Selection from – On the Improvement of the Understanding (Page 1)

Spinoza's Words: (about his experience of life)

After experience had taught me that all the usual
surroundings of social life are vain and futile; seeing that none
of the objects of my fears contained in themselves anything either
good or bad, except in so far as the mind is affected by them,
I finally resolved to inquire whether there might be some real
good having power to communicate itself, which would affect the
mind singly, to the exclusion of all else: whether, in fact, there
might be anything of which the discovery and attainment would
enable me to enjoy continuous, supreme, and unending happiness


With these words Spinoza begins an essay that he never finished. It is called On the Improvement of the Understanding (Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect). From the title his intention is clear. To understand his work we need to think more deeply. We need to be smarter. So he has written this essay to help.

He says his experience has taught him to devalue ordinary things and seek happiness elsewhere. It is indicative of extraordinary mind that a young man of twenty-four, unmarried with only a traditional medieval Jewish education should be able to discern the relative unimportance of worldly delights. The very epitome of the philosophical mind set.

He also lets us know here, at the very beginning, what his objective is. Like almost all philosophers Spinoza seeks to understand what it means to "live a good life." Unlike almost all philosophers he managed to discover what that was and then to actually live it – much to the discomfort of his detractors who wished him dammed.