In Propositions 6-9 of Chapter 3, Spinoza outlines his theory of the “conatus” – the striving within all of us to preserve our beings (p. 75). He argues that our minds have an idea of this “striving”. He writes:
When this striving is related to the mind, it is called the will; but when it is related to the mind and body together, it is called appetite. The appetite, therefore, is nothing but the very essence of man, from whose nature there necessarily follows those things that promote his preservation. And so man is determined to do those things.
Between appetite and desire there is no difference, except that desire is generally related to men insofar as they are conscious of their appetite. So desire can be defined as Appetite together with consciousness of the appetite.
From all this, then, it is clear that we neither strive for, nor will, neither want, nor desire anything because we judge it to be good; on the contrary, we judge something to be good because we strive for it, will it, want it, and desire it. (pp. 76, P9, Schol.)
This is important because we could conceptualise the learner as fundamentally driven, like all of us, by his/her conatus. The conatus is at the heart of who we are – our essence – but all of conatuses strive necessarily for different things because we all have experienced and experience different contexts, different objects which our appetites attach themselves to. The teacher needs to be conscious of the infinite diversity of the strivings that his/her pupils have. Students are striving to preserve their beings, but may have deeply inadequate ideas about how to do this, many of those ideas may not have any notion that the learning being offered by the teacher can do that. Their strivings, their appetites may be taking them in a different direction; they may see that their beings are best preserved by gaining the friendship and respect of their peers for example.