Selection from – Ethics – Part III. On the Nature and Origin of the Emotions (Page 24)

Spinoza's Words: (right and wrong taught by parents and society)

Explanation - This is perhaps the place to call attention to the fact, that it is nothing wonderful that all those actions, which are commonly called wrong, are followed by pain, and all those, which are called right, are followed by pleasure. We can easily gather from what has been said, that this depends in great measure on education.

Parents, by reprobating the former class of actions, and by frequently chiding their children because of them, and also by persuading to and praising the latter class, have brought it about, that the former should be associated with pain and the latter with pleasure. This is confirmed by experience. For custom and religion are not the same among all men, but that which some consider sacred others consider profane, and what some consider honourable others consider disgraceful. According as each man has been educated, he feels repentance for a given action or glories therein.


After defining a series of terms such as confidence, dispair, dissapoinment, pity, approval, indignation Spinoza pauses to say something about parental training as a cause of distingushing between right and wrong. He goes on to say that since custom and religion vary in different societies the determination of what is right and what is wrong also varies. Morality is relative, not absolute.