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Rational Mastery, the Perfectly Free Man, and Human Freedom


This paper examines the coherence of Spinoza’s combined account of freedom, reason, and the affects (FRA) and its applicability to real humans in the context of the perfectly free man Spinoza discusses towards the end of part 4 of the Ethics. On the standard reading, the perfectly free man forms the model of human nature and thus the goal to which real humans should aspire. A recently proposed non-standard reading, however, posits that the perfectly free man should not be considered the model of human nature. Consolidating FRA into a system of ten theses and outlining their intricate interconnections, I argue that under both the standard and non-standard readings of Spinoza’s perfectly free man, FRA founders when applied to real humans. While it is no big news that FRA may face deep problems when applied to real humans, the paper is innovative: (a) in the specific tensions in FRA it exposes; (b) in the strategy deployed to expose the latter; and (c) in showing that a recent non-standard approach to resolving these tensions is unsuccessful. Depending on the specific reading of FRA that I suggest, my critical conclusions may not apply to every reading of FRA. They nonetheless pose a serious challenge to similar readings prominent within the literature.

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  1. ‘Affects’ (affectiōnēs) is Spinoza’s preferred term for the more common seventeenth century term ‘passions’ (passiōnēs). For more on this terminological issue see § 2.2.3.

  2. I use the following standard abbreviations for Spinoza’s works: TdIE - Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect (Spinoza 1985, 3–45), KV - Short Treatise on God, Man, and his Well–Being (Spinoza 1985, 45–156), TTP - Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (Spinoza 1991). References to TdIE are by section, to KV by book, chapter, and section, and to TTP by chapter. References to the Ethics (Spinoza 1985, 399–617) are in the standard format according to which the first Arabic number specifies the part of the book, and the abbreviations following that numeral are as follows: a = axiom, app = appendix, c = corollary, d = definition (when not after a proposition number), d = demonstration (when after a proposition number), da = definition of the affects, exp. = exposition, gda = general definition of the affects, le = lemma, p = proposition, po = postulate, pref = preface, and s = scholium. Thus, 1p16d refers to the demonstration of the 16th proposition of the 1st part of the Ethics.

  3. More on this in § 2.3.

  4. Marshall 2014 offers a different non-standard account which is also suggested by Steinberg 2011. More on this in § 3.3.

  5. Two prominent examples of such readings are Della Rocca 2008, Chaps. 3–5 and Kisner 2011.

  6. Spinoza also puts forward a few arguments against libertarianism that do not presuppose his determinism. See (a) KV II 16, 3, (b) Letter 21 (Spinoza 1985, 378–379), (c) 2p49, 2p49s, Letter 2 (Spinoza 1985, 167–168), (d) 3p2s. See also Kisner 2011, 46–52, for an illuminating discussion of these arguments.

  7. To illustrate compatibilism in the sense assumed here and its incompatibility with necessitarianism, consider the following example. Suppose that I have the physical ability to jump over a fence at time t, yet I do not want to jump over the fence at t, and thus do not jump over it at that time. Given determinism, the laws of nature combined with the state of the world prior to t logically entail that I neither want to jump over the fence at t nor jump over it at that time. Nevertheless, assuming the falsity of necessitarianism, I can jump at t in the compatibilist sense that the state of the world prior to t could have been different than it actually was in such a way that, I would have wanted to jump over the fence at t, and would have jumped over it at that time.

  8. For an illuminating discussion of the connection between this notion of freedom and the notion of autonomy see Kisner 2011, 57–63. As Kisner (ibid., 11) claims, recognizing this connection shows that Spinoza was the only philosopher of the early-modern period, aside from Kant, to put the notion of autonomy at the center of his philosophy. Freedom qua causal adequacy or autonomy is spontaneous in the sense that to the extent that one enjoys it “one is determined to act by [oneself] alone” (1d8; see also Kisner 2011, 46–47). This notion of spontaneity should not be confused, however, with the Kantian notion of uncaused causality (Kant 1998, A 533/B 561).

  9. Strictly speaking, this is only true of finite beings, since as we shall see in § 2.2.3, (2) is not relevant to God.

  10. Being equivalent to (1) they are also compatible with Spinoza’s determinism.

  11. Below I shall point out a more fundamental specification of adequate ideas (see footnote 24). It should also be noted here that adequacy of ideas admits of degrees (Kisner 2011, § 1.4). Indeed, in Spinoza’s panpsychism (2p13s) mentality extends everywhere, even to things that are usually considered inanimate. So to the extent that the ideas of such things are adequate, these things may be considered rational as well. Since our ideas may be adequate to a considerably greater extent than the ideas of inanimate or lower animate things, we may be considerably more rational than these things might be. At times Spinoza also takes it that minds may be self-conscious (see, e.g., 3p9d). This view may be problematic with respect to inanimate, and lower animate beings: while it may make sense to speak of degrees of consciousness (see footnote 39), it seems much harder to speak of degrees of self-consciousness (Della Rocca 2008, 108–118, especially 111). To the extent that a thing is self-conscious, however, its rationality may find expression also in that thing’s perceiving clearly and distinctly (to the extent that it can) the relations between its relatively adequate ideas (cf. James 2009, 237). Notice also that for Spinoza logical entailment is adequacy-preserving: “whatever ideas follow in the mind from ideas which are adequate in the mind are also adequate” (2p40; see also Kisner 2011, 180–181). In addition, he takes it that irrationality finds expression in non-logical connections between ideas (see, e.g., 2p18s; see also Kisner 2011, § 9.1). Moreover, as against theoretical rationality, practical rationality means not only the having of adequate ideas but also acting on them (see Marshall 2014, § 7). For ease of exposition I will set aside these details concerning rationality except for its admitting of degrees and its practical dimension to which I shall return in §§ 3.2 and 3.3 respectively .

  12. According to Spinoza’s thesis of parallelism concerning the connection of ideas and “things” (2p7), for each thing there is a corresponding idea that represents it, and for each idea there is a thing that it represents (2p7d, 2p7c, 2p7s, 2p20d, Della Rocca 1996b, 18–19). Spinoza also speaks of “an infinity of attributes” (1d6), and ascribes such an infinity to God (1p11). Given these theses, there is a series of ideas parallel to the series of things or modes of each of the infinity of attributes (Della Rocca 1996b, 19). For ease of exposition, however, as well as for substantive reasons given by Bennett (1984, 78-79), I will consider Spinoza an attribute dualist who takes there to be only two attributes, thought and extension. Notice also that for Spinoza ideas represent by way of representing modes of extension (2p13, Kisner 2011, 28 n. 26, 38). Accordingly, in what follows I will focus on the parallelism between ideas and modes of extension, or extended objects.

  13. For a nuanced reconstruction of Spinoza’s account of error under which inadequate ideas need not be false see Lebuffe 2010, 78–86. This aspect of Lebuffe’s reconstruction is highly controversial (ibid., 229, n. 2). But even if appropriate as an interpretation of Spinoza’s view concerning inadequate ideas, this would not affect the present reconstruction. For it shares the basic interpretative assumption on which I build – viz., that a fundamental feature of adequate ideas, which distinguishes them from inadequate ones, is representational completeness.

  14. Spinoza 1995, 291.

  15. Cf. 1a4, which although closely related to this thesis also differs from it in some important respects (Della Rocca 1996b, 72). Related to this thesis are also 5a2, 3d1, and things Spinoza says in 4pref.

  16. At times Spinoza seems to take ‘cause’ in the definition of an object to mean only infinite causes and kinds of finite causes that the object has (Della Rocca 1996b, 89–91). Thus understood the definition would yield an idea of a kind of object rather than an idea of a particular object. Indeed, the concrete example Spinoza brings in Letter 60 of how the definition works is of an idea of a kind of object. However, Spinoza slurs over the difference between ideas of kinds of things and ideas of things (1p8s2, 1p17s, 2d2, Bennett 1984, 302, Della Rocca 1996b, 87 and 92). And this may be taken to indicate that insofar as he is concerned, the definition of an object may be either of kinds (and thus involve infinite and kinds of finite causes) or of particulars (and thus involve particular finite causes). Be that as it may, in my discussion I focus on particular objects and their ideas. And whether or not Spinoza bases, as I seek to show, principle (i) below on his views concerning the definition of an object, he is certainly committed to this principle (see footnote 18 where I outline another, independent argument for (i)).

  17. As well as an adequate idea of the adequate cause of the adequate cause of O, and so on (2p9, 2p24d, 2p25d, Della Rocca 1996b, 68–77, Kisner 2011, 26). For ease of exposition, I will relate to this point only later in the section.

  18. See Della Rocca 1996b, 68–77 and 84–94, for a detailed sophisticated discussion of (i). Spinoza’s basis for (i) can also be reconstructed as follows: In his view, adequate ideas provide us with knowledge (2p40s2, 2p41); since knowledge comprehends causes (1a4), it follows that adequate ideas must represent the causes of their objects (Kisner 2011, 26).

  19. Notice that the things represented by the non-adequate ideas of the adequate cause of O and O respectively are not the adequate cause of O and O in their entirety. So the relation between these things, and thus also between their ideas, cannot be that of causal adequacy.

  20. My reconstruction of Spinoza’s basis for (iii) is actually Kisner's (2011, 26-28). Steinberg (2009, 148-149) turns this argument on its head and infers (i) from (ii) and (iii).

  21. Formally put the argument for (4a) runs as follows (AC(x) = adequate cause of x, and AI(x) = adequate idea of x):

    (i) If one has AI(o) → one has AI[AC(o)] by Spinoza’s account of mental content

    (ii) AI[AC(o)] is AC[AI(o)] by parallelism

    (iii) If one has AI(o) → one is AC[AI(o)] by (i) and (ii)

    (iv) If one has AI(o) → one is AC(o) by (iii) & parallelism

    (iii) + (iv) = (4a)

  22. Which means that the attributes are explanatorily separated (2p7s) – i.e., no mental fact can be explained by any physical fact and vice versa (Della Rocca 1996b, 9–10).

  23. (vi) also follows from Spinoza’s view outlined at the outset of this section that an object is defined in terms of its causes.

  24. Combined together, (iii) and (ix), rather than 2d4, constitute Spinoza’s fundamental specification of adequate ideas (2p11c, Bennett 1984, 176–177, Della Rocca 1996, 53–57).

  25. Formally put the argument for (4b) runs as follows (see footnote 21 for the abbreviations I use):

    (v) If one is AC(o) → one has AI[AC(o)] by Spinoza’s conception of the mind

    (vi) If one has AI[AC(o)] → one has AI(o) by 3d1 and necessitarianism

    (vii) If one is AC(o) → one has AI(o) by (v) & (vi)

    (viii) If one is AC[AI(o)] → one has AI[AC(o)] by parallelism and (v)

    (ix) If one is AC[AI(o)] → one has AI(o) by (vi) & (viii)

    (vii) + (ix) = 4b

  26. See footnote 17. Marshall (2013, 30 n. 26) has contested this infinity claim arguing that by Spinoza’s lights, to have an adequate idea of an object O it is sufficient to have an adequate idea of the proximate adequate cause O′ of O. Marshall’s view is rather puzzling, however, since he seems to take it that having the adequate idea of the proximate adequate cause O′ of O is also necessary for having the adequate idea of O. Indeed, as I argued following Della Rocca at the beginning of this section, this necessity condition is well-grounded in Spinoza’s system. But Marshall’s sufficiency condition and the necessity condition are incompatible. For if (by the necessity condition) to have the idea of the proximate adequate cause O′ of O one must have the adequate idea of the proximate adequate cause O″ of O′, having the adequate idea of the proximate adequate cause O′ of O cannot be sufficient for having the adequate idea of O. One must have in addition the adequate idea of the proximate adequate cause O″ of O′ and so on and so forth. In other words, the necessity condition entails the infinity claim thereby contradicting Marshall’s sufficiency condition.

  27. Thus, Bennett's (1984, 324-328) claim that Parts 3 and 4 of the Ethics heavily rely on the concept of causal self-sufficiency – “take away [this] concept”, as he says somewhat brusquely with respect to Part 4, “and the elaborate structure of mostly invalid arguments collapses into a shapeless pile of rubble” (ibid., 328) - cannot be correct. This reading is also inconsistent with Spinoza’s view that “man […] is more free in a state, where he lives according to common decision, than in solitude, where he obeys only himself” (4p73). While Spinoza’s political philosophy and its connection to his metaphysics may be relevant to my discussion in § 2, these issues are beyond the scope of this paper. For a helpful discussion of them see Kisner 2011, Chap. 11.

  28. Notice that this conclusion concerns only what epistemological adequacy must involve – viz., wide ranging knowledge (or adequate ideas) of both particular things (or finite modes – 1d2, 1p28d) and laws of nature (or infinite modes – 1p21–23, Curley 1969, 58–62) – and not whether we can actually achieve such a state or be in it. Moreover, insofar as it is concerned, knowledge of infinite modes need not involve knowledge of finite modes. Indeed, as Spinoza claims in 2p38 and 2p47, we can have adequate ideas of God’s essence and of the attributes to which it is equivalent, and thus also of the infinite modes which the attributes entail (1p23, 2p40), without having adequate ideas of finite modes, let alone wide-ranging knowledge of such modes (see especially 2p38d; see also Lin 2009, 265–266). There is, however, a line of argument to the effect that even knowledge of the attributes and thus also of the infinite modes must involve knowledge of finite modes. Thus, by 2p13, we can only represent things other than our bodies through the ideas of our own bodies (see also 2p16c2, 2p23, Kisner 2011, 28 n. 26, 38, and footnote 12 above). In keeping with this view, 2p38d and 2p47d are clear that we represent the attributes through our ideas of our own bodily modes. But the causal antecedents of our bodily modes must form infinite series. So, the adequate ideas of even the attributes and infinite modes must involve wide-ranging and detailed knowledge of finite modes. For lack of space I will discuss neither this argument nor an apparent tension between it and Spinoza’s claim that while we can have adequate ideas of the attributes (2p38, 2p47) we cannot have adequate ideas of finite modes (see, e.g., 2p25d). See, however, Kisner's (2011, § 1.4) for a fine discussion of both this argument and tension. I briefly return to Kisner’s response to this tension in footnote 51.

  29. Thesis (4) is arguably the most fundamental claim of Spinoza’s entire philosophical system (Kisner 2011, 37), a point that will be illustrated in § 3.2.

  30. For Spinoza’s identification of God with nature see § 2.2.3.

  31. I am assuming here a Hobbesian reading of Spinoza’s notion of ‘perseverance in being’ according to which it should be understood in the ordinary sense of prolonging the duration of an individual’s psychophysical existence. Textual evidence for this reading is abundant. See, for example, 4p8d, 4p18s, 4p20s, 4p21, 4p22c, 4p25, 4p39, and 4app8. As I show in §§ 2.1–2.3, Spinoza ties his notion of perseverance together with a rich web of other, metaphysical, epistemological and psychological notions, and within the resulting framework ‘perseverance in being’ acquires non-Hobbesian dimensions. Due to these dimensions the good should not be identified with actual duration: “[N]o singular thing can be called more perfect for having persevered in existing for a longer time” (4pref). What makes a thing at a given time better than another thing at that time is its stronger power to persevere – which implies a potential, at that time, to endure for a longer time – a stronger power that is supposed to go hand in hand with other epistemological and psychological advantages.

    Recently Youpa has suggested a non-Hobbesian reading of Spinoza’s notion of perseverance according to which it should be identified with timeless, logically necessary eternal existence rather than with durational existence (Youpa 2009). Youpa’s suggestion is motivated by criticism of a rather simple Hobbesian reading of Spinoza that identifies perseverance with actual duration. Thus, insofar as my rather different Hobbesian reading is concerned, Youpa’s non-Hobbesian reading is not well-motivated.

  32. In like manner, my statement “I promise to do so and so” both constitutes and represents the promise.

  33. For Spinoza’s identification of confusion with inadequacy see 2p29c, 2p35d, and 2p36d. Lebuffe (2010, 53-58) argues for a subtle distinction between confusion and inadequacy. According to his interpretation as well, however, “all and only inadequate ideas are confused” (ibid., 53), which is sufficient for sustaining my reading of 3gda.

  34. For an illuminating examination of this principle see Della Rocca 1996a, 193–206. For the appetites as expressions of our conatus see Kisner 2011, 88–97.

  35. Here the question arises of what the conscious ends of desire are according to Spinoza. Does he take it that we always consciously desire to persevere, or that we may, and usually do, consciously desire things different from, yet sub-consciously and indirectly associated with perseverance? While Della-Rocca (1996a, 216) tends to the first option, Lebuffe (2010, Chaps. 5-7) painstakingly argues for the second option (see also Kisner 2011, 93–94). This dispute may have important interpretative implications. But nothing in my outline and critical discussion of FRA hangs on it.

  36. This is Spinoza’s official view concerning joy and sadness. In order to make this view more plausible, it may be required to modify it by considering joy and sadness as functions of one’s beliefs concerning one’s increase or decrease in metaphysical perfection (Della Rocca 1996a, 219–221). But taking this course, as Spinoza appears sometimes to be implicitly doing (ibid., 221–222), would render his system inconsistent (ibid., 222–223). I will set aside this issue, since my critical discussion of Spinoza’s system in § 3 is independent of it. Note also that in Spinoza’s view parts of the body can increase in power at the expense of the total power of the body (4app30; see also, e.g., 3p26s, 3p30s, 3p56s, 4p60), in which case the (bad) joy expressing this local increase yet global decrease in power will be accompanied by greater sadness (Kisner 2011, 192–195). I will ignore this phenomenon, as well as the related phenomenon of local decrease in power which contributes to global increase (e.g., sadness that checks bad joy), since they are consistent with Spinoza’s picture of joy and sadness outlined above (ibid., 194), and are of little importance for my expository purposes.

  37. Here Spinoza is following with some modifications Cicero (James 1998, 919 and 931–932).

  38. See Lebuffe 2009, 204 for a useful table of the various Spinozistic affects and their interrelations. Due to the causes of the increases or decreases in metaphysical perfection that they reflect, the affects may have a detrimental effect on us and our metaphysical perfection – i.e., they may cause us to behave in ways that actually harm our self-perseverance (4p5, 4p5d, Lin 2009, 262, Lebuffe 2010, 19). For this reason, the affects may require restraint or moderation by reason, an issue to which Spinoza devotes the fifth part of the Ethics. (For an illuminating discussion of Spinoza’s suggested techniques for rational moderation of the affects see Lin 2009. See also in this connection Lebuffe 2010, Chap. 10). I will not dwell on this important aspect of the affects, but it will underlie my discussion in § 3.

  39. See Della Rocca 1996a for a critical examination of Spinoza’s psychological naturalism. Notice that Spinoza’s naturalism allows for significant differences between the kinds of things that belong to the natural order. Thus, while on Spinoza’s account of consciousness all singular things in nature have a rudimentary kind of consciousness (2p13cs, 5p39s, Garrett 2008, Nadler 2008), and they all strive for perseverance (3p6), he only attributes the consciousness of striving, or desire, to human beings (3p9, 3da1). Similarly, although, in his view, all individual things may undergo increases and decreases in power, the conscious experience of such changes in joy and sadness is something he explains only for human beings (see, e.g., 3da2, 3da4). In addition, in his view only humans are goal-directed (1app, 4pref, Kisner 2011, 97). Relatedly, our capacity to act consciously to better ourselves in gaining knowledge and overcoming passion so emphasized in Part 5 of the Ethics is a fundamentally human capacity (Lebuffe 2010, 172).

  40. Spinoza 1985, 188. See also KV II, Appendix II, 4pref, and 4p4d.

  41. Thesis (7) has been taken by some commentators to be rather implausible (see, e.g., Delahunty 1985, 226–227, Gerrett, 1996, 290; see also Lebuffe 2010, 196–197). One strategy of responding to this objection has been to deny that Spinoza operates with an ordinary notion of self-preservation of the sort I have been assuming (see, e.g., Delahunty 1985, 227, Gerrett, 1996, 290–291, Yovel 1999). As Lebuffe (2010, 201-202) shows, however, this strategy cannot be reconciled with Spinoza’s texts, which implies that the implausibility objection to thesis (7) should be answered on its own terms. My derivation of thesis (7) from theses (4) and (5) may be taken to provide such an answer. This is also a merit of Lebuffe's (2010, 203-206) answer to the implausibility objection.

  42. Thesis (8) echoes in Spinoza’s equation of the knowledge and love of God (see TTP 4, 4, 5p20d, 5p39d). Notice that in KV Spinoza emphasizes loving God more than knowing him (see KV II, 5, 18, and 19, as well as Kisner 2011, 148–149).

  43. (III) is (iv) of § 2.2.1.

  44. If thesis (4) is surrendered, then, FRA actually founders, which is a testimony to the centrality of thesis (4) in Spinoza’s metaphysical system (see footnote 29).

  45. As footnote 18 implies, instead of passing via (a) Spinoza’s account of mental content the route to (III) may pass via (b) Spinoza’s basic assumption that knowledge comprehends causes. So if one chooses to give up (a) rather than Spinoza’s thesis of parallelism in response to surrendering (III), one would also have to give up (b).

  46. See the references in § 1, as well as, e.g., 4a1, 4p4, 4p73d.

  47. This may be best illustrated by the following scalar reformulation of the formal rendering of the argument for thesis (4a) in footnote 21 (AdC(x) = cause adequate-to-the-degree-d of x, and AdI(x) = idea adequate-to-the-degree-d of x):

    (i) If one has AdI(o) → one has AdI[AdC(o)] by Spinoza’s account of mental content

    (ii) AdI[AdC(o)] is AdC[AdI (o)] by parallelism

    (iii) If one has AdI(o) → one is AdC[AdI(o)] by (i) and (ii)

    (iv) If one has AdI(o) → one is AdC(o) by (iii) & parallelism

    (iii) + (iv) = (4a)

    As this formal rendering clearly shows, just as surrendering the original, non-scalar formulation of (iv) (= (III) of the present section) would undermine thesis (4a) in its original, non-scalar formulation, so would the surrendering of (iv) in its scalar reformulation undermine thesis (4a) in its scalar formulation.

  48. While focusing on Kisner’s version, I will also briefly relate to Steinberg’s and Marshall’s somewhat different version.

  49. Switching to the non-standard reading also removes a reason not to reject (I). However, (I) occupies a central place in Spinoza’s system, and so its rejection is not really an option. Indeed, as we shall see immediately, proponents of the non-standard view assume it. As an illustration of the problematic implications that a surrendering of (I) may have notice that such a move would require to give up either the principle that (V) if one is the adequate cause of an object O, one has an adequate idea of O (principle (V) is principle (vii) of § 2.2.1), or the principle that (VI) “[a]cting from reason is nothing but doing those things which follow from the necessity of our nature, considered in itself alone” (4p59d). For suppose that, contrary to (I), one may be acting from reason with respect to O yet not have an adequate idea of O. Then, by (V), one may be acting from reason with respect to O, yet not be the adequate cause of O, which is exactly what (VI) denies. Thus, one cannot give up (I) yet adhere to both (V) and (VI).

  50. The imagination is the faculty for generating images qua modifications of the body by external things as well as inadequate ideas that are derived from these images (2p17s, 2p49s, and Kisner 2011, 181).

  51. In response to the tension between the argument outlined in footnote 28 and Spinoza’s claim that while we can have adequate ideas of God’s essence and the attributes we cannot have adequate ideas of particular things, Kisner (2011, 40-44) suggests a mid-category between inadequate ideas and absolutely adequate ones – “human adequate ideas” - whose adequacy, while not absolute, is still categorical and not scalar. In his definition of this category it consists of those ideas that attain the greatest degree of adequacy available to humans (ibid., 43). So “fully adequate ideas” here should be understood as meaning “human adequate ideas” rather than “absolutely adequate ideas”. However, nothing in my discussion will turn on this detail (see footnote 53).

  52. A similar version is suggested by Steinberg 2011, though in a much less elaborated form.

  53. While for Marshall, freedom in the strict sense means commitment to the dictates of absolutely adequate ideas, he also allows for a weaker sense of freedom according to which “action that has an adequate idea as part of its adequate explanation is action in which the mind is to that degree active and free” (Marshall 2014, § 7). It should also be noted that, unlike Kisner who takes us to be capable of having only human adequate ideas (see footnote 51), Marshall (2014, §§ 2-3; see also 2013, Chap. 2) argues that we can have absolutely adequate ideas – viz., those of God and the infinite modes that follow from God’s nature, or the attributes - and these are the ideas that figure in his reading of Spinoza’s notion of freedom (2014, §§ 4–7; see also 2013, Chap. 5, § 2).

  54. It is also inconsistent with Spinoza’s assumption that God is self-caused (1p7d, 1p11d). Notice that this implication would be just as implausible if by "adequate idea" of God’s essence is meant “human adequate idea” in Kisner’s sense (see footnote 51), and by "adequate cause" is meant “human adequate cause” – namely, cause adequate to the greatest degree possible to humans: The claim that we are the human adequate causes of God’s essence is just as implausible as the claim that we are the absolutely adequate causes of God’s essence.


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An early version of the paper was presented in the Israel-Atlantic Canada Workshop on Early Modern Philosophy. I would like to thank the participants in this workshop for their helpful comments on this version. Special thanks are due to two participants in this workshop, Michael Della Rocca and Noa Naaman-Zauderer, for their most penetrating comments on earlier versions of the paper, based on which I heavily revised major portions of it. Thanks are also due to Noa Shein and two anonymous referees of Philosophia for their helpful comments on earlier versions of the paper.

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Correspondence to Yakir Levin.

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Levin, Y. Rational Mastery, the Perfectly Free Man, and Human Freedom. Philosophia 45, 1253–1274 (2017).

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  • Spinoza
  • Freedom
  • Reason
  • Affects
  • Causal adequacy
  • Epistemic adequacy
  • Selfpreservation