Selection from – Ethics – Part III. On the Nature and Origin of the Emotions (Page 15)

Spinoza's Words: (on good and evil - the relativity of morals)

Note.—By good I here mean every kind of pleasure, and all that conduces thereto, especially that which satisfies our longings, whatsoever they may be. By evil, I mean every kind of pain, especially that which frustrates our longings. For I have shown that we in no case desire a thing because we deem it good, but, contrariwise, we deem a thing good because we desire it: consequently we deem evil that which we shrink from; everyone, therefore, according to his particular emotions, judges or estimates what is good, what is bad, what is better, what is worse, lastly, what is best, and what is worst.

Thus a miser thinks that abundance of money is the best, and want of money the worst; an ambitious man desires nothing so much as glory, and fears nothing so much as shame. To an envious man nothing is more delightful than another's misfortune, and nothing more painful than another's success. So every man, according to his emotions, judges a thing to be good or bad, useful or useless. The emotion, which induces a man to turn from that which he wishes is called timidity. But if the evil which he fears be shame, timidity becomes bashfulness. Lastly, if the desire to avoid a future evil be checked by the fear of another evil, so that the man knows not which to choose, fear becomes consternation, especially if both the evils feared be very great.


The absence of any authoritative standard of good or evil in Spinoza's philosophy is understandable given his concept that Nature itself is neither good or bad. Additionally, as Spinoza sees it we do not desire a thing because we think it is good, but we think a thing is good because we desire it. Goodness then is a quality in things derived from our desires; as is evilness.