Benedict De Spinoza

“For there is something else I wish particularly to note here, that we can do nothing from a decision of the mind unless we recollect it. For example, we cannot speak a word unless we recollect it. And it is not in the free power of the mind to either recollect a thing or forget it. So this is believed to be in the power of the mind – that from the mind’s decision alone we can either be silent about or speak about a thing we recollect.

But when we dream that we speak, we believe that we speak from a free decision of the mind – and yet we do not speak, or if we do, it is from a spontaneous motion of the body. And we dream that we conceal certain things from men, and this by the same decision of the mind by which, while we wake, we are silent about the things we know. We dream, finally, that, from a decision of the mind by which, while we wake, we are silent about the things we know. We dream, finally, that, from a decision of the mind, we do certain things we do not dare to do while we are awake.

So I should very much like to know whether there are in the mind two kinds of decisions – those belonging to our fantasies and those that are free? And if we do not want to go that far into our madness, it must be granted that this decision of the mind which is believed to be free is not distinguished from the imagination itself, or the memory, nor is it anything beyond the affirmation which the idea, insofar as it is an idea, necessarily involves. And so these decisions of the mind arise by the same necessity as the ideas of things which actually exist. Those, therefore, who believe that they either speak or are silent, or do anything from a free decision of the mind, dream with open eyes.”

P2, part III. Of the Affects, Ethics, 1677 – Benedict De Spinoza



I’m seeing how this thought found echo in later thinkers –

Kierkegaard’s distinction between recollection & repetition in Repetition

Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, in general geometrical/logical method as well as emphasis on what can and cannot be stated, spoken –  final line “what we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence”

Samuel Beckett, Krapp’s Last Tape, speech, silence, memory, recording

David Foster Wallace’s story Oblivion about a husband and wife who begin monitoring their sleeping at an institution to solve the mystery of whether the husband is snoring or whether it is the wife’s imagination. (it turns out the husband is snoring softly but the wife is sleeping too deeply to be capable of recognizing it – she is awoken rather by what would be her own dream, while the husband dreams that he is awake and believes therefore that it’s not possible that he is snoring.)

Thinking also of the Doxa, which I believe goes back to Plato, but was taken up by Deleuze in Difference & Repetition – Doxa means something like the general consensus of understanding, behavior, communication in a society – the insight I remember from Deleuze is that thought only occurs once one can identify the limits of the Doxa, or see the Doxa as a whole. To exist within the Doxa is to be within difference, but thought is identifying what repeats itself beneath the disguises of difference. Above Spinoza seems to be saying something similar by using awake & asleep or, speaking and being silent, free-decisions of the mind and spontaneous actions of the body, and so on…

I’m sure there are many more ways to draw threads here, just wanted to get this down as I move through Ethics…

About Michael Johnson

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