Having presented his metaphysics of ultimate reality, we turn now to Spinoza’s explanation of how we connect with it. First we need to have a rational understanding which for Spinoza means the ability to recognize that features of the universe necessarily have their roles as essential properties of the one substance which is causa omnium rerum and causa sui (the explanation or cause of all things and of itself).
Since the one substance is a single system or whole, we must grasp the system as a whole before we can hope to grasp the nature of the parts including ourselves whose roles are determined by the system.3 “The supreme Good consists in the enjoyment of a human nature which, because it is perfectly aware of its place in and its unity with the whole natural scheme of things, accepts the inevitability and necessity of the natural order.”4 This grasping includes a deep understanding that nothing can exist outside of the one substance to limit it and thus it is unbounded or infinite. We come across a reformulation of the equation of ultimate reality: Existence = Unity = Infinity. God is not a first cause and there is no teleology since God has no purpose; God is inherently complete. God is facies totius universi or the “face of the whole universe.5
A final ethic arises from Spinoza’s conception of ultimate reality and human connection. Spinoza argues our traditional moral codes are artificial and derive from human erroneous belief in free will and arbitrary concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ which are merely what humans see as things which cause pleasure or pain. In fact the conatus suo esse perseverandi (the striving to persist as a being) is the foundation of virtue which in turn derives not from action, but knowledge. As we free our thinking from the impact of externals, our ideas become key parts of the infinite idea of God. At last we reach Spinoza’s supreme connection of true blessedness, “the love of God to man and the intellectual love of man to God are one and the same.”6
While following a more logical, mathematical process, Spinoza, like Plotinus, seems extremely sincere in his presentation and almost mystical in his description of the experience of ultimate reality. Connection with ultimate reality is utterly simple and entirely within the control of each of us. In his words, “Although the love of God has no beginning, it nevertheless has all the perfections of love, just as if it had originated. Nor is there any difference, excepting that the mind has eternally possessed these same perfections which we imagined as now accruing to it, and has possessed them with the accompanying idea of God as the eternal cause. And if joy consist in the passage to a greater perfection, blessedness must indeed consist in this, that the mind is endowed with perfection itself.”7
A lot to think about…
3 I am reminded of Zen teaching which also emphasize a global grasping of things.
4Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972. Volume 7, page 531.
5Ibid., page 535.
6Ibid., page 540.
7Ratner, Joseph (editor), The Philosophy of Spinoza. The Modern Library, New York, 1927. Page 370.