In addition to these two kinds of knowledge, there is…another, third kind, which we shall call intuitive knowledge. And this kind of knowing proceeds from an adequate idea of the formal essence of certain attributes of God to the adequate knowledge of the (NS: formal) essence of things. (Spinoza, 1994a, pp. 57, Schol. 2)
Once we have an adequate of things, we can “move up” to the third kind of knowledge which is intuition. Later on, in Chapter 5 of Ethics, Spinoza argues that this types of knowledge leads to Blessedness. Jarrett writes: “The more knowledge of this sort that we have, the less we are affected by bad emotions and the less we fear death” (Jarrett, 2007, p. 158).
We can only have this “blessedness” though if we have relevant adequate ideas. Perhaps here, we have the learner’s ultimate “goal” to attain blessedness? This is possibly problematic in the sense that the Spinozist system claims not be “teleological”, i.e. it is not the means to an end, but here we have a clear sense of an “end”; to become blessed. Or possibly this is an inadequate idea of what Spinoza means. But if one was to return to the metaphor of the “Journey into Joy” one could say that all journeys ultimately have a destination, otherwise they would not be journeys, but this destination does not necessarily have to be fixed or even known at the start of the journey, and possibly this gets to the notion of “blessedness”. It is not something that can be plotted on a map; it is conceived of in the process of developing adequate ideas, it is a natural and necessary “by-product” of the second kind of knowledge.
Spinoza appropriates the term “reason” in Ethics: it is not the narrow, mechanical, logical definition of reason which the word has come to acquire in the last two centuries. Indeed, it is worthwhile noting that two vital words have very different connotations today than they do in Ethics: reason and imagination. Reason for Spinoza involves having “adequate ideas” or “common notions”; this includes conceiving of all the forces which have produced an idea, situating it in its specific context. And so we could argue that one interpretation of Spinozist conceptions of reason is the “Journey into Joy” (Watkins, 2003, p. 9). Reason for Spinoza is the active pursuit of knowledge, not the passive reception of it. Reason is a process of becoming. It is simultaneously an intellectual and emotional process. Gilles Deleuze writes:
Reason is: 1. An effort to select and organize good encounters, that is, encounters of modes that enter into composition with outs and inspire us with joyful passions (feelings that agree with reason); 2. The perception and comprehension of the common notions, that is, of the relations that enter into this composition, from which one deduces other relations (reasoning) and on the basis of which one experiences new feelings, active ones this time (feelings that are born of reason). (Deleuze, 1988, pp. 55-56)
I would like to argue that “reason” is about an encounter with the first kind of knowledge, the inadequate ideas, and involves conceiving that they are inadequate ideas. This, for me, begins to conceive of an adequate idea of learning.
As Deleuze points out, reason is an “effort”, an expenditure of energy, and is also as much an emotional process as intellectual one. Reason necessarily leads to increasing the mind’s power and therefore is a joyful experience. This seems vital to any meaningful learning process; it has to cause “joy”. But how can this happen if learners are frightened of making mistakes? How can they ever be raised to the next level of knowledge, to reason, if they are terrified of being labelled as “stupid” if they admit to the inadequate knowledge?
Journey into Joy
What connotations does the word “reason” have for you?
It is clear that we perceive many things and form universal notions:
- From singular things which have been represented to us through the senses in a way which is mutilated, confused, and without order for the intellect (see 29C); for that reason I have been accustomed to call such perceptions knowledge from random experience;
- From signs, for example, from the fact that, having heard or read certain words, we recollect things, and form certain ideas of them, like those through which we imagine the things (P18S); these two ways of regarding things I shall henceforth call knowledge of the first kind or imagination; (Spinoza, 1994a, pp. 57, Schol. 2)
Clearly, it is incumbent upon the learner to be aware of the fact that much knowledge is inadequate because it has been acquired by the senses or by reading “signs” and has not been situated within an adequate “context”; it has not been thought through carefully enough. What Spinoza calls “opinion” or “imaginative” knowledge is the only cause of “falsity”. But it is necessary because it is only by being aware of this false knowledge that one can be conscious of what is “true”. Thus we can see that a Spinozist pedagogy is one which embraces the learner making mistakes and learning from them. As we have seen, we make mistakes because we are not in full possession of the “truth”.
Journey into Joy
Reflections: When have you learnt by making mistakes? What’s your attitude towards making mistakes when you’re learning? Are you embarrassed by making them? Do you avoid asking questions about things because you don’t want to appear stupid? What does this say about your conceptions of learning?