20 Sep 2010

God is the cause of all essences. Spinoza, Ethics, Book 1, Proposition 25, with Deleuze's Commentary

[The first three subsections are my own overview notes. Under the Spinoza Ethics heading, there again is blue text, which is quotation from the English translation. My summary and commentary to this is bracketed in red. Deleuze's commentary is found near the end. The Latin text comes last.]

What's this proposition got to do with you?

What makes something what it is- this we call its 'essence'. We ourselves have an essence too. We might wonder what causes an essence to be what it is. Why are we some person and not someone else? Perhaps we might dream about being a different person, having his or her essence instead of our own.

Now examine some object near you. We might consider the causes that brought it into existence. This thing also expresses its essence, what it is. Other things can be thought of as causing the existence of this thing. But what causes its essence? Could it be that the fundamental stuff of reality is infinitely expressive, and this thing is one particular way that the underlying substance is expressing itself? As an expression, the thing and its cause are not removed from one another. The cause of the thing's essence would be right there, as its fundamental reality. And is it not possible to think of what underlies of all of what is real in this world-- can it not be thought-of as God? In a way, everything in the world around us expresses God, or at least we can say, anything in our world expresses what underlies all real things in the universe.

Now, we too are things in the world. Also perhaps we might regret our own limitations. We might wish that the essence of who we are would be somehow greater. But let's not forget, our essence has a cause, a reason for being what it is. This cause is infinite and eternal, and yet immediate to us. At every moment, no matter how weakened our essence becomes, we are expressing the infinite entirety of all reality.

Brief Summary:

God is the cause of all essences.

Points Relative to Deleuze
[Under Ongoing Revision]

Things in this world exist only because difference creates the logical 'room' for their being. What allows something to be what it is, is its internal differentiations from itself. If something were self-same throughout itself, in a completely homogeneous way, then there would be nothing there but undefined form. Consider something simple like a circle. It would seem to be very homogeneous. But each point on the edge can only be a part of the circle by being different from the other points. In a sense, what makes a circle is the sum aggregate of all its internal self-differings, all the differential relations between its parts. So we might think that all reality is built on difference, and all real things express difference as their immediate ground. Difference is the immediate cause of anything's self-differing essence.

Baruch Spinoza
Part I "Concerning God"
Proposition XXV

PROP. XXV. God is the efficient cause not only of the existence of things, but also of their essence.

[God is the reason for the existence of each thing. He is also the reason for the essence expressed by every existing thing.]

Proof .— If this be denied, then God is not the cause of the essence of things ; and therefore the essence of things can (by Ax. iv.) be conceived without God. This (by Prop. xv.) is absurd. Therefore, God is the cause of the essence of things. Q.E.D.

[Let's consider the opposite argument to see if it leads to absurdities. So let's assume that god is not the cause of things' essences. Recall that knowing an effect means knowing its cause. So if God is not the cause of things, then we could know the things without also conceiving of God.

Yet, we already established that there is only one substance, God. Other than substance, there are only modes. Modes are conceived through the substances they modify. With there only being one substance, God, all modes then must be conceived through God. Hence it cannot be that modes are thought without also thinking God. So it cannot be that God is not the cause of the essence of things, for if really he were not, then we would not be able to think him while thinking of things' essences. Thus God is the cause of all thing's essences.]

Note .— This proposition follows more clearly from Prop. xvi. For it is evident thereby that, given the divine nature, the essence of things must be inferred from it, no less than their existence-in a word, God must be called the cause of all things, in the same sense as he is called the cause of himself. This will be made still clearer by the following corollary.

[God is infinite. He expresses infinite essence. There could then be no thing's essence which is not inferrable from his essence. It is on account of God's infinite essence that there may be any thing's essence. He then is the cause of all essences.]

LinkCorollary .— Individual things are nothing but modifications of the attributes of God, or modes by which the attributes of God are expressed in a fixed and definite manner. The proof appears from Prop. xv. and Def. v.

[As we noted above, all things exist in God and are conceived through Him. Because they are conceived through Him, and not through themselves, they would then be modifications of God's attributes.]

From Deleuze's Commentary:

Modes are, in their turn, expressive: “Whatever exists expresses the nature or essence of God in a certain and determinate way” (that is, in a certain mode). [ft.3: E I.36p [439] (and 25c: Modi quibus Dei attributa certo et determinato modo exprimuntur).] [Deleuze, 13-14; 352d]

Le mode, à son tour, est expressif : « Tout ce qui existe exprime la nature de Dieu, autrement dit son essence, d’une façon certaine et déterminée » (c’est-à-dire sous un mode défini). [ft.3 : E, I, 36, dem. (et 25, cor. : Modi quibus Dei attributa certo et determinato modo exprimuntur)] [Deleuze, 10-11; 11d]

God produces as he exists; necessarily existing, he produces. [ft.3: E I.25s: “God must be called the cause of all things in the same sense in which he is called the cause of himself”[431]. ] [Deleuze, 100b; 364a]

Dieu produit comme il existe ; existant nécessarement, il produit nécessairement [ft.3 : E, I, 25, sc. : « Au sens où Dieu est dit cause de soi, il doit être dit aussi cause de toutes choses. »] [Deleuze, 88b ; d]

According to Spinoza, God is cause of himself in no other sense than that in which he is cause of all things. Rather is he cause of all things in the same sense as cause of himself. [ft.20: E I.25s. It is odd that Lachièze-Rey, when citing this passage, inverts the order, as though Spinoza had said that God was cause of himself in the sense that he was cause of things. Such a transformation of the passage is not just an oversight, but amounts to the survival of an “analogical” perspective that begins with efficient causality (cf. Les Origines cartésiennes, pp.33-34] [Deleuze, 164a; 375a]

Selon Spinoza, Dieu n’est pas cause de soi en un autre sens que cause de toutes choses. Au contraire, il est cause de toutes choses au même sens que cause de soi [ft.20 : E, I, 25, sc. Il est curieux que P Lachièze-Rey, citant ce texte de Spinoza, en inverse l’ordre. Il fait comme si Spinoza avait dit que Dieu était cause de soi au sens où il était cause des choses. Dans la citation ainsi déformée, il n’y a pas un simple lapsus, mais la survivance d’une perspective « analogique », invoquant d’abord la causabilité efficiente. (CF. Les Origines cartésiennes du Dieu de Spinoza, pp.33-34).] [Deleuze, 149a ;d]

Modal essences therefore, no less than existing modes, have efficient causes. “God is the efficient cause, not only of the existence of things, but also of their essence.” [ft.7, citation] Deleuze, 193c]

C’est pourquoi les essences de modes n’ont pas moins une cause efficiente que les modes existants. « Dieu n’est pas seulement cause efficiente de l’existence des choses, mais encore de leur essence. » [ft.7, citation] [Deleuze, 175]

[from ft.8, Ch.12] The whole of I.24 appears, then, to me to be organized thus: 1. The essence of a thing produced is not cause of the thing’s existence (Proof); 2. But nor is it cause of its own existence as essence (Corollary); 3. Whence I.25, God is cause even of the essences of things. [Deleuze, 378-379]

[from ft.8, Ch.12] L’ensemble de I, 24, nous paraît donc s’organiser ainsi : 1°) l’essence d’une chose produite n’est pas cause de l’existence de la chose (démonstration) ; 2°) mais elle n’est pas davantage cause de sa propre existence en tant qu’essence (corollaire) ; 3°) d’où I, 25, Dieu est cause, même de l’essence des choses. [Deleuze, 176d]

An attribute expresses itself in three ways: in its absolute nature (its immediate infinite mode), as modified (its infinite mediate mode) and in a certain and determinate way (a finite existing mode). [ft.1: E I.21-25] [Deleuze, 235b; 385c]

Un attribut s’exprime de trios façons : il s’exprime dans sa nature absolue (mode infinie immédiat), il s’exprime en tant que modifié (mode infini médiat), il s’exprime d’une manière certaine et déterminée (mode infinie existant). [ft.1 : E, I, 21-25] [Deleuze, 214b ; d]

From the Latin text:


Deus non tantum est causa efficiens rerum existentiæ, sed etiam essentiæ.


Si negas, ergo rerum essentiæ Deus non est causa; adeoque (per Axiom. 4) potest rerum essentia sine Deo concipi: atqui hoc (per Prop. 15) est absurdum. Ergo rerum etiam essentiæ Deus est causa. Q.E.D.


Hæc Propositio clarius sequitur ex Propositione 16. Ex ea enim sequitur, quod ex data natura divina, tam rerum essentia, quam existentia debeat necessario concludi; &, ut verbo dicam, eo sensu, quo Deus dicitur causa sui, etiam omnium rerum causa dicendus est, quod adhuc clarius ex sequenti Corollario constabit.


Res particulares nihil sunt, nisi Dei attributorum affectiones, sive modi, quibus Dei attributa certo, & determinato modo exprimuntur. Demonstratio patet ex Propositione 15, & Definitione 5.


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:
A fantastic hyperlinked version, thanks Terry Neff:

Spinoza. Ethica. available online at:

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