Conceptualising Spinoza’s learning processes

This diagram is attempting to represent the learning processes outlined in Ethics. First, as has been demonstrated before, it makes clear that all learning, all being, all becoming is “in God or nature”, even the perception of inadequate ideas. Second, it reveals that the learner needs to conceive of adequate ideas in order to properly learn. Third, it reveals that a necessary consequence of the conceiving of adequate ideas is blessedness and the awareness of God’s immanence.

Journey into Joy

Draw your own diagram or picture which constructs an idea of your own learning processes.


Learning is becoming aware of inadequate ideas

There are no “absolute” errors in a Spinozist pedagogy, only inadequate ways of knowing. Spinoza’s Proposition 35 states: “Falsity consists in the privation of knowledge which inadequate, or mutilated and confused, ideas involve.” (Spinoza, 1994a, p. 53). An important indication of Spinozist pedagogical thinking is implied in a section of the Scholarium to Proposition 35. Spinoza writes:

Similarly, when we look at the sun, we imagine it as about two hundred feet away from us, an error which does not consist simply in this imagining, but in the fact that while we imagine it in this way, we are ignorant of its true distance and of the cause of this imagining. For even if we later come to know that it is more than six hundred diameters of the earth away from us, we nevertheless imagine it as near. For we imagine the sun so near not because we do not know its true distance, but because an affection of our body involves the essence of the sun insofar as our body is affected by the sun. (Spinoza, 1994a, pp. 53-54, P35, Schol.)

So for the learner to gain an adequate idea of the distance of the sun, he/she has to learn the relevant scientific information about the distance of the sun from the earth, but also to learn about the reasons why it feels close to us as well, and the affective processes involved in the ways in which we are deceived into thinking the sun is so close. This is a rigorous pedagogy being implied here, which is both holistic and thorough; the subject disciplines need to be adequately conceived of by the learner, but the learner needs also to situate him/herself as an embodied, affective learner who understands in a deep philosophical sense the reasons why we are deceived by inadequate knowledge.

There is a further element to be explored here; the conceiving of adequate ideas can lead to what Spinoza terms “blessedness” a state of becoming which enfolds all of us but we are not aware of it; this is because God is immanent. This diagram shows how Spinoza’s theory works. It nicely avoid a deficit model of learning because even inadequate ideas are mutilated forms of adequate ideas.

Inadequate ideas are confused versions of adequate ideas