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Nature of Emotions in “Ethics” by Spinoza Essay

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Updated: May 19th, 2021

According to Spinoza, the major mistake made by those investigating the nature of emotions is that they choose to deal with concepts outside a person’s nature instead of those inside it (Ethics III, p. 5). Thus, the philosopher argues that it is incorrect to attribute an individual’s faults to defects in their nature. Spinoza defines emotions as “the affections of the body by which the body’s power of activity” is developed or decreased, assisted or evaluated, along with the “ideas of these affections” (Ethics III, Def. 3, p. 6). Therefore, as the philosopher remarks, if a person can be the adequate reason for one of these such affections, then the emotion is “activity, otherwise passivity” (Ethics III, Def. 3, p. 6).

A common feature for all emotions is that they are related to the mind “insofar as it is active” and, at the same time, they are associated with “pleasure and desire” (Ethics III, Pr. 59, p. 9). The main differences between emotions are their implications. Spinoza defines a desire as “the very essence of man”(Ethics III, Pr. 59, Def. 1, p. 9). Further, he mentions that pleasure is the transition from “a state of less perfection to a state of greater perfection” (Ethics III, Pr. 59, Def. 2, p. 9).

On the contrary, pain is explained as the transition from “a state of a greater perfection to a state of lesser perfection” (Ethics III, Pr. 59, Def. 3, p. 9). Using these two definitions, the philosopher explains each emotion either as pleasure or pain. For instance, love, hope, confidence, self-contentment, and honor are said to be pleasures (Ethics III, Pr. 59, Def. 6, 12, 14, 25, 30, pp. 9-10). Meanwhile, hatred, fear, despair, and pity are defined as pain (Ethics III, Pr. 59, Def. 7, 13, 15, 18, pp. 9-10).

Work Cited

Spinoza, Baruch. Ethics.

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