Spinoza is my favorite philosopher. However I must quickly add that I am not implying that I am in complete grasp of all of Spinoza’s philosophy, nor for even a fraction of it. Yet when a friend who finds out that I own upwards of 500 books in my small apartment asks me the deserted island question (which book would you take to an island if you could take only one?), it is an easy choice to answer Spinoza’s Ethics.
Why should I take the Ethics to an island if given only one choice? Because it is the closest thing that I’ve found that satisfies both my need for formal understanding of the universe around me, as well as offering up to my imagination concepts that lend to a more mystical relation to that same world. Spinoza might have argued against the idea of a dualism, but he also offers a nice bridge between the opposite shores of science and religion within. But still this is wrong; because he doesn’t offer a bridge as explain that the opposite shores of the river are on the same river (unifying the two that are not two but one).
For someone so appreciative of Spinoza I have yet to read fully the Ethics. I’ve read through portions of the parts concerning the mind and of God and have read essays by people with more reading than myself postulate the meanings of Spinoza’s work. Yet as Will Durrant recommends, I am finally getting to Spinoza himself. I’ve always told people who have argued against Freud or Jung, to not read of academic accounts of the two, but instead to approach the material directly, more truly.
And yet Spinoza is all around me. Before I left Houston in 2000 to move to “somewhere in the Pacific Northwest”, I was a Deep Ecologist, having read Arne Naess, George Sessions, and others. I was familiar with aspects of Zen and I practiced Yoga breathing (if not the demanding poses). Weaving in and out of all of these was the same notion of connectedness, of the “being”, the reverence for the “All”. Even now as I enter into Aikido training the teaching of Morihei Ueshiba, O-Sensei, there is still this mystical permeating unity of all things under, within the being of God.
Now Spinoza writes that passion without reason is blind, reason without passion is dead. He writes that the passivity of passion is human bondage; the action of reason is human liberty. Freedom is not from causal law or process, but from partial passion or impulse; and freedom not from passion, but from uncoordinated and uncomplicated passion. (Durrant) Could there be any thing more pressing for our attention than this? Would that the university spend 1% of money spent on athletics on the gathering of a library, of fostering of minds, of the creation of a form of dialogue where such ideas are encouraged to grow in the individual as we clearcut more watersheds, introduce more toxins (Parkinson’s Disease is now believed to be caused by environmental factors, i.e, toxins in the environment), and continue our greedy wars for oil and money.
The basic framework, understood I believe at least a small bit by myself, of Spinoza’s Ethics is quite beautiful. As I mentioned earlier, the similarities between the Ethics and Deep Ecology, seem evident from Deep Ecology’s 1st point in their platform:
The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves. These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.
This reminds me of the notes at the end of Section 1 on God in the Ethics where Spinoza writes of a the understand and ordering of things as they relate to causal chains (and how those causes must have human needs in mind), as well as the employment of aesthetic terms such as beautiful or ugly. The same faults are seen in our use of the environment as well as even the species that become the posters for ecogroups. Whales and bears and owls make their way onto cards, but possums and rats and the like seldom do.
What would be interesting to me would be to take a class purely on Spinoza’s Ethics so as to move deeper into the basic paradigm involved, but into real world examples. The Devil is in the details and when it comes to creating policy for environmental protection, it is the details that often are at fault (either too loose or too restrictive) and with a poor understanding of Nature and our place in it, it is no wonder that we have done such a fine job of botching things up.