Mapping Spinoza’s Ethics
John R. Bagby is a doctoral candidate in philosophy at Boston College, working on Aristotle, Spinoza, and Bergson. He is the creator of a website that offers a multidimensional exploration of Spinoza’s Ethics: http://ethica.bc.edu/#/.
When I first started reading Spinoza seriously I was captivated by the geometrical order. Not just for its promise of consistency and precision, but especially for its dynamic powers of growth and development. Thinking geometrically is a constructive excogitation that builds, progresses, and engenders thoughts in a way which is analogous to life itself. At that time I was enamored by concepts in thermodynamics, like dissipative structures, auto-poiesis, and the cooperative intelligence of ecosystems. I envisioned the network of dependencies of Spinoza’s self-citations as a web of life hanging together dynamically. Yes, this system needs to be logically consistent, but its adequacy comes from its power to generate thinking. It is by gathering the definitions and axioms in a mind which actively conceives them, and a fortiori, in a life whose blessedness is actually increased by this activity, that the truth of his Ethics emerges. The consistency of the arguments is analogous to the relation of parts in the body. The vascular system is an intricate and delicate system of dependencies which must always come together perfectly if life is to persevere. Life is not merely the coherence of parts, it is an organization that sustains and augments powers that, by forming a unity, increase the ability to act. The whole is more than the sum of the parts. Life is not the totality of relations but the integral which organizes them.