Selection from – Ethics – Part V. On the Power of the Intellect; or of Human Freedom (Page 12)

Spinoza's Words: (without the hope and fear of the afterlife most believe there would be chaos)

Note. – Most people seem to believe that they are free, in so far as they may obey their lusts, and that they cede their rights, in so far as they are bound to live according to the commandments of the divine law. They therefore believe that piety, religion, and, generally, all things attributable to firmness of mind, are burdens, which, after death, they hope to lay aside, and to receive the reward for their bondage, that is, for their piety and religion; it is not only by this hope, but also, and chiefly, by the fear of being horribly punished after death, that they are induced to live according to the divine commandments, so far as their feeble and infirm spirit will carry them.

If men had not this hope and this fear, but believed that the mind perishes with the body, and that no hope of prolonged life remains for the wretches who are broken down with the burden of piety, they would return to their own inclinations, controlling everything in accordance with their lusts, and desiring to obey fortune rather than themselves. Such a course appears to me not less absurd than if a man, because he does not believe that he can by wholesome food sustain his body for ever, should wish to cram himself with poisons and deadly fare; or if, because he sees that the mind is not eternal or immortal, he should prefer to be out of his mind altogether, and to live without the use of reason; these ideas are so absurd as to be scarcely worth refuting.


Most people believe that freedom consists of not living under the constraints of society and of living by the free exercise of their emotions. They hope that after death they will be rewarded by being relieved of the burden of societal restraints. More importantly, they live under societal restraints only because of fear of punishment in the afterlife.

If this hope of reward and fear of punishment did not exist many think there would be chaos. Spinoza believes this is complete nonsense.