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Ernesto Rodriguez

Philosophy 12: Ethics

Summer 2004


Post #5: Articulate the ethical stance of Spinoza and briefly compare him to another philosopher you have studied in this class.


Spinoza's ethical stance consists his belief in a logical, philosophical system that is grounded in the will of God. It is God's nature that determines the nature and order of everything within the rational world, including ourselves. Since we are a constituent of this rational, divine order of God, we can know God to one extent or another. But because of our lack of full divine cognition, we have an inherent tendency to view this rational world only as it relates to ourselves. In simple terms, we fail to see the big picture.


As a result of this oversimplified view of the world, we fall short of understanding the true nature of good and evil. Spinoza concedes “none of the objects of my fears contained in themselves anything either good or bad, except insofar as the mind is affected by them” (105).  By this he means that his ideas of evil, those things that he fears, are no more evil than the malice that he assigns to them. Spinoza argues that our limited capacity for cognition leads to a great deal of misunderstandings about what is truly moral, but all is not lost. His ethical theory contends that we have the ability to pursue a higher level of knowledge, and that pursuit in itself is good. In this regard, Spinoza entitle his essay "On the improvement of the Understanding", signifying that there is a means to attain greater knowledge.


Spinoza’s ethical theory highlights our subjective views of an objective truth. Our views of the truth are skewed by our inherent ignorance and incapacity. The idea of an objective truth that lies beyond the realm of our immediate perception is notably reminiscent of the ideas of Plato, specifically Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Plato and Socrates believed in an ideal truth to which we are mostly ignorant. Like Spinoza, they believed that because we exist within the truth and are essentially a constituent of it, we have a vague idea of it, but not a complete understanding. Spinoza also believes in and values the pursuit of knowledge and a greater perception of truth, much like Plato and Socrates.