30 Dec 2008

Spinoza's Ethics Part 1, Definition 1, Self-Causation in Definition, with Deleuze's Commentary

by Corry Shores
[Search Blog Here. Index-tags are found on the bottom of the left column.]

[Central Entry Directory]
[Spinoza Entry Directory]
[Spinoza Ethics, Directory]

[Deleuze Entry Directory]

[the following is quotation; my summary and commentary is in brackets. Deleuze’s commentary is at the end. The Latin text comes last.]

Spinoza, Ethics

Part I "Concerning God"

Definition I:

I. By that which is self-caused, I mean that of which the essence involves existence, or that of which the nature is only conceivable as existent.

[When we come to a conclusion because of some reasoning, we are taking that reasoning as the cause of the conclusion or the cause for us coming to that conclusion. For, the reasoning accounts for the conclusion the same way that force applied to physical bodies accounts for why those bodies are set in motion.

Spinoza thinks that definitions should be productive, and not of the genus-species variety. When we craft our definitions, we should only say what is essential to the defined thing; and we should form them in such a way that when we think about the thing's definition, all the thing's properties follow logically from that definition. In this way, the definition implies or involves implicitly all these other properties, even though it does not make them explicit. So in this way, the definition causes its properties. For example, Spinoza defines a circle in terms of the instructions we need to form it. We would normally draw a circle with a compass, which rotates the arm around a fixed point, keeping that arm always the same distance from that point. Spinoza defines a circle as "the figure described by any line whereof one end is fixed and the other free." So we see that the definition actually produces the circle. What is essential to the circle is only what is necessary to produce it. Then, from this production, we may deduce its properties. So we know that if the circle is produced this way, all the points on its circumference are equidistant from a centerpoint. So the definition produces its properties when we contemplate its essence or nature, expressed in the definition.

Yet, these other properties were not explicit in the definition. But they follow necessarily. Hence they are implicit or involved in the definition. (for more on the implication and explication of expression, see the complicated expression entry.) So something causes itself when from its definition, its property of existence follows necessarily. Because definitions cause their consequential properties, the definition of something that is self-caused must cause its property of existing. But this property would not be explicit in the definition; rather, it would be implicit or involved in the definition.]

Deleuze's Commentary:

The opening scheme of the Ethics is thus as follows: 1. Definitions 1-5: Merely nominal definitions, needed in the mechanism of subsequent proofs.


Le plan du début de l'Ethique est donc le suivant: 1) Définitions 1-5: ce sont de simples définitions nominales, nécessaires au mécanisme des démonstrations futures.


From the Latin:

I. Per causam sui intelligo id, cujus essentia involvit existentiam, sive id, cujus natura non potest concipi, nisi existens.


Deleuze, Gilles. Spinoza et le problème de l'expression. Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1968.

Deleuze, Gilles. Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza. Trans. Martin Joughin. New York: Zone Books, 1990.

Spinoza. Ethics. Transl. Elwes. available online at:


Spinoza. Ethica. available online at:


No comments:

Post a Comment