Spinoza on community, affectivity, and life values

Steven L. Barbone, Marquette University


Spinoza's ethics is founded on the idea that we are egoists who should do nothing but search our own advantage (E4p24), but that in doing so, this is when we are most virtuous, most moral, and most social (E4p35cor2). Community, taken in any sense stronger than a mere collection of things, only occurs, then, when each is drawn to seek his self-interest. Spinoza would hold that no study of ethics can be done in a metaphysical vacuum (Ep27). To discuss the ethics of an individual existing in community, one must first address the metaphysical foundations of the individual, its rights, and its place in community. To this end, the greater part of this work examines just those metaphysical bases which define an individual and how it relates in community. The analysis is textually based; focusing on how Spinoza uses certain terms (e.g., "individuum", "potentia"), we attempt to understand what Spinoza understood to be an individual, community, right, etc. Then, because society affects an individual and the individual in turn affects society, the study looks at human individuals and their affects, that is, how humans affect and are affected by other humans. Just as a group of rocks makes only a pile and not what might be called a community, so too a group of human individuals does not necessarily make a society. The move from many individuals to one community is examined. Finally, after the metaphysical and psychological (affective) considerations are established, the study addresses its main question, that is, the value that should be accorded to a particular human life vis-a-vis the society in which the person lives. The study touches, therefore, questions concerning capital punishment, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and even abortion. The surprising conclusion is that Spinoza's ethics do allow for and can support what could be called a consistent human life ethic in which the right to life remains primary.

Recommended Citation

Steven L. Barbone, "Spinoza on community, affectivity, and life values" (January 1, 1997). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI9811376.