De Moor IV:14: Spinoza's Problematic Definition of God, Part 1

As far as Spinoza is concerned, the Most Eminent NIEUWENTYT observes, Gronden van Zherheid, part IV, chapter III, pages 250-255, that he only puts in his Definition, what he understands by God, not what He actually is, writing in his Ethics, part I, Definition VI, “By God I understand a Being absolutely infinite, that is, substance consisting in infinite attributes, each one of which express eternal and infinite essence:” and at the same time the Most Eminent Man shows that from such Definitions nothing is proven in real Beings. Elsewhere Spinoza confesses that he in no way knows God perfectly; which sort of defect of understanding he in another place asserts to imply falsity; see NIEUWENTYT, Gronden van Zherheid, part IV, chapter VI, § 1, 2, page 264. So that he might impose upon his readers, sometimes he calls God a consummately perfect Being: but elsewhere he denies that he is able thus to define God, because from this Definition of God he is not able to deduce all the properties of God: and so he wished rather that such a Definition be devised that might involve the concept of the Whole/ Universe; and he did not say that God is such a thing, but that he understands such a thing by God, lest he be compelled to prove his Definition; which, nevertheless, he later cites, as if he had proven that God is such; see NIEUWENTYT, Gronden van Zherheid, part IV, chapter XI, § 7, 8, pages 286, 287, compared with § 3, page 283. The perfidy and guile of Spinoza the Most Eminent NIEUWENTYT demonstrates from this, that by defining what he understands by God, he cites the same Definition such a great number of times, as if he would teach with certainty what God is; see Gronden van Zherheid, part IV, chapter XII, § 1-4, pages 289, 290: likewise that, while definiting in the same manner the Whole/Universe as his God, he nevertheless is unwilling openly to indicate in his Definition of God, that by God he understands the Whole/Universe; Gronden van Zherheid, part IV, chapter XI, § 5, page 291.


Now, so that Spinoza might demonstrate his Definition of God in some manner, it is necessary to be shown that One Substance is able to have attributes various and of a diverse sort; this he wishes to demonstrate in Proposition X, part I, of which the title is, Each attribute of the one Substance ought to be conceived of itself: but in the demonstration he tacitly neglects to show that the One Substance has many Attributes, but he only in his manner shows that an Attribute ought to be conceived of itself. Nevertheless, in a Scholion that he sets forth as a Corollary, he wishes to appear in this Proposition to have demonstrated that One substance has many and divers Attributes; whence the cunning of Spinoza is again gathered: see NIEUWENTYT, Gronden van Zherheid, part IV, chapter XII, § 6-10, pages 291-295.


He strives to prove the Necessary Existence of his God in various ways in his Demonstratione, Proposition XI, part I; but, that nothing is really proven by all those obscurities of which he makes use, NIEUWENTYT shows in his painstaking examination of this Demonstration, Gronden van Zherheid, part IV, chapter XIII, § 12-47, pages 307-338. The Proposition stands thus: God, or Substance consisting in Infinite Attributes, each one of which expresses eternal and infinite Essence, necessarily exists. He proves this by Axiom VII, part I, Whatever is able to be conceived of as not existing, its Essence does not involve Existence: and by Proposition VII, part I, It pertains to the nature of Substance to Exist; which two Propositions are in themselves merely ideal, and prove nothing real, § 15, 16.


α. Hence the Argument is to be formed as a hypothetical Syllogism, the antecedent of which in the Minor Proposition ought necessarily to be demonstrated from elsewhere: that is, thus it verily expresses,


If it is allowed to conceive that God does not exist, His Essence does not include Existence.


But, if God is Substance, His Essence includes Existence.


Therefore, if God is Substance, it is not allowed to conceive that God does not exist: concerning which argument see § 17-19, and the two Observations subjoined, § 20, 21, in which it is shown that Proposition VII previously cited does not make for the proving of Proposition XI.


β. He subjoins this other manner of proof:


Major: Whatever inside or outside its Nature is not able to have a reason or cause that prevents or excludes its Existence, that is necessarily Existing.


Minor: But the God of Spinoza, or absolutely Infinite and consummately Perfect Being, is not able to have inside or outside its own Nature this reason or cause.


Therefore, the God of Spinoza, or absolutely Infinite and consummately Perfect Being, necessarily exists.


This argument is examined in § 22, pages 314-318, with nine added Observations, § 23-32, in which among other things it is shown that Spinoza advances nothing, while in this argument he tries to imitate Descartes: and that what he says accomplishes little, that the reason that might impede the Existence of God is not able to be in Himself, because thus the Nature of God would include a contradiction, which it is absurd to affirm concerning a Being absolutely Infinite and consummately Perfect: for NIEUWENTYT in § 31 evinces, If God is absolutely Infinite, in the way that Spinoza maintains, then many things pertain to God, which are contradictory to consummately Perfect Being, page 323.


γ. Yet another manner of proof follows in § 33, pages 324-327, in which it precedes as a common notion: Impotence is able not to Exist, and potency is able to Exist. The argument follows:


And so, if that which now necessarily Exists is only finite Entities, then finite Entities are more potent than an absolutely infinite Being.


But this is absurd, that finite Beings are more potent than an absolutely infinite Being.


Therefore, either nothing Exists essentially, or an absolutely infinite Being also Exists necessarily.


NIEUWENTYT says that in this way the conclusion is incorrectly drawn, because the middle is not able to enter into the conclusion; while the true conclusion would be:


Therefore, it is false that what Exists necessarily is nothing other than finite Entities. Or, Therefore, it is true that what Exists is something other than finite Entities: in which manner a true conclusion accidentally follows from false premises, but which is of no advantage to Spinoza. Hence the argument deduced by Spinoza from the preceding false conclusion likewise fails.


Therefore, either nothing truly Exists, or an absolutely infinite Being also necessarily Exists.


But something truly Exists. For we truly exist either in ourselves, or in something else that necessarily Exists.


Therefore, an absolutely Infinite Being must necessarily Exist: concerning which Syllogism, see pages 327, 328. Three Observations are then added, § 34-36, pages 328-330, in which it is shown among other things, that a conclusion from an argument previously recited does not prove an argument, Proposition XV and Definition VI.


δ. The last manner of proof is added in a Scholion, page 10, in this manner:


All that, unto the nature of which the highest reality has regard, also of itself has the highest power of Existing in reality:


But unto the nature of an absolutely Infinite Being or of God Himself the highest reality pertains.


Therefore, an absolutely Infinite Being or God of Himself has the highest power of existing in reality.


Concerning this argument, see § 37-41, pages 330-334, with five Observations added; § 42-46, pages 334-337, to which, finally, is subjoined the passionate conclusion to the Chapter, § 47.


NIEUWENTYT then in chapter XIV, pages 352-355, from the principles of Spinoza himself, so that he might show the absurdity of the same, legitimately demonstrates after the manner of Mathematicians: That neither thought nor extension according to the principles of Spinoza Exist outside of intellect. That no particular things Exist outside of intellect. That the God of Spinoza either does not Exist outside of intellect, or is contradictory and impossible. That the idea of God formed by Spinoza according to his own principles is false. That the Existence of the Spinosistic God is established through certain and finite ways of thinking. That the Definition of the God of Spinoza is contradictory. That the Essence of the God of Spinoza according to his very own principles is not Substance, and so is contradictory. That the God of Spinoza has attributes, which are not in actuality except as modes of thinking.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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