Spinoza’s World‑View

by A. M. Deborin

The 21st of February of this year [1927] was the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the death of Benedict Spinoza. On that day a solemn celebration in Spinoza's memory was held under the auspices of the Spinoza Society (Societas Spinozana) in The Hague—the city where Spinoza spent the last years of his life where his ashes rest. At this grand meeting there were in attendance, besides official representatives of the universities and of science, official representative of the League of Nations, who demonstrated in his speech that if Spinoza were alive today he would be an ardent admirer of the League of Nations, since it strives for the realization of universal peace. A representative of the church—no celebration, as is well known, can get along there without a representative of the church—for his part, demonstrated that Spinoza's teaching does not in the least contradict the Christian religion.

There were other speeches as well, but I shall not dwell on them. At all events, everyone was agreed that Spinoza was a great idealist, pantheist, and mystic, the founder of a new religion, etc. But at Hague no voice was raised to cry out loudly to all these fine gentlemen: 'You are impudent liars.'


We have gathered within the walls of the Communist Academy and are devoting this evening to Spinoza's memory not from the considerations which guided the organizers of the Hague celebration but from quite different considerations; for us Spinoza is essentially a great atheist and materialist. In this appraisal of Spinoza I am in complete agreement with Plekhanov. In all of Plekhanov's works, as I know, the fundamental thought is emphasized that Marxism, considered as a world‑view, is nothing other than a 'variety of Spinozism.' But I shall set this question aside for the moment, in order to cite a passage from Plekhanov's preface to my Introduction to Philosophy (the preface was written in 1914) in which he sharply criticizes the historians of philosophy who have numbered Spinoza among the idealists.

'With the present universal prevalence of idealism,' he says, 'it is quite natural that the history of philosophy should now be interpreted from the idealistic point of view. As a consequence, Spinoza his long since been numbered among the idealists. Hence, certain readers will probably be very much surprised to learn that I understand Spinoza in the materialistic sense; yet this is the only correct understanding of Spinozism.

'As early as 1843 Feuerbach asserted his fundamental conviction that the teaching of Spinoza was "an expression of the materialistic conceptions of the modern age." Of course, even Spinoza did not escape the influence of his time. His materialism, as Feuerbach remarked, was clothed in a theological costume, but the important thing was that, in any case, he eliminated the dualism of mind and nature. Nature in Spinoza is called God, but extension is one of the attributes of this God. And this constitutes the radical difference between Spinozism and idealism.' [a1]

With such a universal prevalence of idealism it is not surprising that Spinoza has long since been enlisted in the camp of the idealists. Unfortunately, there are even some Marxists who defend the tradition of the historians of philosophy, despite the fact that Feuerbach, to some extent Engels, and more recently Plekhanov have done a great deal in explaining Spinoza's materialistic views. We still have to struggle against this idealistic tradition, to prove to comrades from our own midst that Spinoza is not to be ranked among the idealists. In the last few years, two 'fronts' have been formed in connection with the treatment of Hegelian dialectics and Spinoza's world-conception: the Hegelian front and the Spinozistic front. The disagreements and disputes which are going on in our own midst focus on two basic points: the disputes about Hegel touch the foundations of our method, the differences of opinion with regard to Spinoza concern our world‑view and involve the conception of materialism itself. But, since method and world‑view are not separate from one another, the disputes and disagreements in the first area—those concerning method—are indissolubly connected with the disputes in the second area—those concerning world‑view. I shall not dwell further on this point; I wished merely to indicate the extent to which these two fronts are connected.

Let us now proceed to a general. characterization of Spinoza's world‑view as a whole, to an examination of what Spinoza brought into philosophy, science, and the scientific view of the world that was new, and how Spinozism as a new, scientific, philosophical world‑view differs from the world‑view with which Spinoza had to contend.

The first proposition which links Spinoza to the materialists of our time, that is, to the Marxists, is his recognition of the existence of the objective world, the avowal of a principle for the enunciation of which Spinoza was subsequently branded a 'dogmatist' by the partisans of Kantian 'critical philosophy.' This appraisal of Spinoza by the critical philosophers is extremely important, for by 'dogmatism' such writers often mean materialism. According to Fichte, only two consistent and rigorously sustained philosophical systems are possible: dogmatism and critical philosophy, meaning by dogmatism Spinozism or materialism. By dogmatism is meant the 'uncritical' admission of the possibility of adequate knowledge of the world. A critical investigation of our cognitive faculties, it is held, leads to the establishing of the truth that the external world is unknowable. In this connection it should be pointed out that Spinoza devotes a good deal of space to the investigation of our cognitive faculties, but the conclusion which he reaches is the exact opposite of the conclusion reached by the critical philosophers. As is well known, empiriocriticism, Machism, empiriomonism, and other varieties of positivism also deny the external world. But the denial of the external world leads inevitably to idealism. In Spinoza we find a brief but extraordinarily apt critique of the point of view which assumes that sensations are all that exist and that we can know only our own sensations. Here is what Spinoza writes in this connection:

'They assert that the mind can be conscious of and perceive in a variety of ways, not itself nor things which exist, but only things which are neither in itself nor anywhere else, in other words, that the mind can, by its unaided power, create sensations or ideas unconnected with things. In fact, they regard the mind as a sort of god.’ [b1]

Thus those who deny that the mind feels and knows external things, who assert that the mind by its own unaided strength creates sensations and ideas, turn the mind into a god, i.e. into a substance which creates the whole world out of itself. This means that the mind, from their point of view, is entirely independent of the external world, being self‑caused and creating the world of things. But such a point of view is entirely unacceptable to Spinoza, who considers that 'it is before all things necessary for us to deduce all our ideas from physical things.' [b2]

Another characteristic feature of Spinoza's over‑all world‑view is his denial of teleology and his assertion of strict determinism. In studying reality—whether natural or social—it is necessary to use the category of causality exclusively. With unsurpassed power of thought and rare sarcasm he ridicules those philosophers who see final causes everywhere. For these final causes are only human inventions, the product of ignorance, prejudice, and superstition. In attempting to prove that nature does everything for the use of men, these philosophers 'seem only to have demonstrated that nature, the gods, and men are all gone mad together.’ [b3] Since men find in themselves and in nature many means which assist them in their search for what is useful, says Spinoza, they come to look on all natural means as means for obtaining what is useful, and they explain everything by ends, seeing everywhere the will of God.

'For, by way of example, if a stone has fallen from some roof on somebody's head and killed him, they will demonstrate in this manner that the stone has fallen in order to kill the man. For if it did not fall for that purpose by the will of God, how could so many circumstances concur through chance (and a number often simultaneously do concur)? You will answer, perhaps, that the event happened because the wind blew and the man was passing that way. But, they will urge, why did the wind blow at that time, and why did the man pass that way precisely at the same moment? If you again reply that the wind rose then because the sea on the preceding day began to be stormy, the weather hitherto having been calm, and that the man had been invited by a friend, they will urge again—because there is no end of questioning—But why was the sea agitated? why was the man invited at that time? And so they will not cease from asking the causes of causes, until at last you fly to the will of God, the asylum ignorantiae.’ [c1]

Thus Spinoza declares the will of God to be a refuge of ignorance. Our philosopher sees everywhere only natural events, which are subject to investigation and explanation by means of the universal law of necessity. In contrast to many contemporary philosophers and scientists, who consider it possible to study social processes, if not natural phenomena, from the point of view of morality, Spinoza extends the law of necessity to man and society. He denies completely the validity of applying ethical or teleological principles to reality. The study of reality leads to a discovery of the causal connections and objective laws which operate therein. Spinoza is much closer to Marxism in this respect than are many contemporary trends in philosophy.

Spinoza entered into history with the honorary title 'prince of atheists.' Actually, what we have already said adequately characterizes the world‑view of our philosopher as purely materialistic and atheistic. But Spinoza considered it necessary to wage direct warfare on religious prejudices—the special type of ignorance which supports the power of the clergy and every kind of authority. Today we consider it especially important to emphasize our philosopher's historic contributions in this field, and the enormous cultural and educational role which was played by his Theologico‑Political Treatise. Spinoza was the true leader of the whole period of Enlightenment which followed.

Spinoza's name is indissolubly linked and historically has always been associated with freethinking, for he was one of the first to raise the banner of revolt against religious superstition in defence of free scientific thought. He was the first to subject the Scriptures to scientific criticism, not being satisfied with a simple, bare rejection of religion. And all subsequent scientific biblical criticism takes Spinoza's Theologico‑Political Treatise as its point of departure. It is impossible for us now to imagine the liberating influence of this work. As a matter of fact, the period of the Enlightenment dates from its publication. All the leading, progressive elements, all the philosophers of the Enlightenment in whatever country, drew from Spinoza's writings, directly or indirectly, irrefutable arguments for their struggle against religious prejudices. For this reason we should in justice regard Spinoza as the father of freethinking. Although it is not possible for me to analyse the Theologico‑Political Treatise here, I consider it necessary to point out that we find the basic motifs of this treatise later in the French and German philosophers of the Enlightenment.

Religion, as Spinoza makes clear, has no theoretical significance; it has always been significant only for practical life, i.e. those in power have used it in order to keep the people in check. Superstition arises, is sustained and supported by fear. Hence religious prejudices are essentially the vestiges of an ancient bondage, maintained in our time. Since religious prejudices are connected with ancient bondage, there can be no place for these superstitions in a free state, and here at least freedom of judgment regarding these prejudices should prevail. Spinoza shares the opinion of Curtius that 'the mob has no ruler more potent than superstition' (History, Bk. IV, ch. 10). By this he wishes to emphasize the connection of politics and religion—a proposition that received its further development in the French philosophes and materialists. Among the Turks, men's minds are weighed down by such a mass of prejudices, says Spinoza, that there is no room left for sound reason, not even for doubt. But what is said about the Turks applies to all other nations in which monarchical government prevails. Monarchical government, according to Spinoza, rests largely on religious superstitions. The French philosophes, we repeat, shared this view.

'If, in despotic statecraft, the supreme and essential mystery be to hoodwink the subjects, and to mask the fear which keeps them down with the specious garb of religion, so that men may fight as bravely for slavery as for safety, and count it not shame but highest honour to risk their blood and their lives for the vainglory of a tyrant; yet in a free state no more mischievous expedient could be planned or attempted. Wholly repugnant to the general freedom are such devices as enthralling men's minds with prejudices, forcing their judgment, or employing any of the weapons of quasi‑religious sedition. [d1]

'Faith has become a mere compound of credulity and prejudices,' Spinoza says in another place, 'aye, prejudices, too, which degrade man from rational being to beast, which completely stifle the power of judgment between true and false, which seem, in fact, carefully fostered for the purpose of extinguishing the last spark of reason.’ [d2]

Perhaps no thinker of modern times has used such biting and blasphemous language as Spinoza here does. The social order, and especially the monarchical form of government, is based on fear, and the people's fear is supported and cultivated by religious superstitions and ignorance. These basic motifs, put forward by Spinoza in his critique of religious superstitions, were taken up by all the later philosophers of the Enlightenment and in particular by the French Encyclopedists and materialists of the eighteenth century.

In a free state reason, that is, free judgment, should prevail and hence religious prejudices, being survivals of a regime of slavery, are incompatible with the new form of social organization. Religion should not be looked upon as theoretical knowledge of the world; it demands of its adherents a definite form of practical conduct—obedience and piety, which are the result of certain historical and political conditions. The church should be subordinated to the state, that is, to the civil interests of the people. Science and the state are based on natural knowledge and natural law and have nothing in common with theology.

Proceeding from these considerations, Spinoza contends for the separation of philosophy, that is, natural knowledge, from religion. He demands the broadest freedom of philosophizing, freedom of thought and scientific knowledge. We are leaving aside the question of how far Spinoza's biblical criticism may be considered scientific from the point of view of contemporary scholarship. This is not essential to our purpose. We are concerned here with an historical appraisal of Spinoza's activity, and from this point of view the, significance of the Theologico‑Political Treatise is enormous. It was this book which served as a basis for the accusation of atheism levelled at Spinoza, and as the pretext for new persecutions. Spinoza's expulsion from the Jewish community has, as it were, a local, national significance; the second catastrophe in his personal life was connected with the publication of the Theologico‑Political Treatise. Spinoza now became a target of attack and an object of persecution on the part of clergymen of all sects, theologians and metaphysicians, professors of philosophy, and state authorities. Many of his personal friends, who as a result of their narrow‑mindedness had not been able to foresee that Spinoza would take such an extreme anti‑religious position, also turned away from him. But, on the other hand, the appearance of the Treatise made our philosopher world famous. Around his banner the radical and revolutionary elements of all countries gradually gathered.

Having underlined a few basic principles of Spinoza's worldview, we can now consider the central problem which faced Spinoza. His chief work bears the title Ethics. But it would be erroneous to suppose that Spinoza, like Kant, set himself the goal of discovering some sort of supersensory, divine, ethical law on the order of the Kantian categorical imperative. In general, Spinoza denies the existence of two levels of reality: what is and what ought to be, the latter being opposed to the former and supposedly having its source in another, extra­empirical world. By 'ethics' Spinoza meant simply a certain way of life, which must result from a knowledge of the reality of nature, man, and human society. Ethics defines the place of man in nature and derives his mode of life in a completely realistic and materialistic way from a knowledge of his natural passions and strivings. In this quite definite and natural sense, ethics is also a doctrine of what is, unopposed by abstract ethical norms or laws of what ought to be. Man's power over nature, his cultural creativity, in the broadest sense of the word, is a basic factor in the right conduct of life, whether individual or social. For this reason, all the sciences and all human knowledge have a definite practical goal. But I shall return to this question later.


Having sketched the basic orientation of Spinoza's thought, of necessity schematically and very briefly, we can now turn to the question of what the elements were which went into the formation of our philosopher's world‑view. A definite groove has been established in the literature of this subject. Some see in Judaism the source of Spinozism. Since Spinoza was a Jew and was trained to be a rabbi, since he studied the Talmud and its many commentators, and even cabala—the flat conclusion is drawn that Spinozism has its roots in Judaism. Without in the least denying that the great Jewish thinkers (such as Maimonides) had a certain influence on Spinoza, we nevertheless regard the assertion that our philosopher's teaching came from the womb of Judaism as entirely erroneous. In particular, as far as cabala is concerned, Spinoza's expressed opinion is extremely negative.

Others are inclined to see the source of Spinozism in scholastic philosophy. Still others regard Spinoza as a follower and pupil of Descartes. Of course, no one can deny Spinoza's indebtedness to scholasticism, or Descartes's enormous influence on our philosopher.

Nevertheless, we should say that all of these judgments concerning the sources of Spinozism touch only the surface of the problem; for the scholars concerned lose sight of the currents and philosophical tendencies of the period in which Spinoza lived and worked. Surely it is strange and quite naive to imagine that the seventeenth century was some kind of vacuum in which no movement of thought was taking place. Furthermore, these conceptions are evidently based on the assumption that Spinoza was not a living human being, vitally interested in the problems which disturbed his contemporaries, but some kind of Egyptian mummy, immured within the four walls of his study, grubbing ceaselessly like a bookworm in the ancient folios of the scholastics or the mystical books of cabala. Yet surely such conceptions contradict all the known facts. We now know very well even the contents of Spinoza's library. For this reason I consider that it is necessary for the elucidation of the sources of Spinozism to turn first of all to an investigation of the fundamental trends and tendencies in philosophy and science during the seventeenth century; for Spinozism was a product of its time. It was one of the philosophical attempts to solve the problems which were of commanding interest in the seventeenth century. Moreover, in my opinion, Spinozism was above all a synthesis of the materialistic tendencies of this period.

Of the many investigators of Spinozism, only Dunin‑Borkowski, [e1] it seems, has interested himself in the problem of the connection Of Spinozism with contemporary currents of philosophical and scientific thought. And it should be said that, despite the fact that the author himself is a Catholic idealist, and mystic who would very much like to treat Spinoza in this same spirit, he has been forced to admit at least one thing: Spinoza was actually a materialist at one time—during his youth, to be sure, and briefly; but there is no doubt that he was a materialist, indeed a mechanistic materialist. Later, however, according to Dunin‑Borkowski, Spinoza made a radical break with materialism. My opinion on this point is different, but, be that as it may, Dunin‑Borkowski, having become more intimately acquainted with Spinoza's life and with the period in which he lived, was forced to admit that Spinoza passed through a materialistic stage during his development. This in itself represents a certain triumph.

In the seventeenth century a number of materialistic writings appeared, and it is natural that Spinoza should have studied them carefully. In Holland during Spinoza's lifetime stormy disputes and literary polemics raged over the propositions of Henry de Roy Regius). The works of materialists which were prohibited in other countries were printed in Holland. In addition to legal literature, all kinds of illegal extremist works circulated there. Spinoza was vitally interested in all of these tendencies. After his excommunication from the Jewish community he set out, as it were, to voyage widely, greedily seeking the truth. We see him among various religious sects which were recruited from the democratic elements of the population and which opposed the ruling church and, to some extent, the social order.

But, in addition to the religious ferment among the masses of the people, a lively conflict of ideas was going on in the heights of science and philosophy. Holland was at this time one of the most prosperous and progressive countries in Europe. It had already passed through its bourgeois revolution; and the new form of society had generated corresponding groupings and currents of ideas. Are we to admit even for a moment that Spinoza was not interested in the intellectual life of his country, that he confined himself to the study of scholastic wisdom? Surely not, and most especially since in his works he attempted to solve precisely those problems which were uppermost in the minds of his contemporaries.

There were two fundamental groupings of ideas in the field of philosophic thought: orthodox Cartesianism, which at this time had already concluded an alliance with the Church; and the materialistic tendencies of various shades. It should be particularly emphasized that Cartesianism both in Holland and in France generated one of these materialistic tendencies from its own womb. At the head of the materialistic trend in Holland was Henry de Roy. At first an orthodox follower of Descartes, he later drew materialistic conclusions from Descartes's teaching. A bitter struggle began between de Roy on the one hand and the theologians, idealists, and Cartesians on the other. Although de Roy expressed himself very cautiously for fear of persecution, the materialistic character of his position was difficult to conceal. He set himself the goal of overcoming Cartesian dualism. In one of his twenty‑one theses, which were posted at Utrecht in 1647, at the very climax of a bitter struggle with his opponents, he said that mind is a mode of body. And in Philosophia nataralis, a work which he published in 1654, he developed the idea that, although extension and thought are different, they are not mutually exclusive opposites. From a purely philosophical point of view, the mind may be regarded as a mode of the body. 'According to some wise men,' the author continues, 'extension and thought are merely attributes belonging to one and the same subject, which unites in itself both of these properties.’ [f1]

Is it not evident that de Roy, whom Marx considered as definitely a materialist, is here analysing Spinoza's formulation of the interrelation of thought and extension—dual attributes of a single substance? If we recall that de Roy's book appeared in 1654 and that Spinoza published his first work (The Principles of Descartes's Philosophy) in 1663, no doubt remains that the materialist de Roy influenced Spinoza in the solution of one of the central problems of his system. Moreover, de Roy himself was influenced by still another materialist, Gassendi, who had advanced the thesis that body and mind are so bound together that they form a single object. That Gassendi, in turn, also came close to the point of view later accepted by Spinoza is known to everyone who is familiar with the doctrines of this thinker. Consequently there can be no doubt, as Dunin-Borkowski correctly emphasizes, that Gassendi, de Roy, and Sebastian Basso had a direct influence on Spinoza. But this supports our assertion that Spinoza studied his materialistic contemporaries with particular zeal and sought what he needed in their works; that he was directly linked to them, and that he developed, deepened, and elaborated their views. It would take us too far afield if we were to prove this extremely important proposition in detail.

Let us now turn to another thesis in Spinoza's doctrine—namely, the problem of the universal animation of matter. It appears that this problem too was at the centre of attention of the thinkers of the time, to a certain extent. The idea of the universal animation of the world was very popular in the Renaissance; it was defended by both Telesius and Campanella. But this same idea was the subject of lively discussion in the seventeenth century as well (especially during the 1650's and '60's). Scientists and philosophers in Holland and England split into two camps: one held to a purely mechanistic point of view; the other defended hylozoism. The leader of the 'biusists' in England was the well‑known scientist Glisson. 'Glisson,' says Dunin‑Borkowski, 'with good reason, is usually counted among the biusists, the hylozoists. They were so called in contrast to the materialists, who were designated as "mechanists" at the time. The hylozoists taught that life (bios, zoe) is inherent in matter (hyle) as such, that movement, desire, and thought are inherent in it. Without these characteristics substance in general could not be conceived.' [f2]

Thus this problem too was considered important at the time and was an object of lively discussion among scholars. Spinoza provided his own solution for this problem.

In this connection I want to say a few more words about the most abused term in Spinoza's system—the concept 'God' (Deus). Of course, according to the whole sense of Spinoza's teaching, God is nothing other than substance or nature. This follows with sufficient clarity from Spinoza's doctrine. But I consider it necessary to draw attention to another aspect of this question. We shall clear up a great many things if, instead of reading the customary meaning into this concept, we attempt to find out how it was used during the period under consideration. For this purpose, let us turn to another seventeenth-century materialist, Thomas Hobbes. In De Corpore, the famous work which he completed in 1655, Hobbes wrote as follows:

'In saying that the world is God, they say that it hath no cause, that is as much as there is no God. In like manner, they who maintain the world not to be created, but eternal; because there can be no cause of an eternal thing, in denying the world to have a cause, they deny also that there is a God.' [g1]

But Hobbes himself, as is well known, speaks in his works of an extended, corporeal God. In Spinoza nature is called 'God' and extension is one of its attributes. Thus Proposition 2, Part II, of the Ethics reads: 'Extension is an attribute of God, or God is an extended thing.'

According to Hobbes' authoritative explanation, whoever calls the world or nature 'God' implies that the world was not created, that it exists eternally; in other words, whoever calls the world 'God,' wishes to say that there is no God. This should be remembered by those Marxists who are not prepared to 'cope with' Spinoza's God. In explaining this point I once more permit myself to agree with Dunin‑Borkowski. 'That which is usually called God,' he writes, 'is understood here [i.e. by Gassendi, Harris, and other contemporaries.— A. D.] as something infinitely extended, which fills all things and embraces all things, and besides which nothing else exists.' [g2]

Drawing his support from Spinoza's biographer, Maximilian Lucas (who was an immediate pupil and friend of the philosopher), as well as from other data, Dunin‑Borkowski comes to the conclusion that Spinoza was at one time under the influence of 'radical popular materialism.' At this stage of his development Spinoza considered God matter. But afterwards Spinoza renounced this viewpoint and endowed substance with thought as well. Dunin‑Borkowski wishes to disqualify Lucas' report, based on Spinoza's oral statement, that his whole philosophy comes down to the following four propositions: God is corporeal; the soul (ame) is only the principle of life; spirits are products of the imagination; and immortality is a phantom. Dunin‑Borkowski does not doubt the authenticity of Lucas' account, but he assumes that these words of Spinoza's refer to the early materialistic stage of his development. I think that this construction on Dunin‑Borkowski's part is somewhat forced. I see no reason for disqualifying Lucas' valuable report. This same corporeal God can have thought as an attribute. In any case there is no doubt about the fact that Spinoza's 'God' is to be understood as matter (nature), which has the two fundamental properties, extension and thought. It is quite possible that Spinoza originally conceived of matter as having only the single attribute of extension and later raised thought to the status of an attribute of substance. This would indicate an evolution of views. But that does not in the least disprove Lucas' report, [h1] that Spinoza spoke to him of a corporeal God, that is, of matter, as substance, and did not refer this to the first period of his development. I consider the second stage as merely a further development of the same materialistic views which Spinoza had held somewhat earlier. This is a natural evolution, not a shift to an opposite point of view. Lucas expounded Spinoza's world‑view in the materialistic spirit. How could this happen? If Spinoza was really a pantheist, a mystic, an idealist, how could it happen that one of his immediate pupils and friends emphasizes the materialistic character of Spinoza's system, pointing out that God is body?

In this connection I consider it necessary to remind you of the legend which circulated in Holland during the first quarter of the eighteenth century. It goes without saying that I do not attach any special significance to this legend; but it is characteristic, nevertheless. In 1724 Le Clerc, the well‑known publisher of the 'Library of Ancient and Modern Authors,' related in one of his little books that he knew from a reliable source that only the concept 'nature' figured in the original text of the Ethics, and that it was only upon the advice of friends that Spinoza included the word 'God' as well as 'nature.' I repeat that I do not attach serious significance to this legend. Nevertheless, the fact is interesting as an indication that Spinoza's close contemporaries understood and felt clearly that the 'God' in Spinoza's system was something external and that the Ethics could get along very well without it.

After what has been said, it seems to me that the question of what we are to understand by God in Spinoza has been made sufficiently clear. It is only a theological term used to designate a real, material thing. It may be asked: did Spinoza himself feel that his terminology was unsatisfactory? It seems to me that he was aware of this inadequacy, but considered it necessary to speak in a language that would be intelligible and accessible to his contemporaries. All of his philosophical contemporaries, as we have seen, used this terminology, although they injected new meaning into the old terms. Spinoza himself pointed out, as though it were a rule of life, the necessity of expressing oneself in accordance with the development of the masses. In this connection he wrote:

'We can gain from the multitude no small advantages, provided that we strive to accommodate ourselves to its understanding as far as possible: moreover, we shall in this way gain a friendly audience for the reception of the truth.’ [i1]

Thus Spinoza was able to use the theological terminology of his time consciously, knowing that through this terminology he could gain the ear of his contemporaries. This argument has a certain force. But besides this, the concept 'God,' as I have already said, was used in the sense of nature, matter, etc., beginning in the Renaissance and continuing through the seventeenth century. After all that has been said, it seems clear to me that the term 'Deus' is to be understood purely in the sense of 'nature.' And we should not lose sight of the fact that those who struggled against the scholastic, ecclesiastical world‑view attempted to transfer to nature all of the predicates which in general were applied to God. Spinoza proceeded on the assumption that at some time in the past the predicates which applied to nature (and to man) had been transferred to God. The problem of the day was to prove that God's properties were in essence only the properties of nature.

The end result of Spinoza's veiled conflict with the old world-view was that he transferred to nature the predicates which the old world‑view had attributed to God, and applied the term 'God' to nature. In any case, it is necessary in studying Spinoza's system to remember that in the seventeenth century men thought in theological terms and categories, and that this theological costume was forced upon Spinoza by the period; however, the essence of the matter, the inner meaning of Spinoza's system, is not in the least altered by this fact.

I have indicated above the basic materialistic trends of the seventeenth century which in a certain sense paved the way for Spinozism. Needless to say, these remarks have not in the least exhausted the sources of Spinozism. For example, one can scarcely doubt that Spinoza was acquainted with the works of Giordano Bruno, of Vanini, of the French humanist and materialist des Périers, et al. But what I particularly wish to emphasize in this connection is Spinoza's acquaintance with what was perhaps the most radical book of his time. I have in mind the work called Theophrastus redivivus. The author of this curious work develops a definitely materialistic point of view; he denies the existence of God, of spirits, and of the soul as an independent entity. In this book we find extraordinarily sharp attacks. on religion and the clergy, as well as a critique of the existing political and social order. The 'new Theophrastus' is one of the first writers of the modern period to advance the famous slogan 'Back to nature.' In Spinoza we find a reaction to this slogan. Our philosopher condemns the idea of man's returning to the state of nature. He calls mankind forward—to cultural creativity and the strengthening of social ties.

The new Theophrastus' radicalism on all questions amounts to a unique anarchism. Man should make himself absolutely free; on this basis the author demands the elimination of marriage. Man's fundamental aim is pleasure, the satisfaction of all his natural appetites and needs. Joy is the highest happiness. It should be noted that, although Spinoza is far from the new Theophrastus' position, certain elements of the latter's teaching were evidently taken up by our philosopher, and reworked in his own language. Rejecting the slogan of a return to the state of nature, Spinoza at the same time assigned an important, place to pleasure and joy in human life.

Furthermore, Spinoza could not have been ignorant of the works of Kaspar Lyken, whose sharp critique of capitalism has caused certain scholars to see in this writer virtually a predecessor of Marx, in so far as criticism of the capitalistic system is concerned. But what is especially significant for our characterization of Spinoza's intellectual development is the fact that our thinker studied Thomas More's Utopia. I assert definitely that in Spinoza's Ethics there are certain echoes of More's ideas.

Such are the general features of the intellectual atmosphere in which Spinoza developed. The conclusion to which we are led is that our philosopher took up and reworked in his own way all of the problems which disturbed his contemporaries, synthesizing the basic trends of thought—and above all the materialistic trends—into a grandiose, new, materialistic system.


In the first part of my paper I pointed out the fundamental problem which Spinoza set himself in his chief work. The problem grew out of the necessity of establishing a new way of life. This practical aim is emphasized in all of Spinoza's writings. But the right way of life can be defined and established only after man's place in nature (we should add: and in society) has been clarified. However, the question of man's place or situation in nature leads us directly to the study of nature itself. Man's way of life must necessarily result from the place which he occupies in nature, for man's life should correspond, as it were, to the life of nature itself. The 'new Theo­hrastus' demanded man's return to the state of nature; Spinoza strove for the attainment of a form of human life in which man would not be nature's slave but its master. Spinoza likewise considered that man should live in harmony with nature, but in a higher sense. In opposition to Christian asceticism, which preached renunciation of the flesh and suppression of all the passions, Spinoza called man to the enjoyment of life, the satisfaction of all passions, and the creative development of all his powers and abilities. But all this is possible only on the basis of man's subordination to the laws of nature. His dominion over nature presupposes nature's dominion over him. It is possible to conquer nature only by obeying nature's laws. Spinoza develops this Baconian motif in his own special way.

The first task which faces us is the study of nature, an adequate knowledge of it. But in order to be able to acquire objective, adequate knowledge of nature we must first of all equip ourselves with an appropriate method, which in turn involves an investigation of our intellect, our cognitive powers.

Since it is not possible for me to develop Spinoza's whole train of thought here, I shall emphasize only that Spinoza saw in method a tool of the intellect which, like the tools of labour, makes it possible to master nature—in one case theoretically, in the other practically. But it goes without saying that the theoretical and practical aspects are mutually interrelated in the most intimate way.   

Let us hear what Spinoza says about method:

'Now that we know what kind of knowledge is necessary for us, we must indicate the way and the method whereby we may gain the said knowledge concerning the things needful to be known. In order to accomplish this, we must first take care not to commit ourselves to a search, going back to infinity—that is, in order to discover the best method for finding out the truth, there is no need of another method to discover such method; nor of a third method for discover­ing the second, and so on to infinity. By such proceedings, we should never arrive at the knowledge of the truth, or, indeed, at any knowl­edge at all.

'The matter stands,' he says, 'on the same footing as the making of material tools, which might be argued about in a similar way. For; in order to work iron, a hammer is needed, and the hammer cannot be forthcoming unless it has been made; but, in order to make it, there was need of another hammer and other tools, and so on to infinity. We might thus vainly endeavour to prove that men have no power of working iron. But as men at first made use of the instruments supplied by nature to accomplish very easy pieces of workmanship, laboriously and imperfectly, and then, when these were finished, wrought other things more difficult with less labour and greater perfection; and so gradually mounted from the simplest operations to the making of tools, and from the making of tools to the making of more complex tools, and fresh feats of workmanship, till they arrived at making, with small expenditure of labour, the vast number of complicated mechanisms which they now possess. So, in like manner, the intellect, by its native strength, makes for itself intellectual instruments, whereby it acquires strength for performing other intellectual operations, and from these operations gets again fresh instruments, or the power of pushing its investigations further, and thus gradually proceeds till it reaches the summit of wisdom.’ [j1]

An analysis of Spinoza's method as such is not part of my task. Needless to say, from our present‑day point of view, this method suffers from substantial shortcomings. But this aspect of the question does not concern me in the present connection.

For adequate knowledge of nature, then, we need a suitable method. This general theoretical formulation of the problem is, of course, entirely correct, regardless of whether the particular concrete method is correct or incorrect.

Having equipped himself with his method, Spinoza set about the study of nature. His Ethics opens with eight famous definitions, which lay the foundation of the whole system. I shall not, of course, enter into an examination, analysis, or critique of these definitions. However, I consider it necessary to say a few words about the first two definitions, for from them alone it will be possible to draw certain conclusions as to the character of Spinoza's whole system and the course of his thought in general.

The first definition deals with what appears at first sight to be a purely scholastic concept—causa sui. But Spinoza's whole system is contained in this concept in embryonic form.

'By that which is self‑caused (causa sui),' he says, 'I mean that of which the essence involves existence, or that of which the nature is only conceivable as existent.'

Nature (or in Spinoza's terminology 'God'), the universe as a whole, is absolutely infinite and self‑caused. Spinoza thus leads us at once, as it were, into the chasm of infinity. He does not begin, as one might expect, with an investigation of individual things. Such a method of studying nature can be shown to be incorrect in many respects, yet, in this approach of Spinoza's, we should recognize a certain advantage, even a merit of our thinker.

Indeed, the problem before Spinoza was primarily the establishment of a new principle of explanation of nature as a whole rather than an explanation of this or that separate, individual phenomenon. For this reason, Engels was quite right in emphasizing that Spinoza stated and established a new principle, that of the explanation of the world through itself.

'It is to the highest credit of the philosophy of the time,' says Engels, 'that it did not let itself be led astray by the restricted state of contemporary natural knowledge, and that—from Spinoza right to the great French materialists—it insisted on explaining the world from the world itself And left the justification in detail to the natural science of the future.’ [k1]

Spinoza's philosophical greatness consists in the fact that, in spite of the empirical natural science of the time, he freed nature—the universe—from its prime‑mover, God, a principle of explanation which even such an outstanding scientist as Newton later clung to with tenacity.

If nature is self‑caused, it does not require any external cause, that is, God; it should be explained exclusively through itself, the internal powers inherent in it, the laws which act within it. But such a point of view is purely materialistic. And the importance of this point of view is deepened by the fact that it takes nature as a whole as its object. For many of those who do not consider it necessary to seek refuge in 'divine aid' with respect to particular phenomena, are unable to get along without God as soon as the discussion turns to nature as a whole.

Spinoza's greatness consisted in winning the independence, the autonomy of nature, so to speak, by dethroning its former monarch, God.

Nature, then, is self‑caused. Its essence involves existence; it exists by virtue of its own essence, requiring for its existence no external cause, no other essence. As a result, nature is an absolutely infinite being.

To the infinite Spinoza opposes the finite: 'A thing is called finite after its kind when it can be limited by another thing of the same nature.'

In order to bring out here—although superficially and in broad strokes—Spinoza's remarkably profound dialectical formulation of the problem of finite and infinite, we must quote the seventh definition, which reads as follows: 'That thing is called free which exists solely by the necessity of its own nature, and of which the action is determined by itself alone. On the other hand, that thing is necessary, or rather constrained, which is determined by something external to itself to a fixed and definite manner of existence or action.'

Unfortunately, I am not able to analyse Spinoza's dialectics of finite and infinite, freedom and necessity, in this paper. The one thing that should be said is that Hegel in his Logic develops Spinoza's basic ideas with respect to finite and infinite, freedom and necessity. Hegel's dialectics, in so far as it is concerned with these opposites, represents only a further development and deepening of Spinoza's dialectical ideas.

The concept of free necessity is applied by Spinoza primarily to nature as a whole, which is causa sui, self‑caused. The opposition between each individual thing, that is, the finite, and nature as a whole as infinite, consists in the fact that the finite has the cause of its existence in something else, whereas the infinite, the universe as

such, contains the cause of its existence (as well as its essence) within itself. To put it another way: the universe does not have an external use, that is, it is uncaused, autonomous, independent of any external God‑force whatever. But this is possible only if the universe is without beginning and without limit. If the universe had a beginning, then something else must have produced it. If it were finite, then something would have to exist which limits it, which is located beyond it. But that which is beyond it, in its turn, would be limited by something else, and so on ad infinitum. Consequently, we must conceive the universe as infinite, that is, not limited, not determined by anything else; and without beginning, that is, eternal. Thus Spinoza affirms that nature is eternal, that is, uncreated. The idea of the creation of the universe suffers a complete collapse. But it is impossible to arrive at such a purely materialistic result on the basis of formal logic, because formal logic requires the extension of the law of causality to the universe as a whole, whereas the dialectical meaning of Spinoza's doctrine is that the category applied to a part of nature cannot be extended to the whole of nature. Each individual phenomenon in nature is limited by another and has an external cause, but we cannot say this about nature as a whole. The same thing applies to the concepts of coming into being and passing away. These concepts are applicable, in one way or another, to individual phenomena, but not to the universe as such. The universe does not come into being or pass away.

Thus nature or God is, in Spinoza's words, ens absolute indeterminatum, that is, a being absolutely undetermined, unlimited. Indeterminatum is usually translated as 'undefined.' But this contradicts the whole sense of Spinoza's teaching, for nature (or God) is a being which contains in itself the whole fulness of being, the whole wealth of determinations. Consequently, indeterminatum means simply 'unlimited,' 'undetermined,' as opposed. to what is limited and determined. Spinoza's well‑known proposition, 'Omnis determinatio est negatio' should also be understood in the sense that 'every limitation is a negation,' i.e. that every finite thing contains in itself its own negation. Usually this proposition is interpreted in the sense that every definition (logical determination) is a negation. But this does not correspond to the actual meaning which Spinoza put into this proposition. [l1]

Nature as a whole, then, is not limited or determined; but every finite thing is limited and determined by other things, that is, it is ephemeral and subject to change. But though nature in itself, as a whole, is determined by nothing and is uncaused, natural activities are determined through and through. And in this sense Spinoza speaks of free necessity. 'To say that necessary and free are two contrary terms, seems to me . . . absurd and repugnant to reason,' says Spinoza. [m1] That which exists solely by the necessity of its own nature,  and is determined to action by itself alone is free. But only the world as a whole exists by the necessity of its own nature. [m2] Consequently, from the absolute necessity of nature it follows that nature must be uncaused, and vice versa; being uncaused signifies absolute, necessity, absolute existence.

Turning to the nature of finite things, I must draw your attention once more to the purely dialectical character of Spinoza's formulation of this problem. Every finite thing (in contrast to nature as a whole). has the cause of its existence not in itself, for in that case it would be an absolute causa sui, but in other things. Each finite thing is determined by the totality of things; it does not exist in isolation; all things are reciprocally connected, are in reciprocal interaction. Therefore every finite thing is limited, i.e. it contains in itself the negation of its own being, while nature as a whole represents absolutely positive being and excludes every negation. On the other hand, all the negative definitions of nature as a whole ('infinite,' 'unlimited,' 'indivisible,' 'uncaused,' etc.) express not negation, but, on the contrary, its absolutely positive determinations. Negation here passes dialectically into affirmation. But all the positive definitions of finite things express negation, revealing their ephemeral nature.

Referring to the reciprocal connection of finite things, Spinoza expressed himself in one of his letters as follows:

'Now, all the bodies of nature can and should be conceived in the same way as we have here conceived the blood: for all bodies are surrounded by others, and are mutually determined to exist and to act in a definite and determined manner, while there is preserved in all together, that is, in the whole universe, the same proportion of motion and rest. Hence it follows that every body, in so far as it exists modified in a certain way, must be considered to be a part of the whole universe, to be in accord with the whole of it, and to be connected with the other parts. And since the nature of the universe is not limited, like the nature of the blood, but absolutely infinite, its arts are controlled by the nature of this infinite power in infinite ways, and are compelled to suffer infinite changes. But I conceive that with regard to substance each part has a closer union with its whole. For as I endeavoured to show in my first letter, which I wrote to you when I was still living at Rhynsburg, since it is of the nature of substance to be infinite, it follows that each part belongs to the nature of corporeal substance, and can neither exist nor be conceived without it.’ [n1]

Consequently, it would be incorrect to assume that from Spinoza's point of view nature represents some kind of frozen, dead, motionless, immutable being. Our thinker, as we see, definitely emphasizes that the parts of the universe can undergo infinite modifications. In nature generally there is nothing from which some effect does not follow (Ethics, I, 36). All natural things act upon each other, that is, they exist in reciprocal interaction. Every body is a part of the universe and is connected with all its other parts, as well as dependent upon the whole. All of nature, as Spinoza expresses it, ‘comprises one individual, whose parts, that is, all bodies, vary in infinite ways without any change in the individual as a whole.’ [n2] The form or aspect of the whole universe (‘facies totius universi') remains unchanged through all the modifications of its parts. I shall not dwell here on the question of how the changelessness of the form of the whole universe is to be understood. For my purpose it will be sufficient to quote Engels' opinion on this question:

'Reciprocal action is the first thing that we encounter when we consider matter in motion as a whole from the standpoint of modern natural science,' writes Engels. 'We see a series of forms of motion, mechanical motion, heat, light, electricity, magnetism, chemical union and decomposition, transitions of states of aggregation, organic life, all of which, if at present we still make an exception of organic life, pass into one another, mutually determine one another, are in one place cause and in another effect, the sum‑total of the motion in all its changing forms remaining the same (Spinoza: substance is causa sui—strikingly expresses the reciprocal action).' [n3] Thus we have an almost complete coincidence of the views of Spinoza and Engels (also of Hegel) on this point.

What is man's place in nature?—We can now give a definite answer to this question. Man is not some kind of special, privileged creature; he does not stand outside nature or above nature. Man is a part of nature, whether we regard him under the aspect of body or that of mind. As a part of nature, man is subject to the same influences from other bodies as are other parts of nature. Consequently, man's life is determined not by some supernatural power but by the universal laws of nature.

However, before pausing, even though briefly, with man, we must say a few words about the relation of substance to its attributes. It seems to me that Spinoza established an extraordinarily important materialistic proposition, which may be expressed briefly as: matter is capable of thinking. According to Spinoza's doctrine, there are not two substances in nature, but only one substance, which is at the same time both extended and thinking. What Spinoza calls substance in his language, when translated into everyday language is called matter. And matter comprises, so to speak, the secret of Spinoza's substance. Spinoza objected to the identification of thought and extension, but he definitely considered thought a property of matter. Therefore he could not accept the Cartesian identification of matter and extension. In one of his letters to Tschirnhaus, he wrote:

'You ask whether the variety of things can be proved a priori from the conception of extension alone. I believe I have already shown sufficiently clearly that this is impossible, and that therefore matter is badly defined by Descartes as extension, but that it must necessarily be defined by an attribute which expresses eternal and infinite essence.’ [o1]

If the nature of matter is exhausted by extension, if it is identical with the latter, then thought cannot be a property of matter, for thought and extension are entirely different qualities. For this reason, Spinoza wrote in a letter to Henry Oldenburg as follows: 'But you say: perhaps thought is a corporeal action; be it so, though I by no means grant it, you, at any rate, will not deny that extension, in so far as it is extension, is not thought . . . .’ [o2]

It seems to me that this quotation throws a flood of light on the question of the interrelation between substance and its attributes. On the one hand, Spinoza definitely emphasizes the qualitative difference between extension and thought (even when thought is regarded as a purely corporeal action, as Spinoza apparently thought in the first, 'mechanistic,' phase of his development), but on the other hand, his efforts were directed toward establishing their unity. Accordingly, matter, must not be thought of as identical with extension. But from this it follows clearly that by substance we are to understand matter, comprising the unity of two attributes: matter has the capacity of thinking, and there is no thought without matter.

I have already pointed out that G. V. Plekhanov included Spinoza's among the materialistic systems and that he regarded the materialism of Marx and Engels as a variety of Spinozism. In the preface to Ludwig Feuerbach, Plekhanov wrote:

'If the "critics of Marx" emitted a unanimous cry of amazement when I expressed the idea in my polemic with Bernstein that the materialism of Marx and Engels was a variety of Spinozism, this is to be explained solely by their own amazing ignorance. To make this thought more comprehensible it is necessary, in the first place, to remember that Marx and Engels studied Feuerbach's philosophy and, in the second place, to attempt to see clearly how this philosophy differs from Spinoza's. Anyone who can understand what he reads will soon see that, in respect to his basic view of the relation of being  and thought, Feuerbach is a Spinozist who has ceased to magnify "nature with the name of God, and has studied at the school of Hegel."’ [p1]

Plekhanov, then, considers that Marxism is close to Spinozism in the basic problem of the relation of thought to being. That Plekhanov in fact correctly interpreted the point of view of the founders of Marxism we can now document by Engels' own words. In a fragment (in the Dialectics of Nature [p2]) entitled 'Unity of Nature and Mind,' Engels wrote:

'To the Greeks it was self‑evident that nature could not be unreasonable, but even today the stupidest empiricists prove by their reasoning (however wrong it may be) that they are convinced from the outset that nature cannot be unreasonable or reason contrary to nature.' [p3]

In another place Engels formulated his viewpoint on the problem of the relation of thought to matter as follows:

'The point is, however, that mechanism (and also the materialism of the eighteenth century) does not get away from abstract necessity, and hence not from chance either. That matter evolves out of itself the thinking human brain is for him a pure accident, although necessarily determined, step by step, where it happens. But the truth is that it is the nature of matter to advance to the evolution of thinking beings, hence, too, this always necessarily occurs wherever the conditions for it (not necessarily identical at all places and times) are present.’ [q1]

It is evident that Engels' viewpoint coincides substantially with that of Spinoza.

But let us return to man. We know that man forms a part of nature. 'Mind and body comprise one and the same individual, conceived in the one case under the attribute of thought, in the other under the attribute of extension.' Consequently, man represents only a modification of the attributes of nature or substance. But it is remarkable that in Spinoza the body is everywhere first: it has priority, so to speak, over the mind, which is only the idea of the body; the body is the actual object of the mind, in which are reflected all the modifications occurring in the body as a result of the action upon it of external bodies.

The materialistic character of Spinoza's psychology has even given one recent writer cause for misgivings about our philosopher's idealism. 'If the contents of the mind,' writes B. Kellermann, 'are only the stimuli of the body, what remains for the mind as its own content, independent of bodily stimuli?' [q2] And Kellermann sensibly asks: on what grounds is Spinoza considered the founder of scientific idealism? In his opinion, there are no grounds for this—an opinion in which we entirely concur.

Unfortunately, I cannot dwell on Spinoza's theory of knowledge, nor on his theory of the emotions; and I shall proceed to the concluding portion of my paper, to the problem of ethics, that is, the way of life which follows from Spinoza's whole teaching.

Man is a natural creature who strives, like all natural creatures, for self-preservation, the satisfaction of his needs, and happiness, that is, for everything that is useful to him. The striving for self-preservation, says Spinoza, is the primary and only basis of virtue. To act virtuously means to act, to live, to preserve one's being in

accordance with the dictates of reason on the basis of seeking what is useful to one's self. [r1] Thus virtue consists solely in acting according to the laws of one's own nature. And we act only in so far as we know. Being a part of nature, man follows its general order. He is subject to passive conditions, he obeys the general order of nature and adapts himself to it, in so far as the nature of things demands. The essence of a passive condition is determined by the ratio of the power of an external cause to our own power. If man were subject exclusively to his emotions he would be their slave, a completely passive creature. But reason makes man an active being through the knowledge of the laws of nature and as a result of his placing his emotions and passions at the service of reason, subordinating them to himself and using them for his good. Man is subject in every way to the actions of nature; but, as a being endowed with reason, he in his turn is able to act upon nature. In this sense reason makes man free. But since nature's power infinitely surpasses the power of individual men, man's struggle with nature cannot be successful in solitude, but only conjointly, through collective power.

'Therefore, to man there is nothing more useful than man—nothing, I repeat, more excellent for preserving their being can be wished for by men, than that all should so in all points agree, that the minds and bodies of all should form, as it were, one single mind and one single body, and that all should, with one consent, as far as they are able, endeavour to preserve their being, and all with one consent seek what is useful to them all. Hence, men who are governed by reason—that is, who seek what is useful to them in accordance with reason—desire for themselves nothing which they do not also desire for the rest of mankind, and, consequently, are just, faithful, and honourable in their conduct.' [r2]

We see that Spinoza here overcomes the viewpoint of individualism, although the individual is for him the point of departure. Only in the collective can the individual develop all his powers and become capable of attaining the highest happiness and perfection. In another place Spinoza definitely emphasizes that the existing social order does not satisfy him, since hatred and mutual hostility prevail within it. Perhaps Spinoza did not understand the social roots and conditions of this order, but that did not prevent him from enunciating a demand for a community of men, a social organization, in which the interests of all would be in harmony, where the human collective would form, as it were, one mind and one body, where all men would be friends. [s1] It is evident that we would have such an organization of society under communism. And in this sense, the contemporary proletariat is striving to realize the ideal advanced by Spinoza, regardless of what Spinoza understood concretely by a social organization in which all men should form one body and one mind.

'It is before all things useful to men,' Spinoza says in another place, 'to associate their ways of life, to bind themselves together with such bonds as they think most fitted to gather them all into unity, and generally to do whatsoever serves to strengthen friendship.’ [s2]

Precisely because human power is limited and the power of external things infinitely exceeds man's power, it is necessary that men in their struggle with nature should adapt external things to their use through collective strength. But a part of nature cannot become the whole and, consequently, mankind will never be able to adapt and subjugate external things absolutely, so to speak. However, there is nothing tragic in this, and we should reconcile ourselves in this sense to nature's necessity in so far as we acknowledge the limits of our possible dominion over nature, which follow from this necessity.

Thus our philosopher's gaze is not turned backward to a primitive and uncivilized life, but forward to cultural creativity, to the building of life.

'Let satirists then laugh their fill at human affairs,' Spinoza exclaims, 'let theologians rail, and let misanthropes praise to their utmost the life of untutored rusticity, let them heap contempt on I men and praises on beasts; when all is said, they will find that men can provide for their wants much more easily by mutual help, and that only by uniting their forces can they escape from the dangers that on every side beset them: not to say how much more excellent and worthy of our knowledge it is, to study the actions of men than the actions of beasts. [t1]

Spinoza's world‑view as a whole corresponds to the basic tendencies which I have developed; it radiates optimism and the joy of living. To look upon Spinoza as a kind of hermit, preaching submissiveness and an ascetic Christian morality, is quite erroneous. On the contrary, the right way of life for man consists in the development of the fulness of strength and power inherent in the human collective, the striving for reasonable pleasures, and the attainment of the highest perfection and joy. On this subject Spinoza expresses himself clearly in the Ethics:

'Assuredly, nothing forbids man to enjoy himself, save grim and gloomy superstition. For why is it more lawful to satiate one's hunger and thirst than to drive away one's melancholy. I reason, and have convinced myself as follows: No deity, nor any one else, save the envious, takes pleasure in my infirmity and discomfort, nor sets down to my virtue the tears, sobs, fear, and the like, which are signs of infirmity of spirit; on the contrary, the greater the pleasure wherewith we are affected, the greater the perfection whereto we pass: in other words, the more must we necessarily partake of the divine nature. Therefore, to make use of what comes in our way, and to enjoy it as much as possible (not to the point of satiety, for that would not be enjoyment) is the part of a wise man. I say it is the part of a wise man to refresh and recreate himself with moderate and pleasant food and drink, and also with perfumes, with the soft beauty of growing plants, with dress, with music, with many sports, with theatres, and the like, such as every man may make use of without injury to his neighbour. For the human body is composed of very numerous parts, of diverse nature, which continually stand in need of fresh and varied nourishment, so that the whole body may be equally capable of performing all the actions, which follow from the necessity of its own nature; and consequently, so that the mind may also be equally capable of understanding many things simultaneously. This way of life, then, agrees best with our principles, and also with general practice; therefore, if there be any question of another plan, the plan we have mentioned is the best, and in every way to be commended. There is no need for me to set forth the matter more clearly or in more detail.’ [t2]

From all that I have said it follows that Spinoza's fundamental aspiration was for the attainment of the 'right way of life' for the individual and the collective, the attainment of a 'perfect' social organization in which it would be possible to achieve the highest happiness, the highest joy and fulness of life for all men, or, expressed in another way, the conscious unity of the mind with nature. Man's very essence is comprised in the knowledge of the unity which the mind has with nature as a whole.

'This then,' says Spinoza, 'is the end for which I strive, to attain such a character myself and to endeavour that many should attain to it with me. In other words, it is part of my happiness to lend a helping hand, that many others may understand even as I do, so that their understanding and desire may entirely agree with my own. In order to bring this about, it is necessary to understand as much of nature as will enable us to attain to the aforesaid character, and also to form a social order such as is most conducive to the attainment of this character by the greatest number with the least difficulty and. danger. We must seek the assistance of moral philosophy and the theory of education; further, as health is no insignificant means for attaining our end, we must also include the whole science of medicine, and, as many difficult things are by contrivance rendered easy, and we can in this way gain much time and convenience, the science of mechanics must in no way be despised. But, before all things, a means must be devised for improving the understanding and purifying it, as far as may be at the outset, so that it may apprehend things without error, and in the best possible way.

'Thus it is apparent to every one that I wish to direct all sciences to one end and aim, so that we may attain to the supreme human perfection which we have named; and, therefore, whatsoever in the sciences does not serve to promote our object will have to be rejected as useless. To sum up the matter in a word, all our actions and thoughts must be directed to this one end.’ [u1]

Thus for Spinoza the sciences have a purely practical value, since they serve our final ends. And the end of all the sciences and of all human knowledge is the attainment of the highest human perfection. Spinoza assigns an extremely important role to mechanics and technology, that is, in contemporary language, to the development of the forces of production; since this leads to an increase in our power over nature. Technology is bound up in the most intimate way with natural science, which is the most important of the sciences; it has as its subject‑matter nature, that is, the essence of substance (and of man as a part of nature). On the foundation of natural science (and the science of man) an appropriate social organization must be built. Moral philosophy, which is based on the knowledge of nature, is the theory of the right way of life, in the sense which I have already developed. Medicine provides for human health, since health is the first condition of happiness. And the science of the intellect or the methodology of knowing has as its goal the attainment of objective, adequate knowledge of the world.

Such are the fundamental elements of Spinoza's philosophy. [v1]

I shall not attempt to speculate as to what Spinoza might have been if he had lived in our time. For me, in any case, one thing is not open to doubt: Spinoza would never have been an agent of the League of Nations. The second point that I wish to emphasize is that we do not agree to yield Spinoza to our enemies in any case. There is no reason at all for this. Spinoza was a great materialistic thinker, and in this respect he should be considered a predecessor of dialectical materialism. The contemporary proletariat is Spinoza's only genuine heir.


a1  Deborin, Vvedeniye v filosofiyu (Introduction to Philosophy), G. V. Plekhanov's

 preface, pp. 34‑5.

b1  On the Improvement of the Understanding, Elwes' translation, p. 19.

b2  Ibid. , p. 34.                   1

b3  Ethics, I, Appendix.

c1  Loc. cit.

d1  Theologico‑Political Treatise, Elwes' translation, p. 5.                    

d2  Ibid., p. 7.

e1  Dunin‑Borkowski, Der junge De Spinoza, 1910.

f1  Regius, Philosophia naturalis, 1654; cf. also Dunin‑Borkowski, op. cit., p. 395.

f2  Dunin‑Borkowski, op. cit., p. 389.

g1  Hobbes, English Works, ed. Molesworth, 1841, Vol. II, p. 214.

g2  Dunin‑Borkowski, op. cit., pp. 280‑1.

h1  M. Lucas, La Vie et l'esprit de M. Benoit de Spinoza, ed. Freudenthal, pp. 5‑6.

i1  On the Improvement of the Understanding, Elwes' translation, p. 5.

j1  On the Improvement of the Understanding, Elwes' translation, pp. 9‑10.

k1  Engels, Dialectics of Nature, New York, 1940. p. 7.

l1  Cf. M. Friedrichs, Der Substanzbegriff Spinozas, 1896; A. Wenzel, Die Weltanschauung Spinozas, 1907; C. N. Starcke, Baruch de Spinoza, 1923.

m1  Letter LX to Hugo Boxel.

m2  Spinoza makes a very important distinction between what is infinite by virtue of its essence or its own nature and what is infinite by virtue of its cause. This distinction is the same as Hegel's doctrine of good and bad infinities.

n1  Letter XV to Henry Oldenburg.

n2  Ethics, II, lemma 7.

n3  Engels, op. cit., p. 173.

o1  Letter LXXXII to Tschirnhaus.

o2  Letter IV to Oldenburg.

p1  Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach (Russian edition), 1906, p. 11.

p2  This unfinished work was first published (in Russian translation) in 1925 by the Marx‑Engels Institute in Moscow.—Trans.

p3  Engels, Dialectics of Nature, p. 178­.

q1  Engels, Dialectics of Nature, p. 228.

q2  B. Kellermann, Die Ethik Spinozas, 1922, p. 256.

r1  Cf. Ethics, IV, 24.

r2  Ibid., IV, 18, scholium.

s1  And among friends, Spinoza says, all things should be held in common. Thus, in a letter dated February 17, 1671, he sharply attacks the author of a pamphlet which had recently appeared under the title 'Homo Politicus,' in which the author developed the thought that rank and riches are the highest good. Spinoza intended to write a pamphlet against the author. In this letter he writes, among other things, the following: 'How much better and more excellent than the doctrines of the aforesaid writer are the reflections of Thales of Miletus, appears from the following: All the goods of friends, he says, are in common. . . .' (Letter XLVII to Jarig Jellis.)

s2  Ibid., IV, appendix 12.  Spinoza considers that society should look after its needy citizens and provide them with the necessities of life. 'Hence providing for the poor is a duty which falls on the state as a whole, and has regard only to the general advantage.' (Ethics, IV, appendix 17.)

t1  Ibid., IV, 35, scholium.

t2  Ibid., IV, 45, scholium.

u1  On The Improvement of the Understanding, Elwes' translation, pp. 4‑5.

v1  I have emphasized today only the strong points of Spinoza's doctrine, without undertaking an evaluation of these positive components from the standpoint of our contemporary views. I have considered it even less necessary to submit to criticism the elements of Spinoza's teaching which are unacceptable to us. I have considered it necessary today to emphasize especially that in general Spinoza's point of view was materialistic and that the basic motif of his philosophical activity was the dominion of the human collective over nature, with the end of attaining the greatest perfection and happiness of men and their greatest solidarity within society.

SOURCE: Deborin, A. M. “Spinoza’s World-View,” in: Spinoza in Soviet Philosophy: A Series of Essays, selected and translated, and with an introduction by George L. Kline (London: Routledge and Paul, 1952), pp. 90-119. A translation of ‘Mirovozzreniye Spinozy’, Vestnik kommunisticheskoi akademi, Bk. 20 (1927), pp. 5‑29. Footnotes have been converted into endnotes and renumbered for ease of reference.

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Abram Moiseevich Deborin (Ioffe) (1881-1963)

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