18 Sep 2010

God is free. Spinoza's Ethics, Book 1, Proposition 17, Summary 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?

We are all a part of a more fundamental reality. It is what underlies us and everything else. It in a way stands intrinsically 'below' all us. It is our substance. It makes us who we are fundamentally. We express it. And our fundamental underlying reality is itself free in what it does and undergoes. It might be that the way we ourselves act and feel is governed by something outside us. But from the perspective of the whole, there is no outside force causing reality's changes. We are small partial expressions of this one infinite self-causing substance.

Brief Summary:

God, Who is the infinite underlying substance of all reality acts only on His own accord.

Points Relative to Deleuze:
[Under Ongoing Revision]

The underlying 'substance,' so to speak, of all reality is difference. And what makes us who we are is that we are made-up of variations expressing difference. But this difference is not difference in the sense that one thing is lacking what something else has. Rather, the difference underlying reality and our very own selves is a more profound sort of difference. It is difference as an empty form of difference, not yet filled by explicit identifiable differences. It is only difference in the sense that the multiplicity of tendencies-toward-variation are all implicit in it. It is not that they are hidden. They are fully expressed, but only implicitly, as inner tendencies, that is, as intensities. All the many particular differences which we see (and secondarily understand in terms of one thing lacking what another thing has)- all these actual differences are explicit proof of the more infinitely inclusive underlying difference which makes these particular differences allowable in the first place. But the underlying difference is singular only in the sense that it is like a pure heterogeneity, nowhere the same. We might, if we insist, say that there is just one underlying heterogeneity, but that is also like saying that there is one infinite multiplicity that underlies all reality and our own selves as well.

Baruch Spinoza
Part I "Concerning God"
Proposition XVII

PROP. XVII. God acts solely by the laws of his own nature, and is not constrained by anyone.

[God acts on his own account and in accordance with his own self. His actions are never influenced by anything other than himself.]

Proof .— We have just shown (in Prop. xvi.), that solely from the necessity of the divine nature, or, what is the same thing, solely from the laws of his nature, an infinite number of things absolutely follow in an infinite number of ways ; and we proved (in Prop. xv.), that without God nothing can be nor be conceived ; but that all things are in God. Wherefore nothing can exist outside himself, whereby he can be conditioned or constrained to act. Wherefore God acts solely by the laws of his own nature, and is not constrained by anyone. Q.E.D.

[A definition for something states things about it. But it also implies other things too. From the definition of a triangle, we can deductively infer that its angles equal two right angles. And the more that the definition implies or expresses (and thus the greater its reality or essence), the more that follows from its definition. The essence and nature of God is infinite, so an infinite number of things follows in an infinite number of ways from his definition. We also determined that there is only one substance: God. Substances can be conceived only in and through themselves. Thus there is only God who can be conceived in and through itself. Modes modify a substance. But they must be conceived through the substance they modify. But things exist either in themselves or in something else. So there are only substances and modes. Both of them are conceived through God. Hence all things follow from God. And because his essence is infinite, that means all the infinity of things follow from Him.

So God is the cause of the infinity of things following from Him. And there is nothing but God. Hence there is nothing outside Him to constrain or condition his actions. Hence God acts solely on his own account, and his actions are not constrained by anything else.]

Corollary I.-It follows : 1. That there can be no cause which, either extrinsically or intrinsically, besides the perfection of his own nature, moves God to act.

[If God acts only on his own account, then He does not act because of anything else. In other words, there is no other cause, whether within him or outside him, that causes God to act, other than the infinite fullness of his own nature.]

Corollary II.-It follows : 2. That God is the sole free cause. For God alone exists by the sole necessity of his nature (by Prop. xi. and Prop. xiv., Coroll. i.), and acts by the sole necessity of his own nature, wherefore God is (by Def. vii.) the sole free cause. Q.E.D.

[God is self-caused, so he necessarily exists. And as well, there is one God whose substance is absolutely infinite. As we noted above, he acts solely on his own account. We call something free when it exists solely by the necessity of its own nature (that is, when its existence follows from its essence or definition), and when also its actions are determined by itself alone. Hence God is the only free cause.]

Note .— Others think that God is a free cause, because he can, as they think, bring it about, that those things which we have said follow from his nature-that is, which are in his power, should not come to pass, or should not be produced by him. But this is the same as if they said, that God could bring it about, that it should follow from the nature of a triangle that its three interior angles should not be equal to two right angles ; or that from a given cause no effect should follow, which is absurd.

[Some people will come to Spinoza's conclusion, that God is an uncaused (free) cause, but they will do so by a different sort of reasoning. They note that there are many beings that God causes. But He also could have not caused them as well. Hence in a way, all things are under God's power, and not the other way around. Hence God is completely unrestrained in his actions. But Spinoza seems to think that whatever God causes could not have been otherwise. God is infinite, and He expresses himself in an infinite number of ways. So it is because of God's essence that all the things we see follow necessarily from him. So although God is the only absolutely necessary being, it is necessary that he be the cause of all things he produces. It cannot be that any being we see could not have been caused. That is like saying God is not infinite and does not completely express his infinity; for, any such caused being expresses his infinity.]

Moreover, I will show below, without the aid of this proposition, that neither intellect nor will appertain to God’s nature. I know that there are many who think that they can show, that supreme intellect and free will do appertain to God’s nature ; for they say they know of nothing more perfect, which they can attribute to God, than that which is the highest perfection in ourselves. Further, although they conceive God as actually supremely intelligent, they yet do not believe that he can bring into existence everything which he actually understands, for they think that they would thus destroy God’s power. If, they contend, God had created everything which is in his intellect, he would not be able to create anything more, and this, they think, would clash with God’s omnipotence ; therefore, they prefer to asset that God is indifferent to all things, and that he creates nothing except that which he has decided, by some absolute exercise of will, to create.

[Some people think that anything good about humans must be found in a more perfect form in God. We have intellects and will, so perhaps God has a supreme intellect and will.

These people think something in addition to this. So in the first place they think God has a supreme intellect. But they do not believe that God has created everything that He can think of. For, if He had, he would have run out of things to create. This would put an end or limit to his powers to create. But God supposedly has unlimited powers. Hence they think that God does not create everything he can conceive, but rather He uses his supreme will to decide to create
only some certain things.]

However, I think I have shown sufficiently clearly (by Prop. xvi.), that from God’s supreme power, or infinite nature, an infinite number of things-that is, all things have necessarily flowed forth in an infinite number of ways, or always flow from the same necessity ; in the same way as from the nature of a triangle it follows from eternity and for eternity, that its three interior angles are equal to two right angles. Wherefore the omnipotence of God has been displayed from all eternity, and will for all eternity remain in the same state of activity. This manner of treating the question attributes to God an omnipotence, in my opinion, far more perfect. For, otherwise, we are compelled to confess that God understands an infinite number of creatable things, which he will never be able to create, for, if he created all that he understands, he would, according to this showing, exhaust his omnipotence, and render himself imperfect. Wherefore, in order to establish that God is perfect, we should be reduced to establishing at the same time, that he cannot bring to pass everything over which his power extends ; this seems to be a hypothesis most absurd, and most repugnant to God’s omnipotence.

[But, Spinoza reminds us, we have already seen that from God's infinite essence, an infinity of things necessarily follow and are expressed in an infinity of ways. This holds for all eternity, and not just for his state at any given point in durational time.

Spinoza thinks that this understanding of God portrays Him as expressing a higher form of perfection. Those who take the other position say that he thinks things, but cannot create them, because by exhausting all his possibilities for creation, he thereby limits his creative power. Spinoza notes that this is equivalent to saying that God has a limitation to his power to create; for, he always must withhold something from creation. May I note something like this in Heidegger's theory of origination. One conception could be that God is always withholding something from creation, so that there is always something to be created, and so the created is always tending toward that hidden uncreated (Also see the MisHearing Heidegger section of this text, the part discussing the poetic withholding of the gods.) For Spinoza, God would have more power to create if he holds nothing back from the expression of his infinite nature.]

Further (to say a word here concerning the intellect and the will which we attribute to God), if intellect and will appertain to the eternal essence of God, we must take these words in some significance quite different from those they usually bear. For intellect and will, which should constitute the essence of God, would perforce be as far apart as the poles from the human intellect and will, in fact, would have nothing in common with them but the name ; there would be about as much correspondence between the two as there is between the Dog, the heavenly constellation, and a dog, an animal that barks. This I will prove as follows. If intellect belongs to the divine nature, it cannot be in nature, as ours is generally thought to be, posterior to, or simultaneous with the things understood, inasmuch as God is prior to all things by reason of his causality (Prop. xvi., Coroll. i.). On the contrary, the truth and formal essence of things is as it is, because it exists by representation as such in the intellect of God. Wherefore the intellect of God, in so far as it is conceived to constitute God’s essence, is, in reality, the cause of things, both of their essence and of their existence. This seems to have been recognized by those who have asserted, that God’s intellect, God’s will, and God’s power, are one and the same. As, therefore, God’s intellect is the sole cause of things, namely, both of their essence and existence, it must necessarily differ from them in respect to its essence, and in respect to its existence. For a cause differs from a thing it causes, precisely in the quality which the latter gains from the former.

[God is the efficient cause of all things. And we understand an effect by understanding the cause. Thus God's understanding is prior to the things understood, where in contrast, our understanding of this is posterior to them. So because the ideas for things in God's mind are prior to the things, the truth and essence of things is what it is because that is how the things are represented in God's mind. God's intellect then is the cause for the essence and existence of all things. This corresponds to the more common belief that God's will, intellect, and power are all one in the same. But, causes are different from their effects. God's intellect is the cause of our intellects, but that then means his intellect must be of a different nature than ours. Hence we both have an intellect in name only, but these intellects are so different that it is misleading for us to use the same word 'intellect' to refer to both.]

For example, a man is the cause of another man’s existence, but not of his essence (for the latter is an eternal truth), and, therefore, the two men may be entirely similar in essence, but must be different in existence ; and hence if the existence of one of them cease, the existence of the other will not necessarily cease also ; but if the essence of one could be destroyed, and be made false, the essence of the other would be destroyed also. Wherefore, a thing which is the cause both of the essence and of the existence of a given effect, must differ from such effect both in respect to its essence, and also in respect to its existence. Now the intellect of God is the cause both of the essence and the existence of our intellect ; therefore, the intellect of God in so far as it is conceived to constitute the divine essence, differs from our intellect both in respect to essence and in respect to existence, nor can it in anywise agree therewith save in name, as we said before. The reasoning would be identical in the case of the will, as anyone can easily see.

[Now consider how human beings come from other human beings. The parents are the cause of the existence of their children. But the essence of that child is something they do not cause. The essence is something eternal. So say that the child's essence is very similar to the father's. Even though their essences are similar, their existences must be different. This way, if one of them dies, the other can go on living. But it is in the essence of the father to have caused the existence of the child. So if we delete the essence of the child, we delete the essence of the father too, and vice-versa. This is like saying that it is in the essence of the father that he be the father of some child, but also saying that there is no such child, not even in the mind of God. So when essences are similar, like between fathers and their children, it cannot be said that that one essence is the cause of the other, because their similarity makes them mutually dependent on each other for their essence. So for something to cause both the essence and the existence of another being, they must differ both in essence and existence, for that way it is conceivable that the one can exist prior to the other. But God's intellect is the cause of the existence and essence of our intellects. This means that his intellect must be very different from ours in both its essence and existence.]

From Deleuze's Commentary:

[ft.8 to Ch.2]:
For the criticism of equivocation, see E I.17c2: If will and understanding were attributes essentially to God, this would be equivocally, and so purely verbally, more or less as the word "dog" indicates a heavenly constellation. [356a]

Sur la critique de l'équivocity, cf. E, I, 17, cor. 2. (Si la volonté et l'entendement s'attriuaient essentiallement à Dieu, ce serait de manière équivoque, donc toute verbale, à peu près comme le mot "chien" désigne une constellation céleste.) [39d]

For the criticism of equivocation, see E I.17c2: If will and understanding were attributes essentially to God, this would be equivocally, and so purely verbally, more or less as the word "dog" indicates a heavenly constellation. [356a]

Sur la critique de l'équivocité, cf. E, I, 17, cor. 2. (Si la volonté et l'entendement s'attribuaient essentiellement à Dieu, ce serait de manière équivoque, donc toute verbale, à peu près comme le mot « chien » désigne une constellation céleste.) [39d]

Spinoza can thus pride himself not only on having reduced to the status of creatures things that had previously been considered as attributes of God, but on having at the same time raised to the status of divine attributes things that had before him been considered as creatures. [ft.10] As a rule Spinoza sees no contradiction between the assertion of a community of form and the positing of a distinction of essences. In adjacent passages he says: (1) If things have nothing in common, one cannot be the cause of the other; (2) If a thing is cause of both the essence and existence of another, then it must differ from it both in the ground of its essence, and in that of its existence. [ft.11] [Deleuze, 48bc]

C’est pourquoi Spinoza ne se vante pas seulement d’avoir réduit à l’état de créatures des choses que l’on considérait jusqu’à lui comme des attributs de Dieu, mais en même temps d’avoir élevé à l’état d’attributs de Dieu des choses que l’on considérait comme des créatures [ft.10]. En règle générale, Spinoza ne voit aucune contradiction entre l’affirmation d’une communauté de forme et la position d’une distinction d’essences. Il dira dans des textes voisins : 1°) si des choses n’ont rien de commun entre elles, l’une ne peut /être la cause de l’autre ; 2°) si une chose est cause de l’essence et de l’existence d’une autre, elle doit en différer tant en raison de l’essence qu’en raison de l’existence [ft.11]. [Deleuze, 39d]

Suppose by analogy with man, that understanding and will were attributes of God himself. [ft.8, citation]. This would not get us very far, for we would be attributing understanding and will to God only equivocally: because of the distinction of divine and human essence, divine and human understanding and will share a “ community of name” only, like dog-star and barking dog-animal. Numerous absurdities follow, according to which God must contain eminently the perfection through which he produces creatures. 1. From the viewpoint of understanding, God will be said to be “omnipotent” precisely because he is “unable” to create things with perfections as he understands them, that is, in the same form as they belong to him. So one purports to demonstrate the omnipotence of God through an impotence. [ft.9, citation] 2. From the viewpoint of will, it will be said that God might have willed otherwise, or that things might have been of another nature had God so willed. God is attributed will, it is made his essence; but it is supposed at the same time that he might have had a different will, and so a different essence (unless divine will be made a pure thing of reason, in which case the contradictions are only increased); this allows the supposition of two or more possible gods. So here variability and plurality are introduced into God, to demonstrate his eminence. [ft.10] [Deleuze, 103b-104]

Supposons, par analogie avec l’homme, qui l’ entendement et la volonté soient des attributs de Dieu lui-même [ft.8, citation]. Nous aurons beau faire, nous n’attribuons à Dieu volonté et entendement que de manière équivoque : en vertu de la distinction d’essence entre l’homme et Dieu, la volonté et l’entendement divins n’auront avec l’humain qu’une « communauté de nom », comme le Chien-constellation avec le chien-animal aboyant. En sortent de nombreuses absurdités, d’après lesquelles Dieu devra contenir éminemment les perfections sous lesquelles il produit les créatures. 1°) Du point de vue de l’entendement : on dira que Dieu est « tout-puissant » précisément parce qu’il « ne peut pas » créer les choses avec les mêmes perfections qu’il les entend, c’est-à-dire sous les mêmes formes que celles qui lui appartiennent. Ainsi l’on prétend prouver la toute-puissance de Dieu par une impuissance [ft.9, citation]. 2°) Du point de vue de la volonté : on dira que Dieu aurait pu vouloir autre chose, ou que les choses auraient pu être d’une autre nature si Dieu l’avait voulu. On attribue à Dieu la volonté, on en fait donc l’essence de Dieu ; mais on suppose en même temps que Dieu aurait pu avoir une autre volonté, donc une autre essence (à moins de faire de la volonté divine un pur être de raison, auquel cas les contradictions redoublent) ; dès lors on suppose que deux ou plusieurs dieux pourraient être donnés. Cette fois, on met en Dieu variabilité et pluralité pour prouver son éminence [ft.10]. (Deleuze 91a.c)

In short God acts “by the laws of his nature alone”: he could not have produced anything else, or produced things in a different order, except by having a different nature. [ft.11, citation] [Deleuze, 104bc]

En un mot, Dieu agit « d’après les seules lois de sa nature » : il n’aurait pu produire autre chose, ni produire le choses dans un autre ordre, sans avoir une autre nature. [ft.11, citation]. [Deleuze, 92a]

Even in the Ethics he uses effluere to indicate the way modes follow from substance (I.17s) [Deleuze, 376a, ft.4]

Même dans l’Ethique, il emploiera effluere pour indiquer la manière dont les modes suivent de la substance (I, 17, sc.) [Deleuze, 155d, ft.4]

If all essences agree, this is just because they are not causes one of another, but all have God as their cause. Within we consider them concretely, referring them all to the cause on which they depend, we posit them all together, coexisting and agreeing. [ft.10: On the agreement of the essences, cf. E I.17s] [Deleuze 194c; 379a]

Si toutes les essences conviennent, c’est précisément parce qu’elles ne sont pas causes les unes des autres, mais, toutes ont Dieu pour cause. Quand nous les considérons concrètement, les rapportant à la cause dont elles dépendent, nous les posons toutes ensemble, coexistantes et convenantes. [ft.10 : Sur la convenance des essences, cf. E, I, 17, sc.]

From the Latin text:


Deus ex solis suæ naturæ legibus, & a nemine coactus agit.


Ex sola divinæ naturæ necessitate, vel (quod idem est) ex solis ejusdem naturæ legibus, infinita absolute sequi, modo Prop. 16 ostendimus; & Prop. 15 demonstravimus, nihil sine Deo esse, nec concipi posse, sed omnia in Deo esse; quare nihil extra ipsum esse potest, a quo ad agendum determinetur, vel cogatur, atque adeo Deus ex solis suæ naturæ legibus, & a nemine coactus agit. Q.E.D.

Corollarium I

Hinc sequitur Iº. nullam dari causam, quæ Deum extrinsece, vel intrinsece, præter ipsius naturæ perfectionem, incitet ad agendum.

Corollarium II

Sequitur IIº. solum Deum esse causam liberam. Deus enim solus ex sola suæ naturæ necessitate existit (per Prop. 11 & Coroll. 1 Prop. 14), & ex sola suæ naturæ necessitate agit (per Prop. præced.). Adeoque (per Defin. 7) solus est causa libera. Q.E.D.


Alii putant, Deum esse causam liberam, propterea quod potest, ut putant, efficere, ut ea, quæ ex ejus natura sequi diximus, hoc est, quæ in ejus potestate sunt, non fiant, sive ut ab ipso non producantur. Sed hoc idem est, ac si dicerent, quod Deus potest efficere, ut ex natura trianguli non sequatur, ejus tres angulos æquales esse duobus rectis; sive ut ex data causa non sequatur effectus, quod est absurdum. Porro infra absque ope hujus Propositionis ostendam, ad Dei naturam neque intellectum, neque voluntatem pertinere. Scio equidem plures esse, qui putant, se posse demonstrare, ad Dei naturam summum intellectum, & liberam voluntatem pertinere; nihil enim perfectius cognoscere sese ajunt, quod Deo tribuere possunt, quam id, quod in nobis summa est perfectio. Porro, tametsi Deum actu summe intelligentem concipiant, non tamen credunt, eum posse omnia, quæ actu intelligit, efficere, ut existant; nam se eo modo Dei potentiam destruere putant. Si omnia, inquiunt, quæ in ejus intellectu sunt, creavisset, nihil tum amplius creare potuisset, quod credunt Dei omnipotentiæ repugnare; ideoque maluerunt Deum ad omnia indifferentem statuere, nec aliud creantem præter id; quod absoluta quadam voluntate decrevit creare. Verum ego me satis clare ostendisse puto (vide Prop. 16), a summa Dei potentia, sive infinita natura infinita infinitis modis, hoc est, omnia necessario effluxisse, vel semper eadem necessitate sequi, eodem modo, ac ex natura trianguli ab æterno, & in æternum sequitur, ejus tres angulos æquari duobus rectis. Quare Dei omnipotentia actu ab æterno fuit, & in æternum in eadem actualitate manebit. Et hoc modo Dei omnipotentia longe, meo quidem judicio, perfectior statuitur. Imo adversarii Dei omnipotentiam (liceat aperte loqui) negare videntur. Coguntur enim fateri, Deum infinita creabilia intelligere, quæ tamen nunquam creare poterit. Nam alias, si scilicet omnia, quæ intelligit, crearet, suam, juxta ipsos, exhauriret omnipotentiam, & se imperfectum redderet. Ut igitur Deum perfectum statuant, eo rediguntur, ut simul statuere debeant, ipsum non posse omnia efficere, ad quæ ejus potentia se extendit, quo absurdius, aut Dei omnipotentiæ magis repugnans, non video, quid fingi possit. Porro, ut de intellectu, & voluntate, quos Deo communiter tribuimus, hic etiam aliquid dicam; si ad æternam Dei essentiam, intellectus scilicet, & voluntas pertinent, aliud sane per utrumque hoc attributum intelligendum est, quam quod vulgo solent homines. Nam intellectus, & voluntas, qui Dei essentiam constituerent, a nostro intellectu, & voluntate, toto coelo differre deberent, nec in ulla re, præterquam in nomine, convenire possent; non aliter scilicet, quam inter se conveniunt canis, signum coeleste, & canis, animal latrans. Quod sic demonstrabo. Si intellectus ad divinam naturam pertinet, non poterit, uti noster intellectus, posterior (ut plerisque placet), vel simul natura esse cum rebus intellectis, quandoquidem Deus omnibus rebus prior est causalitate (per Coroll. 1 Prop. 16); sed contra veritas, & formalis rerum essentia ideo talis est, quia talis in Dei intellectu existit objective. Quare Dei intellectus, quatenus Dei essentiam constituere concipitur, est revera causa rerum, tam earum essentiæ, quam earum existentiæ; quod ab iis videtur etiam fuisse animadversum, qui Dei intellectum, voluntatem, & potentiam unum & idem esse asseruerunt. Cum itaque Dei intellectus sit unica rerum causa, videlicet (ut ostendimus) tam earum essentiæ, quam earum existentiæ, debet ipse necessario ab iisdem differre, tam ratione essentiæ, quam ratione existentiæ. Nam causatum differt a sua causa præcise in eo, quod a causa habet. Ex. gr. homo est causa existentiæ, non vero essentiæ alterius hominis; est enim hæc æterna veritas: & ideo secundum essentiam prorsus convenire possunt; in existendo autem differre debent; & propterea, si unius existentia pereat, non ideo alterius peribit; sed, si unius essentia destrui posset, & fieri falsa, destrueretur etiam alterius essentia. Quapropter res, quæ & essentiæ, & existentiæ, alicujus effectus est causa, a tali effectu differre debet, tam ratione essentiæ, quam ratione existentiæ. Atqui Dei intellectus est & essentiæ, & existentiæ nostri intellectus causa: ergo Dei intellectus, quatenus divinam essentiam constituere concipitur, a nostro intellectu, tam ratione essentiæ, quam ratione existentiæ differt, nec in ulla re, præterquam in nomine, cum eo convenire potest, ut volebamus. Circa voluntatem eodem modo proceditur, ut facile unusquisque videre potest.


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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