Definitions

September 9, 2015

Preface

Bondage is the human infirmity in moderating and checking the emotions.

When a man is a prey to his emotions, he is not his own master. He lies at the mercy of fortune. He is often compelled, while seeing that which is better for him, to follow that which is worse. I will show in this part of my treatise=

  • why this is so, and
  • what is good or evil in the emotions.

But before I begin, I will make a few prefatory observations on perfection and imperfection, good and evil.

A man’s work will be pronounced perfect by himself and by everyone who knows the intention and aim of its maker.

For instance, suppose anyone sees an unfinished work. He knows that its builder’s aim is to build a house. He will call the work imperfect. He will call it perfect as soon as he sees it finished as intended by its builder. But suppose a man sees a work which he has never seen before. If he does not know the builder’s intention, he cannot know whether that work is perfect or imperfect. Such seems to be the primary meaning of these terms.

But after men began to form general ideas and thought out types of houses, buildings, towers, etc., and to prefer certain types to others, each man called a thing as perfect if it agreed with his general idea about the thing. He called the thing, which agreed less with his own preconceived type, as imperfect. Even though it had been completed in accordance with the idea of its builder. This seems to be the only reason for calling natural phenomena perfect or imperfect. For men are wont to form general ideas of things natural, no less than of things artificial. They hold such ideas as types.

They believe that Nature (who they think does nothing without an object):

  • has them in view, and
  • has set them as types before herself.

Therefore, when they behold something in Nature, which does not wholly conform to the preconceived type which they have formed of the thing in question, they say that Nature= has fallen short or has blundered, and has left her work incomplete. Thus, we see that men are wont to style natural phenomena perfect or imperfect rather from their own prejudices, than from true knowledge of what they pronounce upon.

We showed in the Appendix to Part 1, that Nature does not work with an end in view.

For God or Nature, acts by the same necessity as that whereby it exists. For we have shown, that by the same necessity of its nature, whereby it exists, it likewise works (1. 16.). The reason or cause why God or Nature exists, and the reason why he acts, are one and the same. Therefore, as he does not exist for the sake of an end, so neither does he act for the sake of an end. There is neither origin nor end of his existence and of his action. Wherefore, a cause which is called final is nothing else but human desire, in so far as it is considered as the origin or cause of anything. For example, when we say that to be inhabited is the final cause of this or that house, we mean nothing more than that a man, conceiving the conveniences of household life, had a desire to build a house. Wherefore, the being inhabited, in so far as it is regarded as a final cause, is nothing else but this particular desire, which is really the efficient cause. It is regarded as the primary cause, because men are generally ignorant of the causes of their desires. They are conscious of their own actions and appetites, but ignorant of the causes whereby they are determined to any particular desire.

Therefore, the common saying that Nature sometimes falls short, or blunders, and produces things which are imperfect, I set down among the glosses treated of in the Appendix to Part 1. Perfection and imperfection, then, are in reality merely modes of thinking, or notions which we form from a comparison among one another of individuals of the same species; Hence I said above (2. Def. 6), that by reality and perfection I mean the same thing. For we are wont to refer all the individual things in nature to one genus, which is called the highest genus, namely, to the category of Being, whereto absolutely all individuals in nature belong. Thus, in so far as we refer the individuals in nature to this category, and comparing them one with another, find that some possess more of being or reality than others, we, to this extent, say that some are more perfect than others.

Again, in so far as we attribute to them anything implying negation—as term, end, infirmity, etc., we, to this extent, call them imperfect, because they do not affect our mind so much as the things which we call perfect, not because they have any intrinsic deficiency, or because Nature has blundered. For nothing lies within the scope of a thing’s nature, save that which follows from the necessity of the nature of its efficient cause, and whatsoever follows from the necessity of the nature of its efficient cause necessarily comes to pass.

As for the terms good and bad, they indicate no positive quality in things regarded in themselves, but are merely modes of thinking, or notions which we form from the comparison of things one with another. Thus, one and the same thing can be at the same time good, bad, and indifferent. For instance, music is good for him that is melancholy, bad for him that mourns; for him that is deaf, it is neither good nor bad.

Nevertheless, though this be so, the terms should still be retained. For, inasmuch as we desire to form an idea of man as a type of human nature which we may hold in view, it will be useful for us to retain the terms in question, in the sense I have indicated.

“Good” is that which we certainly know to be a means of approaching more nearly to the type of human nature, which we have set before ourselves. “Bad” is that which we certainly know to hinder us in approaching the said type.

Again, we shall that men are more perfect, or more imperfect, in proportion as they approach more or less nearly to the said type. For it must be specially remarked that, when I say that a man passes from a lesser to a greater perfection, or vice versa, I do not mean that he is changed from one essence or reality to another. For instance, a horse would be as completely destroyed by being changed into a man, as by being changed into an insect. We conceive the thing’s power of action, as this is understood by its nature, to be increased or reduced. Lastly, by perfection in general I shall mean reality—in other words, each thing’s essence, as it exists, and operates in a particular manner, and without paying any regard to its duration. For no given thing can be said to be more perfect, because it has passed a longer time in existence. The duration of things cannot be determined by their essence, for the essence of things involves no fixed and definite period of existence. But everything, whether it be more perfect or less perfect, will always be able to persist in existence with the same force wherewith it began to exist. Wherefore, in this respect, all things are equal.

DEFINITIONS

  1. Good is that which we certainly know to be useful to us.

  2. Evil is that which we certainly know to be a hindrance to us in the attainment of any good. (Concerning these terms see the foregoing preface towards the end.)

  3. Particular things I call contingent in so far as, while regarding their essence only, we find nothing therein, which necessarily asserts their existence or excludes it.

  4. Particular things I call possible in so far as, while regarding the causes whereby they must be produced, we know not, whether such causes be determined for producing them. (In 1.33. note. 1, I drew no distinction between possible and contingent, because there was in that place no need to distinguish them accurately.)

  5. By conflicting emotions I mean those which draw a man in different directions, though they are of the same kind, such as luxury and avarice, which are both species of love, and are contraries, not by nature, but by accident.

  6. What I mean by emotion felt towards a thing, future, present, and past, I explained in 3.18., notes. 1 and 2., which see. (But we can only distinctly conceive distance of space or time up to a certain definite limit; that is, all objects distant from us more than 200 feet, or whose distance from the place where we are exceeds that which we can distinctly conceive, seem to be an equal distance from us, and all in the same plane; so also objects, whose time of existing is conceived as removed from the present by a longer interval than we can distinctly conceive, seem to be all equally distant from the present, and are set down, as it were, to the same moment of time.)

  7. By an end, for the sake of which we do something, I mean a desire. 8. Virtue and power are the same thing. (3.7) Virtue, as it is referred to man, is a man’s nature or essence, in so far as it has the power of effecting what can only be understood by the laws of that nature.

AXIOM

There is no individual thing in nature, than which there is not another more powerful and strong. Whatsoever thing be given, there is something stronger whereby it can be destroyed.

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