Spinoza on Ethics and Understanding
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Spinoza on Ethics and Understanding


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140 pages

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This volume unites Peter Winch’s previously unpublished work on Baruch de Spinoza. The primary source for the text is a series of seminars on Spinoza that Winch gave, first at the University of Swansea in 1982 and then at King’s College London in 1989. What emerges is an original interpretation of Spinoza’s work that demonstrates his continued relevance to contemporary issues in metaphysics, epistemology and ethics, and establishes connections to other philosophers - not only Spinoza’s predecessors such as René Descartes, but also important 20th Century philosophers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein and Simone Weil. Alongside Winch's lectures, the volume contains an interpretive essay by David Cockburn, and an introduction by the editors.

Acknowledgements; Editors' Introduction; Winch, Spinoza and the Human Body, by David Cockburn; Note on the Text; Abbreviations; Spinoza: Ethics and Understanding; 1. Method and Judgement; 2. Substance and Attributes; 3. Negation, Limitation, and Modes; 4. Mind and Body; 5. The Emotions, Good and Evil; 6. The Life of Reason; Bibliography; Index.



Publié par
Date de parution 06 novembre 2020
Nombre de lectures 2
EAN13 9781785275456
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

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Peter Winch’s depth as a philosopher comes out in the depth of his engagement with Spinoza. Spinoza’s ethical concerns resonated with Winch’s own; and his lectures are wonderfully expressive of how he saw philosophy itself. Winch’s discussions of the complex relation between Descartes’s philosophy and that of Spinoza are among the most valuable features of this fine book.
– Cora Diamond, Kenan Professor of Philosophy Emerita, Department of Philosophy, University of Virginia

This volume deserves to be celebrated at several levels. It collects previously unpublished work on Baruch Spinoza by Peter Winch, one of the most important British philosophers of the second half of the twentieth century. It offers an original interpretation of Spinoza, highlighting the enduring significance of Spinoza for current debates in metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. It places Spinoza’s thought in philosophical conversation not only with predecessors such as René Descartes, but also with Ludwig Wittgenstein and Simone Weil, whose thought was studied in depth by Winch in groundbreaking contributions.
– Maria Rosa Antognazza, Professor of Philosophy, King’s College London
Spinoza on Ethics and Understanding
Anthem Studies in Wittgenstein publishes new and classic works on Wittgenstein and Wittgensteinian philosophy. This book series aims to bring Wittgenstein’s thought into the mainstream by highlighting its relevance to twenty-first-century concerns. Titles include original monographs, themed edited volumes, forgotten classics, biographical works and books intended to introduce Wittgenstein to the general public. The series is published in association with the British Wittgenstein Society.
Anthem Studies in Wittgenstein sets out to put in place whatever measures may emerge as necessary in order to carry out the editorial selection process purely on merit and to counter bias on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and other characteristics protected by law. These measures include subscribing to the British Philosophical Association/Society for Women in Philosophy (UK) Good Practice Scheme.
Series Editor
Constantine Sandis – University of Hertfordshire, UK
Spinoza on Ethics and Understanding
by Peter Winch
Edited by
Michael Campbell and Sarah Tropper
Anthem Press
An imprint of Wimbledon Publishing Company
This edition first published in UK and USA 2020
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or PO Box 9779, London SW19 7ZG, UK
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Copyright © By Peter Winch; Edited by Michael Campbell and Sarah Tropper 2020
The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
ISBN-13: 978-1-78527-543-2 (Hbk)
ISBN-10: 1-78527-543-7 (Hbk)
This title is also available as an e-book.
Editors’ Introduction
Winch, Spinoza and the Human Body, by David Cockburn
Note on the Text
List of Abbreviations
Chapter 1. Method and Judgement
Chapter 2. Substance and Attributes
Chapter 3. Negation, Limitation and Modes
Chapter 4. Mind and Body
Chapter 5. The Emotions, Good and Evil
Chapter 6. The Life of Reason
A number of people have helped with this project. David Cockburn generously lent us the audiotapes of Winch’s Swansea seminars and gave us permission to use them. He has also provided encouragement as well as helpful and detailed feedback on multiple drafts of the manuscript. Drew Johnson helped with the laborious process of transcribing the audio recordings of the seminars. He also helped search through the Peter Winch archives at King’s College London for relevant supplementary texts. We are grateful to the King’s College London archives for permission to use the Peter Winch archival material for background research. Among others who have provided useful feedback and support, we would like to mention Raimond Gaita, Lars Hertzberg, Lynette Reid and Christopher Winch. We are grateful to the Austrian Science Fund FWF (project P 29072 ‘Spinoza on the Concept of the Human Life Form’, led by Professor Ursula Renz) for providing financial support for Sarah Tropper. Michael Campbell’s work was supported by the Centre for Ethics as Study in Human Value (registration No. CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/15_003/0000425), which is co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund and the state budget of the Czech Republic (OP VVV/OP RDE). In addition, we would like to thank Constantine Sandis, Megan Greiving and the staff at Anthem Press for their enthusiasm for this project and their support.
Michael Campbell and Sarah Tropper
Editors’ Introduction
Michael Campbell and Sarah Tropper
Peter Winch was a British philosopher known for his work in the philosophy of social science and ethics, as well as for his interpretations of the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Simone Weil. But it is less well known that, throughout his career, Winch also engaged in various ways with Spinoza’s philosophy. He published two articles on Spinoza’s thought, one a critical notice of Jonathan Bennett’s book, A Study of Spinoza’s Ethics , 1 the other a discussion of the relation between mind and body in the Ethics . 2 Alongside this, in his other work Winch referred to Spinoza’s views, either in passing or as a foil, when discussing topics such as the nature of religious belief and the relationship between metaphysics and ethics. 3
Winch’s interpretation of Spinoza developed out of a close reading of the Ethics and De Emendatione , and he gave two sets of seminars on them; first at the University of Swansea in 1982 and then again at King’s College London in 1989. Despite the progress in Spinoza scholarship made since then, Winch’s reading remains worthy of consideration due to its idiosyncrasies both of style and content. His aim is not only to introduce his audience to Spinoza’s thought but also to encourage them to engage with this difficult material on their own terms. Winch finds three issues to be central to Spinoza’s philosophical concerns, namely, the position of man in relation to the universe; the inseparability of the theoretical and practical; and the relation of judgement, ideas and the world. This focus yields an engaging interpretation of Spinoza’s work, one that takes the ethical and metaphysical aspects of the Ethics to be inseparable, and which unifies them under the concept of the understanding. Winch expresses this conviction, in characteristically laconic fashion, at the beginning of the seminars:

Generalising, we can say that Spinoza’s enquiry has ethical, metaphysical and epistemological aspects, all internally related. Ethics presupposes both metaphysics and epistemology; the former, because the good life for men is something that requires understanding and the latter, because the nature of man and of the world and of the relation between them has to be understood. And metaphysics presupposes epistemology because we have to enquire what sort of understanding man is capable of and what sort of understanding it is possible to have of these particular kinds of questions. But epistemology presupposes metaphysics too, since understanding is itself a relation of man to the world and to himself, and we need to grasp the nature of the terms of this relation. 4
For Winch’s Spinoza, the characteristic mark of the human condition is that of vacillation. We are tossed one way and then another by our emotions, thereby passing judgements on things in a piecemeal fashion and without any surety that these evaluations can be finally justified by reference to a single, coherent outlook. Both in terms of what happens to us and how we react to it, we are at the mercy of forces that we do not understand. We call some things good and others evil as our inclination and attention dictates; we judge, condemn, blame, praise, extol, envy and admire, at different times and to varying degrees. Sometimes aware of the arbitrariness in this process we belatedly use reason to try to bring our scattershot evaluations under control. We appeal to this or that authority to justify ourselves, or we formulate some theory which we identify as our ‘moral outlook’, in the hope that by so doing we will bring stability, coherence and consistency to the results of our passing judgements. But a person’s commitment to any such outlook is only as stable as the emotional life which undergirds it, and her conformity to it is only as close as her ability to draw out the consequences of the doctrine in her life. We rationalise away some wrongdoings and fixate on others. We are selective about whom we forgive and how readily we do so. We do not hold ourselves to the same standards to which we hold others. In these and other ways we show that our evaluations are, despite our best efforts, unstable and inconsistent. The reason for this, Spinoza thinks, is that in evaluating things as good or bad we think that we are speaking objectively, being guided by the impersonal faculty of reason, but are in fact simply evaluating things in relation to our own interests. The upshot of refusing to draw out the connection between evaluative judgement and the interests of the judger is confusion, at once ethical and metaphysical, since ‘to be confused about the nature of good and evil is to be confused about one’s own nature and about the nature of one’s relation to the rest of the world.’ 5
Accordingly, the first step in attaining a clear understanding of the world is to realise that good and evil as we ordinarily ascribe them to things are impediments to seeing things objectively. To judge something evil is to say, inter alia, that things could have been better. But, according to Spinoza, everything follows from something else, and ultimately from God’s nature, by necessity. Accordingly, no sense can be attached to the ‘could’ in ‘could have been better’. As a consequence, necessity and contingency do not form a pair; ‘necessity’ describes the ultimate metaphysical relation holding between particulars, whereas ‘contingency’ describes a lack of understanding of the relations between particulars which arises from the limitedness of an individual’s perspective.
This holds also for human nature. Our tendency to judge people or deeds as good or evil stands in the way of our understanding them, as these judgements occasion reactions in us which incorrectly attribute free agency to some individual, when in fact all changes are nothing other than the unfolding of God’s nature. Beliefs in chance or in free agency distort our perception by presenting objects to us not as they are, but rather in the light of an imagined cluster of possibilities, that is, in the light of how we imagine they might otherwise be or become. Since that nimbus of possibilities is determined by our imagination, it is an expression of a certain inadequacy in our ideas. Being able to see things clearly and adapt one’s emotional life accordingly, that is, to achieve a different perspective on the turmoils in which the world engulfs us, would be to achieve ‘blessedness’.
However, in order to achieve such a state it is not sufficient to assent to a general doctrine of determinism. According to Winch, the reasons for this are to be found in Spinoza’s conception of language and thought, since making a genuine judgement, which is equivalent to having an idea, requires more than simply assenting to a certain combination of words. Rather, a judgement or an idea essentially involves commitment, and this requires it be in harmony with the larger patterns of judgements (and thereby also of actions and responses) which characterise the life of the judging subject. In this way, metaphysical reflection has an ethical dimension, in the sense that general doctrines, if they are genuinely grasped, are also applied to the circumstances of one’s life. As Winch puts it, ‘One frees oneself from bondage not through “abstract knowledge of good and evil”, but through coming to understand the concrete particularities of one’s situation, one’s relation to the environment.’ 6
The notion of ‘the particularities of one’s situation’ bears special emphasis here. Confused ideas are the result of limitations in our necessarily perspectival view of the world. The route to blessedness goes through the progressive refinement of ideas towards greater adequacy, a refinement which goes hand in hand with an alteration of one’s conception of self; a diminution in the sense of importance ascribed to the particular bodily existent that is one’s body, and the replacement of a strict self/other distinction with a view of nature as an unbounded nexus of causes.
As already indicated, central to Winch’s reading of Spinoza is the latter’s account of what constitute genuine ideas. Winch takes the Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect (1662) as preparing the ground for the later Ethics (started in the 1660s, prepared by Spinoza for publication in 1674, but published only posthumously in 1677), and finds in them a conception of ideas according to which every genuine idea contains some truth within it. Putting it roughly, an idea is a judgement, and as such makes a truth claim about a certain thing’s being some way or another. Thus, not every kind of combination of a subject and a predicate qualifies as an idea. Ideas presuppose a genuine connection between subject and predicate, and therefore cannot be formed at will. To put it another way, judgements are identifiable as the judgements that they are by virtue of their content, that which they are about. Accordingly, even a false judgement enjoys a degree of success, for in making it one manages to say something meaningful. Therefore, for Spinoza, truth and falsity are not an all or nothing affair; there are grains of truth even in the most egregiously incorrect judgements. Falsity is a privation and so requires a relation to truth:

Only in relation to truth that there could be such a thing as falsity. I can be wrong about something if I’m right about something else, but I can’t be wrong about everything. What would I be wrong ‘about’? Moreover, I don’t need some general criterion by which to distinguish truth and falsity. ‘Truth is the standard both of itself and of the false.’ (EIIp43s, C 1:479) If I can think at all, there must be some truth in what I think and I must use this in order to sift out truth and falsity in the rest of what I think. 7
This conception of judgement secures the assumption that the mere exercise of the capacity to formulate judgements guarantees the existence of a ‘world’, of something beyond the particular judgement, which forms its subject matter. On Winch’s reading, the framework of substance, attributes and modes in the Ethics is therefore not designed to be an external guarantor of the possibility of true ideas, that is, of a distinct realm of independent objects to which our ideas correspond if they are true. Rather, the world is a presupposition for our having any ideas at all. Therefore, substance, attributes and modes as defined by Spinoza in the first book of the Ethics are to be treated as explications or preconditions of the possibility of ideas and as indications of their underlying structure. Spinoza’s definitions and axioms are thus not to be evaluated independently for their truth or plausibility (any more than Euclid’s axioms should be), but are justified if (and only if) they form an integral part of a coherent explication of the relation between thought and reality. Putting it another way, Winch takes the main driving force and presupposition in Spinoza’s reasoning to be a demonstration of the ultimate intelligibility of the world, which provides at the same time the explanation of our ability to speak meaningfully about it.
In a sense, Winch thereby turns the order of reasoning presented in the Ethics around and utilises his understanding of Spinoza’s conception of ‘ideas’ as judgements in Part II in order to shed light on the book’s opening definitions. According to this approach, we have – and so are entitled to start with – a given idea. As an idea, it is a judgement and hence a genuine connection of a subject with a predicate, as opposed to the mere putting together of words or images. Though such an idea might be inadequate in a number of respects and to a great degree, its being an idea of a world cannot be called into question – for the result of calling into question all given ideas would be to call into question even the idea that our ideas can all be called into question. Moreover, and more importantly, since Spinoza denies the metaphysical possibility of the world’s having been otherwise than it is, ‘a world’ must be ‘the world’. Thus, the world is a presupposition for having any ideas at all. Genuine thinking is always thinking about the world and therefore also always constrained by the world.
Because there is such a close relation between ideas and their objects, an investigation into the structure inherent in thought reveals at the same time the structure the world has. As much as our ideas belong to a system of ideas, so do their objects, bodies, belong to a physical system. For this reason, the object of the system of ideas is nothing but the physical system of cause and effect. According to Winch, this is what Spinoza tried to capture in the claim that both extension and thought are attributes of the same substance. Ideas and their physical objects belong to the same world and any genuine investigation into ideas or into bodies will form an aspect of a greater explanation in which the relations of ideas and objects are unified. Therefore, different investigations into the nature of the world form a systematic whole, and to have a full understanding of this nature would also entail grasping how these different investigations can and do form such a systematic connection. And so, in the opening definitions of the Ethics , where we find the definition of substance as conceived through itself and modes as conceived through something else, ‘we are exploring the structure of thinking. And this is, at the same time […] an exploration of the structure of reality’. 8
Winch tries to bring out some of the distinctive features of Spinoza’s system by reading them as a critique of Descartes’s conception of the relation between the world and ideas concerning it. He illustrates this by contrasting Spinoza’s treatment of method in De Emendatione with the radical skeptical doubt which drives the argument in the first chapters of the Meditations . In the latter, radical or methodological doubt is supposed to lead to the conclusion that, in a first instance, only the cogito, that is, that I myself exist and am a thinking thing, can be known with absolute certainty. The process of sceptical doubt requires that we remove our assent from every idea whose truth or accuracy has not been proven beyond all doubt. Virtually all ideas fail this test, given the unreliability of sense perception, the possibility of mistaking dreaming and being awake and, ultimately, the possibility of an evil genius constantly deceiving us. Indeed, so long as God is not introduced as an external guarantor for the truth of ideas, there is only one thought which is absolutely immune from sceptical doubt, namely that I am a thing that doubts, asserts, wills and senses – that is, a thinking thing.
As Winch emphasizes, in De Emendatione Spinoza argues that Cartesian doubt is a self-defeating process, because the state in which the sceptic would be left is unrecognisable as one of meaningful doubting. Apart from the fact that doubting is just an expression of insufficient knowledge rather than a method that can be applied on any occasion and to any idea simply through an act of will, if we are willing to use the concept of doubting without constraint we will succeed only in undermining intelligibility across the board, thus pulling the rug out from under our own feet:

On Spinoza’s argument, if Descartes’s recipe for his hyperbolical doubt is really taken seriously, it won’t even yield the cogito – that supposed paradigm of clearness and distinctness. It won’t yield that because it will equally undermine confidence in the intelligibility of our attempts to express the cogito. On Descartes’s argument we couldn’t even be sure we were expressing anything intelligible when we made those sounds. 9
The problem with Descartes’s method, therefore, is not merely that sceptical doubt as a method misunderstands the nature of doubt, but also that its ultimate result would be to undermine thought entirely. Since this is paradoxical, it shows that there must be some problem in the way that Descartes is conceiving of the process of doubting – and since to doubt is to suspend denial or assent regarding the truth or falsity of a particular idea, that problem must ultimately be located somewhere in the underlying structure of ideas, truth and acts of giving or withholding assent. The difference between Descartes and Spinoza regarding ideas turns not only on a difference regarding the nature of doubt and the character of ideas, but more fundamentally on their differing conceptions of what makes language meaningful. It is because of this concern that Spinoza attacks Descartes’s conception of true judgements as corresponding to how things are. Descartes, like many others, assumes that ideas are mental items distinct from the various objects of the external world that they represent, and that their truth and falsity is determined by the fact as to whether things are as the ideas represent them to be. He separates thought and world so radically from each other that there is no incoherence in supposing that all ideas that have any relation to the external world might be false; since for these ideas truth is a matter of correspondence with an external reality, we can simply select in our minds the totality of all ideas and suppose that for each of them the required correspondence relation fails to hold.
Winch’s Spinoza finds this picture unacceptable because it makes a mystery of how it is that we can make genuine, meaningful judgements. Starting from the Cartesian picture of ideas, no helpful investigation into the mind and its content can be undertaken. The difference, as Winch sees it, between Spinoza’s and Descartes’s conception can be spelled out as follows: Descartes takes ideas to be mental items that have content independent of their truth or falsity and it is therefore only once we willingly put together ideas and form judgements that the question of the truth of their content arises, that is, only then can we ask whether there is anything is in the world that corresponds to the judgement we have formed. Whereas, for Spinoza, as we have seen, we cannot separate the fixing of the content of a thought from that which determines its truth: the world is involved in specifying what our thought is about, and this involvement already guarantees that a given idea will contain some degree of truth. Furthermore, it is part of the nature of an idea to demand assent, doubt or rejection on part of the thinker; these postures of mind are essential to the character of the idea as such and are not incidental to it.
Accepting Spinoza’s view means reconsidering the notion of thinking. To make a claim of the form ‘I think’ is to abstract from particular acts of thinking, particular judgements of the form ‘I think that p’, which in turn have their content from simple unreflective judgements of the form ‘p’. The ‘I think’ does not describe an activity which is undertaken upon ideas, but is itself a particular kind of idea, intelligible only in relation to the other judgements to which it is related. Thus, in Spinoza we must start with an idea and self-reflective thoughts must come later, as a modification: ‘“Knowing” that we think is reflective, the primary fact is simply: that we think. And that primary thinking is, one might say, absorbed in its object.’ 10 In the network of ideas that is our mind, we may progressively refine our ideas and to move from lesser to greater adequacy in our thoughts. This is done not by an inner act of will but by tracing out the implications of one’s assertions and seeing how they fit or fail to fit together.
In this context, the idea ‘I think that p’ stands to ‘p’ as a framing device which allows me to shift my attention from the grounds which necessitate ‘p’ to the grounds which necessitate the state of my believing that ‘p’. By shifting between ‘the cat is on the mat’ and ‘I think that the cat is on the mat’ I may focus now on the relation between the cat and the mat, now on the relation between myself and the state of affairs of the cat’s being on the mat, and in so doing I can come to a richer understanding of the causal interrelations between myself, the cat, the mat and all the other surrounding factors which make possible both of these judgements. But this is only possible if we treat ‘I think that p’ as a thought on the same par as ‘p’ and not if we treat the ‘I think that’ as indicating an act different in kind to the idea which is its object.
However, by asserting that all judgements are to some extent true, Spinoza seems to create a difficulty for himself regarding the possibility of falsehood. After all, for a judgement to be false is for it to be deficient in some respect, but if reality fixes the content of judgements, it would seem that falsity is mere illusion. This seems counterintuitive to us, because of our preconception that truth and falsity are contradictories. But that all ideas have some degree of truth in them is precisely due to the fact that they are constrained by the world; they are to at least a minimal degree true because they are meaningful. At root here is, for Winch, a difficulty concerning the compatibility of causal determinism with there being such a thing as meaningful judgements. One may see this tension by explaining judgement as a type of free action; in judging that ‘p’ I am taking up a stand on how things are and it seems I am implicitly committed to my stance being right if things turn out one way and wrong if they turn out another. Understood in this way, judgement seems to involve a set of concepts which stand at odds with the categories by which we understand the natural world. By starting with a given true idea, Spinoza seems on first glance to help himself to the idea of content, and so to simply sidestep this difficulty. But in fact his position is more sophisticated than this. As we have seen, for Spinoza the structure of the world is at the same time the structure of all true ideas concerning it. An idea’s content is determined by its position within this network; just as one, for example, completely grasps the content of a Euclidean axiom only if one also grasps its role within Euclidean geometry. It is in this respect that Spinoza’s account can be seen as a form of coherence theory of truth, though as Winch points out, this terminology is somewhat misleading, since the coherence between ideas goes hand in hand with an identification of a ‘part’ of the physical world with which the idea is identical.
This account of content explains the content of a true belief by relating it to other true beliefs. In order to explain how falsity comes in to this picture, Winch focuses on the following passage:

As regards that which constitutes the reality of truth, it is certain that a true idea is distinguished from a false one not so much by its extrinsic object as by its intrinsic nature. If an architect conceives a building properly constructed, though such a building may never have existed and may never exist, nevertheless the idea is true; and the idea remains the same whether it be put into execution or not. On the other hand, if anyone asserts, for instance, that Peter exists without knowing whether Peter really exists or not, the assertion, so far as its asserter is concerned, is false, or not true even though Peter actually does exist. The assertion that Peter exists is true only with regard to him who knows for certain that Peter does exist. Whence it follows there is in ideas something real, whereby the true are distinguished from the false. 11
For Winch, Spinoza’s aim here is to relate the question of falsity back to the ability to make genuine judgements. The question of truth or falsehood can only arise when a genuine assertion is made, and that requires in turn that there be grounds on which the asserter can draw for making the assertion:

[On Spinoza’s] view […] the conditions under which somebody can be clearly said to be making an assertion include an understanding of some things which are undisputedly true of a given situation. Because without that – [i.e.] unless my words or my thoughts are surrounded by some understanding of how things actually are – my thoughts or my words don’t actually make any connection with the world at all. My words are just sounds. 12
To see how Spinoza distinguishes between doubt and error, we have to understand where precisely the difference between these two concepts lie – and it is not, as Descartes would have it, merely a question of being willing to suspend judgement in the case of doubt and assenting to a false proposition in the case of error. Rather, on Spinoza’s picture, when inadequate ideas make it clear that the data they are based on is insufficient for either an assertion or denial of the states of affairs they represent, the thinker will doubt them – not based on an act of will (as per Descartes), but on the force the idea has given its content and its relation to other ideas we hold as true. In the case of error, an idea seems to provide sufficient information to make an assertion when in fact it does not. In other words, the asserter feels constrained by circumstances to make a certain assertion, but that constraint is illusory; had they realised what they were trying to say, or understood better how things were, the feeling of constraint would disappear. The source of both, doubt and error, is the idea/judgement itself and its relation to the other ideas/judgements we hold.
No investigation into the nature of judgements would be complete without an account of negation. Pursuing this topic leads Winch from Spinoza’s theory of ideas into his metaphysics. As Winch points out, negation already plays an important role in Definition 6 of the first Book of the Ethics , where it is used to characterise the absolute infinite as that which involves no negation. By taking the intelligibility of the world and thus the nature of ideas (and the world) as Spinoza’s fundamental concern, Winch argues that the concept of negation as it appears in the book on substance and its attributes has to be read in light of his theory of judgements. A negative judgement, that is, a judgement that states that some A is not x, requires, in order to be understood, an assertion that some other B is x. But anything which requires something else in order to be understood cannot be substance, since substance is that which is conceived solely through itself. In the case of substance, there is nothing else which is required in order to understand it, which equally means that there is nothing limiting it. Now, it is also the case that on Spinoza’s picture of the world, every finite thing that exists, exists determinately. Therefore, some positive truth holds about every thing, that is, nothing in the world is ultimately characterized in a purely negative way. Accordingly, negative judgements (i.e. claims that things are not a certain way) are deficient insofar as they leave room for further positive characterisation; they are merely the tools of a finite understanding. To be forced to make a negative judgement is to reveal that not everything that can be said about the object of the judgement has in fact been said.
This raises the question of the role negative judgements play in any enquiry into the world. On the one hand, as finite beings, it seems as if we can hardly ever dispense with them when we are trying to state how things are. On the other hand, Spinoza suggests that all investigations into the world ultimately constitute a methodological whole, and must, therefore, resolve into an account which makes reference only to positive judgements. This raises the question of how this unifying process is to be carried out; how, in other words, are we to transition from our partial understanding towards a more perfect and systematic understanding of the whole? The key to this is seeing the objects of our judgements as belonging to a system, and so as standing in determinate and systematic relations with other items of the system. Mathematical truths provide an illustration of this kind of understanding, as for instance, in the way that the fact that the internal angles of a triangle sum to 180° follows from the axioms of Euclidean geometry. But Spinoza is committed to the view that all other kinds of judgements can be understood along the same lines.
However, as Winch notes, difficulties immediately arise when one tries to conceive of empirical judgements in these terms, as such judgements seem to presuppose an indefinite amount of background understanding to be adequately understood. For instance, in order to understand fully a simple statement regarding the scheduled departure of a train from one city to another, we must have sufficient knowledge of facts concerning cities, train networks, timetables and so on. Supposing that the truth of the proposition depends on a grasp of everything needed to forestall potential misunderstanding, the listener would need not only to understand the relevant facts of the social and historical milieu, but also to have knowledge of the mechanics of the world, up to and including knowledge of the laws of physics. The elements in this list are disparate and seemingly infinite in number. But, on Winch’s reading of Spinoza, they must form a unified system, and it must be possible, in principle at least, to grasp all of them, as well as the relations between them. This is taken by Spinoza to be an extension of the thought that judgement involves a genuine connection of subject and predicate, though it in fact goes beyond that assumption, as Winch notes:

The predicate is only genuinely connected with the subject (i.e. there is only a genuine judgement) insofar as the context in which the question is asked provides an answer. Insofar as a genuine question is raised, the procedure for answering it is also given; and the application of that procedure necessitates a particular answer. Spinoza is insisting (rightly, it seems to me) that the connection between subject and predicate in a judgement presupposes the form of enquiry to which the judgement belongs. He is also insisting (and this is more questionable) that a form of enquiry presupposes the possibility of giving definite answers to the questions it raises; and also (even more questionably) that there are no fundamental logical differences between different forms of enquiry involving different relations between the procedures for seeking answers and the giving of such answers. 13
Such a system of enquiry constrains the investigator in two ways. First, if we know everything relevant to settling the truth of a judgement, then the judgement is not only necessarily true, but the recognition of that truth is also non-optional for us, since we are constrained by our insight to assent to it. Second, all of the different forms of enquiry must belong to a single system, so that an adequate understanding would also entail grasping the relations between the different methods and the different pieces of knowledge which these methods yield. Thus, the more one knows, the more one’s thought is constrained in the assertions that one can make.
Elaborating the background knowledge presupposed in a judgement is part of the process by which we verify the truth of the judgement in question. We can only recognize its truth to the degree we see how it fits within the total chain of causes. Thus, for any question as to why things are as they are, there will be a sufficient answer. For there to be a further why-question without such an answer or for us to stop without having grasped the whole of nature would be for justification to have come to end in an arbitrary way. It is not that there cannot be an end to investigation and justification, but, as Winch says,

the point at which we stop, if there is to be a real connection with the world, has got to be dictated by the nature of the world. You stop not because you’re not going to say any more, but because there is nothing more to say. And I suppose [Spinoza] would think that is only the case when you have reached something that is self-explanatory or self-evident, which is, to use his terminology, the cause of itself. 14
According to Winch, it is at this point that substance enters into Spinoza’s system as providing the necessary brake on this regress and ensuring that the system of thought is not undermined by inexplicable, ‘brute’ facts. In this way, substance as that which is not and cannot be limited by anything outside of itself, which is and is conceived through itself, is required as the explanation as to how there can be an end to enquiry that is given by the nature of the object of the enquiry, namely the world: the self-explanatory or self-evident thing that is the cause of itself.
While the unity of various methods is guaranteed by the assumption of a self-explanatory whole, there is also the question of the right method and its starting point. Since Spinoza’s overarching aim is to gain an understanding of the world, and thereby also an improvement of the understanding, and his hope is presumably that, in following his thought, the understanding of his readers will likewise be improved, it is important that we can refine the inadequate material we are given by the world. But it is not as if we have to find a method (such as Cartesian doubt) and successively apply it to each of our individual ideas. Rather, the method we use cannot be independent of our given ideas. In order to illustrate this point, Spinoza uses an analogy with the progressive refinement of a tool: We may improve a tool as we go along and as we discover limitations in its use over time, but to have even begun the process, we must have started with a primitive tool. That first tool, however crude it might have been, must have preceded the process of its refinement. 15 Winch takes this analogy between the method for improving ideas and refining tools to mean that, for Spinoza, there is ‘no real division between an enquiry and an investigation of how to conduct the enquiry’. 16 After all, just as there was an original primitive tool that has been refined over time and has grown more efficient in preforming the task at hand, so we have a given true idea and the method for improving understanding follows from our understanding of the original enquiry. ‘Method is thus a form of “reflective” knowledge. The original “tool” is “the true idea”.’ 17
In the process of improving our judgements, we broaden our attention from immediate circumstances, from our individual perspective, to the wider web of causal connections, and in so doing progress towards a greater degree of adequacy in our thought. This process of expanding the adequacy of our ideas also has an ethical dimension, in that it draws the individual out of herself, out of preoccupation with the relations of things to her particular perspective, and into a contemplation of the timeless, unchanging and impersonal order of the world. But this strive for adequacy should not let us forget that the individual enquirer is nonetheless deeply embedded in their particular circumstances and is bound to start from an individual perspective. Since Spinoza holds that the mind is nothing but the idea of the body, this perspective is first and foremost determined by one’s own physical body. But our understanding of the body in question, according to Winch, has to go beyond the purely geometrical or physical view that seems to be suggested in the second part of the Ethics . 18 From an ethical perspective, a person’s identity is to be understood not only in terms of the external physical forces taking hold of him or in terms of the geometrical properties of his physical form, but also in terms of ‘a certain coherence in the way that he lives’. 19 Just as our empirical statements cannot be understood in isolation, but can only be meaningful in relation to their surrounding context, ‘man’ for Winch’s Spinoza cannot be reduced to an isolated physical object, but only be understood adequately when considered not only in its relations to his surroundings, but also in his interests and the kind of life he leads.
On this view, the boundaries of the individual are not to be drawn solely through the results of a practical test concerning the exertion of physical control, but are equally to be determined through a clarification of what one is interested in. The question is not merely ‘What can I make happen?’ but also ‘What do I have a stake in?’. In other words, the boundaries of the individual are defined through one’s vulnerabilities as much as through one’s powers. But as we have seen, the refinement of one’s understanding that comes from moving from inadequate to adequate knowledge involves coming to see that our original suppositions concerning the causes of things are deeply confused and thus the way we allow for things to influence us is misguided. Our original egocentric perspective makes us regard our surroundings under the notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, since we are ignorant of the causes and effects of men’s actions. But we can free ourselves from this ‘human bondage’ by increasing our understanding of the causes and thus becoming freer, more active. Moreover,

Because ideas are modes which are also expressed under the attribute of extension, a man whose ideas become increasingly adequate will also undergo a bodily change […]: a man whose ideas are adequate will live differently from one whose ideas are inadequate, live in such a way that his own body is not the centre of his activities. In a sense he will increasingly come to treat the whole extended universe as ‘his body’. 20
Thus, for Winch, an important part of Spinoza’s project is a clarification of what it means to be human, of how to find room for the particularities of human life, including judgement, within a conception of the world as understood sub specie aeternitatis and as fully determined. Winch’s Spinoza is driven by the belief that the world is ultimately intelligible and that it is through the refinement of our ideas that we come to see things as they are, for, however difficult the circumstances of our lives may be, our ideas provide us with all the material that we need to attain a clearer view on our situation, and thereby transcend it.
Throughout his seminars, Winch advances a reading of Spinoza’s work which shows the inseparability of his metaphysical doctrines from questions of language and meaning as well as from the ethical vision that gives them their purpose. We hope this collection will serve as a useful resource for readers making their own way through Spinoza’s philosophical system.

1 Peter Winch, ‘Review of Jonathan Bennett’s A Study of Spinoza’s Ethics ’. Philosophical Investigations 9:2 (1986): 140–52.
2 Peter Winch, ‘Mind, Body & Ethics in Spinoza’. Philosophical Investigations 18:3 (1995): 216–34.
3 See, for example, his discussion of Simone Weil's concept of ‘the void’ in comparison to Spinoza’s thought (Peter Winch, Simone Weil. The Just Balance . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989, 120–25) and his passing comment on the similarity in Spinoza’s and Wittgenstein’s accounts of the will (‘Wittgenstein’s Treatment of the Will’, in Ethics and Action , London: Routledge, 1972, 117).
4 This volume, p. x.
5 This volume, p. x.
6 This volume, p. x.
7 This volume, p. x.
8 This volume, p. x.
9 This volume, p. x.
10 This volume, p. x, n. XX.
11 TIE; Elw 26/C 1:31.
12 This volume, p. 15.
13 This volume, p. x.
14 This volume, p. x.
15 TIE; C 1:16–17.
16 This volume, p. x.
17 Ibid.
18 For an elaboration of these ideas, see David Cockburn’s ‘Winch, Spinoza and the Human Body’ in this volume.
19 This volume, p. x.
20 This volume, p. x.
Winch, Spinoza and the Human Body
David Cockburn
1. Peter Winch is, one might think, a very different kind of philosopher from Spinoza. While one might expect the ethical slant of Spinoza’s thinking to be attractive to him, there is, even here, a radical difference. For, as Spinoza sees things, while it may be true that geometry cannot show a man where he should stand, philosophy can , through a demonstration by strict geometrical method of the truth about the world, show a man what he should attach importance to. This is ‘metaphysics’ in just the (or a) sense of which Winch was, I take it, deeply suspicious. It involves a picture of the place of ethical thought in relation to thought of other forms – a picture in which ethical thinking is systematically the dependent partner – against which I believe much of Winch’s work can be read as a protest. And it involves a picture of ‘proof’ in philosophy – a picture in which philosophy is to be seen at its purest in deductive reasoning on the printed page – that is radically at odds with Winch’s own philosophical practice. Whether it is, in fact, within a ‘meta-philosophical’ framework of this form that the value of Spinoza’s thought is best appreciated is a question to which I will return.
The focus of my discussion will be Winch’s treatment of the place of the human body in Spinoza’s thinking. In contrast to Descartes (as commonly read), who thinks of mind and body as two distinct substances in causal interaction, Spinoza argues that ‘the Mind and the Body are one and the same thing, which is conceived now under the attribute of Thought, now under the attribute of Extension’ (EIIp21s). It can be tempting at this point to try to fit Spinoza into one or another of the familiar positions available within the philosophy of mind today. The greatest temptation for one with Wittgensteinian leanings may be to read Spinoza as giving central place to the notion of a human being: a single thing – this biological entity – that may be conceived in two radically different ways: as thinking and as extended.
There are strands in Spinoza’s thinking that might fit quite well with such an approach. One is the importance he attaches to the notion of ‘conatus’: to the idea that ‘everything, in so far as it is in itself, endeavours to persist in its own being’ (EIIIp6). While it is not, perhaps, wholly wrong, to read this as an empirical claim about the behaviour of a certain class of entities with which we are familiar – individual things such as trees, dogs, houses and mountains – it may be closer to the mark to read it in the opposite direction: as the suggestion that something counts as an ‘individual thing’ in so far as it manifests a tendency to self-preservation. And it is, one might plausibly suppose, biological organisms, including the living human being, that provide Spinoza’s paradigm of ‘individual things’ understood in this way.
One thing, highlighted by Winch, that counts against a close assimilation of Spinoza and Wittgenstein at this point is the fact that the former is still firmly in the grip of the Cartesian categories of the ‘mental’ and the ‘physical’ in a way that cuts across most of our normal characterisations of the thought and behaviour of human beings: characterisations of a kind that are central to Wittgenstein’s treatment of these matters. Rather than develop that, however, I will focus on another strand of Spinoza’s thinking that is in radical conflict with any proposed assimilation to Wittgenstein.
Winch notes: ‘Spinoza wishes above all to emphasise […] the place of the human body [and so also of the human mind] in an infinite natural order; its total dependence, in respect of both its origin and its continued functioning, on external physical conditions over which it has no control’ (this volume, p. 73). Now this emphasis, as Spinoza develops it, has radical implications for, among much else, our normal thought about others. A central feature of our everyday relations with other human beings is the way in which we love or hate them, feel gratitude or anger towards them and so on. The reason for this, according to Spinoza (this is Winch’s formulation), ‘is that we do not see and do not take any account of – indeed because we deny that – the nature and actions of the object of our love or hatred are themselves caused by further features of the environment’. Freed of the illusion of contra-causal free will, our reactions of love or anger (again Winch) ‘wouldn’t be focussed solely on this person; it would be spread out over everything that I understand to be a contributory factor’. Our attachments to (or hatreds of) particular human beings, along with the special place that human beings , in contrast with other things, have in our thinking, are a mistake : a mistake that flows from our ignorance of the causes of their behaviour.
There are things in Spinoza’s thinking there that should, I believe, strike us as pretty implausible. It is, however, worth noting that, as Winch stresses, Spinoza himself insists that the mere correction of this mistaken belief – the belief that human beings are exempt from the network of causes that governs the behaviour of other things – will not dislodge the special place that other human beings have in our thinking. What we might, much more plausibly, suppose would dislodge it is a constant vivid awareness of that network of causes. If we agreed that such an awareness was an ideal to be aspired to, we might find that we are drawn a good way down Spinoza’s path: one in which other human beings – understood as these particular biological organisms with faces, arms, legs and so on – will have nothing like their familiar place in the thought of one who is thinking clearly.
2. ‘The Mind and the Body are one and the same thing, which is conceived now under the attribute of Thought, now under the attribute of Extension’ (EIIp21s). How we understand this will turn on how we think of the relation between the two attributes: thought and extension. Consider these articulations: ‘The object of the idea constituting the human Mind is the Body’; 1 and, whatever happens in this Body ‘there will necessarily be an idea of that thing in the Mind’. 2 A natural reading of these remarks will understand Spinoza to be taking as given a familiar idea of the body, and suggesting that we can, through that, come to an understanding of what the human mind is. 3 And, with nothing else to go on, we might assume that when Spinoza speaks of ‘the human body’ he is speaking of this biological organism. Spinoza may then emerge as a champion of some form of the familiar identity theory in which each of my mental states is one and the same thing as some physical state of this body.
Winch argues, however, that, while Spinoza is at times drawn in this direction, there is also something quite different, and much more interesting, going on in his thinking. If we reverse our reading, giving priority not to the attribute of extension but to that of thought , we will read Spinoza as taking as given something like our current idea of an individual human mind and, through that, proposing a radical rethinking of our understanding of what constitutes ‘the human body’. It is in this spirit that Winch suggests that the identity of a human body is not, for Spinoza, to be conceived on a biological model: is not to be conceived in terms of the creature of flesh and bone that a doctor would call the same living body from birth to death. Rather, as Winch expresses it, ‘what counts as “my body” is settled by its being a portion of the material world of which I have a certain sort of understanding’ and thus, insofar as I have an adequate idea of a certain tree, that tree is part of my body – or, as we might equally say, of me. 4
In the lectures, Winch wobbles over the question of whether, and in which direction, Spinoza gives some priority to one of the two attributes: thought or extension. My sense is that these wobbles mirror wobbles in the Ethics . At any rate, while it is difficult to doubt that Spinoza is sometimes drawn to something akin to modern, physicalist, forms of identity theory, there is also much in what he says that clearly does not sit easily with that. 5 Overall, Winch suggests, we will make a good deal more philosophical sense of Spinoza – the text will hang together more clearly, and there will be more to learn from it – if we read him in the way he proposes. I will quote one extended passage from Winch’s review of Jonathan Bennett’s book that I think particularly suggestive:

It implies that the dynamic system constituting the body of a human being consists not just in the complex system of physiological sub-systems which is its ‘life’ in the medical sense. It comprises also the equally complex system of sub-systems of motion and rest that is his ‘life’ (in the sense that is of interest to his biographer rather than to his physician). One difficulty in being clear about Spinoza’s position is that he would not have recognised any fundamental conceptual distinction in the above two uses of the word ‘life’. Hence he would no doubt have regarded the contribution of a ballet dancer’s prowess at his dancing to his life as just the same in kind as the contribution made by the functioning of his liver. However, it is important not to overlook the possibility of turning this point round. The nature and health of something like the liver’s functioning can be assessed only in the light of a standard of health provided by the peculiar nature of the subject’s life – where the word ‘life’ is being used in the biographer’s rather than the physician’s sense. […] Better than calling Spinoza’s ethical theory ‘medical or psychotherapeutic’ would be calling his medical and psychotherapeutic theory ‘ethical’. 6
3. The following charge might be made against Spinoza as read by Winch. While it may be true that Spinoza is not at all concerned to conform to everyday usage of key terms – for he believes that everyday usage embodies serious distortions – to speak of what constitutes ‘my body’ in this way is simply to highjack a perfectly good everyday term: putting it to a quite different use in a way that is bound to cause confusion; and, perhaps, through presenting what may be a useful metaphor – that of my body incorporating everything of which I have an adequate understanding – as a claim to literal truth, creating a specious impression of profundity.
I believe this charge is misplaced. For one thing, as Winch observes, it is a fiction to suppose that in everyday usage the reference of the phrase ‘my body’ is this physiological organism (a fiction that may owe much of its mesmerizing force to Descartes). For another (as I don’t believe Winch does observe), Spinoza can be seen here to be thinking through, more consistently than others, the implications of the assumption that the appropriate starting point of reflection on what a person is is a reflection on what I am; or, perhaps better, reflection on the individual in abstraction from relations in which he or she stands to others.
Thus, suppose that, approaching things from this, Cartesian, perspective, we ask: what is involved in the idea that this biological organism is ‘my body’; or, as Spinoza could equally comfortably express it, is ‘me’? At a more particular level, what is the substance of the idea that these hands are part of my body / of me – in a sense in which the pen that I hold is not? In response to this question we might speak, among other things, of special forms of knowledge and experience that I have of this body, of the special place that this body has in my knowledge and experience of other things, and of the special place that it has in my action in the world.
Focusing on the last of these, suppose that we think of the special place of my body like this: ‘my body’ is that object that I can control ‘directly’. For example, I can raise my arm directly, but only raise this pen by doing something else: perhaps, closing my fingers round it and raising my hand. Now that, of course, is not a way of expressing the matter with which Descartes could be happy. For him, what I may do ‘directly’ is limited to the mental realm: the movement of the hand being simply one step along the causal chain that runs from the act of will, through brain events and muscle contractions, and on to changes in the world beyond my body such as pen risings and door openings. A Cartesian of a certain stripe might seek to procure some more or less privileged position for the hand movement within this sequence. But this may be no easy matter. If there is a sense in which I often move my arms and hands ‘directly’, it is one in which what I do ‘directly’ is often at some distance from ‘my body’ in the sense of this physiological organism. Consider the sculptor’s relation to her tools and to the block of stone on which she is working. All her attention may be focused on her equipment and on the stone. Perhaps she has no more conception of how her hands must move if she is to get the nose right than she has of how her arm muscles must move. In the context of our practical engagements with the world there is often a sense in which parts of the world other than this physical organism are ‘closer’ to me than it is. From the immediate perspective of one, such as the sculptor, absorbed in some activity, there is a sense in which the grounds for saying that, for example, the chisel is part of her may be better than are those for saying that these hands are; that is, there is a sense in which the line that we may draw round ‘her body’ – in the sense of this physiological organism – may not be of deep significance.
I distinguished the special forms of knowledge and experience that I have of this body, the special place that this body has in my knowledge and experience of other things, and the special place that it has in my action in the world. But in speaking of the last of these I have inevitably spoken of the other two. One problem in the ‘Cartesian’ picture of the self as located within the body is its representation of the individual’s place in – or, truer to his image, ‘relation to’ – the world as lying in a two-way causal interaction with it: my relation to other things in the world being primarily a matter of them having certain effects on me in perception, and me on them in action. But exploring the world through sight or touch is itself a form of activity; and one in which, in many cases, ‘learning about’ something and ‘acting on’ it cannot be clearly separated. We know things through, or better in , handling and manipulating them. I act on a thing in exploring it with my hands; and in bringing about changes in it I am aware of those changes. 7
I have presented these considerations as raising a problem for a mind-body dualism of the kind presented by Descartes (along with at least some of its brain-body dualism descendants): given their general picture of the person they can give no adequate account of the special place that the human body – this biological organism – has in our understanding of what we are. It might, however, be more relevant to a discussion of Spinoza (at least, to Spinoza as Winch invites us to read him) to turn the points round: to think of them as suggesting a possible radical revision of our normal picture of ourselves and our situation in the world. It is in this spirit that I now wish to pursue it. (Though one might add: a failure to keep these two projects clearly distinct in one’s thinking might well contribute to a sense that ‘metaphysical’ reflection on what we are provides a grounding for the ethical revision. If one starts from the perspective of the Cartesian question ‘What, of the objects I encounter in the world, constitutes my body, or a part of it?’ it may appear that there is no possibility of retaining a special place for this biological organism as opposed to something larger (or, perhaps, smaller).)
3. An analogy that Winch discusses in his book on Simone Weil – that of the blind man’s stick – is helpful here. Weil writes:

Let the whole universe be for me, in relation to my body, what the stick of a blind man is in relation to his hand. His sensibility really no longer resides in his hand, but at the end of the stick. […] The relationship between I and the world. I am such and such a star, in the sense that, when I write, the pen is a part of my body, and in the sense that, when I press the fraise down on to the metal it is at their point of contact that the centre of my existence lies, and in the sense that, when I look at a picture, […] and in other ways besides. 8
Weil derives the analogy of the blind man’s stick from Descartes (curiously, without remarking that he employs it to ends more or less diametrically opposed to hers 9 ). While, so far as I am aware, Spinoza does not himself employ this analogy, it is clear that Weil has Spinoza very much in mind in her discussion at this point. One explicit reference is this: ‘Effective liberation as regards the body; the blind man’s stick furnishes the key to it. Hence Spinoza’s Principle “He who possesses a body capable of the greatest number of activities, possesses a mind whereof the greatest part is eternal [ Ethics V, XXXIX].”’ 10 In his lectures on Spinoza, Winch offers the following elucidation of that Principle: ‘A man whose ideas are adequate will live differently from one whose ideas are inadequate: live in such a way that his own body is not the centre of his activities. In a sense he will increasingly come to treat the whole extended universe as “his body”’ (this volume, p. xx). In his book on Weil he offers a parallel reading of the parallel, Spinozistic, remarks in her work: ‘What happens outside our bodies [can come] to have a significance for us as great as, or greater than, what happens in our bodies themselves. I can extend my sensibility in such a way that I no longer locate myself and my well-being in my (biological) body.’ 11 Now, while there may be substantial grounds in Spinoza, and some grounds in Weil, for reading their remarks in this way, I think it might be more philosophically illuminating – and, in a sense, philosophically accurate – to develop the image of the blind man’s stick rather differently.
Merleau-Ponty puts it this way:

Once the stick has become a familiar instrument, the world of feelable things recedes and now begins, not at the outer skin of the hand, but at the end of the stick. […] [H]abit does not consist in interpreting the pressures of the stick on the hand as indications of certain positions of the stick, and these as signs of an external object, since it relieves us of the necessity of doing so. The pressures on the hand and the stick are no longer given; the stick is no longer an object perceived by the blind man, but an instrument with which he perceives. 12
Closely parallel to this, Weil remarks: ‘His sensibility really no longer resides in his hand, but at the end of the stick.’ (Simone Weil, Notebooks , 19). The suggestion here is not of the form: I may come to care about – my attention and concern may come to focus on – other aspects of the world in ways akin to that in which I now care about my own body (myself). For as Merleau-Ponty conceives the matter it is through the blind man’s stick ceasing to be an object of his attention that it becomes, in a sense, a part of his body (a part of him). The blind man’s stick is an ‘extension of his body’, not in a sense in which his concern and attention focus on it , but in a sense in which it transforms the character of his attention to other things.
4. I want to relate this to the kinds of change in our patterns of thought and concern that Spinoza and Weil call for. Remember Spinoza’s suggestion that ‘reason […] demands that every man should love himself, should seek that which is useful to him’. How does this sit with what is surely his radical critique of the pervasive ‘egoism’ of everyday thought? Winch’s treatment of the body may suggest the following picture. Everyday egoism is to be overcome, not through an abandonment of the exclusive pursuit of my own good, but through a transformation in my understanding of what constitutes ‘my’ good: in my understanding of what constitutes ‘ me ’.
I believe, however, that something goes wrong there. I suggested that what marks something as a feature of ‘my body’ is, not so much its being a special focus of my attention and concern, but the place that it has in the character of my attention to other things. With that, the pervasive failure in human life that Spinoza seeks to correct may be best construed, not so much as an exclusive focus of concern and attention on myself (‘myself’ as normally understood), as a bias in the focus of my concern and attention on other things. While there is of course such a thing as obsessive preoccupation with oneself, this must be distinguished from something quite different: a preoccupation, not with oneself, but with what immediately surrounds one – whether that be my children, this landscape or the last piece of cake: an interest, that is, in which I may be completely absent.
Thinking of Weil’s image in these terms, we might suppose that the ideal is a condition in which I have an awareness of ‘everything’ of the same form as that which the blind man has, not of his stick, but of what lies at its end. We are to feel what is happening (e.g. the sufferings of people hundreds of years ago); not simply observe it as something happening a long way off. Feel it as the blind man feels what is at the end of his stick while his sighted companion only sees it. Feel it as most of us, as we are now, may feel for our family and friends, the landscape on our doorstep, or what happened yesterday or last week; but, in any meaningful form, little beyond. (The sense of touch providing, for reasons that are very relevant here, the model for engaged awareness.) This proposal does not, however, quite fit the image as Weil develops it. For it is to my (or, as she expresses it, ‘my body’s’) relation to ‘ the universe’ that Weil likens the relation of the blind man (or ‘his hand’) to his stick. Now, if we take this seriously we cannot help but ask: what am I to be aware of through ‘the universe’ – which is to become for me a second body – as the blind man is aware of the step through his stick? Weil answers: ‘Blind man’s stick making it possible to touch God’. But how are we to understand that ? The passage continues: ‘Ceremonies? Sacred chants? Sacraments? / In the phenomenon of the blind man’s stick, analogy plays a part, but it is also a question of contact’. 13 Switching analogies: the sculptor’s sensibility no longer resides in her hand, but at the end of her chisel: at the point of contact with the stone. She has contact with the block of stone in so far as her handling of the chisel is guided by the changes produced in the stone. With that, her activity is to be judged in purposive terms: in terms of the changes wrought in the stone. If, as Weil invites us to, we think of contact with God on this model, we will note a fundamental disanalogy (and that, perhaps, is partly why she finds the image helpful). Such contact is manifested in ‘ceremonies, sacred chants and sacraments’: that is in non -purposive activities – activities in which my handling of particular things is not guided by, and my success is not to be judged in terms of, changes produced in anything else.
As I have presented Weil, we may think of the ideal as one in which the familiar bodily human being lives a life structured by an astonishingly transformed pattern of awareness and concern. We might, I think, add: each one of us is to live in this way. It is relevant to this that Weil’s appeal to the blind man’s stick as an image of ‘the relationship between I and the world’ is qualified in one crucial respect: ‘The relationship between me and another man can’, she writes, ‘never be analogous to the relationship between a blind man and his stick’ ( Notebooks , 24). For reasons on which I have touched, there may be no place for such a qualification in Spinoza. With that, if we take seriously Winch’s reading of Spinoza, this way of thinking of the ideal – as something to be aspired to by each of us – would surely involve a failure fully to assimilate the proposed revision in my understanding of myself. For it fails to give due weight to the fact that these biological organisms – that which I take myself to be, and those that I take others to be – will occupy no special place in my thought in so far as I am thinking clearly. We fail, then, to take Spinoza’s image seriously if we think in terms of a transformation of the concerns and engagements of the familiar bodily human being: for example, of the man we know as Spinoza. Thus, Spinoza articulates the ideal in this way: ‘that the minds and bodies of all should form, as it were, one single mind and one single body, and that all should, with one consent, as far as they are able, endeavour to preserve their being, and all with one consent seek what is useful to them all’. 14 How far the image is really one that we are able to think through in a comprehensive way is a moot question. 15 But one thing, I take it, is clear. What Spinoza offers us can provide little consolation to the everyday egoist: not simply because the joys on offer are ones that are unlikely to appeal to him; but also because, to the extent that he moves in this direction, he (in the sense that, in his egoism, concerns him) will not be the recipient of them.
5. It can be tempting, at least for philosophers of the kind who like to keep their feet fairly firmly on the ground, to suggest that Spinoza’s more radical articulations of his views on mind and body are simply suggestive metaphors or analogies – not to be treated as claims to literal truth. I believe that Winch’s discussions should discourage any casual appeal to that contrast here: at any rate, should encourage the thought that there are things to be learned from pressing the core images as far as one is able. I do not know how far that might be. I do want to suggest – though with no more grounding than whatever my paper may already have supplied – that how far we, as philosophers , are able to take the images seriously is inseparable from a sense of what would be involved in practice in doing so.
I suggested at the start that Spinoza offers us ‘metaphysics’ in just the sense of which Winch was deeply suspicious: suspicious, in particular, of any suggestion that an attempt to get clear about the proper way to live is dependent on getting clear about the kind of being that I am and my place in the world. In practice, the radical transformation in our understanding of the human body suggested by Spinoza is, I am now suggesting, dependent on a radical transformation in our sense of what is proper in our awareness of and relation to other things: dependent on the conviction that the proper view of things is a view sub specie aeternitatis ; and, with that, a view in which bodily human beings have no special place. A defence of the idea that this is the way to think of the body is dependent on a defence of that ideal. The coherence of the metaphysics stands or falls with the coherence on the moral vision. And coming to think of my body – of myself – in this way is dependent on (or possibly better: is one and the same thing as) my coming to have a structure of concerns of that form. That is to say, Spinoza’s official understanding of the relation between ethics and metaphysics – as reflected in the structure of his book The Ethics – is upside down. This is a view with which I have very little doubt Winch would wholeheartedly agree.

1 EIIp13.
2 EIIp12.
3 Spinoza invites this reading when he writes, ‘in order to determine, wherein the human mind differs from other things, and wherein it surpasses them, it is necessary for us to know the nature of its object, that is, of the human body’ (EIIp13Note). And Winch seems clearly to endorse this reading when he writes:

Since the mind is the idea of this body, in order to understand what the human mind is, you’ve got to understand what the human body is. And it’s a bit hard to see how he could do it the other way round. Particularly as, you see, in order to specify the ideas that are in question, you would precisely have to identify them as ideas of this body. They actually have no reality except as ideas of this body. So it doesn’t look to me as if the relation between those attributes can be symmetrical. (unpublished correspondence)
4 Winch offers a range of formulations, not all obviously consistent. He speaks of a person’s body as ‘what goes into the conception someone has of him or herself’, and as ‘as much of the physical world as is necessary if we wish to describe the kind of life necessary to the fulfilment of the man’s deepest interests’. Again, he writes: ‘My body involves any physical aspect of the world in which I have an involvement, in the sense that […] there is something that can be said about it in which reference to me has an essential part’; and

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