This is my study guide for the classic essay, Emendation of the Intellect, by Spinoza, published after his death in 1677. I am using the Shirley translation, with paragraph numbers. This edition has a good introduction, in which Shirley explains the main ideas of the treatise. The Emendation is not a completed work.
The Elwes translation calls it The Improvement of the Understanding.
I am not attempting here a complete explanation of all the points that Spinoza makes in the treatise. My idea was to type up the main ideas and attempt to organize them. This is a working document to be used for studying the text. I quote Bertrand Russell, “A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.” I’m the stupid man compared to Spinoza.
The text is very convoluted, he has a lot of methods and procedures all intertwined.
It isn’t possible to create a tidy outline.
So I have grouped the main ideas, and labeled them as follows:
I Modes of Perception Par. 19
II Main learning method Par. 49a
III Procedural method Par. 49b
IV Methods of discerning false ideas Par. 50 – 86
Method of discerning ideas that are fictitious, false or doubtful.
How to remove false ideas to arrive at truth.
a) fictitious ideas, the main part Pars. 52 – 65
b) deals with false ideas Pars. 66 – 77
c) discusses doubtful ideas Pars. 77 – 86
V Listed modes of perception. Hearsay, direct perception, inference, intuition
VI True ideas are based on intuitive perception of essences or causes.
Here begins the commentary.
Spinoza writes that a goal is to get knowledge of the most perfect Being, in paragraph 49. But this treatise doesn’t actually delve into proofs of God. Maybe he meant to do that in another section, then never got around to it. Or he may expect the reader to supply their own proofs. Of course he discusses God/Nature at length in his other writings.
Paragraph 1 Spinoza’s aim is to identify the true, permanent good in life so that he can dwell in bliss forever. (Sounds like Aristotle.)
— He set out to search for this new guiding principle.
— Men regard three things as the highest goods: 1) riches 2) honor 3) sensual pleasure.
— Spinoza dismisses these avenues as ways towards his goal. I pass over the many sub-arguments here, but it is interesting to read.
Par. 12 Next he will define the true good versus the supreme good. Good and evil are relative terms. (This assertion is much disputed, as are a lot of his ideas.)
— True good means the things that will bring a man a perfect character.
— Supreme good means the continual enjoyment of this new state, to wit, union of mind with the whole of Nature, or God.
Par. 14 His expanded goal is to:
1) acquire this more perfect nature
2) to persuade others to adopt this plan
He lists five prerequisite conditions of society for this to occur, which I pass over. Again, you should read it.
Big point: He needs to devise a method of improving the understanding in order to get accurate facts.
Par. 17 He lays down three rules for living like a recluse. I pass over them here.
Par. 19 Modes of Perception
He now lists four modes of perceiving. He gives flimsy examples of each kind.
1) Hearsay–what people tell him, for example, the date of his birth.
2) Casual experience or regular perception, e.g. oil feeds a fire, water extinguishes it.
3) Inference. We know from experience that things appear smaller at a distance. Then we infer that the sun is larger than it appears. (There are many methods of inference.)
4) Intuition. A thing perceived through its essence or cause. For example, I know what it is like to know something; I know the soul and body are united; I know that 2 + 3 = 5
Par. 25 Spinoza wants to choose the best mode of perception for his purposes. Therefore he outlines a four step process to test which type of perception to use.
Quick list of modes of perception:
2 Regular perception, sensations
3 Inference–figuring it out
4 Intuition–that gut feeling
Step 1) Get a clear knowledge of the characteristic of myself I wish to perfect. (My mode of perception?)
I need to know as much of the nature of things as is necessary.
Step 2) Using the result of test 1, to infer correctly:
a) differences between things
b) agreement of things
c) Opposition of things
Step 3) Conceive the extent to which things can be acted upon.
Step 4) To compare this result with the nature and power of man.
My paraphrase of Par. 25 using questions:
You can analyze modes of perception with these questions:
1) Which characteristic of myself do I wish to perfect? Mode of perception?
I need to know as much of the nature of things as is necessary.
Using the selected mode:
2) Can I distinguish differences between things and how they conflict?
3) Can I tell the extent to which things can, and cannot, be acted upon?
4) Can I compare these derived perceptions with human nature and abilities?
My further discussion of modes of perception:
1st mode, Hearsay: for example, “the earth is flat.” In Par 26 he dismisses it, because you perceive no evidence of the idea, therefore it is not certain.
2nd mode, Perception: for example, oil feeds a fire. In Par 27 he explains that perceptions are uncertain, indefinite. Random perceptions cannot be clearly understood unless the essences are first known.
3rd mode, Inference: for example, we know that a distant object is larger than it appears. We get this perception from cause and effect, or when two events accompany each other–fire is hot. But inference is not the means to improve the mind in the way he desires. He doesn’t explain why. I suspect it is simply less useful than the fourth mode. (A lot could be written on this topic.)
4th mode, Intuition: Something is known from its essence. In Par 29 he declares intuition acceptable. For example, I know my soul is united to my body, without danger of error.
Par. 26 – 30 He explains why only the fourth mode, intuition, will suffice.
— Next task is to explain how to use intuition to acquire the knowledge he seeks.
Sub-topic This is not a regressive process, meaning we don’t need a method to seek a method, etc. ad infinitum.
Par. 31 Begin with simple tools, then make better ones. Demonstration of building up ideas. He explains how ideas of things can be used as objects for new ideas.
Par. 35 Big point: To be certain of something. The way we become aware of something is the definition of certainty.
Therefore, to be certain of a truth is to have an adequate idea, as defined.
Certainty means objective essence, means truth. The true method is the path of getting the objective essence. The method is a discourse about reasoning.
Par. 38 Big point: The method is reflexive knowledge, the idea of an idea.
Good method directs the mind according to true ideas.
We now have this basic tool to build with: a true idea. It will improve with use. Notice how it differs from other types of perception.
Par. 40 (Main method resumes at Par 91)
(see test 4, Par 25) The more the mind knows, the better it understands its power and nature.
— Part of main method: Understanding its power increases its ability to give guidance.
— final part of this method: A better understanding of order or nature, helps restrain the mind from useless pursuits.
Summary of Par. 41
Main learning method (my label)
1) Decide which type of perception to use.
2) Understand the powers or abilities of the mind, in order to grow them.
3) Understand the order of nature– characteristics, to use for guidance.
His is a big point, he uses often, also in the Ethics:
— Ideas are related to each other in the same way that their objects are.
(an example might be an apple on a tree.)
Sub-points Pars. 42 – 48
He addresses doubts about the method of getting a true idea.
Men don’t doubt their own ideas. Some men do not understand logical reasoning at all.
Main Learning Method
1) Established the goal of our thinking.
2) Chose the best mode of perception to attain perfection–intuition.
3) Determined the mental pathway to begin and follow rules based on a true idea.
a) distinguish a true idea
b) lay down rules for perceiving new things
c) establish a procedure to avoid unnecessary work
4) Realize we need an idea of a most perfect being since this is the goal.
Par. 50 Chief objective is to get knowledge of the most perfect Being.
Similar to distinguishing between a dream perception and an awake perception.
Method of discerning false ideas
1) fictitious ideas, as defined. A “made up” idea, unfounded in facts
2) false ideas
3) doubtful perception
Par. 52 Here treating the Method of discerning false ideas 1) fictitious 2) false 3) doubtful
1) How to discern fictional ideas. They are made-up ideas. He gives examples.
Fictions are considered as existing, in error.
Par. 53 A thing is impossible if its nature implies a contradiction. It’s possible if its nature does not imply a contradiction
Par. 54 He knows God’s nature and God is not a fiction. (He does not explain how he arrived at that conclusion. It seems unfinished.)
Par. 55 Discusses various types of fictions.
Par. 60 An enforced fiction causes other fictions to develop around it, until absurdity develops.
Par. 64 If a thing composed of many constituent parts is divided in thought into all its simplest parts, and attention is given to each part separately, then all confusion will disappear.
Par. 65 Summing up fiction. Is the idea:
— clearly conceived?
— an eternal idea?
— a completely simple thing?
If so, then it is not a fiction.
2) Discerning false ideas
Par. 66 Falsity is easier to determine than fiction. A false idea is a fiction to which we give assent. We don’t see proof that it is false. The solution is the same as discerning fiction. Confused ideas have an external, unproven aspect.
Par. 71 A true thought is intrinsic to the thought itself.
Par. 72 For example, imagine a semi-circle rotated on its axis to form a sphere. The sphere is a true thought.
Par. 74 A falsity is when things in the imagination are also in the intellect. As the stoics developed theories of the properties of the soul, without evidence. Therefore, reject hearsay and casual experience.
3) Things that cause doubt and how to remove doubt
Par. 77 — Doubt does not arise from the thing itself.
— Doubt arises through another idea, not so clear and distinct.
–Doubt means suspension in judgment about the truth of something.
Par. 79 We have a clear and distinct idea of God. But doubts are cast–there may be a deceiver, which we can’t disprove. But we supply our proofs of God–the Creator. Therefore the doubt is removed. In the same way we know the characteristics of a triangle.
Clear and distinct idea means true intuitive understanding.
Apply the Method of discerning false ideas to God’s existence.
sub-point Par. 81 Memory
End first part of method started at Par 50
Par. 84 Review of fictitious idea analysis
Par. 86 We no longer fear we may confuse true ideas with the fictitious or false.
Par. 87 People fall into error
Par. 88 Errors in imagination. The difference between intellect and imagination.
Intellect meaning reasoning activity Par 74
Par. 90 diagram Ideas we imagine –> we accidentally think we understand them –>
then they go into the intellect–> reasoning, conclusions. It should be the reverse procedure, first understand.
Par. 91 Big point. Begin second part of the method which started in Par 40
Par. 92 Takes up the next point? Aim is to conceive something through its essence or cause.
Par. 93 Therefore, don’t draw conclusions from abstractions, as defined.
Par. 94 Launches a new explanation of a good definition of created things.
A complete definition identifies the essence, not merely a property.
a) proximate cause
b) properties can be deduced from essence
Par. 97 Big point. The requirements for a good definition of an uncreated thing (God). Paraphrased. (I didn’t grasp the last 3 points.)
1. It excludes every cause, doesn’t need one. God is self-caused.
2. No need to ask if it exists.
3. Not explained by abstractions.
4. All its properties can be deduced from its definition.
Par. 98 Next phase. We need particular essences in order to draw conclusions. Need knowledge of particular things. (This next section is very murky, I couldn’t grasp it, so skipped over it.)
Par. 99 It is always necessary to deduce our ideas from physical things, not abstractions.
Par. 104 We have learned how to determine truth from fiction.
Pars. 107 – 108 A list of eight properties of the intellect, paraphrased:
1) It involves certainty. The mind knows that things are in reality as they are contained in the intellect in the form of thought.
2) Some thoughts are formed independently, others depend on other ideas.
3) Independent ideas express infinity, as a line. But determinate ideas are formed from other ideas.
4) The intellect forms positive ideas before negative ones.
5) It perceives things not in time, but some form of eternity.
6) Our clear and distinct ideas we form under our own power. But confused ideas are formed without our consent, (they come from outside us.)
7) There are many ways in which the mind can form new ideas from other ideas.
8) Ideas are the more perfect as they express a greater degree of perfection of an object
Par. 110 We cannot learn about the intellect from false or fictitious ideas. The text ends abruptly.