Spinoza and the Emotions

MOST writers on the emotions and on human conduct seem to be treating rather of matters outside nature than of natural phenomena following nature's general laws. They appear to conceive man to be situated in nature as a kingdom within a kingdom: for they believe that he disturbs rather than follows nature's order, that he has absolute control over his actions, and that he is determined solely by himself. They attribute human infirmities and fickleness, not to the power of nature in general, but to some mysterious flaw in the nature of man, which accordingly they bemoan, deride, despise, or, as usually happens, abuse: he, who succeeds in hitting off the weakness of the human mind more eloquently or more acutely than his fellows, is looked upon as a seer. Still there has been no lack of very excellent men (to whose toil and industry I confess myself much indebted), who have written many noteworthy things concerning the right way of life, and have given much sage advice to mankind. But no one, so far as I know, has defined the nature and strength of the emotions, and the power of the mind against them for their restraint. (Ethics, Book III)


    By emotion I mean the modifications of the body, whereby the active power of the said body is increased or diminished, aided or constrained, and also the ideas of such modifications.
    N.B. If we can be the adequate cause of any of these modifications, I then call the emotion an activity, otherwise I call it a passion, or state wherein the mind is passive. (Ethics, Book III, Definition 3)

[For Spinoza, emotion is a change in the state of our physical organism to a greater or lesser degree of vitality, along with an idea, or mental representation, of that change in state. It is, therefore, a psycho-physical event, but one in which the change in physical vitality has precedence over the registration of that change in one's mind. The emotions are passions insofar as we are not their sole, or, as Spinoza says, adequate, cause, but are at least partially determined to experience them by forces outside ourselves. Some passions diminish and others increase the active power of our bodies and so there are in that sense active as well as passive passions. But Spinoza calls emotions "activities" - and not merely active in the sense that they enhance our psycho-physical powers - only when we can said to be their sole, or adequate, cause. He later tells us that there is only one such emotional activity, namely the joy that is involved in knowledge of the third kind, which Spinoza also calls the intellectual love of God.]


Conatus, or Active Power  - The Endeavor to Persist in One's Being

PROP. VI. Everything, in so far as it is in itself, endeavors to persist in its own being.

PROP. VII. The conatus, wherewith everything endeavors to persist in its own being, is nothing else but the actual essence of the thing in question.

(Ethics, Book III)


The Encounter with Other Objects: Enhancing and Diminishing the Body's Ability to Affect and Be Affected in Many Ways (It's Active Power, or Conatus)

[Some external objects help maintain the proportion of motion-and-rest between the various parts of our bodies that characterize those bodies when they are in their optimal states of vital functioning; other objects disturb that proportion of motion-and-rest and so erode our vitality. Depending, then, upon the sorts of objects with which our bodies combine, our vitality, conatus, or active power either increases or diminishes.]





Spinoza's Definitions of the Emotions


Desire is the essence of man insofar as it is conceived as determined to any action by any one of its modifications. [Desire is the expression of conatus in the psycho-physical organism as a whole; it includes both bodily appetite and consciousness of that appetite.]

Joy is manís passage from a less to a greater perfection. [Perfection refers to the body's ability to affect and be affected in many ways, and the mind's correlative ability to frame active ideas-in other words, the physical and psychological sides of conatus, vitality, or active power. Joy is the emotional expression of enhancement of our conatus.]

Sorrow is manís passage from a greater to a less perfection. [Sorrow is the emotional expression of the weakening of our conatus.]

[According to Spinoza, all of the other emotions are compounded of the three preceding ones. Thus each of Spinoza's subsequent definitions involves reference to at least two of these three (all emotions are expressions of desire), as well as to ideas of what causes the corresponding emotions. Emotions involving sorrow are passive; emotions involving joy are active.]


Love is joy with the accompanying idea of an external cause.

Hatred is sorrow with the accompanying idea of an external cause.

Hope is a joy not constant, arising from the idea of something future or past about the issue of which we sometimes doubt.

Fear is a sorrow not constant, arising from the idea of something future or past about the issue of which we sometimes doubt.

Confidence is a joy arising from the idea of a past or future object from which cause for doubting is removed.

Despair is sorrow arising from the idea of a past or future object from which cause for doubting is removed.

Gladness is joy with the accompanying idea of something past which, unhoped for, has happened.

Remorse is sorrow with the accompanying idea of something past which, unhoped for, has happened.

Favor is love toward those who have benefited others.

Indignation is hatred toward those who have injured others.

Aversion is pain, accompanied by the idea of something which is accidentally the cause of pain

Overestimation consists of thinking too highly of another person in consequence of our love for him.

Contempt consists in thinking too little of another person in consequence of our hatred for him.

Envy is hatred in so far as it affects a man so that he is sad at the good fortune of another person and is glad when any evil happens to him.

Compassion is love in so far as it affects a man so that he is glad at the prosperity  of another person and is sad when any evil happens to him.

Self-satisfaction is the joy which is produced by contemplating ourselves and our own power of action.

Humility is the sorrow which is produced by contemplating our impotence or helplessness.

Pride is thinking too much of ourselves, through self-love.

Despondency is thinking too little of ourselves through sorrow.

Self-exaltation is joy with the accompanying idea of some action which we imagine people praise.

Shame is sorrow with the accompanying idea of some action which we imagine people blame.

Honor is pleasure accompanied by the idea of some action of our own, which we believe to be praised by others.

Benevolence is the desire to do good to those whom we pity.

Anger is the desire by which we are impelled, through hatred, to injure those whom we hate.

Derision is pleasure arising from our conceiving the presence of a quality, which we despise, in an object which we hate.

Devotion is love towards one whom we admire.

Pity is pain accompanied by the idea of evil, which has befallen someone else whom we conceive to be like ourselves

Repentance is pain accompanied by the idea of some action, which we believe we have performed by the free decision of our mind.

Emulation is the desire of something, engendered in us by our conception that others have the same desire.

Revenge is the desire whereby we are induced, through mutual hatred, to injure one who, with similar feelings, has injured us.

Cruelty or savageness is the desire, whereby a man is impelled to injure one whom we love or pity.

Courtesy or deference (Humanitas seu modestia), is the desire of acting in a way that should please men, and refraining from that which should displease them.

Ambition is the immoderate desire of power.

Luxury is excessive desire, or even love of living sumptuously.

Intemperance is the excessive desire and love of drinking.

Avarice is the excessive desire and love of riches.

Lust is desire and love in the matter of sexual intercourse.

Spinoza's Remedy for Our Domination by the Passive Emotions

Note to Proposition XX,  Book 5 of The Ethics

    I have gone through all the remedies against the emotions, or all that the mind, considered in itself alone, can do against them. Whence it appears that the mind's power over the emotions consists:ó
    I.  In the actual knowledge of the emotions (V. iv note).
    II.  In the fact that it separates the emotions from the thought of an external cause, which we conceive confusedly (V. ii. and iv. note).
    III.  In the fact, that, in respect to time, the emotions referred to things, which we distinctly understand, surpass those referred to what we conceive in a confused and fragmentary manner (V. vii.).
    IV.  In the number of causes whereby those modifications, are fostered, which have regard to the common properties of things or to God (V. ix. xi.).
    V.  Lastly, in the order wherein the mind can arrange and associate, one with another, its own emotions (V. x. note and xii. xiii. xiv.).
    But, in order that this power of the mind over the emotions may be better understood, it should be specially observed that the emotions are called by us strong, when we compare the emotion of one man with the emotion of another, and see that one man is more troubled than another by the same emotion; or when we are comparing the various emotions of the same man one with another, and find that he is more affected or stirred by one emotion than by another. For the strength of every emotion is defined by a comparison of our own power with the power of an external cause. Now the power of the mind is defined by knowledge only, and its infirmity or passion is defined by the privation of knowledge only: it therefore follows, that that mind is most passive, whose greatest part is made up of inadequate ideas, so that it may be characterized more readily by its passive states than by its activities: on the other hand, that mind is most active, whose greatest part is made up of adequate ideas, so that, although it may contain as many inadequate ideas as the former mind, it may yet be more easily characterized by ideas attributable to human virtue, than by ideas which tell of human infirmity. Again, it must be observed, that spiritual unhealthiness; and misfortunes can generally be traced to excessive love for something which is subject to many variations, and which we can never become masters of. For no one is solicitous or anxious about anything, unless he loves it; neither do wrongs, suspicions, enmities, &c. arise, except in regard to things whereof no one can be really master.
    We may thus readily conceive the power which clear and distinct knowledge, and especially that third kind of knowledge (II. xlvii. note), founded on the actual knowledge of God, possesses over the emotions: if it does not absolutely destroy them, in so far as they are passions (V. iii. and iv. note); at any rate, it causes them to occupy a very small part of the mind (V. xiv.). Further, it begets a love towards a thing immutable and eternal (V. xv.), whereof we may really enter into possession (II. xlv.); neither can it be defiled with those faults which are inherent in ordinary love; but it may grow from strength to strength, and may engross the greater part of the mind, and deeply penetrate it.