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Knowledge of the Third Kind or Intuition

The following was posted starting on 4/11/2002 to the Spinoza Ethics Slow Reading list (see Related Sites)
A question was raised concerning what Spinoza means when he says, about the Third Kind of Knowledge: "This kind of knowledge proceeds from an adequate idea of the absolute essence of certain attributes of God to the adequate knowledge of the essence of things."

    To me it means that, unlike Reason, which starts with things seemingly separate from my mind and by comparing and contrasting them infers other things which must be true if these separate things are true, Intuition starts with that which cannot be apart from my mind actually and when this is known the essence of things which belong to that actual essence become known directly, not through inferential steps. The term immediate seems to apply here --not mediated, nothing in between. With reason, something stands between, mediating premises and conclusion. When Spinoza says (or says whatever words are interpreted here as) "proceeds from" this is not a flow seemingly through time but rather is a direct union of object and subject --what follows follows without mediation --it is the Mind "Minding" Itself.



A possible alternative phrase for "proceeds from" was suggested by the questioner; "strides on (progresses) from.. to.." and a comment was made that "This would also indicate that Spinoza's Intuition stands on the shoulders of Reason."

    It's not clear to me what it is that you are saying "proceeds from", "strides on" or "progresses" or whether this "progress" is in time. Also are you saying that Intuition is dependent on Reason?

    Spinoza said:

========= E2: PROP. 40, Note 2:
This kind of knowledge proceeds from an adequate idea of the absolute essence of certain attributes of God to the adequate knowledge of the essence of things.

    He describes Intuition here with the terms "proceeds from" and "to" and this brings to my imagination a sequence in time. However, the Understanding of "the absolute nature of any attribute of God" involves knowledge that:

========= E1: PROP. 21:
All things which follow from the absolute nature of any attribute of God must always exist and be infinite, or, in other words, are eternal and infinite through the said attribute.

which also involves:

========= E1: PROP. 20, Corollary 2:
--Secondly, it follows that God, and all the attributes of God, are unchangeable.

Later, in Part 5, when he is well involved in the Third Kind of Knowledge he says:

========= E5: PROP. 29, Note:
--Things are conceived by us as actual in two ways; either as existing in relation to a given time and place, or as contained in God and following from the necessity of the divine nature. Whatsoever we conceive in this second way as true or real, we conceive under the form of eternity, and their ideas involve the eternal and infinite essence of God, as we showed in E2P45 and E2P45N, which see.

    Time and Place involve things seemingly external to our mind and these appear to change and progress from one to another. While what we conceive to "follow" from the necessity of the divine nature involves no change or progress through time and place but rather may be said to appear "all at once" though this phrase still leads me to imagine "...at this point in time."

    Spinoza then says:

========== E5: PROP. 31, Note:
--In proportion, therefore, as a man is more potent in this kind of knowledge, he will be more completely conscious of himself and of God; in other words, he will be more perfect and blessed, as will appear more clearly in the sequel.

But we must here observe that, although we are already certain that the mind is eternal, in so far as it conceives things under the form of eternity, yet, in order that what we wish to show may be more readily explained and better understood, we will consider the mind itself, as though it had just begun to exist and to understand things under the form of eternity, as indeed we have done hitherto; this we may do without any danger of error, so long as we are careful not to draw any conclusion, unless our premises are plain.

    Notice that even though he says:

"...will be more completely conscious of himself and of God"


"...we will consider the mind itself, as though it had just begun to exist and to understand..."

the phrases "will be" and "just begun", while seeming to imply progress (as a change in time), do not apply to things conceived (by the Third Kind of Knowledge) "as contained in God and following from the necessity of the divine nature."

    Spinoza seems to emphasize this point a little further on when he says "...which we feigned [pretended or assumed] to accrue to it":

========== E5: PROP. 33, Note:
--Although this love towards God has (by the foregoing Prop. E5P33) no beginning, it yet possesses all the perfections of love, just as though it had arisen as we feigned in the Coroll. of the last Prop. E5P32C. Nor is there here any difference, except that the mind possesses as eternal those same perfections which we feigned to accrue to it, and they are accompanied by the idea of God as eternal cause. If pleasure consists in the transition to a greater perfection, assuredly blessedness must consist in the mind being endowed with perfection itself.



The original questioner then asked, in part, "In your comments below you seem to seek to discard a 'sequence in time'. What, then, in your own words, do you think is actually happening here? What is the actual individual psychological process? When, why, as a result of what does any person proceed to acquire knowledge of the third kind? And why at all?"

    I assumed (and still assume) from your initial question that you were interested in looking more deeply into Spinoza's Third Kind of Knowledge and indeed part of my response was intended to express the idea that "proceeds from" should not be interpreted to mean that there is some sequence in time "when" this type of knowledge "occurs". I can only speak from my own "experience" and say that "when" this type of knowledge "happens" (notice I keep talking in terms of time; "when", "occurs", "happens", etc.) it is as though I had been in a dream the "moment before" and suddenly awaken and see the dream (which involves sequences of events and the flow of time) from a new "place" or "level", ... (there is no word, words are part of the dream) --and from this new "view" I am "outside" or "above" time and place. I do not mean that some "vision" occurs or that I see other worlds or angels, etc. but rather that all the things of the world are seen at once as mere illusion though I am still aware of the operations of that illusion and if someone talks to me I respond as usual (though the conversation may bring me back into the dream and I won't realize this has occurred until "later".) I am not "aware" of some odd sensation or vague feeling --rather, I Know that my Being is an expression of One Being which is Eternal and Infinite --there is no inference like "Well, if this and this is true then that must be so."

    I will guess that most people reading this will think of it as nonsense but I also know that there are others who have had similar "experiences" and are equally at a loss to put it into words but they always involve Timelessness (to put it the negative way) and they always talk about it as something that happened in the past in their lives. We all seem to fall asleep again but by working with the ideas Spinoza (and some others) have expressed I have begun to "experience" this type of Knowing more frequently and for longer "periods" (again, the time element only comes from the "dream side" which I don't see as a dream until I awaken to some degree.)

    So for me, by studying Spinoza's expressed ideas and reasoning about them step-by-step in my "dream" I find "now and then" (in my dream) that I "awaken" (again from the point of view of my dream) and find myself once again "outside of time and place" or better expressed perhaps; I Know that all things are expressions of One Eternal and Infinite Being which actually Is and there can be nothing else.

    I don't know if this helps you or not. I keep bringing out specific ideas from Spinoza in my posts because they are the tools that help me to the "Glorious State of Blessedness" which when found surpasses all things the dream world has to offer.

    With Warm Regards and an appreciation for the great difficulty involved in endevouring to awaken when we don't even suspect that we are dreaming,



Another member pointed out the similarity (or perhaps identity) of what I had expressed and the Buddha's initial enlightenment. Also, certain "powers" associated with such enlightenment were pointed out along with the fact that Buddha did not pursue these.

    Thank you much for your comments.

    In my dream world of course I hear a different meaning in them than when more awake but as with Spinoza's writings they seem like useful food for thought. I especially found the comment about "miracle powers", flying by "mind powers", etc. interesting (I'm not familiar with the animation "Dragon Balls" so I won't mention what came to my mind on first reading that title :-)

    Many years ago when I was fresh on the path I would read or hear references to great powers and of course I wanted to attain them but there were often warnings not to get "hung up" on such things --still, I secretly desired to attain them. Then a few years back I was listening to a lecture about Gnostic teachings and the lecturer was describing some other ideas about long cycles of time and the ability to move from one spiritual plane to another (or some such, I don't recall just now the specifics) and he goes on a bit and then he pauses and says something like, "Ok, you've been going from place to place for countless eons, Then What?" And I thought to myself yes, let's say I could manipulate my senses into infinite patterns so that "all things" would appear before me as though I were "there" --Then What?

    Indeed, the "peace of mind" or "Glorious State of Blessedness" is entirely different from any power I could dream up but then I don't know that while I'm dreaming :-)

    Warm Regards,


The original questioner then related that he too had experienced "instances of extrordinary understanding" but that they were experienced by him "as embedded in the string of conventional time."

    Please note that anything I post on this list is from my own viewpoint and experience. If you find it useful in your study of Spinoza's ideas that's a good thing from my view. If you have a different view about Spinoza's expressed ideas then please share it here. As usual YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary.)


    Perhaps as these experiences occur you might keep in mind (study the "map" before the trip) such ideas as Spinoza expresses in the following:

======== E2: PROP. 44 Corollary 1, Note:
...Further, no one doubts that we imagine time, from the fact that we imagine bodies to be moved some more slowly than others, some more quickly, some at equal speed.

    He reminds us, and discusses elsewhere, that imagination is the only source of error so we might begin to question our common belief that time is some fundamental base upon which things rest [xxxxxxx, I'm not saying you have this belief but I am speaking to all the members of this list]. While the body "endures" (from the viewpoint of the imagination) we each have before us or around us (from the same viewpoint) our own sense of something we refer to as time. But Spinoza is helping us to find a new way (new to our imagined self) of "seeing" things not based on time and place but rather, as they are: expressions of the Eternal (not endless time) and Infinite (not composed of an infinite number of finite bodies) One.

    Think over the following proof so it will be available (keep the map in your mental pocket) and when you again find this experience "embedded in the string of conventional time" you may begin to unblend the ideas involved:

======== E5: PROP. 29.
Whatsoever the mind understands under the form of eternity, it does not understand by virtue of conceiving the present actual existence of the body, but by virtue of conceiving the essence of the body under the form of eternity.

Proof.--In so far as the mind conceives the present existence of its body, it to that extent conceives duration which can be determined by time, and to that extent only has it the power of conceiving things in relation to time (E5P21 and E2P26). But eternity cannot be explained in terms of duration (E1D8). Therefore to this extent the mind has not the power of conceiving things under the form of eternity,

But it possesses such power, because it is of the nature of reason to conceive things under the form of eternity (E2P44C2), and also because it is of the nature of the mind to conceive the essence of the body under the form of eternity (E5P23), for besides these two there is nothing which belongs to the essence of mind (E2P13). Therefore this power of conceiving things under the form of eternity only belongs to the mind in virtue of the mind's conceiving the essence of the body under the form of eternity. Q.E.D.

    I have read what Spinoza says here many times without it being anything more than a string of words which invoke a vague feeling of agreement (having also read everything preceding and following in the Ethics to the same effect.) But as I read it now I see it as a map to help me find my way to my True Nature. This I can only do within my own mind and by my own efforts yet without the help of Spinoza and a few others I would never have found my way nor could I continue to gain ever deeper Understanding.



The original questioner commented that he did not believe that he ("I", "myself") would ever be in any way "timeless."


    Not knowing what you mean by "I" and "myself" when you say ever shall be in any way timeless I can't really say much --But that seldom keeps me from trying :-) I will say that if you mean, in terms of Spinoza's ideas, your imagination of your "self" then neither do I believe that it (as a confused idea) has any Reality (Perfection) outside of your imagination which is a collection of fragments and confusions according to Spinoza. Warning, long boring story follows:

    I was in my early twenties when I first began having "flashes of insight" --moments when an idea would come and go like a flash of light in a dark room and before I could analyze it --it was gone. I did not think; "Eternity", I just wondered what this was. These moments always occurred disconnected with whatever I was doing or thinking at the time. One evening I was listening to some music when I had a strong feeling, not a "flash" but a more sustained rising feeling, that peaked with my exclaiming in my inner chatter-box: "We're All the Same Being!"

    I began to voraciously devour books --anything that seemed like it might "tell me" what I was experiencing. Richard Alpert's (aka Baba Ram Dass) book "Be Here Now" became my focus for a while and in it, along with references to Buddha, Jesus, Hindu ideas and psychology I learned the name Gurdjieff. Later at the bookstore I found "In Search of the Miraculous" (about Gurdjieff's teaching) by P.D. Ouspensky and through an inserted card I learned about The XXXXXXXXXXXXX Group and its leader, XXXXXXXXXXXX. [Note] I had never heard of Spinoza and though I found the form of the Ethics intriguing (I would say I was rigidly logical at the time though all these flashes were blowing that apart) I still could not make much out of what appeared to be the subject matter. I read the words Eternity and Infinite but simply imagined vaguely unbounded time and space.

    This early contact with XXXXXXXXX and Spinoza left a very strong impression on me but after a few years I moved on and lost contact with the group. Still, I would return periodically to Spinoza. The flashes of insight would still occur now and then and I would have some vague idea that what I read in Spinoza was related but looking back I was still focused on the shadows and had no idea of The Substance. By the time I was in my late forties I had pretty much resigned myself to what had always been a background thought --"I guess I'll just find out what it's all about when I die."

    Then, just a few years ago (I wrote about this on the original Spinoza Slow-Reading list at the time) --finding myself "by choice" unemployed but able to feed and cloth myself for a while I once again began to focus on Spinoza. I had thumbed through Wolfson's "Philosophy of Spinoza" in the past but I sat down and studied the whole thing for about a month as I recall. This did not really help to explain Spinoza so much as it showed me some of the other viewpoints Spinoza often refers to and which I had always had vaguely swirling around in my imagination.

    After this concentrated effort I began again, as I had done so many times before, to study the Ethics from the beginning. I would read through and think about the first dozen propositions for several hours at a time to the point where I could nearly repeat it word-for-word. Still, though it seemed "logical" I wasn't getting it. After this few months of intense concentration I felt I had done all I could. At the time I liked to walk at the beach now and then for the exercise and fresh air and not having done so for some time I closed the book after reaching the 8th proposition and drove to the beach.

    As I walked down the steep hill on a sunny, crowded day and reached "the Strand" I turned to my left and began to walk toward the local pier --Suddenly, as though abruptly waking from a dream, I knew directly the ideas Spinoza had clothed in words. The sequence of the words of the propositions started to play in my head (and would do so off and on for the next few hours from the viewpoint of the dream) but a deeper inner voice told me to let them go for "Now" --"You're already Here." Part of me thought I needed to go back to the map but I realized at that moment that, although the "dream" of words and of life and time went on "I" was Awake and Spinoza's Ideas, which are really Ideas of our Essential Nature, are at root Eternal, Infinite One. This is not my "self" in any ordinary sense.

    A few days later, in my ordinary state of mind, I tried to repeat the steps and returned to the same spot but of course nothing happened. It is not a sequence of mechanical steps like words or motions. The next "experience" again came suddenly but each time the "map" I had prepared in ordinary life helped (and helps) the "Awakening."

    I'm in my mid-fifties now and still have a day-to-day life (and I believe this will appear to continue until my body, for whatever cause, dis-integrates) but with Spinoza's help what began as mere flashes is becoming (need I say from the viewpoint of my day-to-day life) a more frequent and long lasting Knowledge of the Third Kind.

    Spinoza tells us near the end of the Ethics that:

========== E5: PROP. 41:
Even if we did not know that our mind is eternal, we should still consider as of primary importance piety and religion [as he defines these], and generally all things which, in Part 4., we showed to be attributable to courage and high-mindedness [again, as he defines these.]

    But he also tells us that if we believe (confusedly) that something is impossible then for us it is impossible.

    I Hope for You "Progress" in your Life,
        Warm Regards,

I welcome any thoughts on the above subject.
You may send email to:
tneff [at] earthlink [dot] net

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