Selection of Gilles Deleuze's definitions of Spinoza's concepts

Gilles Deleuze

Taken from various editions of Spinoza: Practical Philosophy

INFINITE Letter XII to Meyer distinguishes three infinites:

1.That which is unlimited by nature (either infinite in its kind as is each attribute, or absolutely infinite as is substance). This infinite forms part of the properties of a Being involving neces­sary existence, together with eternity, simplicity, and indivisibil­ity: "For, if the nature of this being were limited, and conceived as limited, that nature would beyond the said limits be conceived as nonexistent" (Letter XXXV);

2. That which is unlimited by virtue of its cause. Here Spinoza is referring to the immediate infinite modes in which the attri­butes are expressed absolutely. And doubtless these modes are indivisible; yet they have an actual infinity of parts, all of which agree with and are indissociable from one another: thus the modal essences contained in the attribute (each essence is an in­tensive part or a degree). It is for this reason that, if we consider one of these essences abstractly, apart from the others and from the substance that produces them, we apprehend it as limited, external to the others. Moreover, since the essence does not de­termine the existence and duration of the mode, we apprehend duration as something which may be more or less, and existence as being composed of more or fewer parts; we apprehend them abstractly as divisible quantities;

3. That which cannot be equal to any number, although it is more or less large and comprises a maximum and a minimum (the example of the sum of inequalities of distance between two nonconcentric circles, in the letter to Meyer). This infinite re­fers to the finite existing modes and to the mediate infinite modes which they compose under certain relations. Indeed, each modal essence as a degree of power comprises a maximum and a minimum; and insofar as the mode exists, an infinity of extensive parts {corpora simplicissima) pertain to it under the rela­tion that corresponds to its essence. This infinite is not defined by the number of its parts, since the latter always exist as an in­finity that exceeds any number; and it can be more or less large, since to an essence whose degree of power is double that of an­other there corresponds an infinity of extensive parts two times greater. This variable infinite is that of the existing modes, and the infinite set of all these sets, together with the characteristic relations, constitutes the mediate infinite mode. But when we conceive the essence of a mode abstractly, we also conceive its existence abstractly, measuring it, counting it, and making it de­pend on an arbitrarily determined number of parts (cf. #2).

Hence there is no indefinite that is not abstractly conceived. Every infinite is actual.


The intellect, whether infinite or finite, is only a mode of the attribute of thought {Ethics, I, 31). In this sense, it does not con­stitute the essence of God any more than does will. Those who ascribe intellect and will to God's essence conceive God accord­ing to anthropological or even anthropomorphic predicates. As a result, they can save the distinction between essences only by invoking a divine intellect that surpasses our own, has a pre-emi­nent status compared to ours, and is related to ours through sim­ple analogy. In this way, one falls into all the confusions of an equivocal language (as with the word dog which designates both a heavenly constellation and a barking animal, I, 17, schol.).

The Ethics conducts a twofold critique of a divine intellect which would be that of a legislator, containing models or possi­bilities according to which God would rule creation, and of a di­vine will which would be that of a prince or tyrant, creating ex nihilo (I, 17, schol.; 33, schol. 2). These are the two great misun­derstandings that distort both the notion of necessity and the notion of freedom.

The true status of the infinite intellect is captured in the fol­lowing three propositions; 1. God produces with the same neces­sity by which he understands himself. 2. God understands all that he produces. 3. God produces the form in which he understands himself and understands all things. These three propositions show, each in its own way, that the possible does not exist, that all that is possible is necessary (God does not conceive contingen­cies in his intellect, but 1. merely understands everything that follows from his nature or his own essence; 2. necessarily un­derstands everything that follows from his essence; 3. necessar­ily produces this understanding of himself and of things). It should be pointed out, however, that the necessity invoked by these three propositions is not the same in each case, and that the status of the intellect seems to vary.

According to the first, God produces as he understands him­self and as he exists (II, 3, schol.). The necessity for God to un­derstand himself appears to be not just based on the necessity of existing but equal to it. Hence the idea of God comprehends substance and the attributes, and produces an infinity of ideas just as substance produces an infinity of things in the attributes (II, 4). And there corresponds to the idea of God a power of thinking equal to that of existing and acting (II, 7). How does one reconcile these characteristics with the purely modal being of the infinite intellect? The answer is in the condition that the power of the idea of God must be understood objectively: "What­ever follows formally from God's infinite nature follows objec­tively in God from his idea in the same order and with the same connection" (idem, II, 7, cor.). So to the extent that it represents the attributes and the modes, the idea of God has a power equal to that which it represents. But this "objective" power would re­main virtual, would not be actualized, contrary to all the re­quirements of Spinozism, if the idea of God and all the other ideas that follow from it were not themselves formed, that is, if they did not have their own formal being. Now, this formal be­ing of the idea can only be a mode of the attribute of thought. Indeed, this is how the idea of God and the infinite intellect are distinguished terminologically from one another; the idea of God is the idea in its objective being, and the infinite intellect is the same idea considered in its formal being. The two aspects are inseparable; one cannot dissociate the first aspect from the second except by making the power of comprehending an unac-tualized power.

In the first place, this complex status of the idea of God as infi­nite intellect is what explains that the idea of God has as much unity or substance as God himself, but is capable of imparting this unity to the modes themselves,hence the central role of II, 4. Secondly, this complex status accounts for the attribute of thought, as we will see when we consider the relations of the mind and the body.

Furthermore, our intellect is explained as an integral part of the divine intellect (II, 11, cor.; 43 schol.). Indeed, the fact that the infinite intellect is a mode explains the adequation of our in­tellect to the infinite intellect. Of course we do not know every­thing pertaining to God; we only know the attributes that are involved in our being. But all that we know of God is absolutely adequate, and an adequate idea is in us as it is in God. The idea that we have of God himself,that is, what we know of him,is therefore the idea that God has of himself (V, 36). So the abso­lutely adequate character of our knowledge is not just based in a negative way on the "devalorization" of the infinite intellect, re­duced to the condition of a mode; the positive basis is in the uni-vocity of the attributes which have only one form in the substance whose essence they constitute and in the modes that imply them, so that our intellect and the infinite intellect may be modes, but they nonetheless objectively comprehend the corre­sponding attributes as they are formally. This is why the idea of God will play a fundamental role in adequate knowledge, being considered first according to a use that we make of it, in connec­tion with the common notions (second kind of knowledge), then according to its own being insofar as we are a part of it (third kind).


The Spinozist theory of negation (its radical elimination, its status of abstraction and its fiction) rests on the difference between distinction, always positive, and negative determination. Every determination is negation. (Letter L, to Jelles

1. Attributes are in reality distinct, that is to say the nature of each must be concieved without anything that relates itself to another. Each is infinite in its own genre or nature, it can not be determined or limited by anything of the same nature. This is not to say the same that attributes define themselves by opposition of one with others: the logic of the real distinction defines each nature by itself, by its positive independent essence. All nature is positive, therefore unlimited and undetermined within its genre, in the manner that it necessarily exists (letter XXXVI, to Hudde). To positivity as infinite essence (cor)responds affirmation as necessary existence (Ethics, I, 7 and 8). This is because all the really distinct attributes, precisely in virtue of their distinction without opposition, affirm themselves in the form of one and the same substance where they express esssence and existence. The attributes are at once the positive forms of the essence of substance and the affimative forms of its existence. The logic of the real distinction is a logic of co-essential positivities and co-existent affirmations.

2. On the other hand, the finite is well limited and determined - limited in its nature, by other things of the same nature-; determined in its existence, by something that denies existance in a certain place or a certain moment.

The Spinozist expression 'modo certo et determinato' means; within a limited and determined mode. The existing finite mode is limited within its essence as much as it is determined in its existence. The limitation concerns the essence, and the determination, the existence: the two figures of the negative. All the above is true only in the abstract, that is to say, when considering the mode in itself, seperated from the cause that makes it be in essence and in existence.

For the essence of the mode is a degree of power potential (puissance). This degree in itself does not signify a limit or a boundary, an opposition with the other degrees, but an instrinsic positive distinction such that all the essences or degrees come together and form an infinite assembly in virute of their common cause.

As for the 'existant' mode, it is true that it is determined to exist and act, that it opposes itself to other modes, and that it passes to perfections more or less great. But 1) says that it is determined to exist, saying that an infinity of parties are determined from outside and enter under the relations that characterise their essence; these extrinsic parties belong then to their essence but do not constitute it, they miss nothing of this essence when the mode does no still exist or when it does not exist more (IV, end of the preface). And all that exists, affirms its existence across all the parties: its existence is therefore a new type of distinction, extrinsic distinction by which the essence affirms itself in its duration (III,7); 2) The existing mode opposes itself to the other modes that threaten to destroy these parties, it is affected by other modes, dangerous or useful. And following these affections of the parties, it increases its power to act or passes to a greater perfection (joy and sadness).

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