ISSN 1211-0442


Martin Hemelik: DE  REPERTORE  ENTIS


( On Spinoza’s conception of being)



  Keywords: Ontological philosophy - Spinoza - being - God - human mind _____________________________________________________________


         We  have here  an interest  in the  Spinoza’s conception of being. There  are at least  two reasons for  the inquiry on  this conception:  In the  first place the problem (or the question) of being  is  representing  the  most  important  element  in  every philosophical system  and secondly Baruch Spinoza  tried to solve the  difficulties   involved  in  this  problem   in  original  a remarkable way.  Although many contemporary  philosophers presume that the conception of being does  not have to be solved, because it is even no problem from  their angle of vision, I suppose that this problem is  not resolved up to this  time and the philosophy must  go  inquire  on  it.  The  Spinoza’s  solution  may be very inspiring.

       Many  interpreters and  commentators of  spinozism remarked that  Spinoza  set  up  the  ontological  basis of his philosophy rather  early when  he studied  and explained  the philosophy  of R.Descartes. The  principles of the Cartesian  philosophy that he expounded  for  his  pupil  were  the  great  source of Spinoza’s thought, but to present Spinoza  primarily as a sort of apostolic succesor of Descartes is misleading.

       Young  Dutch  philosopher  summarized  the  results  of his intellectual   effort  in   the  "Renati   des  Cartes  Principia philosophiae more geometrico demonstrata per Benedicti de Spinoza Amstelodamensem"  (Principles  of  the  Cartesian  philosophy) to which  he  added  the   appendix  called  "Cogitata  Metaphysica" (Metaphysical  Thought). This  appendix indicating  convicely the independence  of  Spinoza’s  thought  contains  philosopher’s own ideas and  conceptions. From this  it follows that  this work and particularly the text  of appendix might be used  as our field of inquire.

       Let’s beginn to inquiry so  that we could try to understand the  sense  and  meaning  of  spinozistic  being.  What  sort  of ontological  philosophy  does  Spinoza   offer  in  the  Cogitata Metaphysica ?      In this work, as he says1), he wanted to elucidate "the dark places" of metaphysical considerations. What "dark places" (circa obscuriora) does  Spinoza mean ?  He beginns with  the concept of being.  From this  it is  clear that  this concept  is dark. Why, however, just  this concept ?  So as to  understand the Spinoza’s reason let’s give an example. We must know the nature of parabola in  order  that   we  could  know  the  nature   of  its  orderly applications. Analogously,  if we were ignorant  of the nature of being as such, it would be impossible to know the nature of being things. In  one’s effort to  understand the nature  of being what means  to understand  first of  all the  sense of  the concept of being we  must return to  its darkness and  unclearness caused by host of various philosophical explications. Unless we shall do it the ontological will keep in the  dark backround and we shall not be able to understand.

       Primarily  Dutch  philosopher  inspired  with  mathematical methods  furnishs   the  definition  of  the   concept  of  being (definitio entis): "Incipiamus igitur ab ente, per quod intelligo id  omne, quod,  quum clare  et distincte  percipitur, necessario existere  vel  ad  minimum  posse  existere  reperimus."2)  I  am conviced  that  the  verb  "reperire"  ("Reperimus"  is the first person of plural in simple  present tense.) is the most important word of  this definition. There  are many meanings  of this latin verb: to find something, to find  something lost, to find out, to search out, to  think of, to descry, to  espy etc. To reconstruct what meaning was in Spinoza’s mind first of all is very difficult and  only  hypothetical.  Nevertheless  let’s  try  consider  the possibilities:  If we  find something  as existing  or potent  to exist, we find it as being. It is possible to say, too: we search out something being just as existing  or potent to exist. Even it could  be said:  we think  of something  as being  as long  as it exists or is potent to exist.

       I  suppose  that  the  meaning  germaned  to  the Spinoza’s definition  is "to  find". Human  mind (reason)  is able  to find something such  a kind of  being. Now, however,  a question turns up:  How are  we able  to do  it ?  On what  and how is based our ability  of such  finding ?   My answer  goes like  this: Finding mentioned by Spinoza  is not only finding of  anything, but it is finding  of something  just as  being. We  are able  to find such point  (or characteristic)  of  something,  because we  are alone being ! Our active and finding  mind is being. Moreover from this it follows that  the process of finding is  actually meeting. The mind  as  thinking  thing,  which   is  being,  meets  with  some non-thinking thing, which is being  too. Thus being hidden in the mind (or presented in the  mind) meets with something what exists or  is  potent  to  exist  out  of  mind.  Therefore  true being, i.e.being  as being,  is found  or thought  or researched just in this meeting.

       How do we  understand it ? It could seem  the human mind is held  by Spinoza  as the  creator of  being. This  may be  simple enough, but it is misleading.  In the spinozistic sense is better to say: "The creators" or  "the inventors" or "the producents" of being  are two:  the God  as absolute  Being (ens  absolutum) and human mind  (mens) or reason (intellectus).  Though Spinoza wrote probably never this  sentence, I am conviced that  it consists in the  fundamentals of  his ontological  ethics. I  will attempt to give the  reasons for this interpretation  of Spinoza’s definiton of being.

        The primary task in the  discussion before us is to examine the Spinoza’s  treatment of the  nature of our  finding something just as being. This finding  occurs within the framework of clear and  distinct knowledge.  The clear  and distinct  knowledge, for Spinoza, must be  considered as the effect of  reason and also as a top act of  human active mind. Our mind,  however, products and contains many acts. If we are thinking, our mind is full and many various  ideas present  in it.  These ideas  are imaginary being, then they  are beings of thought.  Does it follow from  this that all acts  of our mind  have the nature  of solely mental  being ? Supposing  yes so  they would  be only  something thought  and we could find something as being  only as something thought. All our ideas,  deductions, considerations  etc. would  be closed  in the area  of our  mind. Philosophical   said they  would be  only and solely immanent being  of mind. Is it like this  ? May be all our knowledge and finding  of being only our invention  or products ? Is it  really like this  ? These are  very difficult and  rending questions whose urgency Spinoza  appreciated good. Let’s turn our attention to his answers.

        In  the second  paragraph of  Metaphysical Thought  Spinoza affirms and  demonstrates3) that certain contains  of our mind as chimeras,  fictitious being  and being  of thought  (chimera, ens fictum  et   ens  rationis)  are  not   being  according  to  its definition.  Chimeras  cannot  be  at  all,  because their nature embraces a contradiction. Fictitious beings cannot be known clear and distinct so they cannot be  found as being. Beings of thought or mental beings outside the mind are pure nothing. They are real entities only as the modes  of thinking (modi cogitandi). Spinoza clear  says  that  mental  beings  "inservit  ad  res intellectas facilius  retinendas,  explicandas  atque  imaginandas".4)  These modes of thinking have no real  object (ideatum). From this it is clear   that   their   being   is   constituted   by   the  modal differenciation of thinking thing (res cogitans). Therefore there is no possibility to cross the limits of our mind with assistance of these mental beings.

       If  we  had  only  such  mental  beings  in  our  mind, our situation would be very odd. We could say nothing valid about the external world.  We would be closed  in our mental world  and our knowledge would have to do only with our mind and its content.

        Nevertheless it is not like this  ! Taking it all in all we say anyhow  about the external  world. Even we  have the adequate ideas and the  adequate ideas are true ideas. But  what is a true idea ? It  is capable of being understood  through itself.5) Then we   know  truth.   This  certainly   does  not   depend  on  the establishment  of  relations  between  ideas  and  things and the determination of  the precise nature of  such relations, the test of validity of  an idea is not in the  correspondence of the idea and the  thing.6) However where from  do we know truth  ? Does it come out of externality ? It seems no ! Spinoza in according with Descartes  presumes  that  "nam  ens  quatenus  ens  est  per  se solum ...  nos non affficit."7)  Thus how and  where from can  we know  truth  ?  There  is  at  least  one  way how to answer this question.  We must  realize that  truth, as  Spinoza says, "makes itself manifest".8) So  we must truth descry or  discern, i.e. to realize  it. Such  realizing is  necessary for  our mind  because descrying of truth  is a promise for our  finding of something as actual or  real being. Although  mental beings are  only modes of thinking, i.e. they  are not actual or real  being, even they are not-being, to have true knowledge  is to possess true or adequate ideas. From this reason Spinoza  repudiates the division of being into real entities  and mental entities as a  bad division. Being is  not common  kind of  real and  mental entities. Real entities distinguish from mental entities as being from not-being.

        It  is necessary  to return   to our  ability of  clear and distinct  knowledge  again,  because  this  ability connects very tightly with our possession of true  ideas or with our ability of having truth.  We are able not  only to know clear  and distinct, but  we  also  know  about  it.  In  his  Ethics  Spinoza  writes unambiguous: "For, indeed, the idea of  the mind, that is to say, the idea of the  idea, is nothing but the form of  the idea in so far  as this  is considered  as  a  mode of  thought and  without relation to the  object, just as a person  who knows anything, by that very fact knows that he  knows, and knows that he knows that he knows and so ad infinitum."9)  Our mind is able to reflect its acts and  this ability belongs  to the nature  of our mind.  Upon this   depends  the   real  possibility   of  self-knowledge  and self-understanding.  What means  it ?  I suppose  that it is very important fact. Human mind is real being which is not only set of its  modes,  but  it  is  being  in  full-value  sense. Therefore understanding to motion and structure of mind means to understand to "structure of being", i.e. to realize truth.

       Yet to achieve it is  very difficult for everyone. Often we grope  around and  misbelieve. By  thinking about  the things  of external world we  do not distinguish between the  true ideas and other mental beings. In spite of  the fact that we have no reason for  it, we  conceive many  fictitious ideas  as ideas  of things outside  the mind.  Their real  nature, i.e.  only mental  being, keeps hidden for us. Therefore, unless the philosophers, thinkers and other  understood this real nature,  so many philosophical or metaphysical conceptions were mistaken  and their authors worried with many  "dark places" (circa  obscuriora). For the  advance in metaphysical  philosophy these  problems must  be enlighted. From this reason Spinoza  pays attention to this problem  in the first part of Metaphysical Thought. What are the results of his effort?

       The reason, for  Spinoza, is a producer or  maker (in latin language  "repertor"   -  see  the  verb   "reperire")  of  being receptived   as  an   extramental  existence.   Though  they  are receptived  as real  beings, a  lot of  them have  the nature  of mental  beings (may  be said  "quasi-beings") whose  maker is our own mind. Accordingly with the definition real being is only what exists necessary or at least is able to exist. At once real being demonstrate  the action  and structure  of Being  in the  supreme sense  -  i.e.  the  God.  Our  mind  as  the source of clear and distinct knowledge (clare et distincte  cognoscere) is being in a very real  sense. It must, therefore,  demonstrate the action and the structure  of the God,  which is the  "creator" or "producer" ("maker")  of all  forms of  being included  the human  mind. The actual essence (or  nature) of God is the  absolute matter of all what is real and immediately of all what is a mode of real being. Briefly said: Our  reason finds being as being  and so it touches "to be" of being. From this it follows that our reason meets with it  in what  is being  as being.  In this  meeting our  reason is knowing in what  being is constituted. Both forms  of being (mind and something) collaborate  in this way and the  results of their collaboration are the  knowledges of being. So being  is found as being which is known clear and distinct in the human sense.

       The  hidden  truth  of  being  gets  understandable for us. Spinoza demonstrates  this in his conception  of real division of being  in  second  part  of  Metaphysical  Thought.10)  The  true division  of being  is into  being which  necessarily exists,  or whose  essence necessarily  involves existence,  and being  whose essence does  not involve existence except  in possibility. Dutch philosopher used the older  philosophical concepts of essence and existence  for more  exact expression.  The first  kind of  being stated by  Spinoza as the  substance is such  being whose essence involves  existence. The  second kind  of being  named by Spinoza modus  is such  being whose  essence does  not involve existence. Consequently thought  the difference between the  essence and the existence is possible and understandable  only by so called modal being, i.e.  by modus. In  the case of  substance this difference has no meaning.

        Let’s  ask again:  What sense  has Spinoza’s  conception of being ? This problem I attempted to catch by thesis about the God and the human  mind as the "creators of  being". Also I attempted to give the reasons of this statement, from which it follows that for Spinoza being is the substance  or the modus. What beings are the God and the human minds ?  In the case of an individual human mind there  is no problem, because  it is able to  exist, but its existence  is not  necessary. A  human mind,  therefore, is  only modal being, i.e. modus. It seems doubtless. However it is not so simple.  There are  a host  of difficulties  in understanding  of human  mind. We  must mention  at least  one. It  was pointed out above  that something  is hidden  in the  human mind,  upon which depends our ability of clear  and distinct knowledge and also our ability  of  knowing  and  understanding  ourself.  (It  is  very important  that human  power of  transcendence is  based on these abilities !) Our  mind is able to understand itself  and so it is able  to understand  the substance,   of which  is modal  form of being, i.e. the  God. By virtue of these  abilities our mind has, as Spinoza says11), the own eternal part.

       In the case of absolute being,  i.e. Being as God, it could seem that the problem is simple enough. The God is identical with the substance. Some of Spinoza’s propositions, demonstrations and notes in  his Ethics verifies this  supposition.12) In my opinion but  it is  misleading. I  consider that  the spinozistic  God is identical and also not-identical with the substance. In the first case  the  God  a  the  substance  are  beings  whose the essence involves the  existence. Therefore they exist  from the necessity of  their  own  nature  alone.  The  God,  however,  is  not only necessary being, but also He is the fullness of being. He must be more  than  substance  because  He  is  the supreme reality. This conclusion may  be demonstrated by lot  of Spinoza’s propositions from  his works  and correspondence.13)  Here I  restrict only on brief  notes from  Metaphysical Thought.  The first  paragraph of second part contains following statements14): "1. Deumn eminenter continere id quod formaliter in rebus creatis reperitur,  hoc est,  Deum talia  attributa habere,  quibus omnia creata eminentiori modo contineantur. 2.  Deum se  ipsum atque  omnia alia  intelligere, hoc est, omnia obiective etiam in se habere. 3.  Deum esse  omnium rerum  causam eumque  ex absoluta libertate voluntatis operari." (Marginal  note:  The  third  point  has somewhat non-spinozistic character. In this case, however, our attention must be turned to Spinoza’s  main  work  Ethics.   In  the  first  book15)  Spinoza demonstrates that  will of God  is identical with  His reason and both  are  not  by  any  means  similar  with  the human will and reason.)

       The first and second points  are very important. Here it is avouched: The  God is the cause  of all what can  either be or be conceived. Does it  mean that the God as  the absolutely infinite Being is one and the same as the substance ? I do not assume that it is so, because I think that the  God is not the same as all of beings. Why ? In my  opinion following proposition is valid: "The God is all, but all is not the God."16) I will try to explain.

       The God is all in the same sense as the substance, which is the  substance of  all its  modes.  Thus  the God  is all  being, because  beings,  for  Spinoza,  are  either  substance or modus. Nevertheless from this  it does not follow that  all being is the God.  By  Spinoza  the  God  is  defined  as  a  being absolutely infinite,  i.e. being  in the  supreme sense  or by  another name being as the  fullness of "to be". He is  the absolute Being (ens absolutum). And  such Being is  inexhaustible and in  the extreme perfect. He is  out of time and space, He  has no form, no shape, no substance.  I the Spinoza’s  philosophy the God  acts from the laws of His own nature only,  i.e. from His absolute power of "to be and to act". His essence or His nature is the absolute ability to exist  and to act. God’s  "to be able to  be" (posse existere) and "to be able to act"  (posse agere) beats everything of being. The God is so in excess of the substance and its modes.

       If we  conceive and understand  this God’s nature,  we know truth. In knowing truth we can  understand the sense. This is the way   of  wise   man  (homo   sapiens)17).  Spinoza   calls  this understanding  "intelectual love  to God"  in the  fifth book  of Ethics. It  is love which  consists in "the  intuitive knowledge" (scientia  intuitiva)18) as  the source  of true  life of man, to which  is  aimed  whole  Spinoza’s  philosophy  and then also his conception of being.



  1)   Benedicti   de   Spinoza   Opera   quae   supersunt   omnia, ed.C.H.Bruder, vol.I, Lipsiae 1843, p.99

  2) ibid.

  3) ibid., p.100

  4) ibid.  

5) See A.Balz: Idea and Essence in the Philosophies of Hobbes and Spinoza,  Columbia  University  Press  New  York  1918,  p.40 and following.

  6) See  The Ethics of  Spinoza, transl.W.H.Write, Great  Books of the Western World, vol.31, University of Chicago 1952, p.373.

  7) See R.Descartes: Principia philosophiae, I, ő 52.

  8) A.Balz: cited work, p.41

  9) The Ethics of Spinoza, cited edition, p.383

  10)   Benedicti   de   Spinoza   Opera   quae   supersunt  omnia, ed.C.H.Bruder, vol.I, p.104 and following.

  11) The Ethics of Spinoza, cited edition, p.458

  12) See  for example propositions 11,  14 and other in  the first book of Ethics.

  13) See  M.Hemelik: De Deo (The  problem of God in  the Spinoza’s philosophy), Palackě’s University of Olomouc 1995

  14) Ben.de Spinoza Opera ... , ed.C.H.Bruder, vol.I, p.104

  15) The Ethics of Spinoza, cit.ed., p.367

  16) This sentence originates in the jewish cabbalistic tradition.

  17) The Ethics of Spinoza, cit.ed., p.463  18) ibid., p.388


    Hrusice 17.9.1998 (c) Martin Hemelik