Philosophical Survey In The Morality Of Spinoza In The Light Of His Evil And Good

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

Philosophical Survey In The Morality Of Spinoza In The Light Of His Evil And Good


The morality of Spinoza has been influenced by many philosophers and philosophers. In this work, I expose and appraise the conceptions of good and evil in Spinoza’s morality. In addition, I pondered on some philosophers conceptions about good or evil right from ancient period to the contemporary era.

Chapter One

1.0 General Introduction

The problem of good and evil in the world of ours has become questionable. Good and evil without doubt have constituted lots of discomfort, havoc and other problems in human life. Consequently, so many thinkers of different epochs have contributed in one way or the other according to their own understanding, to unravel this dilemma. Nevertheless, throughout the different periods starting from ancient era to contemporary era, the problem of good and evil have continued to occupy the minds of philosophers. Even at that, no consensus has been reached with regard to a solution.

Moreover, it may interest us to know that in this write up, we are to witness how Spinoza scrupulously did not delve into good and evil from the same perspective with others. His rigorous experiences of the retrospection on the previous philosophers on this topic allured him to conceive good and evil as being subjective.

Hence, this solves the numerous problems of some questions people do ask: whether there should be evil in the world created by all-powerful, all-knowing and all-merciful God. He thus based his conception of good and evil on individual differences: “Everyone, therefore, according to his particular emotions, judges or estimates what is good and what is evil.”1 This implies that what is good for one person may be evil for another. In fact, the problem of good and evil in the morality of Spinoza can be summarized with one of the popular dictums, which says, “One man’s protein is another man’s poison”. Hence, Spinoza’s good and evil should provide solution to the aged problem of good and evil which when mentioned remains fresh as can be seen in the work of Joseph Eno Inah who said “The problem of good and evil whenever mentioned, remains fresh and alive despite the fact that it started long ago.”2 The problem at stake has continued to remain a mystery as ever.

1.1 Purpose of the Study

For the fact, that many philosophers of different epochs have dwelt on good and evil with different mindsets and came out with misconception of what good and evil are, Spinoza as against these views conceived the idea of good and evil in a different way.

However, the purpose of this work is to expose and appraise the conception of good and evil in the morality of Spinoza. To show how his conception of good and evil differs from that of other philosophers.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Inspite of the early thinker’s view on this topic, which are as aged as humanity, the problem still lingers. The problem at stake seem to have confused its history with the history of mankind and have being the bone of contention among philosophers, theologians and even among humanists of all schools and epochs. Now, one may ask, what is the solution to this problem of good and evil, which has persistently continued to occur? Alternatively, has the problem become insoluble or is there any hope of overcoming this problem? The above questions are relevant questions which when considered properly as exposed by Spinoza brings solutions to the innumerable questions philosophers do ask about good and evil.

Therefore, this research is an attempt to find solution to the questions above. We hope that our exposure to the conceptions of Spinoza about good and evil would help us to some extent in resolving the problematic notion of good and evil.

1.3 Scope of Work

Man as it were from time immemorial associates and dissociates himself with what is good and evil respectively. Such is man’s desire for good and aversion to evil: “Man by nature desires what is good and averts to what is evil.”3 As such, his enquiries, deliberations and thoughts on good and evil have been an outstanding issue from time immemorial until now. My work is a journey in search of what good and evil really are in the views of Spinoza

In addition, I pondered on some philosophers conceptions about good and evil right from ancient period to contemporary period. It should be obvious that grasping of Spinoza’s teaching about good and evil will quench the thirst that eventually could lead to the misconception of the idea of good and evil, which leads to apportioning blames on the creator of the universe.

1.4 Methodology

The method of research, which I applied in my work is both expository and appraisal. It is expository in the sense that it shows in detail the works of Spinoza on good and evil. It is also appraisal in the sense that his own conception of good and evil creates much room to desire good and to avert evil which when done, human race will turn from its evil ways of life to good ways of life.

1.5 Division of Work

For easy understanding and grasping of this work, I divided this work into five chapters.

Chapter one is the general introduction, purpose of the study, statement of the problem, scope of work, methodology, Division of work and a brief profile of Baruch de Spinoza.

Chapter two is the literature review of philosophers on good and evil.

Chapter three treats in detail the Spinozistic conception of good and evil.

Chapter four is all about peculiar things in Spinoza’s concept of good and evil.

Finally, chapter five is the evaluation and conclusion that ends this research.

1.6 A Brief Profile of Benedict B. De Spinoza

Benedict Baruch de Spinoza was born in 1632 in Amsterdam as a son of Jewish Marrano immigrants from Portugal. He was educated as a Jew and excommunicated in the year 1656. He earned his livelihood first by commerce and later by grinding lenses.

He also learned Latin in the Franciscus Van den Enden where he conversed with a circle of Amsterdam collegiants, who were dedicated to Cartessianism.

He lived in Rijnsburg near Leiden in 1660 – 1663, moved to Voorburg near the Hague in 1663-1670 and finally in Hague in 1670. Some of the works of Spinoza are Descarte’s principles of Philosophy in 1663 – Renati Descartes principiorum philosophiae, part 1et II.

The theological – Political Treatise in 1670 (Tractatus Theologico – Politicus)

He died in 21 February 1677. Then his friends published his other works.

Chapter Five

5.0 Evaluation and Conclusion

The controversy posed by the issue of good and evil has insolvably remained mysterious despite the efforts of eminent thinkers of different epochs. It is obvious that many thinkers have in one way or the other tried to reconcile the problem at stake, hitherto, no effort has proved itself worthy of such reconciliatsion. As a result, one may be tempted to pose this question: should we continue to inquire into good and evil since it has proved insolvable?
However, for the fact that the main purpose of this thesis is to appraise Spinozistic concept of good and evil, let us then make a conclusive appraisal of it. As earlier stated, Spinoza defined good as that which we certainly know to be useful to us and evil as that which we certainly know to be a hindrance to us in the attainment of any good. Evil in this perspective stands as negative where as good stands as positive. He conceived whatever thing that is helpful as good and whatever that constitutes hindrance to human daily living as evil. Evil has constituted to a greater extent discomfort, misery, anguish and so on to man. However, if each one were to consent to good, bearing in mind that it is useful and helpful to human race, there would not be evil in the world. Instead, in so far as, man continues to experience pain (evil) in life, disorderliness and chaos must continue to abide.

On his philosophical enquiry into good and evil, he maintained that avoidance of evil paves way for a better and perfect relationship in the world.

He imagined the world that is devoid of evil as the ultimate world where human beings should live and express themselves as social beings. From such Spinozistic conception of good and evil, one can be carefully brought to the foot of morality.

Man by nature desires good and averts to evil. He (man) does not remain at the bottom line of life but pushes further due to his insatiability. According to Spinoza, man is not satisfied by attaining the stage of truth but looks for a better and highest good. He thus asserts: “The minds highest good is the knowledge of good.”41

The above question signifies the mind’s highest utility and good as God. Knowledge of God places before man a strong ethical and moral guidance. From the onset, it is believed that to know God tantamounts to behaving well. For Spinoza, to seek the highest good is to know God, and to know God is the best way to life.

Hence, if all in the world can actively be involved in such orientation of Spinozistic understanding of highest good, the world would have been a better place where the idea of God rules. Nevertheless, when the human mind fails to rise and scale over the difficulties facing him, he remains at the bottom line and evil cannot but abide in the world.
Moreover, Samuel Enoch Stumpf has it that such knowledge of God leads one to happiness. As far as man remains in bondage of passions, knowledge of God accounts for his liberation from bondage. He thus says: “We are enslaved by passions when our desires are attached to perishable things and when we do not fully understand our emotions. The more we understand our emotions, the lesser excessive will be our appetites and desire.”42

The above portrays the fact that we are always enslaved whenever we lack knowledge. However, when knowledge surfaces, pleasure which is accompanied by the idea of God as cause arises. There is liberation from passive emotion to active emotion.

Furthermore, Spinoza has it that anything can accidentally be the cause of pleasure, pain or desire. It depends on ones psychophysical condition, which at any given time causes pleasure, plain, or desire. Whatever that brings about pleasure at any given time becomes good and whatever that brings about pain is evil. In human beings, it is the human emotions that differentiate on whether one is to be good (pleasure) or evil (pain). As such, it should be clear that there is no place for moral judgment. Hence, we are free to determine freely our judgments of good and evil.
The true choice of judgment of good and evil, exposes man to the stark reality of treating others, as we would like them treat us. For one to know something as good and another as evil implies that there are certain things to be done and others that should not be done. If man can be able to grasp or know what is good and carry it out for his own life preservation, one should be able to preserve other people’s life by according them equal right of good. In addition, avoiding evil for oneself removes not only the hindrances to the preservation of life but encourages it (life). According to Spinoza, to preserve life means attainment of good and absence of evil.

Once more, the subjectivity of Spinozistic good and evil could be lucidly encountered in as much as each person has the impetus to judge good and evil the way one wants. Bearing in mind that what is good for one at a given time could be evil for another at the same time. What pleases one at times can also displease one at another time. For instance,

Dancing at a given time, may be a source of pleasure to one who is excited and can likewise be a source of pain to someone in anxiety.

On the other hand, it is obvious that there are certain things when done, remains good and evil respectively. There is no doubt that one does good when one lends a helping hand to the needy and evil when one maliciously maltreats ones neighbor. Good when properly viewed, makes a way for peace in the society where man finds himself. But evil on its own negative aspect hinders the progress of man in his social life with one another. In the society of man today, any behaviour that launches an attach on the morality of man becomes questionable and is seen as evil. Hence, it is not only in the Spinoza’s view that man desires good and averts evil. Good promotes man in his relationship with one another in this world but evil the other way round hinders man’s progress in this world.

Above all, Spinoza has made a tremendous effort to resolve the problem of good and evil. The general conception of his good and evil remains that good pleases man while evil displeases him. Man as far as history is concerned has never hankered for pain but has great aversion for evil. It is in the nature of man to yean and quest for good.
A virtuous man who knows that to tamper with his life does not please him is bound to promote other peoples life. An attempt to do away with other peoples live makes him evil. He thus writes: “The good which any man who follows after virtue, desires for himself, he will also desire for other men and so much the more in proportion as he has a greater knowledge of God.”43

A virtuous man seeks for the good of others in the same proportion with himself. For him to help oneself is to help others.

It is at this juncture that I give a greater applause and appraisal to Spinoza. To do to others what one would like others to do to one is a great measure to morality. It checks on evil and advocates for good. Imagine how the world would be unified when this style of life is achieved.

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