Summary  (Page 15)

picture of SpinozaAfter experience had taught me that all the usual
surroundings of social life are vain and futile... 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 from The Improvement of the Intellect" we began Spinoza's search which ended in the statement that the way is difficult and rare.

What, in summary, is the way that he has described? What does trying to find it involve? His answer is: “It involves the discovery of the union of the mind with the whole of Nature." Professor Frederick Woodbridge summarized Spinoza's vision in a lecture delivered at Columbia University, January 26, 1933 for the Spinoza tercentenary. Here are portions of it.

Spinoza saw humanity as enslaved - creatures in bondage to their emotions, to what they love and want, yet wanting what they love in freedom from the bondage that it brings. Above all Spinoza sees us enslaved by mental anxiety. We must care for what we love and want and that care is anxious care. We may lose, are daily in danger of losing, all that on which our emotions are set. In trying to get security, we must secure ourselves against others. There arise, consequently, hatreds and jealousies and enmities. We may shut and lock ourselves in, but anxiety sits outside on the step, waiting for us to come out. A mind without anxiety, undisturbed and at peace would be free.

The essential character of this bondage, however, suggests the possibility or escape from it... We cannot, Spinoza is convinced, escape the domination of our emotions. We are slaves to the love of something. The character and scope of our slavery depend on the character and scope of what we love. Is there then something, which has the power to evoke a love, which no other love can hinder or impair? Such a love would be slavery, but it would be so different from all other kinds that it would claim the name of freedom...

We have the sense of belonging to something and we want to belong to something that will fill us with an overmastering love, but we are ignorant of what that something is. If we knew what it is, Spinoza is convinced that our whole mental attitude would be changed. We should then see life in a different perspective from that of day to day. He tells us our place is in nature and to nature we belong. And that, he thinks, ought to make us happy and free. It sounds easy. Spinoza tells us it is difficult and rare…

What is our place in nature? The question is now no longer one of geography. It is not ascertained by chart and compass. It is discovered by the mind. It is a belonging to all that can be belonged to, and all that can be belonged to belongs to it. We must keep in mind that this is the mind's discovery.

Although the mind borrows its words from geography and getting and spending, it has discovered something else. It has discovered order, connection, interdependence, integrity, completeness, perfection. It has discovered essence, existence, idea and power. These do not define something to be found on a map.. They define something without which nothing can be nor be conceived...

To belong to nature is to belong to what nature is, to belong to that without which neither the sands or the desert nor the stars nor humankind could be at all...

Of nothing else, thinks Spinoza, have we more immediate or more certain knowledge. On it knowledge of everything else depends...

[If we could find our place, make that discovery of mind] ...we shall not cease to be human, we shall not cease to work hard or to have troubles and pains, but our attitude of mind will be changed. We shall not go through life crying, complaining and afraid. We shall not be docile, submissive, dissolute or resolute. We shall be something quite different. We shall be like one who has found an object that creates an irresistible love that cannot be lost, or taken away, or impaired should others love it too.

[An abridged version of this lecture (1500 words) and the complete lecture (5300 words) can be found on my web site "Science and Philosophy." They can be found by clicking to the web site here: http://sciphilos.info/docs_pages/docs_Woodbridge_abridged_css.html