Spinoza’s Ethics — Part III: Of the Affects

[12000 words]

“Affects” are basically emotions. But I think keeping the term slightly technical will be useful.

The first half of this piece will remain slightly abstract: “what the heck is actually happening?!!” kind of thing.

The second half will finally get more concrete. We’ll run through the nature of human emotions, with a bunch of relatable real-life scenarios.

OK! Let’s get to it!

Some selections from Spinoza’s own preface:

Many of those who have written about the affects and men’s way of living (…) attribute the cause of human impotence and inconstancy, not to the common power of Nature, but to I know not what vice of human nature, which they therefore bewail, or laugh at, or disdain, or (as usually happens) curse. And he who knows how to censure more eloquently and cunningly the weakness of the human mind is held to be godly. (…)

To them it will doubtless seem strange that I should undertake to treat men’s vices and absurdities in the geometric style, and that I should wish to demonstrate by certain reasoning things which are contrary to reason, and which they proclaim to be empty, absurd, and horrible.

But my reason is this: (…)

The affects (…) of hate, anger, envy, and the like, considered in themselves, follow with the same necessity and force of Nature as the other singular things. And therefore they acknowledge certain causes, through which they are understood, and have certain properties, as worthy of our knowledge as the properties of any other thing, by the mere contemplation of which we are pleased.

If I were to sum up this central part of the Ethics and those that follow in two lines, I would say this.

Any negative emotions you are feeling are, on the one hand, totally rational.

And, on the other, totally irrational.

By this I mean: anything you’re feeling totally makes sense. You’re not crazy for feeling it. You’re not broken or malfunctioning. Quite the opposite, in fact. There are extremely clear reasons for why you are feeling this way. And any human would basically feel the same, if they were in the same situation.

But also… if you think about it clearly… there is no reason for you to feel bad. Ever.
Because you have limited power, suffering is inevitable… but there’s nothing good about your feeling bad.
Therefore, there is no reason to persist in it.
Thus, if you’re feeling bad, and you are presented with the option of not feeling bad… you should always allow yourself to start feeling better.
And — if you are able to stop and think it through carefully — you will always find a way to feel at least a little bit better.
And the more you do that, the better you’ll become at it.
Until you’re regularly able to feel a lot better.

Alright. The first section of Book III introduces the following key notions.

Adequate cause

In Part II, we talked about adequate ideas. So this won’t be too unfamiliar.

Something is the adequate cause of some effect if that effect can be entirely explained through it.
If you need to invoke something else to explain the effect, then it was an inadequate cause.

Insofar as we are the adequate cause of something, we may be said to act. We are being active.

If we are not the adequate cause of something we do, we are being acted on. We are being passive.

That’s what passion is. Something else has overcome us, so that our emotions (and thus actions) are not fully our own.

So if something we do is perfectly explainable by our own nature, we’re acting.

If something we do requires us to invoke the nature of something else in order to explain it, we are being more or less passive.

What we’re trying to do here is to understand the ways in which we are being passive… and try, insofar as possible, to be active instead.

And this is primarily done by having adequate ideas… in other words, by thinking clearly and having a clear, unmuddled picture of the world. Cus the more muddled our map, the more muddled our actions.


I’ve been generally avoiding the Latin, but conatus is kind of special.

It means… an internal impulse or drive.

It is, basically, the Will.

To… well, to exist, essentially. That’s all there is, after all.

But we can break it down into self-preservation and… self-expression, let’s say.

So, from now on, when I say that something “tries”, “strives”, or “endeavours” to do something… I’m probably translating this term — it “has a conatus” to do something.

To elucidate it further: when a leaf is being blown by the wind, there is not much conatus at play, really. It’s just being pushed around.
The only thing it’s doing is… not crumbling. It is striving to maintain its shape. To pass into the next moment, much as it was in the previous one.

But when a tree grows or an animal moves or a star does its BWWOOOSH thing… that’s its conatus really going for it.

You see… it’s not being impelled (pushed) or being driven by something else.

It is impelling or driving itself.

Upwards… outwards… around and about.

It is continually driving itself onwards in its being, from one moment to the next, so it can be more.

The fundamental reason why is because it is God, and that is what God is: the endless and timeless drive to be.

In other words: the particular object is trying to maintain its shape. It is resisting being squashed by all the other things. It is constantly pushing against everything else, as it were, so it can continue to be itself.

And, ideally… it tries to grow.

It tries to emanate.

It tries to express itself.

The star tries to combust and give off light and heat.

The tree tries to reach for the sun and give off fruit.

And the animal tries to move around doing various monkey things or tiger things or squid-y things, as its particular shape dictates.

Which brings us to…


Conatus is the general drive to continue to be yourself and do your thing.

And desires [or appetites] are the particular ways you are self-impelled to continue to exist and express yourself.

Cus you’re not “just being”, all the time.
You’re pretty much always doing something in particular… and NOT something else.
Desires are what make you do one thing rather than another.

Let’s say you’re sitting in your living room.
The next moment, you get up and go somewhere else.
If you were thirsty, you went to the kitchen.
If you wanted to take a leak, you went to the toilet.
The thing that caused one outcome rather than the other is called a desire.

And here comes the key phrase.

Desire is the very essence of a human.

In other words:

Your desires are the core of what you are.

Because your desires are what conditions you to go this way or that.
And the sum total of ways you go is what you are, objectively speaking.
So your essence is what makes you go the way you go.

OK, so… let’s say I have a chess board.
And I take a Queen piece, and call it Susan.
And I place it on a square (…let’s say, A1).
And then I move it up three squares.
And then right three squares.
And then up three squares.
And then I take it off the board.

OK. That was that Queen’s life. It was born the moment I placed it on the board. And it died the moment I took it off.

Now, what if I were to wish to encode that Queen’s life somehow?

I’d write something like “A1… up 3. right 3. up 3.”

OK. What if I’d written “A1… up 5. right 2. down 2.”

……….you see?

That would not be Susan.

That would be a very different Queen.

Susan was a Queen-piece who cut a very particular trajectory across the board.

The trajectory she cut across the board… is her.

You are a particular being who cuts a very particular trajectory through Extension.
That trajectory is you.

And the thing that determines, at every single juncture, what trajectory you take… is your desires.

Now… sometimes, you’re moved around not according to your desires.
If there’s a particularly strong gust of wind, you might stumble.
If there’s an earthquake, you might fall.
If someone comes and ties you up and puts you on a boat to the other side of the world… well… that really sucks.

But mostly, you move yourself around, according to your desires.

And… you guessed it.

Some of your desires are more active, and some are more passive.

That is: some arise directly from your nature, and some require us to invoke the presence of other things to explain why you wanted… or were driven… to do that.

And some of those other things have a conatus (a drive) which contrasts quite a lot with your nature… and they get you to want something which contrasts with your basic nature too.

In other words: there are things that are stronger than you, and which can enslave you.

So you gotta learn to recognize when this is happening, and then switch to another course which is more to your advantage. And you do this through Reason — through the understanding of the common properties of things.

“What am I?
Given that, what is to my advantage?
What is that?
What is happening?
Why am I doing this?
Will this benefit me in some way?
If not… then let’s stop and do something else.”

It is from this notion of desire that Spinoza gets his notion of Good and Evil.

By good here I understand every kind of joy, and whatever leads to it, and especially what satisfies any kind of longing, whatever that may be. And by evil, every kind of sadness, and especially what frustrates longing. For we have shown above (in P9S) that we desire nothing because we judge it to be good, but on the contrary, we call it good because we desire it. Consequently, what we are averse to, we call evil.


…but I think we’ll discuss this more at the beginning of the next part.

Example time!

Active vs. Passive

Behold! There’s a human.

(For the sake of this example: a “human” is a homo sapiens, which is a weird kind of monkey.)

It is sitting on a rock.

It feels thirsty.

It wants to have a drink so it can feel refreshed.

It gets up and walks to the local stream to drink.

It feels like sitting down. So it goes back to the rock and sits.

Time passes, and it feels a pressure down there.

It walks over to a tree and takes a piss.

That human was being active.

Super active.

Perfectly active.

It adequately caused every single one of its doings.

Nothing that happened there requires us to invoke any other cause than the human’s own nature.


If you ask “why did it get off the rock and go to the stream?”, I don’t really have to tell you “Well… you see: Big Bang happened… and then stars… and then formation of life on earth… and then… and then.. and then brain goes kernickity-pling… and then…”

I do not have to make recourse to the infinitely long chain of causes of the Extension aspect of Natura naturata.

All I have to do to explain that event is to explain that it’s a thing which drinks water at periodic intervals, and excretes a remainder.

In colloquial terms… …it’s a human. These are common properties of all the individual things in Nature which we group as “human”.

[Of course, this may soon change, but c’mon man — it’s just an example.]

So, if you have a good idea of what this thing is… all I have to add is “Right before you saw it get up, that human was thirsty.”

You might have failed to recall which of the many traits of “the common notion ‘Human’ ” is relevant here.
So I’ve now reminded you.
And now you know why it went over to the stream.
The causes of its action are now perfectly clear to you.


So, nothing external happened to make the human move.
A gust of wind did not push it over to the stream.
A tiger did not come and scare it off the rock.

Something happened INSIDE THE HUMAN.
And then it did something.
No external cause was involved.

The human was the adequate cause of itself going to the stream.
It was acting purely on its nature.
Because drinking and pissing is an inherent part of its nature.
It wasn’t brainwashed into drinking and pissing as a kid.
No matter where it’s born and what’s around as it grows up, a human drinks and pisses.

You see?

  • This is a particular thing which drinks and pisses.
  • It was chillin’.
    Its bladder was like “I’m low on water.”
    So its bladder pushed a thing which pushed a thing which pushed a thing in its brain.
    And its mind saw the last movement in its brain, and so the human thought “Oh, I’m thirsty. Let’s go drink some water. Association… water… stream! Let’s walk to that stream!”
    And its brain pushed a thing which pushed a thing which made its leg move.
    And its leg moving pushed a thing which pushed a thing in its brain.
    And its mind saw that movement was like like “Oooh, look, I’m walking! This water’s gonna be nice!”

That’s what happened. It’s a simplified narrative, but that’s the right narrative. And that narrative did not involve anything else causing the human to do what it did. Every cause was perfectly self-contained in the subset “this particular human” of the subset “Extension + Thought” of the set “Reality”.

And if you contest that, then I’m going to have to give up entirely and wail: “…look! Mate! You’re right! There is no true division between ‘that human’ and ‘the ground it walks on’ and ‘that stream’ and ‘the atmosphere’ and ‘the cosmos’ and ‘the Faewild existing in the 23rd dimension’. There is only God, and It’s neither male nor female, but it is a dick, and it is also a vagina, and we are an infinitesmally thin condom, and it is wearing us so it can stick Itself up Itself and feel us from both sides, and it’s curious as to what that would feel like for the condom SO IT HAS GIVEN THE CONDOM CONSCIOUSNESS CUS IT’S A FUCKING PERVERT VOYEUR AND… just shut the fuck up and let it fuck you!!”

So if you don’t want to make me entirely lose my marbles, let’s say you understand this notion.

What the human did could be explained through itself — through its own nature.
So it was being active.

If you want an example of someone being passive…. skip to the second half.

“Desire is the very essence of man”

So, to elaborate on the Queen analogy.

Let’s say Extension is a (…massive) ocean.

OK. So its mmrrunches and mmmrrrroinches itself around until it generates these little bits which coalesce into… a log.

And this log floats on top of the ocean, getting pushed along by various currents and spun around by various winds until… it dissolves.



The ocean MMMMRRRRROINCHES and MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMRRRRRANCHES itself around until it generates these little bits which coalesce into… a bunch of neatly arranged logs… and a sail… and a crew…

In other words… a boat.

And this boat floas on top of the ocean, and gets pushed along by this current…. and oh! Someone’s spun the wheel and turned the rudder and now it’s on a totally different current, going a totally different way.

Hmm, but now the wind is pushing its sail back and it’s bobbing up and down weirdly and… oh! they’ve dropped the sail, and switched it with another one, and they’ve turned it around that way, so now the boat’s moving in exactly the same direction it was moving before, even though the winds are totally different.
…what a weird bunch of logs this is!

And it goes North for a while… then West for a while… then turns around and goes South for a while…

That boat has a certain conatus, which meant it kept resisting the push and pull of the winds and currents, unless they were going in the direction it wanted them to go.
And each time it changed tack, it’s because it changed desires.
Maybe one crew member got homesick, so they went to her home.
And then maybe some of the crew wanted to go gambling and the others wanted to go eat coconuts… but more wanted to eat coconuts… so the captain was like “Coconut Island it is!”

So, you see.
The thing that determined the boat’s journey was mostly stuff happening inside the boat.

(Until, you know… a storm came and the boat capsized and all the crew drowned. But you can’t keep winning forever. At least they ate some coconuts.)

And the thing happening inside the boat that made it change direction was that its internal constitution changed and it generated a new desire.


Most things in Nature are like that log.

Even stars are like that log.

And we are like that boat.

We move ourselves around.

And even if the currents and winds are exactly the same… the boat would go different ways, depending on its internal constitution.

Just so — two people will do two different things in the same conditions… because their bodies are constituted differently…. which is to say… we have different desires.

So, for Spinoza, it’s not that we have “free will”… it’s that our lives cannot be fully explained by the motions of the things around us.

If something is looking at us and wants to explain why we took the course we took, it can’t just look at the pavement and the wind conditions and make its calculations.
It will have to build a picture of our minds, to explain why we walked this way rather than that way.

Even if you point at a sign that we stopped in front of and whose instructions we then followed… it’s not as if the thing swivelled and whacked us one way. You still have to find out that we’re a thing that can perceive part of the electromagnetic specrum with our eyeballs, and that we can parse symbols like letters and numbers, and that we have certain prefernces and intentions, etc.

Even our passive doings must be largely explained through our nature.

We generate our own trajectories to a degree which we simply do not observe other things doing in Nature.

And… the more that something else would have to look inside us to explain our movements… the more free we are. The more power we have, as an individual part of Nature.

So… we’re pretty special.

…..but there’s infinitely many things out there which do it more than we do… so don’t get too up yourselves, yeah?

…OK! So that’s your life.

Time to finally get emotional about it!

Laetitia and Tristitia

Your body wants to exist in space and time.
Depending on its disposition, it will desire to do that here or there. And it will move itself around accordingly.
Your mind wants to affirm the existence of your body.
Depending on the disposition of your body at any given moment, that affirmation will take on the form of “experiencing yourself walking around and doing stuff”, “thinking about mathematics”, “picturing Frodo walking around and doing stuff in Middle Earth”, etc.
In other words: it wants to think. It wants to experience. It wants to be conscious. It wants to be aware of this or that, depending on its desires.

OK. Here we go.

Whenever you experience something that enables you to do any of that, you feel this thing called laetitia. Literally: joy, happiness.
Sometimes translated pleasure.
Basically: you feel good.

Whenever you come across something that prevents you from doing any of that, you feel this thing called tristitia.
Literally: sadness.
Sometimes translated pain.
Basically: you feel bad.

And what these things fundamentally are — as we saw in Part II — is the mind lighting up or dimming down.

Pleasure is the mind being able to affirm the body more — and thus existing more.
To exist more is to be more real.
To be real is to be perfect.
So to be more real is to be more perfect.

And that’s where we get the famous line:

Joy is the passage to a greater perfection.

And pain is, well… the opposite. It’s the mind going “no no no no no!”. And since the mind is, by its very essence, a “YES!”… that’s it becoming less real, and thus, less perfect.

Let me unpack that a second.

Considered in itself, every single thing is perfect.
It is exactly what it is, as ordained by the laws of God’s nature. In that sense, it is perfect.
But by the very process of comparing things to each other, you introduce a spectrum of perfection.
This gives a sense of meaning and purpose to human life — you are what you are, exactly as God/Nature has decreed.
Thus, you’re existentially absolutely fine, at every moment, no matter what.

But then, what is there to do?
Be more yourself, and less a pawn for other things.
Which is to say… to be more perfect.

So — considered in itself, every mind-state is perfect.
But compared to each other, one is more perfect than the other.
And joy is the process of ascension from one to another.

It is your mind reflecting the enhancement of your body’s ability to act on its own impulses and not be impelled by other things.

And, see…
God exists absolutely perfectly, without any possible qualification to that statement.
Absolutely nothing else can exist to impede it.

So joy is you becoming more like God.

Which is to say… as far as you’re concerned… joy is good. Straight up. Period.

And pain is bad. It’s not good.

Some particular pain might be the lesser of two evils… which in a sense, makes it preferable to another state of affairs. (He grudgingly uses the example of the pain of a bodily extremity being good insofar as it’s a sign that the limb has not rotted away entirely.) But you will never, ever get Spinoza to say it’s good. I think saying pain is good would cause him more pain than being hit with sticks. You’d be there, pounding on him, screaming “recant, recant!” and he’d be like “No! Pain is not good! Keep hitting me as much as you like — you won’t get me to say it’s good!” And you’d be like “But the pain will stop if you just say it!” And he’ll be like “No — it’s totally irrational!” And you’d be like “Well then, you’re irrational for letting the pain go on!” And he’d glare at you like you were the Devil itself, and also a worm.

Soooooo… let’s go back to the “getting up from the rock to get a drink of water from the stream” example.

Every single step is an experience of joy.
Right before your foot landed, your mind was thinking “my body’s foot is going to make contact with the floor”.
So, when it happens, and your mind receives the information that it has happened… the mind is happy.
It successfully affirmed the existence of your body.
And each step was in accordance with your desire to “get a drink of water from the stream”.
So, your body is impelling itself in this particular direction.
And the mind is watching it do that successfully.
So it’s happy.

If you were to accidentally stick your foot in a hole in the ground, and trip over…
The mind would have to deny its idea of what the body is doing (walking to the stream), in order to formulate a new one (falling down).
And so, for that moment, it exists less.
And so, it experiences various forms of pain.

That should be enough of an example for now. The rest of the book will give us a hundred opportunities for more.


…..aaaaaaaand… that’s it, folks!!!

Congratulations! You’ve made it through all the metaphysical weirdness!

You now have a sense for what Spinoza says is fundamentally going on!

That’s the nature of reality.
That’s the body.
That’s the mind.
And those are the three things that can happen to them/it.

  • Desire.
  • Laetitia.
  • Tristitia.

Those are the Three Primary Affects.

That is, “the three ways you can be affected”.

In other words: “the three ways you can undergo change”.

Everything else is just an elaboration or further modification of those three things.

There are some distinctions he makes for laetitita (titillatio and hilaritas) and tristitia (dolor and melancholia). But I’m leaving those out. I will use “joy, pleasure, cheerfulness, etc.” interchangeably, and switch up “sadness, pain, anguish, melancholy” whenever it titillates me to do so.

I will also make the point here that these terms, and the ones that follow, don’t always map on exactly to their common usage. Spinoza has to borrow the closest terms that exist in contemporary language to try and express his ideas. So, if something doesn’t seem to fit perfectly — that’s usually why.
So if you’re like “What about the soreness of a good workout? That’s pain. But I like it!” Or “What about that scene where Dumbo is taken away from his mom? That’s sadness… but I like it!”
Yeah yeah. Sure. I know. We’ll get to the bit where Spinoza calls us all filthy masochist perverts at the appropriate moment. But, in general: any particularly obvious objections like that can probably be answered with “Look… if you’re gonna nitpick, I’m gonna have to go back and use the Latin terms for everything, which no one knows anymore, and thus have no pre-existing connotations.”

……..last point about this:

He distinguishes between joy/sadness that affects one part of the body at the expense of the others, or affects the whole body equally.

This may seem a little strange, or at least oversimplified, but it’s an extremely common idea in ancient thought — and it’s actually an extremely handy one, when you think of it.

The eyes want to see nice things — like the view from the top of yonder hill.
…but your lungs and calves might beg to differ.

The tongue might want to taste that delicious spicy curry.
…but the stomach, intestines, and the stuff lower down might be a bit gutted by the decision.

The genitals might want to rub themselves against that pretty person who’s giving you that come-hither look.
…but the rest of the body might not like what their spouse and stable of pre-existing lovers might do about it.

And it’s just the same with things which are less obviously physical.

The bit of the brain that likes mathematics might want you to pay attention to it so it can think about mathematics.
But the bit that wants your partner to not be mad at you might prefer you pay attention while they’re talking about their bitchy co-workers.


So, whenever possible, you want to be experiencing joy that affects the whole body equally.

Or, you know. The nearest compromise.


That’s……… most of the heavy lifting done, I reckon!

So now, it’s “rolling the boulder down the hill” time.

From now on, we apply all this abstract philosophical stuff directly to your life!

The Mind’s conatus

The mind, remember… is the affirmation of the body.

Therefore…. it tries, as far as it possibly can, to imagine those things that aid the body’s power of acting, or increase it.

Which is to say:

Anything that allows you to act in accordance with your desires, it will try to imagine.

And anything which will allow you to generate more desires and then fulfil them, it will also try to imagine.

And it will do this… even if these things are not actually present.

So… this is why you do everything you do.

This is what causes you to act in the world: because your mind wants to imagine you doing what you want.

And so you’ll actually go and do it, so your mind can create this VR experience of watching you do it.

And also, you will tend to do the kinds of things that keep you in existence, and will allow you to do a wider range of things in the future.

(…because… that’s what things that exist do…..
…just try and imagine if they didn’t do that…
Yeah, exactly.
Those kinds of things don’t exist much.
So it’s statistically very likely that you’re the kind of thing that does the kinds of things that generally lead to keeping yourself in existence.)

But also… this is why you fantacize.


…so, your ability to imagine things which are different to what your sense organs are currently feeding you allows you to increase your ability to physically act in the world.

And that is why we evolved it. Because the mind strives to imagine itself acting in the world… it developed this ability which allows it to act better. So that, when your body acts, it would fail less, so your mind could affirm it more.

For example.

Let’s say there’s a hole you have to get across to fetch food.

Some things can only try to jump over the hole, and maybe make it, maybe not.

But you can imagine yourself jumping over the hole before you do it. You can run a simulation first, and thus avoid injury and increase chances of success.

But because your mind is the affirmation of your body… it will use that capacity to visualize you jumping over the hole in any case.
Even if you suck at jumping.
………..and even if there’s no hole in front of you.

Or, to take another example…

  • Because of everything we’ve said until this point…. the mind wants to watch you get the things you want, and protect yourself.
  • And so, it wants you to be able to fight off other things that might compete for the things you want, or try to hurt you. Because if you don’t fight off those things, then it won’t be able to affirm your existence.
  • And so, it will allow you to run simulations before a fight actually occurs, so you can fight better later.
  • And so, it will also tend to run simulations in which you’re the UFC heavyweight champion of the world. Even though you’re a short, thin girl with very poor hand-eye coordination, and the UFC doesn’t have a women’s heavyweight division…

By the most essential core of its very nature… the mind will tend to do these two seemingly contradictory things:

It will accurately depict what your body is currently doing.

And it will totally inaccurately depict what your body is currently doing.


I mean… think about it.

If the mind is the very impulse to the affirmation of the existence of the body….. what else would it possibly tend to do, other than exactly those two things? You see how they arise from the same thing? You see how they’re actually, at their core, the same thing?
On the surface, they’re opposites.
But understood as expressions of the underlying tendency to affirm your body’s existence, they are inevitable.

……..I’ll try to keep this to a minimum… but just let me do it here.

…..do you see how the Ethics works now?

Here is a thing which you have experienced a bunch of times.

It has caused you confusion and distress.

And here is why it proceeds directly from the very essence of the mind.

Which proceeds directly from the very essence of God.

And when Spinoza lays it out like that, it will sound like the most obvious thing in the universe.

And then you’ll think back to all the confusion and distress it caused you. And you’ll be like “…no way… it can’t be that simple.”

And then you’ll turn back to the explanation. And it will be like “Yes, well you see, 1 + 1 = 2.”

And you will go back and forth like this for some time.

With pretty much everything I say from now on, I will be resisting the impulse to write out the entirety of what I’ve said before this point, all over again.

So, here’s a thing.




Basically…. GOD!


Including… THE MIND!

Which works……. LIKE THIS!



THE MIND…. therefore, obviously, inevitably…. THIS THING!

…..no? Still no? ….wonderful!! I’ll run it back.




…so, I’m gonna try really hard not to do that.

But please know that that’s what’s happening.

Every time I make a point, I have to stop typing and wait until my mind’s done going “Oh my God! ….and so… the Mind! And so… adultery!!!! …….obviously!!!!!!! It’s so beautiful!!!!!!!!!!!! It makes so much sense!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

…………….yes. Life is indeed an exceptionally exhausting process for me, guys.

Love and Hate


Remember how I said every other affect was just an elaboration on the three basic affects of Desire, Joy, and Sadness?

Well, here goes.

Love is joy… attached to the idea of an external cause.
Hate is sadness… attached to the idea of an external cause.

Soooo…. let’s say I have an itch.
And I scratch it.
And the itch goes away, leaving a pleasant tingling.

That’s pure pleasure. That’s joy.
That’s my mind contemplating my own body, and its own power of acting.
This is self-esteem. And it, other than contemplation of the idea of God and our connection to it, is the highest thing we can experience, and what Spinoza would have us strive for… insofar as it is rational and accurate, that is.

But let’s say I have an itch… and you scratch it.

That’s love, baby!

That’s my mind contemplating my own body…. AND your body, combining to give me pleasure.

Ooooor… let’s say I’m thirsty. (Another kind of itch.)
And then I drink some water.

That’s love.

It’s my own body, being relieved of pain, and feeling the joy of refreshment…. plus the idea of some external body (water), that is not me, but is helping me, and causing me joy.

And just so with hate.

I stub my toe on a rock.
My mind had thought my toe was going to be cleanly passing through air… and suddenly found out that that’s not what’s happening. It thought my toe was in a certain, highly functional shape… which, due to its contact with the rock, is now different.
So it is having to deny its idea of my toe.
So I experience my toe hurting.
But that is attached to the idea of an external cause: the rock.

So I now hate that rock.

Or let’s say I accidentally scratch myself with my nail.
That’s pain, attached to the idea of my body as the cause.
That’s pure pain — or self-hate.

But what if you scratch me with your nail?
I have pain, attached to the idea of you as a cause.
So I hate you.

Next point. (III.P49)

We have a stronger feeling of love and hate towards things which we imagine to be free.

A rock is a very simple object. The mind can easily form an image of it, and an understanding, through Reason, of how it operates.
But a human body is a much more complex object. The mind cannot easily imagine it in its entirety, and it requires a great effort of Reason to form an accurate idea of its movements.
And so, we give up the attempt to understand it, and regard human bodies as free.
And so, we hate them more when they cause us pain than we do a rock when it causes us pain.


Book III, Proposition 48.

P48: Love or hate — say, of Peter — is destroyed if the pain which the hate involves, or the joy the love involves, is attached to the idea of another cause, and each is diminished to the extent that we imagine that Peter was not its only cause.

Dem: This is evident simply from the definitions of love and hate. For this joy is called love of Peter, or this pain, hatred of Peter, only because Peter is considered to be the cause of the emotion. If this is taken away — either wholly or in part — the emotion toward Peter is also diminished, either wholly or in part, Q.E.D.

….two things I wanna say about that.

Point Number One

…the “geometric method” is……. kind of ridiculous, let’s be honest.
……………but it’s so…. …….so cool.
Who the fuck even dreams of thinking this way about these things?
………I love this guy so much……

Point Number Two

…..Book III, Proposition 48 will be important later.

…..this is a very important part of how to extricate ourself from entanglements with things.

The implications

If you imagine something you love being destroyed, significantly altered, or hindered in some way…….
that is to say, if you imagine it “going down a notch”… being less powerful, existing less, being less real, being less perfect………….
that is to say, if you imagine it being affected with pain
then you yourself are affected with pain.

If something bad happens to something you love, you feel bad.

And the worse the thing that happens… the worse you feel.
(You feel worse if you imagine it being destroyed than if you imagine it suffering a minor scratch.)

And the more you love it… the worse you feel.

Spinoza calls this Pity (commiseratio) — feeling bad at another’s pain.

And it also works the other way.

If you imagine something you love being preserved, helped in some way, and/or affected with pleasure… then you feel good.
This… apparently doesn’t have a name.

As for pleasure arising from another’s good, I know not what to call it.



And so on and so on.

If you imagine something you hate being destroyed/hindered, you feel good.

If you imagine it being preserved, then you feel bad.

…..this… is all probably fairly obvious. But let’s unpack it a litle bit just to be safe.

Your ordinary experience is consituted by a bunch of images of things (including yourself).
This is true whether you’re ‘fantacizing’ or getting current data from your sense organs.
Some of these images are attached to a feeling of joy (love), and some are attached to a feeling of sadness (hate).
When the image goes away, the feeling goes away.
Thus, your ordinary life consists in trying to make the images attached to joy stick around, and the ones attached to sadness go away.

Alright, here we go.

So, you love something. [You experience it, and also feel good.]
And you imagine something else affecting it with joy.
And so, you love that thing too.
That’s called Favor, or Approval.

And vice versa.
You love something.
Something else affects it with sadness.
So you hate that thing.

And so, you want it to exist less. You want to destroy it, hinder it.
That’s Anger.

And… of course…

You hate something. [You conceive of it, and experience pain.]
Something else affects it with joy — helps it.
So you also hate that something else.
Soooo… you feel anger.

You hate something.
Something else affects it with pain — hinders it.
You love that something else.
You feel Favor.

…..and with that, my friends… we have arrived at the origin of Envy.
Envy is a species of hate — which is pain, attached to the idea of something that isn’t you.
Specifically, it is hate which disposes you to be happy at something else’s misfortune, and sad at their fortune.

And this is… kind of the central point of the Ethics. In that it comes straight in the middle of the text (III.P24). And it is one of the two major impediments to everyone getting along.

So let’s unpack it, one more time.

You have an image of something in your mind.
In your mind, this thing is powerful, successful, full of joy.
This thing is not you.
And you have opposed it to yourself in your mind.
And so… thinking of this thing forces you to deny things about yourself.
The power that it has, you do not have.
The success that it has, you do not have.
The positive feelings that it has, you do not have.
Thus, to bring this image to your mind is to contemplate your own weakness and suffering.
To merely be aware of it is to be forced to deny yourself.
And you are yourself.
You are, in fact, the affirmation of yourself.
So to contemplate this thing is to self-implode.

…so that’s a problem.

So you start hating this thing, and wanting bad things for it… because thinking about it makes you feel bad.
And on the basis of this emotion… in order to make that mental process stop….. you start acting in the world to make that Mental Image Which Forces You to Deny Yourself go away.
You might say mean words in its general direction.
Or you might take actions to hurt it.

…….sooooooo… that’s an even bigger problem.

It is a problem for the other thing — which has not actually done anything to you. It has simply existed. The only way it’s hurting you is that thinking about it makes you feel bad about yourself. Which, if you were thinking clearly, you would notice you have absolutely no reason for.

And it’s a problem for you too.
In your attempt to go out and put this thing down, you could run into trouble.
But, more to the point…… the whole process involves pain. All the while that you are acting against this thing, you are feeling pain. Pain is the foundation for your action. And it is not necessary — the thing wasn’t actually harming you.

And here’s the kicker.
Let’s say you become aware of this thing you’re envious of.
If at that point, you are able to notice what’s happening and nip the process in the bud… you can switch tack and start doing something pleasurable.
…for every second that you indulge the feeling of envy and start acting on it… that’s a missed opportunity to feel joy.
To enhance your own power — to proceed on your own course.
From the moment you felt envy to the moment you got over it… that’s a slice of your life which you’ve lost to that other thing.
You’ve been drawn away from actively living your own life, and you are now acting in response to something else.
In other words, you are now being passive.
For that slice of time, you are being less you.
You are spending your time and energy reacting to some other thing which isn’t you.
If something else were looking at you and wanted to explain your actions, it would have to start with “Well, there’s this other thing… and so the human is doing this. There’s this other thing… and so the human is doing that.”

It’s such a twisted trap. When you are affected with envy, you think that your actions are all about reclaiming your own power. But they are actually the opposite. And the deeper the envy, the less you are able to see that.

I’ll reiterate the point once more, because it’s important.
By the very fact of feeling bad at another’s power and success… you are being existentially trapped by that thing.
Your actions and thoughts no longer derive from your own nature — they involve you, plus this external object.
And the more you act on it, the worse it is for you.

Because you have failed to realize that the thing that bothers you is the image you have of this external object.
It’s in your head.
It’s your pain.

If you could only realize that, the spell would be broken, and you would stop giving a shit about this other person, and go about your own life.

…but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Extricating ourselves from these things is the subject of Part V.

But hopefully, I’ve given you a sense of the basic logic here.

You form an image of an external body.
The process of generating this image forces you to deny your self-image.
And instead of being clear about that, you take your Imagination at face value, and get trapped.

…………hopefully the point has been successfully gestured at by now. I’ll come back and polish this in the second draft.

Accidental love and hate

Remember that bit about associations?

Well, here we go.

The imaginations of the mind indicate the affects of our body more than the nature of external objects.


So, the contents of experience are the reflection of the state of our body (i.e. brain), which was influenced by a really-existing external body. But the thing we experience has a lot more to do with our brain than it does with the external thing.

That is why associations account for so much of our experience.

So if two things happen to us at once, and one actually makes us feel good/bad, and the other’s just kinda there… then the next time we see the other thing, we’ll feel good/bad.

And thus, the other thing becomes an accidental cause of pleasure/pain.

From then on… (unless we employ Reason to undo the connection) it will actually cause us pleasure and pain.

And, what’s even funnier, is that we will be made happy/sad by things that we imagine bear a resemblance to this accidental cause of pleasure/pain.

Even if the objects are in fact, completely different.

So long as we perceive them to be similar to a thing which just happened to be there when we were once happy/sad… we will feel happy/sad.


We’re sitting somewhere.
There are two objects: A and B.
A hurt us once.
B does nothing except… exist.
We see A again.
We feel sad.
We see something that looks like A to us.
We feel sad.

That is the Imagination at work, folks.

For example:
We ate too much ice cream; an excess of glucose made us feel sick, and we threw up.
And chemicals corresponding to the taste of strawberry were present there as well.
And these chemicals had no effect on our disturbed stomach.
But from now on, we see little pictures of strawberries on someone’s blouse and feel sick in our tummies. ……….even though these bits of fabric don’t have the taste of strawberry……… let alone any sugar.

This explains why so many things make us happy, even if they don’t directly help our body or our mind.

Or sad, even though they don’t hurt us in any direct way.

We just happen to perceive them to be vaguely similar to something that happened to be around when something really did help/hurt us, and the brain/mind formed a connection which still exists even after the initial experience is long gone.

And we just go with it. Rather than try to recover a balanced, composed frame of mind, calmly observe the object, and notice it’s not doing anything to hurt us.

A neat elaboration on this point:

When you think of something that you liked in the past,
you will want to possess it in the same circumstances as when you first liked it.

Spinoza calls this Longing.

It explains nostalgia.

It explains why we’re no longer as pleased with an object we bought as we were when we first bought it.

It also explains religious ritual.

Someone experienced the idea of God in these particular circumstances — incense, stained-glass windows, someone babbling in Latin. And they keep going to Mass the rest of their lives.

Vacillation of mind


So what happens when we love a thing… and at the same time hate it?

This is called Vacillation of Mind.

We experience this a lot.

Classic example:

Here is a very pretty person.
Looking at them makes me feel yay-yay!
I want to touch them.
But I can’t… among other reasons, because they’re standing on the platform on the opposite side of the train tracks.
So I feel boo-hoo.

Vacillation of mind, folks.

And now, every time I remember them subsequently… I feel yay-yay at their image… and boo-hoo at the idea of their (ever-growing) distance in time and space. (I’ve written a whole mega-essay about a guy who has made a whole career out of mining this particular effect, by the way.)

That’s a relatively pleasant kind of vacillation of mind. There are worse ones.

I want to get a driver’s license to drive around a car. I picture myself driving, and feel good.
I have to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and do a lot of paperwork and take a test and……. I picture myself doing that, and feel bad.

Vacillation of mind.

Not being 100% clear on how we feel about something, or what course to take next.

Falling from clarity into this state is not good.
Our desires become muddled; our pleasure becomes tinged with pain.

Which brings us to…

The affects and time

We feel the same pleasure or pain about the image of a thing,
regardless of whether that thing is in the past, present, or future.

Just to remind you: the image of a thing is, basically, your ordinary experience of the thing.
Anything visual, auditory — sensory in any way — is an image.

So, that pretty person currently standing on the other side of the tracks is an image.
And their memory is also an image.

And he’s saying that you feel the same way about an image in your mind, regardless of whether the object it’s referring to exists in the past, present, or future (or even if they don’t really exist at all).

He walks this one back a little bit in Part IV.
The difference is: it is relatively easy to find something which negates the image of a past/future thing.
All you have to do is tune back in to your sense organs.
Open your eyes.
Feel your physical sensations.
All of these will give rise to images which negate the past or present thing.

Whereas to negate the image of a present thing is… trickier.
If a wolverine chewed your legs off a year ago, remembering the scene makes you feel bad, even though it’s not actually happening now. But you can open your eyes and the scene will start to fade and be replaced with something else.
Whereas, if a wolverine is chewing your legs off in the present… good luck getting some other scene to play in your head.

And, of course, memories can change with time…… because memories are affections of our body — traces in our brain — and our body is a process of change in time and space.
So the memory of a thing a minute after it happened is a different thing than the memory of a thing ten years later — different exactly to the degree which our brain has changed in that time.

But the basic point should be pretty clear.

When we imagine some happy memory, we feel just as good as we would if it were currently happening.
And if we imagine some horrible failure in our group presentation we have to do tomorrow, we feel just as bad as if it were actually happening.

So now we get to do some more elaborations on joy and sadness.

  • Spes
    That’s inconstant joy (laetitia) which arises from something… whose outcome we are in doubt about.
  • Securitas
    That’s the same thing… when we remove the doubt.
    It’s happiness, arising from the image of an event, whose outcome we’re sure of.

And it’s the same for pain.

  • Metus

    That’s inconstant pain (tristitia) which arises from something… whose outcome we are in doubt about.
  • Desperatio
    Remove the doubt. Obtain despair.

If you want examples of what those are like… I refer you to most of my life so far.

And then you actually get to the outcome of the thing we were thinking about. Which leads to:

  • Gaudium
    When you are happy at the outcome of a thing you doubted (felt hope/fear about).
  • Conscientae morsus

    When you are unhappy at the outcome of a thing you doubted.


So, take Accidental Pleasure/Pain, and add that to Fear.

We get Proposition 50:

Any thing can be the accidental cause of hope or fear.

This is the origin of Superstition, to which men are everywhere prey.

I do not think it worthwhile to demonstrate here the vacillations of mind that arise from hope and fear, since it follows merely from the definition of these emotions that there is no hope without fear and no fear without hope (as I shall explain at greater length in due course). Furthermore, insofar as we hope or fear something, to that extent we love or hate it, and so everyone can easily apply to hope and fear what we have said concerning love and hatred.


…can you hear that?

…..just there?

That “…tac… tac… tac-tac-tac….”

…..that’s the sound of all the pieces snapping into place.

Imitation of the affects

This is a big one.

You imagine something like you.
(Usually, another person. But also, a well-drawn, 2D cartoon character works just as well.)

You neither love it nor hate it.

You imagine it being affected in some way.
In other words: you perceive it feeling something.

Thus, you also feel the same thing.


Simply because you imagine it to be like you.

The basic logic is extremely pure: insofar as we are similar to something… well… we are similar to it.
So, precisely insofar as we identify as similar to something, things that affect it will affect us similarly.

But you can extend the explanation a little further if you like.

Our conception of ourselves is an affection of the body (a network in our brain). It’s a miniature representation of ourselves inside our own mind.
Our image of something else that is similar will necessarily use much of the same neural architecture.

So, like… if you close your eyes and imagine a blue square… and then imagine a red square of the same shape… that will be almost exactly the same network of neurons, with a small tweak.

It’s the same with us and other people.

The network we use to represent ourselves is the same network we will use to represent things similar to ourselves.

The more similar they are, in our minds, the more the network will overlap.

So, you and I are two distinct, singular bodies in Extension.
And my body has affected itself (twisted its brain around) to make ideas of both of us.
And even though your body and my body may be very distinct and far apart on Earth, because our brains (like any other natural process — viz. a river flowing downhill) will take the path of least resistance… it will put two things it has classified as similar very close to each other.

And we are driven to imagine ourselves being affected with joy… and act in the world to fulfill our desires.
…….and so, we have a drive to imagine, and act in the world, in such a way that things we perceive to be similar to us are affected with joy, and we fulfill their desires.
Because, even though they’re different “in the world”, they are virtually the same thing in our body.

IN OTHER WORDS… we will feel the emotions of people around us.

So long as our body/mind perceives the way they’re feeling, on some level (even if we’re not consciously aware of it), insofar as we perceive them as similar to us (even if we’re not consciously aware of it), we’ll start feeling the same (even if we’re not consciously aware of it).

Because we’re usually not consciously aware of it, we talk about “vibes” or “the energy coming off that person”.

Here’s the major implication of this tendency.

  • Proposition 27
    If we imagine something to be like us…
    and we don’t feel any particular way towards it…
    and we imagine it feeling some way…
    we will also feel that way.
  • Proposition 28
    Our conatus — our most basic drive — is to further the occurrence of whatever we imagine will lead to joy, and avert or destroy what we imagine will lead to sadness.
  • OK. Therefore… if you do the math… you see that that adds up to…
  • Proposition 29
    We are driven to do whatever we imagine people like, and avoid whatever we imagine they dislike.

You see what he’s saying here.
If we perceive (imagine) someone feeling good about something, we also feel good about that something…
and we want to feel good…
so we therefore want to do things that we imagine will make people feel good.
Because imagining them feeling good is a feeling-good-occurring-in-our-mind.
Which, because we do not hate them, does not lead to self-denial……. which means it just remains a feeling-good.
So, therefore, we will have a drive to act in such a way that we can imagine other people feeling good.

To imagine someone feeling bad is to feel bad.
So therefore we will be driven to avoid things that we imagine make people feel bad.
(….not “avoid things that actually make people feel bad. We’re not omniscient. We act on what we imagine would make them feel this or that.” Hence the importance of Reason, and it building an accurate picture of the world for our Imagination to base itself off.)

………now just take a look at the name Spinoza gives to this phenomenon.

“The desire to do something solely to please other people” is called Ambition (ambitio).
Specifically — when we are so eager to please people that we cause ourselves or someone else harm.
…………in other cases than that…. it’s called Kindness, or Humaneness (humanitas).

……….do you recognize the brilliance of this???

We see, therefore, that for the most part, human nature is so constituted that men pity the unfortunate and envy the fortunate, and with greater hate the more they love the thing they imagine the other to possess. We see, then, that from the same property of human nature from which it follows that men are compassionate, it also follows that the same men are envious and ambititous.


As with everything else in his philosophy… Spinoza takes two things which seem totally opposed, like two ends of a wheel… and finds the pivot-point where they are the same.

Let’s climb up to the top of the slide again and slip back down, real quick.

  • Because of the fundamental nature of existence… things are driven to persist in existence.
  • Because of the fundamental nature of the mind… contemplating our persistence in existence on our current course is experienced as pleasure, and contemplating our forward momentum being impeded is experienced as pain.
    This is the fundamental characteristic of our lives.
  • A further characteristic of the human mind is the imitation of the affects… whereby we feel what others feel.
  • If we like or feel neutral towards someone, that means we will feel pleasure at their pleasure.
  • If we act on this in a way that is beneficial for everyone, then that’s Kindness.
  • If we act on this in a way that harms us or others, it’s Ambition.

These two things come from the same root. They are two branches of the same tree.

……another thing.

So, I personally had always had this thick dividing line between the desire for fame and adulation, on the one hand, and “people-pleasing” — or not wanting to cause anyone around me the slightest discomfort — on the other.
Obviously, they have different emotional tones.
But I found it liberating to realize how, on some formal level… they’re kinda the same.
They both involve taking the same funny detour to happiness.
Rather than just doing what I feel is valuable and will feel good, I do something that doesn’t feel good (and may even be harmful all-round), so I can personally feel good by perceiving other people feeling good.
It became a lot easier to start dismissing people-pleasing tendencies when I made that connection.

Anyway, this brings me to the main elaboration on this basic effect.

So, we will tend to do things that allow us to imagine (whether in fantasy or ‘reality’) other people feeling good.
Simulating other people feeling good in my mind, so long as I don’t reject them through hatred, involves me feeling good.
Because its an event occurring in my mind. I’m not a telepathic psychic. Every time I’ve ever experienced something that I naively interpreted as “someone else feeling good”, that’s an event in my brain, and the pleasure I’m attributing to them is something I’m feeling myself — a reflection of whatever is happening in their mind.

OK. So then we take that “someone else feeling good”… and attach myself as a cause.

I’M the thing that made them feel good.

Now I feel doubly… no, triply good.
The mental event of their pleasure is, when viewed carefully, clearly my pleasure, in my mind.
To that is added the contemplation of my own power of acting. Which is exactly what the mind is after.
This leads to a feedback loop of positive affirmation.

That’s Honour, or Glory (gloria).

And the image of someone else feeling bad… attached to the idea of myself as a cause…
That’s Shame (pudor).

When someone acts in such a way as to express that we’re the cause of their joy, that’s Praise (laus).

The opposite is Blame (vituperium).

Because of everything we’ve said up until now, these emotions are extremely powerful. Honour and Shame, Praise and Blame all but run our lives.

I feel good about something.
I feel what you feel.
You feel good about that thing.
So I feel doubly good about that thing.

I feel good about something… which I did.
This is doubly good. I love myself… my mind is thereby permitted to function perfectly.
I feel what you feel.
You also feel good about that thing… which is me.

I feel bad about something I did…
I imagine you also disliking it….
My mind splits itself in two in order to deny itself from both sides!

And so:

Ambition is the desire whereby all affects (emotions) are encouraged and strengthened.

Thus, this affect can scarcely be overcome.

For as long as a man is subject to any desire, he is necessarily subject to this one.

“The best men”, said Cicero, “are particularly led by the hope of renown. Even philosophers, in the books that they write in condemnation of fame, add their names thereto”, and so on.



OK. So what are the complications of ambition?

Because it can hapen that the joy with which someone imagines that he affects others is only imaginary, and everyone strives to imagine concerning himself whatever he imagines affects himself with joy, it can easily happen that one who exults at being esteemed is proud and imagines himself to be pleasing to all, when he is burdensome to all.



Remember: we act on the basis of our perceptions. To get our perceptions to tally with the world-as-it-is requires a significant act of self-overcoming, as detailed in the next section. The mind, in its attempt to affirm itself, will find much easier ways to do that than the truth. It is only by strengthening that “higher” bit of it that cares about the truth (primarily out of a love of God, or Reality-as-it-actually-is) that we can actually start to do this reliably.

But much of the time, for most people… that won’t be the case.

And so you’ll often find people perceiving themselves as being helpful to others,
when in fact they are causing them pain.

…I’ll let you conjure up your own examples for this.

That… shouldn’t be too hard.

Just….look at the news or something.

Complication #2:

From this it follows that each of strives [conatus], as far as he can, that everyone should love what he loves, and hate what he hates. (…)

This striving to bring it about that everyone should approve his love and hate is really ambition.

And so we see that each of us, by his nature, wants the others to live according to his temperament; when all alike want this, they are alike an obstacle to one another, and when all wish to be praised, or loved, by all, they hate one another.


We want people we feel neutral towards to feel pleasure.

However, we have pre-existing likes and dislikes.

And if other people don’t share those exact likes and dislikes… then this Imitation of the Affects becomes a huge impediment to us.

  • I like something.
  • I perceive you disliking it.
  • I now have both like and dislike circulating in my mind about the same thing.
    Very unpleasant vacillation of mind!!!

How to resolve this problem?

Our mind’s automatic tendency:

  • If only everyone liked what I liked and disliked what I disliked!
  • Then I would never have to feel weird ever again!

…aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand there we go.

We have now arrived at the central problem of human affairs.

Envy and Ambition.

Feeling pleasure at another’s pain and pain at their pleasure.
And acting solely to please other people, regardless of whether it’s actually good for anyone.

Which, when broken down in this way… are almost endearing.

Right. Time to end this section with the following fun passage.

Finally, if we wish to consult experience, we shall find that it teaches all these things, especially if we attend to the first years of our lives. For we find from experience that children, because their bodies are continually, as it were, in a state of equilibrium, laugh or cry simply because they see others laugh or cry. Moreover, whatever they see others do, they immediately desire to imitate it. And finally, they desire for themselves all those things by which they imagine others are pleased — because, as we have said, the images of things are the very affections of the human body, or modes by which the human body is affected by external causes, and disposed to do this or that.



It’s getting late.
Let’s zoom through the rest of Book III.

When we love a thing like ourselves, we strive, as far as we can, to bring it about that it loves us in return.


(Because… ugh. Just… because. I’m not gonna run through the whole rigmarole again.)


This one is lots of fun.

So, we love someone.
But we perceive them being united with someone else in a closer way than we are united to them.
(That is, these two distinct bodies are acting together, as one body, for their mutual furtherance of joy — the way our limbs all act together.)
Well, in that case… we now hate the thing we love (vacillation of mind), and envy the other (feel pain at its pleasure and pleasure at its pain).
That combination is called Jealousy (zelotypia) — “vacillation of mind arising from simultaneous love and hatred accompanied by the idea of a rival who is envied”.

In its male heterosexual context, Spinoza’s commentary comes out like this:

The latter reason is found, for the most part, in love toward a woman. For he who imagines that a woman he loves prostitutes herself to another will not only be saddened, because his own appetite is restrained, but also will be repelled by her, because he is forced to join the image of the thing he loves to the shameful parts and excretions of the other. To this, finally, is added the fact that she no longer receives the jealous man with the same countenance as she used to offer him. From this cause, too, the lover is saddened, as I shall show.


Wonder, etc.

So, you perceive an object.
You have often seen it before.
Or you haven’t seen it before, but you perceive it to only have those qualities which you have seen in other things.

You perceive another object.
You have never seen it before.
You can come up with no other images which are similar to it.
The qualities you perceive of it (e.g. the tallness of a mountain, the brightness of the sun), you have not seen in other things.


The first object will not occupy your mind as much as the second object.

And so, it fixates on the second object.

Like a cameraman fixates on Lionel Messi making a brilliant play… or that cute chick in teh stands.

If this fixation is accompanied with joy, it’s called Wonder (admiratio).

If it’s accompanied with pain, it’s called Consternation.

“Consternation” is a really bad state to be in. If you contemplate something bad, and do not have any images in your mind of this disaster being averted… then you will fall into fear, then panic… your mind will be sucked into a Singularity of negative emotion. You will not be able to draw it out to start considering how you might be able to get around it.

If this fixation is about a person and involves joy, it’s called Veneration.
You perceive someone to have qualities which you can conjure up no other images of people possessing.

If it’s about a person and involves pain, Spinoza calls it Horror.

Disgust, Weariness

Nevertheless, this remains to be noted about love: very often it happens that while we are enjoying a thing we wanted, the body aquires from this enjoyment a new constitution, by which it is differently determined, and other images of things are aroused in it; and at the same time the mind begins to imagine other things and desire other things.

For example, when we imagine something which usually pleases us by its taste, we desire to enjoy it — that is, to consume it. But while we thus enjoy it, the stomach is filled, and the body constituted differently. So if (while the body is now differently disposed) the presence of the food or drink encourages the image of it, and consequently also the striving, or desire to consume it, then that new constitution will be opposed to this desire, or striving. Hence the presence of the food or drink we used to want will be hateful.

This is what we call disgust and weariness.


Love/Hate Switcheroo Multiplication Effect

When you love something, and that love passes into hate… you hate it more than you would if you had never loved it.
Also, the more you loved it, the more you’ll hate it.

You know… like with your exes.


…if you hate something, but then start to love it… the same is true. You’ll love it more than if you had felt neutral towards it at first, and will love it more, the more you hated it before.

Like when dudes hate each other, get into a fight, and are then best buds.

Like Robin Hood and Little John.

Subjective nature of judgement

So each one, from his own affect, judges, or evaluates, what is good and what is bad, what is better and what is worse, and finally, what is best and what is worst.

So the greedy man judges an abundance of money best, and poverty worst. The ambitious man desires nothing so much as esteem and dreads nothing so much as shame. To the envious nothing is more agreeable than another’s unhappiness, and nothing more burdensome than another’s happiness. And so, each one, from his own affect, judges a thing good or bad, useful or useless.


OK, now get this.

Remember way back at the beginning of Part II, I said that humans were highly composite bodies, made up of a great number of smaller parts?
Well, that being the case, humans therefore have a great number of ways in which they can be arranged. The more parts you’re made up of, the more possible arrangements of your body.
Therefore, one and the same object can affect us in a very great variety of different ways.
Simply from the notion of a human as a highly composite body, we can immediately derive that there will be a great variation in how external objects affect us.


Proposition 51:
Different people can be affected differently by one and the same object; and one and the same man can be affected differently at different times by one and the same object.

We see, then that it can happen that what the one loves, the other hates, what the one fears, the other does not, and that one and the same man may now love what before he hated, and now dare what before he was too timid for.

Next, because each one judges from his own affect what is good and what is bad, what is better and what worse, it follows that men can vary as much in judgement as in affect. The result is that when we compare one with another, we distinguish them only by a difference of affects, and call some brave, others timid, and others, finally, by another name.

For example, I shall call him brave who disdains an evil I usually fear. Moreover, if I attend to the fact that his desire to do evil to one he hates, and good to one he loves, is not restrained by timidity regarding an evil by which I am usually restrained, I shall call him daring. Someone will seem timid to me if he is afraid of an evil I usually disdain. If, moreover, I attend to the fact that his desire is restrained by timidity regarding an evil which cannot restrain me, I shall call him cowardly. In this way will everyone judge.


And… you know, I’m not gonna explain the reasoning behind this next one. Either you’ve bought it by now or you haven’t.

Repentance is a sadness accompanied by the idea of some deed we believe ourselves to have done from a free decision of mind.

But we ought also to note here that it is no wonder sadness follows absolutely all those acts which from custom are called wrong, and joy, those which are called right. For from what has been said above we easily understand that this depends chiefly on education. Parents — by blaming the former acts, and often scolding their children on account of them, and on the other hand, by recommending and praising the latter acts — have brought it about that these emotions of sadness were joined to the one kind of act, and those of joy to the other.
Experience itself also confirms this. For not everyone has the same custom and religion. On the contrary, what among some is holy, among others is unholy; and what among some is honorable, among others is dishonorable. Hence, according as each one has been educated, so he either repents of a deed or exults at being esteemed for it.



But enough of this embarrassing self-exposure. Let’s end this on a high note.

The things which we have been discussing so far pertain to the mind when it is being more or less passive.

It conceives of an external object,
takes its perception as the object,
feels a certain way about it,
and is then carried away for some time on the basis of that strong emotion.

Given the general connotations of the word, calling them “vices” would probably be too strong. But the basic point is that these forces can hold us hostage, and make us act (or desist from acting) in ways that make us unhappy, and we later regret.

So let’s turn to the ways we can be active. That is, when we do things based on a proper understanding of ourselves and the world.

Extremely usefully… Spinoza boils them down to two main points.

While there may be many things to look out for in terms of what not to do, there are only two things to keep in mind if you want to focus on what to do.

  • Animositas
    Tenacity, or Courage
    The desire whereby every individual endeavours to preserve their own being (when it’s filtered through the proper understanding).
    Under this heading, Spinoza includes self-control, sobreity, resourcefulness in danger, etc.
  • Generositas
    Nobility, or Goodwill
    The desire whereby each individual (strictly through the proper understanding — not out of sentimentality or people-pleasing tendencies) endeavours to assist others and make friends of them.
    This includes courtesy, mercy, and so on.

So, if all the stuff before was too confusing, just stick to this.

Do what’s good for yourself.
And, if possible, do what’s good for others.

What that involves… will be discussed in the next part!


So that’s basically how we work.

With all the explanations I’ve provided, Book III and onwards should be vaguely accessible if you want to read the Ethics yourself. There’s a bunch of stuff there I had to leave out.
If you want that narrowed down, I’d recommend checking out the Appendix (which has a neat list of all the affects, with their attendant explanations) and the Scholium to Proposition 2 (which gives a basic rundown of the whole book, and includes such zingers as…).

Human affairs, of course, would be conducted far more happily if it were equally in man’s power to be silent and to speak. But experience teaches all too plainly that men have nothing less in their power than their tongue, and can do nothing less than moderate their appetites.


Click here to continue to Part 4!

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