«Introduction More than two-thirds of the Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect is about truth. Spinoza explains why true ideas are preferable ...»
Truth in the Emendation 83 forms: p, q, p if and only if q (where this is a material biconditional). Such a collection is coherent, because from any two you can drive the third. But there’s no guarantee that they agree with their objects. Thus, the coherence explanation does not seem to explain AGREEMENT.
Aware of this kind of problem, some defenders of the coherence interpretation endorse idealist interpretations of Spinoza’s metaphysics (see Walker, “Spinoza and the Coherence Theory of Truth,” 8–10). According to idealist interpretations, a set of coherent ideas about a particular body grounds the existence of that body, which is why coherent ideas agree with their objects.
Rather than engage with the details of idealist interpretations, let’s just note that they have serious and well-known problems, leaving it at best unclear whether this interpretation can explain AGREEMENT.21 As an alternative, defenders of the coherence interpretation might argue that a dream or hallucination can’t cohere with all the ideas in our mind, because they can’t cohere with our idea of God’s essence, given that God’s essence entails the existence or non-existence of each thing. This variant of the coherence interpretation might explain AGREEMENT. But it undermines CERTAINTY. To deduce the existence or non-existence of a finite thing would require an infinitely long deduction, an impossible feat for us (see TIE §100, E1p28). Thus, we couldn’t become certain that our ideas of finite things are true, because we couldn’t deduce them from our idea of God’s essence. But some of them would still be true, because they would still cohere with our idea of God’s essence. Thus, this variant preserves AGREEMENT at the expense of CERTAINTY, and we’re looking for an interpretation that preserves all of the data.
The coherence interpretation also does not seem to explain ESSENCE, DEDUCTION, or FOUNDATION. With respect to ESSENCE, consider dreams, hallucinations, or a set of ideas with the aforementioned logical forms. These ideas don’t represent essences. More generally, this interpretation does not explain ESSENCE, because it makes no demands on what true ideas represent. It does not seem to explain DEDUCTION, because whether a set of ideas is coherent seems independent of its etiology. Ideas resulting from testimony and sense perception seem just as capable of cohering as ideas formed through the power of the intellect. Finally, it doesn’t seem to explain FOUNDATION, because whether a set of ideas is coherent seems independent of the tools we first used to form them.
For example, in the Ethics he says that each of God’s attributes, including thought and extension, must be conceived through itself (1p10) and could not have been produced by another attribute (1p10s). For more discussion see Melamed, Spinoza’s Metaphysics: Substance and Thought, Chapter 6. For background on idealist interpretations, see Newlands, “More Recent Idealist Readings of Spinoza.” 84 The Young Spinoza
Let’s end with the causal interpretation:22 S’s idea of x is true if and only if it was not caused by anything outside the mind.
The causal interpretation explains INTRINSIC and MIND-RELATIVITY. It explains INTRINSIC, because whether an idea is true is a fact about its relation to the mind containing it, rather than something external. It explains MIND-RELATIVITY, because an idea’s causes might be contained in one mind but not another. The causal interpretation might also explain CERTAINTY, as long as we can become aware of how an idea was caused.
But the causal interpretation has trouble explaining the other data. It has trouble explaining AGREEMENT, because it is unclear why an idea would agree with its object just because it was internally caused. It also has trouble explaining ESSENCE, because it doesn’t place any restrictions on what a true idea can be about, and therefore it doesn’t imply they represent essences. And it has trouble explaining DEDUCTION, because it’s unclear why an idea that’s caused from within the mind must be formed through the power of the intellect rather than, for example, the power of the imagination. Finally, it has trouble explaining FOUNDATION, because it’s unclear why ideas formed by the mind must be formed using a certain inborn idea, rather than ex nihilo, or from several different inborn ideas.
While the causal interpretation by itself has trouble explaining much of the data, it might be able to explain the data if conjoined with Spinoza’s other commitments. For example, it might explain DEDUCTION if conjoined with Spinoza’s claim that all internally caused ideas are caused by the power of the intellect Della Rocca (Representation and the Mind-Body Problem in Spinoza, Chapter 3) and E. Marshall (“Adequacy and Innateness in Spinoza”) both endorse interpretations along these lines, though they just claim to be capturing the extension, not the definition, of truth. Also, while they cite passages from the Emendation, and therefore presumably think Spinoza accepts a causal account in the Emendation as well, they are focused on the Ethics. LeBuffe (From Bondage to Freedom: Spinoza on Human Excellence, 55) and Steinberg (“Knowledge in Spinoza’s Ethics,”
148) say that this is Spinoza’s account of adequacy in the Ethics, which is worth mentioning because in the conclusion I’ll explain why I think the essentric interpretation is also the correct account of adequacy in the Ethics.
For what it’s worth, I believe all these authors are led astray by a common pattern in Spinoza’s arguments. Spinoza repeatedly argues the following: Our idea of x is inadequate because x is preceded by an infinitely long series of causes, including external causes (see E2p24d, E2p25d, E2p30d, E2p31d). These scholars take this to be definitive of inadequacy. But, as I argue in this subsection, they can’t explain many of Spinoza’s claims about true, and therefore adequate, ideas. The essentric interpretation can explain this pattern. If x is preceded by an infinitely long series of causes, we can’t infer x from our own essence or God’s essence, because it doesn’t follow from our own essence, and because we can’t complete the infinitely long deduction that would be required to deduce x from God’s essence.
Truth in the Emendation 85 (e.g., TIE §84). Even so, it wouldn’t be a plausible definition. First, it just says how true ideas aren’t caused, and a negative characterization can’t serve as a thing’s definition, that is, a description of its essence (TIE §96). Second, a thing’s definition is supposed to allow us to infer all its necessary properties “when it is considered alone, without any other conjoined” (TIE §96). At least some of these data points, including ESSENCE, seem like necessary properties of true ideas, assuming they aren’t definitive. But, as noted above, this definition of true ideas does not by itself let us infer all these properties of true ideas. Thus, even if the causal interpretation captures the extension of truth, it doesn’t capture its definition.
I propose a different interpretation:
An idea of x that’s contained in S’s mind is true if and only if:
i. It represents x’s essence, and perhaps x’s properties, but nothing else;
ii. It is contained in S’s inborn idea of her own essence, or S formed it through the power of her intellect (e.g., by deduction) from ideas contained in her inborn idea of her own essence.
I already have clarified most of the terms used in this definition (“inborn,” “deduced,” “idea,” “property”). But I haven’t said anything about “contained in.” I’m using “contained in” (and “included in”) mereologically, so that an idea contained in another idea is part of that idea. Our mind contains a number of ideas. Many of these ideas are themselves composed of further ideas. But some of our ideas lack parts, including our idea of infinite extension (TIE §108).23 All our other ideas are composed of these simple ideas. In Spinoza’s tradition, parts are more fundamental than wholes, so the true idea of our essence can contain more fundamental true ideas, such as a true idea of God. I’m using “contained” to include improper parts. Thus, S’s idea of her own essence is true, because it contains itself. If you prefer to use “contained” another way, just reformulate (i) accordingly.
There’s an important question of how to understand the relevant notion of parthood, that is, what it is for an idea to be part of another idea. Spinoza doesn’t say in the Emendation or Ethics, and there are a number of interpretations.24 Presumably influenced by his scholastic teachers, Spinoza uses “quantity” [quantitas] rather than “extension” [extensio] in the Emendation. For more on the relation between “quantity” and “extension,” see Pasnau’s Metaphysical Themes 1274–1671, 279f.
E.g., Joachim, Spinoza’s Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione, 95.
86 The Young Spinoza This is too big an issue for us to resolve here, so, as much as possible, just draw on your understanding of what it is for a body to be part of another body.
Let’s now consider each of the data points one by one, starting with AGREEMENT. The essentric interpretation explains AGREEMENT, because, for example, the intellect forms an idea of a circle’s essence by forming an idea that accurately and completely describes that essence, and therefore must agree with that essence. I’ll first address accuracy and then address completeness.
Consider the idea of an enclosed figure formed by four straight lines. What could make it an inaccurate idea of a circle’s essence rather than an accurate idea of a quadrilateral’s essence? Not our use of the word “circle,” because words are in the imagination, not the intellect (TIE §§88–89). Not causal relations to the circle’s essence, because it was formed by our intellect through deduction, rather than by causal relations to the essence of a circle (recall TIE §71). Finally, not intrinsic characteristics of the idea, because its intrinsic characteristics describe the essence of a quadrilateral, rather than the essence of a circle. Thus, there appears to be nothing that could make this an incorrect idea of a circle’s essence. It’s instead an idea of a quadrilateral’s essence, because that’s what it accurately describes. An idea represents an essence by accurately describing it.
Now consider an idea of how ellipses are formed. Because ovals and circles are ellipses, this idea describes a process that could create an oval or circle.
What could make this an incomplete idea of a circle’s essence? As before, there’s no plausible candidate, because it’s not due to the word “circle,” causal relations to the essence of a circle, or the intrinsic characteristics of the idea.
Thus, there appears to be nothing that could make this an incomplete idea of a circle’s essence. It’s instead an idea of an ellipsis’s essence, because that’s what it completely describes. An idea represents an essence by completely describing it.
Putting these points together, true ideas represent essences in virtue of accurately and completely describing them, and therefore must agree with them.
Thus, an idea that satisfies conditions (i) and (ii) must agree with what it represents. In this way, the essentric interpretation explains AGREEMENT.
The essentric interpretation explains INTRINSIC, because, as noted above, an intellectual idea represents an essence in virtue of that idea’s intrinsic characteristics, and thus whether an idea satisfies (i) is intrinsic to that very idea.
Moreover, whether an idea satisfies (ii) is a fact about its relation to the mind containing it, rather than something external, like the object it represents.
The essentric interpretation straightforwardly explains ESSENCE, because true ideas always represent essences. Remember that Spinoza seems to treat this as a definitive feature of true ideas, as it is according to the essentric interpretation.