Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Given Spinoza's insistence on a completely ordered world

  1. Dec 16, 2009 #1
    "Given Spinoza's insistence on a completely ordered world where "necessity" reigns, Good and Evil have no absolute meaning. Human catastrophes, social injustices, etc. are merely apparent. The world as it exists looks imperfect only because of our limited perception."

    Why are humans inclined to seek "Good" over "Evil"?

    where would I find Spinoza's passages regarding the question in his book?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 16, 2009 #2
    Re: Spinoza

    What do you mean by "Good and Evil have no absolute meaning"? Can you give an example of anything that has "absolute meaning"? AFAIK, the word "meaning" relates entirely to the human experience and is thus a wholly subjective word.

    I don't see how anyone could live in a deterministic universe. I mean, come on, can anyone really put up with such a knowledge and pretend the universe was otherwise? Maybe i need to do a poll.
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2009
  4. Dec 16, 2009 #3
    Re: Spinoza


    The quote was taken under 'ethical philosophy'.

    I asked the question to those who understand Spinoza's ethics, if there are any here.
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2009
  5. Dec 17, 2009 #4
    Re: Spinoza

    Are you familiar at all with natural processes?

  6. Dec 17, 2009 #5
    Re: Spinoza

    Why would someone pretend?
    What is so hard to put up with?
  7. Dec 17, 2009 #6
    Re: Spinoza

    Lack of free will. If you lose Free Will, you lose everything that one ever thought existed. Lack of free-will is a direct testimony that we are living in a simulated universe and you have no control over the course of your life(which isn't really a life but a pre-determined chain of events that you mistake for Life with conscious choices that humans make). What could ever be worse than this? Example?
  8. Dec 17, 2009 #7
    Re: Spinoza

    How does the assumption of "natural processes" prove that we don't have free will? Where did you get the idea there was some sort of concensus that we live in a deterministic universe? Or that consciousness was governed by deterministic processes? Why do you assume that because a human does not understand how free-will works, Free-will does not exist? Such a belief is an enormous leap of Faith that borders on religion. Our ability to understand reality is limited, we are no gods(for certain, at least not yet).
    A deterministic universe is the same as saying "God did it", how does the idea of a "natural" process relate with the idea of a creator? Is god 'natural'?

    Can you show me what condition had to be met, that the sinularity of the Big Bang had to create my laptop 14 billion years later, if it wasn't for the engineers who willfully designed it? Who designed the LHC - The initial conditions?

    Are you familiar at all with emergent properties?
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2009
  9. Dec 17, 2009 #8
    Re: Spinoza

    Discussions of free will are of course linked to the idea of determinism, but I think general consensus is that free will and determinism are not linked. Most incompatbilists simply think free will is impossible whether or not we have determinism. Most compatibilists think free will is possible and determinism is true - some think we have free will either way. But free will doesn't have much to do with good and evil in Spinoza, which is what the OP asked about. Spinoza's framework is clearly 100% rational and deterministic, so discussions of determinism and free will belong in another thread.

    In Part III Prop XXXIX of Spinoza's http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Ethics_%28Spinoza%29" [Broken] there is the note:
    This doesn't really answer the question, but it does reinforce the statement that humans are are inclined to pursue good and avoid evil. This may actually be all that there are to the concepts.

    There is more insight in the preface to Part IV (note that Spinoza earlier states good and evil are synonymous with perfection and imperfection in a way):
    And in the definitions to Part IV:
    Perhaps even more importantly we get the following, also in Part IV:
    What I get from all of this, and other sections, is that your original question, Nusc, isn't answered by Spinoza :smile:. He doesn't need to answer it. He simply defines good and evil as what people do search for or avoid, and not what they should strive for. Good and evil are, as you mentioned, arbitrary human modes of thinking. There is no such thing as a true final cause, or a why, for Spinoza. Final causes are mental constructions by imperfectly rational humans. God or Nature (Deus sive Natura) has no use for why.

    What Spinoza thinks we should strive for is freedom, or perfectly rational reasoned thought. Perfect reason is what defines God. By aiming for this perfection we bring ourselves closer to God or Nature. One criticism of Spinoza is that he doesn't really show why we should prefer perfect rationality to irrational emotions such as love, for example. I don't think that he really explains this point. In Part V he does go on to explain [STRIKE]how to search for freedom, but not why.[/STRIKE] Edit: I lied. He talks about reason as a means to control and power, particularly in minimizing ones own emotions and becoming more godly, as God has no emotions. This still doesn't address the final cause issue of why one should want to be more godly. He does say that wanting to be godly is the only rational thing to do, and you can't do otherwise.

    It has been suggested that Spinoza's personal life - his lack of a love life, his excommunication by his community and faith - heavily influenced his philosophy and drove him to idealize rationality over emotion. The lack of final causes in his philosophy, however, make it hard for him to show why we should prefer perfection over imperfection.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  10. Dec 17, 2009 #9
    Re: Spinoza


    thanks again for the thoughtful input.
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2009
  11. Dec 17, 2009 #10
    Re: Spinoza

    I think a lot of people would argue that humans are naturally altruistic due to natural selection. So "evil" is just a stigma for people who are "bad" or the species. Don't most species have things that are both negatively and positively reinforced within the group? Good and evil could just be a more complex form of that.

    I think free will and determinism can coexist as well. Skinner thought free will was a false notion of inner causality.
  12. Dec 18, 2009 #11
    Re: Spinoza

    Well, we certainly lack the magical freewill that religions often use as a way to blame us for 'sin'. But that sort of freewill is self-contradicting. You can't make a choice if what you choose doesn't determine the outcome. Determinism is necessary for freewill.

    And what does 'lose everyting' even mean? Whether you have something that can be described as freewill or not, I don't see how you could possibly know the difference.

    Seriously, you have to stop having those Matrix movie marathons, they are rotting your brain. Simulated universe? What does simulation have to do with determinism? You're falling prey to what I like to call the fallacy of omniscience. You assume that because an outcome is causal, that it has already happened. Those are very different. And the word 'pre-determined' actually refers to something that is not causal. If an outcome is pre-determined, it doesn't follow a causal chain. When a boxer throws a fight, the outcome is not determined by the action of the fight, it was pre-determined. It is determined in the sense that there is a cause before the fight, but its not part of the fight.

    Predetermined is more like 'fate', where no matter what you do, the end will be the same. Its not a causal relationship, within the scope of defined action.
    Having to watch a Matrix movie marathon?
  13. Dec 18, 2009 #12
    Re: Spinoza

    Without free-will, what you know exists is simply what you are lead to believe by a chain of actions. There is absolutely no way to ascertain what is real and what exists. Reality is simply a pre-determined chain of events. You can't even claim that there is a universe, all you can say is that "I am lead to believe there exists a universe because of the pre-determined chain of events that appear in what apears to be my mental experience." This is a complete dead-end for our scientific endeavours to understand the universe.
    It entails giving up on explanation in science. It is in the very nature of the idea of strict determinism, that we should have no means of understanding the real physics - the physics underlying the chain of deterministic events.

    You are thinking skin-deep. Did the initial conditions at the BB require that i would appear to write this post 14 billion years later? In a completely deterministic universe, where you have no free-will, you cannot even prove that you exist, simple as that. You can only assert that your "logic" is a result of the initial conditions. But you cannot attach any truthfulness to such a statement because your fate was pre-determined, along with your reasoning, which might be completely wrong about reality as it really is(outside pre-determined events).

    Tell that to Einstein or the multitude of brilliant physicsts who take GR seriously and think the block universe, where there is no "NOW", is true. Can you show me the flaws of GR? Preferrably something that is peer-reviewed or at least from a reputable source.

    That fate then includes your "conclusions" about fate and renders them completely meaningless and worthless(we can never verify if they are true or false, we can only say fate brought up the conclusions that you just put forward). Way to prove your own theory wrong.
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2009
  14. Dec 18, 2009 #13
    Re: Spinoza

    You're not led to believe anything. Cause and effect means that one thing leads to another. You believe what you believe, because of your history. You make it sound like causality is some great anthropomorphic puppet master. Things are the way they are.
    I know I exist. I think therefore I am.
    No, determined and pre-determined are not the same.
    Well if you believe quantum mechanics then no, its not completely deterministic. On the quantum level the universe may be probablistic, which means you can't predict what will happen over that long a time frame. But quantum level fluctuations wouldn't affect individual choices, just the overall direction of the universe.

    That is a total non-sequitar. First, freewill requires at least everyday level determinism or else the choices you make would have a random result, which means no choice. Second, what does free will have to do with proving you exist??
    If I have logic at all, I exist.
    GR is not a theory of everything.
    Fate and determinism are not the same thing.
  15. Dec 18, 2009 #14
    Re: Spinoza

    If your "conclusions" were determined or pre-determined, then they are very possibly wrong and say nothing about the underlying physics. Do you really believe pre-determined and determined events(thought and conlcusions in this case) carry any weight at all?
    Why should i take seriously your determined "conclusions"?

    Your theory is clearly the end of science and our attempts to understand reality.
  16. Dec 18, 2009 #15
    Re: Spinoza

    Can you be a little more melodramatic?

    And really, its not like I made this up myself. I'm not that smart.
    You should really do some research on the terms you are using.
    Fate/pre-determined are not the same as 'determinism'.

    They really are quite different conceptually.

    Also you might look into this:
  17. Dec 18, 2009 #16
    Re: Spinoza

    This link is a shot in the dark. Please give me an exact quote that says humans don't have free will.

    Repeating 1000 times -"Determinism is not fate" will not get you out of your contradictions. Please show me evidence(I am now ready to discuss any source) that determinism and lack of free will do not equal fate.

    Your own theory is melodramatic. I think that free will is an emergent phenomena and my view does not lead to the blatant contradiction that your view has.

    What does
    How would you prove that the logic you have, which is caused by a preceding chain of events is even logic? Please be specific.

    Would you care to make a clean statement about your position? So far you have stuck up for determinism and made several vague comments that don't say much what you are arguing against or for.

    Are you willing to say clearly and unambiguously if you think we have or not free will? If you are now leaning towards compatibilism, i don't see why your initial statement was harsh and you stuck up for strict determinism, when my statement was that strict determinism leads to a simulated universe.

    If you don't have free-will, all your statements that you will ever make, carry absolutely no weight and meaning. Free will is essential for science.
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2009
  18. Dec 18, 2009 #17
    Re: Spinoza

    I don't mean to intrude upon other's arguments, nor do I really wish to argue, but I was just reading and figured I would throw out the suggestion of clearly defining your terms, specifically; Determinism. I may be wrong, but what I think is going on is that JoeDawg may be speaking of a Determinism which is Mechanical as opposed to teleological, meaning, that the "determined" events are not-neccessarily strictly implying something else, leading toward a specific end, rather, that an event happened (probabilistic or otherwise) that lead to another event happening, thus the latter event was "determined" by the prior, though not in a long causal chain running to "The Prime Mover". Fatalism may be implied in a strict teleological deterministic universe, but that need not be the case for looser forms of determinism/causality. Ultimatley, in my opinion, beyond this all is speculation for we (at this point) cannot know if the determinism we are arguing about is teleological,mechanistic, or some other form.
  19. Dec 18, 2009 #18
    Re: Spinoza

    We should be using the definition that was stated clearly by the OP in post #4. But, then again, this should also be a thread about Spinoza's views. Spinoza was a hard determinist, as defined by the literature the OP quoted.

    For Spinoza, everything that is is necessary. Nothing could ever be anything other than what it is. The past and the future are illusions, and the infinite history of nature is just part of the infinite substance of God.

    This is already getting away from the OP's question though. Does anyone have anything to say about seeking good over evil in The Ethics, or about Spinoza's ethics in general?
  20. Dec 18, 2009 #19
    Re: Spinoza

    I'll concede one thing - determinism might be true, there can be such a thing as fate. A good case can be made in favour of determinism and i am aware that arguments can be raised that will tip the scales more in favour of determinism. My personal opinion is that such knowledge(Spinoza's belief that there is no such thing as free will) cannot be compatible with life, i imagine there are other people who feel this way towards pre-determination and fate and who will argue against hard determinism till they run out of their last argument.

    Moreover, i don't see conceptual difference between "we are living in a simulated world" and " The past and the future are illusions, and the infinite history of nature is just part of the infinite substance of God." If determinism is true, it is possible that the "simulator" is god-like, such a proposition is definitely not out of the question.

    Spinoza's ideas, in so far as i am able to understand them, are vague. He talks about the human mind, rational choices, knowing God, emotions, etc. but how does he reconcile such notions with the idea that humans don't have free will? How would he know what God is if his thoughts were pre-detemined by God? If Spinoza lacks free will, he can't even know if there is a god or not. We cannot even have a rational discussion of any sort if we don't assume upfront that we have free will.
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2009
  21. Dec 18, 2009 #20
    Re: Spinoza

    You're right about Spinoza not allowing for free will. Not even the infinitely perfect God is accorded free will. He describes his view in Part I:
    Spinoza finds notions of free will to be absurd and contradictory. Will is an illusion and does not exist. Between compatiblists, who define free will so that it works with determinism, and incompatibilists who say free will is not compatible with determinism, I don't think anyone would really argue Spinoza's point here. It is usually accepted that the notion of free will you seem to have is not compatible with either deterministic or indeterministic accounts of physics. It also leads to logical paradoxes.

    This view is not universal, of course. Philosophers who say that determinism and free will are incompatible and we do have free will are called libertarians. The most relevant SEP article is http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/incompatibilism-theories/" [Broken]. This article discusses potential options for a libertarian account of free will. It concludes with:
    It seems like a stretch to make such strong claims about what we can and can't do without free will, as you define it, when we can't even tell in principle whether we have free will or not. You might conclude that all of our actions are meaningless if they are determined, but that won't stop us from doing them anyways and deluding ourselves about their meaning. If you take rationality to the extreme, Spinoza's framework is exactly what you get. I certainly wouldn't call indeterminism rational - arbitrary and irrational would be more like it.

    For Spinoza, not even God has free will. Even God is completely determined by his own nature and cannot do anything other than exactly what he does. Emotion, intellect, will, good and evil, are all perfectly rational and explainable illusions.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook