Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Santayana's Introduction to Spinoza





Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677)
Unknown artist, c.1665
Original at the Gamäldesammlung der Herzog August Bibliothek,
Wolfenbüttel, Germany



George Santayana (1863–1952) was an American essayist, poet, novelist, cultural critic and man of letters. He was also a professor of philosophy who wrote with exceptional literary grace. I am devoting this posting entirely to the text of an Introduction to Spinoza's philosophy written by Santayana. Since my student days I have prized Santayana's essay as the clearest brief appreciation of Spinoza. Only recently have I come to realize that the Introduction is virtually unavailable—"virtually" in both the comparative sense and the digital. So far as I can discover, it can be found only in printed copies of a small volume titled Spinoza's Ethics and 'De Intellectus Emendatione' (ed. Ernest Rhys, J. M. Dent & Sons, 1910) for which the publisher commissioned Santayana's essay.

The publisher chose wisely. Santayana writes that from his student days at Harvard, Spinoza "filled me with joy and enthusiasm." In his eighty-first year he wrote that in some respects Spinoza was "my master and model" who "laid the foundation of my philosophy." Santayana revered Spinoza for "the magnificent example he offers us of philosophic liberty"; for "the courage, firmness, and sincerity with which he reconciled his heart to the truth"; for his "conception of the world which is unrivaled for sublimity."

Santayana introduces Spinoza's philosophy with corresponding courage, firmness and sincerity, never shrinking from forthright acknowledgement of Spinoza's most radical and controversial ideas. In other writings Santayana is also forthright in explaining his personal departures from Spinoza, particularly his belief that Spinoza's severe stoicism represses humanizing qualities of life such as beauty, pleasure, ambition and love, for which the seemingly uncaring cosmos has allowed a place. For an elegant expression of Santayana's agreements and disagreements with Spinoza see his essay Ultimate Religion in the selections from Santayana's writings titled Obiter Scripta (ed. Buchler and Schwartz, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936).

I shall be glad to provide the text of this Introduction, typeset without my added photographs and with Santayana's notes at the foot of the page, for anyone who wishes to contact me: ablackwell@charter.net.

*****


Introduction

Spinoza is one of those great men whose eminence grows more obvious with the lapse of years. Like a mountain obscured at first by its foot-hills, he rises as he recedes. Some of his contemporaries esteemed him for being a good optician and an austere, scholarly man; a few felt the masterly force of his mind and opinions; others shuddered at the depth of his materialism and irreligion. This last was the sentiment towards him prevalent amongst the general public; and during the next century he was more execrated than read. Hume, for instance, speaks of "all those sentiments for which Spinoza is so universally infamous," and of his "hideous hypothesis."^1 The scandal consisted in the fact that Spinoza denied final causes, or purposes at work in nature, and that, in their ordinary sense, he denied the immortality of the soul, free-will, and moral responsibility. What came to turn these doctrines (which might have passed for simple materialism) into positive blasphemy was that he identified nature with God, and taught that all things, whether in the eyes of men they were good or evil, mean or noble, were integral parts of the divine being. "It would constitute," he writes, "a great imperfection in God if anything happened against His will, or if He desired anything which He did not obtain, or if His nature were so biassed that, like a finite creature, He felt sympathy with some things and antipathy to others.^2 "I warn you," he adds elsewhere,^3 "that I do not attribute to nature either beauty or deformity, order or confusion. Only in relation to our imagination can things be called beautiful or ugly, well-ordered or confused."

This very pantheism, however, was what a little later endeared Spinoza to a group of romantic Germans, who were poetical, emancipated souls and great lovers of nature; so much so that one of them, Novalis, in a famous phrase, pronounced Spinoza a man inebriated with God—ein Gottbetrunkener Mensch. To have perceived the relativity of good and evil, and of all human conventions, seemed to these Faust-like spirits a blessed deliverance. The cramped child of civilisation could thereby recover his animal birthright to live as nature prompted; and by the same stroke he could win his speculative liberty to think straight and to speak frankly. Nor was relief from convention the only boon brought by Spinoza's pantheism; it brought also a new enthusiasm. For to pass beyond good and evil is to reach a sublime necessity which, to an unselfish and pure intellect, may seem a grander thing. All depends on not being afraid to confess that the universe is non-human, and that man is relative. Let a man once overcome his selfish terror at his own finitude, and his finitude itself is, in one sense, overcome. A part of his soul, in sympathy with the infinite, has accepted the natural status of all the rest of his being. Perhaps the only true dignity of man is his capacity to despise himself. When he attains this dignity all things lose what was threatening and sinister about them, without needing to change their material form or their material influence. Man's intellectual part and his worshipping part have made their peace with the world.

Neither of these opposed judgments upon Spinoza rested on a misunderstanding. His philosophy, although one of the most single-minded and consistent that has ever been framed, actually offered these two aspects to two sorts of people. In order to grasp the secret of this apparent doubleness in our author, and to see what a perfect unity of soul it conceals, we need to remember his heritage, racial and intellectual, his temperament, and the interests he had at heart in all his speculation.





The Spinozahuis Museum, Rijnsburg, the Netherlands
Here Spinoza lived as a lodger and worked at his profession of lens grinder, 1661–1663.  



His life was simple and short, and worthy of his sublime doctrine, which makes every particular thing look small in comparison with the boundless universe. A Jew of Amsterdam, born in 1632, member of a colony of Portuguese exiles, he was excommunicated by the Synagogue, at the age of twenty, for his heretical opinions; which were that God might have a body (namely, the whole world of matter), that angels might be mere visions of the mind, and that the Bible said nothing of the immortality of the soul. Finding himself thus doubly an outcast, he supported himself by polishing lenses for optical instruments. He became a scholar of repute and founded his philosophy partly on a rationalised Judaism, partly on the system of Descartes, and, in politics, on the system of Hobbes. He declined a chair of philosophy at Heidelberg the better to preserve his full freedom and leisure. He lived abstemiously and alone; yet he cultivated the acquaintance of those who shared his intellectual interests, was an assiduous correspondent, a warm patriot, and a genial neighbor. He reputed himself happy, and happy he doubtless was in his pious, indoor fashion. Lodged in his corner of the great house of nature, he felt himself humbled, pensioned, and at peace. He was proud of that great house and its glories; he venerated its economy, and never dreamt of reforming it. He was content to fulfil there his little round of duties, but he was not passionately fond of them, and could look forward with equanimity to the moment when they should come to an end. This pervasive piety in his life corresponds admirably with a certain pious phraseology which we find in his works, in the midst of their astonishing boldness of thought and uncompromising rationalism. Those devout phrases were not due to policy, nor to inert habit, but expressed the genuine and ruling sentiment of his mind.





The optical bench at which Spinoza cut and ground lenses
Christiaan Huygens and other famous opticians of his age admired Spinoza's work and valued his ideas,
 expressed in his extensive correspondence.





That he was a Jew is a point of fundamental importance for the understanding of this attitude, so ambiguous and puzzling to the conventional Christian; it is also of importance in other respects. It determined the isolation and, when he had separated himself from the Synagogue, the independence of his life and thought; and it opened to him Hebrew learning and traditions which most writers of his day were ignorant of altogether. It thus enabled him to become the founder of the historical explanation or "higher criticism" of the Bible. This is a matter on which, as on his religious sentiment, the mind of Spinoza is not altogether easy to disentangle. On the one hand, although a pioneer in the subject, he anticipated on many fundamental points the opinions now current among scholars; for example, on the authorship of the Pentateuch, and on the human limitations of the various sacred writers, and the diversity of views and of prejudices which they betray. On the other hand, his tone and his expressions often suggest a simple and convinced acceptance of tradition on his part. He assumes without discussion that the Bible is the word of God, that the Jews are the chosen people; and, in respect to Christ in particular, he has phrases that are surprising in the mouth of a Jew and a freethinker. Thus he says: "Christ was not so much a prophet as the mouth-piece of God. ...Christ was sent to teach, not only the Jews, but the whole human race; and therefore it was not enough that his mind should be accommodated to the opinions of the Jews alone, but also to the opinion and fundamental teaching common to the whole human race—in other words, to ideas universal and true."^4

Nevertheless, when we catch the philosophic intention behind this pious language, we perceive that Spinoza is sounding the very depths of rationalism, and in this respect the most radical of later critics will never be able to outdo him. God, for Spinoza, is simply the universe, in all its extent and with all its details. Hence the mind of God is not God Himself, in His entirety, but only one of His attributes or manifestations. It is all the mentality that is scattered over space and time, the diffused consciousness that animates the world. To say that the mind of God is revealed to Moses or is manifest in Christ is much as if we said that the spirit of music was revealed to Bach or was manifest in Beethoven. The Jews in particular, Spinoza says, "if they make money by a transaction, say God gave it to them; if they desire anything, they say God has disposed their hearts towards it; and if they think anything, they say God told them."^5 The spirit of God accordingly, means simply the genius of men, the ground of which lies indeed beyond them, in the universal context and influence of nature; but the conscious expression and fruition of it first arises in them severally, from time to time, as occasion warrants. Prophecy is merely imagination; an imagination which is truthful when, by some instinctive clairvoyance, it divines the tendency of events, or perceives the principles of profitable conduct. The divine authority of Scripture consists in its teaching true virtue. What God promises to a people is what they covet and are able to attain for themselves. Miracles are propitious accidents, the natural causes of which are too complicated to be readily understood. Christ is not a single historic person who possessed, once for all, perfect wisdom and humility. Christ is all wisdom and humility, no matter what person may possess them. "I say that it is not in the least needful for salvation to know Christ according to the flesh; but concerning that eternal Son of God, of which philosophers have spoken,^6 that is, God's eternal wisdom, which is manifested in all things, and chiefly in the mind of man, and most particularly in Christ Jesus, the case is far otherwise. For without this no man can arrive at a state of blessedness, in as much as nothing else can teach him what is true or false, what is good or evil."^7 Thus it appears that Christ is a mystical name for whatever wisdom is involved, or is  possible, in the universe; which wisdom, when it appears in the human race, is called good sense, conscience, or reflection. It is this that is the leaven and the soul of truth in all religions, and the true saviour of mankind.

In respect to the religious teaching of the Bible, and the common message of all the prophets, Spinoza held exactly that opinion which Matthew Arnold made familiar to the last generation of English readers. The Bible is literature, not dogma; and this literature is a criticism of life, to the effect that conduct is the chief thing in it, and that the eternal makes for righteousness; or (in Spinoza's language) the sole purpose of revealed religion is to inculcate "obedience." By every imaginative appeal and every legal enactment, the Bible aims at securing good-will, mercy, and peace among men.

This is also the aim of Spinoza's own writings about religion and politics, and of his whole philosophy; so that he continues the work of the prophets whom he interprets, and is, in the same sense, a true prophet himself. Toleration is what he wishes to recommend, both to governments and to private sects, on the combined authority of revelation and of reason. Toleration is what the Bible commands, if truly understood, since it commands loving-kindness, peace, and the forgiveness of enemies. Toleration is also what the interests of the state require. Spinoza propounds the principles of liberalism in these matters with remarkable foresight and precision. "If acts only could be made the ground of criminal prosecutions, and words were always allowed to pass free, sedition would be divested of every semblance of justification, and would be separated from mere controversies by a hard and fast line."^8

Liberal illusions (if this be one of them) do not, however, characterise Spinoza's political theory as a whole. It has, indeed, been called Machiavellian, and in our day it might be called Nietzschean; but his defence of the maxim that might makes right is free from all tyrannical or aristocratic bias. What he propounds is simply a truth of natural history. Thus he says: "That I might investigate the subject-matter of this science with the same freedom of spirit as we generally use in mathematics, I have laboured carefully not to mock, lament, and execrate, but to understand, human actions; and to this end I have looked upon passions, such as love, hatred, anger, envy, ambition, pity, and the other perturbations of the mind, not in the light of vices of human nature, but as properties, just as pertinent to it, as are heat, cold, storm, thunder, and the like, to the nature of the atmosphere, which phenomena, though inconvenient, are necessary, and have fixed causes by means of which we endeavour to understand their nature; and the mind has just as much pleasure in viewing them aright as in  knowing such things as flatter the senses."^9 And again: "The law and ordinance of nature, under which all men are born, and for the most part live, forbids nothing but what no one wishes or is able to do, and is not opposed to strifes, hatred, anger, treachery, or, in general, anything that appetite suggests. For the bounds of nature are not the laws of human reason, which do but pursue the true interest and preservation of mankind, but other infinite laws, which regard the eternal order of universal nature, whereof man is an atom; and according to the necessity of this order only are all individual beings determined in a fixed manner to exist and to operate. Whenever, then, anything in nature seems to us ridiculous, absurd, or evil, it is because we have but a partial knowledge of things, and are in the main ignorant of the order and coherence of nature as a whole, and because we want everything to be arranged according to the dictates of our own reason; although, in fact, what our reason pronounces bad is not bad as regards the order and laws of universal nature, but only as regards the laws of our own nature taken separately."^10

This doctrine contains what is superhuman and rational in the ordinary optimism of theologians, but it avoids what is sophistical in that optimism and insulting to the conscience and the sufferings of man; for it sets forth the relativity of good and evil to finite and particular interests, whilst it makes no attempt to call relative evils absolute goods. The very distinction between good and evil is what is transcended in the absolute; the two terms are not juggled with so that, where both have lost their meaning, one only seems to have disappeared and the other to survive. There is infinite being, no doubt, beyond our human interests and ideals, and, to the contemplative intellect, that being has a certain dignity, because it is great; but its greatness is not moral, its dignity is not human, and to call it "good" would be not a "higher truth" but a silly impertinence. The infinite knows no obligation, it is subject to no standard. "No man," Spinoza says, "can upbraid God for having given him an infirm constitution or a feeble spirit. As absurdly might a circle complain that God hath not endowed it with the properties of a sphere, or an infant, tormented with stone, that God had not given him a healthy body. Just so a man of weak mind cannot complain that God has denied him force of character and a true knowledge and love of the deity, or has given him so weak a nature that he can neither suppress nor moderate his lusts. For with the nature of each thing nothing is compatible but what follows necessarily from its given cause. It is not compatible with every particular man's nature that he have a great soul; and it is no more in our power to have a healthy body than to have a sane mind. This no one can deny, who will not fly in the face of experience, as well as of reason."

"But, you urge, if men sin by necessity of their nature, they are excusable; you do not explain, however, what you would infer from this fact. Is it perhaps that God will be prevented from growing angry with them? Or is it rather that they have deserved that blessedness which consists in the knowledge and love of God? If you mean the former, I altogether agree that God does not grow angry, and that all things happen by His decree. But I deny that for that reason all men ought to be happy. Surely men may be excusable and nevertheless miss happiness, and be tormented in many ways. A horse is excusable for being a horse and not a man; but nevertheless he must needs be a horse and not a man. One who goes mad from the bite of a dog is excusable; yet it is right that he should die of suffocation. So too, he who cannot rule his passions, nor hold them in check out of respect for the law, while he may be excusable on the ground of weakness, is nevertheless incapable of enjoying conformity of spirit and knowledge and love of God; and he is lost inevitably."^11

These sayings may sound harsh to the sentimental; yet, taken merely as so much natural history, it would be hard to gainsay them, especially in this Darwinian and competitive age. Only what can exist can have interests, and only what can have interests can have rights. At least, this is the teaching of Spinoza, one of whose greatest achievements is the way in which he grafts his moral upon his natural philosophy. Every organic body endeavours  to preserve itself. This endeavour is nothing arbitrary or miraculous; it is merely that equilibrium by which the organism is constituted—its vital inertia or (what is the same thing) its mechanical momentum. Such anthropology, although Spinoza calls it ethics, is a matter-of-fact record of the habits and passions of men. It is not the expression of any ideal; it does not specify any direction in which it demands that things should move. Yet it describes the situation which makes the existence of ideals possible and intelligible. Given the propulsive energy of life in any animal that is endowed with imagination, it is clear that whatever he finds propitious to his endeavours he will call good, and whatever he finds hostile to them he will call evil. His various habits and passions will begin to judge one another. A group of them called vanity, and another called taste, and another called conscience, will arise within his breast. Each of these groups, in so far as they have not coincided or co-operated from the beginning, will tend to annex or overcome the others. This competition between a man's passions makes up his moral history, the growth of his character, just as the competition of his ruling interests with other interests at work in society makes up his outward career. The sort of imagination that can survey all these interests at once, and can perceive how they check or support one another, is called reason; and when reason is vivid and powerful it gives courage and authority to those interests which it sees are destined to success, whilst it dampens or extinguishes those others which it sees are destined to failure. Reason thus establishes a sort of resigned and peaceful strength in the soul, founded on renunciation of what is impossible and cooperation with what is necessary. This resigned and peaceful strength Spinoza calls happiness; and since it rests on apprehension of the order of nature, and acceptance of it, he also calls it, in his pious language, knowledge and love of God.

Happiness, in this sense of knowledge and love of the universe, is what all Spinoza's maxims aim to secure; they accordingly counsel great moderation in ambition, with a modest and obedient attitude towards the powers that be, whether cosmic or political. At the same time, illusion and imposture, if we take a broad view, cannot be factors in that radical power to which the wise man bows; on the contrary, they are great sources of instability, conflict, and fear. The infinite force of nature, in which alone is life, makes against them. Therefore Spinoza, for all his mildness and submissiveness to legal authority, and even to custom, is uncompromising in the sphere of ideas. The courage and confidence are perfect with which he denounces any government that does not express the organic force of society, or any religion that distorts the natural reason and conscience of man. Like the ancient prophets of his nation, but with a clearer right, he can end his denunciation of all falseness with the tremendous words, "So saith the Lord." For in breaking away from the mediæval Synagogue, and even from the orthodoxy of the Pharisees, Spinoza returned to the essential insights of the prophets, and to the primary instincts of the Hebrew nation. Like a typical reformer or revivalist, he could feel that he was merely reporting afresh an eternal oracle. His radicalism was fervidly pious. His heterodoxy came to him as the word of God.

Nor was this all. The sanction, in the way of earthly happiness, which Spinoza promised to those who accepted his teaching, was a solid, humble, and legal well-being. It was an exact re-assertion of the sort of hope and aspiration of which the older parts of the Bible are full. All that which, in Spinoza's modest ambitions for mankind and in his hard-headed political positivism, might be a stumbling-block to the classical or romantic aristocrat is nothing but the perennial wisdom of the Jew, of the sorely-tried, plebeian, international positivist. God's thoughts, it said, are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways; but the righteous prosper by His decree, and the way of the transgressor is hard. This vindication of morality by events was not to be secured by the punctilious performance of sacrifices, nor by faith in any speculative doctrine; it was a natural consequence of the conduct in question, attached to it by the original constitution of the world. Furthermore, as the later Hebrews, in their political eclipse, had turned to inward piety and a sort of elegiac sentiment—what the Psalms express—and had found in a broken and a contrite heart a new path to salvation, so Spinoza had a mystical kind of salvation to add to the practical, homely rewards of virtue. Mere reverence for the will of God, mere understanding of the laws of nature (and these two are one for Spinoza), was in itself a possession more precious than rubies. The philosophic soul loved the beauty of the Lord's house and the place—this whole universe—where his glory dwelleth. Everything in nature and history was welcome to one who understood the mathematical necessity of all that happens; and if Job had said, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him," Spinoza could express the same thought less ambiguously by saying, "He who truly loves God cannot wish that God should love him in return."

The point in religious philosophy at which Spinoza departed most from Jewish ideas, and approached (perhaps unawares) to those of the Greeks, was his doctrine of human freedom and immortality. In their ordinary acceptation both these things are excluded from his system. He was a fatalist, in the sense that he regarded everything that happens as perfectly inevitable, pre-ordained, and predictable. No idea of independent social relations, of dramatic give and take, between God and men, such as sacred history seems to assume, could be admitted by Spinoza; since for him God was not one personage in the drama of history amongst other personages, but rather the whole play of existence, in its total plot, movement, and moral. Furthermore, he conceived the human mind or soul as the consciousness accompanying the life of the human body. Therefore when the body perished, the soul was necessarily dissolved. Nor did the Jewish hope of resurrection, with its miraculous and self-magnifying quality, find any place in his philosophy. Nevertheless Spinoza used both the term freedom and the term immortality for things which he valued and accepted. Freedom, in his view, was equivalent to power. A man was free when his nature, being consistent and unified, was able to express itself clearly in his thought and work. Freedom meant virtue, in the old sense of the word; it meant faculty to do mightily and to do well; and this virtue implied or constituted happiness. Freedom, accordingly, lay not in indetermination of character, or freedom to have chosen anything else as readily as what one has actually chosen, but rather in efficiency of character, and liberty to carry out one's innate choice.

Immortality, in a similar fashion, was transformed by Spinoza from something temporal and problematic, an endlessly continued existence, into something timeless and intrinsic, a quality of life. It was not the length of a man's days that made him immortal, but the intellectual essence of his thoughts. The spirit shared the fate of the objects with which it identified itself. A soul absorbed in transitory things was itself transitory. One absorbed in eternal things was, to that extent, eternal. But what, we may ask, are eternal things? Nothing, according to Spinoza, is eternal in its duration. The tide of evolution carries everything before it, thoughts no less than bodies, and persons no less than nations. Yet all things are eternal in their status, as truth is. The place which an event fills in history is its inalienable place; the character that an act or a feeling possesses in passing is its inalienable character. Now, the human mind is not merely animal, not merely absorbed in the felt transition from one state of life to another. It is partly synthetic, intellectual, contemplative, able to look before and after and to see fleeting things at once in their mutual relations, or, as Spinoza expressed it, under the form of eternity. To see things under the form of eternity is to see them in their historic and moral truth, not as they seemed as they passed, but as they remain when they are over. When a man's life is over, it remains true that he has lived; it remains true that he has been one sort of man, and not another. In the infinite mosaic of history that bit has its unfading colour and its perpetual function and effect. A man who understands himself under the form of eternity knows the quality that eternally belongs to him, and knows that he cannot wholly die, even if he would; for when the movement of his life is over, the truth of his life remains. The fact of him is a part for ever of the infinite context of facts. This sort of immortality belongs passively to everything; but to the intellectual part of man it belongs actively also because, in so far as it knows the eternity of truth, and is absorbed in it, the mind lives in that eternity. In caring only for the eternal, it has ceased to care for that part of itself which can die. But this sort of immortality is ideal only. He who, while he lives, lives in the eternal, does not live longer for that reason. Duration has merely dropped from his view; he is not aware of or anxious about it; and death, without losing its reality, has lost its sting. The sublimation of his interest rescues him, so far as it goes, from the mortality which he accepts and surveys. The animals are mortal without knowing it, and doubtless presume, in their folly, that they will live for ever. Man alone knows that he must die; but that very knowledge raises him, in a sense, above mortality, by making him a sharer in the vision of eternal truth. He becomes the spectator of his own tragedy; he sympathises so much with the fury of the storm that he has not ears left for the shipwrecked sailor, though that sailor were his own soul. The truth is cruel, but it can be loved, and it makes free those who have loved it.

To represent God as non-moral, as Spinoza does, may seem a strange reversal of the Hebrew prophets' conception of God as a power that makes for righteousness; yet what makes for righteousness, the conditions of successful living, need not be moral in a personal sense, any more than the conditions of a flame need be themselves on fire. On the other hand, that God is non-moral is an inevitable conclusion from the other half of the prophetic doctrine about God, namely, that he is the one and only God, the absolutely universal power. If Christian theology has sometimes, and with great difficulty, avoided the pantheism herein implied, the circumstance is due to the infusion into Christianity of another element, the Platonic, which is radically alien to the Jewish genius. Nothing so well vindicates the genuine Hebraism of Spinoza as the fact that he avoided all Platonism (such as Philo Judæus and other Jewish philosophers had adopted), and would have none of it, even in morals.^12 Pure Hebraism, when interpreted philosophically, inevitably becomes pantheistic. It suffices that we should attribute the fortunes of a single people, or of a single man, exclusively to God's providence and will (and to do so is the core of Hebrew piety) for God to become identical with the power, or, in Spinoza's language, with the substance, in all things. For a single man, or people, is affected by his environment, such as the elements, the devil, or the King of Babylon. If God rules our fortunes completely, this environment, which affects us, must operate solely according to His will and intention towards us; what the King of Babylon, the elements, or the devil seem to do must really be God's work. All things must be in truth his agents, however unconscious they may be of this their real function, origin, and dignity; nothing can happen anywhere in the universe save as God has decreed it; therefore He is the only power at work, and everything, in all its parts, is an expression of his will and nature. This is the exact doctrine for holding which Spinoza was called an atheist. It is simply the intelligent affirmation of the Jewish belief in God. Nor can we make any exception to the divine monopoly of power in the case of sin or error; for these too are parts, and often the most important parts, of the life He has assigned to us; they are the occasion of His most signal judgments and graces; they afford the most conspicuous vindication of His laws. Through these things it is evidently His will to lead us, for we are passing through them. We must accustom ourselves, therefore, to look beyond our distress or humiliation till we perceive the propriety and beauty of these tragic visitations; for it is right that the world should illustrate the full nature of the infinite, and not merely the particular ideals of man. The particular ideals of man have a legitimate authority over him, in his moral, political, and æsthetic judgments; but it is grotesque to suppose that they have, as the Platonists imagined, any authority over universal nature. The hawk's eye that would range through the infinite must not wear the hood of morality.

It is consonant with the spirit of Spinoza's religion, politics, and ethics that the highest part of his philosophy should not lie in them, but in his physics. A Platonist may treat physics as a science of appearance only, because he makes human, verbal, and moral ideals the key to a non-natural, metaphysical world. For Spinoza, however, the humanities were merely human; it was natural science alone that revealed what was fundamental, eternal, and, in his sense, divine. It did not, of course, reveal this reality completely; for, after all, natural science too is a human view, and starts from the particular vantage ground of the observer. It does not matter, however, how subjective the starting-point of science may be. Science notes something actual, even if only the existence of a mood or an illusion; and in this fact it seizes a part of infinite existence, a true item of the real world. How this fact is situated in the bosom of nature, what other facts may surround it, is a subject for investigation or hypothesis. But reality, if I may say so, is everywhere being tapped; we truly know its flavour here and there, and the samples we get of it are genuine. For Spinoza there seemed to be two regions at which science could come into contact with nature, and describe her as, in part, she really is; these two regions were mathematical physics and self-consciousness. Extension and thought (in the language of Descartes, which Spinoza adopted) were the two provinces of nature, parts of which we could survey. The science of Spinoza consisted in describing these two regions of being, studying their relation to each other, and conceiving what might be their relation to other possible things. The details of this scientific speculation, though interesting and masterly, are now somewhat antiquated; for the status of mathematical physics can hardly seem, to a critical philosopher, the same as the status of self-consciousness; and the bold assumption, which Spinoza makes for the sake of system and symmetry, that there is consciousness wherever there is extension, is too sweeping and too paradoxical to recommend itself to a scientific mind. But in the ardour of his faith in nature, in his vision of things completed and fulfilled, Spinoza has attained a notion which has a great value, though perhaps not just the value which he assigned to it. This is the notion of the absolutely infinite: of all possible bodies, such as an endless evolution, going on in infinite space, might somewhere involve; and of all possible feelings and thoughts, such as might accompany that evolution, or such as the logical play of mind might suggest or see to be possible; and then of all other things, unthinkable to us for lack of experience of them, but possible and non-contradictory in their proper nature. All these infinities of different sorts, added together, made up the sum of things, or the absolutely infinite universe. Of this universe man, with all his works, was an incident in an incident, and a fragment of a fragment.

There is perhaps no cogent reason for believing that the world is so large as Spinoza thought it was. There is perhaps no cogent reason for believing it to be smaller. Yet his conception, treated merely as a conception of possible being, of what might be or might have been, is well fitted to chasten and sober all those dogmatists that lay down the law for God out of the analogies or demands of their private experience. When people tell us that they have the key to all reality in their pockets, or in their hearts, that they know who made the world, and why, or know that everything is matter, or that everything is mind—then Spinoza's notion of the absolutely infinite which includes all possibilities, may profitably arise before us. It will counsel us to say to those little gnostics, to those circumnavigators of being: I do not believe you; God is great.^13

1910
G.S.




Statue of Spinoza in the Hague,
near the house (right background) where Spinoza lived from 1673 until his death in 1677





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[These notes are Santayana's from his 1910 Introduction.]

^1 A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), part iv., section v. There is doubtless a shade of irony in these expressions, as Hume uses them; but they indicate all the better, for that reason, what was the prevailing opinion.

^2 Letter xxxii. (in the edition of Van Vloten and Land, xix.) addressed to Blyenbergh, January 5, 1665.

^3 Letter xv. (Van Vloten and Land, xxxii.) addressed to Oldenburg, November 20, 1665.

^4 A Theologico-political Treatise, chapter iv.

^5 Ibid. chapter i.

^6 "De æterno illo Dei filio."

^7 Letter xxi. (Van Vloten and Land, lxxiii.), addressed to Oldenburg, 1675.

^8 A Theologico-political Treatise, preface. Compare chapter xx. of the same treatise: "What greater misfortune for a state can be conceived than that honourable men should be sent like criminals into exile, because they hold diverse opinions which they cannot disguise? What, I say, can be more hurtful than that men who have committed no crime or wickedness should, simply because they are enlightened, be treated as enemies and put to death, and that the scaffold, the terror of evil-doers, should become the stage where the highest examples of tolerance and virtue are displayed to the people with all the marks of ignominy that authority can devise?"

^9 A Political Treatise, chapter i, section 4.

^10 A Political Treatise, chapter ii, section 8.

^11 Letter xxv. (according to Van Vloten and Land, lxxviii.) addressed to Oldenburg, February 7, 1676.

^12 Letter lx. (according to Van Vloten and Land, lvi.) addressed to Hugo Boxel, 1674. "The authority of Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates carries little weight with me. ...It is no marvel if people who have invented occult qualities, intentional species, substantial forms, and a thousand other inanities, should have excogitated spectres and goblins, and given credit to old women, in order to counteract the authority of Democritus; whose fair fame they so hated that they burnt all the books he had written amid so much applause."

^13 At the dedication of the statue of Spinoza at the Hague, in 1882, Renan delivered an address ending with the following words: "Woe to him who in passing should hurl an insult at this gentle and pensive head! He would be punished, as all vulgar souls are punished, by his very vulgarity, and by his incapacity to conceive what is divine. This man, from his granite pedestal, will point out to all men the way of blessedness which he found; and ages hence, the cultivated traveller, passing by this spot, will say in his heart: 'The truest vision ever had of God came, perhaps, here.'"


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