Sources of Spinoza's Metaphysics


Biblical Creation

1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

1:2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

1:3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

1:4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

1:5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

1:6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

1:7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

1:8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

1:9 And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.

1:10 And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

1:11 And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.

1:12 And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

1:13 And the evening and the morning were the third day.

1:14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

1:15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.

1:16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

1:17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,

1:18 And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.

1:19 And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

1:20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.

1:21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

1:22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.

1:23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

1:24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.

1:25 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

1:28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

1:29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.

1:30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

1:31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

Aristotle on Substance

There are many senses in which a thing may be said to ‘be’, but all that ‘is’ is related to one central point, one definite kind of thing, and is not said to ‘be’ by a mere ambiguity. Everything which is healthy is related to health, one thing in the sense that it preserves health, another in the sense that it produces it, another in the sense that it is a symptom of health, another because it is capable of it. And that which is medical is relative to the medical art, one thing being called medical because it possesses it, another because it is naturally adapted to it, another because it is a function of the medical art. And we shall find other words used similarly to these. So, too, there are many senses in which a thing is said to be, but all refer to one starting-point; some things are said to be because they are substances, others because they are affections of substance, others because they are a process towards substance, or destructions or privations or qualities of substance, or productive or generative of substance, or of things which are relative to substance, or negations of one of these things of substance itself. It is for this reason that we say even of non-being that it is nonbeing. As, then, there is one science which deals with all healthy things, the same applies in the other cases also. For not only in the case of things which have one common notion does the investigation belong to one science, but also in the case of things which are related to one common nature; for even these in a sense have one common notion. It is clear then that it is the work of one science also to study the things that are, qua being. But everywhere science deals chiefly with that which is primary, and on which the other things depend, and in virtue of which they get their names. If, then, this is substance, it will be of substances that the philosopher must grasp the principles and the causes. (Metaphysics, Book Delta)

Epicurean Materialism

1. A happy and eternal being has no trouble himself and brings no trouble upon any other being; hence he is exempt from movements of anger and partiality, for every such movement implies weakness

2. Death is nothing to us; for the body, when it has been resolved into its elements, has no feeling, and that which has no feeling is nothing to us.

3. The magnitude of pleasure reaches its limit in the removal of all pain. When pleasure is present, so long as it is uninterrupted, there is no pain either of body or of mind or of both together.

4. Continuous pain does not last long in the body; on the contrary, pain, if extreme, is present a short time, and even that degree of pain which barely outweighs pleasure in the body does not last for many days together. Illnesses of long duration even permit of an excess of pleasure over pain in the body.

5. It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living pleasantly. Whenever any one of these is lacking, when, for instance, the person is not able to live wisely, though he lives well and justly, it is impossible for him to live a pleasant life.

6. In order to obtain security from other people any means whatever of procuring this was a natural good.

7. Some people have sought to become famous and renowned, thinking that thus they would make themselves secure against their fellow-humans. If, then, the life of such persons really was secure, they attained natural good; if, however, it was insecure, they have not attained the end which by nature’s own prompting they originally sought.

8. No pleasure is in itself evil, but the things which produce certain pleasures entail annoyances many times greater than the pleasures themselves.

9. If all pleasure had been capable of accumulation, — if this had gone on not only be recurrences in time, but all over the frame or, at any rate, over the principal parts of human nature, there would never have been any difference between one pleasure and another, as in fact there is.

10. If the objects which are productive of pleasures to profligate persons really freed them from fears of the mind, — the fears, I mean, inspired by celestial and atmospheric phenomena, the fear of death, the fear of pain; if, further, they taught them to limit their desires, we should never have any fault to find with such persons, for they would then be filled with pleasures to overflowing on all sides and would be exempt from all pain, whether of body or mind, that is, from all evil.

11. If we had never been molested by alarms at celestial and atmospheric phenomena, nor by the misgiving that death somehow affects us, nor by neglect of the proper limits of pains and desires, we should have had no need to study natural science.

12. It would be impossible to banish fear on matters of the highest importance, if a person did not know the nature of the whole universe, but lived in dread of what the legends tell us. Hence without the study of nature there was no enjoyment of unmixed pleasures.

13. There would be no advantage in providing security against our fellow humans, so long as we were alarmed by occurrences over our heads or beneath the earth or in general by whatever happens in the boundless universe.

14. When tolerable security against our fellow humans is attained, then on a basis of power sufficient to afford supports and of material prosperity arises in most genuine form the security of a quiet private life withdrawn from the multitude.

15. Nature’s wealth at once has its bounds and is easy to procure; but the wealth of vain fancies recedes to an infinite distance.

16. Fortune but seldom interferes with the wise person; his greatest and highest interests have been, are, and will be, directed by reason throughout the course of his life.

17. The just person enjoys. the greatest peace of mind, while the unjust is full of the utmost disquietude.

18. Pleasure in the body admits no increase when once the pain of want has been removed; after that it only admits of variation. The limit of pleasure in the mind, however, is reached when we reflect on the things themselves and their congeners which cause the mind the greatest alarms.

19. Unlimited time and limited time afford an equal amount of pleasure, if we measure the limits of that pleasure by reason.

20. The body receives as unlimited the limits of pleasure; and to provide it requires unlimited time. But the mind, grasping in thought what the end and limit of the body is, and banishing the terrors of futurity, procures a complete and perfect life, and has no longer any need of unlimited time. Nevertheless it does not shun pleasure, and even in the hour of death, when ushered out of existence by circumstances, the mind does not lack enjoyment of the best life.

21. He who understands the limits of life knows how easy it is to procure enough to remove the pain of want and make the whole of life complete and perfect. Hence he has no longer any need of things which are not to be won save by labor and conflict.

22. We must take into account as the end all that really exists and all clear evidence of sense to which we refer our opinions; for otherwise everything will be full of uncertainty and confusion.

23. If you fight against all your sensations, you will have no standard to which to refer, and thus no means of judging even those judgments which you pronounce false.

24. If you reject absolutely any single sensation without stopping to discriminate with respect to that which awaits confirmation between matter of opinion and that which is already present, whether in sensation or in feelings or in any immediate perception of the mind, you will throw into confusion even the rest of your sensations by your groundless belief and so you will be rejecting the standard of truth altogether. If in your ideas based upon opinion you hastily affirm as true all that awaits confirmation as well as that which does not, you will not escape error, as you will be maintaining complete ambiguity whenever it is a case of judging between right and wrong opinion.

25. If you do not on every separate occasion refer each of your actions to the end prescribed by nature, but instead of this in the act of choice or avoidance swerve aside to some other end, your acts will not be consistent with your theories.

26. All such desires as lead to no pain when they remain ungratified are unnecessary, and the longing is easily got rid of, when the thing desired is difficult to procure or when the desires seem likely to produce harm.

27. Of all the means which are procured by wisdom to ensure happiness throughout the whole of life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friends.

28. The same conviction which inspires confidence that nothing we have to fear is eternal or even of long duration, also enables us to see that even in our limited conditions of life nothing enhances our security so much as friendship.

29. Of our desires some are natural and necessary others are natural, but not necessary; others, again, are neither natural nor necessary, but are due to illusory opinion.

30. Those natural desires which entail no pain when not gratified, though their objects are vehemently pursued, are also due to illusory opinion; and when they are not got rid of, it is not because of their own nature, but because of the person’s illusory opinion.

31. Natural justice is a symbol or expression of usefullness, to prevent one person from harming or being harmed by another.

32. Those animals which are incapable of making covenants with one another, to the end that they may neither inflict nor suffer harm, are without either justice or injustice. And those tribes which either could not or would not form mutual covenants to the same end are in like case.

33. There never was an absolute justice, but only an agreement made in reciprocal association in whatever localities now and again from time to time, providing against the infliction or suffering of harm.

34. Injustice is not in itself an evil, but only in its consequence, viz. the terror which is excited by apprehension that those appointed to punish such offenses will discover the injustice.

35. It is impossible for the person who secretly violates any article of the social compact to feel confident that he will remain undiscovered, even if he has already escaped ten thousand times; for right on to the end of his life he is never sure he will not be detected.

36. Taken generally, justice is the same for all, to wit, something found useful in mutual association; but in its application to particular cases of locality or conditions of whatever kind, it varies under different circumstances.

37. Among the things accounted just by conventional law, whatever in the needs of mutual association is attested to be useful, is thereby stamped as just, whether or not it be the same for all; and in case any law is made and does not prove suitable to the usefulness of mutual association, then this is no longer just. And should the usefulness which is expressed by the law vary and only for a time correspond with the prior conception, nevertheless for the time being it was just, so long as we do not trouble ourselves about empty words, but look simply at the facts.

38. Where without any change in circumstances the conventional laws, when judged by their consequences, were seen not to correspond with the notion of justice, such laws were not really just; but wherever the laws have ceased to be useful in consequence of a change in circumstances, in that case the laws were for the time being just when they were useful for the mutual association of the citizens, and subsequently ceased to be just when they ceased to be useful.

39. He who best knew how to meet fear of external foes made into one family all the creatures he could; and those he could not, he at any rate did not treat as aliens; and where he found even this impossible, he avoided all association, and, so far as was useful, kept them at a distance.

40. Those who were best able to provide themselves with the means of security against their neighbors, being thus in possession of the surest guarantee, passed the most agreeable life in each other’s society; and their enjoyment of the fullest intimacy was such that, if one of them died before his time, the survivors did not mourn his death as if it called for sympathy.

(Principle Doctrines)


The Garden

Nothing comes into existence from non-existence.   For if that were possible, anything could be created out of anything, without requiring seeds.  And if things which disappear became non-existent, everything in the universe would have surely vanished by now.  But the universe has always been as it is now, and always will be, since there is nothing it can change into.  Nor is there anything outside the universe which could infiltrate it and produce change.

The universe is made up of bodies and void.  That bodies exist is obvious to anyone’s senses.  We may also make inferences about things hidden from our senses, as I have noted above, only from signs that our senses can detect, and this is how we infer the void.  For if the void, which we also call place, room, and intangible substance, did not exist, bodies would have no place to be or anywhere to move through – but they are clearly seen to be moving.  Beyond these constituents [body and void] nothing else is conceivable by any means.  Both are regarded as whole substances – not attributes of them.
Compounds are collections of many elements; the primary bodies are the elements themselves.  The latter must be uncuttable {atomic}, and permanent – otherwise all things would crumble into non-existence.   Some elements must be strong enough to survive the dissolution of compounds; these are fully solid by nature, incapable of dissolution to any degree.  So these primary bodies must be uncuttable bodies.

The universe is infinite.  For that which is finite has an outmost edge, and an outmost edge can only be found in comparison to something beyond it <but the universe cannot be so compared>, hence, since it has no outmost edge, it has no limit; and since it has no limit, it must be unlimited and infinite.  Indeed, the universe is infinite in two aspects: by the number of bodies it contains and by the extent of the void.  For if the void were infinite but the bodies finite, the bodies would go careening through the infinite void and never stay put, owing to the lack of other bodies to hinder and coral them by colliding with them.  And if the void were finite, there would be no room for infinite bodies.
The atoms have a unimaginable variety of shapes.  Since all compounds are formed by (and dissolve into) solid atomic bodies, the many varieties of compounds that exist can only arise from an unimaginable number of atomic shapes.  But while the number of atoms of each shape is utterly infinite, the number of shapes is not utterly infinite, just unimaginably many, <otherwise atoms would have an infinite range of sizes, which would defy observation>.
The atoms are in constant motion throughout eternity.   {some text missing}  Some get separated by great distances from each other.  Others oscillate in one place whenever they happen to get entangled into a compound, or surrounded by a compound.  It is the nature of both bodies and void which allows this oscillatory motion.  For the bodies, being solid, rebound on collision to whatever distance their entanglement allows them, while the void offers no resistance in the intervening space.  This may continue until at last the repeated shocks bring on the dissolution of the compound.  There is no beginning to all these motions; the atoms and void are eternal.

These above points, if remembered, should suffice as an outline for developing an understanding of the basic aspects of existence.
. . .

The soul is a fine-structured material distributed throughout the body.  Our sensations and feelings provide the strongest confirmation for this.  It resembles a wind in some respects and heat in others.  But  its fine structure makes it greatly different from both – and this is what unites its feelings with the entire body.  All this is demonstrated by the soul’s powers: its feelings, its rapid action, its thought processes, and all of its faculties which we are deprived of upon death.
The soul is primarily responsible for sensation.  Yet, it would not have acquired sensation if it were not contained in some way by the rest of the body.  The rest of the body, having furnished the proper setting for experiencing sensation, is also given some capacity for sensation from the soul – though not all the capacity of the soul.  That is why the rest of the body does not have sensation when the soul has been separated from it.  For the body never had such capacity in and by itself; it made sensation possible for something else [the soul], which came into existence along with it.  The soul, thanks to the mechanisms of the body, at once produces its own power to experience sensation while returning a share of this power to the body, as I have said, because of their close contact and united feelings.
Sensation is never lost when the soul remains, even if other parts of the body are lost.  Indeed, even if part of the soul is lost along with the part of the body  that enclosed it, then as long as part of the soul remains, it will still experience sensation.

But sensation is lost when the body remains and the soul has been lost – no matter how small the atoms comprising the soul may be.

When the whole body is destroyed, it no longer possesses sensation, because the soul is dissolved and no longer has the same powers and motions.  For whenever the body holding the soul is no longer able to confine and contain it, we cannot think of the soul as still experiencing sensation, since it would no longer have the use of the appropriate mechanisms.

Those who say that the soul is incorporeal are talking nonsense.  The usage of the word ‘incorporeal’ can only be applied to what is incorporeal in essence: the void.  But the void can neither act nor be acted upon; it merely allows bodies to move through itself.  For if that were so, it would be unable to act or be acted upon in any way – yet, we clearly see the soul is capable of both.

(Letter on Nature)

Rerum Natura

The Stoic Conception of Nature

The Stoa in Athens

Stoic Ethics

STOICISM is the name of a comprehensive philosophical system inaugurated at Athens by Zeno of Citium in
the last years of the fourth century B.C. The system was divided for the purposes of exposition into three
subjects: physics, logic, and ethics; but between these there is a fundamental connection which makes
Stoicism an organic unity, a philosophy of rational coherence. The ethical goal is life in accordance with
nature, physis, and this is achieved by consistently rational or “logical” action (kata logon zēn). Physics,
or the understanding of nature, provides the field of morality with its values; logic grasps the relationship
between statements and events, which enables man to articulate nature for himself and plan his life accord-
ingly. The significance of such familiar Stoic attitudes as uncomplaining endurance of hardship and inflexible
will cannot be adequately grasped without reference to their physical and logical basis.

1. The Physical Basis of Stoic Ethics. In Stoic theory the world is an organic whole, a rational being,
conceptually divisible into two principles, active and passive: the active principle is pneuma (“fiery breath”),
a vital, all-pervasive power which gives quality and coherence to the passive principle, “matter” (earth and
water). Pneuma and matter together constitute “body,” and body is all that exists. Particular material objects,
whether animate or inanimate, are differentiations of pneuma in matter, marked off from one another by their
internal structure, but interconnected externally,
since matter is continuous, in contradistinction to the Democritean, Epicurean Atomism, and its empty spaces.
The external contact between all bodies gives
rise to an eternal sequence of cause and effect, since movement is a defining characteristic of the pneuma
which organizes all things. This organizing principle is also called reason (logos), providence (pronoia), and
destiny (moira); all of these are predicates of Nature or God, who is conceived as the world-soul, a perfect
being, which is immanent in everything and which directs events to achieve worthy ends.
Man, like all things, is pervaded by God, but he possesses a special status. The pneuma which gives
coherence to a stone and life to a plant manifests itself as reason (logos) in mature men. The natural life for
man is “rational” life and this makes him a partner of God, or universal Nature. As Epictetus, the Stoic
slave, puts it (Discourses I. i, 12): “We [i.e., the gods] have given you a certain portion of ourselves, the
faculty of choice and refusal, of desire and aversion; that is, the faculty to make use of the impressions
presented to your mind.” Natural events are outside human control, but man has the power to evaluate
them and adapt his life accordingly. The world as a whole develops in an ordered pattern, determined by
immanent providence. But this does not, in the Stoic view, remove human responsibility for good and evil.
It is the proper function of man's nature to grasp the cosmic order by his own logos. He achieves happiness
and goodness when he does nothing which is inconsistent with or alien to the will of God or Nature.
How does the Stoic set about this task? He has no innate ideas, no Platonic Forms, the recollection of
which can provide criteria for moral action. His knowledge is entirely empirical, and the truth of what
he apprehends depends upon external impressions of a sufficiently clear and accurate kind. But there are
certain guidelines laid down for human nature which can serve, at least initially, as standards for action, and
which enable the developing logos to grasp the principles on which morality itself is based. The human
being, like all creatures, has an instinctive attraction towards those things which promote its own well-being
and a complementary aversion towards their opposites. Self-love, family feeling, desire for health—these are
basic drives, and their specific objects are “primarily in accordance with nature.” The human infant will
naturally take something appropriate to its constitution rather than the reverse, and the same applies to the
mature man. But man differs from the child in his possession of logos. Moral choice, unlike infantile and
animal behavior, is not a simple response of the organism to the environment. It is explained by Cicero as
follows (De finibus III, 20-21): from the system of values acquired by his instinctive responses a mature
man of sound reason intuits a higher-order system, a principle of moral action, which grasps the relationship
between all events and provides the ultimate category of value.

2. The Logical Basis of Stoic Ethics. Logos, hitherto translated “reason,” also means “speech,” and the
Stoics devoted much attention to the analysis of language and logic in its formal sense. They recognized
as a fundamental distinction between men and animals the fact that man alone possesses the power of “internal
speech” and an idea of consequence or succession (ennoia akolouthias). In the content of his significant
discourse man grasps connections in nature, and true statements are the expression in language of such con-
nections. The sequence of events is ordered and a necessary consequence of the universal causal nexus.
Only God, who oversees and determines all things, possesses complete foreknowledge of events. But to the
human reason the world presents itself as a set of events about which some valid inferences are possible and
indeed necessary if life in accordance with nature is to be realized by an act of will, rather than external
necessity. In its cruder form this concern for the future stimulated beliefs in the efficacy of divination, but the
basis of these was the thoroughly scientific principle that no event occurs without a cause and that signs
of what will happen are available in nature. It is likely enough that the Stoics' concern for valid inference and
the logical rules which they formulated concerning hypotheticals were partly prompted by the practical
desire to make prediction as reliable as possible. The sage is a logician not from academic inclination but
because life in accordance with nature and reason requires understanding events and the consequences
which follow from them.

Logos is the characteristic of mature human nature; only its “seeds” are available to the child. Provided
that it is not corrupted by external influences, the developed logos will enable man to grasp the true
nature of reality, and it will stand as the moral principle which directs him to a correspondence between
himself and the world. But this natural condition of the logos is generally not realized owing to “perver-
sions” brought about in childhood by the environment and bad upbringing. Events themselves and human
influence give rise to beliefs that pain is an evil, pleasure a good, and success or failure in the world the states
to be sought or avoided. This system of values produces as its consequence actions which are alogos, not irra-
tional as such, but contrary to reason in its natural or healthy condition. Actions which are properly rational
or “logical” are actions prompted by a logos whose soundness is guaranteed by the fact that it accords with
Nature or God.

The Stoics' stress on logic led them to see the moral agent as one who possesses “a body of true proposi-
tions” (Sextus Empiricus, Adversus mathematicos VII, 39-41) which he incorporates in his actions. The bad
man is false to facts. Stoic physics, which denied existence to the incorporeal, also influenced the treatment
of moral character. The logos itself is “pneuma in a certain state,” and any state other than that enjoyed
by the good man is eo ipso a bad or unhealthy physical condition. The fact that the good are differentiated
from the bad by criteria such as true/false, or healthy/sick, helps to explain the hardness and rigidity
of Stoic ethical theory.

3. The Historical and Cultural Background of Stoic Ethics. In looking to Nature as the source of moral
principles which would be binding on any man of sound reason, Zeno was strongly influenced by histori-
cal and social considerations. The Greek city-state, which Plato and Aristotle had envisaged as the context
of moral action, was destroyed as an independent political entity by the conquests of Alexander the Great.
The old civic and national boundaries, though preserved in theory, were of little consequence in the
enlarged world divided among Alexander's successors, and the new capitals of Pergamum in Asia and
Alexandria in Africa came to rival Athens as centers of culture. In a period of such social and political
upheaval, neither the traditional ethics, already found wanting by Socrates and Plato, nor their immediate
philosophical alternatives provided adequate guides for conduct. In Alexander's own lifetime the Cynic
Diogenes had challenged contemporary values by rejecting civic life as an inadequate context for the
proper development of human nature. Zeno, while avoiding some of the more scandalous aspects of Cynic
asceticism, was equally cosmopolitan in taking the world itself for the context of moral action, and in
making virtue a disposition of the reason which it is in the power of any man to realize. But, unlike
Diogenes, Zeno grounded moral theory in physics and logic, and he also incorporated features of pre-Socratic,
Platonic, and Aristotelian thought. Like Heraclitus he made logos something common to man and the uni-
verse; like Socrates and Plato he defined virtue in terms of knowledge. And he seems to reflect Aristotle both
in his treatment of the relation between moral character, action, and emotion, and in terminology and
method of analysis.

Zeno was a Phoenician by birth, but he settled in Athens at an early age and established his school there.
It was fashionable until recently to invoke his Semitic origin, and that of other early Stoics, as a key to under-
standing the particular character of Stoic ethics, but this explanation is neither useful nor necessary.
Stoicism is thoroughly Greek, and its ethics derives its distinctive quality more from a synthesis of existing
concepts than from the introduction of entirely new ones. Zeno's ethical aim was to provide a basis for
moral action and a means to personal well-being in the natural endowments of any man, irrespective of
his social status or personal circumstances.

4. The Stoic Concept of Value and Moral Action.

The universality of Stoic ethics is attained by making goodness and happiness (the terms are interchangeable)
an internal state, a disposition of the logos. The four cardinal virtues—practical wisdom, justice, courage,
and self-control—are all aspects of the one rational disposition and none of them is possible without the
other. The sage or ideal good man is one whose actions are consistently determined by a reasoning faculty
which accords with the will of Nature or God. This makes him the only free man. Reason does not give
the sage free will, in the sense that his actions are undetermined by character and environment. But it
enables him to make what will happen part of his own will and plan. He is completely unaffected by external
circumstances, since the understanding of nature has taught him that the only good is virtue, and vice is
the only evil; all else is morally indifferent. Pain and misfortune in general, like pleasure and external suc-
cess, fall within the category of “indifferents.” The incidence of such things is not entirely within a man's
control, so that his happiness cannot be assured if it depends on the gifts of fortune and pleasure. But he
has the power to determine his own attitude to events. Hence the paradox that the sage is happy even on the
rack and all other men are unhappy no matter what their situation. Strictly, pleasure and pain are irrelevant
to moral action, since they have nothing to do with logos. The sage acts from principle or “logic”; pity and
“irrational feelings” are extirpated from his disposition, though he does experience “rational” emotions such
as joy, and his conduct is invariably beneficial to other good men. An action performed by the sage, such as
caring for parents, may look the same as the actions of other men. But the sage's action will be good and
the actions of others bad, since the moral status of any action is determined by the agent's disposition. The
dispositions of all who are not consistently good are bad. Hence the further paradox that all men are either
wholly good or wholly bad; there is no midway condition and there are no degrees of virtue or vice.
This is a hard doctrine, which pays scant regard to ordinary language or experience, but the reasoning
behind it is clear enough. Aristotle argued that happiness requires a lifetime for its realization and that the
good man will never do anything wrong. Earlier still, Plato had regarded wrongdoing as a product of
ignorance, claiming that knowledge of the good will result in virtuous action. If virtue and happiness are
equated it is extremely difficult to account for vicious action without reference to mistaken judgment, and
this in fact is the Stoic explanation. Bad men commit errors of the kind mentioned above (Sec. 2) and though
these may differ in degree they do not differ in kind: they are all equally faults. Virtuous behavior on sixdays
of the week is not enough. It is all or nothing—either consistency with reason or inconsistency and

Although Stoic theory divided mankind into sages and fools, it also recognized the common needs and
desires of all men. Man as a species is so constituted that he naturally prefers health to sickness, wealth to
poverty, etc. Such conditions of prosperity and adversity the Stoics termed “natural advantages and
disadvantages,” but they regarded the possession of them as something morally neutral and irrelevant to
happiness. Virtue and vice are displayed in the manner in which a man selects “natural advantages” and rejects
their opposites, and how he reacts to their attainment and loss. The good man will be indifferent to the latter,
but he deliberately selects health and wealth rather than their opposites, provided that in so doing he does
nothing inconsistent with reason. There are times, as Cato showed by his suicide, when the Stoic acts con-
trary to his instinctive impulses. Critics have complained of a double standard here.
If health is preferable to sickness, why should it not be called “good” or “better”? The Stoic answer is
uncompromising. Health in the abstract is preferable to sickness, but to call the one “good” and the other
“bad” would confuse them with the category of morality. The attainment of happiness and virtue can only
be offered to all men, whatever their circumstances, if its value is shown to be categorically different from
that of “natural advantages.” It is “appropriate” to prefer health to sickness, to care for one's parents, to
take part in politics, etc., and the consistent performance of such actions is a prerequisite for the would-be
good man. But though certain acts of this kind are “unconditionally appropriate,” they are only morally
good when performed by the sage. He, and he alone, acts always and only from right intentions.

5. Stoic Ethics in Practice.

The Stoics themselves did not claim to be sages, and it was a matter of debate
in the school whether a man of such inflexible moral will had ever lived in fact. For the majority, “progress”
(προκοπή) towards this standard was the goal, and Stoic writers such as Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius are
constantly urging themselves, and, by implication, their readers to maintain indifference to circumstances and
to value moral choice as the only property of worth. Confidence in the benevolence of divine purpose, no
matter what happens, and an immense stress on the dignity of man provide the Stoic with his strength. And
the reward, in Epictetus' words, is “tranquillity, fearlessness and freedom” (Discourses II, 1, 21). Suicide,
rationally chosen, is the way out, the “open door,” if circumstances make a good life impossible.
The basis of Stoic ethics remained constant throughout the five hundred and more years (ca. 301 B.C.-A.D.
270) of the school's existence. But unlike the followers of Epicurus, who handed down their founder's teaching
unchanged, later Stoics modified and developed various aspects of Zeno's doctrines. Chrysippus, the third head
of the Stoa, following Zeno and Cleanthes, was a scholar of immense versatility, and much of the evi-
dence for Stoicism is derived from summaries and criticisms of his works preserved in writers like
Plutarch and Galen. Panaetius and Posidonius in the second and first centuries B.C. won fame throughout
the Roman world, and Cicero's influential De officiis is based upon a work by Panaetius. This Stoic was an
intimate associate of Scipio Africanus, and the propagation of general Stoic teaching among Romans owed
much to his humanitas. The traditional Roman attitudes of officium and virtus found further justification
in Stoic ethics, which thus claimed the allegiance of many Roman statesmen. The De officiis, which Cicero
addressed to his son, stresses practice over theory, providing a second-best morality of appropriate actions
for the Roman gentleman. It lacks the moral toughness and personal commitment of Epictetus, the slave of
the imperial period, so admired by the emperor Marcus.

By cutting through the barriers of birth and wealth, and by emphasizing the autonomy of the individual,
Stoic ethics did much to liberalize and humanize the social practice of the Roman empire. In the second
and third centuries A.D. writers as different as the Christian, Clement of Alexandria, the Aristotelian
scholar, Alexander of Aphrodisias, and Plotinus attest to its influence. The rules for conduct, intended by
early Stoics as preparatory to the attainment of virtue, survived to challenge the strong and support the weak
in times which neither knew, nor cared to know, the physics and logic on which Zeno and Chrysippus had
rigorously built their ethics. In its theory, Stoic ethics looks forward to Kant's categorical imperative. Some
essential aspects of its practice are preserved in the behavior commended by our words “stoic” and





    To be instructed is this, to learn to wish that every thing may happen as it does. And how do things happen? As the disposer [i.e., God] has disposed them. And he has appointed summer and winter, and abundance and scarcity, and virtue and vice, and all such opposites for the harmony of the whole; and to each of us he has given a body, and parts of the body, and possessions, and companions.

     Remembering then this disposition of things, we ought to go to be instructed, not that we may change the constitution of things, – for we have not the power to do it, nor is it better that we should have the power, – but in order that, as the things around us are what they are and by nature exist, we may maintain our minds in harmony with the things which happen. (Discourses 1.12.15–17)

The wise and good man … submits his own mind to him who administers the whole [i.e., God], as good citizens do to the law of the state. He who is receiving instruction ought to come to be instructed with this intention, How shall I follow the gods in all things, how shall I be contented with the divine administration, and how can I become free? For he is free to whom every thing happens according to his will [prohairesis], and whom no man can hinder. (Discourses 1.12.7–9)

Marcus Aurelius 

Of human life the time is a point, and the substance is in a flux, and the perception dull, and the composition of the whole body subject to putrefaction, and the soul a whirl, and fortune hard to divine, and fame a thing devoid of judgement. And, to say all in a word, everything which belongs to the body is a stream, and what belongs to the soul is a dream and vapour, and life is a warfare and a stranger’s sojourn, and after–fame is oblivion. What then is that which is able to conduct a man? One thing and only one, philosophy. But this consists in keeping the daemon within a man free from violence and unharmed, superior to pains and pleasures, doing nothing without purpose, nor yet falsely and with hypocrisy, not feeling the need of another man’s doing or not doing anything; and besides, accepting all that happens, and all that is allotted, as coming from thence, wherever it is, from whence he himself came; and, finally, waiting for death with a cheerful mind, as being nothing else than a dissolution of the elements of which every living being is compounded. But if there is no harm to the elements themselves in each continually changing into another, why should a man have any apprehension about the change and dissolution of all the elements? For it is according to nature, and nothing is evil which is according to nature.

(Meditation 1)


Emanation in Neo-Platonism


. . .

2. Let every soul recall, then, at the outset the truth that soul is the author of all living things, that it has breathed the life into them all, whatever is nourished by earth and sea, all the creatures of the air, the divine stars in the sky; it is the maker of the sun; itself formed and ordered this vast heaven and conducts all that rhythmic motion; and it is a principle distinct from all these to which it gives law and movement and life, and it must of necessity be more honourable than they, for they gather or dissolve as soul brings them life or abandons them, but soul, since it never can abandon itself, is of eternal being.

How life was purveyed to the universe of things and to the separate beings in it may be thus conceived:

That great soul must stand pictured before another soul, one not mean, a soul that has become worthy to look, emancipate from the lure, from all that binds its fellows in bewitchment, holding itself in quietude. Let not merely the enveloping body be at peace, body’s turmoil stilled, but all that lies around, earth at peace, and sea at peace, and air and the very heavens. Into that heaven, all at rest, let the great soul be conceived to roll inward at every point, penetrating, permeating, from all sides pouring in its light. As the rays of the sun throwing their brilliance upon a lowering cloud make it gleam all gold, so the soul entering the material expanse of the heavens has given life, has given immortality: what was abject it has lifted up; and the heavenly system, moved now in endless motion by the soul that leads it in wisdom, has become a living and a blessed thing; the soul domiciled within, it takes worth where, before the soul, it was stark body– clay and water– or, rather, the blankness of Matter, the absence of Being, and, as an author says, “the execration of the Gods.”

The Soul’s nature and power will be brought out more clearly, more brilliantly, if we consider next how it envelops the heavenly system and guides all to its purposes: for it has bestowed itself upon all that huge expanse so that every interval, small and great alike, all has been ensouled.

The material body is made up of parts, each holding its own place, some in mutual opposition and others variously interdependent; the soul is in no such condition; it is not whittled down so that life tells of a part of the soul and springs where some such separate portion impinges; each separate life lives by the soul entire, omnipresent in the likeness of the engendering father, entire in unity and entire in diffused variety. By the power of the soul the manifold and diverse heavenly system is a unit: through soul this universe is a God: and the sun is a God because it is ensouled; so too the stars: and whatsoever we ourselves may be, it is all in virtue of soul; for “dead is viler than dung.”

This, by which the gods are divine, must be the oldest God of them all: and our own soul is of that same Ideal nature, so that to consider it, purified, freed from all accruement, is to recognise in ourselves that same value which we have found soul to be, honourable above all that is bodily. For what is body but earth, and, taking fire itself, what [but soul] is its burning power? So it is with all the compounds of earth and fire, even with water and air added to them?

If, then, it is the presence of soul that brings worth, how can a man slight himself and run after other things? You honour the Soul elsewhere; honour then yourself.

3. The Soul once seen to be thus precious, thus divine, you may hold the faith that by its possession you are already nearing God: in the strength of this power make upwards towards Him: at no great distance you must attain: there is not much between.

But over this divine, there is still a diviner: grasp the upward neighbour of the soul, its prior and source.

Soul, for all the worth we have shown to belong to it, is yet a secondary, an image of the Intellectual–Principle: reason uttered is an image of the reason stored within the soul, and in the same way soul is an utterance of the Intellectual–Principle: it is even the total of its activity, the entire stream of life sent forth by that Principle to the production of further being; it is the forthgoing heat of a fire which has also heat essentially inherent. But within the Supreme we must see energy not as an overflow but in the double aspect of integral inherence with the establishment of a new being. Sprung, in other words, from the Intellectual–Principle, Soul is intellective, but with an intellection operation by the method of reasonings: for its perfecting it must look to that Divine Mind, which may be thought of as a father watching over the development of his child born imperfect in comparison with himself.

Thus its substantial existence comes from the Intellectual–Principle; and the Reason within it becomes Act in virtue of its contemplation of that prior; for its thought and act are its own intimate possession when it looks to the Supreme Intelligence; those only are soul–acts which are of this intellective nature and are determined by its own character; all that is less noble is foreign [traceable to Matter] and is accidental to the soul in the course of its peculiar task.

In two ways, then, the Intellectual–Principle enhances the divine quality of the soul, as father and as immanent presence; nothing separates them but the fact that they are not one and the same, that there is succession, that over against a recipient there stands the ideal–form received; but this recipient, Matter to the Supreme Intelligence, is also noble as being at once informed by divine intellect and uncompounded.

What the Intellectual–Principle must be is carried in the single word that Soul, itself so great, is still inferior.

4. But there is yet another way to this knowledge:

Admiring the world of sense as we look out upon its vastness and beauty and the order of its eternal march, thinking of the gods within it, seen and hidden, and the celestial spirits and all the life of animal and plant, let us mount to its archetype, to the yet more authentic sphere: there we are to contemplate all things as members of the Intellectual– eternal in their own right, vested with a self–springing consciousness and life– and, presiding over all these, the unsoiled Intelligence and the unapproachable wisdom.

That archetypal world is the true Golden Age, age of Kronos, who is the Intellectual–Principle as being the offspring or exuberance of God. For here is contained all that is immortal: nothing here but is Divine Mind; all is God; this is the place of every soul. Here is rest unbroken: for how can that seek change, in which all is well; what need that reach to, which holds all within itself; what increase can that desire, which stands utterly achieved? All its content, thus, is perfect, that itself may be perfect throughout, as holding nothing that is less than the divine, nothing that is less than intellective. Its knowing is not by search but by possession, its blessedness inherent, not acquired; for all belongs to it eternally and it holds the authentic Eternity imitated by Time which, circling round the Soul, makes towards the new thing and passes by the old. Soul deals with thing after thing– now Socrates; now a horse: always some one entity from among beings– but the Intellectual–Principle is all and therefore its entire content is simultaneously present in that identity: this is pure being in eternal actuality; nowhere is there any future, for every then is a now; nor is there any past, for nothing there has ever ceased to be; everything has taken its stand for ever, an identity well pleased, we might say, to be as it is; and everything, in that entire content, is Intellectual–Principle and Authentic Existence; and the total of all is Intellectual–Principle entire and Being entire. Intellectual–Principle by its intellective act establishes Being, which in turn, as the object of intellection, becomes the cause of intellection and of existence to the Intellectual–Principle– though, of course, there is another cause of intellection which is also a cause to Being, both rising in a source distinct from either.

Now while these two are coalescents, having their existence in common, and are never apart, still the unity they form is two–sided; there is Intellectual–Principle as against Being, the intellectual agent as against the object of intellection; we consider the intellective act and we have the Intellectual–Principle; we think of the object of that act and we have Being.

Such difference there must be if there is to be any intellection; but similarly there must also be identity [since, in perfect knowing, subject and object are identical.]

Thus the Primals [the first “Categories”] are seen to be: Intellectual–Principle; Existence; Difference; Identity: we must include also Motion and Rest: Motion provides for the intellectual act, Rest preserves identity as Difference gives at once a Knower and a Known, for, failing this, all is one, and silent.

So too the objects of intellection [the ideal content of the Divine Mind]– identical in virtue of the self–concentration of the principle which is their common ground– must still be distinct each from another; this distinction constitutes Difference.

The Intellectual Kosmos thus a manifold, Number and Quantity arise: Quality is the specific character of each of these ideas which stand as the principles from which all else derives.

5. As a manifold, then, this God, the Intellectual–Principle, exists within the Soul here, the Soul which once for all stands linked a member of the divine, unless by a deliberate apostasy.

Bringing itself close to the divine Intellect, becoming, as it were, one with this, it seeks still further: What Being, now, has engendered this God, what is the Simplex preceding this multiple; what the cause at once of its existence and of its existing as a manifold; what the source of this Number, this Quantity?

Number, Quantity, is not primal: obviously before even duality, there must stand the unity.

The Dyad is a secondary; deriving from unity, it finds in unity the determinant needed by its native indetermination: once there is any determination, there is Number, in the sense, of course, of the real [the archetypal] Number. And the soul is such a number or quantity. For the Primals are not masses or magnitudes; all of that gross order is later, real only to the sense–thought; even in seed the effective reality is not the moist substance but the unseen– that is to say Number [as the determinant of individual being] and the Reason–Principle [of the product to be].

Thus by what we call the Number and the Dyad of that higher realm, we mean Reason Principles and the Intellectual–Principle: but while the Dyad is, as regards that sphere, undetermined– representing, as it were, the underly [or Matter] of The One– the later Number [or Quantity]– that which rises from the Dyad [Intellectual–Principle] and The One– is not Matter to the later existents but is their forming–Idea, for all of them take shape, so to speak, from the ideas rising within this. The determination of the Dyad is brought about partly from its object– The One– and partly from itself, as is the case with all vision in the act of sight: intellection [the Act of the Dyad] is vision occupied upon The One.

6. But how and what does the Intellectual–Principle see and, especially, how has it sprung from that which is to become the object of its vision?

The mind demands the existence of these Beings, but it is still in trouble over the problem endlessly debated by the most ancient philosophers: from such a unity as we have declared The One to be, how does anything at all come into substantial existence, any multiplicity, dyad, or number? Why has the Primal not remained self–gathered so that there be none of this profusion of the manifold which we observe in existence and yet are compelled to trace to that absolute unity?

In venturing an answer, we first invoke God Himself, not in loud word but in that way of prayer which is always within our power, leaning in soul towards Him by aspiration, alone towards the alone. But if we seek the vision of that great Being within the Inner Sanctuary– self–gathered, tranquilly remote above all else– we begin by considering the images stationed at the outer precincts, or, more exactly to the moment, the first image that appears. How the Divine Mind comes into being must be explained:

Everything moving has necessarily an object towards which it advances; but since the Supreme can have no such object, we may not ascribe motion to it: anything that comes into being after it can be produced only as a consequence of its unfailing self–intention; and, of course, we dare not talk of generation in time, dealing as we are with eternal Beings: where we speak of origin in such reference, it is in the sense, merely, of cause and subordination: origin from the Supreme must not be taken to imply any movement in it: that would make the Being resulting from the movement not a second principle but a third: the Movement would be the second hypostasis.

Given this immobility in the Supreme, it can neither have yielded assent nor uttered decree nor stirred in any way towards the existence of a secondary.

What happened then? What are we to conceive as rising in the neighbourhood of that immobility?

It must be a circumradiation– produced from the Supreme but from the Supreme unaltering– and may be compared to the brilliant light encircling the sun and ceaselessly generated from that unchanging substance.

All existences, as long as they retain their character, produce– about themselves, from their essence, in virtue of the power which must be in them– some necessary, outward–facing hypostasis continuously attached to them and representing in image the engendering archetypes: thus fire gives out its heat; snow is cold not merely to itself; fragrant substances are a notable instance; for, as long as they last, something is diffused from them and perceived wherever they are present.

Again, all that is fully achieved engenders: therefore the eternally achieved engenders eternally an eternal being. At the same time, the offspring is always minor: what then are we to think of the All–Perfect but that it can produce nothing less than the very greatest that is later than itself. The greatest, later than the divine unity, must be the Divine Mind, and it must be the second of all existence, for it is that which sees The One on which alone it leans while the First has no need whatever of it. The offspring of the prior to Divine Mind can be no other than that Mind itself and thus is the loftiest being in the universe, all else following upon it– the soul, for example, being an utterance and act of the Intellectual–Principle as that is an utterance and act of The One. But in soul the utterance is obscured, for soul is an image and must look to its own original: that Principle, on the contrary, looks to the First without mediation– thus becoming what it is– and has that vision not as from a distance but as the immediate next with nothing intervening, close to the One as Soul to it.

The offspring must seek and love the begetter; and especially so when begetter and begotten are alone in their sphere; when, in addition, the begetter is the highest good, the offspring [inevitably seeking its Good] is attached by a bond of sheer necessity, separated only in being distinct.

7. We must be more explicit:

The Intellectual–Principle stands as the image of The One, firstly because there is a certain necessity that the first should have its offspring, carrying onward much of its quality, in other words that there be something in its likeness as the sun’s rays tell of the sun. Yet The One is not an Intellectual–Principle; how then does it engender an Intellectual–Principle?

Simply by the fact that in its self–quest it has vision: this very seeing is the Intellectual–Principle. Any perception of the external indicates either sensation or intellection, sensation symbolized by a line, intellection by a circle... [corrupt passage].

Of course the divisibility belonging to the circle does not apply to the Intellectual–Principle; all, there too, is a unity, though a unity which is the potentiality of all existence.

The items of this potentiality the divine intellection brings out, so to speak, from the unity and knows them in detail, as it must if it is to be an intellectual principle.

It has besides a consciousness, as it were, within itself of this same potentiality; it knows that it can of itself beget an hypostasis and can determine its own Being by the virtue emanating from its prior; it knows that its nature is in some sense a definite part of the content of that First; that it thence derives its essence, that its strength lies there and that its Being takes perfection as a derivative and a recipient from the First. It sees that, as a member of the realm of division and part, it receives life and intellection and all else it has and is, from the undivided and partless, since that First is no member of existence, but can be the source of all on condition only of being held down by no one distinctive shape but remaining the undeflected unity.

[(CORRUPT)– Thus it would be the entire universe but that...]

And so the First is not a thing among the things contained by the Intellectual–Principle though the source of all. In virtue of this source, things of the later order are essential beings; for from that fact there is determination; each has its form: what has being cannot be envisaged as outside of limit; the nature must be held fast by boundary and fixity; though to the Intellectual Beings this fixity is no more than determination and form, the foundations of their substantial existence.

A being of this quality, like the Intellectual–Principle, must be felt to be worthy of the all–pure: it could not derive from any other than from the first principle of all; as it comes into existence, all other beings must be simultaneously engendered– all the beauty of the Ideas, all the Gods of the Intellectual realm. And it still remains pregnant with this offspring; for it has, so to speak, drawn all within itself again, holding them lest they fall away towards Matter to be “brought up in the House of Rhea” [in the realm of flux]. This is the meaning hidden in the Mysteries, and in the Myths of the gods: Kronos, as the wisest, exists before Zeus; he must absorb his offspring that, full within himself, he may be also an Intellectual–Principle manifest in some product of his plenty; afterwards, the myth proceeds, Kronos engenders Zeus, who already exists as the [necessary and eternal] outcome of the plenty there; in other words the offspring of the Divine Intellect, perfect within itself, is Soul [the life–principle carrying forward the Ideas in the Divine Mind].

Now, even in the Divine the engendered could not be the very highest; it must be a lesser, an image; it will be undetermined, as the Divine is, but will receive determination, and, so to speak, its shaping idea, from the progenitor.

Yet any offspring of the Intellectual–Principle must be a Reason–Principle; the thought of the Divine Mind must be a substantial existence: such then is that [Soul] which circles about the Divine Mind, its light, its image inseparably attached to it: on the upper level united with it, filled from it, enjoying it, participant in its nature, intellective with it, but on the lower level in contact with the realm beneath itself, or, rather, generating in turn an offspring which must lie beneath; of this lower we will treat later; so far we deal still with the Divine.

8. This is the explanation of Plato’s Triplicity, in the passage where he names as the Primals the Beings gathered about the King of All, and establishes a Secondary containing the Secondaries, and a Third containing the Tertiaries.

He teaches, also, that there is an author of the Cause, that is of the Intellectual–Principle, which to him is the Creator who made the Soul, as he tells us, in the famous mixing bowl. This author of the causing principle, of the divine mind, is to him the Good, that which transcends the Intellectual–Principle and transcends Being: often too he uses the term “The Idea” to indicate Being and the Divine Mind. Thus Plato knows the order of generation– from the Good, the Intellectual–Principle; from the Intellectual–Principle, the Soul. These teachings are, therefore, no novelties, no inventions of today, but long since stated, if not stressed; our doctrine here is the explanation of an earlier and can show the antiquity of these opinions on the testimony of Plato himself.

Earlier, Parmenides made some approach to the doctrine in identifying Being with Intellectual–Principle while separating Real Being from the realm of sense.

“Knowing and Being are one thing he says, and this unity is to him motionless in spite of the intellection he attributes to it: to preserve its unchanging identity he excludes all bodily movement from it; and he compares it to a huge sphere in that it holds and envelops all existence and that its intellection is not an outgoing act but internal. Still, with all his affirmation of unity, his own writings lay him open to the reproach that his unity turns out to be a multiplicity.

The Platonic Parmenides is more exact; the distinction is made between the Primal One, a strictly pure Unity, and a secondary One which is a One–Many and a third which is a One–and–many; thus he too is in accordance with our thesis of the Three Kinds.

9. Anaxagoras, again, in his assertion of a Mind pure and unmixed, affirms a simplex First and a sundered One, though writing long ago he failed in precision.

Heraclitus, with his sense of bodily forms as things of ceaseless process and passage, knows the One as eternal and intellectual.

In Empedocles, similarly, we have a dividing principle, “Strife,” set against “Friendship”– which is The One and is to him bodiless, while the elements represent Matter.

Later there is Aristotle; he begins by making the First transcendent and intellective but cancels that primacy by supposing it to have self–intellection. Further he affirms a multitude of other intellective beings– as many indeed as there are orbs in the heavens; one such principle as in– over to every orb– and thus his account of the Intellectual Realm differs from Plato’s and, failing reason, he brings in necessity; though whatever reasons he had alleged there would always have been the objection that it would be more reasonable that all the spheres, as contributory to one system, should look to a unity, to the First.

We are obliged also to ask whether to Aristotle’s mind all Intellectual Beings spring from one, and that one their First; or whether the Principles in the Intellectual are many.

If from one, then clearly the Intellectual system will be analogous to that of the universe of sense–sphere encircling sphere, with one, the outermost, dominating all– the First [in the Intellectual] will envelop the entire scheme and will be an Intellectual [or Archetypal] Kosmos; and as in our universe the spheres are not empty but the first sphere is thick with stars and none without them, so, in the Intellectual Kosmos, those principles of Movement will envelop a multitude of Beings, and that world will be the realm of the greater reality.

If on the contrary each is a principle, then the effective powers become a matter of chance; under what compulsion are they to hold together and act with one mind towards that work of unity, the harmony of the entire heavenly system? Again what can make it necessary that the material bodies of the heavenly system be equal in number to the Intellectual moving principles, and how can these incorporeal Beings be numerically many when there is no Matter to serve as the basis of difference?

For these reasons the ancient philosophers that ranged themselves most closely to the school of Pythagoras and of his later followers and to that of Pherekudes, have insisted upon this Nature, some developing the subject in their writings while others treated of it merely in unwritten discourses, some no doubt ignoring it entirely.

10. We have shown the inevitability of certain convictions as to the scheme of things:

There exists a Principle which transcends Being; this is The One, whose nature we have sought to establish in so far as such matters lend themselves to proof. Upon The One follows immediately the Principle which is at once Being and the Intellectual–Principle. Third comes the Principle, Soul.

(Plotinus, Fifth Ennead, First Tractate)


Visio Beatifica in Dante's Paradiso


Kabbalah: Emanation and Divine Names


In the Beginning

When the King conceived ordaining
He engraved engravings in the luster on high.
A blinding spark flashed
within the Concealed of the Concealed
from the mystery of the Infinite,
a cluster of vapor in formlessness,
set in a ring,
not white, not black, not red, not green,
no color at all.
When a band spanned, it yielded radiant colors.
Deep within the spark gushed a flow
imbuing colors below,
concealed within the concealed of the mystery of the Infinite.
The flow broke through and did not break through its aura.
It was not known at all
until, under the impact of breaking through,
one high and hidden point shone.
Beyond that point, nothing is known.
So it is called Beginning,
the first command of all.

"The enlightened will shine like the zohar of the sky,
and those who make the masses righteous
will shine like the stars forever and ever"
(Daniel 12:3).

Zohar, Concealed of the Concealed, struck its aura.
The aura touched and did not touch this point.
Then this Beginning emanated
and made itself a palace for its glory and its praise.
There it sowed the seed of holiness
to give birth
for the benefit of the universe.
The secret is:
"Her stock is a holy seed"
(Isaiah 6:13).

Zohar, sowing a seed for its glory
like the seed of fine purple silk.
The silkworm wraps itself within and makes itself a palace.
This palace is its praise and a benefit to all.

With the Beginning
the Concealed One who is not known created the palace.
This palace is called Elohim.
The secret is:
"With Beginning, created Elohim"
(Genesis 1:1).


 Jacob left Be 'er Sheva and set out for Haran.

                    (Genesis 28:10)

Inside the hidden nexus,
from within the sealed secret,
a zohar flashed,
shining as a mirror,
embracing two colors blended together.
Once these two absorbed each other, all colors appeared:
purple, the whole spectrum of colors, flashing, disappearing.
Those rays of color do not wait to be seen;
they merge into the fusion of zohar.

In this zohar dwells the one who dwells.
It provides a name for the one who is concealed and totally
It is called the Voice of Jacob.
Complete faith in the one who is concealed and totally unknown
  belongs here.
Here dwells YHVH,
perfection of all sides, above and below.
Here Jacob is found,
perfection of the Patriarchs, linked to all sides.
This zohar is called by the singled-out name:
"Jacob, whom I have chosen"
(Isaiah 41:8)
Two names he is called: Jacob and Israel.
At first, Jacob; later, Israel.

The secret of this secret:
First he attained the End of Thought,
the Elucidation of the Written Torah.
She is the Oral Torah, called Be'er,
as it is said:
"Moses began be'er, to explain, the Torah"
(Deuteronomy 1:5).
She is a be'er, a well and an explanation
of the one who is called Sheva, Seven,
as it is written:
"It took him sheva, seven, years to build it"
(1 Kings 6:38).
Sheva is the Mighty Voice,
while the End of Thought is Be'er Sheva.

Jacob had entered this gateway to faith.
Adhering to that faith, he had to be tested
in the same place his fathers had been tested,
entering in peace and emerging in peace.

 Adam entered but was not careful.
 Seduced by her, he sinned with that whore of a woman,
 the primordial serpent.

 Noah entered but was not careful.
 Seduced by her, he sinned as well,
 as it is written:
 "He drank of the wine and became drunk
 and uncovered himself within his tent"
 (Genesis 9:21).

 Abraham entered and emerged,
 as it is written:
 "And Abram went down to Egypt ...
 And Abram came up from Egypt"
 (Genesis 12:10; 13:1).

 Isaac entered and emerged,
 as it is written:
 "Isaac went to Abimelech, king of the Philistines, in Gerar ...
 From there he went up to Be'er Sheva"
 (Genesis 26:1, 23).

Jacob, having entered into faith,
had to continue and probe the other side.
For one who is saved from there is a loved one,
a chosen one of the Blessed Holy One.
What is written?
Jacob left Be'er Sheva"
the secret of the mystery of faith,
"and set out for Haran"
the side of the woman of whoredom, the adulteress.

The secret of secrets:
Out of the scorching noon of Isaac,
out of the dregs of wine,
a fungus emerged, a cluster,
male and female together,
red as a rose,
expanding in many directions and paths.
The male is called Sama'el,
his female always included within him.
Just as it is on the side of holiness,
so it is on the other side:
male and female embracing one another.
The female of Sama'el is called Serpent,
Woman of Whoredom,
End of All Flesh, End of Days.
Two evil spirits joined together:
the spirit of the male is subtle;
the spirit of the female is diffused in many ways and paths
but joined to the spirit of the male.

She bedecks herself with all kinds of jewelry
like an abhorrent prostitute posing on the corner to seduce men.
The fool who approaches her-
she grabs him and kisses him,
pours him wine from the dregs, from the venom of vipers.
As soon as he drinks, he strays after her.
Seeing him stray from the path of truth,
she strips herself of all her finery that she dangled before that fool,
her adornments for seducing men:
her hair all arranged, as red as a rose,
her face white and red,
six trinkets dangling from her ears,
her bed covered with fabric from Egypt,
on her neck all the jewels of the East,
her mouth poised, a delicate opening,
what lovely trappings!
The tongue pointed like a sword,
her words smooth like oil,
her lips beautiful, red as a rose,
sweet with all the sweetness of the world.
She is dressed in purple,
adorned with forty adornments minus one.

This fool follows her, drinks from the cup of wine,
fornicates with her, deviates after her.
What does she do'
She leaves him sleeping in bed.
She ascends, denounces him, obtains permission, and descends
That fool wakes up and plans to play with her as before.
But she removes her decorations
and turns into a powerful warrior confronting him.
Arrayed in armor of flashing fire,
his awesome terror vibrates the victim's body and soul.
He is full of fearsome eyes;
in his hand a sharp-edged sword drips bitter drops.
He kills that fool and flings him into hell.

Jacob descended to her,
went straight to her abode,
as it is said:
"and he set out for Haran."
He saw all the trappings of her house
and was saved from her.
Her mate, Sama'el, was offended
and swooped down to wage war
but could not overcome him,
as it is written:
"And a man wrestled with him... "
(Genesis 32:25).

Now he was saved and perfected,
raised to a perfect sphere and called Israel.
He attained a high rung, total perfection!
He became the central pillar, of whom it is written:
"The center bar in the middle of the planks shall run from end to end"
(Exodus 26:28).


Ein Sof - The Infinite

Tree of Mysteries



Ontological Immanence in Nicholas of Cusa

Now, I give the name “Maximum” to that than which there cannot be anything greater. But fullness befits what is one. Thus, oneness—which is also being—coincides with Maximality. But if such oneness is altogether free from all relation and contraction [complicatio], obviously nothing is opposed to it, since it is Absolute Maximality. Thus, the Maximum is the Absolute One which is all things. And all things are in the Maximum (for it is the Maximum); and since nothing is opposed to it, the Minimum likewise coincides with it, and hence the Maximum is also in all things. And because it is absolute, it is, actually, every possible being...

Secondly, just as Absolute Maximality is Absolute Being, through which all things are that which they are, so from Absolute Being there exists a universal oneness of being which is spoken of as  “a maximum deriving from the Absolute [Maximum]”—existing from it contractedly and as a universe. This maximum's oneness is contracted in plurality, and it cannot exist without plurality. Indeed, in its universal oneness this maximum encompasses all things, so that all the things which derive from the Absolute [Maximum] are in this maximum and this maximum is in all [these] things. Nevertheless, it does not exist independently of the plurality in which it is present, for it does not exist without contraction, from which it cannot be freed.

Thirdly, a maximum of a third sort will thereafter be exhibited. For since the universe exists-in-plurality only contractedly, we shall seek among the many things the one maximum in which the universe actually exists most greatly and most perfectly as in its goal. (DI, I, 2)

If by careful consideration we extend what was previously manifested to us through learned ignorance: from the sole fact of our knowing that all things are either the Absolute Maximum or from the Absolute Maximum, many points can become clear to us regarding the world, or universe, which I affirm to be only a contracted maximum. Since what is contracted, or concrete, has from the Absolute whatever it is, that which is the [contracted] maximum imitates the maximally Absolute as much as it can. Therefore, [regarding] those things which in Book One were made known to us about the Absolute Maximum: as they befit the maximally Absolute absolutely,43 so I affirm that they befit in a contracted way what is contracted.


But since, as was said, the universe is only the contracted first, and in this respect is a maximum, it is evident that the whole universe sprang into existence by a simple emanation of the contracted maximum from the Absolute Maximum. But all the beings which are parts of the universe (and without which the universe, since it is contracted, could not be one and whole and perfect) sprang into existence together with the universe; [there was] not first an intelligence, then a noble soul, and then nature. as Avicenna53 and other philosophers maintained. Nevertheless, just as in a craftsman's design the whole (e.g., a house) is prior to a part (e.g., a wall), so because all things sprang into existence from God's design, we say that first there appeared the universe and thereafter all things—without which there could not be either a universe or a perfect [universe]...  Contraction means contraction to [i.e., restriction by] something, so as to be this or that. Therefore, God, who is one, is in the one universe. But the universe is contractedly in all things. And so, we can understand the following: (1) how it is that God, who is most simple Oneness and exists in the one universe, is in all things as if subsequently and through the mediation of the universe, and (2) [how it is that as it] through the mediation of the one universe the plurality of things is in God. (DI, II, 4)

In the foregoing we found, beyond all understanding, that the world, or universe, is one. Its oneness is contracted by plurality, so that it is oneness in plurality. And because Absolute Oneness is first and the oneness of the universe is derived from it, the oneness of the universe will be a second oneness, consisting of a plurality. And since (as I will show in Conjectures) the second oneness is tenfold and unites the ten categories, the one universe will, by a tenfold contraction, be the unfolding [explicatio] of the first, absolute, and simple Oneness. Now, all things are enfolded [complicatio] in the number ten, since there is not a number above it...

And so, we find three universal onenesses descending by degrees to what is particular, in which they are contracted, so that they are actually the particular. The first and absolute Oneness enfolds all things absolutely; the first contracted [oneness enfolds] all things contractedly. But order requires [the following]: that Absolute Oneness be seen to enfold, as it were, the first contracted [oneness], so that by means of it [it enfolds] all other things; that the first contracted [oneness] be seen to enfold the second contracted [oneness] and, by means of it, the third contracted [oneness]; and that the second contracted [oneness be seen to enfold] the third contracted oneness, which is the last universal oneness, fourth from the first, so that by means of the third contracted oneness the second oneness arrives at what is particular. And so, we see that the universe is contracted in each particular through three grades. Therefore, the universe is, as it were, all of the ten categories [generalissima], then the genera, and then the species. And so, these are universal according to their respective degrees; they exist with degrees and prior, by a certain order of nature, to the thing which actually contracts them. And since the universe is contracted, it is not found except as unfolded in genera; and genera are found only in species.71 But individuals exist actually; in them all things exist contractedly. Through these considerations we see that universals exist actually only in a contracted manner. (DI, II, 8)

Seeing the differences of things, we marvel that the one most simple Essence of all things is also the different essence of each thing. Yet, we know that this must be the case; [we know it] from learned ignorance, which shows that in God difference is identity. For in seeing that the difference of the essences of all things exists most truly, we apprehend—since it is most true [that this difference exists most truly]—the one most true Essence-of-all-things, which is Maximum Truth. Therefore, when it is said that God created man by means of one essence and created stone by means of another, this is true with respect to things but not true with respect to the Creator... (DI, II, 9)



Coincidence of Opposites

Nicholas of Cusa called this paradoxical unity-in-diversity a “coincidence of opposites” which overcomes limits of discursive reasoning, and goes beyond both positive and negative theology:

In God we must not conceive of distinction and indistinction, for example, as two contradictories, but we must conceive of them as antecedently existing in their own most simple beginning, where distinction is not other than indistinction (Cusa, 1997).

Cusa recognized that the coincidence of opposites is an expression of the principle of Incarnation, wherein God’s identification with creation in Jesus coincides with God’s transcendence above all creation. In God the opposites of identity and difference coincide. Thus Cusa presents a conception in which the ineffability of the Infinite coincides with its expressibility in the finite, in which creator coincides with creation, transcendent coincides with immanent, and One coincides with Many. Cusa says in De Docta Ignorantia that the best way to evoke these mystical insights is through mathematical symbols:

Since there is no other approach to a knowledge of things divine than that of symbols, we cannot do better than use mathematical signs on account of their indestructible certitude (Cusa, 1997).

For example, Cusa compared the relationship between the finite, discursive intellect and the infinite Truth to the relationship between a polygon and a circle:

For the intellect is to truth as an inscribed polygon is the inscribing circle (Cusa, 1985).

As the number of sides to the polygon increases, it more closely approximates the circle. But no polygon actually coincides with the circle. The polygon and the circle only coincide when the number of sides of the polygon is actually infinite. Such a polygon, however, is inconceivable to the rational mind. Yet, this mathematical symbol evokes a sense of connection between the conceivable and the inconceivable, a way to approach the divine through its representations in finite forms. As the number of sides to the polygon becomes infinite, the rational mind fails, opening awareness up to something beyond, where the infinite sides of the polygon (the Many) coincide with the perfect continuity of the circle (the One).

- Thomas J. McFarlane



Let us describe a circle, bc, which is being rotated about a point a as would the upper circle of a top; and let there be another fixed circle, de: Is it not true that the faster the movable circle is rotated, the less it seems to be moved? Suppose, then, that the possibility-to-be-moved is actual in it; i.e., suppose that the top is actually being moved as fast as possible. In that case, would it not be completely motionless? Since the motion would be infinite velocity, points b and c would be temporally present together at point d of the fixed circle—without its being the case that point b was temporally prior to point c. (For if b were temporally prior to c, the motion would not be maximal and infinite.) And yet, there would not be motion but would be rest, since at no time would points b and c move away from the fixed point d. Hence the maximal motion would at the same time also be minimal motion and no motion. In that case, just as the opposite points b and c would be always at point d, would they not always also be at the opposite point from d, namely, at e? Would this not likewise hold true for all the intermediate points of the circle bc? Therefore, the whole of the circle would at every instant be simultaneously present at point d. And the whole of the circle would be not only at d and e but also at every other point of the circle de. Let it suffice, then, that by means of this image and symbolically we are somehow able to see that (if the circle bc were illustrative of eternity and circle de were illustrative of time) the following propositions are not self-contradictory; that eternity as a whole is at once present at every point of time and that God as the beginning and the End is at once and as a whole present in all things. (CI, pp. 83-84)  

Let the line AB be a similitude of the truth and stand between the first truth and nothing. Let B be the end of the similitude in respect to the nothing. B should be folded over C in an enfolding motion toward A, and thus represent the motion, with which God summons from non-existence into existence. The line AB is fixed, so long as it egresses from the origin as AC does, and movable, so long as it is moved enfoldingly over C toward the origin. In this motion, CB with CA causes various angles, and CB unfolds by means of this motion different similitudes. First it causes in a less formal similitude an obtuse angle, which is its being; then in a more formal similitude an angle, which is its life; and then in the most formal and most acute angle it causes its understanding. The acute angle participates more in the activity of the angle and in its simplicity and is more similar to the first Origin.

And it is in the other angles, namely, in that of life and of being. Likewise the angle of life is in that of being. And what intermediate differences there are between being and life and understanding and what can be unfolded, you will see likewise in the enigma. (TNCF, pp. 311-12)



Duns Scotus: Univocity, Singular Essences, and Intensive Infinity

Take a thing (A) and its essence (B). Now B is a being and [by hypothesis] it isn’t A; thus it is something else, and therefore it has an essence. The essence of B is either the same as B or it is something else. If it is the same, then there should be a stopping point in the first case [of A and B]. If it is something else, let it be C, and I raise the same question about C, and so on to infinity. (Questions on the Metaphysics. 7.7.23)

[It follows that A is the same as its essence, and since A is an individual thing, then so is its essence.]

On this view it’s clear that the singular is one essence. . . And if the singular is one essence, it is intelligible per se, even the singular differentia. (7.15.154)

[The definition expresses] a universal essence, not an individual essence; not every formula indicating the essence of a thing is a definition. Therefore, the formula taken from the specific nature with the individual differentia added on to it is not a definition. (7.13.91)

We do not grasp Adam as a unique individual, for we have no cognitive purchase on the ‘Adamizer’ (his individual differentia); we instead construct an admittedly inadequate general concept ‘individual human’ to apply to him, perhaps associating it with other features that serve to pick Adam out. What it is to be Adam—his singular essence—is not open to us, as Scotus concludes: “The singular is intelligible for its part, since it is an essence, but it is not intelligible to us at the present time by a simple positive understanding” (7.13.172).

Our current cognitive infirmities do not prevent the singular essence from being knowable, of course, and furthermore in principle allows for the possibility of demonstrative knowledge of Socrates (7.13.160 and 7.15.39). If  there is such knowledge, God has it—or the appropriate correlate to demonstrative knowledge, since God knows everything by direct non-discursive intuition. Essences, even singular essences, are the ground of knowledge. (Peter King, Scotus on Singular Essences)

Scotus thinks we can have a positive conception of infinity, according to which infinity is not a negative, relational property, but instead a positive, intrinsic property. It is an "intrinsic degree of perfection."

How do we acquire that conception of positive, intrinsic infinity? The story goes like this. We begin with "the potentially infinite in quantity." According to Aristotle, you can never have an actual quantitative infinity, since no matter how great a quantity you have, you can always have more. What you can have (and in fact do have, Aristotle thinks) is a quantitative infinity by successive parts. The next step is to imagine that all the parts of that quantitative infinity remained in existence simultaneously. That is, we imagine an actual quantitative infinity. Scotus then asks us to shift from thinking about an actual quantitative infinity to thinking about an actual qualitative infinity. Think of some quality (say, goodness) as existing infinitely: so that there is, as it were, no more goodness that you could add to that goodness to make it any greater. That's infinite goodness. But notice that you can't think of infinite goodness as in some way composed of little goodness-bits (just an infinite number of them). If I say that an angel is better than a human being, I can't mean that a human being has a certain number of goodness-bits while the angel has that many plus some extras. Rather, the specific degree of goodness of a thing is just an intrinsic, non-quantitative feature of that thing. Infinite being is just like that. Scotus describes it as "a measure of intrinsic excellence that is not finite." This is why the concept of "infinite being" is the simplest concept available to us for understanding God. Infinity is not some sort of accidental addition to being, but an intrinsic mode of being. Of course, if this is right, then the concepts of ‘infinite goodness’, ‘infinite power’, and so forth, are every bit as simple as the concept of ‘infinite being’. So why does Scotus make such a big deal about ‘infinite being’? Because ‘infinite being’ "virtually contains" all the other infinite perfections of God. That is, we can deduce the other infinite perfections from infinite being. So besides being the next best thing to a simple concept, it's the most theoretically fruitful concept we can have of God in this life. (Thomas Williams, John Duns Scotus)

Bruno on the Infinite Universe


YOU learn from the first Dialogue Firstly, that the inconstancy of sense-perception doth demonstrate that sense is no source of certainty, but can attain thereto only through comparison and reference from one sensible percept to another, from one sense to another, so that truth may be inferred from diverse sources.

Secondly, the demonstration is begun of the infinity of the universe; [2] and the first argument is derived from the failure to limit the world by those whose fantasy would erect around it boundary walls.

Thirdly, it will be shown that it is unfitting to name the world finite, and contained within itself, since this condition belongeth only to immensity, as shown by the second argument. Moreover, the third argument is based on the inconvenience and indeed impossibility of imagining the world to occupy no position. For inevitably it would follow that it was without being, since everything whether corporeal or incorporeal doth occupy corporeally or incorporeally some position.

The Fourth argument is based on a demonstration or urgent question put by the Epicureans:

Moreover, suppose now that all space were created finite; if one were to run on to the end, to its furthest coasts, and throw a flying dart, would you have it that the dart, hurled with might and main, goeth on whither it is sped, flying afar, or think you that something can check and bar its way? ... For whether there be something to check it and bring about that it arriveth not whither it was sped, and planteth not itself in the goal, or whether it fareth forward, yet it set not forth from the end. [3]

Fifthly, Aristotle's definition of position [4] is unsuited to primal, vast, universal space [4] and it befitteth not to take the surface nearest and adjoining the content or other such foolishness which would regard space [4] as mathematical and not physical, not to mention that between the containing surface and the content which moveth therein, there is always and inevitably an intermediate space [5] which should rather be named position; [4] and if we wish only to take the surface of space, [5] we need to go seeking a finite position [4] in the infinite.

Sixthly, if we posit a finite world, it is impossible to escape acceptance of the void, if void is that which containeth naught.

Seventhly, this space in which is our world would without it be indeed a void, since where the world is not, there we must infer a void. Beyond our world then, one space is as another; therefore the quality of one is also that of the other; wherefore too this quality cometh to action, for no quality is eternally without action, and indeed it is eternally linked to action or rather is itself action, for in eternity there is no distinction between being and potential being [nor therefore between action and potential action].

Eighthly, none of our sense-perceptions is opposed to the acceptance of infinity, since we cannot deny infinity merely because we do not sensibly perceive it; but since sense in itself is included in infinity, and since reason doth confirm infinity, therefore needs must that we posit infinity. Moreover, if we consider well, sense doth present to us an infinite universe. For we perceive an endless series of objects, each one contained by another, nor do we ever perceive either with our external or our internal sense, an object which is not contained by another or similar object.

Lastly before our eyes one thing is seen to bound another; air is as a well between the hills, and mountains between tracts of air, land bounds the sea and again sea bounds all lands; yet in truth there is nothing outside to limit the universe ... so far on every side spreads out huge room for things, free from limit in all directions everywhere. [6]

From the testimony of our sight then we should rather infer the infinite, since there is no object which doth not terminate in another, nor can we experience aught which terminateth in itself.

Ninthly, only verbally is it possible to deny infinite space, as is done by pertinacious fellows. For the rest of space where the universe is not, which is called void, where indeed it is pretended that nothing doth exist, cannot be conceived as without the capacity to contain no less a magnitude than that which it doth contain.

Tenthly, since it is well that this world doth exist, no less good is the existence of each one of the infinity of other worlds.

Eleventhly, the virtue of this world is not communicable to any other world soever, just as my being cannot be communicated to the being of this or of that man.

Twelfthly, there is no reason or sense-perception which, since we accept an infinity undivided, utterly simple and all-embracing, will not permit also a corporeal and extended infinity.

Thirteenthly, our own surrounding space which appeareth to us so immense is neither part nor whole in relation to the infinite; nor can it be patient of infinite activity; compared to such activity, indeed, that which can be comprehended by our imbecile minds is merely nonbeing. And to a certain objection it may be replied that we base our argument for infinity not on the dignity of space but on the dignity of the natures [of worlds], since for the same reason that our space doth exist, so also should exist every other possible world; and their power of being is not actuated by our world's being, just as Elpino's power of being is not actuated by the existence of Fracastoro.

Fourteenthly, if infinite active power doth actuate corporeal and dimensional being, this being must necessarily be infinite; otherwise there would be derogation from the nature and dignity both of creator and of creation.

Fifteenthly, the universe as vulgarly conceived cannot contain the perfection of all things, save in the sense that I contain the perfection of all my members, and every globe containeth its entire contents. It is as though we named everyone rich who lacketh naught which he possesseth.

Sixteenthly, efficient infinity would be utterly incomplete without the [infinite] effect thereof, as we cannot conceive that such an effect [of infinity] should be the efficient infinity itself. Furthermore, if such were or could be the effect, this doth in no way detract from that which must appertain to every veritable effect, wherefore theologians name action ad extra or transitive in addition to imminent action, so that thus it is fitting that both one and the other be infinite.

Seventeenthly, to call the universe [7] boundless as we have done bringeth the mind to rest, while the contrary doth multiply innumerable difficulties and inconveniences. Furthermore, we repeat what was said under headings two and three.

Eighteenthly, if the world be spherical, it hath figure and boundary; and the boundary which is yet beyond this boundary and figure (though it may please thee to term it nullity) hath also figure, so that the concavity of the latter is joined to the convexity of the former, since the beginning of this thy nullity is a concavity completely indifferent to the convex surface of our world.

Nineteenthly, more is added to that which hath been said under the second heading.

Twentiethly, that which hath been said under heading ten is repeated.

In the Second Part of this Dialogue, that which hath already been shewn concerning the passive power of the universe is demonstrated for the active power of the efficient cause, set forth with arguments of which the first deriveth from the fact that divine power should not be otiose; particularly positing the effect thereof outside the substance thereof (if indeed aught can be outside it), and that it is no less otiose and invidious if it produce a finite effect than if it produce none.

The Second argument is practical, shewing that the contrary view would deny divine goodness and greatness. While from our view there followeth no inconvenience whatever against what laws you will, nor against the matter of theology.

The Third argument is the converse of the twelfth of Part 1. And here is shewn the distinction between the infinite whole and the completely infinite.

The Fourth argument sheweth that no less from lack of will than from lack of power, omnipotence cometh to be blamed [by the Aristotelians] for the creation of a finite world, the infinite agent acting on a finite subject.

The Fifth argument doth demonstrate that if omnipotence maketh not the world infinite, it is impotent to do so; and if it hath not power to create it infinite, then it must lack vigour to preserve it to eternity. And if finite in one respect, it would be so in all, for every mode therein is an object, and every object and every mode are the same, the one as the other.

The Sixth argument is the converse of the tenth of Part 1, and sheweth the reason why theologians defend the contrary view, not without expedient argument, and discourseth of friendship between these learned divines and the learned philosophers.

The Seventh doth propound the reasons which distinguish active power from diverse actions, and dischargeth such argument. Further, it expoundeth infinite power intensively and extensively in more lofty fashion than hath ever been done by the whole body of theologians.

The Eighth doth demonstrate that the motion of the infinity of worlds [8] is not the result of external motive force, but of their own nature, and that despite this there existeth an infinite motor force.

The Ninth sheweth how infinite motion may be intensively verified in each of the worlds. To this we should add that since each moving body at the same time moveth itself and is moved, needs must that it may be seen in every point of the circle that it describeth around its own centre. And this objection we discharge on other occasions when it will be permissible to present the more diffuse doctrine.

(On the Infinite Universe and Worlds)

Descartes: Extension and Thought

LI. What substance is, and that the term is not applicable to God and the creatures in the same sense.

But with regard to what we consider as things or the modes of things, it is worth while to examine each of them by itself. By substance we can conceive nothing else than a thing which exists in such a way as to stand in need of nothing beyond itself in order to its existence. And, in truth, there can be conceived but one substance which is absolutely independent, and that is God. We perceive that all other things can exist only by help of the concourse of God. And, accordingly, the term substance does not apply to God and the creatures UNIVOCALLY, to adopt a term familiar in the schools; that is, no signification of this word can be distinctly understood which is common to God and them.

LII. That the term is applicable univocally to the mind and the body, and how substance itself is known.

Created substances, however, whether corporeal or thinking, may be conceived under this common concept; for these are things which, in order to their existence, stand in need of nothing but the concourse of God. But yet substance cannot be first discovered merely from its being a thing which exists independently, for existence by itself is not observed by us. We easily, however, discover substance itself from any attribute of it, by this common notion, that of nothing there are no attributes, properties, or qualities: for, from perceiving that some attribute is present, we infer that some existing thing or substance to which it may be attributed is also of necessity present.

LIII. That of every substance there is one principal attribute, as thinking of the mind, extension of the body.

But, although any attribute is sufficient to lead us to the knowledge of substance, there is, however, one principal property of every substance, which constitutes its nature or essence, and upon which all the others depend. Thus, extension in length, breadth, and depth, constitutes the nature of corporeal substance; and thought the nature of thinking substance. For every other thing that can be attributed to body, presupposes extension, and is only some mode of an extended thing; as all the properties we discover in the mind are only diverse modes of thinking. Thus, for example, we cannot conceive figure unless in something extended, nor motion unless in extended space, nor imagination, sensation, or will, unless in a thinking thing. But, on the other hand, we can conceive extension without figure or motion, and thought without imagination or sensation, and so of the others; as is clear to any one who attends to these matters.

LIV. How we may have clear and distinct notions of the substance which thinks, of that which is corporeal, and of God.

And thus we may easily have two clear and distinct notions or ideas, the one of created substance, which thinks, the other of corporeal substance, provided we carefully distinguish all the attributes of thought from those of extension. We may also have a clear and distinct idea of an uncreated and independent thinking substance, that is, of God, provided we do not suppose that this idea adequately represents to us all that is in God, and do not mix up with it anything fictitious, but attend simply to the characters that are comprised in the notion we have of him, and which we clearly know to belong to the nature of an absolutely perfect Being. For no one can deny that there is in us such an idea of God, without groundlessly supposing that there is no knowledge of God at all in the human mind.

LV. How duration, order, and number may be also distinctly conceived.

We will also have most distinct conceptions of duration, order, and number, if, in place of mixing up with our notions of them that which properly belongs to the concept of substance, we merely think that the duration of a thing is a mode under which we conceive this thing, in so far as it continues to exist; and, in like manner, that order and number are not in reality different from things disposed in order and numbered, but only modes under which we diversely consider these things.

LVI. What are modes, qualities, attributes.

And, indeed, we here understand by modes the same with what we elsewhere designate attributes or qualities. But when we consider substance as affected or varied by them, we use the term modes; when from this variation it may be denominated of such a kind, we adopt the term qualities [to designate the different modes which cause it to be so named]; and, finally, when we simply regard these modes as in the substance, we call them attributes. Accordingly, since God must be conceived as superior to change, it is not proper to say that there are modes or qualities in him, but simply attributes; and even in created things that which is found in them always in the same mode, as existence and duration in the thing which exists and endures, ought to be called attribute and not mode or quality.

LVII. That some attributes exist in the things to which they are attributed, and others only in our thought; and what duration and time are.

Of these attributes or modes there are some which exist in the things themselves, and others that have only an existence in our thought; thus, for example, time, which we distinguish from duration taken in its generality, and call the measure of motion, is only a certain mode under which we think duration itself, for we do not indeed conceive the duration of things that are moved to be different from the duration of things that are not moved: as is evident from this, that if two bodies are in motion for an hour, the one moving quickly and the other slowly, we do not reckon more time in the one than in the other, although there may be much more motion in the one of the bodies than in the other. But that we may comprehend the duration of all things under a common measure, we compare their duration with that of the greatest and most regular motions that give rise to years and days, and which we call time; hence what is so designated is nothing superadded to duration, taken in its generality, but a mode of thinking.

LX. Of distinctions; and first of the real.

But number in things themselves arises from the distinction there is between them: and distinction is threefold, viz., real, modal, and of reason. The real properly subsists between two or more substances; and it is sufficient to assure us that two substances are really mutually distinct, if only we are able clearly and distinctly to conceive the one of them without the other. For the knowledge we have of God renders it certain that he can effect all that of which we have a distinct idea: wherefore, since we have now, for example, the idea of an extended and corporeal substance, though we as yet do not know with certainty whether any such thing is really existent, nevertheless, merely because we have the idea of it, we may be assured that such may exist; and, if it really exists, that every part which we can determine by thought must be really distinct from the other parts of the same substance. In the same way, since every one is conscious that he thinks, and that he in thought can exclude from himself every other substance, whether thinking or extended, it is certain that each of us thus considered is really distinct from every other thinking and corporeal substance. And although we suppose that God united a body to a soul so closely that it was impossible to form a more intimate union, and thus made a composite whole, the two substances would remain really distinct, notwithstanding this union; for with whatever tie God connected them, he was not able to rid himself of the power he possessed of separating them, or of conserving the one apart from the other, and the things which God can separate or conserve separately are really distinct.

LXI. Of the modal distinction.

There are two kinds of modal distinctions, viz., that between the mode properly so-called and the substance of which it is a mode, and that between two modes of the same substance. Of the former we have an example in this, that we can clearly apprehend substance apart from the mode which we say differs from it; while, on the other hand, we cannot conceive this mode without conceiving the substance itself. There is, for example, a modal distinction between figure or motion and corporeal substance in which both exist; there is a similar distinction between affirmation or recollection and the mind. Of the latter kind we have an illustration in our ability to recognise the one of two modes apart from the other, as figure apart from motion, and motion apart from figure; though we cannot think of either the one or the other without thinking of the common substance in which they adhere. If, for example, a stone is moved, and is withal square, we can, indeed, conceive its square figure without its motion, and reciprocally its motion without its square figure; but we can conceive neither this motion nor this figure apart from the substance of the stone. As for the distinction according to which the mode of one substance is different from another substance, or from the mode of another substance, as the motion of one body is different from another body or from the mind, or as motion is different from doubt, it seems to me that it should be called real rather than modal, because these modes cannot be clearly conceived apart from the really distinct substances of which they are the modes.

LXII. Of the distinction of reason (logical distinction).

Finally, the distinction of reason is that between a substance and some one of its attributes, without which it is impossible, however, we can have a distinct conception of the substance itself; or between two such attributes of a common substance, the one of which we essay to think without the other. This distinction is manifest from our inability to form a clear and distinct idea of such substance, if we separate from it such attribute; or to have a clear perception of the one of two such attributes if we separate it from the other. For example, because any substance which ceases to endure ceases also to exist, duration is not distinct from substance except in thought (RATIONE); and in general all the modes of thinking which we consider as in objects differ only in thought, as well from the objects of which they are thought as from each other in a common object.[Footnote: "and generally all the attributes that lead us to entertain different thoughts of the same thing, such as, for example, the extension of body and its property of divisibility, do not differ from the body which is to us the object of them, or from each other, unless as we sometimes confusedly think the one without thinking the other."--FRENCH.] It occurs, indeed, to me that I have elsewhere classed this kind of distinction with the modal (viz., towards the end of the Reply to the First Objections to the Meditations on the First Philosophy); but there it was only necessary to treat of these distinctions generally, and it was sufficient for my purpose at that time simply to distinguish both of them from the real.

LXIII. How thought and extension may be distinctly known, as constituting, the one the nature of mind, the other that of body.

Thought and extension may be regarded as constituting the natures of intelligent and corporeal substance; and then they must not be otherwise conceived than as the thinking and extended substances themselves, that is, as mind and body, which in this way are conceived with the greatest clearness and distinctness. Moreover, we more easily conceive extended or thinking substance than substance by itself, or with the omission of its thinking or extension. For there is some difficulty in abstracting the notion of substance from the notions of thinking and extension, which, in truth, are only diverse in thought itself (i.e., logically different); and a concept is not more distinct because it comprehends fewer properties, but because we accurately distinguish what is comprehended in it from all other notions.

LXIV. How these may likewise be distinctly conceived as modes of substance.

Thought and extension may be also considered as modes of substance; in as far, namely, as the same mind may have many different thoughts, and the same body, with its size unchanged, may be extended in several diverse ways, at one time more in length and less in breadth or depth, and at another time more in breadth and less in length; and then they are modally distinguished from substance, and can be conceived not less clearly and distinctly, provided they be not regarded as substances or things separated from others, but simply as modes of things. For by regarding them as in the substances of which they are the modes, we distinguish them from these substances, and take them for what in truth they are: whereas, on the other hand, if we wish to consider them apart from the substances in which they are, we should by this itself regard them as self-subsisting things, and thus confound the ideas of mode and substance.

LXV. How we may likewise know their modes.

In the same way we will best apprehend the diverse modes of thought, as intellection, imagination, recollection, volition, etc., and also the diverse modes of extension, or those that belong to extension, as all figures, the situation of parts and their motions, provided we consider them simply as modes of the things in which they are; and motion as far as it is concerned, provided we think merely of locomotion, without seeking to know the force that produces it, and which nevertheless I will essay to explain in its own place. 

(Principles of Philosophy)







Mind and Body

LV. How duration, order, and number may be also distinctly conceived.

We will also have most distinct conceptions of duration, order, and number, if, in place of mixing up with our notions of them that which properly belongs to the concept of substance, we merely think that the duration of a thing is a mode under which we conceive this thing, in so far as it continues to exist; and, in like manner, that order and number are not in reality different from things disposed in order and numbered, but only modes under which we diversely consider these things.

Descartes' Books


Spinoza's Treatise on Descartes