This letter is from the correspondence of the Japanese writers Seiji Koga
and Yashuma Neiboku
. Koga (1745-1844) was a scholar of linguistics
, and religion
, among other things. Neiboku (1747-1821) studied with Koga in the city of Keio
in the 1790's. Later, after Koga's return to his native Fukuoka
, the two shared a remarkable correspondence, part of which has been lost. The subject of the correspondence was, for the most part, the writings of the Jewish philosopher Baruch de Spinoza
, who treated in his Ethics
of God, the understanding, the emotions, and love.
In his reply to Neiboku's objections
, Seiji Koga maintains his original interpretation (posited in the first letter
) of Spinoza's use of the Latin term "essentia
" as equivalent to a word that might be rendered in the modern English as "be-ing". A brief explication of Koga's claims in the letter below are probably in order given not only the technical vocabulary employed by Koga and the complexity of his arguments, but also the difficulties one meets in translating Koga's multi-lingual
texts, which move, not without some difficulty, between character-based scripts
and alphabetic Latin
In his reply, Koga insists that Spinoza's "essentia" should be read and translated as the "act of be-ing". Spinoza's term is in fact a verb, or that which a thing does, and not a noun, which can pertain or belong to a thing as a property, or be predicated of a thing. God
's essentia is, then, God's be-ing, God's being-ness, or God's is-ness. It is not the essence of God, or an essence that pertains to or belongs to God. It is, in fact, the facticity of God's act of being. As our term "existence" means "the fact of existing" or "the act of existing" and is derived from the Latin "existentia", Spinoza's term "be-ing" means "the fact of being" or "the act of being" and is derived from the Latin "essentia". So, God's act of being necessarily implies his existence. This is the reading that Koga arrives at of Spinoza's Proposition 11: "God, or a substance consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses eternal and infinite essence, necessarily exists" (from Curley's widely-available translation).
Spinoza's ontological argument
is a reductio ad absurdum
to the effect that, if God does not exist, then his essence does not involve existence. This is absurd, and therefore God must exist, and God's essence must involve existence, necessarily. Yet Koga believes that it is not absurd that God's essence, or inner nature, would not involve existence. For, perhaps it pertains to the inner nature of everything that it does not exist. We might invoke Cartesian scepticism
as our devil's advocate here. In this case, we cannot prove the existence of God, and Spinoza's argument is not quite fool-proof. This, in any event, is Koga's claim. It is, perhaps, misguided, though I will not comment on that in this brief introduction to his letter. Yet, it is certainly absurd that God's be-ing would not involve existence, for existence is certainly one expression of be-ing and God, defined as a substance of infinite attributes each expressing an infinite be-ing, must therefore exist, since existence must pertain to God as one expression of God's infinite be-ing. The argument Koga offers is not easy to follow and I confess that I do not always understand it. Nevertheless, Neiboku did not press his objections in his reply, though they were to surface later in their consideration of other of Spinioza's propositions.
My Dear Friend YN,
Thank you for your learned and wise reply. That my reading of Spinoza's seventh axiom, which some might wrongly infer is in fact the holiest of his maxims, is difficult for you to understand comes as no surprise to me, since my soul has not always realized clarity regarding this text. Your objections are deserving of reply. I fear, though, that my replies cannot be entirely direct, for perhaps the differences in our reading will only be fully understood later, as we consider together further pages in the book of Spinoza's hand.
Let us consider Propositio XI, which is the first of the Propositions in which Axiom VII is invoked. Spinoza in P.XI first writes, or prints, or draws, the name "Deus" ("God"): it is a holy moment for him, the blessed, the benedictus.
Deus, sive substantia constans infinitis attributis, quorum unumquodque aeternam et infinitam essentiam exprimit, necessario existit.
Demonstratio. Si negas, concipe, si fieri potest, Deum non existere. Ergo (per axiom. 7.) eius essentia non involvit existentiam. Atqui hoc (per prop. 7.) est absurdum. Ergo Deus necessario existit. Q. E. D.
God, or substance, consisting of infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality, necessarily exists.
Proof. If this be denied, conceive, if possible, that God does not exist: then his essence does not involve existence. But this (by Prop. vii.) is absurd. Therefore God necessarily exists.
Deus is the name of a substantia consisting of infinite attributes each of which express aeternal and infinite essentiam. Deus necessarily exists (necessario existit). The demonstration of this proposition is by reductio ad absurdum, or the falsity of its opposite is constured as an absurdity. Conceive that Deus does not exist necessarily, that is postulate that his essentia does not involve existing. This is absurd because Deus has been defined as a substantia expressing infinite essentiam, one of which must, of course, be existing. We know that existing must pertain to the essentia of Deus from Propositio VII, in which Spinoza wrote that, "It pertains to the nature (naturam) of substance to exist". (If you know of him, there was a similar argument for the existence of Deus given by Rene Descartes, a Frenchman, who died not long before Spinoza's birth, I believe. Shall I send you some notes from a manuscript, Neiboku?)
I believe that my reading and translation more fruitfully explicates Spinoza's texts on these matters. Perhaps, we might imagine, it is possible that existence is not part of the essence of anything. That is exactly what the enemies of Deus, and Love, claim when they claim that there is no Deus, but only that which we hold here, during our mortal lives. As far as we can conceive, perhaps the existence of everything that exists is, in fact, accidental. It is precisely such an opinion that Spinoza is not interested in holding. His proof is of the existence of God, whose be-ing, being-ness, or is-ness, essentia must express existence, existit, and do so necessarily, not accidentally. Existing is certainly a possible expression of be-ing. That which is, possibly exists. An infinite be-ing, then, must involve its own existence, since, if it did not, it would not be infinite, but indeed finite, since it would not contain all that is possible. If existing is a possible expression of, or by, God, then God, an infinite be-ing, must exist.
Yet, take this same God, whose name we dare not profain, and consider its' essence, or essential nature. If this essence be infinite, it still is possible that this essence does not involve existence. Perhaps existence is not an expression of any infinite essence. There must first be an infinite essence in order for such an essence to necessarily exist. Otherwise, perhaps all that exists is accidental and lacks in eternity. Spinoza does not argue that, since something has an essence, there must be something infinite, which would exist necessarily. That argument is too poor for so fine a mind. He argues, rather, that if something is be-ing, is real, then there must be something infinite, which necessitates this existence.
As your reading suggests to me, I do believe that Spinoza holds that a metaphysics must precede any ontology, for an ontology, or a description of that which exists, is always anterior to a metaphysics, or a description of reality, that precedes it. A description of what exists relies upon a reality in which those things exist, a reality, a Deus, which causes them. A metaphysics represents absolute be-ing, whereas an ontology represents a relative existence or presence, relative of course to the metaphysics that dictates it. Essentia names this be-ing, which is an activity, and existence is the nominal property which belongs to a thing that, in fact, is present.
Consider, if you will, the second Definitione of the Second Book of Ethics, which is:
Ad e s s e n t i a m alicuius rei id pertinere dico, quo dato res necessario ponitur et quo sublato res necessario tollitur; vel id, sine quo res, et vice versa quod sine re nec esse nec concipi potest.
To the essentia of a thing pertains that, which being given, the thing necessarily is posited and, which being sublated, the thing necessarily is taken away; that is, that which the thing cannot be or be conceived without, and vice versa.
The inner nature of a thing, its essence as is commonly suggested as a translation for Spinoza's essentia, can be conceived without the thing be-ing, and can be without the thing be-ing. Yet, the be-ing of a thing can neither be nor be conceived without the be-ing of the thing. A thing is necessarily posited insofar as it is, as it bes, as it has being-ness (if essentia is a thing that can belong or pertain to thing, rather than defining its' be-ing). A thing is not necessarily posited insofar as it has an essence. For we can imagine a thing with an essence that does not necessarily cease to be itself, and indeed we can imagine the removal of this thing's essence, without disrupting, in some senses, the internal identity of this thing.
Spinoza's questions, Neiboku, you see, are all tied up with questions of identity, and the absolute presencing and absencing of a thing. What, in a thing, must pertain to it, in order for it to maintain its identity. Spinoza is saying, I belive, that only its' be-ing. All else that pertains to the thing can suffer some degree of modification without in fact modifying that thing's self-identity. This is all very complex, and I can only urge you to read Greek in order to more fully appreciate this point. For Spinoza is Jewish, as is the man who taught me in the span of a night to read Spinoza, and the Jews speak an ancient language, a Hebrew language, a Greek language. Although he writes in Latin, he at the same time rejects this language, and its' spirit, and its' sorry consience, which was for so many years presided over by the hollow Scholastics, whom Spinoza turns his sour face towards, by merely loving them. That is, Neiboku, the greatest gift of Spinoza, the gift of love. One can do nothing greater to one's enemies, be they enemies in war or enemies in intellect, than to love them.
As Always I Sign My Graphe,
In his reply to this letter, which has been lost, it appears that Neiboku does not press his objections further. Koga resumes his third letter
in the series with further consideration of the first book of the Ethics