I really like reading and teaching Spinoza. It’s pretty much impossible for me to talk about the Ethic without a little bit of hagiography (I’ve said before that I hope that the aliens who discover our long-forgotten culture discover this book and judge the accomplishments of our race by its pretensions). Part 5 of the Ethic in particular is like a journey up a mountain peak, the previous sections being preparation for the inevitable aesthetic glory of the precipice. There’s so much more to say about this section, but I want to narrow my focus to some of Spinoza’s more psychological insights and how they almost proleptically anticipate the 20th century observations of psychoanalysis. In Proposition XX of Part 5 of the Ethic, Spinoza says this:
This love to God cannot be defiled either by the affect of envy or jealousy, but is the more strengthened the more people we imagine to be connected with God by the same bond of love.
This “love to God” for Spinoza is eventually to be understood as the knowledge of things (and of God) under the form of eternity, but lets not go there just yet. What really interested me was Spinoza’s discussion of the power of the attuned mind over the various affections in the scholium of this passage. After discussing the form of these powers, he gives this little proviso:
Again, it must be observed, that spiritual unhealthiness and misfortunes can generally be traced to excessive love for something which is subject to many variations, and which we can never become masters of. For no one is solicitous or anxious about anything, unless he loves it ; neither do wrongs, suspicions, enmities, &c. arise, except in regard to things whereof no one can be really master
Psychoanalysis! As is well-known, Spinoza’s ethics consists of engaging the intellect with the true nature of the world (as he calls it: God, self, and objects) via philosophy, and in then allowing the mind to gain a sort of dominion over the body and its affections so that they may be directed toward proper ends. It is here that he recognizes the fact that our misconceptions about the world (or, in this case, specifically objects) tend to lie in a misplaced love for them (a proto-Freudian notion of desire, if you’ll allow the analogue). It is the ordering of our loves and passions that is the problem, and not necessarily the content, and so the act of rearranging this order allows us something akin to the psychoanalytic cure:
We may thus readily conceive the power which clear and distinct knowledge, and especially that third kind of knowledge, founded on the actual knowledge of God, possesses over the emotions: if it does not absolutely destroy them, in so far as they are passions; at any rate, it causes them to occupy a very small part of the mind. Further, it begets a love towards a thing immutable and eternal, whereof we may really enter into possession; neither can it be defiled with those faults which are inherent in ordinary love; but it may grow from strength to strength, and may engross the greater part of the mind, and deeply penetrate it.
This power of Spinoza’s is knowledge of the world under the form of eternity (or sub specie aeternitatis, ahem), or knowledge based upon the eternal nature of God or Substance. Its power lies in its ability to properly order these affections (or literally “make them small in the mind”). It is different from the power of the affections because we can actually posses it, and it brings about happiness or blessedness because it produces that same undefiled love with which God loves Himself (a point he makes in Prop. 36). This is no ego psychology, but an attempt at an actual psychoanalytic cure, meant to attune the mind to a drive of specifically eternal love. Now, there is a conspicuous lack of death drives, gaps, lacks, etc. here in Spinoza’s formulation, but I do see a parallel between Spinoza’s knowledge under the form of eternity, the blessed life it instantiates, and a positive, life-affirming conception of the psychoanalytic cure.