Spinoza and the Cunning of Imagination

Spinoza and the Cunning of Imagination

Eugene Garver

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9780226575568

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


The Ethics starts with God, and Part 1 gradually descends from God through its infinite modes to the individual—the finite modes—including individual human beings. The rest is spent showing how the individual can return to God, finally uniting with God in the intellectual love of God. In between God and the intellectual love of God, or human freedom, lies the argument of the Ethics and the career and destiny of human beings. Readers have puzzled over how freedom is possible in a causally determined world. Through the plot of the Ethics, its readers move from being subjects of the geometric method to being its practitioners, and the cunning of imagination is that movement. The challenge of the Ethics is to see two sides of the imagination; it is this ambivalence that drives Spinoza’s argument. Spinoza’s imagination comprises ideas of how we are affected, as opposed to adequate ideas of the understanding, which show how things really are. Imagination is our original endowment; being guided by reason is an achievement. While imagination is inferior to reason, there are better and worse ideas of the imagination. Some ideas of the imagination bring people together, others create conflicts. Some ideas lead to our being more rational, others move us in the opposite direction. This is the ambivalence of the imagination. Its cunning drives people forward to achieve a rational, blessed life that is beyond its own ideas and desires. And so the Ethics ends: good things are as difficult as they are rare.