vrijdag 21 juli 2017

5e blog over Robert A. Duff’s Spinoza's Political and Ethical Philosophy


In vervolg op het blog van gisteren, “Tussen humanum appetitum et cupiditatem bestaat geen verschil”, met het zevende hoofdstuk uit Robert A. Duff’s 1903-boek Spinoza's Political and Ethical Philosophy, breng ik, zoals aangekondigd nog een hoofstuk, nl. hfst 15 over de basiswetten van de menselijke natuur, om te laten zien hoe Duff diepgaande studie van Spinoza’s filosofie had gemaakt met het accent op ethiek en politiek, waar we nog steeds vruchtbaar gebruik van kunnen maken. Zoals hij aan de hand van Spinoza uitlegt hoe wij (alle dingen en ook mensen) genoodzaakt zijn te ondergaan en te doen, zoal we ondergaan en doen - alle dingen volgens 'hun eigen' wetten. “The universal striving to be, to do, and to get, is God’s law for human existence. It is written on every man‘s soul. No one can help seeking after God."


 
CHAPTER XV.
THE FUNDAMENTAL LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE.
Robert A. Duff, Spinoza's Political and Ethical Philosophy. Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons, The Macmillan Co., New. York, I903,  p.192- 207 [archive.org]
 THE full discussion in the last chapter will help to lighten this one. What has been shown is, that all human actions are necessitated; but that this necessity can work only from within, or through thought in some form, and indeed, only through the thought and desire of the individual who is necessitated or determined.
The next point which needs to be considered is, in what ways does this necessitation work in the case of a human being, that is, in what modes can he affect and be affected? Put in technical language (which in Philosophy at least has very much the defects of its qualities) what are the ‘laws’ of a human existence? Obviously there are some things a man can do, and some ways in which he can be affected, which would not hold good of a pane of glass, for instance. But just as obviously, there are things the pane of glass can do and suffer which a man cannot. A man cannot be such a plane even surface, or translucent, or impervious, or effective against wind and rain; he cannot break with a blow, or be cut with a diamand, or be struck without having something to say about the matter. The qualities of the glass are not his qualities, its ways of "affecting and being affected" are not his, i.e. the properties which it has as an essential part of Nature as a whole are quite different from his. And these peculiar ways of acting, and being acted on, are just what we call laws.
The laws of a human existence are then the distinctive ways of affecting, and being affected by other things and [193] beings which constitute, not a good man or a bad man, but a man. Men’s goodness and badness stand on, or spring out of, this fundamental nature which they owe neither to the State nor to civilisation, but to Nature as a whole, or to God who has made them human beings and not monkeys or mountains. God’s laws for man are, therefore, just those properties of human nature which make him from the first, and keep him to the last, a being among others, necessarily related to them and to outward objects, yet with his own distinctive ways of affecting and being affected by them.
It is to the failure of Ethical and Political theorists to recognise, analyse, and have regard to, these fundamental and divine laws of human nature, that Spinoza traces most of the unpracticalness of their teaching; while it is the chief glory, and honour, of statesmen and rulers of men, that they have, under the stern tuition of the logic of facts, learned to recognise that God has imprinted certain laws on human nature; that there are things which it will, and things which it will not stand; that there are some inducements to which it is amenable, and others to which it is not; that appeals to patriotism and righteousness in the abstract are of no use, unless you give these a concrete embodiment which each man can understand. Statesmen have seen through the pious fiction that virtue is always disinterested, and religion a sufficient safeguard for human liberties. They have not disdained to use the weapons upon which Theologians and Philosophers have cast contempt, viz. the common passions, and emotions, which stir every man, whether he is wise or foolish. They have seen nothing unclean in this common human nature with its fear and hope, its love and hate, its envy, avarice, frugality, ambition; and, fashioning their instruments to what they had to deal with, they have really accomplished what Philosophers and Theologians would only talk about. By a well-conceived and administered political order, which gave men solid reasons for living together in harmony, they have enlisted in the interest of the good life those very passions which would otherwise have been its enemies.
[194] We may quote one of Spinoza s most striking passages (Tract. Pol., Ch. I, §§ 1-2).
"Philosophers look upon the emotions by which men are stirred as vices into which they fall by their own fault. They are wont, therefore, to laugh at them, to weep over them, to carp at them, and those who make greater pretensions to piety, seek to hold them up to abhorrence. In thus acting they believe themselves to be doing something divine, and raising themselves to the highest reach of wisdom. In reality, the knowledge on which they pride themselves consists simply in much and varied laudation of a human nature which has no existence anywhere, and in revilings of that human nature which has a real existence. For they are not interested in men as they are, but only as they would wish them to be. Hence, in most cases, it is not an Ethic at all, but a Satire upon human nature, which they have written. And it is for this reason too, that they have never conceived a Political Order which is of any practical use; but only a Chimaera, or else a Political Order which might have been established in Utopia, or in that golden age of the Poets when there was no need of any government at all. This explains why, among all the sciences which have a practical application, the Theory of Politics is believed to differ most widely from the Practice of it. And it explains also why Theorists or Philosophers are considered to make the worst rulers for a State."
"Statesmen, on the other hand, are believed to be plotting against men rather than working in their interest, and are considered astute rather than wise. This view of them is due to the fact that they, having learned from experience that there will be vices as long as there are men, try to prevent human wickedness; and to do so effectively they make use of those arts which long practical experience has taught, and which men are wont to employ rather at the bidding of fear than of Reason. In making use of these arts, however, they seem to be running counter to Religion. Theologians especially are of this opinion, as they think that it is the duty of the rulers in the State to carry on public business in accordance with the same rules of morality as are binding on a private man. There can, however, be no doubt that Statesmen have written about Political problems to much more profit than Philosophers. For, as they have gained their knowledge from experience, they have taught nothing which is not of practical value."
The force of this will be evident if we note some of the chief laws of human existence on which Spinoza lays stress. As I have already said, these are not moral laws, but those peculiarly human modes of acting, and being acted on, out of which morality will arise. Spinoza sums them all up in that conatus in suo esse perseverandi, by which each tries, or [195] is impelled, to maintain and assert himself as far as he can. Not only has he a right to do this, as the power which is vested in him is God’s power and right in him, but he must, or ought to, do it. And the obligation is not one which rests on any human law, or on any divine command coming through the thought and will of other men; but on some thing deeper and more inviolable than these, viz. the essential nature, or constitution, of the man himself, the imperious eternal truth of his own nature, driving him on to choose and do what he judges to make most for his own welfare. Not only may he not forswear this, his birthright; he cannot if he would. God has not given him the power to be anything except a man, and to act in accordance with the laws of his own nature. Some theorists may call this the consecration of self-interest. Spinoza would take no exception to the phrase. It is the consecration of self-interest, the proof that it is God’s interest in man, and that, like Jeremiah, it is already sanctified even before it comes to birth in moral and civil rules of conduct.  
"It is the supreme law of Nature, that each thing endeavours to the utmost of its power to perseverare in suo statu, and to do so without regard to anything else, but only to itself. And it follows from this that each particular thing has the highest right to act in this way, i.e. to exist and operate as it has been naturally determined" (TheoL-Pol., Ch. 16). "It is a universal law of human nature, that no one sacrifices anything which he judges to be good, unless from hope of a greater good, or from fear of a greater loss; nor does any one prefer anything bad, except in order to escape something worse, or in the hope of a greater good. That is to say, every man will, of two goods, choose what he himself considers the greater, and of two evils what seems to him the less. I say explicitly what appears to the man who chooses to be greater or less. I do not say that the state of the case necessarily was as he judged it to be. And this law (lex) has been so deeply graven on human nature that it ought to find a place among those eternal truths of which no one can be ignorant" (Ibid.).
Thus the conatus sese conservandi works in each individual [196] man mainly through thought, or consciousness, or mind. Desire is not something other than thought, but simply a form of thinking. And all the emotions or passions of the soul (see Part 2, Axiom 3) are not alien forces in our mental life, but themselves mental activities. They do not need, therefore, to be changed into thought, seeing that they are already ideas or judgments. As such they involve in the individual not only consciousness or thought, but also a consciousness of what is desired, loved, hated, envied, etc.
Within this sphere of thought, desire, emotion, nothing comes which does not constitute a mental activity of the individual man. All thought, volition, desire, emotion are sui juris of the individual. Not only can no person or thing intrude there, except by becoming an object of his knowledge, love, desire, hate, envy, avarice, etc., i.e. except by becoming a new force in his spiritual existence and strengthening its energies; but also the individual himself cannot alter this condition, or law, of his existence, even if he would. He simply cannot transfer his power of judging, loving, hating, willing, acting, to any one else or to any community. In this whole microcosm he is by divine right, and also by divine ordination, sole and ultimate judge. He cannot act otherwise than as he thinks. He cannot resign his judgment to another. He cannot believe at another’s command. He cannot love because another enjoins him to do so. This inviolable character of human consciousness, thought, will, and purpose, is God s ultimate law for every human being, whether he be wise or ignorant. He cannot be moved save through his own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and wishes. He who wishes to change these must recognise this primary condition, and bend to the necessity it imposes. For he who tries to run counter to it might, with more wisdom, order the tide not to rise and fall.
We shall have abundant illustrations of the meaning and value of this law, when we come to deal with the limits of State action, and its relation to the individual s freedom of thought. Here, we need only quote one or two passages, in confirmation of what has been said: [197]
"No one can renounce his freedom of judgment, and of holding what ever views he pleases, but each man is, with the highest Natural Right, master of his own thoughts" (Theol.-Pol., Ch. 20). "No one can transfer to another his Natural Right, or his power, of reasoning freely, and of passing judgment on any matters whatever; nor is there any way of forcing him to do so" (Ibid.). "Men will always judge of things with their own mind, and will be thus far moved by this or that emotion" (Ibid.). "No one can renounce his faculty of judging; for, with what rewards or penalties can a man be induced to believe that the whole is not greater than its part, or that God does not exist; or to believe that a body which he sees to be finite is the infinite Being; and, in a word, to believe any thing contrary to that which he feels or thinks? So also, with what rewards or penalties can a man be induced to love him whom he hates, or to hate one whom he loves? And to the same category are those things, also, to be referred, which are so abhorrent to human nature, that it considers them worse than any other evil, e.g. that a man should bear witness against himself, should act as his own executioner, should kill his parents, should not try to avoid death, and so on, things which no rewards or penalties can induce any one to do" (Tract. Pol., Ch. 3, 8).
There are two interpretations of the principle expressed in these passages, against which it may be well to enter a caveat. They do not mean that each individual is free to think, feel, desire, love, etc., what, and as, he pleases. And they do not mean that his thoughts and emotions are so cut off from those of all other men, that he lives in his own little world, unaffected by, and unaffecting the little self-enclosed worlds of other men. Against both of these ‘ by-ways of despair’ Spinoza has much to say in many connexions. Here, however, we can only assert that they are not his highway, and that alone concerns us now. What he does maintain is, that if men could love, hate, believe, think, will, desire, at the dictation of another, and even at the command of God, they would not love, hate, believe, etc., at all ; for these activities are by their very essence exclusive of all outward determination whatsoever. You need not, he says, have this man, or that man, in existence, i.e. his essence does not necessarily involve his existence; but if any man does exist, then you cannot, even God could not, give him any other than this self-determining life. This is his prerogative in Nature, the Jus Naturae by which God has distinguished him from everything else. He has not only a life or soul, but he can [I98] think. This is at once his freedom and his necessity. For he not only can, but must think. And that he may think more or less well, with more or less wisdom, is simply one of the inevitable consequences of the nature which God has given him. If there were no ‘law’ of human nature determining him to think, desire, will, and assert himself, he would not be a man but a chimaera, like a triangle with the properties of a circle. And if he could not think foolishly, as well as wisely, he would not be a thinking being at all.
What Spinoza, then, sets himself to do, is, to show that these thoughts, the foolish as well as the wise, these desires, the lawless and immoral as well as the virtuous, the greed, envy, ambition, and hatred of human nature, as well as its love, humanity, charity, and generosity, are the fruit, or the effect, of a God-given nature in each and every man; and that instead of these bad emotions being a proof that some natures are inherently and incurably vicious, they are a proof that these very natures are capable of coming to love what now they hate, of desiring what now they abhor, and of being moved by a passion for their kind no less intense than that which now drives them on to cruelty and lust. Without any exaggeration, we may say that Spinoza goes down into the very hell of human life, and finds God even there. For, if the men who are the slaves of their own lower passions, are " the children of wrath," they are so " even as others," no worse and no better in the nature with which their life began. If they are bad, it is because some of the causes necessary for their being good and useful have been absent; and these necessary causes, Spinoza holds, are always made by, and are therefore within the control of, the thought and direction of man, in a way which we shall see directly.
Thus the natural emotions and activities of men, even when they express themselves in envy, avarice, hatred, or crime, are, in a very real sense, God-given, or divine, powers. And the man who laughs at them - or even at their fruits - mocks them, is indignant at them, or hates them, is mocking God from whom they come. In saying this, Spinoza is by no means blind to the fact that these expressions of human capacity are the bane of our existence, and constitute its [199] wretchedness and sin, its shame and horror. And this truth will receive the amplest recognition immediately. But the point which he is here elaborating, to which he attached the utmost importance and to which he ever unweariedly returns, is a truth that is prior to, and deeper even than this one, viz. that we cannot understand why these, and not the opposite emotions, are the curse of man’s existence, and still less can we know how to improve, or remove, this condition of things, unless we understand the nature of the bad emotions (as well as the nature of the good ones), and the causes from which they arise. That they have causes, and causes no less certain and inevitable in their operation than those which (in another sphere of being) make the sun and stars to move in their orbits, is a principle on which Spinoza stakes his reputation.
I am aware indeed that this is not the view usually taken of Spinoza s doctrine of evil. He is commonly represented as holding that all evil is pure negation, or absence of being, with no reality. Now, of course, if all badness is pure privation or unreality, it is not difficult to show that it is a non-entity; and cannot either lift up its head against the good, or be transformed into the good. But if the view just mentioned is Spinoza s, it is strange that he should deny both of these conclusions which follow from it. It is still stranger, that he should be so resolute to find the causes of evil, causes which ex hypothesi cannot exist, since there cannot be a cause of what has no reality. But what is fatal to this view of his teaching is, that all the passages adduced in support of it are, when read in the connection in which they stand, not only capable of a quite different interpretation, but cannot possibly, if they mean anything, mean this. These statements will be justified in detail in the next chapter.
Spinoza s contention, then, is, that even the bad emotions of men display the divinity of human nature; and that it is just because they do so, that they are not final but curable. If, on the other hand, you cut the connexion; and make the wickedness of men unnatural, or inhuman, or inherent in man’s nature from the first; you cut away the very possibility of morals, religion, or social life altogether. If the [200] possibility and the actuality of being wicked, and lawless, and envious, is not a divine power, or virtus, in man; neither is the possibility and actuality of goodness and obedience and love. For the same essential energies are at work in the one case as in the other.
From this conclusion there is one way of escape, which Spinoza has already foreseen and blocked. It might be held, that God made all men good to begin with, either individually, or in the person of the first father of the human race; and that they have made themselves bad. This, however, raises more difficulties than it solves, (1) It does not explain why some men are good (comparatively speaking) and others bad. To say they are elected’’, or to fall back on ‘an inscrutable mystery’ is simply to name your ignorance, and be content with it. It is not only ignorance, but dangerous ignorance, as it tends to (and inevitably does, in every man who really believes it) paralyse all effort to understand the why and the wherefore of some men’s misconduct, and all endeavour to make them better; and it necessarily produces that pride, which comes of the belief, that we are the authors of our own goodness, or (what is almost worse) the chosen vessels of the Almighty’s grace. (2) It asserts what is impossible. For no one is, or can be, born good or bad. These are qualities which come into, and continue in, existence only through the exercise of the individual’s thought, judgment, desire, and emotion. (3) To say that men made themselves bad, is to be blind to the other side of the statement, viz. that men are bad in virtue of those very powers which they enjoy from God. To say that they have perverted, or misused, these powers; and that their wickedness is the punishment of their earlier wrong doing; does not, admitting it to be true, alter the fact that God ordained that the perversion, abuse, punishment should take this precise form, viz. moral wickedness. If it is punishment, it is God s punishment. If it is abuse, it is the way in which God decreed that man should have the power, and even the inclination, to err and to sin. So that, even accepting this view, we involve ourselves in endless difficulties, and gain nothing in the end; for we are landed at [201 ] the point from which we started, that man s power for wickedness is God s power in him, only we prefer to call it God’s punishment on man, while Spinoza prefers to call it God s law for man. (4) The view stated above throws no light on the problem of evil in human society, furnishes no weapons for diminishing it, no reasons for thinking that it ought to be, or can be, lessened, and points to nothing in human nature itself which makes the necessity of deliverance from it the eternal truth of man s existence, even in the most degraded form which that existence is capable of assuming.
This Gospel of the sacredness of humanity under each and every form of it, Spinoza preaches with all the passion and earnestness of an Apostle. If no one is too bad for God to give htm the power to live, and continue his energies, he cannot, were he the poorest slave, or passion’s slave, be an object of contempt, or pity, or ridicule, to his fellow mortal. If he is, the loss is not all on the one side. For he "who feels contempt for any living thing, hath faculties which he hath never used"; and to despise another is to shut reality in some measure out of our own life.
Further, unless we are prepared to recognise this divine power and energy in every human life, working even through its wickedness and folly, where is the hope, or even the possibility, of that redemption of humanity which is the vision of every good man? It is for this reason, above all, that Spinoza is so insistent that this is the truth of all man’s striving. For if there be no quickening spirit, no conatus after perfection, worked into the spiritual being of humanity, why should we not be content to let things be, in ourselves and in others; to fight, and envy, and deceive, and live, and die, and there an end? What makes it possible, yea necessary, for men, alone of all created things, to fashion, to recognise, to defend and enforce laws for their own conduct, to feel a stain like a wound, to love honour more than wealth, and to count even honour but the shadow of a felicity of soul that knows no inconstancy and no fear?
In this we have an indication of the ultimate meaning of that conatus of self-preservation which works in each man. It [202] begins in passion, in emotion, in desire, in judgments partial, inadequate, and untrue. But it is not in its nature to end there. Its beginning must be there, for that is not first which is spiritual but that which is natural. But its end cannot be there. For it is reason, spirit, judgment in some form from the beginning. And because it is so, progress toward more perfect knowledge, more satisfying desire, more secure and just conditions of life, is an inherent necessity of its presence in man.
Spinoza generally calls this striving after perfection or felicitas or beatitude, God s highest law for man. It is not another law than that conatus of self-assertion, which is present in all men, bad or good, and present in them from the first. It is simply this conatus attaining, or realising, what was in it, or bringing to birth the highest energies of which human nature is capable. It does not involve ihat each man shall attain this felicity, but only that each necessarily, through weakness and ignorance and pride and passion, strives after it, and would lay hold of it if he knew how. It is the universal striving after God, or after truth in every form, after a reality or good that will wholly satisfy man s soul. It is, therefore, the explanation of that divine discontent which works in all men, sometimes in the form of resentment of injury, or of unequal social conditions, some times in the passion for knowledge, sometimes in war and rebellion, arid sometimes in the passion for wealth, or for fame; and which is under all forms the desire to better oneself, however inadequate and mistaken be the idea of what betterment involves. The universal striving to be, to do, and to get, is God’s law for human existence. It is written on every man‘s soul. No one can help seeking after God. And "no one can hate God."
It involves, also, that happiness, or complete satisfaction, can be found only in certain objects, or in a certain relation of objects. It is not at the individual s option to be happy when, and how, and as, he pleases. He cannot be happy by resolving to be so. His blessedness is indeed possible, only through the exercise and development of his own power; but this development is itself just the recognition of certain [203] conditions, or laws, or limits, of thinking, desiring, and acting as God’s law for him. The wise man is he who knows where his happiness is and is not to be found; who has learned not to expect it in certain directions; who does not desire what ignorance craves for, nor bewail what he knows to be a law of existence. He has studied to rule himself rather than fortune, to give way to no vain regrets, and to find in the knowledge and love of God the last end of all human desire.
This point, viz. that the conatus sese conservandi is not a blind, uncertain force, working where, and how, and whither it pleases; but has its end determined from within itself, and can work at all, only along certain lines; and can find its consummation only in a certain attitude of spirit, will be dealt with more adequately in the next two chapters. We mention it here, only to give a formal completeness to our statement of Spinoza s interpretation of the fundamental law of human nature.
But it is also to be noted that if the knowledge and love of God is the last and highest end of man’s endeavour, it is so, only because it comes as the fruit of a long struggle of man with man, of passion with passion, and of man with nature; and because it has gained the power which only such a struggle can give. For though a reader of the Ethics might carry away from that work the impression that the ‘intellectual love of God’ was simply the result of a process of reasoning, this is far from Spinoza s meaning. Even at the close of the Ethics itself, he tells us that the way of blessedness, which he has just been describing, is a very arduous one, and that the inherent difficulty of the task will render it always a high achievement possible only for the few. And in both the Political Treatises he is occupied mainly in showing, (1) that the conatus of self-preservation does, in almost all individuals, express itself in a lower and less adequate form ; (2) that this is not the ban of man s existence, but the necessity through which he attains to freedom, and the assurance that deliverance is possible from it; (3) that the higher, and wholly adequate, good can be reached only by finding it to be already working in the lower; (4) [204] that if we would lead men to know and love the best, we must make that best evolve itself out of what now seems to them their good, and utilise in the higher interest the impulses, ideas, and emotions which really move them - however inadequate, mistaken, or bad we may think them to be; and (5) that as thus used, i.e. in the interest of the highest good of man s life and for its furtherance, none of these weapons, even though they be fear and avarice and ambition, are other than sacred - consecrated, like steel and iron and the shedding of blood, by the Holy War in which they are employed.
If, then, we are to understand the labour and pang through which morality and religion become, and are re vealed as, God s highest or perfect law for human life; we must be prepared to see that God speaks in, and through, man, in many ways which are not directly moral or religious at all. Morality and religion are the fruit of human existence, but not its root. They pre-suppose both for their beginning, and throughout their continuance, primary conditions or laws of thinking, of desire, of love, of self-interest, of emotion. In this apparently dead soil they flourish; without it they would never be known. Withdraw it from them, and they die. Fail to recognise it, or attempt to violate the conditions it imposes, and your morality, religion, and civil law are but the idle wind which no man regardeth. Morals, religion, and State-legislation are binding and effective as, and only as, they have regard to, embody, and give a larger scope and exercise to, those still deeper impulses which prompt, yea necessitate, each man to do and be, and get for himself what is, according to his own free judgment, the best for himself. None of these higher interests ever can break, or tamper with the threads that bind it in continuity with these primary and ever-conscious conatus of human life - save at the price of its own impotence. For these are at once the strength and power of all sound morality, true religion, and well-conceived political relations; and also the divine nemesis which works not from without but from within, to make evil, superstition, and injustice inevitably overreach themselves.
[205] Spinoza nowhere gathers together these natural fundamental laws, or conditions, of a human existence, or correlates them with one another. All that he does do is to point out (1) that they are all forms or expressions of the same impulse of self-preservation; (2) that this impulse can only find rest in, and is ever striving after, the true and the good; and (3) that the actual concrete working of political institutions, moral codes, and religious systems proves the intrinsic and essential place of this fundamental Divine law of human life, seeing that those which recognise it are strong and stable and permanent, while those which try to violate it in any way (and in proportion as they do so) are weak, divided against themselves, and quickly overthrown.
To many minds, the third of these points will be of most interest. And to prepare the way for the understanding of it, I shall simply name in this place some of the chief forms in which this fundamental principle works. The proof of these will come in the connections in which they are elucidated.
First and foremost, there is the desire for liberty, for freedom of action, of thought, and of will, implanted in every human being. The State does not create this, but itself grows out of it, and finds in it its chief instrument both of stimulus and of restraint.
There is also the idea that Right must always be power, and that only power is right. Right which has not, or cannot procure for itself, the might to make good and defend its claim, is no real right at all. Neither morality nor civil law brings this principle into existence ; but both (and even religion itself) assume and embody it. In virtue of it they stand; and in virtue of it they enact and enforce commands that bear down the inclinations of individuals.
In another form, the principle presents itself as the axiom, that any compact between individuals or States will, and can, last only so long as it is for the mutual advantage of those who are parties to it. This axiom is neither morality nor immorality, neither fraud nor diplomacy, but simply a fact, or a law of man’s nature which he cannot violate. It is the way God has made him, and therefore [206] either morality or immorality may make use of it, and neither can help doing so.
Similarly, it is an axiom of all human existence, that each man seeks his own private advantage with the greatest eagerness of which he is capable, and defends the cause of another only in so far as he believes himself to be thereby establishing his own. In vain will religion, morality, reward, or punishment try to alter this. And he, be he a ruler or a private man, who thinks that he can in any way, or by any inducement whatsoever, induce a man to look more to the interest of others than to his own, is simply showing his utter ignorance of human nature, and of what is and is not possible to it.
Again, no one can live according to the mind or judgment of another man, but only according to his own; no one can do other than choose what is, in his own judgment, the lesser of two evils and the greater of two goods; no one can, by any force at the disposal of the State, be made to live with wisdom, or be prevented from being if his desires run that way luxurious, envious, avaricious, or drunken. No State laws, however rigorous, can prevent men thinking as they please, and expressing what opinions they please. The desire for wealth, and for the esteem of our fellows, cannot be driven out of, or made less insatiable than it is, in human nature; it can only be directed into some different channel. Nothing can make men prefer to be ruled rather than to rule; nor does any man if he can help it make another his master. Men are so constituted, that they never try to make what is immoral into morality, or to destroy the laws of the State, but always try to give even their wickedness a cloak of justice and goodness. You cannot make a people slaves and have amongst them the fruits of civic freedom. Men in general have been so constituted, that nothing arouses in them so much resentment, as the attempt to prescribe what they should believe, and by what opinions they should be moved to love God; nor is there anything of which they are so impatient, as of the opinions which they believe to be true being accounted crimes, and of what moves them to piety toward God and toward man, being punished as [207] wrongdoing. And lastly, all men have one and the same nature which, "dressed in a little brief authority," is proud; makes itself a terror to others, unless they also have power to terrify it; a nature which is elated by success, depressed by failure, more prone to envy the prosperous than to help the miserable, more prone to judge hastily and wrongly on mperfect information than to wait for fuller knowledge, more readily guided by hope than restrained by fear.
These axioms, or laws, of a human existence in any form whatever, Spinoza brings out in different parts of his works. I have put them together here that we may recognise the importance which he attaches to them ; and why they are treated by him, in the places where they are worked out, as the ultimate certainties, the inviolable conditions, of our life, against which all appeal would be foolish and all resistance vain. They are the axioms of all man’s thought and action, simple, obvious, invaluable, if we recognise them and shape our creeds, our rules of conduct, our ordering of social life and political organisation in accordance with them; but strong with the strength of God himself, firm as his truth, and infallible as his judgment, against all that would seek to violate them, to resist or overreach them. The outraged majesty of the law of gravity is but a poor analogue of the outraged majesty of humanity when, even in the elemental craving for food or for work, it does in literal truth make its appeal to God, and in his right avenges itself on those, be they rulers, or priests, or moralists, who did not fulfil the function for which the world called them into being, and gave them place and power.
Again I repeat that these laws are not moral laws, but conditions on the basis of which morality must rest, through which it must work, and to which it alone can give the highest expression and the widest scope.
 

 

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