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The Power of an Idea: Spinoza's Critique


of Pure Will

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MICHAEL DELLA ROCCA


Yale University

``Mentis potentia . . . sola intelligentia definitur''Preface to Part V of the


Ethics

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One of the most important claims in the Ethics is Proposition 49 of Part 2:


``In the Mind, there is no volition, or affirmation and negation, except that
which the idea involves insofar as it is an idea.''1 With Spinoza's characteristic economy of expression, this proposition simultaneously embodies commitments to a representational account of mental states and to an
understanding of belief solely in terms of the causal role of mental states.
These dual commitmentsso widespread in contemporary philosophy
are in 2p49 tightly linked with Spinoza's views on mental actions and
passions, the efficacy of representational content, the self-contained nature
of the realms of thought and of extension, and the universal striving for selfpreservation. 2p49 thus represents, as I will show, a crystallization of much
of Spinoza's metaphysics and philosophy of mind.
Further, a particular theme of this paper is the way in which this
proposition manifests various anti-Cartesian strands in Spinoza. Of course,
as has been widely recognized, 2p49 is directed against Descartes' view that
judgment or affirmation consists in part of an act of will separate from the
idea affirmed, an act, one might say, of pure will. However, one aspect of
the lack of full appreciation of the significance of 2p49 has been a failure to
grasp how this criticism of Descartes is deeply connected with Spinoza's
criticisms of Descartes on some of the other topics in metaphysics and
philosophy of mind that I just mentioned, and even, as I will argue briefly
at the end, with Spinoza's criticism of Descartes' account of the causation of
motion. 2p49 is thus not only a crystallization of Spinoza's philosophy of

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mind and metaphysics, but it is also a crystallization of his multifaceted


anti-Cartesianism.

1. The Standard Reading and Three Questions

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To set up my approach, I will outline a more or less standard reading of the


demonstration of 2p49 and raise three key questions generated by this
readingquestions that will guide me throughout his paper. In calling this
the standard reading, I do not mean to imply that this reading is presented
in any one place in precisely the terms that I will lay out. Rather, my point is
that each of the elements of the standard reading is a plausible and natural
reading of one aspect of the demonstration and that these elements have, at
least individually, been espoused explicitly in the literature. Further, in
contrasting my interpretation with this interpretation, I do not mean to
imply that I reject the standard interpretation entirely. In fact, as I will
emphasize presently, I accept one key part of the standard reading.
For our purposes, there are two crucial parts of 2p49d. After choosing as
an illustration the mind's affirmation that the three angles of a triangle are
equal to two right angles, Spinoza says, first:

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This affirmation involves the concept or idea of the triangle, i.e. it cannot be
conceived without the idea of the triangle. For to say that A must involve the
concept of B is the same as to say that A cannot be conceived without B.
Further this affirmation (by 2ax3) also cannot be without the idea of the
triangle. Therefore, this affirmation can neither be nor be conceived without
the idea of the triangle.

Spinoza's second crucial claim is that:

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Next, this idea of the triangle must involve this same affirmation, viz. that its
three angles equal two right angles.

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The first claim is often read this way: An affirmation cannot be or be


conceived without an idea, i.e., one cannot conceive that there is an affirmation that something is the case but that there is no idea of the matter
affirmed or of the object which the affirmation concerns. Spinoza bases
this claim on 2ax3:
There are no modes of thinking, such as love, desire, or whatever is designated
by the word affects of the mind, unless there is in the same individual the idea of
the thing loved, desired, etc. But there can be an idea, even though there is no
other mode of thinking.

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Thus in 2p49d, Spinoza applies 2ax3which does not explicitly concern


affirmationto the topic of affirmation.
The claim that the standard interpretation sees Spinoza as making with
the help of 2ax3 is perfectly reasonable and, indeed, it is, as Edwin Curley
notes, ``good Cartesian doctrine''.2 However, as I will argue in section 3 of
this paper, the claim Spinoza makes in 2p49d with the help of 2ax3 is much
more controversial than meets the eye and is, indeed, deeply anti-Cartesian.
In the second main part of the demonstration, on the standard interpretation, Spinoza claims that an idea cannot be conceived without a certain
affirmation. Spinoza claims, in particular, that if one has the idea of a
triangle one must affirm that its three angles are equal to two right angles,
or, to use the example from 2p49s, having an idea of a winged horse is
simply affirming that the horse has wings. Spinoza makes this point with a
rhetorical question: ``what is perceiving a winged horse other than affirming
wings of the horse?'' (Gebhardt II 134). Part of what is going on in the
second part of the demonstration is that Spinoza is presupposing that ideas
are inherently propositional in character.3 But he is also going beyond this
point and claiming that each idea is inherently an affirmation that something is the case, that each idea is something like a belief. This claim, unlike
the first claim that the standard interpretation attributes to Spinoza, is quite
controversial. It seems perfectly possible to have an idea without thereby
affirming it or some propositional content associated with it. And, unfortunately, Spinoza offers no argument for this controversial claim here.4
Now unlike the account of the first part of 2p49d that the standard
interpretation gives, I believe that that interpretation's reading of the second
part is basically correct. Spinoza does think that in having an idea one
affirms it, and he intends to say this in 2p49d. Thus I think that the worry
expressed by the standard interpretation concerning the justification of
Spinoza's claim is a legitimate and important one. In fact, section 2 of this
paper will be devoted to answering the question:
(I) Why does Spinoza think that all ideas involve affirmation, that one
cannot have an idea without affirming it?

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To complete this survey of the standard interpretation, I should note that


after the claim that ideas involve affirmations, Spinoza claims that because
an idea cannot be conceived without a certain affirmation, and because that
affirmation cannot be conceived without the idea, it follows, given Spinoza's
conception of essence (2def2), that the affirmation pertains to the essence of
the idea, and that the affirmation is identical with the idea.
Exactly what role Spinoza's notion of essence plays here, and how this
further claim about identity follows from this claim about essence is not
immediately clear. However, I want to bracket these difficulties and to stress
instead an even more crucial difficulty with the demonstration as depicted

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by the standard interpretation. Return to 2p49 itself: ``In the mind there is
no volition, or affirmation and negation, except that which the idea involves
insofar as it is an idea.'' I believe that this proposition is most naturally read
as making two points. The first is that ideas, in virtue of being ideas, involve
affirmations.5 In having an idea, one affirms it. (Thus Spinoza speaks of the
affirmation that the idea involves insofar as it is an idea.) The second point
made by 2p49 is that the presence of any affirmation in the mind is due only
to the presence of a certain idea. In other words, no affirmation can be a
matter of, or a function of, anything other than an idea: ideas do all the
work as far as affirmation is concerned. (Thus Spinoza says that there is
no affirmation except that which the idea involves by its very nature as
an idea.)
We can express in this way the two crucial claims 2p49 puts forth:

(a) Each idea is such that in having it the mind affirms it.
(b) An affirmation is simply a matter of having a certain idea.

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While the second part of 2p49d is clearly meant to assert (a), neither of
the first two parts of the demonstration, nor both parts together, seem, on
the standard reading, to yield (b). The second part of the demonstration,
which says merely that all ideas involve affirmations, does not by itself
establish the claim that all affirmation is to be understood in terms of
ideas. The first part of the demonstration, however, seems equally poorly
suited to the task of establishing (b). The key claim Spinoza relies on there is
2ax3, and the most this showsat least according to the standard reading
of 2p49dis that each affirmation requires that there be an idea. 2ax3 so
interpreted does not make the further claim that Spinoza clearly wants to
make, viz. that the presence of an affirmation is due simply to the presence
of a certain idea and to its nature as an idea. The first part of the proofas
understood by the standard interpretationtogether with the claim in the
second part that each idea involves an affirmation may generate the claim
that wherever there is an affirmation there is an idea that by its very nature
involves that affirmation. While this is a substantive result, it still leaves
open possibilities that would be clearly objectionable to Spinoza. For
example, even if each affirmation requires an idea which in turn suffices for
the existence of that affirmation, it could still be the case that, in at least some
instances of affirmation, there is another source, independent of that idea
and indeed independent of all ideas, which also accounts for the presence of
the affirmation. In such a case, the affirmation would not be simply a matter
of a given idea. Thus Spinoza would not have established (b).
An even more damaging possibility left open by the standard reading
emerges once we bring into play a complexity in 2p49 that I have so far
passed over. Spinoza holds that there is ``no affirmation and negation except
that which the idea involves insofar as it is an idea.'' Spinoza thus is saying,

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in part, that any negation or denial must be understood simply in terms of


ideas. This would be the analogue of (b) for negation. Thus there cannot be
a source of negation in the mind apart from a given idea, just as there
cannot be a source of affirmation apart from a given idea. But now consider
the following scenario. I have the idea of a horse as having wings, and
I affirm that idea simply in virtue of having it. However, in addition, some
source in my mind, independent of the idea that the horse has wings and
indeed independent of any idea whatsoever, brings it about that I also deny
that the horse has wings. (In such a case, then, I have conflicting beliefs:
I both affirm and deny that the horse has wings.) Notice that, in this case,
2ax3as the standard interpretation sees itis not violated. On that
reading of 2ax3, the denial of a given idea requires that one have that idea
( just as the affirmation requires that one have the idea affirmed). And, in
this case, one does, as I have stipulated, have the idea in question. So this
scenario is compatible with the standard interpretation's understanding
of 2ax3. But despite the fact that 2ax3so interpretedis not violated, this
case clearly is incompatible with 2p49 itself. There is here a denial that is not
simply a matter of having a given idea, and this goes against (b) or at least
against the analogue of (b) that concerns negation.
Thus even both key parts of 2p49d taken together do not yield (b) (or its
analogue) and thus do not account for a key aspect of Spinoza's claim in
2p49 itself. Or at least 2p49d as the standard interpretation sees it does not
account for the full force of 2p49. So the standard interpretation faces the
following further question:

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(II) How, according to Spinoza, does his demonstration of 2p49


establish that each affirmation is simply a matter of an idea?6

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In answering this question, I will show that the standard interpretation


involves a significant misunderstanding of the role of 2ax3 in 2p49d. As
I mentioned above, 2ax3 is not the relatively mild claim it is generally
regarded as being; it is rather a substantive and very strong claim to the
effect that everything in the mind (including all its actions) is simply a
matter of the mind's ideas. It is this strong claim at work in 2p49d that,
I contend, helps us to answer question (II). But the strength of this claim
renders it highly controversial and thus, after answering question (II), we
will be faced with a third and final question:
(III) What, according to Spinoza, justifies 2ax3 as he uses it in 2p49d?

I will take up these three questions, in turn, in the remaining three


sections of this paper.

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2. Ideas as Actions
I would like to take up firstin this sectionthe question that stems
from the second part of 2p49d, i.e.,
(I) Why does Spinoza think that all ideas involve affirmation, that one
cannot have an idea without affirming it?

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I will show that the claim in question has a straightforward Spinozistic


basisone that Spinoza explicitly calls attention to in this context as
justifying this claim. This basis shows that Spinoza's claim that all ideas
involve affirmations is not a bare, ungrounded assertion, but is actually the
manifestation of a deep and bold theory of belief.
To begin to address question (I), we need to understand Spinoza's notion
of what it is to act and what it is for something to be an action. In keeping
with the topic of this paper, I will focus on the actions of the mind in
particular.
Spinoza has a strong and a weak sense of these notions.7 In the strong
sense, for the mind to act is for it to be the adequate cause of something
(3def2). As Spinoza explains (in the preceding definition) an adequate cause
is one whose effect can be understood or explained through that cause alone.
If the mind is active with regard to x, i.e. if it is the adequate cause of x, then
that mind will also and thereby be the adequate cause of anything that x
causes or at least of anything of which x is the sole proximate cause.8 In this
way, when the mind acts it gives rise to states such as x in virtue of which
the mind engages in further activity, etc.
Although Spinoza does not define ``action'' explicitly, it seems that for
himat least in a sense corresponding to the strong sense of the verb
``to act''an action is any state, such as x, that occupies the role of being a
state that is adequately caused by the mind and that in turn gives rise to
further states that are adequately caused by the mind.
According to Spinoza's account of adequate ideas, as it is most explicitly
given in 2p11c,9 adequate ideas are the only states of the mind that are
wholly or adequately caused from within the mind. In light of this claim
about adequate ideas and in light of Spinoza's strong sense of ``action''
which turns on his notion of adequate causation, we can see why Spinoza
says that the mind acts only insofar as it has adequate ideas (3p1) and that
the actions of the mind, in turn, arise from adequate ideas alone (3p3).
Adequate ideas are thus actions that give rise to further actions.10
Of course, in this strong sense of ``action'' and the verb ``to act'', it is
difficult to see how or in what cases the mind can act or be the adequate
cause of something. And, relatedly, it is difficult to see how the mind can
acquire adequate ideas. This is a large problem in understanding Spinoza's
epistemology.11 But, fortunately, it is not one we need to take up here since,

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for our purposes, we need only be concerned with the weak notion of action
on which Spinoza also relies.12 In this less restrictive sense, the mind acts
just in case it causes (either adequately or not) some effect y. This effect is,
therefore, an action of the mind in the weak sense. And, just as actions in
the strong sense give rise to further actions in the strong sense, so too an
action of the mind that is an action in the weak sense gives rise to further
actions of the mind that are actions in the weak sense.13 That is, an action in
the weak sense is a state that is caused (either adequately or not) by the
mind and that in turn gives rise to further states that are caused (either
adequately or not) by the mind.
In various places, Spinoza calls attention to this less restrictive notion of
acting. For our purposes, the most significant such place is 2p48d where
Spinoza identifies mental action with volition or willing.14 There Spinoza
treats as equivalent the claim that ``[the mind] cannot be a free cause of its
own actions'' and the claim that ``[the mind] cannot have an absolute faculty
of willing and not willing.'' (Spinoza connects these claims with sive, the ``or''
of equivalence.) This equivalence involves, I believe, an equivalence between
actions of the mind, on the one hand, and willing and not willing on the
other.15 Spinoza is concerned with willings in general here, and not only with
willings that have their source wholly within the mind. This is evident from
his making this claim in the context of his denial of the mind's free will,
a denial which turns in part on the mind's subjection to outside causes.16 Thus
Spinoza's identification of mental action with willing must concern actions
in the weak sense since the willings he has in mind here include willings that
are due to external causes. Now at least part of what it is for something to
be a willing or volition is for it to cause further states. Thus Spinoza speaks
of will as the striving or power of the mind to do certain things.17 Willings
thus give rise to further states and since willings are mental actions, for
Spinoza, it follows that mental actions also cause further states.18
Thus, for Spinoza, the actions of the mindor its willingsare states
that are caused at least in part by the mind and that cause further states (of
the mind or of other things).19 To see the importance of this account of
action for understanding Spinoza's account of affirmation in 2p49d, we
need to recognize that not only does Spinoza equate mental actions and
volitions, but he also equates volitions and affirmations (or denials). Thus
Spinoza says in 2p48s that ``by will I understand a faculty of affirming and
denying, and not desire'' and, in the same vein, in 2p49 itself, he equates
``volitions, or [sive] affirmations and negations.'' Spinoza seems to be saying
that all volition is simply a matter of affirmation (or denial). Given the just
discussed equivalence of mental action and volition, we can see Spinoza as
saying that all mental actions are affirmations. Thus, in effect, the mind
does nothing but affirm things.20
This is, of course, a highly controversial claim. It seems that there is a lot
of activity going on in the mind that is not affirmation. For example, when

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we will to move our body, it seems that there is a mental action that is
something over and above an affirmation or judgment. This seems to be
Descartes' view.21 But despite its implausibility, I think that Spinoza deliberately adopts the view that all mental actions are affirmations. My answer
to questions (II) and (III) will, I believe, go a long way toward showing why
this view might appeal to Spinoza. For the moment, I simply want to
employ Spinoza's explicit equation of volitions or mental actions with
affirmations in order to be able to answer question (I), i.e. to see why
Spinoza holds that one cannot have an idea without affirming it.
Let us now take up question (I) directly:
(I) Why does Spinoza think that all ideas involve affirmation, that one
cannot have an idea without affirming it?

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The equation of affirmation with mental action indicates that for an idea
to involve a certain affirmation, it is sufficient that the idea be an action.
Now does Spinoza hold that each idea is an action? Of course he does. The
first thing to note is that, for Spinoza, each thing is an expression of God's
power and, as such, each thing is a cause. This point would apply to ideas,
and it shows that all ideas are actions in at least the weak sense. Further, for
Spinoza, it is a part of the very definition of the term ``idea'' that ideas are
actions. Thus Spinoza says in 2def3 and its explanation:

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By idea I understand a concept of the mind which the mind forms because it is
a thinking thing. Explanation: I say concept rather than perception, because the
word perception seems to indicate that the mind is acted on [pati] by the object.
But concept seems to express an action [actionem] of the mind.

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Here we have Spinoza saying that an idea is, by definition, an action of


the mind (actio mentis).22 Spinoza is clearly going against Descartes who
sees ideas as inherently passive.23 Further Spinoza explicitly calls attention
to this definition in 2p48s and stresses that his claim that there is no
affirmation except that which the idea involves insofar as it is an idea is to
be understood in terms of this definition.24 We can make sense of the
connection Spinoza sees between 2def3 and 2p49 by taking that definition
as providing the key notion that enables us to see that ideas as such involve
affirmation. In fact, I can think of no other way of explaining what Spinoza
obviously sees as the intimate connection between that definition and 2p49.
I am suggesting that Spinoza is, in effect, offering here a theory of belief:
an idea gets to be an affirmation in virtue of being an action. Given that, for
Spinoza, ideas are actions by their very nature, all ideas are, by their very
nature, affirmations. Spinoza holds that all ideas involve affirmations simply
because he holds, contra Descartes, that all ideas are actions and because
he holds, also contra Descartes, that all mental actions are affirmations.

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Spinoza's anti-Cartesian claim in the second part of 2p49dthe claim that


all ideas involve affirmationsis thus not a mere assertion, but is instead a
result of two further anti-Cartesian commitments.25
This is an intriguing theory of belief, but it is still quite sketchy. To see
what Spinoza has in mind by holding that ideas are beliefs because they are
actions and, relatedly, to see why such a view would appeal to Spinoza,
I want to explore what Spinoza thinks ideas cause. As we saw, for Spinoza
the actions of the mind are states that are caused, at least in part, by the
mind and that, in turn, cause further states. Actions thus occupy a place in
a causal network, and, by seeing what ideas cause, we can achieve at least
a partial understanding of the causal role that ideas play and of why Spinoza
regards ideas as actions and, hence, as beliefs.
For Spinoza, all our actions are a function of our striving to do things.
This is indicated by a passage I quoted earlier from 3p7d in which Spinoza
speaks of ``the striving by which it [each thing] (either alone or with others)
does anything.'' As I have explained elsewhere, what we strive to do, for
Spinoza, is what we have some tendency to do. For Spinoza, to strive to do
x is to be in a state y such that one will do x unless prevented by external
causes or by internal causes other than the state y.26 For Spinoza this
striving or tendency is simply the striving to persist in one's existence and
to maintain or increase what Spinoza calls one's power of acting. (Our
power of acting is our ability to cause an effect of a certain type.27) Thus
for Spinoza all our actions are a function of our striving to persist and to
increase our power of acting. Since Spinoza holds that an increase in power
of acting is good for an agent and a decrease is evil,28 we can see that
Spinoza holds, in effect, that any action that is not somehow a manifestation
of the striving to benefit an individual is not an action of that individual.29
Since all of one's actions are a function of this striving, ifas Spinoza
stipulates in 2def3an idea is to be an action of the mind, each idea must
somehow be bound up with the agent's striving for preservation and
enhancement. If a mind does something in virtue of having an idea, that
idea and the effects stemming from it must somehow be a manifestation of
the agent's striving. Thus all causation by an idea in an agent's mind must in
some way be directed to the good of the agent.
It is still not clear, however, exactly how the causation in which an idea
plays a role is bound up with an agent's conatus. I will indicate one way in
which causation by an idea is linked with an agent's conatus, but I should
emphasize that I do not pretend to give here a comprehensive treatment of
Spinoza's account of conatus and its relation to ideas. My aim is to present
one central strand in his account of conatus and ideas that will enable us to
get a handle on why Spinoza sees ideas as beliefs in virtue of their being
actions.
The point behind Spinoza's discussion of power of acting in 3p12 and
3p13 initially seems to be that one strives to do whatever will increase one's

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power of acting or prevent any decrease in that power. Thus Spinoza says
with regard to a case of mental striving in particular, ``The mind, as far as it
can, strives to imagine those things that increase or aid the body's power of
acting'' (3p12). However, as stated, this claim seems to have the result that
we strive to do those things that will benefit us even if we are completely
unaware that they will benefit us. This is certainly an implausible account of
striving,30 and thus it is not surprising to see Spinoza later qualify his claim
about striving in this way: we strive to do whatever we imagine will benefit
us: ``We strive to further the occurrence of whatever we imagine will lead to
joy, and to avert or destroy whatever we imagine is contrary to it, or will
lead to sadness'' (3p28).31
We can now begin to see how a particular ideae.g. the idea that there
is water in the cup before meis an action and thus causes further states of
affairs, for Spinoza. Let's say that in addition to the idea that there is water
in the cup, I have the idea that drinking water would increase my power of
acting or be beneficial to me. (I am not assuming here that these ideas are
beliefs. I am just exploring what these ideas simply considered as ideas or
imaginings cause. This will help us to see later why Spinoza calls such ideas
beliefs.) If I have these ideas, I will strive or have some tendency, e.g., to put
the cup to my lips. The idea that drinking water is beneficial, combined with
the idea that the cup contains water, generates a tendency to put the cup to
my lips.
This enables us to see some of the ways in which the idea that there is
water in the cup is causally active. Let's assume that the tendency to drink
the cup's contents is successful; thus the idea that there is water in the cup
can be seen as a partial cause of my putting the cup to my lips and of my
drinking the water. This is one way in which the idea can be a cause.32
Of course, the tendency to put the cup to my lipsa tendency that results in
part from the idea that the cup contains watermay not be successful.
This may be so for several reasons. For example, internal causes may
prevent the tendency to put the cup to my lips from actually having that
result. I will briefly discuss two such cases, each of which involves conflicting ideas. First, let's say that although I have the idea that drinking water is
beneficial to me, I also have the conflicting idea that drinking water is
harmful. Spinoza allows that often when we have two such conflicting
ideas, one is stronger than the other, one is better able to lead to appropriate
action.33 Thus if the idea that water is harmful is stronger, it will lead to my
avoiding the cup's contents and prevent my putting it to my lips.34 In this
scenario, the idea that the cup contains water does not cause my putting the
cup to my lips, but it does nonetheless play a causal role in my avoidance of
the cup's contents.
Another case in which internal causes prevent my tendency to put the cup
to my lips from being successful is one which concerns not a competing idea
about water's being beneficial for me, but a competing idea about what the

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cup contains. Thus, let's say, in addition to having the idea that the cup
contains water, I have the conflicting idea that the cup contains no water.
Let's assume further that the no-water idea is stronger, that is, it is better
able to lead to my not bothering to put the cup to my lips than the idea that
there is water in the cup is able to lead to my putting the cup to my lips.
Thus a particular internal causethe competing ideaprevents the idea
that there is water from having the relevant effect.
It may seem, then, that in this case the idea that there is water in the cup
is not a cause. But Spinoza would disagree with this conclusion. His view,
I believe, is as follows: the idea that there is water in the cup, in conjunction
with the idea that drinking is beneficial, still generates a tendency to put the
cup to my lips. This tendency is, as I stipulated, outweighed in this case
by the greater power of the idea that there is no water (together perhaps with
the idea that it would not be beneficial to put the cup to my lips). But even
though the tendency generated by the idea that there is water is outweighed,
it is still a tendency that must be resisted if I am not to put the cup to my
lips; it is still a tendency that exerts some force.35
To make the point more vivid, suppose that there is no water in the cup,
but because of some clever optical illusion I have the idea that there is water
in the cup. Further, let's say that I have been informed by authorities I trust
that the appearance of water is an illusion and that there really is no water
in the cup. In such a case the idea that there is no water may be more
powerful, and so I do not seek to lift the cup in order to drink. Nonetheless,
we can well imagine that the power of the appearance is very strong and that
it is very difficult to resist the temptation to lift the cup in order to drink.
The impulse continually needs to be checked. Let's say that I do manage to
resist the temptation; in such a case the idea that there is water in the cup,
despite being outweighed, as it were, by the idea that there is no water, is
still an active force that opposes the tendency not to reach for the cup. In
this sense, even in a case in which the tendency to lift the cup is not
successful, it is still a live psychic force.
That Spinoza holds the view that even an idea such as the water idea that
``loses out'' is powerful in this way is evident from the fact that he often
stresses, as in 3p28, that we strive to bring about ``whatever we imagine will
lead to joy.''36 ``Imagination'' is Spinoza's general term for representation of
external physical states of affairs (2p17s), and thus it would cover both the
winning ideas that there is no water and that it is not beneficial to lift the
cup to my lips, and also the losing ideas that there is water and that it is
beneficial to lift the cup. And his point is that all these ideaseven the
losing ideasare strivings or a manifestation of one's power.
The point here holds more generally. Very many, at least, of an agent's
ideas can be seen as implicated in an agent's conatus in this way. Thus even
an idea that does not arise from a clever optical illusione.g. the outlandish idea that suddenly comes to my mind that there is plutonium in the

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cupstill has some power to cause results appropriate in light of that idea.
The plutonium ideatogether with my ideas about what is harmful or
beneficialmay generate a tendency to warn people to retreat. There is
thus an impulse here that needs to be checked. But this tendency may, in the
circumstances, be quite easy to resist given other, more powerful ideas
concerning the absence of plutonium. The point is that, for Spinoza, ideas in
general have some power to produce appropriate results, and if they are to
fail to produce these results they must be prevented by other, stronger ideas.
I certainly have not shown that all ideas generate strivings in the way that
the idea that there is water generates striving, but Spinoza does clearly think
that all ideas figure into an agent's striving in some way. The water example
provides one way of understanding how an idea can do this.
I contend that it is, in part at least, because, for Spinoza, all ideas are, in
ways such as the one I have just outlined, bound up with an agent's striving
that he sees all ideas as affirmations and invokes 2def3 and the notion of
ideas as actions in order to clarify 2p49.37
This view which ties the property of being a belief or affirmation to an
idea's power to cause events regarded by an agent as beneficial to the agent
is a very plausible starting point for an account of belief. We have become
accustomed to the notion that beliefs are, by their very nature, nothing but
representations that guide our activity, that generally cause behavior beneficial to us or regarded by us as beneficial to us.38 Spinoza, I believe, was
expressing this important insight about the nature of belief in the second
part of 2p49d and in its implicit claim that ideas are affirmations because
ideas are actions.
Still, not all that Spinoza says in this context is so easy to endorse. I will
mention two concernsone that I will be able to allay and one that I will
not be able to allay here. (1) We might balk at Spinoza's claim that a losing
idea is nonetheless a belief. It seems implausible to hold that my idea that
there is water in the cup (in a case where that idea does not prompt me to
attempt to drink because I have a more powerful idea that there is no water)
is a belief. It seems even more odd to say that the losing idea that there is
plutonium in the cup is nonetheless a belief. Even if one agrees with Spinoza
that all ideas have some degree of force or power and that beliefs are to be
understood as simply a function of mental power or action, one may still
resist the view that even the losing ideas are nonetheless beliefs. One may
prefer instead to account for belief in terms of action or power in this way:
of two ideas p and not-p, the one that is believed is believed if and only if it
is more powerful in the way outlined above. This accounts for belief in
terms of power or action, as Spinoza does, but does not, contra Spinoza,
have the losing idea count as a belief.
I have considerable sympathy for this kind of position. But in the end
I think that the difference from Spinoza's position is merely terminological
and that nothing of metaphysical or psychological import turns on it. Once

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one accepts Spinoza's view that only the causal role of an idea is relevant to
its being believed, then even if one holds that powerful but losing ideas are
not beliefs one would still be agreeing with Spinoza on the crucial point:
there is no difference in kind between winning and losing ideas (or between
beliefs and non-beliefs as the position I am now considering would label
them), but only a difference in degree of power or activity. In this light, such
a proponent of the view that the losing ideas are not beliefs differs from
Spinoza in the use of the term ``belief'' or ``affirmation'', but not in any
substantive matter. Spinoza, I believe, chose his non-standard use, according to which even losing ideas are beliefs, because it helps him to emphasize
the metaphysical similarity between losing and winning ideas: all these ideas
are live psychic forces, as I have explained. Thus to label only the winning
ideas beliefs or affirmations might suggest that there is a more substantive
difference between them than is actually the case.
(2) The second concern I want to raise is the following: I have stressed,
particularly in connection with examples of conflicting ideas, that not only
are all ideas powerful or active forces, but also that some ideas are more
powerful than others, better able to bring about effects that are appropriate
in light of the content of those ideas. But why is one idea more powerful
than another? Spinoza emphasizes that the power of an idea is a function
of the power of its causes (5ax2, cf. 4p5); but the problem now is: what makes
the causes of a winning idea more powerful than the causes of the competing, losing idea? A potentially helpful suggestion comes from Spinoza's
claim that an effect is more powerful in proportion to the number of its
causes (5p8). This in turn suggests the more general point that an idea is
powerful in proportion to the number of causes it has. It is not immediately
clear, however, why the number of causes should be relevant in this way.
This is an important difficulty whose discussion I must, unfortunately,
postpone to a future occasion. But even without a resolution of this problem, we have seen the deep and powerful sources of Spinoza's view that
ideas, in virtue of being ideas, are affirmed.
3. Actions as Ideas

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Let's turn now to the second key question I raised about 2p49. As I
mentioned in section 1, one of the claims Spinoza makes in 2p49 is:
(b) An affirmation is simply a matter of having a certain idea.

But recall that, on the standard interpretation, Spinoza is simply saying


in the first part of 2p49d that an affirmation concerning a certain thing
requires that one have the idea of that thing. This relatively tame Cartesian
claim is seen as the point of Spinoza's citation of 2ax3 in the first part of
2p49d. Even if one agrees with this claim and even if one also agrees with

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Spinoza's claim in the second part of 2p49d that all ideas involve affirmation, it does not follow, as I explained, that all affirmation is simply a matter
of having the relevant ideas as Spinoza wants to claim in 2p49. Thus I raised
the question:
(II) How, according to Spinoza, does his demonstration of 2p49
establish that each affirmation is simply a matter of an idea?

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The point comes down to this: Spinoza is saying in 2p49 that wherever
there is an affirmation, there is an idea that suffices for, and indeed fully and
exclusively explains, that affirmation. But 2ax3 seems to say at most that
wherever there is an affirmation, an idea is necessary for that affirmation
and thus perhaps only partially explains that affirmation. However, if we
examine Spinoza's only other citation of 2ax3, we can see that, as he
understands it, 2ax3 does make the strong claim that each affirmation is
to be explained simply in terms of a given idea.

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The following passage from 2p11d includes a helpful gloss on 2ax3:


The essence of man (by 2p10c) is constituted by certain modes of God's
attributes, namely (by 2ax2), by modes of thinking, of all of which (by 2ax3)
the idea is prior in nature, and when it is given the other modes (to which the
idea is prior in nature) must be in the same individual (by 2ax3).

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Part of what Spinoza is saying here is that the relevant idea accounts fully
for the presence of modes of thought such as love, desire and affects
generally. Applied to the case of affirmation (as Spinoza clearly means to
apply 2ax3 in 2p49d), the point is that if there is an affirmation, its presence
in an individual must be a function simply of the presence of the idea
affirmed. That Spinoza would hold that the relevant idea would account
in this way for the affirmation is evident from his saying in the statement of
2p11 itself that
The first thing that constitutes the actual being of a human mind is nothing but
the idea of a singular thing which actually exists.

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Spinoza here says that the mind is constituted by nothing but (nihil aliud) a
certain idea.39 Since, as Spinoza goes on to emphasize, this idea is an
enormously complex idea (the idea of the body) composed of many other
ideas (2p15), Spinoza's point in 2p11 can be read as the claim that all that is
in the mind derives solely from, is ultimately nothing but, these ideas. This is
evidence for seeing Spinoza as holding that affirmations (as well as affects
such as desire, love, etc.) are explained only by the relevant ideas.40
Thus the use of 2ax3 in 2p11d suggests that Spinoza sees that claim not as
a mere statement of ideas as necessary conditions for the existence of mental

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states such as desire, love, and affirmation, but as a statement that ideas
fully and exclusively account for these mental states. Of course 2ax3 is more
naturally read as simply making the point about ideas as necessary for these
mental states. After all, Spinoza says in 2ax3 only that there are no modes of
thought unless there is a certain idea and says in 2p49d only that affirmations in particular cannot be without the idea. These claims seem to express
merely a necessary condition. However, 2p11d shows that Spinoza clearly
intends the axiom to have the richer meaning I have described.41
Because Spinoza understands 2ax3 in this richer way, we can see how
2ax3 is relevant to the conclusion Spinoza needs to establish in 2p49, and we
can see how 2ax3, as used here, involves not simply the mild Cartesian claim
that affirmation requires ideas, but rather the deeply anti-Cartesian claim
that if an affirmation exists, its presence is due simply to the presence of a
certain idea. Descartes would reject this view since for him, as I mentioned,
in each case the presence of an affirmation is due to, or consists in part in,
the presence of an act of will over and above the relevant idea. But it is
precisely this Cartesian view that Spinoza rejects with the help of 2ax3 in
what we can now see as the highly controversial first part of 2p49d.
This result answers question (II), but it raises and leaves unanswered
a deeper question about Spinoza's justification for 2ax3 as he rather richly
understands it. Before taking up this deeper question, I want to clarify
briefly a crucial claim I relied on earlier. In section 2 I said that Spinoza
holds that all the mind does is to affirm things, that all the mind's actions
are affirmations,42 and I promised that my discussion of the first part of
2p49d would shed light on this controversial claim. I try to keep that
promise now.
As I mentioned, 2ax3 is a general claim that Spinoza applies not only to
affirmation, but also to all other mental states, such as love, joy, etc.: they
are all ideas or are to be understood and explained solely in terms of ideas.
Since all mental states are thus a function of the mind's ideas, if any of the
mind's states are actions, then these actions are ultimately simply a matter
of ideas that the mind has. So the actions of the mind can always ultimately
be seen as ideas. What the mind does is always to have certain ideas.
But now given that Spinoza holdsby virtue of 2ax3that all mental
actions are ultimately ideas, one can see why he would hold that all mental
actions are affirmations. To accept with Spinoza that all mental actions are
ultimately nothing but ideas, but, contra Spinoza, deny that all mental
actions are affirmations, is, in effect, to draw a line between those active
ideas that are affirmations and those that are not. But since, as Spinoza's
use of 2ax3 indicates, affirmations cannot have some extra-ideational
source, the mental actions that, on the account I am describing, are affirmations, cannot differ in kind from the mental actions that are not: they are all
simply ideas or representations with some degree of power. One may choose
to draw a distinction among these ideasbased, perhaps, on a difference in

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degree of powerbut such a distinction would not track any substantive


metaphysical difference. So, once one agrees with Spinoza that all mental
actions are ultimately only ideas, there is no weighty metaphysical reason to
resist the view that all such actions are affirmations. Earlier we saw that,
given agreement with Spinoza's view that winning and losing ideas differ
only in degree of power, a view that holds that only the winning or more
powerful of the idea that p and the idea that not-p can be an affirmation
does not differ substantively from Spinoza's position. In the same way, and
for the same reason, given agreement with Spinoza's view that all actions
are simply ideas, a view that holds that only some of these active ideas are
affirmations does not differ substantively from Spinoza's position. For this
reason, I believe that the above account of 2ax3according to which all
mental actions are ideasgoes a long way toward showing why Spinoza
also thinks that all mental actions are affirmations.

4. Why are Mental Actions Ideas?

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Let's take up now our final question:

(III) What, according to Spinoza, justifies 2ax3 as he uses it in 2p49d?

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That is, what is the source of Spinoza's view that all mental action or
affirmation stems from ideas and of the more general view expressed in
2ax3? The answer to this question must be somewhat speculative because
Spinoza does not take up this question specifically. But let me develop a
Spinozistic answer, an answer to which Spinoza is clearly committed. Afterwards, I will present evidence that Spinoza was actually thinking along these
lines in asserting 2ax3 and in his use of it in 2p49d.
To begin to answer this question, let's assume that there is some item, x,
that is not an idea, but that, at least partially, accounts for a given affirmation or mental action. In such a case, we would have an affirmation or
action in the mind that is not simply a function of ideas, and this would
violate 2ax3 as I am interpreting it. Now what could x be? It certainly
cannot be a body or a mode of any attribute other than thought. This is
because, as I am stipulating, x is something that accounts for the presence of
a mental action or affirmation and, as such, it enters into some kind of
conceptual or explanatory relation with a mode of thought (viz. with the
idea affirmed). Since Spinoza strictly prohibits interaction between modes of
thought and items belonging to any other attribute, it must be the case that
x is also a mode of thought (see 3p2).
Spinoza is, in effect, denying in 2ax3 that there is any such mode of
thought as x: there is no mode of thought that is not an idea but that
somehow acts on an idea in such a way as to generate a belief. (Thus
Spinoza denies that there is any Cartesian act of pure will, an act which is

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a non-ideational mode of thought.) But why, for Spinoza, can there be no


mode of thought such as x? I want to suggest that, for Spinoza, x is not
a genuine mode of thought because x cannot belong to the same attribute,
cannot be a mode of the same attribute, as that of which ideas are modes.
Since ideas are, of course, modes of thought, xa non-ideacannot be
a mode of thought. But now we must ask: why, for Spinoza, cannot x be
a mode of the same attribute as ideas?
Consider x and any idea, y.43 My contention is that x and y cannot both
be modes of thought or modes of the same attribute because they have
nothing in common in virtue of which they would both be classed as modes
of thought. x and y are indeed quite disparate. As an idea, y is representational. Recall 2def3 which defines ideas as concepts of the mind. By contrast,
x is, as I have stipulated, a non-idea and, as such, it is not representational.
Given this disparity between x and y, the demand for an explanation of why
they are of the same attribute (if indeed they are of the same attribute) arises
quite naturally.
To see why this is so, consider a scenario according to which x, a nonidea, and the idea y are both modes of thought, yet there is nothing in
common between them that accounts for their belonging to the same
attribute. On this view, they just are both modes of thought and are both
mental because, perhaps, the attribute of thought is broad enough to cover
such otherwise disparate items as ideas and non-ideas.
Such a proposal certainly sounds very un-Spinozistic, and I think the
fundamental reason why is that it would involve brute facts of a kind
especially unacceptable to Spinoza. This is because it seems that on this
scenario, although x is a mode of thought, it could just as easily have been a
mode of extension or instead of some other attribute entirely. Certainly if
thought can encompass both ideas and x, even though x and ideas have
nothing in common that would explain their all being thoughts, then extension can also encompass both bodies and x even if x and bodies have
nothing in common that would explain their all belonging to the attribute
of extension. On the hypothesis we are considering, x is, however, a mode of
thought and not of extension. Why is this so, when there seems to be as
much reason for the alternative concerning extension (or some other attribute) to be the case?
There can I believe be no answer to this question. The fact that x is
thinking or mental and not extendedif it is indeed a factwould have
to remain brute or inexplicable. It would remain entirely accidental that
a given mode belongs to thought instead of some other attribute. And this
brute fact Spinozawho holds that ``for each thing there must be assigned
a cause, or reason, both for its existence and for its nonexistence'' (1p11d2)
would reject.
Indeed the brute fact involved here would be particularly repugnant
to Spinoza because it would entail that it is contingent that a thing exists

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in a certain way and produces effects in a certain way. But this Spinoza
explicitly rejects in 1p29, the demonstration of which concludes:
all things have been determined from the necessity of the divine nature, not only
to exist, but to exist in a certain way, and to produce effects in a certain way.
There is nothing contingent. (1p29d)

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On the scenario we are considering, it is not, perhaps, contingent that x


exists, but it is contingent that x exists in a certain wayviz. as thinking
and that x produces effects in a certain wayviz. as a thinking or mental
thing producing exclusively other mental things. (Had x been extended it
would have produced other extended things and not mental things.) Thus
the contingency or brute fact resulting from the supposition that x and ideas
have nothing in common in virtue of which they are both modes of thought
would directly contradict 1p29, as well as contradict his more general
rejection of brute facts.
Thus we can see why, for Spinoza, if x and y (or x and ideas in general)
are of the same attribute, there must be something in common between them
that accounts for their being of the same attribute. But, again, what could
such a common feature be?
One might say, in a Cartesian vein, that x and y are of the same attribute
because they are both conscious states, i.e., they are both such that one is
aware of them in a characteristically immediate way.44 However, this move
does not address the problem from a Spinozistic point of view. Let's say that
x and y, though otherwise disparate, are both conscious states. Just as we
asked the Spinozistic question,``what is it in virtue of which two such
disparate states as x and y are both mental or thinking?'', so too we may
now ask, ``what is it in virtue of which these states are both conscious?''
Given the disparity between x and y, it does not seem that there is anything
in common between them that accounts for their both being conscious.
Because of this, one is naturally led to ask, ``why, then, are they both
conscious?'' Since, on the current proposal, consciousness is to be the
feature that accounts for the fact that x and y are both mental, this question
returns us to the original question, ``why are x and y both mental?'' And, as
before, there seem to be no good answers to these questions on Spinozistic
terms. Although, on the current proposal, x is conscious and thus mental, it
seems that it could just as easily have been a mode of extension instead or a
mode of some other, third attribute. Certainly if consciousness can extend to
both ideas and x even though x and ideas have nothing in common that
would explain their all being conscious and thus mental, then extension
could encompass both bodies and x even though x and bodies would have
nothing in common that would explain their all belonging to the attribute of
extension. x, on the view under discussion, is conscious and thinking and
not extended, but there seems to be no reason for this to be the case instead

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of x's being extended (or of some other attribute). And, as we have seen,
such a brute fact would be unacceptable to Spinoza. So even if consciousness is invoked as the common feature that accounts for the fact that x and
y belong to the same attribute, the specter of brute facts still looms and thus
there still seems to be no account of why x and y are modes of the same
attribute.
Let's try a different tack. Perhaps the relevant commonality between x
and ideas is just the fact that they do have some kind of causal connection
with one another. More specifically, perhaps the relevant commonality is
the property of interacting with ideas. Thus, for Spinoza, ideas interact with
other ideas or with modes of thought generally (2p7). Further, as I described x,
it too interacts at least with the idea affirmed. A related, and perhaps
more fundamental, similarity between x and y is the property of having
conceptual relations with ideas. For Spinoza, if a is caused by b, then a is
conceived through b or the concept of a involves the concept of b or a
cannot be conceived without b.45 Thus if, as we have just discussed, both
x and y have some causal relations with ideas, then x and y are both
conceptually connected with ideas. Such a conceptual connection between
x and ideas is especially plausible. x is, we are supposing, a non-ideational
mental action, and, for Spinoza, mental actions are willings. One might
plausibly hold that a non-contentful or non-ideational willing requires
cannot be conceived withoutsome content or idea to be directed toward.
For this reason, it might be thought that x, which ex hypothesi is a willing,
cannot be conceived without an idea.
So the suggestion is that the shared feature of being causally and conceptually related to ideas is that in virtue of which x and y are both of the
same attribute and are thus both modes of thought. On this line of thought,
the fact that x and y are of the same attribute piggy-backs, as it were, on the
particular causal and conceptual relations that x and y enter into.
However, from Spinoza's point of view, this is to get things backwards.
For Spinoza, the fact that a mode is of a particular attribute governs what
causal and conceptual relations that mode enters into with other modes and
does not depend on those relations. In the following passage from 2p7s,
Spinoza makes the point that the causal relations a thing enters into are to be
understood through the attribute that thing is considered as falling under:
So long as things are considered as modes of thinking, we must explain the order
of the whole of nature, or the connection of causes, through the attribute of
thought alone. And insofar as they are considered as modes of extension, the
order of the whole of nature must be explained through the attribute of extension
alone.

Here Spinoza is saying that the attribute a thing belongs to determines what
other things it is causally related to and not vice versa. Spinoza makes

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similar points when he specifies in various places that things with nothing in
common, i.e. things belonging to different attributes, cannot interact and
cannot be conceptually related precisely because they are of different attributes (see 1ax5, 1p3, 3p2, 5pref).
This view is, I believe a manifestation of the priority attributes have with
regard to modes, a priority that is related to the priority of substance with
regard to modes.46 For Spinoza, a substance is conceptually prior to its
modes. Since attributes constitute the essence of a substance, and modes, of
course, do not, we would expect that, for Spinoza, attributes also are prior
to modes. Such priority is, I believe, at work in the line of thought I have
just developed. Precisely because attributes are prior to modes, we must
understand causal and conceptual connections between modes by appealing
to the attribute the modes belong to, and we may not understand the fact
that the modes belong to a certain attribute by appealing to any antecedently understood causal and conceptual connections the modes enter into.
Because of this priority, we must reject the suggestion that x and y are of the
same attribute because they share the feature of having causal and conceptual relations to ideas.
I can think of no other feature that x and y might have in common and
that would afford an explanation of why both are modes of thoughtor at
least an explanation that Spinoza could accept. Since, as we have seen, if x
and y, or x and ideas in general, are of the same attribute there must be such
an explanation, and since there does not appear to be any such explanation,
I conclude that, for Spinoza, x and ideas are not of the same attribute. Since
ideas are modes of thought, x cannot be a mode of thought.
For this reason also, x and ideas cannot, after all, causally interact with
one another or be conceptually connected with one another. As I mentioned, for Spinoza modes can have these relations only if they are of the
same attribute. Thus since x and y have no feature in common that could
explain why they are both modes of thought, x cannot be a mode of thought
and thus is incapable of interacting with ideas and of being conceptually
connected with ideas.
In this light we can see the view that there is some mental item other than
ideas as involving, for Spinoza, an analogue of the traditional mind-body
problem. Let's assume that there is a mental something besides ideas. Let's
assume further that this something interacts with ideas in particular.
(Remember that in 2p49 we are interested ultimately in another item that
may be that in virtue of which an idea is believed, so one who introduces
this non-ideational item could be expected to hold that it interacts with
ideas.) The foregoing argument suggests that such an item has too little in
common with ideas to count as mental and to be able to interact with ideas.
One aspect of the traditional mind-body problem is this: the view that the
mind and body are not identical raises the worry that two things are said to
interact which have too little in common to be able to interact. We can now

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see that the view that there are sources of activity in the mind separate from
ideas raises precisely the same difficulty. Thus the mind-body problem can
haunt us even when we have retreated to a purely mental realm that does
not interact with the physical realm.47
This Spinozistic line of thought would rule out any mental actions or,
equivalently, volitions or affirmations, that are not entirely a matter of
ideas, i.e., any episodes of pure will. It would also show, more generally,
that there can be no item in thought, and thus no states of desire, hope, love,
etc., that do not reduce fully to ideas. Any such item would have too little in
common with ideas to be of the same attribute as ideas and to be able to
interact with them.
In fact, not only would this argument rule out other modes of thought
that are not ultimately ideas or representational states, it would also,
I believe, rule out purportedly mental features of ideas, such as irreducible
qualitative features, that are independent of representational content. Of
any such mental feature of ideas one could ask: why should that feature that
is independent of representational content be classed as a genuinely mental
feature? What makes that feature, like the representational content of ideas,
a mental feature, a feature of items qua mental, and not instead, say, a
physical feature, a feature of items qua extended? There could, I believe, be
no Spinozistically legitimate answer to this question and so such purportedly mental features would be ruled out.
This type of argument would cut against Jonathan Bennett's account of
Spinozistic activity according to which the representational content of ideas
is wholly inefficacious and instead all the causal work among ideas is done
by features that are mental but independent of representational content.48
I would contend that these features would, for Spinoza, have too little in
common with representational content to be classed, along with representational content, as mental features. Thus, far from it being the case that
representational content does no causal work in the mind, for Spinoza, he is
committed instead to the view that representational content does all the
causal work in the mind. Anything that is allegedly causally efficacious in the
mind and is not dependent on representational content would fall under
the axe of the above argument. Spinoza explicitly makes such a claim about
the sole efficacy of representational content in the preface to Part V: ``the
power of the mind is defined by understanding alone.''
The above argument gives a justification that Spinoza could invoke for
the general claim he makes in 2ax3 and applies in 2p49d. But is this
potential justification actually at work in Spinoza's text? I believe that
there is significant evidence that it is.
Let me first mention two suggestive passages from Spinoza's early works.
In a very interesting passage from the Short Treatise, Spinoza emphasizes
that if the will is separate from the intellect, the will would be nonrepresentational and the intellect representational. But precisely because there

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is this difference between the intellect and the will, the will cannot, after all,
be seen as genuinely willing, as involving a genuinely mental action. As
Spinoza says here, ``it involves a contradiction that one should will something
the idea of which is not in the power which wills'' (Short Treatise II 16 3a,
G I 81). Now this passage as a whole is somewhat obscure, and it is directed
specifically against one who holds that will and intellect are real faculties
over and above individual ideas and volitions. Because Spinoza's argument
in 2p49d already assumes that real faculties have been rejected (as in 2p48),
this argument in the Short Treatise may not capture Spinoza's thought in
2p49, but at least it does point to a key claim in my argument, viz. the claim
that the intellect and a separate will would have too little in common for the
separate will to count as a genuinely mental power.
The second passage is one not actually written by Spinoza, but by
Ludwig Meyer in his preface to Spinoza's work on Descartes' Principles.
Spinoza read Meyer's preface prior to publication and apparently approved
it,49 so there is some reason to think that the account it gives of Spinoza's
views is accurate. Meyer says something very revealing near the end of his
preface:

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[Spinoza] believes that just as extension is determined by no limits, so also


thought is determined by no limits. Therefore, just as the human body is not
extension absolutely, but only an extension determined in a certain way according to the laws of extended nature by motion and rest, so also the human mind,
or soul, is not thought absolutely, but only a thought determined in a certain
way according to the laws of thinking nature by ideas, a thought which, one
infers must exist when the human body begins to exist. From this definition, he
thinks, it is not difficult to demonstrate that the will is not distinct from the
intellect. (Gebhardt I 132)

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Notice the structure of what Meyer says here: since thought is ``determined
by no limits'' and individual thoughts or ideas are determined only by other
thoughts or ideas, it follows that the will is not distinct from the intellect.
This conclusion entails the claim that all willing or mental action is simply a
matter of ideas. Meyer's point, then, is that since thought is explanatorily
self-contained and thus is not dependent on anything non-thinking, one
cannot see volitions as actions that are independent of ideas. Meyer does
not say how this follows, but it is clear that he is giving expression to a key
point behind the argument I have presented, viz. that to separate the will
from the intellect is to violate the explanatory self-sufficiency of thought.
Further and more significant support for my reading comes from looking
more closely at Spinoza's targets in 2ax3 as I have interpreted that axiom.
Spinoza is there saying, as I explained, that there is no item in thought that
is not fully a matter of ideas. As 2p49d indicates, Spinoza understands 2ax3
to rule out any mental actions that are not simply a matter of ideas. But he

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also, and more explicitly in 2ax3 itself, uses it to rule out the view that the
passions are dependent on or constituted by something other than ideas.
Thus Spinoza speaks directly of the ideational ground of ``love, desire, or
whatever is designated by the word affects of the mind.'' 2ax3 is therefore
meant to encompass the view that mental actions are ideational and the view
that passive states of the mind are ideational. Now I am primarily interested
here in Spinoza's reasons for his claim about the nature of mental actions
since that is the claim at work in 2p49. However, by seeing his motivation
for the ideational nature of passions we can, perhaps, get an insight into
what is behind his claim about the actions of the mind.
In saying that passions are simply a matter of ideas, Spinoza is clearly
taking aim at the Cartesian account of the passions.50 For Descartes, passions such as fear, hope, etc. are ``perceptions or sensations or excitations of
the soul which are referred to it in particular and which are caused, maintained, and strengthened by some movement of the spirits'' (Passions I 27).
Since the animal spirits are of course physical, these passions are mental
items that are caused by physical items. Descartes also holds that the mind
can control the passions through efforts of the will that alter the motions of
the animal spirits. Thus the remedy for the passions also involves causation
between the mental and the physical, for Descartes.51
Spinoza has, of course, no patience with this account of the passions,
and, mentioning Descartes by name, he subjects it to scathing attack in the
preface to Part 5 of the Ethics. He is particularly concerned to deny the
mental-physical interaction at work in Descartes' account of the passions.
When quoting Descartes' definition of the passions in Passions I 27, Spinoza
cannot resist putting his two cents in (actually two letters in``NB''). He
quotes with shock Descartes' characterization of the passions as

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perceptions, or feelings, or emotions of the soul, which are particularly related


to the soul, and which [NB] are produced, preserved, and strengthened by some
motion of the spirits.

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Spinoza goes on to say that the view that the will alters the motion of the
animal spirits is unintelligible since there is no common measure between
will and motion. It is clear that he would likewise reject the animal spirits'
role in the production of the passions on the ground that such causation is
unintelligible because the relata have nothing in common.
So in asserting that passions are simply a matter of ideas, Spinoza seems,
in part at least, to be concerned to deny the Cartesian view that a passion is
causally related to something physical. Thus at least for that aspect of 2ax3
that concerns the passions, Spinoza is motivated by the desire to rule out
interaction between things with nothing in common.
Let's return to the other claim at work in 2ax3: this is the claim that there
is no mental action other than ideas. Such a claim can be seen as directed, in

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part, against Descartes' view of mental actions which sees mental action as a
matter of non-ideational mental states or volitions acting on ideas (and thus
producing beliefs). In light of the source of Spinoza's rejection in 2ax3 of
Descartes' account of the passions, it seems likely that in denyingalso in
2ax3the Cartesian view of actions, Spinoza is responding to a threat of
illegitimate interaction. This suggests that, for Spinoza, to see an idea as
interacting with a separate, non-ideational volition would be as big as
mistake as seeing passions as determined by animal spirits.
Another passage2p7sindicates even more directly that Spinoza's
views about mental actions stem from his rejection of interaction between
disparate things.
Spinoza enunciates his thesis of parallelism in 2p7: ``the order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things.'' In the
ensuing discussion, he goes on to say (in a passage I quoted in part earlier):

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the formal being of the idea of the circle can be perceived only through another
mode of thinking, as its proximate cause, and that mode again through another,
and so on, to infinity. Hence so long as things are considered as modes of
thinking, we must explain the order of the whole of nature, or the connection of
causes, through the attribute of thought alone. (2p7s)

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This is clearly an expression of the self-containedness of thought. Thoughts


cannot interact with anything other than thoughts on pain of violating the
nature of thought as an attribute, as conceptually self-contained. Now
Spinoza takes the claim that modes of thought interact only with each
other to be captured by the thesis of parallelism which concerns interaction
among ideas. Spinoza is thus asserting that all mental causation is causation
of and by ideas, and thus that all mental actions are ideas. The way in which
ideas are connected exhausts the way in which modes of thought are
causally related.
Spinoza is thus already in his discussion of parallelism implicitly asserting
the claim behind the first part of 2p49d: all mental actions consist of ideas.
This is interesting in itself, but it is especially important for our purposes
since it supports the reading of Spinoza's motivations that I am offering.
Spinoza is saying, in effect, that the self-containedness of thought requires
that all mental actions, all causation involving modes of thought, must be
purely and simply causation involving ideas. Spinoza holds that if a mode of
thought interacted with anything other than ideas then we would have a
violation of what Spinoza sees as the conceptual and causal self-sufficiency
of thought. This is a quite general claim; it rules out not only interaction
between ideas and bodies, but also between ideas and any non-idea. Thus a
purported mode of thought that enters into causal relations with ideas but is
not itself an idea would fall within the scope of this general claim and be
ruled out as something whose existence and activity is incompatible with the

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conceptual self-sufficiency of thought. In his elaboration of the thesis of


parallelism in 2p7s, Spinoza can, therefore, be seen as denying that there are
mental actions other than ideas, as denying that there are any nonideational modes of thought that interact with other modes of thought, and
as doing so precisely because, as I have suggested, such a scenario would
involve a violation of the explanatory or conceptual independence of
thought.
So we have the answer to question (III)

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(III) What, according to Spinoza, justifies 2ax3 as he uses it in 2p49d?

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That is, why does Spinoza think that the only actions in the mind are
ideas? The answerperhaps surprisinglyturns on a claim at the heart of
Spinoza's metaphysics: the view that thought is conceptually self-sufficient
and that ideas cannot interact with radically dissimilar things. This is the
ultimate source, I believe, of Spinoza's rejection of any act of pure will, and,
more generally, of any kind of mental action that is non-representational or
independent of ideas.52
V. A Concluding Analogy

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I believe I have answered the key questions left unanswered by what I have
called the standard interpretation of 2p49. I have shown why Spinoza thinks
that simply by having an idea one affirms it, why he sees 2p49d as establishing that all affirmation is simply a matter of ideas, and why he holds that all
mental actions and, more generally, all genuine modes of thought are
ultimately ideas. In answering these questions, I have shown in new and
surprising ways how deeply anti-Cartesian 2p49 is. Of course, it has always
been clear that 2p49 is to some extent directed against Cartesian views. The
standard interpretation recognizes that one of Spinoza's targets is
Descartes' view that affirmation always involves a separate, non-ideational
act of will. But despite recognizing this disagreement with Descartes, proponents of the standard interpretation typically fail to see that this difference is
bound up with several further and, perhaps, deeper disagreements. In the
second section of this paper, I showed how Spinoza's and Descartes' disagreement about the affirmatory nature of ideas is bound up with their
disagreement over whether ideas are actions of the mind. In the third
section, I showed how the apparently thoroughly Cartesian 2ax3 used in
the first part of 2p49d actually makes the deeply anti-Cartesian claim that
all mental items are ultimately only ideas. And in the fourth section,
I grounded this anti-Cartesian claim in Spinoza's rejection of Descartes'
allowance of causal interaction between radically disparate things. Thus
although commentators have recognized that 2p49 is in some respects
anti-Cartesian, they have not generally appreciated how thoroughly,

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multifariously and deeply anti-Cartesian this proposition is, and thus commentators have tended not to appreciate the systematic, principled and
illuminating motivations behind Spinoza's position. To get at and unravel
these fundamental sources of pinoza's view has been the main goal of my
paper.
I would like to close by briefly placing my reading of 2p49 in a broader
context and, in so doing, offering even further support for this interpretation. The anti-Cartesianism at work in 2p49 is part of a general pattern of
Spinozistic critiques of Cartesian views. In 2p49 Spinoza, in effect, criticizes
Descartes for failing to see that ideas are inherently active and for holding
that ideas are acted on by separate, radically dissimilar volitions. Spinoza's
critique of Descartes' account of bodies and their motions crucially involves
analogous charges.
Spinoza briefly discusses Descartes' account of bodies in a fascinating
exchange with Tschirnhaus near the end of Spinoza's life (Letters 8083). As
is well known, Descartes holds that the motion of bodies and all variety in
matter simply arises from God's causing changes in motion in accordance
with his immutability. For Descartes, matter is, in some sense, unable to
cause motions on its own.53 Spinoza can be seen as making two criticisms of
this view. First, he claims that Descartes is wrong in defining matter
through extension and that matter must instead be understood in terms of
an attribute that involves eternal and infinite essence. For Spinoza, the
essence of a thing is that by which it acts or is powerful. (See 1p36, 3p7,
4def8, and Short Treatise II 26 7.) Thus Spinoza is saying here that we must
see matter (and thus presumably the bodies that it constitutes) as inherently
powerful. So one problem, in Spinoza's eyes, with Descartes' view of matter
is that it makes matter too passive.
It may seem that when Spinoza says that Descartes, by defining matter
through extension, fails to define matter through an attribute that involves
infinite and eternal essence, Spinoza is saying that extension is not such an
attribute. But this would be the wrong conclusion to draw from this passage. Spinoza clearly thinks that extension does have the status of an
attribute (2p2); his point in Letter 83 is that extension as Descartes conceives
iti.e. as something that does not by itself impart power to extended
thingsis not an attribute. By contrast, extension conceived as inherently
dynamic is, for Spinoza, an attribute.54
Connected with Spinoza's charge that Descartes makes matter too passive
is the further charge that in so doing Descartes countenances illegitimate
causal interactions. In particular, because Descartes sees matter as passive,
he compounds his problem by having motions of matter be causally dependent on God's will. This, of course, would be a case of illegitimate causal
interaction for Spinoza: the motion of an extended object would be caused
by the radically dissimilar volitional activity of God. Spinoza alludes to this
negative assessment of Descartes' position at the beginning of letter 83.

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There he criticizes Descartes for being unable to account for all the variety
in matter. For Descartes, matter is defined by relatively non-dynamic extension, and thus to account for variety in matter Descartes must appeal to
some dynamic entityin this case God's willthat brings about variety
and change. Thus Descartes is unable to account for variety in matter solely
in terms of the attribute in terms of which Descartes characterizes matter;
Descartes cannot demonstrate the variety of extended things ``a priori from
the concept of extension alone'' (Letter 83). For this reason Spinoza thinks
Descartes' definition of matter via the notion of extensionas Descartes
conceives extensionis inadequate. Matter is badly defined by extension
as Descartes conceives extensionbecause such a definition requires that
variety in matter be explained by something other than matter.55
Thus just as Spinoza criticizes Descartes in 2p49 for failing to appreciate
the inherent activity of ideas, he also takes Descartes to task in Letter 83 for
failing to do justice to the inherent activity of matter and bodies. And just as
Spinoza also criticizes Descartes' willingness to have ideas be acted on by
non-ideas, by radically dissimilar volitions or mental actions, Spinoza also
finds fault with Descartes' espousal of the view that bodies are acted on by
non-bodies, by radically dissimilar divine volitions. Spinoza's account of the
self-sufficiency and inherent activity of thought and ideas is thus thoroughly
of a piece with his account of the self-sufficiency and inherent activity of the
realm of matter. This coherence of Spinoza's attack, as I interpret it, on the
Cartesian account of belief and the will with Spinoza's attack on Descartes'
account of matter provides, I believe, even further support for my interpretation of 2p49.56

Notes

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In Mente nulla datur volitio, sive affirmatio, & negatio praeter illam, quam idea, quatenus
idea est, involvit. I generally follow, though often modify, Curley's translations of Spinoza. I will
also employ a minor variant of Curley's method of citing passages from the Ethics.
2
In Curley 1975, p. 169. Cf. Descartes, ``we will nothing of which we do not understand
[intelligamus] anything in any manner'' (CSM II 259, AT VII 377). See Cottingham 1988, p.
242, Bennett 1984, p. 167, Allison 1987, p. 121, Lloyd 1994, p. 69.
3
Curley has a good discussion of the problems with this aspect of Spinoza's claim (Curley
1975, pp. 16974).
4
Bennett explicitly interprets 2p49 as saying that each idea is a belief (Bennett 1984, p.
164), and he also raises the worry about the lack of support for this claim (p. 167). Curley also
complains that there is no argument here (Curley 1975, p. 169). See also Lloyd 1994, pp. 6970,
Donagan 1988, p. 46, Donagan 1990, p. 110, Cottingham 1988, pp. 24344, and Wilson 1996,
pp. 12426.
5
Or negations. I will return briefly to the claim about negation in a moment.
6
A similar question concerning negation could also be asked here. I will, though, focus in
what follows on affirmation.

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See Curley, The Collected Works of Spinoza, vol. 1, p. 624.


See 3p1d. Spinoza cites here 1p36 which states that each thing has some effects.
9
See Della Rocca 1996a, pp. 5357.
10
See Hoffman 1991, p. 172.
11
See Della Rocca 1996a, p. 183n29.
12
Parkinson draws a somewhat different contrast between more and less restrictive notions
of action in Spinoza in Parkinson 1981, pp. 23.
13
Again, 1p36 is relevant here.
14
Besides 2p48d, see, e.g., 3p7, 3da3expl, 4p6, 4p59.
15
The equivalence between the two claims also suggests an equivalence between the mind's
being a free cause (of its actions) and the mind's having an absolute faculty (of willing). This
equivalence is also suggested by 1p17s where Spinoza characterizes the view (rejected by him)
that God has a free will as the view that God has an absolute will (Gebhardt II 62).
16
See 1def7, 1app (Gebhardt II 78), Letter 58.
17
See 3p9s, 3da1 and also the general definition of the affects at the end of Part III. See
also 3p7d and 3p28d where Spinoza equates striving with power.
18
Descartes also speaks of willings as actions of the mind or soul, and he also sees them as,
at once, having their source in the mind and as causing further events. Descartes equates the
soul's actions (les actions de l'ame) with willing in Passions of the Soul 17, and he explicitly says
that volitions depend solely on our soul. See also the many places in which Descartes, unlike
Spinoza, speaks of our will as freee.g. CSM II 260, AT VII 360; Principles I 39; CSMK 160,
AT III 249 etc. Descartes also holds that volitions cause further states. Thus Descartes speaks
of the volition to ``undertake and execute certain things'' (Passions 153, see also 158 and
CSMK 324, AT V 82, and cf. Principles II 26). Descartes also says that the will determines some
of our thoughts (CSMK 160, AT III 249; Passions 20) and that bodily movements follow from
certain volitions (Passions 18). Despite agreeing with Spinoza that willings are mental actions
and that a volition is a power of the mind to cause further states, Descartes differs from
Spinoza, however, in seeing willing or mental action as caused solely by the mindsomething
which, as we have seen, Spinoza does not require. There are further complexities in Descartes'
notion of action and further differences from Spinoza's notion. I cannot, however, go into these
matters here. See Hoffman 1990 and Hoffman 1991, pp. 17073.
19
These other things would have to be themselves minds or ideas since, for Spinoza, minds
can interact with nothing besides other mental items (3p2).
20
See also Cogitata Metaphysica, Chap. 12 (Gebhardt I 277).
21
See some of the passages cited in note 18.
22
I think we must see Spinoza as calling ideas actions in the weak sense of `action'. If
Spinoza's definition of `idea' required that ideas be actions in the strong sense, then he would be
requiring that all ideas are wholly caused from within the mind and are thus adequate ideas
(which Spinoza sees as wholly caused by or adequately caused by the mindsee, e.g., 2p11c,
3p1, 3p3). Now Spinoza clearly regards it as a fundamental fact about the human mind that it
has very many inadequate ideas (see, e.g., 2p29c), and so his definition of `idea' would be
inconsistent with one of the cornerstones of his philosophy of mind were he to define ideas as
actions in the strong sense. But defining ideas as actions in the weak sense, which allows that
the human mind has inadequate as well as adequate ideas, would be consistent with the rest of
Spinoza's account of the mind. However, it might be objected that 2def3 itself seems to indicate
that Spinoza has in mind actions in the strong sense. After all, he states that he defines `idea' in
terms of concepts rather than perceptions ``because the word perception seems to indicate that
the mind is acted on (pati) by the object. But concept seems to express an action (actionem) of
the mind.'' This contrast might suggest that ideas as concepts are not at all passive and so are
actions in the strong sense. However, Spinoza's wording does not have to be read this way.
Spinoza's objection to the use of the word `perception' may simply be this: since `perception'
indicates, for Spinoza, that the mind is acted on, if ideas are perceptions then all ideas would be

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passive states. However, as I have just emphasized, some ideasviz. adequate ideasare
wholly caused by the mind and are thus actions in the strong sense. So to define `idea' in
erms of perception would be to preclude the existence of adequate ideas, and this Spinoza does
not want to do. But in defining `idea' in a way that allows for adequate ideas, Spinoza need not
be requiring that all ideas are adequate, and thus Spinoza need not be using the term `action' in
the strong sense. His point may just be that all ideas have some degree of activity, and thus are
actions in at least the weak sense. And, again, this reading of the definition is the only one that
coheres with Spinoza's overall account of the mind. I am indebted to Edwin Curley for raising
this objection about the definition of `idea'.
23
Passions I 17; CSMK 182, AT III 372. Of course, Descartes' position is more ambiguous than either I or Spinoza portray it, and there are other passages in which Descartes seems
to allow that ideas are active. See especially Passions I 1. Spinoza's criticism of Descartes here
may not do full justice to Descartes' position, but it is directed at what is genuinely a strand in
Descartes' thinking.
24
Spinoza says in 2p48s: ``We must investigate . . . whether there is any other affirmation or
negation in the mind except that which the idea involves, insofar as it is an ideaon this see the
following proposition [2p49] and also 2def3so that thought does not fall into pictures.'' It is
worth noting that 2p48s contains the only explicit citation of 2def3 in the Ethics.
25
In holding that all ideas are actions, Spinoza is contradicting an early and anomalous
passage in the Short Treatise (Chap. 16, 5) in which he says that ``the intellect is wholly
passive''. Other commentators who draw a connection between ideas as beliefs and ideas as
actions in Spinozathough without offering this connection as a way of interpreting 2p48s or
as a way of filling the apparent gap in 2p49dare Matson 1993 and Beavers and Rice 1988.
26
See Della Rocca 1996b, pp. 194200. The notion of striving here as a counterfactual
tendency is one Spinoza takes from Descartes.
27
See Della Rocca 1996b, pp. 210215. For the claim that all things strive to persist, see
3p6; for the claim that all things strive to increase their power of acting or to prevent any
decrease, see 3p12 and 3p13.
28
See 3p39s in connection with 3p9s.
29
For this reason, Spinoza's position rather notoriously has a hard time accounting for
suicide and other cases of action harmful to oneself. See Della Rocca 1996b pp. 200202.
Garrett (forthcoming) sheds much light on this issue.
30
See Della Rocca 1996b, p. 217.
31
Joy and sadness are, respectively, the mind's increase and decrease in power of acting.
For similar passages, see 3p2932, 4p19.
32
Of course, this account is not correct as it stands, for Spinoza would not allow an idea to
be a cause of a physical event. As I will discuss in section 4, Spinoza strictly prohibits
interaction between mental items and physical items. In the case at hand, he would say that
the idea that the cup contains water causes the mental correlate of the physical event that is
my drinking, the idea that corresponds, under Spinoza's parallelism, to the physical event.
(And just as drinking is beneficial for my body, the ideational correlate of drinking is beneficial
to my mind.) I will not always call attention to this more accurate statement of what the idea
causes since the point that I want to highlightviz. that the idea causes a certain beneficial
eventis also captured by the less accurate but also less cumbersome statement I make in the
text.
33
See, e.g., 4pref (Gebhardt II 205), 4p7, 4p15. 4p17s. Beavers and Rice also appeal to the
relative strength of ideas in a similar context (Beavers and Rice 1988, pp. 104105, 107108).
34
On the mental level, the causation, more accurately described, would be this: the idea
that water is harmful, together with the idea that the cup contains water, causes me to have
whatever idea it is that corresponds to my actively avoiding the cup's contents.
35
Garber offers an illuminating, Leibnizian critique of this notion of force in Garber 1992,
p. 363n39, and in Garber 1994, pp. 4648, 61.

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36

``Id omne, quod ad Laetitiam conducere imaginamur.'' See also 3p31, 3p32, 4p9.
On this view, beliefs are analogous in an important respect to desires. A mental state can
be nonetheless a desire even though it ``loses out'' to a more powerful desire; thus my desire for
an ice cream sundae may still remain a desire even though I have virtuously chosen to have a
salad instead. In the same way, for Spinoza, a mental state can be nonetheless a belief even
though it ``loses out'' to a more powerful idea. The idea that the cup contains water or that it
contains plutonium is not acted on, but it is still for all that a belief, just as the desire for ice
cream is, despite its failure to lead me to select ice cream, still a desire.
38
See, e.g., Armstrong 1968, chs. 7 and 11; Armstrong, 1973, ch. 5; Bennett 1976, chs. 24;
Braithwaite 1967. In his book on Spinoza, Bennett discusses and endorses this general notion,
though he mistakenly claims that Spinoza did not appreciate this point (Bennett 1984, p. 166).
See also Matson 1993, p. 69, which gives a Braithwaitean interpretation of Spinozistic beliefs.
See also Beavers and Rice 1988, p. 112.
39
See also 2p12 and 2p13 in which Spinoza speaks of ``the object of the idea constituting
the human mind.''
40
See also the general definition of the affects in Part III where Spinoza says that an affect
``is a confused idea by which the mind affirms of its body . . . a greater or lesser force of existing
than before....'' (my emphasis).
41
Cf. Short Treatise on God, Man, and His Well-Being II Appendix II 56. Gueroult fully
appreciates the richer meaning of 2ax3 that I have extracted from 2p11d, and my presentation
here is much indebted to his account (Gueroult 1974, p. 33).
42
See my discussion of 2p48d and 2p48s near the beginning of section 2.
43
y need not be the idea that x causes to be affirmed.
44
For this Cartesian strategy, see the definition of thought in the Second Replies (CSM II
113, AT VII 160); see also Principles I 9; AT III 273, CSMK 16566; AT VII 246, CSM II 171.
45
See, e.g., the use to which 1ax4 is put in 1p6ds. See also 1ax5, 1p2d, 1p3d, 1p25d,
2p49d, and the discussion of these passages in Della Rocca 1996a, pp. 1011, 175n29,
205n20.
46
See 1p1; I discuss the latter priority in Della Rocca (forthcoming).
47
For a related point, see Nagel 1986, p. 29.
48
See Bennett 1984, pp. 22021, and Bennett 1990, pp. 5455.
49
See Letter 15.
50
See Short Treatise II 2 4 where Spinoza seems to have Descartes' account in mind.
51
See, e.g., Passions 46, 211.
52
For other fundamental roles that the self-containedness of each attribute plays in
Spinoza's system, see Della Rocca 1996a (especially chapters 5 and 8) and Della Rocca (forthcoming).
53
See in particular Principles II 3645, and see Garber 1992, chapter 9. Descartes' views on
matter and motion are, of course, much more complicated than I portray them here. In
particular, it should be noted that although bodies and matter are inherently passive for
Descartes insofar as changes in matter are brought about by God, bodies are, for Descartes
nonetheless, and perhaps paradoxically, causes of bodily changes. I have explored this issue at
length in Della Rocca 1999.
54
Spinoza speaks explicitly in Letter 81 of extension ``as Descartes conceives it.'' See
Bennett 1984, p. 112; Wolf, The Correspondence of Spinoza, pp. 6162. See the helpful note in
Shirley's edition of Spinoza's correspondence, p. 352n393.
55
See also Letter 81 where Spinoza calls Descartes' principles of natural things ``useless''
(inutilia) because they allow that matter is acted on by a more powerful external cause.
56
This paper was delivered at the 1998 meetings of the Eastern Division of the American
Philosophical Association. I am grateful for Ed Curley's penetrating remarks on that occasion.
The paper was also presented as the George Myro Memorial Lecture at the University of
California, Berkeley in April, 2000, and at philosophy department colloquia at NYU, Wake

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