Spinozistic Substance Monism: God as the Only Substance

20 May

What experiences cause a person think such sophisticated thoughts? What trials and hardships must one go through to inspire them to want to explain the world around us? I am not saying that trials and hardships create philosophers, but the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza had to come from somewhere. Spinoza was born in 1632 into a family of exiled Portuguese Jews in Holland. He was born into a time when Jews were persecuted in Europe, and his childhood cannot have been an easy one. His Jewish upbringing and education along with his brilliant mind lead to his groundbreaking philosophical propositions. I feel his philosophy about substance and mode is most important and should be clearly understood. Keeping in mind the Spinozistic definitions of substance, mode, and attribute along with causation, I feel the only logical inference is that God is the only substance of the universe.

Baruch Spinoza was raised to know and believe the Jewish religion. He studied under rabbis and in synagogues. He did so until he was excommunicated from the synagogue for having some slightly heretic ideas. He still maintained his Jewish faith and he let it be the foundation of his philosophies. This became the root of his philosophies because of how he believed that God is the main reason and source of existence in the entire universe. His belief in monotheism helped him develop his philosophy about the world. Spinoza also had other philosophical roots. He studied some of his philosophical precursors like Rene Descartes and Bruno. Rene Descartes presented dualist philosophy causing Spinoza to have the need to disprove his theories. Along with Spinoza and other deep thinkers, the philosophy of Cartesianism spread. Cartesianism was the popular medieval philosophies that had problems with Rene Descartes’ dualist philosophy. The Cartesianists maintained the eternal goal of disproving dualism and publishing the philosophy they thought was right. This anti-dualist attitude lead to the idea that God makes up the only one standard material for the universe. From this attitude, the Spinoza presented monism.

So how did the Cartesianists get from monotheism to monism? Monism must be thoroughly understood before questions about its origin are asked. Monotheism is the relatively modern belief that there is only one supreme deity that rules and governs the world we live in. People began to divert from their pagan polytheism when Jesus came to earth and people argued his position. Spinoza and the Cartesianists believed in monotheism and thought that if there is only one God present ruling this universe, there must only be one material that the universe is made up of. This material includes God, human spirits and everything that was physically created.  The souls we have, the holy spirit of God, the ground below us, the sky above us, and all the formations and items that surround us are all of one material according to Spinoza and monism. In Spinoza’s Ethics, all of the components of the universe are explained along with how those things came into existence. The point he makes in every proposition either states or leads to the statement that the universe is made of one material or, as he calls it, substance.

The Spinozistic universe consists of three basic components. The component that makes up the bulk of all of the material in the world is substantia or substance. Substance is understood as the things that are “perceived through itself, unique in its existence, and conceived in itself” (Spinoza, 1677). Substance is connected to God by Spinoza and brings up more arguments for discussion. The next component that is inferior to substantia is attributum or attributes. Spinoza defines attributes as “what is perceived by the intellect as the constitution of the essence of a substance”, (Spinoza, 1677). Attributes are understood as bodies or even as spaces, but space or body, the attribute shows the essence of the substance of which it resides. The next component which is inferior to attributes is modus or modes. Modes are defined as that which is perceived through another, created through another, and often understood as modifications of substance (Spinoza, 1677). Modes are less difficult to classify when compared to attributes because they are explained as the bodies and spaces that show the many variations, perceptions, and modifications of the large substance it represents. Using the definitions of substance and mode is one way to define the components of the universe. Different explanations of substance and mode spark the involvement of God as a substance.

The two biggest entities that make up the universe are explained in three ways that are often recognized in Spinozistic monism. First of all, substance and mode is the first and most known definition of the two components. Another representation of the two components perceives the substance as the creator. The creator is the cause of everything in the universe and all the spirits and physical materials are designated as the creatum. The creator is the cause for the creatum and the cause for the creature. The creature is related to the modes and is understood as the living beings that are created by the creator. This is an interesting connection but should be implied if the creator is recognized as the substance. Finally, substance and mode are understood as natura naturans and natura naturata. These ancient definitions relate purely to nature and describe substance and mode according to nature. I find these explanations helpful because they bring into discussion the notion of causation. Natura naturans is defined as the “unmoved mover” and natura naturata is defined as the beings that are moved (Hallett, 1973). I understand causation to be related to these definitions because Spinoza describes natura naturans as the potency or potentiality of nature. Natura naturata is defined as the actuality of nature. Actuality is the current active state of a being while potency is the inactive stored state of action in a being. Because of what actuality and potency are, it can be inferred that natura naturans is the cause of natura naturata and the things it accomplishes. The fact that natura naturata is the actuality of natura naturans presents the question: what justification makes this fact so?

Substance and mode are components only present when existence is within the topics of debate. Certain things happen if and only if they are within a certain state of existence. These states include the free state and the necessary or compelled state. The free state (libera) is defined as when a thing determines the nature of its own existence. The being with this state is not required to remain in any position for any reason. The only one that benefits from this thing’s existence is itself. The necessary state (necessaria) is when a being exists under another and another being determines its existence and actions. Most things exist in the necessary state. Very few items exist in the free state and all the other beings exist in the necessary state because they are determined by and depend on the one or few beings in the free state. Beings in the necessary state comply with causation. Causation states that in an event or action a cause occurs and the resultant action is the effect. The being in the necessary state is obviously the effect because the cause determines its actions. In Spinoza’sEthics, he founds six axioms in the first part of the book to refer to in his propositions. I along with most others feel that these axioms are important in inferring that God is the only substance because of how the main substance must be the cause of all the effects that are the bodies and space that occupy this universe. These axioms govern Spinozistic arguments. Here are the ones I feel are most important:

I.                   All things which are, are in themselves or in other things.

II.                Things which cannot be conceived through another thing must be conceived through itself.

III.             From a given determined cause and effect follows of necessity, and on the other hand, if no cause is granted, it is impossible that an effect should follow.

IV.             The knowledge of effect depends on the knowledge of the cause, and involves the same.

These axioms of The Ethics state the properties of existence and cause and effect in the necessary state. Axiom II refers to things that cannot be conceived through another thing. If this is the case of any existence, the necessary state no longer applies. The state of existence monism is most concerned with is the free state. Any substance and the Godly substance is a part of the free state and the argument is whether or not God is the only being a part of the free state. There are things that make God different from the beings under Him and there are things making a substance unique. The question is whether or not God is the only substance.

In substance monism, God is the ultimate question. Proving His existence is not necessary when trying to understand His place around the creatum of the universe. The creatum (or everything that was created under God) presents a diversity of beings that occupy the space of the universe. It is known that God was here before the creatum was created and He will still be here when the creatum vanishes from existence, therefore God is above the entire creatum in existence. Naturally, metaphysics will cause philosophers to want to classify the beings of the universe and when a notion of substance, attribute and mode were presented along with causation, the problem of substance monism must be addressed. The definers of the term substance created this problem when they said that substance is infinite, unique, and indivisible. These three words immediately make one think of God. When Spinoza says that anything is infinite he means infinite in time and space. If something is infinite in time, that being will exist throughout eternity. If something is infinite in space, that being exists in all parts of the universe and is never absent. Spinoza says that substance is infinite; God is also infinite according to Christian churches of the world and Spinoza’s definition of infinity. Spinoza also describes substance as unique. Substance is very different compared to all other beings in existence. According to Christian churches of the world, God is different in every possible way. Spinoza also defines substance as indivisible. Substance cannot be divided into individual parts and God cannot be divided into parts either. I feel it is necessary to present these stipulations about substances and God Himself because problems with substance monism might not be understood unless substance and God are clearly understood. Considering these definitions of substance and God, there are three solutions that I think solve the substance monism problem in different ways.

Finally, I would like to begin to drive a largely involved point home. All of the previous material has only been understood as support for the argument I would like to make for one of three possible truths to the substance, modes and attributes of the universe. One of three of the arguments about substance is substance monism. The other two are substance pluralism. In the process of arguing a stance on this argument, if a being is not going to be classified as a substance, it must be classified as an attribute or a mode. All beings in this universe must fall into one of these three categories. Again the definition of the Spinozistic substance is all the beings in the universe that are created by itself and is conceived through itself. Substances will generally exist in the free state. Its existence is not dependent on any other being. An attribute is defined as the being that constitutes the essence of the substance it resides in. Attributes live in the necessary state because they rely on the substance for a purpose. Modes are defined as the beings that are understood through another being (substance or attribute). Modes also live in the necessary state because they depend on the existence of an attribute which depend on the existence of the substance. These definitions are to be understood to understand the arguments for and against substance monism and the reasons why a rhetorician would advocate or oppose one or more propositions.

Spinoza himself advocated the proposition that only one substance exists and he directly related that substance to God. Other philosophers in the past and present have and will advocate and oppose this monism. If monism is not correct God as a substance must still have a place inside or outside the creatum. Substance pluralism is more ambiguous to argue, so I would like to present two possible scenarios of substance pluralism. One possible solution against monism would bring God out as a being superior to the many substances. This first of two pluralist solutions places God above the substances but also adheres to the Spinozistic substance definition. I like using this specific pluralist scenario because this reflects the Christian belief that God is complex beyond our abilities to perceive Him. One may advocate this pluralism because a Spinozistic substance must be too simple to represent God. A super-substance must exist above all the other substances according to this pluralistic scenario. In this scenario, God created the substances. Those substances were created in God and have existed as long as God has existed and each one makes up the entity that is God. The attributes constitute the essence of each of God’s substances as well as the modes perceive the substance and attribute in different ways. Monists may oppose this solution by saying that all the beings under God are simple enough to exist as attributes or modes and a super-substance is not necessary. This form of pluralism can be easily rejected. More forms of pluralism can also be exemplified against monism.

A more pure form of pluralism can also be argued in saying that many substances exist and a possible creator exists as an equal to all other substances. Agnostics would support this view because other substances represent huge creative forces in the universe and a possible (if any) godly deity exists. Other substances like evil, good, dialectic knowledge and others created themselves according to this view. These substances are creative forces in this universe because of how they affect the decisions people make in the universe. In any substance pluralism, it is granted that no attribute exists in any two substances. If any attribute exists in two substances, those two beings are the same substance. This would require that many attributes and modes exist making the universe very complicated. Pluralists may argue that the universe we live in is extremely complicated. In this particular pluralist view, little water would be held for the argument because no creator or creators exists in the scenario, causing eventual failure for any argument like this. It is not possible for any more than one substance to exist in and out of the creatum.

Substance monism must be the only way an extremely complicated creatum could exist today. A super-substance is not necessary because attributes and modes represent God the creator in every way necessary. Pure pluralism cannot exist because no creator is identified. With the many substances of this pure pluralism, attributes would exist in multiple substances making all of the substances combine into one. Pure pluralism falls apart in every way it possibly can. Only a certain amount of attributes exist in this universe. Each attribute constitutes the essence of God Himself. For example, a wise well rounded cultural human constitutes the essence of God because that human was made in God’s image according to scriptures. The wisdom and culture of the man represents all of the knowledgeable and cultural beings God created. God lives in the free state. He does not depend on any other being and all other beings depend on Him. He never came into existence and he will never come out of existence. He is infinite, indivisible, and unique in His nature. He is the potency of the creatum that he created. The creatum is His actuality. Every characteristic of a substance correlates with every characteristic of God. Therefore, it is not possible that any other substance exists in this universe. The creatum includes all of the attributes and modes that are the actuality of the main substance God and represent every being under God in the universe. No other explanation of the state of the universe is necessary. Substance monism defeats any form of pluralism in every way possible.

Trying to explain the universe and how it was created is a difficult and laborious task, but Baruch Spinoza did it using some of the simplest ways of explaining its parts. The complexity of the universe may lead one to believe that many ambiguous components govern its nature. This increased complexity of the universe leads to the argument for substance pluralism. Spinoza takes the drive right out of that argument with his arguments of substance causation and qualities. After being influenced by his Cartesian philosophical roots, he strengthened many arguments for the existence and continuous involvement of God. Substance monism is the strongest argument for the quantity of substances for the past, present, and future.


One Response to “Spinozistic Substance Monism: God as the Only Substance”

  1. Ijenu Benjamin June 30, 2011 at 8:16 pm #

    thanks for this wonderful article… i’m using it for my exams. i was wondering if you’ve written something about Sartre’s existence preceeds essence. i like to read an article on that. thanks

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