Sur Spinoza

Cours Vincennes - St Denis
Cours du 16/12/1980

Intervention of Comtesse: (inaudible on the cassette).

Gilles: I feel coming between you and me still a difference. You tend very quickly to stress an authentically Spinozist concept, that of the tendency to persevere in being. The last time, you spoke to me about the conatus, i.e. the tendency to persevere in being, and you asked me: what don't you do it? I responded that for the moment I cannot introduce it because, in my reading, I am stressing other Spinozist concepts, and the tendency to persevere in being, I will derive it from other concepts which are for me the essential concepts, those of power (puissance) and affect. Today, you return to the same theme. There is not even room for a discussion, you would propose another reading, i.e. a differently accentuated reading. As for the problem of the reasonable man and the insane man, I will respond exactly thus: what distinguishes the insane person and the reasonable one according to Spinoza, and conversely at the same time, there is: what doesn't distinguish them? From which point of view can they not be distinguished, from which point of view do they have to be distinguished? I would say, for my reading, that Spinoza‚s response is very rigorous. If I summarize Spinoza‚s response, it seems to me that this summary would be this: from a certain point of view, there is no reason to make a distinction between the reasonable man and the insane person. From another point of view, there is a reason to make a distinction.
Firstly, from the point of view of power, there is no reason to introduce a distinction between the reasonable man and the insane man. What does that mean? Does that mean that they have the same power? No, it doesn‚t mean that they have the same power, but it means that each one, as much as there is in him, realises or exercises his power. I.e. each one, as much as there is in him, endeavours [s‚efforce] to persevere in his being. Therefore, from the point of view of power, insofar as each, according to natural right, endeavours to persevere in his being, i.e. exercise his power ˜ you see I always put Œeffort‚ between brackets ˜ it is not that he tries to persevere, in any way, he perseveres in his being as much as there is in him, this is why I do not like the idea of conatus, the idea of effort, which does not translate Spinoza‚s thought because what it calls an effort to persevere in being is the fact that I exercise my power at each moment, as much as there is in me. It is not an effort, but from the point of view of power, therefore, I can not at all say what each one is worth, because each one would have the same power, in effect the power of the insane man is not the same as that of the reasonable one, but what there is in common between the two is that, whatever the power, each exercises his own. Therefore, from this point of view, I would not say that the reasonable man is better than the insane one. I cannot, I have no way of saying that: each has a power, each exercises as much power as there is in him. It is natural right, it is the world of nature. From this point of view, I could not establish any difference in quality between the reasonable man and the insane one.

But from another point of view, I know very well that the reasonable man is Œbetter‚ than the insane one. Better, what does that mean? More powerful, in the Spinozist sense of the word. Therefore, from this second point of view, I must make and I do make a distinction between the reasonable man and the insane one. What is this point of view? My response, according to Spinoza, would be exactly this: from the point of view of power, you have no reason to distinguish the reasonable man and the insane one, but from the other point of view, namely that of the affects, you distinguish the reasonable man and the insane one. From where does this other point of view come? You remember that power is always actual, it is always exercised. It is the affects that exercise them. The affects are the exercises of power, what I experience in action or passion, it is this which exercises my power, at every moment. If the reasonable man and the insane one are distinguished, it is not by means of power, each one realises his power, it is by means of the affects. The affects of the reasonable man are not the same as those of the insane one. Hence the whole problem of reason will be converted by Spinoza into a special case of the more general problem of the affects. Reason indicates a certain type of affect. That is very new.
To say that reason is not going to be defined by ideas, of course, it will also be defined by ideas. There is a practical reason that consists in a certain type of affect, in a certain way of being affected. That poses a very practical problem of reason. What does it mean to be reasonable, at that moment? Inevitably reason is an ensemble of affects, for the simple reason that it is precisely the forms under which power is exercised in such and such conditions. Therefore, to the question that has just been posed by Comtesse, my response is relatively strict; in effect, what difference is there between a reasonable man and the insane one? From a certain point of view, none, that is the point of view of power. From another point of view, enormous difference, from the point of view of the affects which exercise power.

Intervention of Comtesse.

Gilles: You note a difference between Spinoza and Hobbes and you are quite right. If I summarize it, the difference is this: for the one as for the other, Spinoza and Hobbes, one is careful to leave the state of nature by a contract. But in the case of Hobbes, it is in effect a contract by which I give up my right of nature. I‚ll specify because it is more complicated: if it is true that I give up my natural right, then on the other hand, the sovereign himself does not also give up his. Therefore, in a certain way, the right of nature is preserved.
For Spinoza, on the contrary, in the contract I do not give up my right of nature, and there is Spinoza‚s famous formula given in a letter: I preserve the right of nature even in the civil state. This famous formula of Spinoza clearly means, for any reader of the era, that on this point, I break with Hobbes. In a certain way, he also preserved natural right in the civil state, but only to the advantage of the sovereign. I say that too quickly.
Spinoza, on the whole, is a disciple of Hobbes. Why? Because on two general but fundamental points, he entirely follows the Hobbesian revolution, and I believe that Spinoza‚s political philosophy would have been impossible without the kind of intervention that Hobbes had introduced into political philosophy. What is this very, very important double intervention, this extraordinary innovation?
It is, first innovation, to have conceived the state of nature and natural right in a way that broke entirely with the Ciceronian tradition. Now, on this point, Spinoza entirely ratifies Hobbes‚ revolution. Second point: consequently, to have substituted the idea of a pact of consent as the foundation of the civil state for the relation of competence such as it was in traditional philosophy, from Plato to Saint Thomas. Now, on these two fundamental points, the civil state can only refer to a pact of consent and not to a relation of competence where there would be a superiority of the sage, and the whole conception, in addition, of the state of nature and of natural right as power and exercise of power, these two fundamental points belong to Hobbes. It is according to these two fundamental points that I would say that the obvious difference that Comtesse has just signaled between Spinoza and Hobbes, presumes and can only be inscribed in one preliminary resemblance, a resemblance by which Spinoza follows the two fundamental principles of Hobbes. This then becomes a balancing of accounts between them, but within these new presuppositions introduced into political philosophy by Hobbes.
We will be led to speak about Spinoza‚s political conception this year from the point of view of research that we are doing on Ontology: in what sense can Ontology entail or must it entail a political philosophy? Do not forget that there is a whole political path of Spinoza, I‚m going very quickly. A very fascinating political path because we cannot even read one political book of Spinoza‚s philosophy without understanding what problems it poses, and what political problems he lived through. The Netherlands in the era of Spinoza was not simple and all Spinoza‚s political writings are very connected to this situation. It is not by chance that Spinoza wrote two books on political philosophy, one the Theologico-Political Treatise the other the Political Treatise, and that, between the two, enough things happened such that Spinoza evolved. The Netherlands in that era was torn between two tendencies. There was the tendency of the House of Orange, and then there was the liberal tendency of the De Witt brothers. Now the De Witt brothers, under very obscure conditions, had won at one moment. The House of Orange was not nothing: this put into play the relations of foreign policy, relations with Spain, war or peace. The De Witt brothers were basically pacifists. This put into play the economic structure, the House of Orange supported the large companies, the brothers were very hostile to the large companies. This opposition stirred everything up. Now the De Witt brothers were assassinated in absolutely horrible circumstances. Spinoza felt this as really the last moment in which he could no longer write, this could also happen to him. The De Witt brothers‚ entourage protected Spinoza. This dealt him a blow. The difference in political tone between the Theologico-Political Treatise and the Political Treatise is explained because, between the two, there was the assassination, and Spinoza no longer believed in what he had said before, in the liberal monarchy.
His political problem arises in a very beautiful, still very current, way; yes, there is only a political problem that it would be necessary to try to understand, to make ethics into politics. To understand what? To understand why people fight for their slavery. They seem to be so content to be slaves, that they will do anything to remain slaves. How to explain such a thing? It fascinates him. Literally, how to explain that people don't revolt? But at the same time, revolt or revolution, you will never find that in Spinoza. We‚re saying very silly things. At the same time, he made drawings. There is a reproduction of a drawing of his that is a very obscure thing. He had drawn himself in the form of a Neapolitan revolutionary who was well-known in that era. He had included his own head. It is odd. Why does he never speak about revolt or revolution? Is it because he is a moderate? Undoubtedly, he must be a moderate; but let us suppose that he is a moderate. But at that time, even the extremists hesitated to speak of revolution, even the leftists of the era. And Collegians who were against the church, these Catholics were near enough to what we would call today the Catholics of the extreme left. Why isn‚t revolution discussed? There is a silly thing that is said, even in the handbooks of history, that there was no English revolution. Everyone knows perfectly well that there was an English revolution, the formidable revolution of Cromwell. And Cromwell‚s revolution is an almost pure case of a revolution that was betrayed as soon as it was done.
The whole of the seventeenth century is full of reflections on how a revolution can not be betrayed. Revolution was always thought by revolutionaries in terms of how it is that such things are always betrayed. Now, the recent example for Spinoza‚s contemporaries is the revolution of Cromwell, who was the most fantastic traitor to the revolution that Cromwell himself had imposed. If you take, well after English Romanticism, it is a fantastic poetic and literary movement, but it is an intense political movement. The whole of English Romanticism is centered on the theme of the betrayed revolution. How to live on when the revolution has been betrayed and seems destined to be betrayed? The model that obsessed the great English Romantics was always Cromwell. Cromwell lived in that era as Stalin did today. Nobody speaks about revolution, not at all because they do not have an equivalent in mind, it is for a very different reason. They won‚t call that revolution because the revolution is Cromwell. Now, at the time of the Theologico-Political Treatise, Spinoza still believed in a liberal monarchy, on the whole. This is no longer true from the Political Treatise. The De Witt brothers were assassinated, compromise is no longer possible. Spinoza gives up publishing the Ethics, he knows that it‚s screwed. At that moment, it seems that Spinoza would have tended much more to think about the chances of a democracy. But the theme of democracy appears much more in the Political Treatise than in the Theologico-Political Treatise, which remained in the perspective of a liberal monarchy.
What would a democracy be at the level of the Netherlands? It is what was liquidated with the assassination of the De Witt brothers. Spinoza dies, as if symbolically, when he is at the chapter Œdemocracy‚. We will never know what he would have said.
There is a fundamental relation between Ontology and a certain style of politics. What this relation consists of, we don‚t yet know. What does a political philosophy which is placed in an ontological perspective consist of? Is it defined by the problem of the state? Not especially, because the others too. A philosophy of the One will also pass by way of the problem of the state. The real difference does not appear elsewhere between pure ontologies and philosophies of the One. Philosophies of the One are philosophies that fundamentally imply a hierarchy of existing things, hence the principle of consequence, hence the principle of emanation: from the One emanates Being, from Being emanates other things, etc. the hierarchies of the Neo-Platonists. Therefore, the problem of the state, they will encounter it when they encounter themselves? at the level of this problem: the institution of a political hierarchy. Among Neo-Platonists, there are hierarchies everywhere, there is a celestial hierarchy, a terrestrial hierarchy, and what the Neo-Platonists call hypostases are precisely the terms in the institution of a hierarchy.
What appears to me striking in a pure ontology is the point at which it repudiates the hierarchies. In effect, if there is no One superior to being, if being is said of everything that is and is said of everything that is in one and the same sense, this is what appeared to me to be the key ontological proposition: there is no unity superior to being and, consequently, being is said of everything that of which it is said, i.e. is said of everything that is, is said of all being [étant], in one and the same sense. It is the world of immanence. This world of ontological immanence is an essentially anti-hierarchical world. Of course, it is necessary to correct: these philosophers of ontology, we will say that evidently a practical hierarchy is needed, ontology does not lead to formulas which would be those of nihilism or non-being, of the type where everything is the same [tout se vaut]. And yet, in certain regards, everything is the same, from the point of view of an ontology, i.e. the point of view of being.
All being [étant] exercises as much being [être] as there is in it. That‚s all there is to it. It is anti-hierarchical thought. It is almost a kind of anarchy. There is an anarchy of beings in being. It is the basic intuition of ontology: all beings are the same [se valent]. The stone, the insane, the reasonable, the animal, from a certain point of view, from the point of view of Being [être], they are the same. Each is as much as there is in it, and being is said in one and the same sense of the stone, of the man, of the insane, of the reasonable. It is a very beautiful idea. It is a very savage kind of world.
With that, they encounter the political domain, but the way in which they will encounter the political domain depends precisely on this kind of intuition of equal being, of anti-hierarchical being. And the way in which they think the state is no longer the relation of somebody who commands and others who obey. In Hobbes, the political relation is the relation of somebody who commands and of somebody who obeys. This is the pure political relation. From the point of view of an ontology, it is not that. There, Spinoza did not go along with Hobbes at all. The problem of an ontology is, consequently, according to this: being is said of everything that is, this is how to be free. I.e. how to exercise its power under the best conditions. And the state, even more the civil state, i.e. the entire society is thought like this: the ensemble of conditions under which man can exercise his power in the best way. Thus it is not at all a relation of obedience. Obedience will come, moreover, it will have to be justified by what it inscribes in a system where society can mean only one thing, namely the best means for man of exercising his power. Obedience is second compared to this requirement. In a philosophy of the One, obedience is obviously first, i.e. the political relation is the relation of obedience, it is not the relation of the exercise of power.
We will find this problem again in Nietzsche: what is equal? What is equal is that each being, whatever it is, in every way exercises all that it can of its power, that, that makes all beings equal. But the powers are not equal. But each endeavours to persevere in its being, i.e. exercise its power. From this point of view, all beings are the same, they are all in being and being is equal. Being is also said of everything that is, but everything that is is not equal, i.e. does not have the same power. But being which is said of everything that is, that, that is equal. With that, it doesn't‚t prevent there being differences between beings. From the point of view of the difference between beings a whole idea of aristocracy can be established, namely there are the better ones.
If I try to summarize, understand where we were the last time. We posed a very precise problem, the problem which I have dealt with until now, which is this: what is the status, not of Being [être], but of being [étant], i.e. what is the status of Œwhat is‚ from the point of view of an ontology.
What is the status of the being [étant] or of what exists [existant] from the point of view of an ontology? I have tried to show that the two conceptions, that of the quantitative distinction between existing things, and the other point of view, that of the qualitative opposition between modes of existence, far from contradicting themselves, have been interlinked with one another the whole time.
This finishes the first category: what is an ontology, and how is it distinguished from philosophies which are not ontologies.
Second major category: what is the status of the being [étant] from the point of view of a pure ontology like Spinoza‚s?

Inaudible intervention

Gilles: You say that from the point of view of the hierarchy, what is first is difference and one goes from difference to identity. That is quite right, but I would just add: which type of difference is it about? Response: it is always finally a difference between Being [être] and something superior to being, since the hierarchy is going to be a difference in judgment. Therefore, judgment is done in the name of a superiority of the One over being. We can judge being precisely because there is an authority superior to being. Thus the hierarchy is inscribed as of this difference, since the hierarchy, even its foundation, is the transcendence of the One over being. And what you call difference is exactly this transcendence of the One over being. When you invoke Plato, difference is only first in Plato in a very precise sense, namely the One is more than being. Thus it is a hierarchical difference. Ontology goes from being [être] to beings [étants], i.e. it goes from the same, from what is, and only what is different, it goes therefore from being to the differences, it is not a hierarchical difference. All beings are also in Being.
In the Middle Ages, there is a very important school, it was given the name the School of Chartres; and the School of Chartres, they depend mostly on Duns Scotus, and they insist enormously on the Latin term "equality.‰ Equal being. They say all the time that being is fundamentally equal. That doesn‚t mean that existing things, or beings [étants], are equal. But being is equal for all, which means, in a certain way, that all beings are in being. Consequently, whatever the difference you achieve, since there is a non-difference of being, and there are differences between beings, these differences will not be conceived in a hierarchical way. Or, they will be conceived in a hierarchical way very, very secondarily, to catch up with, to reconcile the things. But in the first intuition, the difference is not hierarchical. Whereas in philosophies of the One difference is fundamentally hierarchical. I would say much more: in ontology, the difference between beings is quantitative and qualitative at the same time. Quantitative difference of powers, qualitative difference of modes of existence, but it is not hierarchical. Then, of course, they often speak as if there had been a hierarchy, they will say that the reasonable man is better than the malicious one, but better in what sense and why? It is for reasons of power and exercise of power, not for reasons of hierarchy.
I would like to pass to a third rubric which is connected at the second and which would come down to saying that if the Ethics - I defined as the two co-ordinates of the Ethics: the quantitative distinction from the point of view of power, the qualitative opposition from the point of view of the modes of existence. I tried to show last time how we passed perpetually from the one to the other. I would like to begin a third rubric, which is, from the point of view of the Ethics, how does the problem of evil arise. Because, once again, we have seen that this problem arose in an acute way, why? I remind you that I discussed the sense in which, from time immemorial, classical philosophy had set up this paradoxical proposition, by knowing very well that it was a paradox, namely evil is nothing. But precisely, evil is nothing, understand that there are at least two possible manners of speaking. These two manners are not reconciled at all. Because when I say evil is nothing, I could mean firstly one thing: evil is nothing because everything is Good. If I say everything is Good. If you write Good with a capital G, if you write it like that, you can comment on the formula word for word: there is being, good: The One is superior to being, and the superiority of the One over being makes being turn towards the One as being the Good. In other words, Œevil is nothing‚, means: inevitably evil is nothing since it is the Good superior to being which is the cause of being. In other words, the Good makes being. The Good is the One as the reason for being. The One is superior to being. Everything is Good means that it is the good that makes being what is. I am discussing Plato. You understand that Œevil is nothing‚ means that only the Good makes being, and correlatively: makes action. It was the argument of Plato: the malicious one is not voluntarily malicious since what the malicious one wants is the good, it is whatever good. I can thus say that evil is nothing, in the sense that only the Good makes being and makes action, therefore evil is nothing.
In a pure Ontology, where there is no One superior to being, I say evil is nothing, there is no evil, there is being. Okay. But that engages me with something completely new, it is that if evil is nothing, then the good is nothing either. It is thus for completely opposite reasons that I can say in both cases that evil is nothing. In one case, I say that evil is nothing because only the Good makes being and makes action, in the other case, I say that evil is nothing because the Good is nothing too, because there is only being. Now we have seen that this negation of the good, like that of evil, did not prevent Spinoza from making an ethics. How is an ethics made if there is neither good nor evil. From the same formula, in the same era, if you take the formula: Œevil is nothing‚, signed by Leibniz, and signed by Spinoza, they both say the same formula, Œevil is nothing‚, but it has two opposite senses. In Leibniz it derives from Plato, and in Spinoza, who makes a pure ontology, it becomes complicated.
Hence my problem: what is the status of evil from the point of view of ethics, i.e. from the whole status of beings, of existing things? We will return to the parts where ethics is really practical. We have an exceptional text of Spinoza: it is an exchange of eight letters, four each. A set of eight letters exchanged with a young man called Blyenberg. The sole object of this correspondence is evil. The young Blyenberg asks Spinoza to explain evil ?

(tape inaudible ... and end of the first part)