Sur Spinoza

Cours Vincennes
Cours du 24/03/1981
Timothy S. Murphy,

This is the last time that we will speak of Spinoza. I‚m going to begin with a question that was posed to me last time: how can Spinoza say, at least in one text, that every affection, that any affection is an affection of essence?
Actually, "affection of essence," you feel that it‚s a slightly odd expression. To my knowledge it‚s the only case in which one finds this expression. Which case? A very precise text, which is a recapitulative text at the end of book three of the Ethics. Here Spinoza gives us a series of definitions hors livre. He defines or he gives again definitions which, until then, had either not been given or were scattered. He gives definitions of the affects.
You recall that the affects were a very particular kind of affection: this is what follows from that. We often translate it by the word "feeling" [sentiment]. But there is the French word "affect" which corresponds completely to the Latin word "affectus." This, strictly speaking, is what follows from the affections, the affections being perceptions or representations. But in definition one at the end of book three we read this: "Desire is man‚s very essence, insofar as it is conceived to be determined, from any given affection of it, to do something." This definition consists of quite a long explication and, if one continues, one stumbles upon a sentence that also creates something of a problem, for by affection of essence, "we understand any constitution of that essence, whether it is innate (or acquired)." In the Latin text something is missing: the reason for this parenthesis. In the Dutch translation of the Short Treatise, there is the complete sentence that we expect. Why do we expect this complement, "(or acquired)"? Because it‚s a very standard distinction in the seventeenth century between two types of ideas or affections: ideas that are called innate, and ideas that are called acquired and adventitious.
Innate-acquired is a quite standard couple in the seventeenth century but, on the other hand, the fact is that Spinoza has not used this terminology and it‚s only in this recapitulation that the resumption of the words innate and acquired appears. What is this text in which Spinoza employs terms that he hasn‚t employed up until now and in which he issues the formula "affection of essence"?
If you think about everything we‚ve said up until now, there is a problem because one asks oneself how Spinoza can say that all the affections and all the affects are affections of essence. That means that even a passion is an affection of essence.
At the close of all our analyses, we tended to conclude that what truly belongs to essence are the adequate ideas and the active affects, that is, the ideas of the second kind and the ideas of the third kind. It‚s these that truly belong to essence. But Spinoza seems to say entirely the opposite: not only are all the passions affections of essence, but even among the passions, sadnesses, the worst passions, every affect affects essence!
I would like to try to resolve this problem.
It‚s not a question of discussing one of Spinoza‚s texts, we must take it literally. It teaches us that, be that as it may, every affection is affection of essence. Thus the passions belong to essence no less than the actions; the inadequate ideas [belong] to essence no less than the adequate ideas. And nevertheless there was necessarily a difference. The passions and the inadequate ideas must not belong to essence in the same way that the actions and the adequate ideas belong to it.
How do we get out of this?
Affection of essence. What interests me is the formula "of," in Latin the genitive. In French the genitive is indicated by the particle "de." I think I recall that grammar distinguishes several senses of the genitive. There is a whole variation. When you employ the locution "de" to indicate a genitive, this always means that something belongs to someone. If I make the genitive a locution of belonging, this doesn‚t prevent the belonging from having very different senses. The genitive can indicate that something comes from someone and belongs to her insofar as it comes from someone, or it can indicate that something belongs to someone insofar as this someone undergoes the something.
In other words, the locution "de" does not choose the direction [sens] in which it is inflected, if it‚s a genitive of passion or a genitive of action.
My question is this: I have an inadequate idea, I have a confused proposition out of which comes a passion-affect. In what sense does this belong to my essence? It seems to me that the answer is this: in my natural condition I am condemned to inadequate perceptions. This means that I am composed of an infinity of extensive parts [which are] external to one another. These extensive parts belong to me under a certain relation. But these extensive parts are perpetually submitted to the influence of other parts which act upon them and which don‚t belong to me. If I consider certain parts that belong to me and that make up part of my body, let‚s say my skin; corpuscules of skin that belong to me under such relations: my skin. They are perpetually submitted to the action of other external parts: the set of what acts on my skin, particles of air, particles of sun. I‚m trying to explain at the level of a rudimentary example. The corpuscules of sun, the corpuscules of heat act on my skin. This means that they are under a certain relation that is the relation of the sun. The corpuscules of my skin are under a certain relation that is precisely characteristic of my body, but these particles that have no other law than the law of external determinations act perpetually upon one another.
I would say that the perception that I have of heat is a confused perception, and from it come affects which are themselves passions: "I‚m hot!" At the level of the proposition "I‚m hot!," if I try to distribute the Spinozist categories, I would say: an external body acts on mine. It‚s the sun. That is to say that the parts of the sun act on the parts of my body. All of that is pure external determinism, it‚s like the shocks of particles.
I call perception when I perceive the heat that I experience, the idea of the effect of the sun on my body. It‚s an inadequate perception since it‚s an idea of an effect, I do not know the cause and from it follows a passive affect; either it‚s too hot and I‚m sad, or I feel good, what happiness the sun!
In what sense is this an affection of essence?
It‚s inevitably an affection of essence. At first sight it‚s an affection of the existing body. But finally there is only essence. The existing body is still a figure of essence. The existing body is essence itself, insofar as an infinity of extensive parts, under a certain relation, belongs to it. Under a certain relation! What does that mean, this relation of movement and rest?
You recall, you have essence that is a degree of power [puissance]. To this essence corresponds a certain relation of movement and rest. As long as I exist, this relation of movement and rest is executed by the extensive parts that, from then on, belong to me under this relation.
What does that mean?
In the Ethics there is a quite curious slippage [glissement] of notions, as if Spinoza had a double vocabulary there. And this is included, this would be so only in accordance with the physics of that epoch.
He passes sometimes from a kinetic vocabulary to a dynamic vocabulary. He considers the following two concepts as equivalents: relation of movement and rest, and power [pouvoir] of being affected or aptitude to be affected. One must ask oneself why he treats this kinetic proposition and this dynamic proposition as equivalents. Why is a relation of movement and rest that characterizes me at the same time a power of being affected that belongs to me? There will be two definitions of the body. The kinetic definition will be this: every body is defined by a relation of movement and rest. The dynamic definition is: every body is defined by a certain power of being affected. You must be sensitive to the double kinetic and dynamic register.
One will find a text in which Spinoza says that "a very large number of extensive parts belongs to me. Hence I am affected in an infinity of ways." Having, under a certain relation, an infinity of extensive parts is the power of being affected in an infinity of ways. From then on everything becomes clear.
If you understood the law of extensive parts, they never cease to have causes, to be causes, and to undergo the effect of one upon the others. This is the world of causality or extrinsic, external determinism. There is always a particle that strikes another particle. In other words, you cannot think an infinite set of parts without thinking that they have at each instant an effect upon one another.
What does one call affection? One calls affection the idea of an effect. These extensive parts that belong to me, you can‚t conceive them as having no effect upon one another. They are inseparable from the effect that they have on one another. And there is never an infinite set of extensive parts that would be isolated. There is at least one set of extensive parts that is defined by this: this set belongs to me. It is defined by the relation of movement and rest under which the set belongs to me. But this set is not separable from other sets, equally infinite, that act on it, that have influence on it and which do not belong to me. The particles of my skin are obviously not separable from the particles of air that come to strike them. An affection is nothing other than the idea of the effect. The necessarily confused idea since I have no idea of the cause. It‚s the reception of the effect: I say that I perceive. It‚s thus that Spinoza can pass from the kinetic definition to the dynamic definition, that is, that the relation under which an infinity of extensive parts belongs to me is equally a power of being affected. But then what are my perceptions and my passions, my joys and my sadnesses, my affects? If I continue this sort of parallelism between the kinetic element and the dynamic element, I would say that the extensive parts belong to me insofar as they execute a certain relation of movement and rest that characterizes me. They execute a relation since they define the terms between which the relation applies [joue]. If I speak now in dynamic terms, I would say that the affections and the affects belong to me insofar as they fulfill my power of being affected and at each instant my power of being affected is fulfilled. Compare these completely different moments: instant A: you are out in the rain, you catch it yourself, you have no shelter and you are reduced to protecting your right side with your left side and vice versa. You are sensitive to the beauty of this sentence. It‚s a very kinetic formula. I am forced to make half of myself the shelter for the other side. It‚s a very beautiful formula, it‚s a verse of Dante, in one of the circles of Hell where there‚s a little rain and the bodies are lying in a sort of mud. Dante tries to translate the sort of solitude of these bodies that have no other resource than that of turning over in the mud. Every time they try to protect one side of their body with the other side. Instant B: now you open up. Just now the particles of rain were like little arrows, it was horrible, you were grotesque in your swimsuits. And the sun comes out, instant B. Then your whole body opens up. And now you would like your whole body to be capable of spreading out [étalable], you tend toward the sun. Spinoza says that we must not be fooled, that in the two cases your power of being affected is necessarily fulfilled. Plainly you always have the affections and affects that you deserve according to the circumstances, including the external circumstances; but an affection, an affect belongs to you only to the extent that it actually contributes to fulfilling your power of being affected.
It‚s in this sense that every affection and every affect is affect of essence. Ultimately the affections and the affects can only be affections and affects of essence. Why? They exist for you only as they fulfill a power of being affected which is yours, and this power of being affected is the power of being affected of your essence. At no moment do you have to miss it. When it rains and you are so unhappy, you literally lack nothing. This is Spinoza‚s great idea: you never lack anything. Your power of being affected is fulfilled in every way. In every case, nothing is ever expressed or founded in expressing itself as a lack. It‚s the formula "there is only Being." Every affection, every perception and every feeling, every passion is affection, perception and passion of essence. It‚s not by chance that philosophy constantly employs a word for which it‚s reproached, but what do you want, philosophy needs it, it‚s the sort of locution "insofar as" [en tant que]. If it were necessary to define philosophy by a word, one could say that philosophy is the art of the "insofar as." If you see someone being led by chance to say "insofar as," you can tell yourself that it‚s thought being born. The first man who thought said "insofar as." Why? "Insofar as" is the art of the concept. It‚s the concept. Is it by chance that Spinoza constantly employs the Latin equivalent of "insofar as"? The "insofar as" refers to distinctions in the concept that are not perceptible in things themselves. When you work by way of distinctions in the concept and by way of the concept, you can say: the thing insofar as, that is to say the conceptual aspect of the thing.
So then every affection is affection of essence, yes, but insofar as what? When it‚s a matter of inadequate perceptions and passions, we must add that these are affections of essence insofar as the essence has an infinity of extensive parts that belong to it under such a relation.
Here the power of being affected belongs to essence, plainly it is necessarily fulfilled by affects that come from outside. These affects come from outside, they do not come from the essence, they are nevertheless affects of essence since they fulfill the power of being affected of essence. Remember well that they come from outside, and actually the outside is the law to which the extensive parts acting upon one another are submitted.
When one succeeds in rising to the second and third kinds of knowledge, what happens? Here I have adequate perceptioions and active affects. What does that mean? It‚s the affections of essence. I would even say all the more reason. What difference from the preceding case? This time they do not come from outside, they come from inside. Why? We saw it. A common notion already, all the more reason for an idea of the third kind, an idea of essence, why does this come from inside?
Just now I said that inadequate ideas and passive affects belong to me, they belong to my essence. These are thus affections of essence insofar as this essence actually possesses an infinity of extensive parts that belong to it under a certain relation.
Let‚s now try to find the common notions. A common notion is a perception. It‚s a perception of a common relation, a relation common to me and to another body. It follows from affects, active affects. These affections, perceptions and affects are also affections of essence. They belong to essence. It‚s the same thing, but insofar as what? No longer insofar as essence is conceived as possessing an infinity of extensive parts that belong to it under a certain relation, but insofar as essence is conceived as expressing itself in a relation. Here the extensive parts and the action of the extensive parts are cast off since I am raised to the comprehension of relations that are causes, thus I am raised to another aspect of essence. It‚s no longer essence insofar as it actually possesses an infinity of extensive parts, it‚s essence insofar as it expresses itself in a relation.
And all the more reason if I am raised to ideas of the third kind, these ideas and the active affects that follow from them belong to essence and are affections of essence, this time insofar as essence is in itself [en soi], is in itself [en elle-même], in itself and for itself, is in itself [en soi] and for itself [pour soi] a degree of power [puissance]. I would say broadly that every affection and every affect are affections of essence, only there are two cases, the genitive has two senses?ideas of the second kind and [those] of the third kind are affections of essence, but it would have to be said following a word that will only appear quite a bit later in philosophy, with the Germans for example, these are auto-affections. Ultimately, throughout the common notions and the ideas of the third kind, it‚s essence that is affected by itself.
Spinoza employs the term active affect and there is no great difference between auto-affection and active affect. All the affections are affections of essence, but be careful, affection of essence does not have one and only one sense. It remains for me to draw a sort of conclusion that concerns the Ethics-Ontology relation.
Why does all this constitute an ontology? I have a feeling-idea. There has never been but a single ontology. There is only Spinoza who has managed to pull off an ontology. If one takes ontology in an extremely rigorous sense, I see only one case where a philosophy has realized itself as ontology, and that‚s Spinoza. But then why could this coup only be realized once? Why was it by Spinoza?
The power of being affected of an essence can be as well realized by external affections as by internal affections. Above all we must not think that power of being affected refers more to an interiority that did not make up the kinetic relation. The affects can be absolutely external, this is the case of the passions. The passions are affects that fulfill the power of being affected and that come from outside?book five appears to me to found this notion of auto-affection. Take a text like this one: the love by which I love God (understood in the third kind) is the love by which God loves himself and I love myself. This means that at the level of the third kind, all the essences are internal to one another and internal to the power [puissance] called divine power. There is an interiority of essences and that does not mean that they merge. One arrives at a system of intrinsic distinctions; from this point on only one essence affects me˜and this is the definition of the third kind, an essence affects my essence˜but since all essences are internal to one another, an essence that affects me is a way in which my essence affects itself. Although this is dangerous, I return to my example of the sun. What does "pantheism" mean? How do people who call themselves pantheists live? There are many Englishmen who are pantheists. I‚m thinking of Lawrence. He had a cult of the sun. Light and tuberculosis are the two points common to Lawrence and Spinoza. Lawrence tells us that, broadly speaking, there are at least two ways of being in relation to the sun. There are people on the beach, but they don‚t understand, they don‚t know what the sun is, they live badly. If they were to understand something of the sun, after all, they would come out of it more intelligent and better. But as soon as they put their clothes back on, they are as scabby [teigneux] as before. What do they make of the sun, at this level? They remain in the first kind [?] The "I" in "I like the heat" is an I that expresses relations of extensive parts of the vasoconstrictive and vasodilative type, that expresses itself directly in an external determinism putting the extensive parts in play. In that sense these are particles that act on my particles and the effect of one on the other is a pleasure or a joy. That‚s the sun of the first kind of knowledge, which I translate under the naïve formula "oh the sun, I love that." In fact, these are extrinsic mechanisms of my body that play, and the relations between parts, parts of the sun and parts of my body.
Starting when with the sun, starting when can I begin authentically to say "I"? With the second kind of knowledge, I leave behind the zone of the effect of parts on one another. I have acquired some kind of knowledge of the sun, a practical comprehension of the sun. What does this practical comprehension mean? It means that I get ahead, I know what such a miniscule event linked to the sun means, such a furtive shadow at such a moment, I know what this announces. I no longer record the effects of the sun on my body. I raise myself to a kind of practical comprehension of causes, at the same time that I know how to compose the relations of my body with such and such relation of the sun.
Let‚s take the perception of a painter. Let‚s imagine a nineteenth-century painter who goes out into nature. He has his easel, it‚s a certain relation. There is the sun that does not remain immobile. What is this knowledge of the second kind? He will completely change the position of his easel, he is not going to have the same relation to his canvas depending on whether the sun is high or the sun is about to set. Van Gogh painted on his knees. The sunsets forced him to paint almost lying down so that Van Gogh‚s eye had the lowest horizon line possible. At that moment having an easel no longer means anything. There are letters in which Cézanne speaks of the mistral: how to compose the canvas-easel relation with the relation of wind, and how to compose the relation of the easel with the sinking sun, and how to end up in such a way that I might paint on the ground, that I might paint lying on the ground. I compose relations, and in a certain way I am raised to a certain comprehension of causes, and at that very moment I can begin to say that I love the sun. I am no longer in the effect of particles of sun on my body, I am in another domain, in compositions of relation. And at this very moment I am not far from a proposition that would have appeared to us mad in the first degree, I am not far from being able to say, "the sun, I am something of it." I have a relation of affinity with the sun. This is the second kind of knowledge. Understand that, at the second level, there is a kind of communion with the sun. For Van Gogh it‚s obvious. He begins to enter into a kind of communication with the sun.
What would the third kind be? Here Lawrence abounds. In abstract terms it would be a mystical union. All kinds of religions have developed mystiques of the sun. This is a step further. Van Gogh has the impression that there is a beyond that he cannot manage to render. What is this yet further that he will not manage to render insofar as he is a painter? Is this what the metaphors of the sun in the mystics are? But these are no longer metaphors if one comprehends it like that, they can say literally that God is the sun. They can say literally that "I am God." Why? Not at all because there is an identification. It‚s that at the level of the third kind one arrives at this mode of intrinsic distinction. It‚s here that there is something irreducibly mystical in Spinoza‚s third kind of knowledge: at the same time the essences are distinct, only they distinguish themselves on the inside from one another. So much so that the rays by which the sun affects me are the rays by which I affect myself, and the rays by which I affect myself are the rays of the sun that affect me. It‚s solar auto-affection. In words this has a grotesque air, but understand that at the level of modes of life it‚s quite different. Lawrence develops these texts on this kind of identity that maintains the internal distinction between his own singular essence, the singular essence of the sun, and the essence of the world.