On the Nature of Social Bonds. Spinoza’s Ethics
Daniela Voss (Deakin University)

June 21, 2016, 4:00pm - 5:30pm
European Philosophy and the History of Ideas Research Group (EPHI), Deakin University

221 Burwood Hwy
Burwood 3125


Deakin University


The aim of this paper is to tackle the problem of social relationships and the question of community building in the light of Spinoza’s Ethics. For Spinoza, human beings are affective beings that are in many ways driven by external causes “like waves of the sea driven by contrary winds” (Ethics, 3p59s). Insofar as we are assailed by emotions which are passions, we can be at variance with one another (cf. 4p34). However, we become alike, insofar as we live according to reason; then we start to realise that there is nothing more useful than social life.

It thus seems that the most important distinction for Spinoza is that between affectivity and rationality. But in fact, what is more important is the distinction between passivity and activity, which is in no way congruent with the aforementioned distinction. Moreover, affectivity is not the opposite of rationality; there are affects that spring from reason and wherein the mind is not passive (cf. 4p63). Finally, rationality, or the rational association of ideas, is not something given to us by nature. We have to acquire this capacity through a process of experience and learning, which relies on the encounter with things and other human beings. The foundations of sociability are thus much more complex and cannot be reduced either to rational insight or the social bonds of passion.

The overall interest in this project is to define criteria to distinguish between the quality of social bonds, between a ‘passive mass’ which is ignorant of itself and fluctuates under the influence of external causes and an ‘active mass’ which strives for an adequate knowledge of how issues relate to one another and participates in decision making processes through political institutions.


Daniela Voss is a postdoctoral research fellow at Deakin University, Melbourne. She has taught philosophy at the Free University of Berlin as well as the University of Hildesheim. Her most recent publications include: Conditions of Thought: Deleuze and Transcendental Ideas (EUP 2013) and At the Edges of Thought: Deleuze and Post-Kantian Philosophy (co-editor with Craig Lundy, EUP 2015).

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