Chapter 2: Definitions


Spinoza’s definition of a body is any “extended thing” or “thought”: this means that an atom can be conceived of a body, a tree, or a forest. This is important from an educational perspective because the learner is a body, but so is a “community of learners”, i.e. a class. (Spinoza, 1994a, p. 31)


Spinoza speaks of “essences” a great deal, but his conception of “essence” is not Aristotelian or Platonic. If we were to interpret Spinoza through the lens of Deleuze’s critique of him


An idea is any active form of thought; Spinoza defines “active thought” as “conception”, while passive forms of thought are “perceptions”. (Spinoza, 1994a, p. 32)

Adequate Idea

This is what Spinoza terms a “true idea”. This is a difficult concept to grasp, but I conceive an adequate idea to an active form of thought which begins to address the complexity of the world that produces it. An adequate idea is the power of its connections; an adequate idea necessarily embraces a “radical contextualisation” of the idea itself. For example, a learner might have an adequate idea of learning if he/she was aware of all the connections that had produced that act of learning so that the learner might say, “I learnt this or that, because this learning connected with these other things I know and all of these things are interesting in themselves”. This is what Spinoza means by the “intrinsic denominations of an idea”; the learner is aware of all the multiple factors that have produced the idea. This very much links to Biggs’ SOLO taxonomy which argues that a learner is most effective when he/she is working at an “extended abstract” level:

At the extended abstract level, the student is making connections not only within the given subject area, but also beyond it, able to generalise and transfer the principles and ideas underlying the specific instance. (Atherton, 2013)

In other words, to have an adequate idea is to see its “intrinsic denominations”, how it might be applied to a multitude of situations. This necessarily means that the idea needs to have a “life of its own”; it must be able to transfer over to other situations. (Spinoza, 1994a, p. 32).

Journey into Joy

Investigation: explore different conceptions of learning from Bloom’s taxonomy, to Biggs’ SOLO taxonomy.

Question: Do you think we can have “adequate ideas”? What do you think Spinoza means by “adequate ideas”?



God is defined in a Spinozist sense: God is not the “father in the skies” who purposefully acts in the world. God is not the law-maker and patriarch of the Bible and Koran. God is not a “he” or “she”; God just “is”. God is immanent. God or Nature. God is everything: God is Being and Becoming.

Journey into Joy

Question: What does the word “God” mean to you? What do understand by “Nature”? What are the similarities and differences between God and Nature in your view? What do you understand by immanence?


The problem of ‘essence’ in Spinoza is never ending, and you will find many very difficult texts trying to work it out — most unsuccessfully. One reading of Spinoza says that every object has its correlate idea in thought: this is because ideas are not ‘mute’; they are active conceptions. This is very counterintuitive because we think that thoughts arise from a Cartesian mind, whereas Spinoza is saying that ideas contain the activity of thought, and our minds are essentially a bundle of these ideas which contain their activity. This means that what seems to be a process of thinking carried out by a ‘thinking mind’ is actually only the activity of many ideas.


Learning happens every second of every day, learning is not limited to humans, but is in everything. Everything is learning. Existence is learning; getting to know the “stuff” that is around you, that produces who you are – more of this latter point later on. Being is necessarily learning. In Spinozist language, learning is “activity”.

Journey into Joy

Questions: How would you define learning? When have you learnt most in your life? Who are the best teachers you’ve had and why?


An individual is a cause, or put differently, all individuals create effects. This makes individuals and events inseparable, and relates individuals to activity (IP36).


From every cause, effects must necessarily follow.