Spinoza’s Human and Adequate Knowledge


Given a world in which everything follows necessarily from a set of causes, there is no place for free will. Free will is a force that can act without being caused. Essentially, any being with a free will is structured in the same way as a first-mover God. But although many humans still believe in a free will, the justification for admitting such a thing requires supernatural interaction and a violation of the first law of thermodynamics (the second is true only if the act of a free will has an effect in the physical world–but proponents of free will always require this).

 There is a distinct, but similar, phenomenon from free will, however, that is an excellent replacement: freedom. Perhaps another word ought to be chosen, but this is the term that is always used in the translations, and I do not know enough about Latin to argue. Freedom, according to Spinoza, is activity caused by causes within the free thing. For example, this coffee mug that is sitting on my desk is free to the degree that its current activity is caused by itself. And, taken strictly, this coffee mug does seem to have some degree of freedom: it’s current state is a mass of atoms in a certain shape, located in a certain place. The activity of the atoms and molecules from within the mug are determining it’s future behavior. 

However, although the mug is stable, the mug has no power to change it’s course of behavior through time. This is an important quality that other beings, to include most living beings and, I think, some machines, possess. At least, this is true on first glance. An ivy crawling up the wall of a building adapts to the wall, changing in ways that were not programmed in its DNA, in order to survive (or, if not in order to survive, a more accurate statement would be that the processes which that plant possesses happen to be those that allow it to survive; this is not a coincidence. If the plant did not possess these qualities, it would have died. The processes that exist are processes that work, or at least have worked, but some amount of time). But, as stated in the first paragraph, even if the causes for this thing’s behavior are internal to it, the thing is still locked along a causal track. The only difference comes in whether or not the cause is an internal one or an external one.

2 Responses to “Spinoza’s Human and Adequate Knowledge”

  1. Adequate knowledge for individuals is an ever defeated notion due to the existence of the hegemony of nationalistic policy and regulatory regimes. However, the innate quest for knowledge in individuals cannot be diminished or distracted regardless of the might of the state apparatus.

    • There are a lot of reasons why true adequate knowledge is forever beyond the reach of finite minds, and I would agree that the hegemony of nationalistic policy, etc., has an impact on that. “The ideology of the ruling class becomes the ideology of all classes,” and so forth. But even recognizing this, and investigating the mechanism of how such ruling ideologies affect our thinking helps us critique and move closer to adequate knowledge.

      I disagree that the “innate quest for knowledge in individuals cannot be diminished or distracted regardless of the might of the state apparatus.” The will for knowledge is useless by itself, and in fact can serve to manufacture even more convoluted ideas, which can serve to build false systems that nevertheless make sense. Consider all the systematized theologies, metaphysics, conspiracy theories that brilliant but incorrect minds have built: they can think with greater clarity than someone who has never devoted effort to building knowledge, but in a real sense, they have divorced themselves from reality moreso than the individual who never bothered to pursue knowledge.

      Rather than just the “innate quest for knowledge,” proper method, and a critical evaluation of that method, is necessary to ensure that the will to truth is guided correctly.

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