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Improvement of the Understanding   By: (1632-1677)

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On the Improvement of the Understanding (Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect)

by Baruch Spinoza [Benedict de Spinoza]

Translated by R. H. M. Elwes


1 On the Improvement of the Understanding 3 Of the ordinary objects of men's desires 12 Of the true and final good 17 Certain rules of life 19 Of the four modes of perception 25 Of the best mode of perception 33 Of the instruments of the intellect, or true ideas 43 Answers to objections

First part of method:

50 Distinction of true ideas from fictitious ideas 64 And from false ideas 77 Of doubt 81 Of memory and forgetfulness 86 Mental hindrances from words and from the popular confusion of ready imagination with distinct understanding.

Second part of method:

91 Its object, the acquisition of clear and distinct ideas 94 Its means, good definitions Conditions of definition 107 How to define understanding

[Notice to the Reader.] (This notice to the reader was written by the editors of the Opera Postuma in 1677. Taken from Curley, Note 3, at end)

This Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect etc., which we give you here, kind reader, in its unfinished [that is, defective] state, was written by the author many years ago now. He always intended to finish it. But hindered by other occupations, and finally snatched away by death, he was unable to bring it to the desired conclusion. But since it contains many excellent and useful things, which we have no doubt will be of great benefit to anyone sincerely seeking the truth, we did not wish to deprive you of them. And so that you would be aware of, and find less difficult to excuse, the many things that are still obscure, rough, and unpolished, we wished to warn you of them. Farewell.

[1] (1) After experience had taught me that all the usual surroundings of social life are vain and futile; seeing that none of the objects of my fears contained in themselves anything either good or bad, except in so far as the mind is affected by them, I finally resolved to inquire whether there might be some real good having power to communicate itself, which would affect the mind singly, to the exclusion of all else: whether, in fact, there might be anything of which the discovery and attainment would enable me to enjoy continuous, supreme, and unending happiness.

[2] (1) I say "I finally resolved," for at first sight it seemed unwise willingly to lose hold on what was sure for the sake of something then uncertain. (2) I could see the benefits which are acquired through fame and riches, and that I should be obliged to abandon the quest of such objects, if I seriously devoted myself to the search for something different and new. (3) I perceived that if true happiness chanced to be placed in the former I should necessarily miss it; while if, on the other hand, it were not so placed, and I gave them my whole attention, I should equally fail.

[3] (1) I therefore debated whether it would not be possible to arrive at the new principle, or at any rate at a certainty concerning its existence, without changing the conduct and usual plan of my life; with this end in view I made many efforts, in vain. (2) For the ordinary surroundings of life which are esteemed by men (as their actions testify) to be the highest good, may be classed under the three heads Riches, Fame, and the Pleasures of Sense: with these three the mind is so absorbed that it has little power to reflect on any different good.

[4] (1) By sensual pleasure the mind is enthralled to the extent of quiescence, as if the supreme good were actually attained, so that it is quite incapable of thinking of any other object; when such pleasure has been gratified it is followed by extreme melancholy, whereby the mind, though not enthralled, is disturbed and dulled. (2) The pursuit of honors and riches is likewise very absorbing, especially if such objects be sought simply for their own sake, [a] inasmuch as they are then supposed to constitute the highest good... Continue reading book >>

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