Selection from – Political Treatise - Chapter II, On Natural Right (Page 4)

Spinoza's Words – (on dominion and Natural Law)

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Men in the state of nature can hardly be independent [but must]combine to defend the possession of the lands they inhabit and cultivate, to protect themselves, to repel all violence, The more there are that combine together, the more right they collectively possess. And if this is why the schoolmen want to call man a sociable animal.

Where men have general rights, and are all guided, as it were, by one mind, it is certain that every individual has the less right the more the rest collectively exceed him in power... And whatever he is ordered by the general consent, he is bound to execute, or may rightfully be compelled thereto. This right, which is determined by the power of a multitude, is generally called Dominion.

[If Dominion] belong to a council, composed of the general multitude, then the dominion is called a democracy; if the council be composed of certain chosen persons, then it is an aristocracy; and if, lastly, the care of affairs of state and, consequently, the dominion rest with one man, then it has the name of monarchy.

It becomes clear to us that, in the state of nature, wrong-doing is impossible; or, if anyone does wrong, it is to himself, not to another. For no one by the law of nature is bound to please another, unless he chooses, nor to hold anything to be good or evil, but what he himself, according to his own temperament, pronounces to be so; and, to speak generally, nothing is forbidden by the law of nature, except what is beyond everyone's power.

But wrongdoing is action, which cannot lawfully be committed. But if men by the ordinance of nature were bound to be led by reason, then all of necessity would be so led. For the ordinances of nature are the ordinances of (deus sive Natura) which are eternal, and cannot be broken. But men are chiefly guided by appetite, without reason; yet for all this they do not disturb the course of nature, but follow it of necessity. And, therefore, a man ignorant and weak of mind, is no more bound by natural law to order his life wisely, than a sick man is bound to be sound of body.


Taking the above paragraph by paragraph Spinoza is saying – man cannot live alone but must combine with others for mutual defense. Laws instituted by the group rightly take precedence over individuals. There are different kinds of grouping that constitute government – democracy, aristocracy and monarchy. A man living alone has no need of human-made law and can do anything that Nature allows. Men of reason would all agree on what is right and would do right. But men usually act according to their emotions though this has no effect on natural laws which are eternal and unbreakable and which they must follow anyhow.