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Spinoza and Conway Correspondence

Liz Rossman’s First Letter

Meneer Spinoza,

I agree with your vindications on many accounts. For the purpose of this letter, my focus pins at the heart of the conception of God; and consequently, our preservation. In all the while reading Ethics, I found myself running across similarities of your conception of God with Monsieur Descartes’ mediations on the same subject.

As you say in 1p22, Whatever follows from some attribute of God insofar as it is modified by a modification which, through the same attribute, exists necessarily and is infinite, must also exist necessarily and be infinite.

From our preservation do we not strive to become more perfect human beings, infinitely growing, as our creator? If God be an absolute nature of a substance, or, if I do entertain my own writing with yours, God is the highest, the body is continues to become more spiritual to infinity since God is infinite. Is the nature of preservation, apart from degenerating, to become more and and more like the creator, or more and more like the substance from which it generates existence?

October 30, 2015

Michael Braverman’s First Reply

Dear Lady Anne,

I have taken into consideration your thoughts carefully and tried to critique your ideas as closely as possible to the vindications I have made in my text. I have however come to some doubts regarding wether the substance that generates existence is the same as the conception of an infinite being such as God. You do however realize that these are two separate notions. Before I proceed, I would like to answer your question with a short answer and then with a longer one.

If I understood you question correctly, you question whether it is more appropriate for a being to strive towards his conception of an infinite substance, or to strive towards something that constitutes his existence. From what I understood, the “substance from which it generates existence” is not entirely material, but neither is it immaterial, in the way that infinite substance can be referred to. I may also state my opinion that something that “substance constitutes one’s existence” isn’t, if you will, as “Godly” as the notion of infinite substance.

If I where to conclude now, I would consider “the substance from which existence is generated” as an opinion that lies in-between knowledge and ignorance. Knowledge being something that appertains more to the infinite substance, and ignorance as something that relies on material state of being that cannot effectively progress because it is only aware of substance that is only contained within it. Please let the knowledge/ignorance analogy serve as a map that positions my opinion about your idea, strictly within the context of my assertions.

I would like to proceed in finding an answer to your question as contextually as I can.

In my second Axiom, I state that “What cannot be conceived through another, must be conceived through itself”. From this I may conclude that even if we may not conceive an attribute in its infinite state, it can be conceived through God. God is the substance in which both, the conceivable and the unconceivable infinities can exist subjectively. However, I doubt that we could experience these infinite ideas subjectively as opposed to the possibility of experiencing these ideas objectively while employing God’s ability to experience the infinite, which is the only ability through which these ideas exist subjectively.

In other words, the highest achievement we may make is ”ask” God what infinite substance is like. But even then, we will fail to grasp all of these conceptions because we are finite. If we were to stay within the context of “substance which generates existence”, we would only consider what is finite and not consider things that are outside of us. I may draw a parallel between this way of being the ignorant way of being. This perhaps remains as my main concern.

If we where to consider your question as being true, I would like to point out that we would only consider the knowledge that is only within us. By A4 (“The knowledge of an effect depends on and involves the knowledge of a cause”), should seek the cause of our existence, which is why I advocate for the infinite substance and not the substance from which existence is generated.

I can add that since we can arrive to some conceptions of the infinite substance, means that there is a cause for these ideas and the infinite substance must exist. But this substance is not within us and this is why I remain very skeptical about the substance that generates existence and, as I assume, constitutes our bodies.

Yours most faithfully, René de Spinoza

October 31, 2015

Liz Rossman’s Reply

Monsieur Baruch Descartes,

Thank you kindly for your reply. From your response, I understand your answer to my question “Is the nature of preservation, apart from degenerating, to become more and and more like the creator, or more and more like the substance from which it generates existence?” to be the difference between knowledge and ignorance.

But in your answer I will question you further as to what you term as “striving” and “effectively progress”: “it is more appropriate for a being to strive towards his conception of an infinite substance, or to strive towards something that constitutes his existence..ignorance as a state of being that cannot effectively progress because it is only aware of substance that is only contained within it.” If God is an infinite substance (for now I use the term God loosely in correlation with the cause) then are not our conception of him infinite? By doing so we may achieve being as infinite (whether or not we may achieve the infinite, is an idea I correlate with the the Buddhist belief of achieving enlightenment—it may never be fully achieved, only practiced).

If we possess conceptions of an infinite substance, in both there is a cause for an idea of the infinite and that an infinite substance must exist, then they reside under a subjective conception of the infinite. Hereby I argue, that in order come closer to God, and become “higher” in our finite matter, this must be achieved through spirit.

Here I question you again, with your response and your explanation in mind, what is the function of preservation. Why do we preserve as an effect? Why would a finite substance preserve from an infinite substance, if the substance could never be infinite? If an infinite substance does exist and if there is a cause for an idea of the infinite, presumably (and I assure Monsieur Rene would stand in camaraderie with your assumptions) then within a finite substance, such as ourselves, exists the infinite, or perhaps some corporeal residue of an infinite passing.” Is preservation not the continuation of the process of cause and effect?

I await your response with great excitement, even if my own arguments within this response ver from my past writings.

Goede Nacht, Madame Conway

November 1, 2015

Michael Braverman’s Second Reply

Dear Madame Lady Anne,

Thank you for extending our conversation with some good clarifications, I will try my best to argue for my opinion on the matter while closely considering the potential flaws suggested by you.

I do agree on your proposition that we can never achieve the infinite, but we can try at the very least, to try striving towards it. My position would not contradict your opinion on this mater. I do however remain skeptical about achieving the infinite through the spirit, not of the idea itself, but rather of the way of approach that may be favored by Monsieur Descartes.

God, as I believe and propose by D6, is a being with infinite attributes. Attributes of finite beings are just modes of these infinite attributes. My further claim in Sixteenth Proposition is that “from the necessity of the divine nature there must follow infinitely many things in infinitely many modes”. According to this proposition I claim that every possible and infinite way of modes and attributes already exist in God. We are effects of a cause which don’t allow us to conceive it, a cause can conceive its effects but an effect cannot conceive its cause. I will clarify in saying that a cause is more perfect and infinite than its effect since it isn’t limited by it. The effect on the other hand, is entirely limited by its cause which makes it more finite.

I can argue further by backing my claim with Proposition Twenty-Nine where I state that “In nature there is nothing contingent, but all things have been determined from necessity of the divine nature to exist and produce an effect in a certain way”. From this I may conclude that something like the infinite is inaccessible directly since that would involve having access to changing something that is concrete, which controverts my proposition.

To answer your question regarding why we preserve as an effect, I believe that it is the only outcome of a cause that we are bounded to. To not preserve as an effect would by absurd by D1. A finite substance is preserved by an infinite substance since it has to exist necessarily. Preservation then indeed becomes a continuation of a cause that follows an effect because it is predetermined.

Yours, in all affection and zeal, René de Spinoza