Spinoza’s Ethics – Appendix
Spinoza believes that God is the only necessary substance, and that all things happen by necessity because of God’s infinite and perfect nature. However, people may have trouble grasping this notion because of prejudices they have about the nature of causes.
People are born without knowledge of the causes of things and consciously pursue what is beneficial to themselves. Therefore, people think they are free because they do not know the causes of their actions. Also, they pursue ends that benefit themselves, and the only causes they care about are those which lead to the ends they seek.
There are many things in nature which fulfill people’s needs. Humans have eyes to see, the sun for warmth, and animals for food. There are an endless number of things in nature that cause people’s needs and desires to be fulfilled. Because people only care about the final causes of things, they think that all natural things exist to benefit humanity. The people don’t think of the previous causes that caused these things. People further believe that if all natural things exist to benefit humanity then something must have created them for this purpose.
Because of these notions, people conceive of a God or gods that are responsible for creating these things. Humans have no way of knowing what these gods are like so, drawing on their own experiences and imagination; they imagine what the gods are like. They attribute human emotions to God and decide that God created all things for the benefit of humans, which were created to benefit God. People begin to conceive of ways that they could better please God and subsequently receive more benefits from God. Because people feel that all things happen for a reason (to benefit humanity), they begin to look for the causes of all events. But there are horrible things that happen in the world. People conclude that God causes these things in order to punish bad people. But it can be seen that bad things happen to good, as well as bad people. So these people will begin to believe that all things have a purpose determined by God, but the human mind is too feeble to understand the reasons for some things. People will appeal to this same ignorance in trying to determine the cause of all things.
Humans tend to believe that all things act for an end. But if God caused things to happen for some end then he wouldn’t be perfect because he would be lacking something. Therefore the benefit of humans cannot be the final end, because before humans were created God would lack something of great importance, making him imperfect.
Since people believe that everything that exists exists for their benefit, they judge things based on how it benefits or harms them. People determine what’s good and bad based on how something affects their senses. And because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, many different beliefs about the nature of the universe and God have arisen. And because these are beliefs created out of each individuals own personal bias, everyone cannot agree on the truth. This is because there are no truths to be found in these imaginary, personally biased beliefs. If they were true then everyone could appreciate the truth even if they didn’t understand it, like mathematics.
People with these prejudices might ask why there is evil in the world if God is perfect. Spinoza would reply that perfection is not to be based on how something affects a person, because things don’t happen for the end of benefiting humanity, but rather out of necessity. Everything that can happen does happen.