«« Spinoza's Psychological Theory
America's Jewish founding father »»

Bennett on Spinoza's Philosophical Psychotherapy

directe link naar dit bericht link naar de reacties rubriek: artikelen

Spinoza's philosophy has a practical aim. The Ethics can be interpreted as a guide to a happy, intellectually flourishing life. Spinoza gives us principles about how to guard against the power of passions which prevent the mind from attaining understanding. In what follows, I consider Spinoza's techniques for guarding against the passions by turning to Jonathan Bennett's criticisms of Spinozistic psychotherapy. Bennett finds three central techniques for freeing oneself from the passions: (i) reflecting on determinism; (ii) separating and joining; and (iii) turning passions into actions. Bennett believes that all of these techniques are in some sense flawed. I contend that Bennett offers good criticism against technique (i), but his criticisms against (ii) and (iii) are unfounded.

I. Introduction

Spinoza's philosophy had a practical aim. What he wanted to do was to show the way to perfect peace of mind and joy offered by the life of reason. The Ethics is written as a guidebook to a happy, intellectually flourishing life. Basic in Spinoza's thought is the simple observation that we all want to live well but do not know the way to a happy life. He wanted to give us the instructions which include principles about how to guard us from the power of passions which prevent the mind from understanding. In this paper my aim is to consider how well founded Spinoza's techniques against the passions are. I will do this by concentrating on Jonathan Bennett's criticism of Spinozistic psychotherapy. Bennett finds from the Ethics three central techniques of freeing oneself from passions: (i) reflecting on determinism; (ii) separating and joining; and (iii) turning passions into actions. Bennett believes that all these techniques are in some sense flawed. My contention is that Bennett offers good criticism against 'reflecting on determinism'-technique but that his criticism against 'separating and joining'-technique as well as against 'turning passions into actions'-technique is not well-founded. The paper devotes most space to the 'turning passions into actions'-technique. However, before considering Bennett's view of Spinoza's psychotherapy, I will give an overview of Spinoza's theory of activity and passivity.

II. Passivity and Activity

According to Spinoza "we act, when something happens, in us or outside us, of which we are the adequate cause. . . . we are acted on when something happens in us, or something follows from our nature, of which we are only a partial cause. (IIID2)."

The notion of adequate cause that occurs in the definition above is defined as follows:

"I call that cause adequate whose effect can be clearly and distinctly perceived through it. But I call it partial, or inadequate, if its effect cannot be understood through it alone. (IIID1)."

Thus, an event is S's action if it follows solely from S's nature and an event is a passion with respect to S if it does not follow solely from S's nature. Roughly put, we are the complete causes of our actions but only partial causes of our passions. According to Spinoza affects (emotions) are those events in the body by which the body's power of acting is increased or diminished together with the ideas of these events. Thus, emotions have both a physical and a mental part; or each affect can be conceived as a mental event or as a physical event. Spinoza recognizes three primary affects. When described in mental vocabulary, these affects are: joy, sadness and desire. The affect of joy occurs when the mind passes to a greater perfection and the affect of sadness occurs when the mind passes to a lesser perfection. Because of the identity that there is between mind and body, the mind passes to a greater perfection just in case the body's power of acting is increased and the mind passes to a lesser perfection when the body's power of acting is diminished. So, someone feels joy just in case her/his body's power of acting is increased and someone feels sadness just in case her/his body's power of acting is diminished. In saying that joy, sadness, and desire are three primitive affects Spinoza means that all other affects can be defined with their help. For example, love and hate are defined as follows:

VI(DA) Love is a joy, accompanied by the idea of an external cause. VII(DA) Hate is a sadness, accompanied by the idea of an external cause.

Affects are further divided into actions and passions. Those affects whose adequate cause we are are active affects whereas those whose partial cause are passive affects. Because active affects bring always joy with them they can never be bad. Passive affects bring either sadness or joy with them. But because sadness prevents the mind from understanding, we should get rid of passions which involve it.

III. The Techniques

As has been said above Bennett finds from the Ethics three main techniques of getting rid of the passions. These techniques will now be considered in connection with Bennett's criticism.

A. Reflecting on Determinism

Spinoza was a causal determinist. According to him all events exist in infinite causal series which implies that the causal history of each event goes back to infinity. In VP6 Spinoza claims that once one is aware of this determinism, one gains some control over the passions. VP6 goes as follows: "Insofar as the mind understands all things as necessary, it has a greater power over the affects, or is less acted on by them." The demonstration of this proposition seems to say that both seeing things as necessary and seeing them as causally determined helps us to gain control over the passions. Seeing them as necessary is incompatible with seeing them as free and Spinoza believes that an emotion towards a thing we believe to be necessary is weaker than an emotion towards a thing we believe to be free. That each event has an infinity causes implies that causal responsibility for our emotions is shared by an infinity of things. Once one becomes aware of this, then each emotion should have an infinity of objects. And thus, the emotion is destroyed by being divided into infinity. Central in Spinoza's proof is, then, IIIP48 which goes as follows: "Love, or hate - say, of Peter - is destroyed if the sadness the hate involves, or the joy the love involves, is attached to the idea of another cause, and each is diminished to the extent that we imagine Peter was not its only cause." Thus, if the number of the objects of an emotion increases, the emotion felt toward the original object diminishes.

Bennett's Criticism

Bennett points out that in IIIP48 Spinoza has the phenomology of emotions wrong. Bennett uses as an example the emotion of hate and gives the following counterexample: "The argument assumes that I have a fixed quantity of hate to distribute among its objects, and so the more there are, the less I hate each. This is just wrong. Hate is not like that. If I come to believe that Paul as well as Peter contributed to my [sadness] (or to burning down my house) that will reduce the proportion but not necessarily the amount of my hate that is aimed at Peter. For he may move from receiving all my hate to receiving half of it simply because I add an equal hatred for Paul." (SSE 338).

Bennett is certainly right here, but it seems to me that Spinoza may be right when the number of objects is dramatically increased. Suppose I return from a trip and find that all apples from my apple tree have vanished. I am told that Jones has taken them and I feel anger towards him. However, I learn that in addition to Jones there has been 99 robbers and that each of the robbers has stolen just one apple. In this case, it seems to me, the amount of hate towards Jones diminishes. So it seems that when I come to believe that the sadness involved by hate is caused by an infinity of objects, the hate towards each of them really vanishes. However, it appears that Spinoza rather simply believes that the intensity of an emotion towards an object diminishes once the possessor of the emotion comes to believe that the emotion has more causes than he/she originally supposed, and Bennett is certainly right in blaming him for that.

B. Separating and Joining

In VP2 Spinoza writes as follows: "If we separate emotions, or affects, from the thought of an external cause, and join them to other thoughts, then the love, or hate, toward the external cause is destroyed, as are the vacillations of mind arising from these affects." What Spinoza says here is that in order to get rid of love or of hate, just forget the idea of the external cause that is needed for love or hate.

The truth of this proposition seems to follow directly from the definitions of love and hate (see above p.2). It essential to love that the one who has this emotion has also the idea of the cause of the joy involved in love. The same holds mutatis mutandis of hate. Thus, it is a conceptual truth that by getting rid of the causal thoughts required by love and hate, one gets rid of love and hate, too. Example: I hate Jones. According to Spinoza this means that I feel sadness and I simultaneously believe that Jones is the cause of this sadness. Now, if this idea of Jones being the cause of the sadness is taken away, then I do not anymore hate Jones because the belief necessary for the existence of hate towards Jones is taken away.

Bennett's Criticism

According to Bennett this technique does not teach how to govern our affects. Nothing in the demonstration shows why the sadness involved in hate or the joy involved in love, should go away if we succeed in getting rid of the idea of the external cause. Bennett writes: "The argument fails. [Sadness] does not count as hate unless it is accompanied by the idea of an external cause, but all that follows is that if from an instance of hate the causal thought is removed, then what remains does not qualify as hate; it may still be unpleasant and may continue to arouse the same 'vacillations of the mind' that it caused when it was harnessed to the causal thought." (SSE 333).

The key problem seems to be that by removing the idea of the cause of the sadness, one does not remove the cause of the sadness. Thus, the pain may remain even though the idea of its cause is taken away. Bennett suggests that maybe Spinoza has not expressed his thoughts correctly by defining love and and hate in terms of ideas of causes. What Spinoza might have tried to express by the definition of hatred could be a new definition of hatred. Hatred consists in a bad state caused by the thought of a certain object. (SSE 334).

Now, Bennett claims that if separating the thought amounts to displacing the thought from one's mind, then VP2 is alright because if someone gets rid of the thought that is the cause of the unpleasant state, then one gets rid of the unpleasant state as well.

Evaluation of Bennett's Criticism

The new definition of hate seems to be explicate the nature of hate better than Spinoza's original one. Hate (and love) is an idea-mediated emotion. When one hates somebody, essential to the hate is that the sadness is caused by the idea of the object; and this idea-mediatedness guarantees that in getting rid of the idea, one gets rid of the sadness.

However, I believe that in Spinoza's philosophy of mind, his definition of hate preserves the intuition that the bad state involved in hate must be caused by the idea of the cause of the bad state. What the original definition of hate amounts to is that S hates x if and only if it appears to S that x causes sadness in him. Now, in Spinoza it holds that it appears to S that x causes sadness/joy just in case the idea of x causes sadness/joy. Thus, Spinoza's definition of hate says that S hates x if and only if the idea of x causes sadness in x. Spinoza's definition of hate seems to be equivalent to Bennett's new definition of hate, and this means that Bennett's criticism of the definition is not well-founded.

C. Turning Passions into Actions

The basis of this technique is given VP3: "An affect which is a passion ceases to be a passion as soon as we form a clear and distinct idea of it." Because Spinoza identifies clear and distinct ideas with adequate ideas, VP3 says that by forming adequate ideas of passions, we transform them into actions. Thus, if x is a passive emotion which involves sadness, then by forming an adequate idea of it, the emotion should change to one that gives joy. Spinoza's demonstration of this proposition is clear. He refers to IIP21 which says that the idea of the mind is related to the mind in the same way as the mind is related to the body. Now, in IIP7S the relation between mind and body is told to be that of identity. Thus, the clear and distinct idea of the emotion is in fact identical with the emotion itself. This means that what causes the clear and distinct idea of the emotion causes the emotion. But because our clear and distinct ideas have us as their adequate causes, it follows that the emotion, after we have formed a clear and distinct idea of it, must have us as its adequate cause. And therefore it must be an action in us. The demonstration of VP3 goes as follows: "An affect which is a passion is a confused idea (by Gen. Def. Aff.). Therefore, if we should form a clear and distinct idea of the affect itself, this idea will only be distinguished by reason from the affect itself, insofar as it is related only to the mind (by IIP21 and P21S). Therefore (by IIIP3), the affect will cease to be a passion, q.e.d."

Bennett's Criticism

According to Bennett Spinoza's definitions of actions and passions are inconsistent with the view that passions can be transformed into actions. The problem that Spinoza's definitions appear to generate is that if a passion were turned into an action, then it should be possible to change the causal origin of an emotion. But it seems evident that the causal origins of a thing cannot change. Bennett writes of this difficulty as follows: ". . . no one could possibly acquire an adequate idea of an event after it has occurred. If x now exists and is a passion in me, then its cause y was outside my body; so I(y) was outside my mind, and thus I(x) is inadequate in my mind. And that's that! I can no more make I(x) adequate by bringing it about that I(y) was inside my mind than I can become royal by altering who my parents were (SSE 336)." Bennett's point appears irresistible.

Evaluation of Bennett's Criticism

Commentators seem to agree that causality and explanation are closely linked in Spinoza's metaphysics. Some commentators even believe that Spinoza identified causality with explanation. In fact, Bennett appears to be one of the identifiers. He writes as follows: "Before Hume, some philosophers distinguished causal from logical necessity; but others did not, and most were unclear or indeterminate about it. Spinoza does not make the distinction: he thinks that a cause relates to its effect as a premiss does to a conclusion which follows from it. When he speaks of 'the reason or cause why Nature acts' (4 Preface at 206/26) he thinks he is talking about one relation, not two. (SSE 30)."

Now, if cause and reason mean the same for Spinoza, then the definitions of actions and passions seem to say that an idea is a passion if we have inconclusive reasons for the idea; we lack some reasons that are needed to understand the idea and to see its truth. Moreover, an idea is an action when we have conclusive reasons for that idea.

Once cause and reason are treated as identical Bennett's point is that the reasons one has for some idea cannot change in the course of time; if one's initial reason for believing that p was q, then in the course of time x cannot believe p for no other reason than q. But read in this way Bennett's criticism seems to lose its force. In the dynamics of belief it is important to make a distinction between the initiating reason of a belief and its sustaining reason: suppose that at t1 Jones begins to believe that Smith is innocent because Jones thinks Smith looks innocent. Later, at t2, Jones gains some new evidence of Smith's innocence. Jones has heard from his sister that she has been fishing with Smith at the time of the crime. Jones trusts his sister and thus the totality of Jones' reasons for Smith's inncocence has changed. However, in order to avoid some difficult problems concerning idea-identification I assume that at t2 Smith's looking innocent is still one of Jones' reasons for the belief that Smith is innocent. Let us further suppose that at t3 Jones loses the belief that Smith looks inncocent. Indeed he now believes that people who have Smith's appearance are liable to criminal deeds. However, he has not lost the belief that Smith is innocent to this particular crime. He still believes his sister.

We see that the reasons that sustains Jones' belief at t3 are totally distinct from the initiating reasons. But, if reason and cause are identical then it is also clear that the causes of Jones' belief are different at t3 and at t1.

It is clear that in the example just presented the causes, or reasons, did not change from external to internal ones. However, I believe that it is not difficult to present an example where the change is from external causes to internal causes. Suppose Jones believes a theorem of geometry on the basis that Smith whom Jones trusts much has told him that such a theorem is true. However, it happens that Jones learns geometry and simultaneously begins to doubt severely Smith's knowledge of geometry. Finally, Jones believes the theorem because he is able to infer it form self-evident axioms. Now, in deriving it from self-evident axioms Jones' is deriving the theorem from ideas that are adequate in him. But it is just this what Spinoza means by internal determination. Thus, Jones passive idea has been transformed into an active one and the causes or reasons for that idea have changed from external to internal.

Olli Koistinen
University of Turku, Finland


Plaats een reactie



Powered by
Movable Type 4.1