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Love Part 18: Spinoza

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Perhaps his most controversial ideas were about God and love (he was called an "atheist" by many). "God loves no one and hates no one." This of course, would not agree with most people at the time (or now), but his reasoning seems good for most theology: "for God is not affected with any affect of joy or sorrow"..."God is free from passions." So he is actually talking about the "passion" of love, not the "intellectual love," which God does have for us:

“God, in so far as He loves Himself, loves men…the love of God towards men and the intellectual love of the mind towards God are one and the same thing.” Intellectual love is “eternal,” not like the passion of love, which is nothing but what the body feels at the time. “The intellectual love of the mind towards God is part of the infinite love with which God loves Himself.” And: “This intellectual love necessarily follows from the nature of the mind, in so far as it is considered, through the nature of God, as an eternal truth. If there were anything…contrary…it would be contrary to the truth.”

What may be even more controversial in Spinoza's time was his amazingly idealistic views on human nature. We can only love God, he says, because we share in the very same love as God loves himself; in other words, we share in God's perfection, "the mind is endowed with perfection itself." Much like a system of geometry, these philosophical beliefs actually follow from his other philosophical principles.

To understand his thoughts on love, you have to understand a little about Spinoza's non-belief in free will ("the mind is determined to this or that volition by a cause, which is also determined by another cause, and this again by another, and so on ad infinitum") and his pessimism ("men generally determine everything by their pleasure” and “very few…live according to the laws of reason"). In the spirit of the Enlightenment, he thinks "free actions" are those that follow the dictates of "reason." Spinoza's world is a giant mathematical clock, ticking away with perfect precision--everything has already happened--and God is the mathematical principle at the center, churning events forward unconsciously.

His definition of love is very simple: “Love is joy with the accompanying idea of an external cause…some authors, who define love to be the will of the lover to unite himself to the beloved object, expressing not the essence of love but one of its properties..." So is hate: "to hate a person is to imagine him as a cause of sorrow." But our imagination can control our passions. If we imagine that people are not a cause of our sorrow, we will stop hating them:

"Hatred which is altogether overcome by love passes into love, and the love is therefore greater than if hatred had not preceded it...for if we begin to love a thing which we hated, or upon which we were in the habit of looking with sorrow, we shall rejoice for the very resaon that we love, and to this joy which love involves a new joy is added, which springs from the fact that the effort to remove the sorrow which hatred involves is so much assisted..."

Notice the parellel with MLK, who said that when we "conquer" our enemies with love, we win a "double victory."

The Golden Rule is a rule of reason: “hatred is to be overcome by love, and…every one who is guided by reason desires for others the good which he seeks for himself.” The perfect society (MLK called the "blessed community" I think) is also based on rational principles: “Above all things is it profitable to men to form communities and to unite themselves to one another by bonds which may make all of them as one man: and absolutely, it is profitable for them to do whatever may tend to strengthen their friendships.” But, as Aristotle said, this is hard—“very few…live according to the laws of reason.”

Related Posts
Love Part 1: Platonic Love
Love Part 2: Aristotle
Love Part 3: Epictetus and stoic love 
Love Part 4: Marcus Aurelius
Love Part 5: Plotinus 
Love Part 6: the Buddha
Love Part 7: Christian Love
Love Part 8: Augustine
Love Part 9: Martin Luther King, Jr
Love Part 10: Aquinas 
Love Part 11: Dante
Love Part 12: a Real Love Letter
Love Part 13: Chaucer 
Love Part 14: Hobbes
Love Part 15: Machiavelli 
Love Part 16: Montaigne
Love Part 17: Bacon


Looking for Spinoza

Posted by Matt Smith at 10/26/2011 08:48:46 AM