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P. Eisenberg

How to Understand
“De Intellectus Emendatione”

Journal of the History of Philosophy, 9 (1971)

... The discussion so far has focused (or has been intended to focus) primarily upon the meaning of emendatio in the phrase intellectus emendatio. Necessarily, in the course of this discussion I have had to speak often about the intellectus itself, or about Spinoza’s conception of it; indeed, the reader may think that I have said far too much about it – too much, that is, in view of the fact that I have not yet indicated clearly what it is (or what Spinoza conceives it to be).

What, then, is the nature of intellectus, according to Spinoza? And what word or words (if any) in English adequately express what Spinoza means by the word intellectus? To take the latter question first: no one has disputed or could reasonably dispute that that Latin word (as Spinoza employs it in the TDIE) is adequately translated either by ‘intellect’ or by ‘understanding’. The only problem which the translator faces in connection with intellectus is posed by the fact that, throughout the treatise, Spinoza uses two other words which derive from the same Latin root and which should, if possible, be translated by words which are obviously “of the same family.” These two other words are the verb, intelligere, and the noun, intellectio. Thus the English translator has the choice of rendering intellectus by ‘intellect’ and, correspondingly, intelligere by ‘to intellect’ and intellectio by ‘intellection’; or of rendering intellectus by ‘(the) understanding’ and, correspondingly, intelligere by ‘to understand’ and intellectio again by ‘understanding’ – i.e., the (so-called) act of understanding as distinct from that which does the understanding (namely, the intellectus). Since, however, ‘intellect’ is not used in ordinary English as a verb and since ‘intellection’ is used only infrequently – since, moreover, intelligere is a quite ordinary Latin verb and since Spinoza does not give it a technical sense, the choice is easily made. In this commentary, however, I shall continue on occasion to translate intellectus by ‘intellect’ and intellectio by ‘intellection’. 11

Next, with regard to the nature of intellectus as Spinoza conceives it, we know already that Spinoza in the TDIE often identifies it simply with mind as such but that, apparently, his true doctrine is that it is a “level” or a “part” of the mind. That the latter is his true doctrine and that he does not simply vacillate between the one view and the other is indicated by the fact that Spinoza, although he sometimes comes close to saying (cf. the discussion on pp. 173-175 above), never actually does say that the intellect contains or may contain imaginational impurities within itself although he certainly does say that the mind may contain or usually does contain such impurities; and though often he contrasts intellectus (or intellectio) [178] with imaginatio, he never contrasts (e.g.) mens with imaginatio. 12 Since or insofar as Spinoza does, however, sometimes identify the understanding with the mind, the nature of the former cannot be indicated without indicating also the nature of the latter. But at this point I wish to consider the intellect primarily as it figures in Spinoza’s true doctrine; for the exposition and explication of Spinoza’s conception of the mind (and so of the understanding when it is identified with the mind) lead us immediately to views which are central to Spinoza’s metaphysics and discussion of which, therefore, may or indeed should be omitted at this relatively early point in the commentary.

Perhaps it may be best to begin by considering the view of understanding that Spinoza presents in his Short Treatise, a work which apparently he completed only shortly before his first draft of the TDIE. In the first of two Dialogues inserted between Chapters II and III in Bk. I of the Short Treatise (or, in Dutch, Korte Verhandeling), 13 Spinoza represents an exchange of views between Verstand, de Liefde, de Reede, en de Begeerlykheid (i.e., ‘Understanding, 14 Love, Reason, and Desire’) – all of them, of course, personified. Unfortunately, he does not make it clear here or later in the Short Treatise what exactly the distinction between Verstand and Reede is supposed to be. But very probably Wolf is correct in maintaining 15 that the former – i.e., Understanding – “represents the highest form of knowledge, namely, knowledge by way of immediate intuition. Reason, on the other hand, represents the lower grade of knowledge by way of discursive inference.” On Wolf’s interpretation (which I am here adopting), therefore, Understanding is to be identified only with “the highest form of knowledge,” that form which in the Ethics Spinoza called scientia intuitiva (literally, ‘intuitive science’).

In the TDIE, however, it is clear that Spinoza identifies understanding with both of the relatively superior modi percipiendi (or ‘modes of perceiving’) – or rather, it would be better to say, he attributes to understanding, knowledge that is of both these types or modes, which are to be identified respectively with reason and with scientia intuitiva. What is not so clear is that he does not attribute to understanding, at least when it is in a relatively “unimproved” state, knowledge of the first two kinds which he distinguishes – namely, “perception which we gain from hearsay or from some [arbitrary] sign” and “perception which we gain from vague experience.” In other words, it is not clear that Spinoza does not in this treatise [179] simply attribute to understanding all four modes of perception which he distinguishes or, more briefly, that he does not identify understanding (intellectus) and perception (perceptio). I have already broached this subject (cf. footnote 8), but it is necessary to enter into it more deeply at this point. What I want to try to establish, of course, is that Spinoza does not in fact mean to attribute to the understanding any perceptions of the first two types which he lists – that, on the contrary, he associates it primarily with the fourth and finest type of perception and, to a lesser extent and derivatively, with the third (namely, reason).

In the initial listing of the four modi percipiendi in § 19, the understanding is explicitly referred to only once – viz., in the description of the second mode. (He there equates “vague experience,” which is the source for all perceptions of this second type, with “experience which is not determined by the understanding.”) But later when he is attempting to discover “which mode of perceiving we are to choose” (§ 26), he rejects the first on the ground (inter alia) that “by simple hearsay no one can ever be effected unless his own understanding has prepared the way.” What Spinoza means here by ‘being effected’ (affici) is not entirely clear;  16 but the point of the whole sentence surely seems to be to “separate” hearsay knowledge from any knowledge which is properly attributable to the understanding or which the understanding contains. Spinoza does not actually say that there can be hearsay knowledge which is independent of some or all other kinds of knowledge although, when it is thus independent, it is also “ineffective”; but neither does he suggest that hearsay knowledge can become “effective” only by somehow “uniting” with, e.g., understanding or “participating” in it. On the contrary, by saying that hearsay knowledge can be “effective” only if “understanding has prepared the way,” he seems to suggest that understanding must precede “simple hearsay” if the latter is to be “effective”; but if understanding merely precedes hearsay knowledge, then the latter cannot itself be in or of the understanding.

In the following section (§ 27) Spinoza proceeds to reject knowledge of the second type; and the final ground which he there offers for rejecting it seems quite similar to that which he has just advanced for rejecting knowledge of the first type. He maintains that, via the second mode of perception, “one will never perceive.... anything in natural objects except [their] accidents, which are never understood clearly unless the essences [of those objects] are known previously.” It is possible to interpret this passage as implying that, via the second mode of perceiving, the accidents of things may be understood, although not clearly; on this interpretation, the understanding would include (at least some) knowledge of the second kind. On the other hand, it seems possible to interpret it, rather, as implying that, via the second mode of perception, the accidents of things may be known (in some degree), but that they cannot be understood by one who is limited to that mode of perception: they can be understood – and a fortiori understood “clearly” – only by one who has attained to or employed at least the third mode of perception.

Fortunately, we are enabled to decide between these two interpretations of the present passage – more exactly, to reject the former in favor of the latter – by [180] going outside the passage itself or, rather, by considering it in the context of various other passages in the treatise. Thus, in § 95 Spinoza claims that “the properties [proprietates] of things are not understood when their essences are unknown.” Note that he does not claim here merely that the properties of things are not understood clearly when the essences of those things are unknown. Of course, it is possible to suppose that Spinoza is here ating his case (rather than to suppose that in § 27 he is understating it or else using ‘clearly’ there merely as a throw-away word), especially in view of the fact that in a still later passage Spinoza does add the qualifier ‘clearly’ or indeed the qualifying phrase ‘clearly and distinctly’ – that is, in § 107 where Spinoza says of the understanding itself that “its properties... cannot be perceived clearly and distinctly unless their nature is known.” It should be noted, however, that in this passage Spinoza adds the qualifying phrase to the word ‘perceived’ rather than to the word ‘understood’; and perhaps it might still be maintained that “to perceive clearly and distinctly” is equivalent simply to ‘to understand’ sans phrase. But in any case, Spinoza does not seem to identify or equate the accidents and the properties of things: from his examples in § 20 of the things which he himself knows by vague experience, it may easily be inferred that he means by ‘accidents’ either (1) those characteristics of a species or class of things which belong indeed to all members of the species or class but not only to them, or (2) those characteristics which belong only to the members of a certain species or class but not to all of them, or, perhaps, (3) those characteristics which belong to all and only the members of a certain species or class, but not always or all the time. 17 On the other hand, it is clear that he means by ‘properties’ – proprietates or propria (he uses the two words interchangeably) 18 [181] – those characteristics which are not “of the essence” of some thing or type of thing but which are (somehow) necessary consequents of the essential characteristics of the thing or type of thing and of them only. 19 Yet, if Spinoza does really mean that the properties of things cannot be understood at all unless and until the essences of those things are known, why would he wish to say only that the accidents of things cannot be understood clearly unless and until the essences of those things are known? If he would say that the connection between the properties of things and those things’ essences is (so to speak) so “close” – indeed, so much “closer” than is the connection between the accidents of things and those things’ essences – that one could not understand the properties qua properties (i.e., could not understand how or why the things have these characteristics) unless and until one understands the very essences of the things, could it not well be replied that the very “distance” between the essences and the accidents of things must make it extremely difficult to understand how or why the things have these further characteristics which seem indeed, quite as their name suggests, to be only accidentally or fortuitously associated with those things?

But there are stronger considerations leading to the same conclusion – viz., that the accidents of things cannot be understood at all via the second mode of perception “unless the essences [of those objects] are known previously.” Indeed, even if the essences of things are known already, their accidents cannot be understood and, a fortiori, cannot be understood clearly via that mode of perception, which is gained from “vague experience.” For it should be evident that, precisely because vague experience is, according to § 19.II, experience “which is not determined by the understanding,” absolutely nothing can be understood from vague experience. And since the accidents of things cannot be understood by the second mode of perception (or by the first since, once again, nothing can be understood by it), either they cannot be understood at all or else they are capable of being understood only by one who has attained to the third or, perhaps, even to the fourth mode of perception – that is, to the very modes by which the essences of things may be understood.

If, then, Spinoza is to be interpreted as holding that the understanding does not include any perceptions of the first two types which he distinguishes, there can be no doubt that he does include perceptions of the third and fourth types in the understanding or does attribute them to the understanding. To be sure, understanding is not explicitly referred to in what seems to be the definition of the third modus percipiendi in § 19.III – namely, that it is that mode of perception “in which the essence of a thing is inferred from something else, but not ...” 20 But in the note describing the first variety or subtype of this [182] mode – viz., that in which “we infer the cause from some effect,” Spinoza says, “When this is done, we understand nothing about the cause except that which we consider in the effect” and thereby he implies, of course, that we do understand something in this case (namely, “that which we consider in the effect”). Yet this understanding, like all understanding gained by the third mode of perception, is somehow imperfect. According to the definition or description of the third mode (just cited), the essence of a thing, when it is inferred from something else, is known or understood “but not adequately”; again, in the first example of knowledge gained by the third mode, Spinoza says (in § 21),

after we clearly perceive that we are aware, by sensation, of such-and-such a body and no other, then, I say, we clearly infer that the soul [or, mind] is united to the body, and that that union is the cause of such [a] sensation; but we cannot thereby understand absolutely what that sensation is. (Italics added.)

Presumably, “not adequately” and “not absolutely” mean, in this context, at least roughly the same thing; and at first one might conclude (with a feeling of puzzlement) that what they mean is “not truly”; for in § 35 Spinoza identifies an adequate idea with “the objective essence of some thing” (essentia objectiva alicujus rei), and § 36 he says, quite explicitly, that the phrases ‘truth itself’, ‘the objective essences of things’, and ‘ideas’ all “signify the same thing” (ipsa veritas, aut essentiae objectivae rerum, aut ideae omnia illa idem significant]):It would seem that from the latter passages one could infer that the adverbs ‘truly’ and ‘adequately’ – and, hence, their negations, ‘not truly’ and ‘not adequately’ – must be used synonymously by Spinoza, at least in the TDIE. In § 28, however, Spinoza informs us that via the third mode of perception “we can infer without danger of error” (just as he tells us in the following section that via the fourth mode we can apprehend things “without danger of error”); hence, though we cannot understand adequately via the third mode, neither can we think falsely so long as we employ it. Now, if we can employ it “without danger of error,” it might seem that Spinoza will not reject it as he has rejected the first two modes of perception – for by this third mode we can understand, even if we cannot understand [183] adequately. Thus at the beginning of § 28 Spinoza admits, about this mode, that “it must be said in some measure that we do have [via it] the idea of the thing...”; and, as we have just seen, according to § 36 the phrase ‘the idea of a thing’ signifies exactly what the phrase ‘the truth itself’ (concerning that thing) signifies. Despite this admission, however, Spinoza goes on immediately in § 28 to add “but nonetheless of itself it will not be the means for our acquiring our perfection” and in § 29 he tells us that, not the third mode, but rather the fourth “will have to be used chiefly” (maxime).Exactly what is it, then, that makes this third mode of perception unsatisfactory and the knowledge that we may gain by it inadequate? The reason for Spinoza’s rejecting the third mode of perception seems to be this: the knowledge which is gained thereby is abstract or general (or, alternatively, it concerns abstractions and universals) and/or it is knowledge of the properties of a thing rather than of its essence. (As I shall indicate, it is not clear from Spinoza’s account whether, via the third mode, one might acquire knowledge which is not general but which, nonetheless, is imperfect because it concerns fundamentally the properties of the thing or things known; but I am inclined to think that he means that such knowledge is inadequate always on both grounds.) Thus in the note on § 19.III Spinoza points out that, when we infer the cause from some effect, “the cause is not explained except in the most general terms” (or it may even be expressed negatively, as “not this or that”); and his very description or definition of the second variety or subtype of this third mode refers to “some universal” from which “it is inferred that some property always accompanies it.” But throughout the treatise Spinoza registers his dissatisfaction with knowledge claims which are couched in general terms or which concern or are about generalities, abstractions, and universals – cf., e.g. § 99, where he says,

Hence we can see that it is above all necessary for us that we always deduce all our ideas from Physical things or [i.e.] from real entities by proceeding, as far as can be, according to the order of causes from one real entity to another real entity and indeed in such a way that we do not pass over to abstractions and universals, lest we deduce anything real from them or lest they be deduced from anything real: for either [of these transitions] interrupts the true progress of the understanding.

As this passage so vividly indicates, throughout the TDIE Spinoza is concerned with the understanding of the essences of particular things and of the properties of such things; he rejects the reality of abstractions, of universals, of the traditional genera and species and affirms an uncompromising nominalism, according to which the only real things are particulars or individuals, such as, e.g., this or that man. And he insists that particular things have essences which are as individual, and as unique, as are the things themselves. So the first ground of Spinoza’s dissatisfaction with the third modus percipiendi is precisely that it gives us a knowledge of particular things which is, however, expressed in the language of abstracta et universalia – in short, it does not give us a knowledge of particulars in their particularity. But does Spinoza in fact allow that sometimes knowledge gained via one or another variety of this third mode may be non-abstract or non-general and yet, nonetheless, not “adequate” because it concerns fundamentally or directly [184] the properties of a particular thing rather than its essence itself? I think that this question cannot be answered with any definiteness. For while according to the initial description of the second variety, the knowledge of properties which that variety affords is always inferred “from some universal,” in his note on § 19.III Spinoza maintains that “in secundo casu 21 something is attributed to the cause because of the effect, which is clearly conceived...; but [what is attributed is] nothing except properties, not indeed the essence of the particular thing.” Since some clear conception is involved in this case, one might infer that what is attributed to the cause is something known concretely or in its particularity; for one might apply to this case what Spinoza says later, in § 55, about the concept of existence – namely,

the more generally existence is conceived, the more confusedly is it conceived, and the more easily can it be attributed to anything at all: contrariwise, when it is conceived more particularly, then the more clearly is it understood, and the harder is it to attribute [existence] to anything except the thing itself [i.e., its proper object] when we do not attend to the order of Nature.

Further, one might construe Spinoza’s claim that in secundo casu what is attributed is “nothing except properties, not indeed the essence of the particular thing” as contrasting merely the properties of the particular thing with its essence, rather than contrasting properties, conceived in general terms, with the particular essence of the particular thing. On the other hand, while the properties of things need not be conceived in general or in “the most general” terms, I take it that they cannot be conceived other than abstractly (although it is not at all clear to me that Spinoza himself ever made a sharp distinction between abstractions and generalities); and Spinoza seems almost to have equated conceiving something abstractly and conceiving the thing through its properties or at least to have viewed these as always going together. Thus he says, e.g., in the second note for § 21 – immediately after having illustrated the first subtype of the third mode of perception by the example (previously quoted – see p. 183) of the inference to the union of soul and body as the cause of the sensation “of such-and-such a body and no other” 22 – “when [185] things are thus conceived abstractly, and not through [their] true essence, at once they are confused by the imagination.” 23 Here although the exact nature of the connection between them is not clarified, conceiving of things abstractly and conceiving of them through their properties rather than through their “true essence” are somehow very closely (perhaps, inseparably) connected. Hence I believe that, on Spinoza’s view, any example of something known via the third mode of perception is an example of something conceived abstractly; for in any such example a thing is conceived through one or more of its properties, either because the thing is identified in virtue of its property of causing such and such an effect (in the first subtype) or because there is attributed to the thing, taken or known to be the cause of such and such an effect, a further property or set of properties (in the second subtype).

But, though Spinoza rejects conceiving of things abstractly by means of one or more of their properties in the way that one would who employed the third mode of perception, it should be noted that he does not reject that way of conceiving of things or, in other words, does not reject the third mode of perception itself, completely or without qualification (as he does the first two modes of perception). For despite the inadequacies of that mode of perception, it does at least “in some measure” give us “the idea of the thing.” Indeed, it must do so precisely because, according to Spinoza, as we have seen, “the properties of things are not understood when their essences are unknown”; that is, precisely because via the third mode of perception we (may) understand the properties of things, we must also at the same time understand “in some measure” the things themselves and their essences. Consequently, the third mode of perception may serve until one has acquired the fourth mode – or rather, it seems, reflection on something which one understands by the third mode may lead, and be designed or intended to lead, directly to one’s understanding of that thing via the fourth mode. Thus at the very end of the treatise, Spinoza is trying to discover the nature of the understanding, something which, he admits, is not “absolutely clear in itself” (§ 107) [186] or entirely self-evident; and he proposes to discover the nature of the understanding by reflecting on those properties of the understanding which he understands “clearly and distinctly.” Apparently, there is no other way of discovering that nature or essence; hence, the third mode of perception, by which Spinoza grasps at least some of the properties of the understanding, is in this case indispensable (for the purpose of apprehending the nature of the understanding itself). But there is no suggestion in the treatise that in all cases the third mode of perception is thus indispensable; on the contrary, some things or their essences are or, perhaps, must be (completely) understandable in themselves. God is one such thing, according to Spinoza; for thought, when it is perfect, begins with the idea of Him (rather than with the idea of certain of His properties). Moreover, to conceive of God through some one or more of His properties would be to conceive Him abstractly; but in fact God – i.e., “the origin of Nature” (as Spinoza, somewhat misleadingly, describes Him in § 76) – “can be conceived neither abstractly nor universally” (Ibid.); hence, He cannot be conceived through any of His properties, but only directly in and through His essence. 24 Nor is it the case that, however a thing itself or its essence comes to be known in the fourth mode of perception, the properties of the thing can be known only by the third mode – that is, conceiving a thing through some of its properties and conceiving some of the properties of a thing are not to be confused with one another; for according to Spinoza (in § 22), from the fact that I know, e.g., the essence of the soul (or, mind), I know also, via the fourth mode of perception, that it is united to the body. Thus whereas, according to Spinoza’s example in § 20, one may infer, on the basis of one’s sensation “of such-and-such a body and no other,” that one has a soul and that it is united with the body so as to cause that sensation, one may also perceive the soul “through its essence alone” and, having perceived that, perceive also that it possesses the property of being united to the body, a union which is the proximate cause of one’s sensation of “such-and-such a body and no other.” Indeed, Spinoza makes it a condition of any proper definition that from it all the properties of the thing may be deduced (cf. § 96.II and § 97.IV); but the very first rule for the definition of an uncreated thing is “that it exclude every cause, that is, the object must require nothing else beyond itself for its explanation” (§ 97.I), which is to say that the object will be known “through its essence alone,” and the first rule for the definition of a created thing is that the definition include the “proximate cause” of the definiendum (cf. § 96.I). Hence, the first rule of proper definition is that the definiendum be known via the fourth mode of perception – i.e., that the thing be perceived either “through its essence alone, or [else] through the knowledge of its proximate cause”;  25 and apparently, quite as the preceding considerations have [187] indicated, in coming to know all the properties of the definiendum by deducing them from the definiens one remains within the fourth mode of perception.

Two final points concerning Spinoza’s conception of intellectus in the TDIE remain to be made – and I shall make them briefly although they might be dealt with at considerable length. First, though Spinoza often in this treatise (as in his later writings) speaks of ideas as being in (e.g.) the understanding or the mind or as their products, it should not be supposed that he actually conceived the understanding or the mind as some sort of spiritual receptacle which is (so to speak) the natural place of ideas, or even as a real “faculty” distinct from the occurrent thoughts which are merely its manifestations or its effects. But one should not go too far in the opposite direction and suppose that, for Spinoza, the mind is simply a “bundle” or congeries of ideas – and thus that Spinoza anticipated the doctrine which is now regularly identified as Hume’s – and that the understanding is nothing more than the collective name for certain of the particular ideas or perceptions making up the “bundle.” This interpretation or exposition is quite correct insofar as it maintains that, for Spinoza, there is no understanding – and, it should now be added, no will – over and above or, for that matter, underneath particular ideas or thoughts. Though Spinoza does not discuss this subject directly in the TDIE, it may be presumed that when he wrote that treatise he had no other view on this subject than that which he had put forward already in the Short Treatise 26 and which he expressed also in the Scholium to Prop. XLVIII in Part II of the Ethics. 27 But one need not rely only on such external evidence in order to determine how Spinoza viewed the understanding in the TDIE; for as we have already seen, in § 36 he explicitly identifies the truth itself and ideas (or, the objective essences [188] of things), and later, at the end of § 68, he explicitly identifies truth and the understanding (verum, sive intellectus); hence, it may be inferred that he identified or would have identified the understanding with particular ideas – namely, the true ones. 28 On the other hand, that interpretation or exposition is wholly incorrect insofar as it maintains that, for Spinoza, the mind is to be analyzed in the same way that the understanding is – i.e., analyzed into a mere bundle of ideas (among which there are certain true ones, which constitute the understanding). For according to Spinoza the mind is one idea, in which are “contained” many further and relatively “simpler” ideas. Once again, this part of Spinoza’s view is not developed explicitly in the TDIE; nor perhaps can it be inferred from anything which he does say there. But it is, I think, helpful – perhaps, necessary – to understand the “atomistic” view of intellectus which is adumbrated in the TDIE and defended in, e.g., the Ethics in the (contrasting) light provided by Spinoza’s view of the mind itself (a view which again is developed and defended in the Ethics, especially Part II); for so understood, Spinoza’s view of the intellectus appears to escape at least the chief difficulties which Hume himself and many of his subsequent critics have detected in the bundle theory of the mind. 29 The intellectus is not, after all, merely a multitude of particular ideas that are heaped together, or diffused, among many other particular ideas in a mind which is nothing but the arithmetical sum of all the individual ideas. Rather, just as (e.g.) a multitude of “simpler bodies” may be united, according to Spinoza, to form one human body, so the individual ideas which are modally identical to those simpler bodies (i.e., which are the same modes considered under the attribute of Thought rather than that of Extension) are united to form the mind, which is the idea of that body. It follows, however – although Spinoza himself does not explicitly draw this inference – that if all ideas not “determined” by the understanding were ever to be eliminated from a human mind, what would remain would have to be something more than a [189] merely arithmetical sum or a (nominalistically interpreted) set of individual ideas; for what would remain would be the mind, and yet a mind identical to the understanding. In such a case the understanding would not be a fiction or an ens rationis; it would be a genuinely existing, particular mode of Thought. Thus it might be said that such a radical improvement of the mind would consist or culminate in the realization of the understanding – i.e., in making it real. But what a human mind might thus become in the course of time, God’s mind has been – or rather, is – eternally. Hence, Spinoza always speaks of the infinitus Dei intellectus, i.e., ‘the infinite intellect of God’, as an ens reale and never as an ens rationis (or ens imaginationis); it is, according to Spinoza, the immediate infinite mode of God’s attribute of Thought. 30

This (passing) reference to the infinitus Dei intellectus leads me to the second and last point which I wished to make here: namely, that in the TDIE Spinoza appears to identify intellectus, intellectio, and idea – an identification which may help to clarify for us the nature of the understanding, which Spinoza himself is seeking to discover and to elucidate in the TDIE, but which may also help to resolve the long-standing problem concerning whether the mode that Spinoza describes in the Ethics as the idea Dei or ‘Idea of God’ is or is not identical to the infinitus Dei intellectus and, hence, whether the phrase idea Dei designates the immediate infinite mode of the attribute of Thought or rather the mediate infinite mode. I have already indicated (cf. p. 188 above) that in the TDIE Spinoza appears to identify the understanding (or intellectus) and ideas – that is, to identify the (alleged) “subject” or “source” of true thinking and the corresponding objects of thought. But he seems also to identify intellectus with intellectio – i.e., the “subject” or “source” of true thinking with the corresponding act of thinking, the intellect with intellection. That the word intellectio is not for Spinoza simply synonymous with the word intellectus may be inferred, e.g., from a passage at the beginning of § 37, where Spinoza says, “Rursus Methodus necessario debet de ratiocinatione, aut de intellectione” – i.e., “Again, Method necessarily must speak about reasoning or about intellection.” Clearly, intellectio is here to be distinguished from intellectus in the way that ratiocinatio (reasoning or ratiocination) is to be distinguished from that which (allegedly) does the reasoning, namely, ratio or reason. That there is, however, no ontological difference – i.e., that there is an identity – between that which is “denoted by the word intellectus and that which is denoted by the word intellectio may be inferred, e.g., from what Spinoza says in the note for § 91 – namely,

Praecipua hujus partis Regula est, ut ex prima parte sequitur, recensere omnes ideas, quas ex pure intellectu in nobis invenimus, ut eae ab iis, quas imaginamur, distinguantur; quod ex proprietatibus uniuscujusque, nempe imaginationis et intellectionis, erit eliciendum. [190]

That passage may be translated thus:

The principal Rule of this part, as follows from the first part, is to examine all ideas which we discover in ourselves [arising] from the pure understanding [or, purely from the understanding] so that they may be distinguished from those which we imagine, this will have to be elicited from [examination of] the properties of each, namely of imagination and of understanding.

Although Spinoza speaks here first of the intellectus and of the ideas which derive from it and, on the other hand, of the ideas “which we imagine,” he concludes by saying that the difference which he seeks must be elicited from the properties of each – namely, the properties of imaginatio and those of intellectio 31 . This same passage suggests, moreover, the identification between the ideas which we discover in ourselves ex puro intellectu and the act of understanding (intellectio) – an identification which can, in any case, be inferred from the fact that Spinoza (a) identifies true ideas with the intellectus and (b) the intellectus, in turn, with intellectio. Thus we discover, by a rather roundabout route, that Spinoza, so far from viewing ideas as the passive or inert contents of a receptacle-like understanding, conceives them, rather, as individual acts of thought (participating in and contributing to that unified act of thought which is the human mind).

Now, if it is true in the case of the human being that intellectus = intellectio = ideae, it should be true also in the case of the divine being – i.e., the Understanding of God must be identical with His (eternal) act of understanding and both of them with the object of that Understanding, namely, the Idea Dei. But if the denotatum of the phrase infinitus Dei intellectus is thus identical with the denotatum of the phrase idea Dei, the latter cannot designate the mediate infinite mode of the attribute of Thought, which is a different mode from the immediate infinite mode of that attribute and not simply the same mode under a different description. There can, however, be no question that the immediate infinite mode of Thought is the infinite Understanding of God, hence, the “Idea of God” is simply that same mode under a different description. 32 [191]

Indiana University

11 Similarly, the German translator can easily parallel intellectus ~ intellectio ~ intelligere with der Verstand ~ das Verstnädnis (or, das Verstehen) ~ verstehen; but the French translator, e.g., can find, I believe, no ordinary words of the same root as l’entendement to render intellectio and intelligere and no common word of the same root as la compréhension and comprendre to render intellectus.
12 To be sure, he does sometimes speak of the “pure mind” (pura mens) and, at least by implication, contrast it with the imagination; but, as I have indicated above (on p. 173), the pura mens seems to be identified with the intellectus. In other words, the mind insofar as it is “pure” is the understanding; and as such it is (to be) contrasted with the imagination.
13 All modern editions and translations of the Short Treatise are based upon two manuscripts written in Dutch – the so-called codex A and codex B, both of them discovered within a relatively short space of time before van Vloten first edited and published them, together with his Latin translation, in 1862.
14 Once again, it is difficult to know how best to translate this term, the obvious meaning of which is, however, ‘Understanding’. But in his commentary on this passage Wolf remarks that “Understanding is hardly the right word for what is meant here by the Dutch Verstand = ? Intellectus. ‘Spirit’ or ‘spiritual insight’ might be better in some respects” (A. Wolf, Spinoza’s Short Treatise on God, Man and his Well-Being. New York, 1963 [1st published London, 1910], p. 184).
15 Ibid., pp. 184-185.
16 For a brief discussion of this point see Joachim, op. cit., pp. 34-35 especially p. 35, footnote 1.
17 These are three of the four senses in which the scholastics were accustomed to use the words proprietas or proprium; in the fourth and strictest sense the words referred to any of those characteristics which belong always to all and only the members of a certain species or class. Obviously, “this last sort of property is that which constitutes most distinctively a fourth predicable distinct from the others, so that the other sorts of properties may be reduced to the class Accident, which is the fifth type of predicable.” The preceding sentence and the fourfold classification of properties itself are taken from the account of properties, or of the traditional conception of them, offered by the late scholastic Eustache of St. Paul in his Summa philosophica quadripartita (Paris, 1609). His account is that cited by Gilson, under the heading “propre, propriété,” in his monumental Index Scolastico-Cartésien (Paris, 1912).
  It is, I think, impossible to determine from Spinoza’s examples whether he is using the term ‘accident’ in only one of the three senses distinguished above, nor does Spinoza himself offer an explicit definition of the term anywhere in the TDIE. Indeed, he uses the term itself only once in the treatise – namely, in the passage from § 27 which is here under investigation. It should be noted, however, that – whatever the particular sense of ‘accident’ he has in mind or is employing here – Spinoza offers as the last of his examples of the accidents of things which are known from vague experience, that “man is a rational animal” – i.e., precisely the example which for Aristotle and the scholastics served as the paradigm of a real definition, which revealed the essence of the definiendum. Thus there is implied in this last of Spinoza’s examples a critique of the traditional view(s) concerning definition and concerning the essence or nature of man. The implicit critique of the traditional conception(s) of definition is continued in the concluding sections of the treatise – cf. especially §§ 95-98; the implicit critique of the Aristotelian and scholastic definition of man is continued, e.g., in the Ethics (II, Prop. X et seq.).
18 “Thus, e.g., in § 95 he tells us that a “definition in order to be called perfect will have to explain the innermost essence of a thing and [we shall have] to take care lest we put in its place certain [of its] properties [propria]”; and “in order to explain this,” he offers in the [181] same section an example of what he takes to be an imperfect definition of a circle – a definition which, he says, “does not explain in the least the essence of a circle; but only some property [proprietatem] of it.”
19 “That he means this by ‘properties’ may easily be gathered from, e.g., the final section of the treatise (§ 110) where Spinoza says that the “essence of thought ... must be sought from the positive properties just enumerated [in § 108], that is, something common [i.e., some common basis] must now be established, from which these properties necessarily follow...”
20 Similarly, understanding is not explicitly referred to in the initial description of the [182] fourth mode of perception, that whereby “a thing is perceived through its essence alone, or [else] through the knowledge of its proximate cause” (§ 19.IV); but that one does understand things by that mode of perception is explicitly maintained in many later passages of the treatise. For example, speaking of that fourth mode, Spinoza says, at the end of § 22, “the things which up to this time I could understand by such knowledge have been very few”; and in § 29, “We shall endeavor to explain, therefore, what must be done in order that things [previously] unknown may be understood by us by that [mode of] knowledge...”
  There are notorious difficulties associated with Spinoza’s account in the TDIE (and in the Ethics)of this highest and best mode of perception, scientia intuitiva. In particular, it is puzzling how Spinoza can say of himself that “the things which up to this time I could understand by such knowledge have been very few” when he has just cited, as an example of something which he does know by that mode of perception, “that two and three are five”; for surely, one would think, any normal adult would know a rather large number of simple arithmetical truths immediately or without (consciously) following any general arithmetical rule. It is not any part of my purpose here to discuss such difficulties, however; for I have wanted to demonstrate only that the third and especially the fourth modes of perception are modes whereby one may or will understand things, according to Spinoza.
21 The Latin phrase is ambiguous; for it may mean “in the second case” or “in a (more) favorable case.” If the former interpretation is adopted – and the context of the phrase makes it somewhat more likely that that interpretation is the correct one here – then “the situation which is described in the remainder of the sentence (after that opening phrase) is one which involves the second variety of inference attributed to the third modus percipiendi. If, however, the latter interpretation is adopted, then the situation there described is, of course, one which still involves the first variety, i.e., exactly the variety which Spinoza has been discussing in the preceding sentence of the note.
22 In this example the cause, the “union” of mind and body, is inferred from the “clearly conceived” (or perceived) effect, namely, the sensation or awareness of “such-and-such a body and no other.” In other words, there is attributed to the union of mind and body the property of being the cause of the sensation in question. Thus even the first subtype of the third mode of perception involves the conception of things through one or more of their properties; it appears to differ from the second subtype in this way: in it something is “identified” as the cause of a certain effect, but no further property is attributed to that thing; in the second subtype a certain property or set of properties is attributed to a cause previously (or at least otherwise) identified. (That the example of attributing to the union of soul and body the cause of the sensation or special awareness of that body [185] and of no other – i.e., of identifying that union as the cause of that sensation – is an example of the first rather than of the second subtype within the third mode cannot be doubted.)
23 At least in appearance, this passage together with the preceding part of the sentence from which it is taken – namely, “For unless we are very cautious, we fall into errors at once” – contradicts Spinoza’s assertion (in § 28) that “we can infer [via this third mode] without danger of error”; for must there not be danger of error in any situation in which we must be “very cautious” lest “we fall into errors at once”? Apparently, Spinoza should have said in §28, “we can infer [via this third mode] without error provided that we are very cautious.” What we have here to be cautious about are abstractions; exactly how we are to be cautious about them while we continue to employ the third mode of perception is not, I think, clearly indicated at any point in the treatise. Indeed, the general remedy for errors and confusions which Spinoza suggests there is to think only about particular things in an order which parallels that of their actual connection with one another; but to act in accordance with that prescription is to try to eliminate (so far as possible) all abstractions from one’s thought – it is not to employ abstractions although with great caution. I presume, however, at Spinoza means that proper caution in employing abstractions consists precisely in employing them as infrequently as possible, for we human beings cannot, at least “at the outset” and, perhaps, at any point in the progressive “improvement of our understanding,” eliminate them altogether from our thought.
24 It has to be remembered that God’s attributes are distinct from His properties; for the properties of God – indeed, the properties of any thing – are those characteristics which somehow depend necessarily on the essence, whereas God’s attributes are His essence itself, at least insofar as that essence is perceived or revealed to “the intellect” (cf. the definition of ‘attribute’ in Ethics I, Def. IV).
25 Here I have associated perceiving a thing through its essence alone with the (resultant) definition of an uncreated thing, and perceiving a thing through the knowledge of its proximate cause with the (resultant) definition of a created thing. But Spinoza, as [187] we have seen, speaks in § 22 of knowing, via the fourth mode of perception, the essence of the soul (and thereby knowing also that it is united to the body); yet a soul is, for Spinoza, a mode or created thing, not substance itself or an attribute of substance (an uncreated thing). Accordingly, one might think that the essence of the soul cannot be known at all by the fourth mode of perception. In fact, however, Spinoza seems to mean that, via that mode of perception, one is acquainted always with the essence of the thing known, but that one may become acquainted with that essence (i.e., come to understand it) in one of two ways – namely, by knowing it “through itself alone” or else by discovering the proximate cause of the thing. In discovering via the fourth mode of perception the proximate cause of some effect, one will come to understand the essence of that thing which is the effect; if its proximate cause is itself created, it must be known in turn through its proximate cause, and so on. Of course, this process comes to an end – where, according to Spinoza, really it should have started – with the knowledge of an uncreated thing knowable through itself alone (i.e., an attribute of the divine substance).
26 Cf., e.g., the following passage from Part II, Ch. XVI (the passage may be found in Wolf, op. cit., p. 106):  As to the view that the efficient cause thereof [i.e., of each separate volition] is not an Idea but the human Will itself, and that the Understanding is a cause without which the will can do nothing, so that the Will in its undetermined form, and also the Understanding, are not things of Reason, but real entities – so far as I am concerned, whenever I consider them attentively they appear to be universals, and I can attribute no reality to them...
27 Though Spinoza thus denies the reality of the understanding or of the will per se, it is, of course, not surprising that he continues to talk as if there were such things; for, once it is realized that the corresponding words are only collective names (i.e., refer to the particular ideas-volitions in the mind), no philosophical confusion or error should result from employing them rather than seeking ontologically more perspicuous but verbally more cumbersome paraphrases.
28 When Spinoza in § 36 identifies the truth simply with ideas, he seems to be indicating that, properly speaking, all ideas are true ones; for one who is speaking thus properly, the phrase ‘true ideas’ – employed so frequently by Spinoza himself – becomes redundant, and the so-called false, suppositional, and doubtful ideas have to be considered merely as quasi- or, perhaps, pseudo-ideas, not genuine or full-fledged acts of thought. But one should not conclude overhastily that in speaking of true ideas Spinoza does not indeed mean to be assigning a truth-value to mere ideas, but only to be singling out what are really ideas from what are (for some reason or in some way) not real ideas. In fact, ideas (as Spinoza conceives them) do have a truth-value: they are not mere ideas that might be somehow combined or synthesized to form a judgment (much less are they “images which are formed at the back of the eye or, if you please, in the middle of the brain”; Ethics II, Prop. XLVIII Schol.). They already are (or include) judgments, and so are true or false in the sense in which only judgments – together with propositions, statements, and perhaps sentences – are either true or false. Thus, it seems to be Spinoza’s view (a) that all ideas which are true in the sense of being genuine acts of thought are true also in the further sense that in them there is a perfect adequation or “correspondence” between thought and its object (though the nature of this correspondence is very different from what it is supposed to be on any naÿvely realistic view); and (b) that all ideas, properly or strictly speaking, are true in both these senses or, if you will, in that double sense, of the term.
29 But I do not wish to suggest that Spinoza’s own view of the understanding and of the mind is free from all difficulties, for of course it is not. Indeed, the difficulties facing it may be quite as serious as those which are involved in or generated by rival views, including the bundle theory.
30 For Spinoza’s discussion of the infinite modes of God and, in particular, of the infinite Intellect or Understanding of God, see Ethics I, Props. XXI-XXII; also Short Treatise I, Ch. IX, and Eps. LXIII-LXIV.
31 The same identification is implied, e.g., by Spinoza’s speaking throughout § 89 of things which exist in intellectu et non in imaginatione and then going on to say, at the beginning of the following section, Vitamus praeterea aliam magnam causam confusionis, et quae facit, quo minus intellectus ad se reflectat nempe, cum non distinguimus inter imaginationem et intellectionem (i.e., “We avoid besides another great cause of confusion and [one] which prevents the understanding from reflecting on itself namely, while we do not distinguish between the imagination and understanding...”).
32 This argument is, of course, designed to supplement rather than to replace the considerations offered by H.A. Wolfson in support of the view that the infinite Understanding of God is identical with the Idea of God, contrary to the view taken (e.g.) by Pollock (op. cit., Ch. V, especially p. 176) and by Joachim both in his study of the TDIE (op. cit., pp. 85‑88) and in his Study of the Ethics of Spinoza (Oxford, 1901), pp. 94-95. For Wolfson’s argument, see his The Philosophy of Spinoza (paperback ed. New York, 1958), I, pp. 238‑241.