Some Antics

If the mind is to manipulate ideas, they have to be. How these ideas arise, whether a particular idea is innate (i.e., native to the mind) or not, is of considerable interest. It is a basic question concerning the nature of human understanding. Spinoza's criterion of Truth is that which reason demands, Truth being noncontradictory to itself. Humans understand something insofar as they use reason. This assumes, unfortunately, that the thinker's thoughts are true. Reason based on incorrect assumptions yields incorrect conclusions. If follows that one should start with a sound premise, but how is this premise found?

Whatever we clearly and distinctly know to belong to the nature
of a thing, we can also truly affirm of that thing. Now we can
know clearly and distinctly that existence belongs to the nature
of God; Therefore...

Where did this idea come from? Spinoza's god exists at least by definition. God, by definition, is the ultimate cause of everything. All things are connected to the deity, all things are part of the deity and depend on it for existence. Indeed, there is nothing outside of God; God is everything, everything being a "mode" of God. There is thus only one substance. It reasonably follows that the collection of individual and seemingly inharmonious cabbages and kings is an illusion. Spinoza attributes the illusion to desire. If sense perceptions of the external world result from passions, whence comes truth? Spinoza argues for innate ideas. Or rather, he argues for an innate idea, God. God, it is remembered, is the idea set forth of the perfect, the perfect existing necessarily since this attribute is ascribed to its essence. This line of argument is faulty. Locke comments:

The question being about a matter of fact, it is begging it to bring,
an hypothesis, which is the very thing in dispute...

It is the existing-by-definition, almighty, essential (sic) God which Spinoza postulates first; contemplating this god, he decides sense perception is misleading and that to have true understanding one must understand God.

How does Spinoza arrive at this god in the first place? Locke suggests ideas "come from Sensation or Reflection". Sensation as a source of ideas is what is received by the senses; reflection is the "notice which the mind takes of its own operations". Certainly Spinoza never confesses to base his idea of the essence of God on sensation. Insofar as reflection is "the perception of the operations of our own mind...as it is employed about the ideas it has got [already]", it thus derives in part from a framework of sensation. If Spinoza were to claim his ideas developed from reflection, he would have to admit they partly stem from the buffets of desire. What else could his idea of god be? Is it really innate? Nothing proves it so. Universal consent, the alleged characteristic of innate ideas, is absent, and its presence would be insufficient proof anyway. Discovery of an idea by reason also fails to prove it innate for to assert otherwise is to imply humans know and do not know the idea simultaneously. Immediate assent to an idea suggests it is self-evident, not that it is native to the mind.

Spinoza has to get his ideas somewhere even if somewhere proves to be built into his mind. Locke proposes that ideas come from experience. Sensation provides particular ideas to an otherwise blank mind, which by degrees becomes familiarized with them. In processing these ideas the mind abstracts them, stores them, learns their given names, etc. Spinoza disavows the senses, but they must be the source of his thoughts if none are innate.

Some problems in Spinoza's work derive from diction. His use of words like "love" suggests he did not assign them fixed meanings, that his proof is greatly semantical. In Ethics, the corollaries to propositions XVII and XXXVI assert God does not love and loves man respectively. He qualifies love, saying God does not "strictly" love or hate, in proposition XVII for instance, but this compounds the problem. Without extensive explanation qualifiers blur the concept. It is less clear what he means by "love", and the fuzzy phrases beget confusion (Locke,Essay). If the discussion concerning "modes" of God is to have meaning, a "mode" needs to be something definite. Yet, distinct "modes" of God that strive to affirm/preserve themselves and also unite with God either do not know what they are or are trying to keep their cake and eat it too.

Spinoza's view of understanding assumes it to be an innate phenomena. His attitude toward emotions is curious, since these are probably more genuinely a condition of a mode's existence than anything else. After all, modes that "unite" with God lose everything that makes them distinct and temporal- what makes them modes instead of simply essence is stripped away. Shall humans affirm themselves via obliteration? Things excellent may be difficult and hence rare, but does it follow that these thing are (by definition) good?