Simon Duffy

On the project of a pure ontology, how is it that Spinoza calls this pure ontology an Ethics? It would be by an accumulation of traits that we realize that it was [a pure ontology], although he calls it an Ethics. We saw the general atmosphere of this link between an Ontology and an Ethics with the suspicion that an ethics is something that has nothing to do with morality. And why do we have a suspicion of the link that makes this pure Ontology take the name of Ethics? We have seen it. Spinoza’s pure Ontology is presented as the absolutely infinite single position. Consequently, the beings (étants), this absolutely infinite single substance, is being. Being (être) as being. Consequently, the beings (étants) will not be Beings (êtres), they will be what Spinoza calls modes, the modes of absolutely infinite substance. And a mode is what? It is a manner of being. The beings (étants) or what exists (existants) are not Beings (êtres), there is Being only in the form of absolutely infinite substance. Consequently, we who are beings (étants), we who are what exists (existants), we will not be Beings (êtres), we will be manners of Being (être) of this substance. And if I ask myself what is the most immediate sense of the word ethics, in what way is it already other than morality, well, ethics is better known to us today under another name, the word ethology.

When one speaks of an ethology in connection with animals, or in connection with man, what is it a matter of? Ethology in the most rudimentary sense is a practical science, of what? A practical science of the manners of being. The manner of being is precisely the state of beings (étants), of what exists (existants), from the point of view of a pure ontology.

In what way is it already different from a morality? We are trying to compose a kind of landscape which would be the landscape of ontology. We are manners of Being in Being, that is the object of an ethics, i.e. an ethology. In a morality, on the contrary, what is it a matter of? There are two things which are fundamentally welded together. It is a matter of essence and values. A morality recalls us to essence, i.e. our essence, and which is recalled to us by values. It is not the point of view of Being. I do not believe that a morality can be made from the point of view of an ontology. Why? Because morality always implies something superior to Being; what is superior to Being is something which plays the role of the One, of the Good, it is the One superior to Being. Indeed, morality is the enterprise of judging not only all that is, but Being itself. Now one can only judge Being in the name of an authority higher than Being.

In what way, in a morality, is it a matter of essence and values? What is in question in a morality is our essence. What is our essence? In a morality it is always a matter of realising the essence. This implies that the essence is in a state where it is not necessarily realised, that implies that we have an essence. It is not obvious that there is an essence of man. But it is quite necessary for morality to speak and to give us orders in the name of an essence. If we are given orders in the name of an essence, it is because this essence is not realised by itself. It will be said that this essence is in man potentially (en puissance). What is the essence of man is potentially in man, from the point of view of a morality? It is well known, the essence of man is to be a reasonable animal. Aristotle: Man is a reasonable animal. The essence is what the thing is, reasonable animal is the essence of man. Even if man is in essence a reasonable animal, he does not cease to behave in an unreasonable way. How does that happen? It is because the essence of man, as such, is not necessarily realised. Why? Because man is not pure reason, and then there are accidents, he doesn’t cease being diverted. The whole classical conception of man consists in inviting him to agree with his essence because this essence is like a potentiality, which is not necessarily realised, and morality is the process of the realization of the human essence.

Now, how can this essence which is only potential, be realized? By morality. To say that it is to be realized by morality is to say that it must be taken for an end. The essence of man must be taken for an end by existing man. Therefore, to behave in a reasonable way, i.e. to carry out the essence is the task of morality. Now the essence taken as an end is value. Note that the moral vision of the world is made of essence. The essence is only potential, it is necessary to realise the essence, that will be done insofar as the essence is taken for an end, and the values ensure the realization of the essence. It is this ensemble which I would call morality.

In an ethical world, let us try to switch over, there is no longer any of this. What will they say to us in an Ethics? We will find nothing. It is another landscape. Spinoza very often speaks about essence, but for him, essence is never the essence of man. Essence is always a singular determination. There is the essence of this man, and of that man, there is no essence of man. He will himself say that the general essences or the abstract essences of the type the essence of man‚are confused ideas. There is no general idea in an Ethics. There is you, this one, that one, there are singularities. The word essence is quite likely to change sense. When he speaks about essence, what interests him is not the essence, what interests him is existence and what exists.

In other words, what is can only be put in relation to Being at the level of existence, and not at the level of essence.

At this level, there is already an existentialism in Spinoza. It is thus not a matter of an essence of man, in Spinoza, it is not the question of an essence of man that would only be potential and which morality would be assigned to realise, it is about something altogether different. You recognize an ethics in what he, who speaks to you about ethics, tells you of two things in one. He is interested in existing things (existants) in their singularity. Sometimes, he is going to tell you, between what exists there is a distinction, a quantitative difference in existence; what exists can be considered on a kind of quantitative scale according to which they are more or less... More or less what? We are going see. Not at all an essence common to several things, but a quantitative distinction of more and less between existing things, that is Ethics.

In addition, the same discourse of an ethics is pursued by saying that there is also a qualitative opposition between modes of existence. Two criteria of ethics, in other words, the quantitative distinction of existing things, and the qualitative opposition of modes of existence, the qualitative polarization of modes of existence, will be the two ways in which existing things are in being.

These are going to be the links of Ethics with Ontology. Existing things or the beings are in Being from two simultaneous points of view, from the point of view of a qualitative opposition of the modes of existence, and from the point of view of a quantitative scale of existing things. It is completely the world of immanence. Why?

It is the world of immanence because you see at which point it is different from the world of moral values such as I have just defined them, the moral values being precisely this kind of tension between the essence to be realized and the realization of the essence.

I would say that value is exactly the essence taken as an end.

That is the moral world. The completion of the moral world, one can say that it is indeed in Kant that a supposed human essence is taken for an end, in a kind of pure act.

Ethics is not that at all, they are like two absolutely different worlds. What can Spinoza have to say to the others. Nothing.

It would be a matter of showing all that concretely. In a morality, you always have the following operation: you do something, you say something, you judge it yourself. It is the system of judgement. Morality is the system of judgement. Of double judgement, you judge yourself and you are judged. Those who have the taste for morality are those who have the taste for judgement. Judging always implies an authority superior to Being, it always implies something superior to an ontology. It always implies one more than Being, the Good which makes Being and which makes action, it is the Good superior to Being, it is the One. Value expresses this authority superior to Being. Therefore, values are the fundamental element of the system of judgement. Therefore, you are always referred to this authority superior to Being for judging.

In an ethics, it is completely different, you do not judge. In a certain manner, you say: whatever you do, you will only ever have what you deserve. Somebody says or does something, you do not relate it to values. You ask yourself how is that possible? How is this possible in an internal way? In other words, you relate the thing or the statement to the mode of existence that it implies, that it envelops in itself. How must it be in order to say that? Which manner of Being does this imply? You seek the enveloped modes of existence, and not the transcendent values. It is the operation of immanence. (...)

The point of view of an ethics is: of what are you capable, what can you do? Hence a return to this sort of cry of Spinoza’s: what can a body do? We never know in advance what a body can do. We never know how we’re organized and how the modes of existence are enveloped in somebody.

Spinoza explains very well such and such a body, it is never whatever body, it is what you can do, you.

My hypothesis is that the discourse of ethics has two characteristics: it tells us that beings (étants) have a quantitative distinction of more and less, and in addition, it also tells us that the modes of existence have a qualitative polarity, roughly, there are two great modes of existence. What are they?

When it is suggested to us that, between you and me, between two persons, between a person and an animal, between an animal and a thing, there is ethically, that is ontologically, only a quantitative distinction, what quantity is involved? When it is suggested to us that what makes the most profound of our singularities is something quantitative, what does that really mean? Fichte and Schelling developed a very interesting theory of individuation that we sum up under the name quantitative individuation. If things are individuated quantitatively, we vaguely understand. What quantity? It is a matter of defining people, things, animals, anything by what each one can do.

People, things, animals distinguish themselves by what they can do, i.e. they can't do the same thing. What is it that I can do? Never would a moralist define man by what he can do, a moralist defines man by what he is, by what he is by right. So, a moralist defines man as a reasonable animal. It is essence. Spinoza never defines man as a reasonable animal, he defines man by what he can do, body and soul. If I say that reasonable‚ is not the essence of man, but it is something that man can do, it changes so that unreasonable is also something that man can do. To be mad is also a part of the power (pouvoir) of man. At the level of an animal, we see the problem clearly. If you take what is called natural history, it has its foundation in Aristotle. It defines the animal by what the animal is. In its fundamental ambition, it is a matter of what the animal is. What is a vertebrate, what is a fish, and Aristotle’s natural history is full of this search for the essence. In what is called the animal classifications, one will define the animal above all, whenever possible, by its essence, i.e. by what it is. Imagine these sorts who arrive and who proceed completely otherwise: they are interested in what the thing or the animal can do. They are going to make a kind of register of the powers (pouvoirs) of the animal. Those there can fly, this here eats grass, that other eats meat. The alimentary regime, you sense that it is about the modes of existence. An inanimate thing too, what can it do, the diamond, what can it do? That is, of what tests is it capable? What does it support? What does it do? A camel can go without drinking for a long time. It is a passion of the camel. We define things by what they can do, it opens up forms of experimentation. It is a whole exploration of things, it doesn't have anything to do with essence. It is necessary to see people as small packets of power (pouvoir). I am making a kind of description of what people can do.

From the point of view of an ethics, all that exists, all beings (étants) are related to a quantitative scale which is that of power (puissance). They have more or less power. This differentiable quantity is power. The ethical discourse will not cease to speak to us, not of essences, it doesn’t believe in essences, it speaks to us only of power (puissance), that is, the actions and passions of which something is capable. Not what the thing is, but what it is capable of supporting and capable of doing. And if there is no general essence, it is because, at this level of power (puissance), everything is singular. We don‚t know in advance even though the essence tells us what a set of things is. Ethics tells us nothing, it cannot know. One fish cannot do what the next fish can. There will thus be an infinite differentiation of the quantity of power (puissance) according to what exists. Things receive a quantitative distinction because they are related to the scale of power (puissance).

When, well after Spinoza, Nietzsche will launch the concept of will to power (volonté de puissance), I am not saying that he intends to say this, but above all, it means this. And we cannot understand anything in Nietzsche if we believe that it is the operation by which each of us would tend towards power (puissance). Power is not what I want, by definition, it is what I have. I have this or that power and it is this that situates me in the quantitative scale of Beings. Making power the object of the will is a misunderstanding, it is just the opposite. It is according to power that I have, that I want this or that. The will to power means that you will define things, men, animals according to the effective power that they have. Once again, it is the question: What can a body do? This is very different from the moral question: What must you do by virtue of your essence? It is: What can you do, you, by virtue of your power (puissance)? There you have it, therefore, that power (puissance) constitutes the quantitative scale of Beings. It is the quantity of power (puissance) which distinguishes one existing thing (éxistant) from another existing thing (éxistant).

Spinoza very often said that essence is power (puissance). Understand the philosophical coup that he is in the process of making.


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