Spinoza and Virtue: The significance of habituation to a virtuous character to the ethics of the Ethics
The problem addressed in this work is how one can become the free person who only, or primarily, lives by intuitive knowledge. I argue that it is so near impossible or that so few could obtain having a perfected intuitive knowledge that in advocating one’s ability to achieve this ideal Spinoza creates a model of ethical behavior that is far outside his audience’s reach. Further, focusing on this goal of the Ethics, or in seeing that the ethics of Ethics is only fully realized through becoming the free person, diminishes the value of the pragmatic ethics found in habituation to the virtuous states of character of tenacity and nobility.4 The goal of this work is to highlight that Spinoza’s conception of the free person should be seen as a guide in one’s virtuous activity, and that the genuine realizable good life is to be found in the person of reason’s development and practice of tenacity and nobility.5 Thus, habituations to certain states of character are of prime importance to the ethics of the Ethics. To defend my thesis I first provide a glimpse of Spinoza’s Ethics and what concepts or propositions form the foundation of this discussion. Next, I will discuss the link between the types of behavior one produces, how free, or self-determined, a person is, with Spinoza’s types (or account) of knowledge. 6 After understanding these positions or relations, and what constitutes them, through Spinoza’s propositions, I will discuss the problem of achieving a perfected intuitive state, or becoming the free person, as well as the aforementioned tension of Spinoza seeming to claim that the virtuous state of the free person is something that can be common, or achievable, to all who set themselves toward it. Part of the goal of this work is to illustrate why it is that a fully realized intuitive ‘state’ is difficult to obtain, thus making it only achievable for the rare few and not the many, as one would hope an ethical model would be set to accomplish. Another, goal of this work is to highlight the importance of habituation to Spinoza’s system and to illustrate that the ethics of the Ethics need not be realized in the end goal of the free person, but in the process of working toward that goal by use of reason. What is important in realizing the ethics of the Ethics is to use reason to habituate and then practice certain states of character.
Faculty Mentor: Angela Coventry