Selection from – Ethics – Part III. On the Nature and Origin of the Emotions (Page 4)

Spinoza's Words: (as far as it is able, everything endeavors to continue to exist)

Proposition. VI. Everything, in so far as it is in itself, endeavours to persist in its own being.

Proposition. VII. The endeavour, wherewith everything endeavours to persist in its own being, is nothing else but the actual essence of the thing in question.

Proposition. IX. The mind..., endeavours to persist in its being for an indefinite period, and of this endeavour it is conscious.

Note.—This endeavour, when referred solely to the mind, is called will, when referred to the mind and body in conjunction it is called appetite; it is, in fact, nothing else but man's essence.

Further, between appetite and desire there is no difference, except that the term desire is generally applied to men, in so far as they are conscious of their appetite, and may accordingly be thus defined: Desire is appetite with consciousness thereof. It is thus plain that in no case do we strive for, wish for, long for, or desire anything, because we deem it to be good, but on the other hand we deem a thing to be good, because we strive for it, wish for it, long for it, or desire it.


We are at the center of some of Spinoza's most important convictions: everything strives to continue its existence and that is an essential part of its essence. Note that he has not restricted this tendency for self-preservation to conscious beings. He says it is the essence of everything. Something to ponder. It is clear that animals strive to preserve their lives. Touch an exposed earthworm and it writhes to avoid the anticipated beak of a predator. Do plants react to increase their chances for survival? In their own way they do. Many tree species in temperate zones drop their leaves in the fall avoiding the possible damage of snowfall. All living things have adaptions that help them cope with environmental change.

Going further – everything endeavours to persist in its own being. The tendency to persist can imaginatively extended to inanimate objects. A mountain does not immediately succumb to the forces of wind and rain. It will do so in time, but the essence of stone is to resist.

Man's essence is a will to live, to continue existence. We will see later that the desire to continue to exist is more than narrow self-interest. In Spinoza's hands it turns into a supremely ethical way of life.

And so, desire is paramount and those things that we desire we call good. There is no absolute good that we should desire. There are no commandments handed down from on high.