Selection from – Ethics – Part III. On the Nature and Origin of the Emotions (Page 19)

Spinoza's Words: (driven by conflicting emotional responses we drift helplessly)

Proposition. LIX. Among all the emotions attributable to the mind as active, there are none which cannot be referred to pleasure or desire.

Now by pain we mean that the mind's power of thinking is diminished or checked; therefore, no painful emotions can be attributed to the mind in virtue of its being active, but only emotions of pleasure and desire.

Note.—All actions following from emotion, which are attributable to the mind in virtue of its understanding, I set down to strength of character which I divide into courage and highmindedness. By courage I mean the desire whereby every man strives to preserve his own being in accordance solely with the dictates of reason. By highmindedness I mean the desire solely under the dictates of reason, to aid other men and to unite them to himself in friendship.

Those actions, therefore, which have regard solely to the good of the agent I set down to courage, those which aim at the good of others I set down to highmindedness. Thus temperance, sobriety, and presence of mind in danger, &c., are varieties of courage; courtesy, mercy, &c., are varieties of highmindedness.

I think I have thus explained, and displayed through their primary causes the principal emotions and vacillations of spirit, which arise from the combination of the three primary emotions, to wit, desire, pleasure, and pain. It is evident from what I have said, that we are in many ways driven about by external causes, and that like waves of the sea driven by contrary winds we toss to and fro unwitting of the issue and of our fate. But I have said, that I have only set forth the chief conflicting emotions, not all that might be given.

I think everyone will agree from what has been said, that the emotions may be compounded one with another in so many ways, and so many variations may arise therefrom, as to exceed all possibility of computation. However, for my purpose, it is enough to have enumerated the most important.

However,, the definitions of the emotions require to be supplemented in a few points; I will therefore repeat them, interpolating such observations as I think should here and there be added


In the proposition above Spinoza infers that the mind. when it is active and thinking, does not dwell on objects or thoughts of pain. The actions that flow from emotions associated with reason can be described as courage and highmindedness. Courage is when we act to extend our personal power of being in the world by the use of reason. Highmindedness when, through the use of reason, we act to preserve society.

We react to events in the world with emotions that drive our actions every which way. In the next part of his book Spinoza calls the strength of those emotions - human bondage. Without the use of reason we are not our own master; we become slaves to our emotions.

Spinoza thinks he has explained the primary emotions but he feels the need to define some of them more finely and proceeds to summarize by means of definitions in the next section.