Spinoza’s System as Theory of Expression
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 1 (September, 1940)
It is strange that Spinoza’s philosophical system, glorying as it does in its complete
impartiality and its rigorous logic, has in the course of time become an object
of widely varying interpretations and of most passionate assent and dissent.
To be sure, philosophy has not followed the smooth path of uninterrupted development;
in the succession of philosophical ideas, attraction and repulsion have always
played a great part. But this wavering interpretation which treats Spinoza’s
thought now as atheistic, again as pantheistic, as naturalistic and as acosmistic,
as rationalistic and mystical, as dogmatic and as scientific, as expression of
true experience or as a mere formula – this discrepancy between judgments mirrors the interpreters’
bewilderment by a complexity of trends that are not so well balanced as they
are, e.g., in Leibniz, and that seem to destroy the prima facie unity of the doctrine. Or is there, perhaps, a
clue that leads through the labyrinth and rehabilitates the assumption of a systematic whole?
Such a clue may be found by considering the conspicuous part – that, thanks to
a peculiar affinity, Spinozism played in the German poetical humanism at the end of the 18th century.
I shall not dwell here on the historical results of this turn towards
Spinoza. 1 Nor shall I attempt to explain in detail
why the artistic mind finds congenial the philosophy of Spinoza and inclines to
lose and recover itself in the cold but enchanting light of his system. For, did it not help to confirm and bring to
fruition in Goethe, his friends, and his followers, the original knowledge of the artist’s being?
Neither Goethe’s nor Flaubert’s high admiration of Spinoza was the result of a
mere misunderstanding, however productive that may have proved. It was due to a real and basic
experience essentially common to the artist and to the philosopher.
This point of agreement is indicated by Spinoza’s conception of
nature as creative power. Both the artist’s intuition and the true philosopher’s
contemplation presuppose a kind of disinterestedness, to whose presence in Spinoza
Goethe bore witness and which the poet himself recognized as a requisite for
his own productivity. The withdrawal from practical interests enables the philosopher,
as well as the artist, to touch the very roots of being, instead of becoming
involved in the concatenation of things as a little wheel amongst others. The 
results diverge: the philosophical statement is of a style
entirely different from the artistic expression. But the starting-point
is the same: both emerge from an original depth of experience which finds a somewhat
equivalent documentation. The free detachment from the fixed pattern of the workaday
world opens the mind both of the artist and the philosopher for the plastic powers
that push forth into the shape of apparent existence: forma formans formam
Let us rely, then, on this solidarity as affording an illuminating
approach to Spinoza’s theory. Let us examine the natura naturans as it
expresses itself in the natura naturata and let us ascertain what is implied
in Spinoza’s conception of this manifestation.
An interpretation that understands nature as the self-disclosure
of the creative genius appeals not only to the artistic self-knowledge, but is
also related to the religious recognition of God as “highest artist.” 2
This justifies, in some degree, Spinoza’s identification of God and nature. Spinoza
has, no doubt, sacrificed many personal features of the God of the Bible in order
to establish his idea of nature. This, however, should not prevent us from recognizing
that while he represents differently the mundane expression of God’s infinite
being, he does not entirely exclude the divine revelation. Expressio
(exprimit) is a term in Spinoza’s philosophy that is almost as symptomatic
and decisive as is the corresponding term repraesentatio (which by the
way, alternates with expressio) in Leibniz’ metaphysics. (Though Leibniz’
term, focusing as it does an extraordinarily wider range of experience and the
most different lines of thought, suggests a scientific and metaphysical depth
far beyond Spinoza’s expression.) Expressio as a substitute for revelation
occurs in conformity with that tendency to secularize the main principles of
religion which prevails throughout modern philosophy.
In Spinoza this movement sets aside the historical
foundation and restriction of God’s appearance to man and neglects man’s personal
confrontation with God. The steady philosophical enlightenment is put in the
place of God’s historical appearance to selected individuals or to a chosen people;
and the knowledge of the unity between mind and nature supersedes the responsibility
of a personal partner in a covenant with God.
Nevertheless God remains to be experienced, and even the immediateness
of this experience is not at all denied and abolished. It comes in by way of
intuition. At least the two first of Spinoza’s so-called proofs of God’s existence
– resting as they do on proposition 7 –  implicitly presuppose the
fact of this existence and exhibit its necessity. The absolute unlimited
power cannot be prevented and, therefore, cannot fail to prove itself and its
existence. “An omnipotent being must also of necessity be omnificent.” 3
For a power exists only in its manifestations. Existence, ex‑sistence,
means the stepping forth of this unbound power. Its expression is inevitable:
it can neither be obstructed nor can it be withheld. Its appearance is not a
favor but is involved in the very essence of Deus‑Natura. God is
truly defined as causa sui. Dei potentia (essendi) est ipsa
ipsius essentia. 4 Substantially power,
He is not restricted to a mere attempt to be and to persist in being – to that
conatus by which the particular modes try to assert their actual essence
in the stream and struggle of life. God is life (vita) and life
is power (vis). 5
The artistic genius exhibits an analogous kind of inward necessity
and exactness of expression. The artist’s expression is similarly pure, spontaneous,
indomitable, and unbroken. The artist, who, as such, is not entangled in nor
hampered by the cares of practical life, feels his work as an offspring of nature
rather than of purpose and reflection. The essence of nature comes into appearance
with a similar frankness and certainty in the microcosmos of his work as in the
macrocosmos of the universe:
Der Schein, was ist er, dem das Wesen fehlt?
Das Wesen wär’ es, wenn es nicht erschiene?
(What would appearance be deprived of essence?
And essence, would it be, if it did not appear?)
Neither the work of the artist nor that of Spinoza’s God is guided
by discursive method and speculation; yet no creative manifestation can do without
consciousness. Expression is not an event that happens, but a performance that
is carried through. Spinoza has never denied to his God and to his actual essence
this very character of consciousness inherent in action, although the perfect
necessity of God’s proceeding is not limited by a consideration of ends.
Spinoza’s God having no spiritual transcendence, is not isolated
from the sensible world. On the other hand, he is not simply identical with it.
He is immanent in it, we would say, much as is the mind in its own expressions.
No concrete understanding of any expression is possible without reference to
its living origin, the principle of its unity.  Conversely – there is
no expression that possesses articulation and unity, save for an understanding
which animates and invigorates the otherwise lifeless data. Τo δε
εν ποιουν ο νους
εκαστον . “It is the mind that unites
This expressive movement displaying the natura naturans
in the natura naturata was, it is true, inadequately interpreted by Spinoza
when he took it to be a series of consequences or a concatenation of causes.
But the primary conception of a context of expression remains visible and dominates
the character of and the connection between the main principles of his system.
Inasmuch as the universe is regarded as product of expressive power, this system
may be rightly considered a quasi-physiognomic interpretation.
It is this thread in the texture of Spinoza’s philosophy which
connects it with the works of such Arabic and Jewish thinkers of the middle ages
as Ibn Sina or Ibn Ezra, with the great stream of mysticism and with the philosophy
of nature characteristic of the Renaissance. Thus, at the end of the 18th century,
a generation taking up the tradition of “objective idealism” was enabled to fall
back upon Spinoza and his Deus‑Natura. I am inclined to see in these
parts of Spinoza’s thought the essential quality of his own being, while I am
quite aware that his explicit purpose was, perhaps, much more directed to square
himself with contemporary mathematics and physics.
The physiognomic aspect of Spinoza’s philosophy that had been overemphasized
in writings such as Herder’s Gott was long neglected in the nineteenth
century, but has been recently rehabilitated, to some extent, by interpreters,
such as H.H. Joachim, L. Brunschvicg, and H.F. Hallett. Its further examination
should afford us an insight, which may prove more conclusive as regards an intrinsic
unity than what to our way of thinking is the artificial arrangement of pseudo-mathematical
demonstrations in Spinoza’s Ethics.
We have to come back, therefore, to the character of Spinoza’s
substance as a dynamic being. It is not an inert mass subsisting at the bottom
of change, but a powerful essence as well as an essential power! This means that
it has power because it is the quintessence of power itself – just as a state,
besides having power, is itself a power. Its being consists in its functioning.
Substance, thus, can only be realized by experiencing this power, by being im‑pressed
by its expression and by reflecting on the series of its proofs. In this sense
Spinoza’s mos geometricus, the series of his demonstrations, means quite
literally a real method, that is a strict pursuit, a true research and reproduction
of the original demonstrative process of being. The  order and connection
of the philosophical representation follow the order and connection in the self-representation
That is why, I think, we are right in saying that existence in
the sense of forthcoming is the proper and necessary verification of God’s being.
(Aeternitas est ipsa Dei essentia quatenus haec necessariam involvit
God’s essence in-volves existence. Consequently existence e-volves
God’s essence. The whole of existence – the universe – is the version, or one
version, through which the unity of his being unfolds itself.
We have said, that the essential character of a living text and
context is to be read and understood. The individual thing as well as the single
letter and the single word has no meaning or concrete sense in itself. It must
be understood and looked upon in connection with the whole. The all-comprehensive
context alone is truly comprehensible in itself and needs no other support. In
Plato’s terminology – only the παντελως
ον is παντελως γνωστόν:
the whole of being is knowable and only the perfect being of the complete whole
can be completely known. (Though, of course, not in the way of an Aristotelian
Speaking, as we did, of the universe as a text and context, we
did not move in a circle of mere metaphors, but in the steps of a great tradition
and its genuine intercourse with the things as they themselves enter into discussion.
According to the conviction of the Greek metaphysicians, it is the very essence
of true being to show itself in an entirely unconcealed manifestation. Actual
being is true (α‑ληθές) being that uncovers,
reveals itself to the concentrated mind, while the distracted one – Spinoza’s
imagination – embraces the imaginary being of particulars detached from their
proper context. The elements and structure of being are known as far as our sense
is open, capable, and energetic enough to follow the sense, the meaning of all
things, and their final reference to the εν και παν,
the one and the whole. The sense in which we attend to things aims at representing
and reproducing the sense and tendency of things themselves. Being is δύναμις,
power, which tends to manifest itself and can, therefore, be manifested and represented
by mind and language. This statement from Plato’s Sophist resumes, in
substance, the great discovery of Parmenides. Things possess and show a universal
sense. Following this sense we can properly deal with them: to be means
to occur in a certain meaning. Our meaning tries to realize the meaning
of things.  Meaning, therefore, occurs primarily on the side of things
and cannot be found by mere introspection “apart from the being in which it has
its pronounced existence”: ου γαρ ανευ
του εοντος εν ωι
ευρήσεις τό νοειν.
These Parmenidean lines foreshadow the whole of metaphysical development
and its authoritative formulation by Aristotle. Intellectus and intellectum
are ultimately one; 7 for, being
as well as reason have their very actuality in the state of eternal and explicit
presence of the form (μορφη) of things as it appears
in the form of intuition (ειδος) and language (λόγος).
This tradition, it is true, takes an original turn in Spinoza’s
philosophy. The classical solidarity of aspect and respect of thing and mind
had been endangered by the Cartesian dualism of cogitatio and extensio.
It is, nevertheless, this ancient principle of solidarity which underlies Spinoza’s
doctrine of the congruence between a thing (res) on the one hand and the
objective reality of an idea on the other, and which still supports Spinoza’s
saying that everything has its meaning: mens rei. 8
This meaning is the aspect, the idea, which belongs to all things in every attribute
and animates or enlightens – “although in different degrees” – their formal existence.
And this unity between meaning and being precedes originally all separation between
subject and object. There is no accidental and problematic meeting of thing and
intellect. The intellect, reaching for its representation of being, and finally
of the whole of being, verifies the tendency of representation in the things
themselves. The thing itself represents the whole of being in a specific, however
restricted, manner: certo et determinato modo. 9
The clear and distinct idea, therefore, is eo ipso adequate to the thing
as it is the outspoken manifestation of its meaning. Ordo et connexio idearum
idem est ac ordo et connexio rerum. 10
The human mind, therefore, figures in God in the same way as does the human
Or still more flatly: mens et corpus una eademque res est. 12
This identity of meaning and context between both sides
should not be weakened to a mere parallelism. It requires, however, a further
qualification. The identity of order doubtless establishes an equivalence between
the realm of things and the realm of thoughts. The same unity of substance expresses
itself in two corresponding  manners indeed, or – beyond the range of
our human grasp – in an infinitude of infinite attributes. The multitude of attributes
is compatible with the unity in God because all of them are ruled by the same
order and express, thanks to this accordance, the unity of the universal power
of nature. The variety of expression does not mean an expression of variety.
The same text is given in different translations. God’s glory shines forth in
an infinity of glorifications: “The whole earth is full of his glory” 13
– Spinoza refers 14 to this verse
of Isaiah 15 in order to show how
God’s splendor is patent in the world of men and reflected universally in the
rise of love and praise toward him. – But even as the whole artist lives in the
world of each and all of his works, so also is each attribute God himself in
an authentic and adequate, though not exhaustive, expression of his essence.
Substantia sive attributum – the attribute is the substance itself – present
in one essential, comprehensive, and representative appearance.
Being comprehensive itself, the attribute, as a summum genus,
participates in a distinguishing character of substance, namely in being comprehensible
through itself without reference to anything else. It is quite clear why, on
the other hand, Spinoza usually avoids saying 16
of the attribute what he says of the substance, sc. that it is in itself;
the attribute shows substance not in a sterile and, therefore, impossible state
of keeping to itself, but in the proper state of exposition, of actual potency.
This interpretation of the attribute as the manifest substance,
however, seems to be open to an obvious objection in the line of a famous controversy.
It does not take account of the repeated indications which, marking a purposive
deviation from Descartes’ objectivistic definition, refer the attribute to the
intellect – apparently as its attribution or even invention. The term attribute
is used “with respect to the intellect, which attributes such and such a nature
to substance.” 17 Hence our statement
calls, not for a modification, but for a completion that may be given, however,
within the horizon of our considerations. It is implied in the character of active
expressiveness, an expressiveness that is essential to the power of nature. Every
true expression as a λόγος δηλουν,
i.e., as a revealing statement, gives explicit evidence of the thing itself.
On the other hand, no  context of expression is what it is apart from
a context of living understanding. Consequently the definitions of substance,
attribute, and mode occur in an epistemological as well as ontological formulation
(Similarly Aristotle’s categories (!) figure in the horizon of the logos
in order to exhibit their true function. Substance for instance is defined
as what is neither asserted of, nor present in, a logical subject.) Thus the
sphere of manifestation is before and beyond the separation of subject and object:
it, therefore, necessarily includes a subjective element, though not in a segregated
Our intellect, however, has to be affected in order to act. Only
by its manifestation, in the way of experience, does substance become a matter
for our concern. Ens, quatenus ens est, per se solum, ut substantia, nos non
afficit; quare per aliquod attributum explicandum est a quo tamen non nisi ratione
distinguitur: “Being, taken as such, by merely subsisting in itself – as
substance – does not affect us; it must be disclosed, therefore, through some
attribute, from which, however, it differs merely conceptually.” 18
God as manifest power is defined by a necessary relation to understanding. That
is why Spinoza, quite rightly, defines attribute by reference to the essence
of substance as well as by reference to the intellect. An attribute
is quicquid ab infinito intellectu percipi potest tanquam substantiae essentiam
constituens: An attribute is whatever may be perceived by the infinite intellect
as a constituent of the essence of substance. 19
This point may become still more evident by reference to the theological
background of the theory of the divine attributes. In Jewish philosophy the discussion
of God’s attributes is almost equivalent to that of his names: name understood
not as a conventional symbol, but as the expression of his very being. It is
only natural that this revelation, being a progressive one, begins with the disclosure
of God’s relation to his creatures – as the Mighty (El), who suffices
for everybody’s needs (Sadai), etc. The revelation of his proper
name in an emphatic sense – the tetragrammaton (Jehovah) – is the
final documentation, the self-assertion and giving away, of God’s intrinsic nature:
of his being the Being he is (Eheje ascher eheje) – the personal counterpart
of Parmenides’ neutral ον η ον and a formula quite congenial
to Spinoza’s own theory of being. 20
The name is, like the attribute, one of the ways in which God makes
Himself known to human understanding. It is quite appropriate, therefore, that
in order to illustrate how God’s being is documented  by the multitude
of his attributes, Spinoza refers to the different names which may characterize
a man in different ways, without prejudice to his unity as a person: the third
patriarch being known and qualified as Jacob, i.e., Supplantator, in relation
to his mother, and as Israel, i.e., Praevalens Deo, in relation to
Attribute, thus, is a correlative term accounting for God’s
being present in what we may call his “objective appearance,” that is, in his
manifestation on the one hand and his recognition on the other. This very fact
is of decisive importance for our understanding of extensio and cogitatio
– the two attributes we know. Our access to the first attribute – extension –
is due to the mere and seemingly contingent fact that our mind is just the idea
of the body. But the acknowledgment of cogitatio as an attribute is guided
by the insight that the very structure of expression involves consciousness as
a constituent of God’s manifestation. Cogitatio is disclosed as an essential
requisite and, therefore, a constitutive part of God’s living, God’s manifest
For, of course, there are not the substance and its manifestations
on the one hand, and an additional understanding by a subject on the other. There
is nothing outside the substance. The substance itself has to answer for its
being understood: it has to understand itself. God is the spectator as well as
the actor in the display of nature.
I refrain from tracing the line of the reflexive movement of God’s
amor intellectualis, of his spiritual love towards himself. Suffice it
to say that one ingredient of this reflexive turn is just the idea in God of
his own essence as well as of all things which result from it.
This self-knowledge, however, is the concern of the infinite intellect
and is, as such, referred to the natura naturata. For this intellect is
only a son of God, his pronounced word – filius, verbum Dei – an offspring
of cogitatio within God’s paternal nature. 22
This difference between cogitatio and intellectus
rests upon their different relations to the original unity of God. The integrity
of this unity is represented only by the attribute, cogitatio, not by
the intellectus. On the other hand – is not the pluralism of the attributes
themselves derogative to the unity of God? Do they not, after all, dissolve this
very unity which each of them is said to express?
This question has often been asked. It cannot be answered beyond
every doubt and even ambiguity. But we may come closer to  a solution
by coupling the problems. Why does Spinoza, contrary to the tradition, represent
the divine intellect as only a modus infinitus Dei? And why is cogitatio
God himself in one of his true manifestations? What gives to cogitatio
this advantage over the intellect? Or what is the deficiency of the intellect
in comparison to cogitatio? If we know why the intellect is unable to
account for God’s original unity, we may surmise why and how cogitatio
is in a position to do so.
For this purpose we cannot stop with Spinoza’s statement of the
role of the intellect. 23 Spinoza
argues that intellection is, like desire or love, a particular mode occurring
in the concrete structure of consciousness and lacking, therefore, that independence
which is essential to God’s manifestation in his attributes. Descartes had already
stressed the act of judgment as an action of our whole personal being. Spinoza
asserts still more radically the concrete unity and even identity of intellect
and will in the affirmations and negations of the human mind. 24
This unity is involved whenever we acknowledge a state of being that is established
prior to our understanding (as most people suppose) or simultaneously with it
(according to Spinoza). 25 Our
cognition means recognition.
It is different, however, with the unity of will and intellect
in God as the cause both of the essence of things and of their existence. The
divine intellect, while conceiving the essence of things, must itself be the
power that accounts for their existence. Such an intellect must contain in an
intimate and exalted unity nosse, velle, and posse, knowledge,
will, and potency. Thanks to this concretion it answers for the existence
of things as well as for their essence. The Cogitationes Metaphysicae
had referred to an intellect which is not like ours – conditioned (patibilis)
by the given nature and existence of things, but which involves and determines
– as actus purus – the very existence of its contents. 26
According to the Ethics, however, this super-intellect, this creative
power of an intellectus archetypus, transcends both essentially and existentially
all that we can know of the intellect from our own experience. In the Ethics,
therefore, Spinoza is disinclined to call it an intellect. 27
But the idea of this intellectual power may help us to secure an adumbration
of the unity of cogitatio and extensio, of thought and realizing
power subsisting in the one and same substance.
We may, then, discover a model of this conscious productivity and
productive consciousness in the knowledge we have of our own  actions.
In every real action we know our business, know it more or less thoroughly. This
understanding pervades, as an inherent character, the whole of our practical
life and precedes the emancipation of the merely theoretical action of an intellectual
process. From this point of view the transcendence of the hypothetical super-intellect
seems to be but a universalization of our own restricted power of considerate
Could we not say that the more we know how to act really and in
the strength of our undivided being (and real action is no less physical than
spiritual), the more we take part in the true demonstration of the universal
power? Spinoza only approaches this thought when he emphasizes that the fitter
the body for action the greater the eternal part of its soul. 28
We cannot discuss why, in the course of the Ethics this participation
in eternity seems to be confined to the human mind. Our question is this: If
unity between consciousness and realization belongs to the very essence of acting,
why is this unity weakened in what many interpreters take to be the mere correlation
of separated thought and extension in Spinoza’s philosophy? Is not Spinoza’s
God pure activity?
This question ought to be answered to the point, not by a mere
reference to the extent of Spinoza’s dependence on Descartes. The problem would
disappear if it were held that there is no such unity of acting in God,
but only a unity of order in the different lines of power. This interpretation,
however, is opposed by the letter 29
of Spinoza’s philosophy, and, as I think, by its spirit as well. If God is reduced
to the sum of his attributes, all possibility of accounting for the uniformity
of order in the series of thought, extension, etc., is lost.
At this point we will do well if we return to Spinoza’s definition
of attribute and the relation to the intellect that it includes. “By attribute,”
Spinoza says, “I understand what the intellect perceives regarding substance
as constituting its essence.” 30
Having already said that some kind of recognition is essential
to the self-display of the substantial power, we now have to insist that God’s
presentation will correspond to our representation. The very manifestation of
God as received by the intellect will show a certain reflection of, a certain
reference to, the specific character of intellectual processes.
The tanquam of our definition and Spinoza’s frequent use
of the words qua, quatenus, sub specie, etc., are not symptoms of mere
subjectivism,  of fictitiousness or irresolute vacillation; they simply
account for the essential part that orientation plays in the correspondence of
divine reality and thought. The relation will inevitably produce relational traits
and call for relational terms.
Intellect, in the pre-Kantian interpretation, is characterized
by an analytical function as the basis of discursive synthesis. The intellect
cannot work save under the guidance of a certain aspect, an aspect, however,
which is not imposed upon things, but is offered by, and is extracted from them.
Consequently in Spinoza’s philosophy the primary unity of God’s action manifests
itself to the intellect as decomposed into the multitude of different, but corresponding
attributes. There is here no ingredient of subjective invention, no introduction
of something foreign to God’s true being. Mens non potest plus intelligere
quam natura praestare. What occurs is only the polarization of the one light
of Deity by the prism of intellect and especially by the prism of a mind like
One attribute is differentiated from the other
in the same way as it is from substance, viz., by reason – “non nisi ratione
distinguitur.” 31 “From this
we infer God to be of perfect simplicity.” The decomposition and the corresponding
composition of attributes merely seems to take place; it is thus that
to our manner of conception things are more easily understood: non fit, sed
tantum ratione quasi fieri concipitur ut eo facilius res intelligatur. God
cannot be conceived without such an attribute (substantia non potest sine
illo attribute intelligi). But it is also true that in the comprehensiveness
of his nature he is not without them (substantia non potest sine illo attribute
esse).” There is no difference of content but only a difference in the way
of being contained, a difference of form, between God and his intellectual representation.
The integrity of God is translated into the differentiation of the attributes.
Or, the other way round: Discursive reason unifies the disiecta membra
of vague experience into a coherent system. But even our intuition, proceeding
as it does “from an adequate idea of one or the other of God’s attributes,” 32
shows God’s unity only under a specific aspect (sub quadam specie aeternitatis),
not in its original fullness.
On the other hand, both “names” that we can attribute to God –
extensio no less than cogitatio – eventually preserve that original
character of representing him as a genuine power. The almighty Being conveys
himself to our intellect through the mediums of self-explanation and self-expansion. 
Quite obviously this holds true for thought as a discursive explication.
Spinoza lays stress on the dynamic character of all that results from cogitatio.
Thus does he describe the intellect: it is an intellectus actu, actual
intellection, identical with actual volition and ever and by no means a merely
potential intellect. Thus the ideas re portrayed as the very souls of things,
as living conceptions and not as inert images on a blackboard. 33
But the same applies to extension. It is
another line of force, a rue counterpart to the dynamism of cogitatio
and to the passionate commotion in the world of mind. “Affect” is a term that
is applicable to actions and passions in both realms. 34
When truly experienced, extension is not split into parts of space as it is by
the imagination – the same imagination that dissolves eternity into separate
units of time. Extension is to space what eternity is to time. In its adequate
representation extension is an undivided and indivisible act of extending the
genuine documentation of the absolutely infinite power in a special function.
Its activity may be conceived and described as an eternal state of production,
establishing a field of power and constituting, thus, the presence of substance
as a res extensa. The metaphysical and eternal movement is different from,
but has, nevertheless, an image in, the physical motion and rest of particular
things in time and space. This means – according to Spinoza – that the essential
force of extension answers for the energy in the motion of moved bodies.
And the same force accounts for the energy of resistance, the attempt
to hold their ground, in resting bodies. Spinoza rejects Descartes’ conception
of extension as an inert mass (moles quiescens) . Such a view, he points
out, fails to account for the variety of motion and figure manifested by particular
things. Moreover it takes extension for a separate being (was door zig zelfs
bestande), 35 that does not
function any more as an expression of the eternal and infinite being. 36
Spinoza’s conception of extension is dynamistic, not geometrical. Originally
extension is a formative action, an actus extendendi, not a reified three-dimensional
form. 37 The latter concept, depriving
material extension of all genuine productivity, implies neither the essence of
a productive power nor does it explain the existence of the infinitude of its
As the individual bodies take only a restricted and a changing
part in the whole display of motion and rest, they are, in their isolation, 
a very poor and insufficient expression of what is actually involved in God’s
essence. But even so they still are modes of God’s appearance. The
name modus itself is a noteworthy proof of the assimilation of Spinoza’s
terminology to the principles of his system. He adopted this term for a single
thing instead of the term ac‑cidens (accessory). For, while both
were used by Descartes as almost convertible terms, ac‑cidens did
not indicate the alteration which God’s appearance suffers from a partial expression,
nor did it suggest – as did modus – the transitory or permanent participation
in the self-sufficient whole of being. The modus is a derivative mode
of expression as well as a modification of the genuine expression.
The original unity of the divine power has, at least, some likeness
in the realms of modes. It is reflected and quasi-articulated in the synthetic
unity of the sum total of its partial expressions. This posterior unity is an
individual in a new sense. Though a composition of parts, it is independent of
each part in particular. In the realm of extension, for instance, the identity
and the productivity of God’s power are always represented by the same proportion
of motion and rest: and such a permanent proportion, such an invariability of
form, is the very definition of an individual being. Thanks
to the maintenance of this proportion the universe is an individual, persisting
in existence throughout all time; and its face – facies totius universi
– remains unchanged throughout, even though there is the endless variation in
respect to modes.
It is not due to mere accident that such a physiognomic expression,
facies totius universi, is used to describe the organic structure of this
world of appearance. The world, being an explication of the indivisible and unchangeable
power, expresses this individuality in a strict and not exuberant sense. The
essential unity has a kind of discursive demonstration in the unity of conclusions
drawn from God as their premise. The summa entium is not the summum
ens in itself, in its original potency, but it comprises all that necessarily
results from it. Restoring itself at every moment to the same structure, the
world has the organic character of the ξωον εν
ορατον, of the “one visible living being” as it
is organized by the God of Plato’s Timaeus.
This organic context of the world is reflected by the style of
interpretation which is appropriate to the whole of Nature. We may understand
the unity of a person through a unity of different utterances, and, in turn,
the single utterance by reference to our knowledge of the whole. Just so, the
more we understand individual things,  the more we understand God. 38
And to know these things genuinely means to know their union within the whole.
This hermeneutic circle confirms once more the character of the
whole system as a portrayal of expressive power. To know the parts without knowing
their universal meaning is imaginary knowledge. To the imagination as a distracted
mind the intrinsic whole of extension appears in the form of extraneous distention,
of mutually exclusive things in space. 39
Interpretative knowledge means, literally, re-collection; and objective re-collection
is the very correlate of mental reintegration. The concentrated aspect and respect
of thing and mind expresses, quite in accord with the leading principle of the
system, 40 the same phenomenon
in two corresponding ways. The rise from imagination through reason to intuition
is a rise from fragmentary and superficial data of vague experience to a coherent
context of an increasingly close and sound understanding.
No context of things without context of comprehension. Every thing
appears related to a certain state and level of mind. 41
A thing that is not transparent in the sphere of imagination occurs again on
a higher level and in a transfigured sense, disclosing finally to the concentrated
mind the center of nature, revealing to a clearer insight the true meaning of
the whole. The final intellection is an intus legere, an intimacy of knowledge
which discovers in the permanent unity of modal expressions the expression of
the substantial and eternal unity. 
I restrict myself to indicate the point where this trend
merges into the English tradition. The line coming from Spinoza joins the influence of Shaftesbury in
Coleridge’s poetry and theory of art.
Kant, Critique of Judgment
, § 85.
Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being
, p. 162.
. I, 34. Spinoza’s position
is best characterized by Leibniz’ formula: essentiam per se tendere ad existentiam
(Gerhardt, t. VII, p. 303). To understand and reinterpret the relation
between essence and existence, potentiality and actuality, and its metamorphosis
since Aristotle remains among the most urgent metaphysical tasks.
5 Cog. Met
., pars II, cap. VI, § 3.
. V, 30 dem.
Cf. Spinoza, Eth
., II, 7 Schol.
. II, 12 dem. cf. Ibid.
II, 13 Schol.; cf. Korte Verhandeling
, Appendix § 9 (Gebhardt, t. I, p. 119).
. I, 26 Corr.
. II, 7.
. II, 20.
. III, 2 Schol.
, 6, 3.
. V, 36.
This is the general assumption.
H.A. Wolfson (The Philosophy of Spinoza
, II, 311 ff.) traces Spinoza’s
allusion to Psalms
. 16, 8‑11 or 73, 24 and their commentary by Abraham
Ibn Ezra. The difference is irrelevant to our present purpose.
For an even stronger statement,
cf. Korte Verhandeling
, Eerste Deel, cap. 11, 17. 3n. (Gebhardt t. I, p. 24).
. IX. In contrast herewith
cf. Descartes, Notae in programma quoddam
, A.‑T. t VIII. p. 348:
Quicquid alicui rei a natura
(!) tributum esse cognoscimus, ... id vocamus eius attributum
18 Cog. Met
., I, c. 3 (Gebhardt,
t. I, p. 204) a statement that does not merely reflect a Cartesian
. I, 52), but shows, on the whole, Spinoza’s own permanent
position. Cf. Ibid. II, c. X (Gebhardt, t. I, p. 270) and Korte
II, c. 20 (Gebhardt, t. I, p. 97, n. 10).
. II, 7 Schol.
Cf. Tract. theol.-pol
c. XIII (Gebhardt, t. III, p. 168).
. IX (Gebhardt, t. IV, p. 46).
. IV, 68 Schol.:
Ep. 73 & 76; Korte Verhandeling
I. c. 9 & II c. 22, n. l (Gebhardt, t. I, p. 48 & 101).
. I, 31.
. II, 48 f.
. I, 17 Schol.
Cf. Cog. Met
. II, c. 7, 2; c. 10, 8 (Gebhardt, t. I, p. 261, 270).
. I, 17 Schol.
. V, 39.
Cf., e.g., Eth
. II, 7 Schol.:
Modus extensionis et idea illius modi una eademque est res
“Per attributum intelligo
id quod intellectus de substantia percipit tanquam eiusdem essentiam constituens
Cf. – mutatis mutandis
– Cog. Met
. II. c. 5 (Gebhardt t. V, p. 257 f.).
. V, 25 dem.
. II, 49 Schol.
. III, def. 3.
35 Korte Verhandeling
, I, c.
2, 26f (Gebhardt t. I, p. 27); cf. Tschirnhaus’ letters 80, 82.
37 Korte Verhandeling
. The interpretation of the term extension as it is proposed in the
present article is close to that of Léon Brunschvicg and Lachièze‑Rey.
. V, 24.
. I, 15 Schol.; Ep
. II. 7.
While being opposed to the legend
of Spinoza’s dogmatic objectivism, l am glad to state my complete agreement with
the interpretation of this problem in Léon Brunschvicg’s Spinoza et ses