The purpose of learning is to conceive adequate ideas

A diagram of key points in Chapter II of Ethics

In Proposition 32, Spinoza writes: “All ideas, insofar as they are related to God, are true.” (Spinoza, 1994a, p. 53). So learn of adequate ideas, to learn about them, is to learn the “truth” in a Spinozist sense. But, of course, we need to be aware of Spinoza’s conception of an adequate idea to grasp this statement fully. Spinoza rejects “essentialism” in his philosophy; there is no “set criteria” for “adequate ideas”. Moreover, he is suspicious of language to express adequate ideas. As we have seen, learning is an embodied experience which must necessarily take place in the body and the mind simultaneously. The adequate idea of a thing is always in God; it is contained in the infinite intellect, and it is only finite minds that have to go through a process of calculation to move from the inadequate idea of a thing to the adequate idea of a thing.

But we can see a rationale for learning emerging here; learning is about striving to have adequate ideas. It is, as Watkins puts it, a “journey” (Watkins, 2010, p. 9), an endless journey with no fixed destination, and it is the journey which is the whole point of it, a striving towards adequate ideas which can never be fully formed, but definitely be conceived of.

Journey into Joy

Carpe Diem Quest: what do you feel you want to learn most about before you die?

Cultural reflections: do you think our culture has an “adequate idea” of learning? Consider these statements:

  • Learning is only proven when you pass exams.
  • You can only learn properly when you have a good teacher.
  • Learning can be commodified: it can be a product which is sold on the free market, bought and sold like any other commodity.