Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Little Piece of Philosophy

"All things which are in nature are either things or actions. Now good and evil are neither things nor actions. Therefore good and evil do not exist in nature. " B. Spinoza



Blogger Tobie said...

Bah. Only if by 'all things' you mean, all things which I choose to discuss for purposes of my premises. What about beauty, justice, truth? Heck, what about yellow, symmetrical, or quick? I don't think any adverb could possibly be included in either the category of 'thing' or of 'action'.

Beyond which, the fact that good and evil are unique do not prove that they fail to exist. Spinoza adds in the hidden assumption that because everything else in nature is one an action or a thing, everything in nature must necessarily be one of them. Very weak.

(I love pretending to know what I'm talking about and criticizing those who actually do, but still.)

8:17 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

this is a recursive definition, isn't it?

4:21 PM  
Blogger הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

Taken out of context. Like tobie much of what we see as nature exists only our minds...numbers and mathematics for example..they're still 'part of nature'...

3:28 AM  
Blogger Miri said...

I think the point was that he was talking about NOUNS as opposed to ADJECTIVES. By which he meant to say that adjectives are not things - they are descriptions of things. With which I completely agree.

Also I don't know what you mean by unique. And I don't think he was trying to prove that good and evil don't exist.Rather, he was trying to explain somethingabout the nature of good an evil. To say "they do not exist in nature" is essentially the same as saying that they aren't physical things. Which most people will agree with.

Spinoza was discussing the nature of existence (in context of G-d's existence.) Numbers and mathematics for example; they are the code by which all of creation was created. But do numbers actually exist in and of themselves? The concepts of numbers exist. We use them as if they exist. But numbers are really nothing more than extremely specific adjectives. If you want a 3 or a 5, what does that mean in terms of physical reality? Same thing with good and evil. They are adjectives. But they are not necessarily entities in and of themselves that posses actual physical existence.

3:56 AM  
Blogger הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

I found the whole statement online (by the way) if that helps anyone:

"In order to explain briefly what good and evil are in themselves, we shall begin thus:

Some things are in our understanding and not[N1] in Nature, and so they are also only our own creation, and their purpose is to understand things distinctly: among these we include all relations, which have reference to different things, and these we call Entia Rationis [things of reason]. Now the question is, whether good and evil belong to the Entia Rationis or to the Entia Realia [real things]. But since good and evil are only relations, it is beyond doubt that they must be placed among the Entia Rationis; for we never say that something is good except with reference to something else which is not so good, or is not so useful to us as some other thing. Thus we say that a man is bad, only in comparison with one who is better, or also that an apple is bad, in comparison with another which is good or better.

All this could not possibly be said, if that which is better or good, in comparison with which it [the bad] is so called, did not exist.

Therefore, when we say that something is good, we only mean that it conforms well to the general Idea which we have of such things. But,[N1] as we have already said before, the things must agree with their particular Ideas, whose essence must be a perfect essence, and not with the general *[Ideas]*, since in that case they would not exist.

As to confirming what we have just said, the thing is clear to us; but still, to conclude our remarks, we will add yet the following proofs:

All things which are in Nature, are either things or actions. Now good and evil are neither things nor actions. Therefore good and evil do not exist in Nature.

For, if good and evil are things or actions, then they must have their definitions. But good and evil (as, for example, the goodness of Peter and the wickedness of Judas) have no definitions apart from the essence of Judas or Peter, because this alone exists in Nature, and they cannot be defined without their essence. Therefore, as above it follows that good and evil are not things or actions which exist in Nature."

5:11 AM  
Blogger Tobie said...

I didn't have time to grok the full section, so I'm going to continue responding to the clip.

And what about yellow, symmetry, and speed? All of those are nouns. Yes, they lack physical existence because they are traits of other things, but what's his point? The only things that have physical existence are things and actions (except not really actions)? Good and evil lack physical existence? Good and evil should be classified, grammatically, as adjectival nouns as opposed to nouns that denote physical existence? None of those sound like a chiddush to me.

Furthermore, he offered no proof for the fact that good and evil do not exist in nature, beyond his bare statement that all things that exist in nature are things or actions. He does not back this statement up, or explain how he picked the things that he's going to include as existing in nature. (Foot- in. Height-out) Beyond that, he seems to be making an observational point (all things that I have observed that are x are y) and jumping from that to the not entirely logical conclusion. (To be x, something must be y.) Lav davka, sir, lav davka.

6:52 AM  
Blogger Ahuva said...


"All things that exist in nature are either things or actions" is a very old and widely accepted philosophical premise-- I think it goes back to Plato.

Yellow is actually a great example-- "yellow" is the way our eyes perceive specific wavelengths of light that are reflected off of a specific object. It's simply a description of an object.

I think the more interesting question here is-- do relationships exist outside of our perception of them? Good and evil are descriptions of the relationship between objects in the world. Something is evil because it has x effect which is harmful. Is "harmful" a term that is objective in the world, or is it dependent on a human judgment call? Does it exist independently in nature, or is it dependent on us? It sounds like Spinoza is saying that good and evil are products of human thought, not things in and of themselves.

(Disclaimer: I never studied Spinoza specifically.)

8:14 AM  
Blogger Lubab No More said...

Aren't "good" and "evil" two different categories of actions? Like my mother always said "There are no bad boys, just boys who act in bad ways.

Of course good and evil are usually relative (or subjective) anyway.

6:22 PM  
Blogger Ahuva said...

"There are no bad boys, just boys who act in bad ways."

Your mother is using "bad" as a description of the action. The boy did *something* that was either subjectively or objectively bad. The boy didn't do "bad" the way he could, say, throw a ball (an obvious type of action). Even to make that sentence work, I had to say "do bad." I wouldn't say "do throw," I would just say "throw" since that's an action.

Evil isn't itself an action, no matter whether you think "bad/evil" is subjective or objective.

6:40 AM  
Blogger Miri said...

Read the full quote. It explains things better, which is to say, it says what I said - that good and evil are subjective adjectives. Also it proves things. Spinoza didn't make the statement in a vaccume, I quoted it out of a much larger context for the sake of personal convenience.

Thank you for the full quote.

6:51 AM  
Blogger Lubab No More said...


Your mother is using "bad" as a description of the action.

Exactly! Maybe I could have said that better. I'm not saying good and evil are types of actions. I'm saying good and evil are categories of descriptions of actions. Or to put it another way they are adverbs.

But what if Spinoza said "yummy" and "ugly" are also neither things or actions. Would we say that yummy and ugly does not exist?

I probably agree with Spinoza that good and evil are subjective adjectives.

8:05 AM  
Blogger Ahuva said...

Lubab, he's not saying that "yummy" and "ugly" don't exist. He's saying that they don't exist *in nature*-- i.e. "yummy" is a feeling humans get when they taste something they like. Take away humans, and there is no "yummy."

"Yummy" exists because we exist to have that feeling (Entia Rationis), but that feeling couldn't exist if we weren't there to think of it.

10:41 AM  
Blogger Miri said...

Thank you. You keep making my points for me. Yummy and ugly don't exist in and of themselves; they are perceptions of other things, and as such do not exist if they aren't being perceived.

5:15 AM  
Blogger Tobie said...

Wait- is his point that good and evil are adjectives more than nouns, or that they are the result of human perceptions more than inherent to the objects that they describe? Or that all adjectives are a result of human perceptions? Because I think that the first is obvious, the second was not proved, and the third is...well, quite a large claim which would need a lot more arguing.

7:11 AM  
Blogger Miri said...

"that they are the result of human perceptions more than inherent to the objects that they describe? Or that all adjectives are a result of human perceptions?"

I think the point is that we only know them through human perceptions, and that therefore, how inherent they may or may not be to their objects is firstly not really provable, and secondly not that important.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Tobie said...

Which one- good and evil or all adjectives?

6:09 AM  
Blogger Miri said...

all adjectives, including good and evil.

8:50 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home