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This essay explores the metaphysical foundations of Spinoza's psychology. A particular focus is Spinoza's conatus principle according to which each thing strives not only to persevere in existence but also to increase its power of acting. This striving is, for Spinoza, the actual essence of each thing, and it forms the basis of the three fundamental affects desire, joy, and sadness--which are central to Spinoza's accounts of weakness of the will, self-deception, the imitation of the affects, egoism, altruism, and teleology. Throughout, the essay emphasizes the ways in which Spinoza's psychology manifests his naturalism, his view that everything –including human beings and their various affects or emotions – is governed by the same laws that are found throughout nature.
This chapter argues that the reconciliation of Spinoza's egoism with the case of the rebel requires both a reconceptualization of the way in which the Principle of Sufficient Reason (the PSR) shapes Spinoza's account of normativity. For Spinoza, it is right and good for each of us to preserve herself, and indeed each of us has the right to seek her own advantage and to seek to control and even kill others if doing so would aid in her preservation. One can see how Spinoza's criticisms of the rebel and of the liar are not out of keeping with Spinoza's general egoism, but rather are dictated by that egoism, by the concern to meet the standards set by one's own nature. From God's point of view, the action in question is not fundamentally an action of the rebel, but rather an action of God.
Consider two different dimensions along which a rationalist account of the emotions might develop.
According to the first dimension, emotions are themselves expressions of reason; they are, or at least can be, a rational, reasoned response to a state of affairs. I will (vaguely) describe this (vague) rationalist view as the view that emotions are inherently rational.
According to the second dimension of a rationalist account of the emotions, emotions – though they may be in some measure rational, even inherently rational – are somehow inferior to the unfettered operation of reason. Perhaps, on this view, emotions cloud our judgment and lead us to misapprehend the truth and to act in ways that are – in one way or another – contrary to reason. I will (vaguely) describe this (vague) rationalist view as the view that emotions are inferior to reason.
These two rationalist dimensions are, of course, not exhaustive: there are, perhaps, many other ways to articulate a rationalist approach to the emotions. Further, these two dimensions are compatible: one can hold that the emotions are inherently rational, but not perfectly so and that other, more purely rational, responses to a given situation are somehow superior. Finally, these views are independent in that one can hold one view without holding the other.
I won't attempt to pin either of these rationalist views (or their denials) on particular philosophers, other than Spinoza. That can only get me into trouble.
Spinoza is a metaphysician. I emphasize this fact here (and in my title) because one can discover what is most exciting and important about Spinoza's psychology only by seeing it as emerging from his metaphysics. Spinoza is a systematic philosopher and nowhere is his system more ambitious and under more strain than in his attempt to derive an account of human motivation, affects, and other mental states from his general metaphysics.
This project of deriving psychology from metaphysics stems from Spinoza’s guiding belief in naturalism about human beings - a belief he famously expresses as the view that man in nature is not a kingdom within a kingdom (E 3pr). For Spinoza, the principles at work throughout nature in general also govern human psychology. The clearest statement of his view occurs in the Preface to Part 3 of the Ethics:
[N]ature is always the same, and its virtue and power of acting are everywhere the same, i.e., the laws and rules of nature, according to which all things happen, and change from one form to another, are always and everywhere the same. So the way of understanding the nature of anything, of whatever kind, must also be the same, viz. through the universal laws and rules of nature. The affects, therefore, of hate, anger, envy, etc., considered in themselves, follow from the same necessity and force of nature as the other singular things.
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