Freedom and Bondage

Since everything is what it is, not by choice but by necessity, this impacts human beings as well. If God is one substance and all other things “modes” or modifications of that one substance, then necessity applies to human beings, too. Insofar as human beings understand why everything is as it is, the more genuine their knowledge is. A person possesses more happiness and “peace of mind” in proportion as his knowledge is more genuine.

Determinism

Determinism is the doctrine that everything in nature cannot be other than what it is. This applies not only to “objects” in nature — that is, to all sorts of material things — but applies to human nature as well. Human beings do not act freely. In Part I Spinoza wrote:

All things depend on the power of God. That things should be different from what they are would involve a change in the will of God, and the will of God cannot change (as we have most clearly shown from the perfection of God): therefore things could not be otherwise than as they are.

Because of this,

There is no mind absolute or free will, but the mind is determined for willing this or that by a cause which is determined in its turn by another cause, and this one again by another, and so on to infinity.

These passages reveal Spinoza as a thorough-going determinist. Still, Part V of his Ethics is entitled “Concerning the Power of the Intellect or Human Freedom.” In this section he shows that the use of one's intellect may “lead to liberty.”

Escaping Bondage

Once you posseses the highest kind of knowledge, which for Spinoza is intuitive knowledge, you attain the “intellectual love of God.” Human beings are only modes of God and thus have only partial understanding. The more knowledge you have of God, the less you suffer from evil emotions. What emotions? The emotions of hatred, anger, envy, to name a few. You act when you are the adequate cause of anything; you suffer when you are the cause only partially. Human freedom is freedom from passivity and suffering.

Spinoza offers up a moving ethic at the end of Book IV of the Ethics, saying that “the free man thinks of nothing less than of death; that, living among the ignorant he strives as much as possible to avoid their favors; that he endeavors to unite other men with himself in friendship; that he never acts fraudulently; that he hates no one, envies no one, is angry with no one.”

An emotion can be restrained or removed only by an opposed and stronger emotion. So your ability to withstand the pressures around you, to ward off sorrow, to fight excessive desire, depends on you fighting those emotions with equal vigor. The task of overcoming such emotions is never final, but constant. Its task is accomplished with knowledge and virtue. And the highest virtue of the mind is to know God. Knowing God makes your ideas more adequate and your power to act is thereby increased.

Men disagree as far as their ideas are disturbed by emotions; when guided by reason they tend to understand and thus to agree. An emotion that is a passion and is thus destructive of your power ceases to be a passion as soon as you form a clear idea of it. By understanding all the causes that play upon you, you can oppose any threat to your freedom or your power.

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