All learning is subject to the passions of joy and sadness

…the mind can undergo great changes, and pass now to a greater, now to a lesser perfection. These passions, indeed, explain to us the affects of joy and sadness. By joy, therefore, I shall understand in what follows that passion by which the mind passes to a greater perfection. And by sadness, that passion by which it passes to a lesser perfection. The affect of joy which is related to the mind and body at once I call pleasure or cheerfulness, and that of sadness, pain or melancholy. (Spinoza, 1994a, pp. 77, P11 Schol.)

Spinoza argues that our mind are the victims of the two central affects of joy and sadness. When we feel joy we move to a more perfect or “real” state of mind, while sadness creates more imperfect states of mind. Therefore, we can say that the Spinozist learner should seek joy, but reason will inform him/her that their learning will involve times of sadness, pain and melancholy. This is inevitable and no adequate idea of learning could not take into account these difficult moments. Indeed, one could argue that there is no pleasure without pain: the nature of our finitude means we will always be subject to external causes and passive affects. However, Spinoza’s affective model is not “binary”: pleasure and pain are not opposites, but are on a continuum which we constantly move along.

This diagram shows that sadness exists within “joy” as an affect because sadness is the diminishing of the power of acting, a lessening of the affect of joy; it is not the opposite of joy at all, but a subset of it, and a necessary part of joy. The conatus, the striving is at the heart of the diagram, striving to preserve its being in whatever way it can. The arrow shows how the conatus moves up and down the sliding scale of the affects depending upon to what degree the affects of joy and sadness are shaping how the subject feels. Spinoza compares us to being like waves on the sea in the way we are victims of our external causes:

…we are driven about in many ways by external causes, and that, like waves on the sea, driven by contrary winds, we toss about, not knowing our outcome and fate. (pp. 103 P59, Schol.)

The affects have both internal and external causes, and can operate like “contrary winds” if we do not have an adequate understanding of them; they can sweep through us, created by the infinity of forces that bring each moment into being (Deleuze, 1988, p. 50).

When have you felt “tossed about” by the contrary winds of joy and sadness?