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Knowledge of the Second Kind or Reason

The following was posted to the Spinoza Ethics Slow Reading list in October 2004 (see Related Sites)
A discussion had been continuing with regard to Reason or the Second Kind of Knowledge and how Spinoza used it in his writings and how it might relate to the First Kind of Knowledge or Imagination. One of the list members was researching how words might relate to ideas.

    What I'm suggesting is that you might be helped in your research if you set it aside for the moment (not abandon it) and look more closely at what Spinoza writes about the Second Kind of Knowledge, as contrasted with the First Kind of Knowledge, and that might help you to see what he means when he writes about words, images, and ideas:

========== E2: PROP. 49 Corollary, Note:
...[I will] warn my readers to make an accurate distinction between an idea, or conception of the mind, and the images of things which we imagine. It is further necessary that they should distinguish between idea and words, whereby we signify things. These three--namely, images, words, and ideas --are by many persons either entirely confused together, or not distinguished with sufficient accuracy or care...

...This misconception will easily be laid aside by one, who reflects on the nature of knowledge, and seeing that it in no wise involves the conception of extension, will therefore clearly understand, that an idea (being a mode of thinking) does not consist in the image of anything, nor in words. The essence of words and images is put together by bodily motions, which in no wise involve the conception of thought.

    Notice that this note in Part 2 comes after he has identified and discussed the three kinds of knowledge in E2P40N2 and also after he has already shown by reasoning that:

=========== E2: PROP. 41:
Knowledge of the first kind is the only source of falsity, knowledge of the second and third kinds is necessarily true.

Proof.--To knowledge of the first kind we have (in the foregoing note E2P40N2) assigned all those ideas, which are inadequate and confused; therefore this kind of knowledge is the only source of falsity (E2P35). Furthermore, we assigned to the second and third kinds of knowledge those ideas which are adequate; therefore these kinds are necessarily true (E2P34). Q.E.D.

    So, again, what does Spinoza write about the Second Kind of Knowledge or Reason? I will not repeat myself too much here, you can read what I've already posted, but more importantly I'm suggesting you go back and look more carefully at the definition and explanation he gives of the Second Kind of Knowledge.

    For now I will embellish upon what I wrote before and point out that as I read the Ethics Part 2 now I see some things much more clearly than I did the first few hundred times I read it (ok, maybe it just SEEMS like it took me a few hundred times) and so I'll offer some observations which may help you but of course they may also be of no value to you:

(1.) Each time I read through Part 2, when I got to Prop. 19 and continuing through the Corollary to Prop. 29, I found myself disliking what he was saying. I wanted to hear all about how wonderful the mind is and to hear about the "union existing between the mind and the whole of nature" but at every turn as I proceeded through these propositions (19 thru 29C) he seemed to be saying "Sorry, you can't know this and you can't know that." The last corollary even summarized all he had said and I thought "Man what a letdown, it sounds like we don't know anything clearly":

=========== E2: PROP. 29, Corollary:
--Hence it follows that the human mind, when it perceives things after the common order of nature, has not an adequate but only a confused and fragmentary knowledge of itself, of its own body, and of external bodies. For the mind does not know itself, except in so far as it perceives the ideas of the modifications of body (E2P23). It only perceives its own body (E2P19) through the ideas of the modifications, and only perceives external bodies through the same means [E2P26]; thus, in so far as it has such ideas of modification, it has not an adequate knowledge of itself (E2P29), nor of its own body (E2P27), nor of external bodies (E2P25), but only a fragmentary and confused knowledge thereof (E2P28 and note E2P28N) Q.E.D.

(2.) Finally a little relief from what seemed to be my dreary fate:

=========== E2: PROP. 29 Corollary, Note:
--I say expressly, that the mind has not an adequate but only a confused knowledge of itself, its own body, and of external bodies, whenever it perceives things after the common order of nature; that is, whenever it is determined from without, namely, by the fortuitous play of circumstance, to regard this or that; not at such times as it is determined from within, that is, by the fact of regarding several things at once, to understand their points of agreement, difference, and contrast. Whenever it is determined in anywise from within, it regards things clearly and distinctly, as I will show below.

    He closes this note with "...Whenever it is determined in anywise from within, it regards things clearly and distinctly, as I will show below." but first he has a few more things to say about those things that we can only know inadequately (Props. 30 through 31 Corollary).

(3.) He goes on then to show that for God, all ideas are true and also that any ideas in our mind (which is a part of God's mind) that are absolute or adequate and perfect must also be true because they are adequate and perfect in God in so far as he constitutes the essence of our mind (Props. 32 and 34). And it is here too where he shows the nature of false ideas which involve inadequate, fragmentary, or confused ideas (Props. 33 and 35) and shows that all ideas whether inadequate and confused or adequate and clear and distinct follow from the same necessity.

(4.) What follows here in Part 2 are the things he refers back to when he tells us what he means by Knowledge of the Second Kind or Reason and which he designates as "That which is common to all..." I did not look that carefully on my first several reads through at Props. 36 through 39 and as I mentioned before when I got to where he refers back to these in Note 2 to Prop. 40 in defining the Second Kind of Knowledge I just kind of said to myself "Yes, yes, I just read those propositions so I know what he means."

    Spinoza said "The essence of words and images is put together by bodily motions, which in no wise involve the conception of thought." So, are words and images common to all? Are words and images ideas? Do adequate ideas follow from any particular arrangement of words on the page (even Spinoza's words) or of words spoken or of any particular association of words with images in our particular imagination?

    If not then they cannot be the bases of the Second Kind of Knowledge as Spinoza points out in the following:

============ E2: PROP. 44, Corollary 2:
--It is in the nature of reason to perceive things under a certain form of eternity (sub quadam aeternitatis specie).

Proof.--It is in the nature of reason to regard things, not as contingent, but as necessary (E2P44). Reason perceives this necessity of things (E2P41) truly--that is (E1A6), as it is in itself. But (E1P16) this necessity of things is the very necessity of the eternal nature of God; therefore, it is in the nature of reason to regard things under this form of eternity. We may add that the bases of reason are the notions (E2P38), which answer to things common to all, and which (E2P37) do not answer to the essence of any particular thing: which must therefore be conceived without any relation to time, under a certain form of eternity.

    It seems to me that we must recognize that the Ethics (as it is written) is an expression of Reasoning or the Second Kind of Knowledge and so Spinoza warns us not to confuse the words he wrote with the adequate ideas he is attempting to expresses by their use. As I said before, to me the words of the Ethics are like a map but that map represents Ideas and involves things common to all and which cannot be imagined. If we cannot find within our own mind that we have "ideas common to all" then we will only be following Spinoza's words, not his Reasoning. I think we far too often imagine that we are Reasoning when we are simply watching our imagination dance to the words on the page.

    I don't know if this will help you in your research, I can only hope that it does. Take it as just one person's expression and interpretation of Spinoza's words. On the other hand, the effort to think about, compose, and post these words here is part of the growth experience of my own Understanding and so I thank you and others for providing expressions for each of us to think about.



The discussion continued with regard to Reason or the Second Kind of Knowledge and how Spinoza used it in his writings and also how it relates to the Third Kind of Knowledge.

Hi All,

    Perhaps by the point in the Ethics where Spinoza proved by rigid Reasoning (apparently to his own satisfaction) that:

======== E2: PROP. 11:
The first element, which constitutes the actual being of the human mind, is the idea of some particular thing actually existing.


======== E2: PROP. 11, Corollary:
--Hence it follows, that the human mind is part of the infinite intellect of God.

he had some notion that his readers may have trouble following his proofs as he included the following note:

======== E2: PROP. 11 Corollary, Note:
--Here, I doubt not, readers will come to a stand, and will call to mind many things which will cause them to hesitate; I therefore beg them to accompany me slowly, step by step, and not to pronounce on my statements, till they have read to the end.

    However, it seems to me that some readers may just say to themselves; "Yes, I'll bet there are some people like that, thank goodness this doesn't apply to me" or perhaps some may complain that he cannot mean for us to simply go "over and over and over and..." his propositions as if there is some limited number of times one can read them after which we may simply move on to higher things as if we've earned a certain number of points for time. Just how many times does it take for any particular person to go through step by step with Spinoza in the Ethics before they begin to Understand in the way Spinoza apparently intended?

    My suspicion is (but of course I do not know with certainty) that such persons do not understand what Spinoza means by the term Reason or the Second Kind of Knowledge but rather associate it with some long ago pain they may have felt in a math class where they just could not follow the material and had to resort to memorizing formulas or rules. The Ethics may remind them of how much they hated Geometry class --and no doubt the way some teachers present it the topic could put off Euclid himself --but the fact remains that Spinoza seems to have had a high regard for the geometric form of demonstration and for mathematics.

    So, again, how does Spinoza define the Second Kind of Knowledge in the Ethics? If you are following him step by step when he writes:

======== E2: PROP. 40, Note 2:
...From the fact that we have notions common to all men, and adequate ideas of the properties of things (E2P38C, E2P39, E2P39C, and E2P40); this I call reason and knowledge of the second kind.

do you just brush past this and say something like "Yes, yes, I know --I've read this a hundred times! I 'know' what reason is but Spinoza says there's something better so why bother with it?" or do you ever stop and ask yourself just why does he refer me back to those particular propositions (especially the last one E2P40)?

    I've already pointed out that Spinoza says in several places in the Ethics that he is expressing things from the Second Kind of Knowledge, for example in the Preface to Part 3: he says that he will "set forth with rigid reasoning..." so does anyone actually believe that if he could have found some way to express himself using the Third Kind of Knowledge he would have gone to all this trouble? Even when he does get to the topic of the Third Kind of Knowledge towards the end of the Ethics he continues right along to the last proposition using rigid Reasoning.

    So if anyone is tired of going over and over and over what Spinoza wrote in the Ethics perhaps they need to ask themselves whether they are actually Reasoning at all?



A member mentioned the trouble he was having coming to terms with what he saw as a problem "well known among scholars of Spinoza" namely "the ontological argument." He also made reference to Bertrand Russell's writings and to Kant and even to something in Frederick Kettner's writings included on this web site.

    Well, perhaps (I don't know for certain of course) this is part of the problem many people have in this area. Rather than beginning by accepting that we ourselves know next to nothing clearly we accept that "scholars" or other "authorities" have already shown particular things to be true or not true (whether we have any understanding of these things for ourselves doesn't seem to matter as long as we have their "word") and then when we encounter anything new to us it must pass through a word and phrase test first and if the new words and phrases don't seem to fit then they must either be rejected or they must be made to explain or disprove those "well known" words and phrases. Your appeal to Russell, Kant, Kettner, and even Spinoza as sources of possible truth which may or may not be at odds with each other is of little use in my experience. Spinoza, and I believe there are others too but this is after all a Spinoza-Ethics list, is trying to help us to see within our own Mind, not through our imagination of his mind or anyone else's, that we already posses certain ideas common to all and adequate ideas of the properties of things and that ultimately we may find that all of these have one Infinite and Eternal source which we can only know directly through itself. He wrote that Our Intellect (again, not what we imagine to be Spinoza's or anyone else's intellect):

========== TEI-P31(31):
"...by its native strength [By native strength, I mean that not bestowed on us by external causes, as I shall afterwards explain in my philosophy], makes for itself intellectual instruments, whereby it acquires strength for performing other intellectual operations, and from these operations gets again fresh instruments, or the power of pushing its investigations further, and thus gradually proceeds till it reaches the summit of wisdom."

    He is referring to Ideas, not words or images but again he points out that though we may read the words as he expresses this we still may not have understood the difference and such a distinction is key to making any forward progress. Spinoza offers two specific examples in the Improvement of the Understanding of Intuitive Knowledge which he says he has attained to for himself. When I first read these I agreed with both of them and didn't give them much further thought yet it was only after more than twenty years that I began to realize what he was referring to and for me this involved the distinction I had not yet found between words/images and Ideas. Perhaps other's are not so slow to pick up on this as I am but for me anyway it was Spinoza's writings which served and continue to serve as my Treasure Map and which continues to help me discover more of the Infinite Treasure within.

    I will try to illustrate the problem that I see with your appeal to external authorities including even Spinoza:

    It's as though Spinoza is trying to help us make a particularly difficult move while climbing a mountain and he suggests that we carefully consider several steps that may help us move forward from where we are but at first we don't just hear Spinoza's words, rather all these other image fragments and words both from "authorities" and even, as [another list member] has pointed out, Spinoza's own words written for another climbing exercise crowd into our imagination and by their distraction we attempt to follow other steps at this moment and for this move and down we fall again into our imagination. Fortunately this type of falling brings no bodily injury and we can, if we are so inclined, pick ourselves up and rejoin Spinoza again and again. Not an appeal to external authority here but the story of "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" by Richard Bach illustrates this aspect of the Improvement of the Understanding quite nicely for me.

    It also might help to consider the following:

--------------- Insert from another Spinoza list:
    I noticed that Spinoza wrote in a letter:

======== Letter 74 (76) Spinoza to Albert Burgh:
...you seem to wish to employ reason, and ask me, "How I know that my philosophy is the best among all that have ever been taught in the world, or are being taught, or ever will be taught?" a question which I might with much greater right ask you; for I do not presume that I have found the best philosophy, I know that I understand the true philosophy. If you ask in what way I know it, I answer: In the same way as you know that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles...

    He wrote; "I do not presume that I have found the best philosophy..." and I wondered; is he just expressing humility here and saying something like "Yes, there have been great philosophies in the past, and there may be greater to come in the future, and mine may not be as good as others, etc."? No!, he is not comparing among various "philosophies" as written or spoken (including his own "philosophy") but rather he says "I know that I understand the true philosophy." So now what? Is he expressing pride and ambition that (in his view) his is the only true "philosophy"? No! he tells his correspondent that he knows and understands THE True Philosophy -singular, without another with which a comparison has been or can be made. There is only one Reality and we know it only to the extent that we know and understand our own nature. The "True Philosophy" is not "Spinoza's philosophy" in the form of writing and expression as found in the Ethics. The True Philosophy, as The Word of God, is not contained in so many books and abstract ideas but can only be known directly through our own nature:

======== E5: PROP. 30:
Our mind, in so far as it knows itself and the body under the form of eternity, has to that extent necessarily a knowledge of God, and knows that it is in God, and is conceived through God.
--------------- End of insert




I welcome any thoughts on the above subject.
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tneff [at] earthlink [dot] net

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