...When examining the idea of the cause of a particular (finite) thing I believe we must consider two aspects of that thing, its essence and its existence.
As you have pointed out, the cause of the existence of a particular (finite) thing is shown by Spinoza in E1P28 to be some other finite thing, etc. and this being so, God has the idea of the whole chain of causes (the "common order of nature"). Keep in mind that God does not have this chain of ideas in the way that we might endeavor to imagine it, that is in "time". The ideas of individual things in "the idea of God" (see E2P3) are all clear and distinct and eternal whereas in our mind we cannot have these ideas as adequate. For us, even the ideas of our own particular body/mind, as to it's existence are not adequate. Spinoza indicates:
===== E2P29Cor =====
This difference between our mind and "the idea of God" seems to be illustrated quite nicely by Spinoza in:
Ok, so far we might be able to reason (as Spinoza did) that God has the ideas of all things including therefore the causal chain but we cannot ourselves follow that actual chain of causes. When I first read this and thought about it in my own confused way I was disappointed because I wanted to follow that chain! It's kind of like the inhabitants of Plato's Cave wanting the fellow who claims to have been "outside" (whatever that is) to show them what he's talking about by displaying shadows on the wall. Continued study of Spinoza's ideas however has revealed something better with which the mind can occupy itself than chasing shadows. So what good is this idea? Let's go on to your second question and it might become more clear.
You ask: "What are the differences between the existence of a particular thing and the duration of that thing?" I think if we start with Spinoza's definition of duration we might see more about his view on this.
===== E2: DEF. 5: =====
For me this often becomes confusing because my imagination wants to "picture" this. He's defining duration with "continuance" and I blend that back into "time" in my imagination. However, thinking about our first discussion above on the chain of causes (or "the order of nature") we can perhaps reason that given any particular collection of particular things (let's say the Earth) the order of nature whereby each particular thing in that collection is found to be in a particular relation to the other things (for instance, from our view we say our body reaches a certain age) is not "strung out in time" in the "idea of God". The "idea of God" is eternal and does not involve time. Time is a confused idea we form through the operations of our imagination and it does not adequately represent to us the "idea of God". Spinoza, expresses this in:
===== E5P29, Note. =====
The note he referred to above may help answer your question and more importantly help to point out the direction in which Spinoza is leading us:
===== E2P45 =====
===== E2P45N =====
Many people seem to pass over too quickly Spinoza's caution to avoid abstractions and, of equal importance, to avoid confusing "things of reason" with "real beings". It was not until I set aside my desire to form an abstract image of God and of a general type of "man" and began to examine my own particular nature that the following proposition came to life for me:
===== E5P30: =====
He is saying no less than that we can know, to a certain extent, the essence of God in so far as we come to know our own particular essence as a real entity, not through some abstraction and not even through reason but intuitively, that is, directly. When we come to know ourselves in this way, to whatever extent, we are joined to that which is eternal (existence itself, timeless, not infinite in duration) and infinite!
Note that the entire Ethics is a work of Reason (the second kind of knowledge) and as such we can know the ideas to be true. However, Spinoza's aim is to bring the mind into direct union with its essence (God) through Intuition (the third kind of knowledge). In this regard he points to the vast difference between the two ways of knowing in:
===== E5P36Note =====
...I will confess that I came to Spinoza not through an academic path but through an inner quest for something --though I knew not what it might be at the time. It has only been after long self-study, using Spinoza and a few other's writings for guidance, that the "Eternal Light" has "begun" (from the viewpoint of my imagined life) to dawn.
Yours in Inner Friendship,
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