Preface

In his Preface to the final book of Ethics Spinoza criticises the Stoics and Descartes for having a false idea of how the mind can control the passions. Pointing out that he has already shown that the affects can be far more powerful than the individual, he argues that we are not free to feel and act in the ways we think we can: “the forces of the body cannot in any way be determined by those of the mind” (Spinoza, 1994a, p. 162). We are determined by an infinity of forces and the only way to be truly free is to begin to understand those forces: “the power of the mind is defined only by understanding…we shall determine by the mind’s knowledge alone, the remedies for the affects.”

So being free is understanding. To understand we need to teach ourselves. Thus we can see Spinoza is ultimately advocating a “pedagogy of the self”: he wishes us to become self-directed learners who learn to understand Nature adequately and thus become free. This is a “life-long learning” project and a dynamic process. There is no “endpoint” only a constant process of striving to understand.