; therefore man is a circle. For this is how Spinoza reasons. By substance, I understand that which has no cause; now what is produced by something else has a cause, so a substance cannot be produced by another substance.
The definition he gives of the finite and the infinite is no less unhappy. A thing is finite, in his view, when it can be limited by something of the same nature. Thus a body is called finite because we can conceive something greater than it; so thought is limited by another thought. But a body is not limited by thought, as thought is not limited by a body. One can imagine two different subjects, one of which has an infinite understanding of an object and the other only a finite understanding. The infinite understanding of the first does not exclude the finite understanding of the second. If one being knows all the properties and relations of a thing, then it does not follow that another cannot grasp at least certain relations and properties of it. But, says Spinoza , the degrees of understanding found in a finite being, when not added to the understanding that we suppose infinite, cannot be. In reply to this objection, which is only pure equivocation, I would ask if the degrees of finite understanding are not found in the infinite understanding. It cannot be denied. This would not indeed be the same quantitatively, but would be of the same kind, that is to say, that they would resemble each other. Now nothing more is needed for infinite understanding. As for the infinite degrees of which it is composed, one could again add all the degrees that are scattered and separate among all finite understandings, yet they would not become any more perfect or more extended. If I had exactly the same amount of knowledge as you about a certain object, would I become better or have more insight because your quantitative knowledge was added to what I already have? Your knowledge being identical to mine, such a repetition of the same knowledge would make me no wiser. So an infinite understanding does not demand the finite degrees of other understandings, and a thing is not precisely finite because other beings of the same nature exist.
Spinoza’s reasoning on the subject of infinity is no more accurate. He calls infinite that of which we can deny nothing and which formally includes all possible realities in itself. If we accept this definition, it is clear that it would be easy to prove that there is only one substance in the world, that this substance is God, and that all things are the modes of this substance. But as Spinoza has not proved his definition, everything built on it has ruined foundations. For God to be infinite, he would not have to include within himself all possible finite and limited realities, but only the realities and the possible perfections that are immense and infinite or, if you prefer, to use the ordinary language of the schoolmen, that He should include all realities and possible perfections, i.e. that all the perfections and realities that exist in each individual being that God can create, are found in Him in an eminent and supreme degree. From this it does not follow that the substance of God includes the substance of the individuals that leave His hands.
The axioms of Spinoza are no less alluring and false than his definitions. Let us take the two main ones: Knowledge of the effect depends on knowledge of the cause, and contains it necessarily; Things that have nothing in common with one another cannot be used to know each other . The meretriciousness of these two axioms is immediately obvious. To begin with the first, this is how I reason. It can in fact be considered in two ways, in its formal effect or materially, that is, quite simply, in itself. It is true that an effect considered formally as an effect cannot be understood separately from its cause, according to the axiom of the schoolmen, correlata sunt simul cognitione (correlations are at the same time knowledge) . But if one takes the effect in itself, it can be known by itself. Spinoza’s axiom is therefore a sophistry, insofar as it fails to distinguish the different ways in which an effect can be seen. Moreover, when Spinoza says that knowledge of the effect depends on knowledge of the cause and is contained within it, does he mean that knowledge of the effect results necessarily in a perfect understanding of the cause? In this sense, the axiom is completely false, since the effect does not contain all the perfections of the cause, which can have a very different nature from its own. We need to know if the cause acts of its own will, for such would be the effect that the cause intended to produce. But if Spinoza is simply claiming that the idea of the effect is relative to the idea of the cause, then his axiom is true, but useless in terms of the objective he gives it, since, applying this principle, he will never find a substance that can produce another whose nature and attributes are different. I would even add, since the idea of the effect is relative to the idea of the cause, that it follows, according to Spinoza’s principles, that a substance doted with different attributes can be the cause of another substance. For Spinoza recognises that two things, of which one is the cause of the other, serve to understand each other mutually. Now, if the idea of the effect is relative to the idea of the cause, it is clear that two substances of different attributes could be used to understand each other, provided that one is the cause of the other—not because they have the same nature and attributes, since we suppose them to be different, but by the relation that exists between cause and effect. The second axiom is no less false than the first. When Spinoza says that things that have nothing in common cannot serve to understand each other, by the word common , he understands the same specific nature. Now the axiom taken in this sense is totally false. Either the generic attributes or the relation of cause and effect can make each other known.
Let us now examine the main propositions that form Spinoza’s system. He says in his second that two substances having different attributes have nothing in common . In the demonstration of this proposition, he provides no other proof that the definition he has given of substance, which, being false, is not a legitimate proof and therefore the proposition is groundless. But to understand better what is false, one need only consider the existence and the essence of a thing to expose this sophistry. For, since Spinoza agrees that there are two sorts of existence, one necessary and the other not, it follows that two substances that have different attributes, such as extension and thought, will be united in an existence of the same kind, that is to say, that they will be similar insofar as neither will exist necessarily but only by virtue of a cause that has produced them. Two essences and two substances that are absolutely identical in their essential properties will be different because the existence of one will have preceded that of the other, or because one is not the other. When Peter is similar to John in all respects, they still differ in that Peter is not John and John is not Peter. If Spinoza is saying something comprehensible, it can have a foundation and plausibility only in relation to metaphysical ideas, which hold that nothing that is real is in nature. Sometimes Spinoza confuses the species with the individual, sometimes the individual with the species.
But it might be said that Spinoza is speaking in fact of substance considered in itself. So let us follow Spinoza . I relate the definition of substance to existence and assert that if this substance does not exist, then it is only an idea, a definition that adds nothing to the being of things. If it does exist, then body and spirit agree in substance and existence. But, according to Spinoza , whoever speaks of a substance, speaks of something that exists necessarily. I would reply that this is not true and that existence is no more contained in the definition of substance in general than in the definition of man. Finally, it is said, and this is his last stand, as it were, that substance is a being that exists by itself. This is where the ambiguity lies, since Spinoza’s system is founded uniquely on this definition. Before he can argue and draw conclusions from this definition, he would have to agree with me beforehand about the meaning of it. Now, when I define substance as a being that exists by itself, I am not saying that it exists necessarily—far from it. I only want to distinguish it from the contingency that can exist in substance and by virtue of substance. One can see therefore that Spinoza’s whole system, his elaborate demonstration, is founded only on a frivolous equivocation that is easily disproved.
Spinoza’s third proposition is that in things that have nothing in common, one cannot be the cause of the other . This proposition, correctly understood, is also wrong, in the only true sense that it can have, and nothing can be concluded from it. It is false as regards all the moral and occasional causes. The sound of the word ‘God’ has nothing in common with the idea of the creator who produced it in my mind. A misfortune happening to my friend has nothing in common with the sadness it causes me. This proposition is also wrong when the cause is far greater than the effect it produces. When I move my arm by an act of will, the movement has absolutely nothing in common in its nature with my act of will. I am not a triangle, and yet I can form an idea of a triangle and examine all its properties. Spinoza believed that there is no such thing as spiritual substance, but that everything is body. Yet how many times was Spinoza obliged to evoke a spiritual substance in order to attempt to destroy its existence? So there are causes that produce effects, with which they have nothing in common, because they do not produce them by an emanation of their essence or in all the extension of their forces.
Spinoza’s fourth proposition will not detain us long: Two or more distinct things are distinguished from one another either by the diversity of the attributes of their substances or by the diversity of their accidents, which he calls affections . Here Spinoza confuses diversity and distinction. Diversity comes in reality from the specific differences of attributes and affections. So there is diversity of essence, when one thing is conceived and defined differently from another. This is what constitutes a species, as the schoolmen say. Thus a horse is not a man, a circle is not a triangle, etc because all these things are defined differently, but the distinction comes from the quantitative distinction of attributes. Triangle A , for example, is not triangle B . Titius is not Maevius, Davus is not Oedipus. This proposition so explained, the following one will not present any difficulties.
This is the fifth, expressed as follows: there cannot be two or more substances in the universe with the same nature or the same attribute . If Spinoza is only speaking of the essence of things or of their definition, then he is saying nothing. His words mean nothing other than that it is universally impossible for two different essences to have the same essence—and who ever doubted it? But if Spinoza means that an essence cannot exist in several distinct subjects, in the same way that the essence of a triangle is found in triangle A and triangle B, or that the idea of the essence of substance can be found in a being that thinks and in an extended being, then he is saying something that is clearly wrong and that he does not even try to prove.
We have now arrived at last at the sixth proposition that Spinoza approached by the detours and hidden paths outlined above. One substance , he says, cannot be produced by another substance . How does he demonstrate this? By the previous proposition, by the second and the third; but since we have refuted them, this one falls to the ground and is destroyed without further examination. It is easy to understand that when Spinoza defines substance wrongly, then this proposition, which is concluded from the definition, must of necessity be false. Ultimately Spinoza’s substance means nothing other than the definition of substance or the idea of its essence. Now it is certain that one definition does not produce another. But as all the metaphysical degrees of being do not exist and are only distinguished by the understanding, and in nature they have nothing real and effective except in virtue of their existence, then we must speak of substance as existing when we want to consider the reality of its effects. Now for a particular rock to exist, to be a substance and to be stone is the same thing. It must therefore be considered as an existing substance if it is seen as a real part of the being of things, and consequently as an existing substance, existing necessarily and by itself or by virtue of others. It follows that a substance can be produced by another substance, since whoever speaks about a substance that exists by virtue of others, speaks about a substance that has been produced and that has received its being from another substance.
After all these ambiguities and all this sophistry, Spinoza , believing he has led his readers exactly where he wants them, lifts the mask in his seventh proposition. It pertains, he says, to substance to exist . How does he prove it? By the previous proposition, which is false. I would very much like to know why Spinoza did not proceed with more frankness and sincerity, since if the essence of substance necessarily takes precedence over existence, as he says here, then why did he not explain it clearly in the definition he gave of substance, instead of hiding behind the annoying equivocation ‘ existing by itself’ , which has no real relation to contingencies and none at all to existence? Spinoza tries in vain to destroy the clearest and most natural ideas.
Substance means no more than a being that exists, and which is not an accident attached to a subject. Now, naturally everyone knows that everything that exists that is not an accident nonetheless does not exist necessarily, so the idea and the essence of the same substance do not necessarily contain existence in them.
We will not examine the propositions of Spinoza in more detail because when the foundations have been destroyed, it is a waste of time to make more efforts to demolish the building. Yet as this subject is difficult to understand, we will approach it again from another direction. If in the process we repeat ourselves, then such repetitions are not therefore unnecessary.
The principle upon which Spinoza bases his argument is in itself obscure and incomprehensible. What is this principle or basis of his system? It is that there is only one substance in the world. The proposition is certainly obscure, and of a new and unusual obscurity. Men have always been convinced that a human body and a gallon of water are not the same substance, that a mind and another mind are not the same substance, that God and myself, and all the different parts of the universe are not the same substance. Since Spinoza’s idea is new, surprising and contrary to all accepted principles, and consequently highly obscure, it is incumbent on him to explain and to prove it. This can only be done with the help of proofs that are clearer than the thing that has to be proved. Proof is nothing more than a light that helps to clarify what needs to be explained and to convince. Now what, according to Spinoza , is the proof of this general proposition, there is and there can only be one substance? It is this: one substance cannot produce another . But does not this proof contain within it all the obscurity and all the difficulty of the first principle? Is it not just as opposed to the accepted ideas of the human race, who are convinced that a bodily substance, such as a tree, produces another substance, such as an apple, and that the apple produced by a tree, from which it is in fact separated, is not in fact the same substance as the tree? The second proposition put forward to prove the principle is therefore just as obscure, to say the least, as the principle; it does not enlighten us and it does not prove anything. The same goes for all of Spinoza’s other proofs. Instead of enlightenment, we find fresh obscurity. For example, how does he go about proving that one substance cannot produce another? It is, he says, because they cannot be conceived by each other . Here we have a new abyss of obscurity. In the end, is it not more difficult to understand how two substances can be conceived by each other, than to judge if a substance can produce another one? To work one’s way through each of the author’s proofs is to pass from one obscurity to another. For example, there cannot be two substances with the same attribute and which have something in common between them . Is this any clearer or any more comprehensible than the first proposition which was to be proved, namely, that there is in the world only one substance ?
Now since common sense revolts at each of these propositions, as much as at the first, of which they are the so-called proofs, instead of stopping to reason about each of these proofs, where common sense gets lost, we would be justified in saying to Spinoza , your principle is contrary to common sense; from one principle to the next, common sense gets lost and nothing appears to help common sense to find its way. So to spend time following your argument is clearly to run the risk of being led astray and of leaving the path of common sense. It seems to me that to refute Spinoza , one must stop at the first step, without bothering to follow him through the mass of conclusions he draws using his so-called geometric method. All we need do is replace the obscure principle that forms the basis of his system with the following, there are many substances . This is a principle which in its kind is clear to the highest degree. And in fact what proposition is clearer, more striking and more closely linked to our intelligence and the consciousness of man? I ask for no other judge here than the strictest natural feeling and the best impression of common sense that is shared by the human race. It is thus quite natural to reply quite simply to the first proposition Spinoza uses as a principle: ‘You are putting forward something extravagant that revolts common sense and that you do not yourself understand. If you persist in maintaining that you grasp such an incomprehensible thing, you will permit me to judge that your mind is overflowing with extravagance and that I would be wasting my time if I reasoned like you or with you.’ It is by absolutely denying the first proposition of Spinoza’s principles or trying to explain the obscure terms in which he wraps it that one can overturn the edifice and system from top to bottom. In fact, the principles of Spinoza’s supporters result only from the darkness in which they move and feel at home. Their aim is to recruit people wishing to be duped by such obscurity or who are not intelligent enough to see that the Spinozists do not understand what they are talking about.
There are other reasons that one can use to combat this system. Movement not being essential to matter, and matter being unable to move itself, it follows that there is some other substance than matter, and that this substance is not a body, since the same difficulty would arise until infinity. Spinoza does not believe that there is any absurdity in going back in this way from cause to cause infinitely. He would rather rush into the abyss than surrender or abandon his system.
I admit that our minds do not understand the infinite, but we can clearly understand that a movement, an effect, a man must have a first cause; for if we were unable to go back to find the first cause, we would unable to go forward to find the final effect, which is obviously false, since the movement being made at the moment I speak is necessarily the last. Yet one can easily realise that going back from the effect to the cause or going forward from the cause to the effect are as interdependent as a mountain and its valley. So since we can find the final effect, we can also find the first cause. Let no one maintain that you can draw a line at one point and extend it to infinity, in the same way that one can begin with a number and add to it to infinity, so that there is a first number, a first point, without our being able to find the last. That would be an easily disproved sophistry, since the question does not concern a line that can be extended or a number that can be added to, but rather a finished line and a total number. And just as every line that one stops drawing after beginning it and every number that is not added to are necessarily finished, so for movement, when the effect that it produces is at an end, then the number of causes that led to this effect must be at an end too.
We can make what we are saying clearer by a concrete example. Philosophers believe that matter is infinitely divisible. However, when we speak of a present and real division of the parts of a given body, it is always necessarily finite. The same goes for causes and effects in nature. If they could produce others and still others infinitely, the causes and the effects that really exist at a given moment must still be finite in number, and it is ridiculous to believe that we need to go back to infinity to find the first cause of the movement. Moreover, when we speak of the movement of matter, we do not restrict ourselves to a single part of matter, thus providing Spinoza with a loophole, by saying that one part of matter has received movement from another part, and that a second part has received it from another, and so on ad infinitum; we rather speak of matter in general, whatever it may be, whether finite or infinite. We say that since movement is not the essence of matter, it must necessarily have received it from outside. It cannot have received it from nothing, since nothing cannot act. There is therefore another cause that imparts movement to matter, and this cause can neither be matter nor a body. It is what we call spirit .
We can again demonstrate by reference to the history of the world that the universe was not created over a long period of time, as we would have to admit if an all-powerful and intelligent cause had not presided over its creation, in order to finish it and bring it to perfection. For if the universe had been formed only by the movement of matter, then why should it have been exhausted in its beginnings so that it new stars neither could nor would be formed for centuries? Why would it not produce animals and men every day by other methods than that of generation, if it had produced others in the past? Yet such events are unknown in history. We are thus obliged to believe that an intelligent and omnipotent cause created the universe from the very beginning in the state of perfection in which we see it today. We can also show that the cause that produced the universe worked by design. Yet Spinoza could not have attributed an aim and a finality to this unformed matter. Such an aim exists only to the extent that matter is modified in such or such a way, that is to say because there are men and animals. But it is the highest absurdity to believe and write that the eye is not made for seeing, nor the ear for listening. This unfortunate system needs to overturn the most reasonable and long-established human language in order not to see understanding and intelligence in the first author of the world and his creation.
It is no less absurd to think that if the first men came out of the earth, then they would all have the same body shape and the same features, without some having certain qualities lacking in others or finding themselves in different situations. But reason and experience show us that the human race comes from the same mould and was made from the same blood. All these arguments must rationally convince us that some agent other than matter controls the universe and arranges it as it sees fit. But this is the idea that Spinoza tried to destroy. I will close by saying that several people have maintained that his doctrine, even leaving aside religious considerations, has appeared quite contemptible to the greatest mathematicians. We can well believe it if we recall two things. First, that no one can be more convinced that substances are multiple than people who apply themselves to the question of extension, and second, that most of these scholars admit the idea of a vacuum. Now nothing is more opposed to Spinoza’s hypothesis than to maintain that bodies do not touch. Two systems have never been more opposed to each other than his own and the Atomists’. If Spinoza agrees with Epicurus in rejecting Providence, then the rest of their systems are like fire and water.