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The connection between ontology of nature and ethics in philosophies of Spinoza and Laozi

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Title:
The connection between ontology of nature and ethics in philosophies of Spinoza and Laozi
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Jones, Sherry
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Denver, CO
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University of Colorado Denver
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English
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viii, 120 leaves : ; 28 cm

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Dao de jing (Laozi) ( fast )
Ethica (Spinoza, Benedictus de) ( fast )
Ethics ( lcsh )
Ontology ( lcsh )
Nature ( lcsh )
Ethics ( fast )
Nature ( fast )
Ontology ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 116-120).
Thesis:
Humanities
General Note:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Statement of Responsibility:
by Sherry Jones.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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Auraria Library
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ocn747033749
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LD1193.L58 2011m J56 ( lcc )

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Full Text
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN ONTOLOGY OF NATURE
AND ETHICS IN THE PHILOSOPHIES OF SPINOZA AND LAOZI
By
Sherry Jones
B.A., University of Colorado Denver, 2007
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Humanities
2011


This thesis for the Master of Humanities
degree by
Sherry Jones
has been approved
by
Margaret Woodhull
i / /*- / T*>l\
Date


Jones, Sherry (Master of Humanities)
The Connection between Ontology of Nature
and Ethics in the Philosophies of Spinoza and Laozi
Thesis directed by Professor Robert D. Metcalf
ABSTRACT
The Daodejing by Laozi and the Ethics by Spinoza share numerous philosophical
ideas that qualify them as exemplary models for an East-West philosophical study.
The objective of this thesis is to demonstrate, through historical examination and
comparative philosophical analysis, that Laozi and Spinoza make similar ontological
and ethical claims by constructing ontological monisms based on nature.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
its publication.
Signed
Robert D. Metcalf


DEDICATION
To my parents, who instilled within me the love and appreciation for literary and
philosophical studies. I also dedicate this to my husband, Stephen Getter, and to my
brother, Simon Jones, for their unfaltering support and understanding while I
complete this thesis.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
I sincerely thank all my thesis committee members, Dr. Robert D. Metcalf,
Dr. Candice Shelby and Dr. Margaret Woodhull, for placing faith in me and
graciously approving this challenging thesis. I am grateful to them for the
opportunity to pursue a most fascinating topic on which I may persist to write in my
academic career. This thesis comes to fruition with the unique attention from each
committee member: I am indebted to Dr. Metcalf for training my philosophical
thinking with his impressively comprehensive Philosophy of Religion and
Heidegger courses, without which I would not have had the wherewithal to
complete a philosophical analysis; Dr. Shelbys advice on directing the research
toward the place of nature and ethics in Spinozas and Laozis philosophies has
helped me hone a more definitive thesis argument with a clearer direction; Dr.
Woodhulls Methods and Texts of Humanities and Directed Readings and
Research in the Humanities courses have prepared me to face the immense
challenges of composing a thesis. I give special thanks to my colleague, Professor
Daniel Singer, whose expertise is in composition and rhetoric, for his invaluable
advice on how to approach, structure and organize the thesis in a logical manner.
Finally, I thank my husband, Stephen Getter, for lending his professional editing eye
to ensure the refinement of my writing.


TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION................................................1
Statement of the Problems................................6
Methodological Approach..................................8
A Note on the Correlation between Morality and Ethics.11
A Note on English Translations of the Daodejing.......12
Arrangement of Paper....................................15
2. INFLUENCES.................................................18
Western Thought on Spinozas Ontology of Nature.........23
Ancient Chinese Beliefs and Nature as the Ontological Force..40
Nature as the Basis of Ontology.........................50
3. DEFINITIONS IN ONTOLOGY OF NATURE..........................52
God/Dao as Nature.......................................55
Spinozas God/Substance..........................55
Laozis Dao......................................66
Ontology of Nature as the Basis of Ethics...............85
4. ETHICS FROM ONTOLOGY OF NATURE.............................88
vii


Spinozas Conatus and Laozis De.......................88
Conatus and the Ethics of Self-Preservation......89
De and the Natural Way of Being..................99
Comparison between Conatus and De.....................110
5. CONCLUSION...............................................112
BIBLIOGRAPHY................................................116
viii


1. INTRODUCTION
Many scholars have noted that the Daodejing (also known as the Tao Te
Ching, or the Laozi) (300 B.C.E.?), written by the assumed Chinese philosopher
Laozi (Before 300 B.C.E.-?)1, contains philosophical ideas that seem comparable to
those found in various Western texts. In fact, a significant amount of scholarship has
been devoted to comparing the Daodejing (herein DDJ) with such Western
philosophical works as those by Hume, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Levinas, Wittgenstein
and many others. It is unusual that the DDJ is the object of many, comparative
philosophical analyses, since the language of the text expresses paradoxical ideas in
poetic and rhyming schemes that would seem baffling and unconventional to most
Western thinkers. There exist various opinions on how to approach the DDJ,
especially on identifying what philosophical categories are present in the text for the
comparison to be possible. Hansen (1992), Moeller (2006), Graham (1989) and other
Daoist scholars contend that all philosophical categories can be found in the text:
1. Lao Tzu might not have been the author of Daodejing (The book of ethics), the book historically
attributed to him. Fung argues that the book was written later than Lao Tzu/Zi the person,
perhaps around 300 B.C., after the emergence of the School of Names (c. 350-250 B.C., see
Fung, chap.8) [the debate over Lao Zi's birth date was a heated topic in 20th century China.
One author, Hu Shi, who disagreed with Fung Yulan and some others, later fretted, "who
cares about when Lao Zi was bom. After all, he was not my father [Lao Zi, in Chinese, are
also the characters for referencing the father].
Diana Lin, Daoism, Indiana University Northwest, February, 14, 2006, accessed May 13,
2010, http://www.iun.edu/~hisdcl/h425/Daoism.htm.
1


The Laozi could be seen as encompassing all [philosophical categories]
such categories as the metaphysical, ethical, political, mystical, and religious
form a unified whole in Daoist thinking and are deemed separate and distinct
only in modem Western thought.2
On the other hand, Jones offers the antithetical proposal that the text does not
contain the Western philosophical categories employed by the Greeks, Neo-
Platonists, Medievals, Enlightenment thinkers, and contemporary European and
American philosophers.3 Nevertheless, scholars attempt to make sense of the DDJ
(illttJS), which literally translates to the True Classic of the Way and Virtue,4
through ontological, cosmological, ethical, epistemological, hermeneutical,
psychological, political and other approaches to identify commonalities between
Eastern and Western thought. It is the position of this paper to agree with the
previous assertion by Hansen, Moeller, Graham and others that the classic does
possess philosophical categories that allow for comparison to Western texts. Given
that the DDJ is the second most translated text after the bible in the West,5 the
question remains, why does the West find the Chinese text so philosophically
appealing?
2. Alan Chan, Laozi, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, May 5, 2007, accessed January 10, 2010,
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/laozi/.
3. Kile Jones, The Philosophy of the Daodejing, The International Journal of the Asian
Philosophical Association, 1, no. 1, 2008: 20.
4. Alan Chan, Laozi.
5. Vincent Shen, Laozi (Lao Tzu), in Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy, Edited by Anthony S.
Cua, (New York: Routledge, 2003), 355.
2


Of the possible reasons that the DDJ attracts great interest, I am concerned with
1) the profundity of its metaphysics, and 2) the insight it provides into modem
Chinese thought. First, the DDJ answers difficult questions regarding existence and
the role of human beings in the universe through an elaborate philosophical system.
Containing only five-thousand words, the text addresses ontological, cosmological,
ethical, social and even political questions in the form of short chapters with poetic
prose. This type of arrangement for a work on metaphysics would appear strange to
Western philosophers, but recognizable to Chinese thinkers. According to Shen, the
DDJ expresses the traditional Chinese way of thinking: [I]n very profound and
appealing words, similar to but more systematic than the pre-Socratic fragments, the
Laozi or Daodejing offers the best summing-up of a deep-layered way of thinking in
traditional Chinese culture.6 By exhibiting a deep-layered way of thinking and
ideas similar to pre-Socratic fragments, the text creates a space for dialectical
exchange between the East and the West. Second, the DDJ gamers further interest
for the influence it still exerts on modem Chinese thought. The prominent scholar of
Chinese philosophy, Wing-Tsit Chan, claims: No one can hope to understand
Chinese philosophy, religion, government, art, medicineor even cookingwithout a
real appreciation of the profound philosophy taught in this little book.7 For those
6. Shen, Laozi (Lao Tzu), 357.
7. Wing-Tsit Chan, The Natural Way of Lao Tzu, in A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy,
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963), 136.
3


interested in understanding Chinese philosophy, deciphering the ideas in DDJ serves
as an essential starting point. A primary method by which Western scholars can
begin accessing the ideas in the DDJ is to compare it to another Western text with
concerns of similar philosophical categories.
In this paper, I intend to offer a philosophical comparison of the DDJ to an
influential Western text, the Ethics (1677) written by Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677),
with emphasis on the significant commonalities of the metaphysical systems in the
two texts. As the DDJ is significant to the intellectual tradition of the Chinese, the
Ethics carries great importance for the intellectual tradition of the West. Being the
exemplary text for Rationalism, the Ethics advocates the use of reason as the action
for finding answers to all questions. Della Rocca points out the emphasis on
intellectual thinking in Spinozas writing: Spinozas philosophy is characterized by
perhaps the boldest and most thoroughgoing commitment ever to appear in the history
of philosophy to the intelligibility of everything. For Spinoza, no why-question is off
limits, each why-questionin principleadmits of a satisfactory answer. The
pursuit of the intelligibility of everything is, in essence, the satisfaction of human
curiosity on any question that the intellect requires. This is part of Spinozas grand
mission in composing the Ethics, in which he constructs an elaborate and complex
metaphysical system with the aim to demonstrate that all knowledge is possible. In
light of the scientific understanding of the world as a place of cause and effect, 8
8. Michael Della Rocca, Spinoza, (New York: Routledge, 2008), 1.
4


Spinoza addresses such questions regarding existence and moral behavior,
traditionally answered by religion, through the demonstration of causal chains that
lead to the heart of the issues. He shows that all objects in question are only forms of
intelligibility. Thus, causality can be understood through reason alone:
[T]he causation of one thing by another is nothing but one thing making the
other intelligible. Our place in the world simply is the way in which we are
explained by certain things and can serve to make intelligiblei.e. explain
certain other things. Our emotions are just different manifestations of our
power over, and of our subjection to, other things; they are manifestations of
the way in which we explain and are explained by other things. For Spinoza,
all philosophical problems bottom out in intelligibility itself.9
With the causal world in mind, Spinoza constructs an elaborate monistic system
based on nature to explain the existence and relationship of all things in the natural
world. For this paper, it is the monistic system based on nature in the Ethics that is
the object of comparison to the one in the DDJ.
For the philosophies of the Ethics and the DDJ, Nature10 serves as the
foundation of their systems, and the ground on which various propositions are built.
For example, Spinoza makes claims about God, human beings, society, and politics
based on the premise that all beings are derived from and are constitutive of the
natural world. Laozi similarly advocates that human beings and society should
9. Della Rocca, Spinoza, 1.
10. For Spinoza and Laozi, Nature refers to the ontological source of all existence. Thus, I will use
die uppercase version of the word, Nature, to indicate that it is the ontological concept. I
will use the lowercase terms, nature and the natural world, to indicate that I am only
discussing the physical world, rather than the ontological concept. Herein, all instances of the
uppercase word Nature will represent the ontological concept.
5


follow and return to Dao, the origin of the natural world, to live the most natural way
of being. Both the Ethics and DDJ contain systems modeled on the natural world,
and present propositions regarding moral and political conducts based on the ways of
Nature. Though I have pointed out the fundamental similarities of the metaphysical
systems of the two texts, various methodological concerns must be addressed in order
to make the comparison logical and coherent.
Statement of the Problems
Three main problems arise when finding a methodological approach to
compare the Ethics with the DDJ. First, how do we explain the striking parallels
between the ideas in the Ethics and the DDJ when the texts were written through
different cultural, historical and conceptual frames? To address the similarities, some
scholars have resorted to the simplistic argument that Spinoza must have borrowed
ideas from the DDJ prior to constructing the Ethics. Yet, the lack of evidence that
Spinoza had ever read any Chinese text renders this claim insufficient.11 Second, the
11. Some scholars have argued that Leibniz provided Spinoza access to Chinese texts that became part
of the Ethics, on the insufficient ground that Spinoza was friends with Leibniz, a
contemporary philosopher, philologist and sinophile who translated Chinese texts. However,
there is no direct evidence that Spinoza had ever read any Chinese text, so the evidence does
not satisfy the claim. Furthermore, among all the Chinese classics that he translated, Leibniz
never studied the DDJ: Leibniz was perhaps the first major European intellect to take a
close interest in Chinese civilization, which he knew by corresponding with, and reading other
work by, European Christian missionaries posted in China. He concluded that Europeans
could leam much from the Confucian ethical tradition. He mulled over the possibility that the
Chinese characters were an unwitting form of his universal characteristic. He noted with
fascination how the I Ching hexagrams correspond to the binary numbers from 0 to 111111,
and mistakenly concluded that this mapping was evidence of major Chinese accomplishments
in the sort of philosophical mathematics he admired.
6


creation date and authorship of the DDJ are currently in dispute, which means that we
cannot contextualize the interpretation of the DDJ with the authors own
Weltanschauung. The extent of the problem of authorship is amplified by Shens
suggestion that the DDJ may be a compilation of texts written by different writers:
[T]he name Laozi refers to one or a few questionable historical figures and a
group of texts. First, as a historical figure, Laozi was the founder of Daoism,
although much about him remains unknown, and the historical accounts we
have are not very certain about his identity and life.12 13
The fact that the DDJ may be a group of texts speaks to the difficulty in reinforcing
interpretation with an historical context. Furthermore, recent scholarship accepts that
the classic may be derived from an oral tradition, and the written version was either a
recording of Laozis teachings by his disciples, or that an editor compiled disparate
sayings of Laozi from different sources. Michael LaFargue complicates the problem
of authorship by emphasizing that oral tradition need not refer to the sayings of one
person; it functions rather as a reservoir of aphorisms, which were circulated among
Rational Vedenta, Gottfried Leibniz (1646 1716 CE), Biographies, accessed August 4,
2010, httD://www.rationalvedanta.net/bios/rationalists/leibniz.
12. Weltanschauung is a German word that translates as worldview (Origin of Weltanschauung:
German, from Welt world + Anschauung view. First Known Use: 1868). By
Weltanschauung, I mean the social, cultural, and historical constructions that help form ones
philosophical view. Chapter Two will examine Laozis and Spinozas respective
Weltanschauung to support the argument that each philosopher developed philosophies, albeit
similar, based on their own social, cultural, and historical constructions. The argument further
suggests that Spinoza needed not have derived from Chinese philosophy the ideas of monism
and nature-based ontology to develop his own natural monism.
Merriam Webster, Weltanschauung, Merriam Webster Online, accessed December 2 2010,
httD://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionarv/weltanschauung
13. Shen, Laozi (Lao Tzu), 355.
7


like-minded Laoist scholars and formed the basis of the Daodejing (1992, 197).14
These issues all demonstrate the obstacles that prevent us from accessing the authors
Weltanschauung. The third and final problem rests with the seeming similarities of
the ontological and ethical propositions in both texts. How do we account for the
connection between the ontological and ethical propositions? In other words, how do
we establish that the ontological arguments are responsible for the later ethical
arguments? These problems will be addressed by my methodological approach
discussed extensively in the next section.
Methodological Approach
My method for a comparative philosophical analysis of the Ethics and the
DA/will be an examination of the ontological and ethical arguments present in both
texts. Ontology can be defined as, the total grasp of the universe by human wisdom
and the search of its foundations by natural intelligence.15 Since all human beings
have, at some points in our lives, questioned the meaning of being, and our place in
the universe, the ontological arguments would serve as reasonable points of
comparison that transcend cultural and historical limitations. In addition, I intend to
include a comparison between the two texts ethical propositions, which, like the
14. Alan Chan, Laozi.
15. Guoxi Gao, Ontology and the Foundation of Ethics, Conference Paper, The Council for Research
in Values and Philosophy (CRVP), Edited by George F. McLean, Series III (East Asia),
March 28, 2003, accessed July 18, 2010, http://www.crvp.org/book/SeriesQ3/III-
13/chapter xiv.htm.
8


ontological propositions, share many similarities. In an attempt to explain this
phenomenon, some scholars have argued that we should look to ontology and history
of ethics to understand ethics, and Cheng provides a representative claim: Ethics
can learn from ontology and history, particularly the ontology of the human person
and the history of ethics itself.16 17 Gao Guoxi lists seven major reasons, which
represent the arguments of most contemporary ethical theorists, as to why ontology
necessarily leads to the development of ethical claims:
1. Ontology provides ethics with the foundation of a Weltanschauung and
principles for argumentation and agreement. Thereby it provides ethical
theory with unity and continuity.. 2. Ontology provides value-orientation
and value-criteria. . 3. Ontology transcends morality. . 4. Ontology
provides the first principle of action. . 5. Ontology provides ethics with its
primary method of moral enquiry. . 6. Ontology provides ethical criticism.. .
7. Ontology can provide the ultimate explanation of moral status in society.'7
The implications are that an ontological system can serve as the Weltanschauung for
the entire philosophy, and the precursor or premise to developing arguments that
promote action, establish morality and justify or assess moral claims. To emphasize
the relationship between ontology and ethics, Gao adds that all the ethical theories
have their own foundation, value-orientation and viewpoint on human life. If ethics
is to play a greater role in human life, we must have a more rational system of moral
16. Chung-ying Cheng, Integrating the Onto-Ethics of Virtues (East) and the Meta-Ethics of Rights
(West), Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, 1, no. 2, June 2002: 157.
17. Guoxi Gao, Ontology and the Foundation of Ethics.
9


philosophy.18 In other words, an ontological system provides the rationale for
making moral and ethical claims.19 This argument allows us to suppose that Spinoza
and Laozi made similar ethical claims by grounding their philosophy on a similar
premise, the ontology of nature. Thus, the primary method of this paper is to
compare the ontological and ethical propositions in both texts, which provides a
solution to problem three listed in the previous section.
Though ontology alone can serve as the Weltanschauung of a philosophical
text, I will provide an extensive discussion on the precursory histories of the writings
of the Ethics and the DDJ. The history will reveal the possible questions that Spinoza
and Laozi attempted to solve in their respective times that led to their separate
development of an ontological monism based on nature. Given that we cannot
identify aspects of Laozis life based on current scholarship, we can, instead, refer to
the lives led by the ancient Chinese people that preceded the emergence of the DDJ
as historical context. Moeller explains that a historical approach to the DDJmeans
that contemporary hermeneutical principles cannot readily be applied. This is due
to the problems of authorship and the dating of the text.20 And furthermore: The
political discourse of today bears little resemblance to that of China about 2,500 years
18. Guoxi Gao, Ontology and the Foundation of Ethics.
19. See in this paper Chapter 1 on the section, A Note on the Connection between Ethics and
Morality.
20. Hans Georg Moeller, The Philosophy of the Daodejing, (New York: Columbia University Press,
2006), x.
10


ago. It is just as hermeneutically problematic to approach the text with a formal bias
as it is to expect that it will fit seamlessly into todays semantics.21 Thus, instead of
applying a hermeneutical or linguistic reading, the focus will be to provide historical
contexts for the understanding of the questions that concerned Spinoza and Laozi, and
why both based their monistic systems on nature. This solves problems one and two
listed in the previous section.
In defense of East-West philosophical studies, I offer this example
comparison between Spinozas and Laozis philosophies, focusing on the specific
connective thread that both philosophies contain ontological monisms based on
nature, and their similar ontologies necessarily lead to similar ethics. Through this
example, I will demonstrate that East-West studies can be viable, provided that such
comparisons remain confined to the ontological arguments.
A Note on the Correlation between Morality and Ethics
Part of this paper intends to argue that Spinozas and Laozis moral and
ethical propositions are derived from their ontology of nature, and the terms, morality
and ethics, will be used interchangeably in the development of this argument.
Chengs view that the two terms represent the two-dimensions of moral-ethical theory
supports my use of them in this way within the context of an ontology:
The reason that we can use these two words morality and ethics
interchangeably and yet with some sense of distinction is that they stand for
21. Moeller, The Philosophy of the Daodejing, x.
11


two dimensions of a human life-unity: the unity of the individual and the
social... [Ethics and morality] have to do with what a human person is and
ought to be. Even though what-is and what-ought-to-be conceptually
belong to two different categories, in light of our understanding of the
ontology of the human person, what a person is leads to and justifies what he
or she ought to be; whereas what a human person ought to be should reflect
and justify what he or she is. We may call morality the inner dimension of
humanity that one finds in individual persons and ethics the outer dimension
of humanity that one finds in human societies. Morality and ethics are unified
in one moral-ethical theory as its two dimensions.22 23
Since morality and ethics both deal with the questions of what is and what ought
to be, which are the essence of the ontology of human beings, I will discuss
Spinozas and Laozis moral and ethical arguments to show how their ontologies of
nature structure the way of human existence.
A Note on English Translations of the Daodejing
According to Hansens estimation, [t]here are now over 100 different
translations and closer to 2000 commentaries in Chinese of the DDJ. How should
one select the translated version most appropriate for interpretation? The translation
of the classic is problematic for several reasons, of which I will only mention a few
here: 1) the Chinese language and the English language have vastly different
linguistic structures; 2) it is difficult to translate the text according to its cultural and
historical background, given that the date that the DDJ was first written is still in
22. Cheng, Integrating the Onto-Ethics of Virtues (East) and the Meta-Ethics of Rights (West), 157.
23. Chad Hansen, Laozi (Lao Tzu), (online, Hong Kong University, Hong Kong) accessed May 19,
2010, http://www.hku.hk/philodep/ch/laoencv.htm.
12


dispute; 3) the DDJ contains poetic language that does not easily translate into the
English language; 4) certain words in the DDJ are non-existent in the English
vocabulary; 5) the translated versions often reflect the translators philosophical or
religious leanings, or are contingent on the extent of the translators knowledge of
Chinese philosophy and language. Often, for the sake of translating the lines from
verses in the DDJ into coherent English sentences, while satisfying the grammatical
requirements for English, many translators resort to altering the meaning of, or even
omitting certain Chinese words, to create logical English sentences. This explains
why new translations of the DDJ continue to be published.
As an illustration of the difficulties involved in translating the DDJ, the
following sample demonstrates the difference between a scholarly translation and a
literal translation of the original first line in Chapter One of the DDJ:
The literal translation of the six words in this sentence is: Dao can Dao, not
Permanent Dao. However, John C. H. Wu interprets this sentence as TAO can be
talked about, but not the Eternal Tao.24 25 He inserts the additional article (the),
subordinator (but), preposition (about) and participle (talked) in order to make the
above Chinese line satisfy the grammatical requirements of an English sentence.
24. Laozi, Lau-zi dao de jing, Project Gutenberg, May 10, 2009, Produced by Ching-yi Chen,
accessed June 6, 2010, http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/eDub/7337/pg7337.html.
25. Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching, Translated by John C H Wu, (New York: St. Johns University Press,
1961), 3.
13


Furthermore, he translates the Chinese words for Permanent as Eternal, which
agrees with English language conventions, but conveys a slightly alternate meaning
of the Chinese word itself. His interpretation shows that at certain times, translators
have to resort to replacing a Chinese word with an English word that does not possess
the same meaning for the sake of providing coherent translations. The meaning of
certain words is thus lost in translation. Therein lies the inherent problem with
Chinese to English translations.
To provide a more precise and clear philosophical analysis of the DDJ,
throughout this paper I will offer both the English and the Chinese versions of the
verses being analyzed next to each other. The various translations from scholars I
provide to help support and strengthen my interpretation. Also, I will inject my own
translations for certain Chinese terms when the scholarly translations, in an effort to
re-cast the poetic verses into coherent, English sentences, forego the literal meaning
of those terms. This is done to ensure that the Chinese concepts are translated
according to their original meaning, and to avoid contamination of the concepts with
Western thinking. I will include a footnote next to each translated word to indicate
that it is based on my own translation.
Furthermore, there are different translations of the authors name that need to
be addressed to avoid confusion. Laozi, Laotzu, and Lao Tzu are all variations of the
authors name, the Old Master which is merely an honorific for the sage
whose real name is unknown. I will use Laozi over the other variations throughout
14


this paper, to indicate that it refers to the honorific, the Old Master, and not the first
and last name of the author as the two words, Lao Tzu, might suggest. Laozi is also a
closer, phonetic pronunciation of
The translation of the Chinese concept, i§, is another issue that needs to be
addressed to clarify the variations of the term used in this paper. Most translations
follow the phonetic pronunciation of the Chinese concept by translating it as 7ao or
Dao, while the literal meaning of the word is the Way. I will consistently use
Dao throughout my paper for its closer, phonetic pronunciation of xH, and use the
Way when its literal meaning affects interpretation. Since I will incorporate different
translated versions of the DDJ in the paper for analysis, the term Tao will still appear
and be preserved in certain verses, for its repeated mentions in those verses. To
clarify, Tao, Dao, and the Way all refer to the same Chinese concept, ill.
Arrangement of Paper
This thesis will be arranged in the following order. Chapter Two traces the
historical influences and Weltanschauung that led to the separate development of
Spinozas and Laozis ontology of nature. An examination of the Western influences
will show that Spinozas ideology had seed in the philosophies of his mentors and
contemporaries, such as Descartes and Leibniz, who both discussed the existence of
God in terms of the natural world. On the other hand, an examination of ancient
Chinese thought will show that Laozi accepted and borrowed philosophical ideas
15


from the ancient Chinese in composing the Daodejing. The purpose of this chapter is
to demonstrate that Spinoza and Laozi composed their works based on influences
from their own Weltanschauung, and thus support the argument that Spinoza did not
have to read the DDJ in order to arrive at an ontology of nature.
Chapter Three provides a close analysis of Spinozas definition of
God/substance and Laozis definition of Dao that respectively introduce the entire
philosophical systems of the Ethics and the DDJ. Critical comparison will reveal that
God/substance and Dao are analogous terms that refer to an originary source of all
existence. It is with these terms that Spinoza and Laozi establish their ontologies of
nature.
Chapter Four compares the ethical propositions in the Ethics and the DDJ to
show their similarities. The main argument of the chapter is that Spinoza and Laozi
separately arrived at similar conclusions regarding human nature and moral conduct
based on an ontology of nature. Both the Ethics and the DDJ provide ethical
propositions derived from examinations of the natural world. Assuming the premise
that ontology leads to ethics, the purpose of including the main argument of this
chapter is to demonstrate that Spinoza and Laozi present similar ethical propositions
due to establishing a similar ontology of nature as the starting point for their
subsequent claims.
Finally, Chapter Five concludes the thesis by addressing how Spinoza and
Laozi both arrive at similar ontology of nature, which leads them to make similar
16


ethical claims. Through this analysis, the paper demonstrates that common ground
exists between Eastern and Western texts upon which an understanding can be
formed. This common ground is found in philosophical principles, which in the case
of Spinoza and Laozi, lies in ontological propositions.
17


2. INFLUENCES
Although an analysis of the historical influences and Weltanschauung which
predicated Spinozas development of the Ethics and the separate influences under
which Laozi created the Daodejing (herein DDJ) is not essential for the purposes of
an ontological comparison of the two texts, I offer an analysis in this section as
justification for initiating the comparison at all considering the objections that have
been directed at the discipline of East-West philosophical studies. Among others, two
dominant problems threaten the worth of this discipline. The first problem comes
from the fear that methods of East-West studies inevitably lead to cultural relativism.
Ming Dong Gu provides a representative model of this fear in Longxi Zhangs claim:
[T]he East and the West are so distinctly different that ways of thinking and
expression cannot be made intelligible from one to the other, and therefore the
knowledge of one must be kept apart from that of the other [Longxi Zhang xvii].26
Implied is that one would unavoidably overshadow or distort the interpretation of a
different cultural text to fit within ones own cultural frame. Thus, Longzi Zhang and
others deny the value of conducting such comparison.
The other problem arises from those who resort to the argument that one
philosophy must have been influenced by or directly appropriated from the other
26. Dong Gu Ming, The Universal One Toward a Common Conceptual Basis for Chinese and
Western Studies, Diacritics, 32, no. 2, summer 2002: 86-105, Johns Hopkins University
Press, accessed July 25, 2010. httpi/Avww.istor.org/stable/l 566288.
18


philosophy in order to explain the similarities shared between Eastern and Western
texts. The discipline is thereby reduced to tracing shared ideas to an Eastern or
Western root. This second problem is given special attention here, since Pierre Bayle,
along with Nicholas Malebranche and several other notable philosophers,27 attempted
to show a link between Spinozas philosophy and Asian thought. In particular,
Bayles work, Dictionnaire historique et critique (Rotterdam, 1702), contains
numerous implicit connections between Spinoza and Asian philosophy. In the
Dictionnaire entry on Spinoza, Bayle curiously mentions about a Chinese sect, Foe
Kiao, who he finds monstrous for asserting that plants, brutes and men are really
the same thing, by making them indistinct from their principle.28 By principle,
Bayle means the one substance, or the vacuum from which all existence begins and
ends. The very mention of the Chinese sect in the Spinoza entry implies an
association of ideas, yet Bayle continues by stating:
Spinoza was not so absurd: the only or sole substance he admits, is always
27. Bayle and Malebranche led the way in creating this link [between Spinoza and China], and their
opinions were echoed in the eighteenth century by Count Henri de Boulainvillier, Jean
Levesque de Burigny, Anthony Collins, and Jean Baptiste de Boyer, better known as Marquis
d'Argens.
Yuen-Ting Lai, The Linking of Spinoza to Chinese Thought by Bayle and Malebranche,
Journal of the History of Philosophy, 23, no. 2, April 1985: 151-178, accessed June 23, 2010,
http://muse.ihu.edu/ioumals/ioumal of the history of Dhilosophv/v023/23.21ai.pdf. 151.
28. Pierre Bayle, An Historical and Critical Dictionary, Vol. 3, Translated, (London: Hunt and Clarke,
1826), accessed December 10, 2010.
http://books.google.com/books?id=bw 1 CoA WUFS AC&pg=PA 1 &dq=bavle+historical+and+
critical+dictionarv+vol+lIl&hl=en&ei=xP0eTYHtGeSInAftzP3mCwfesa=X&oi=book result
&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=bavle%20historical%20and%
20critical%20dictionarv%20vol%20III&f=false. 280.
19


acting, always thinking; and his most general abstractions could not enable
him to divest it of action and thought: the foundations of his doctrine do not
allow it.29
Associating Foe Kiaos monstrous ideas with those of Spinoza represents Bayles
clear attempt to reject one substance monism, as well as cast suspicion on the
originality of the latters philosophy. Furthermore, in the entry on Japan, Bayle
again mentions Spinoza while discussing the philosophy of the Japanese Buddhists:
those that seek internal and insensible reality, they reject paradise and hell,
and teach things that are very similar to the philosophy of Spinoza... they
say ... that knowledge is no different from ignorance; that good and bad are
not two entities, but that the one is not separated from the other. ... It is very
certain that [Spinoza] has taught together with these Japanese Preachers, that
the first principle of all things, and all beings that constitute the Universe, are
nothing else but one and the same substance.30
Bayle suggests that Spinozas idea of the one substance aligns with the Japanese
Buddhist notion of the one universe. According to Yuen-Ting Lai, Bayle is the first
philosopher to establish a connection between Spinoza and China:
Bayle is responsible for the initial widespread currency of the linkage of
Spinoza and China. His article on Spinoza in the Dictionnaire establishes it
firmly. This piece constitutes the main thrust of his campaign against what he
overtly claims as Spinoza's pernicious influence.31
Lai argues that Bayles campaign against Spinozas monistic philosophy includes
29. Bayle, An Historical and Critical Dictionary, 280
30. Ellipses in quote added by Weststeijn.
Thijs Weststeijn, Spinoza sinicus: An Asian Paragraph in the History of the Radical
Enlightenment, Journal of the History of Ideas, 68, no. 4, October 2007: 537-561, accessed
December 5, 2010, http://muse.ihu.edu/ioumals/ihi/summarv/v068/68.4weststeiin.html. 537.
31. Lai, The Linking of Spinoza to Chinese Thought by Bayle and Malebranche, 159.
20


the linking of Spinozism with Chinese thought. He identifies ideas in Bayles
Dictionnaire as the main disseminator of the belief that Spinozas theory of one
substance parallels ideas of the one substance/universe from various disreputable
views from all over the world, including the view of the Chinese literati. Lais
observation concurs with a similar statement made by Arnold H. Rowbotham:
[Bayle] finds similarities between the animistic practices of China and the
ideas of Spinoza (who has been thought by others to have been influenced by
Chinese thought). Malebranche, also, noted these similarities. The latter writer
studied carefully the thought of the Orient and his Conversation between a
Christian philosopher and a Chinese philosopher on the existence of God
(1708) is an attempt to refute certain Chinese doctrines.32 33
Malebranche espouses Bayles argument that Spinozas philosophy shares similarities
with Chinese doctrines; however, Malebranche appropriates the argument for his own
purpose of discrediting both.
In placing Spinoza in a context amongst several Asian philosophers,
32. Focusing on Spinoza's theory that one and only one substance constitutes ultimate reality, Bayle
categorizes it with the monism of an assortment of views from all over the world which were
disreputable in Europe. He cites the positions of the Sufies of Persia, the Pendets of India,
certain Mohammedan sects, David Dinant of twelfth-century Europe, Alexander the
Epicurean who lived at the time of Plutarch, Strato the Peripatetic, and many others. Included
in this group are the Japanese and Chinese Buddhists, as well as the Chinese literati. The
beliefs from these diverse sources are generalized under one structure of ideas, characterized
by the recognition of a single metaphysical principle. Its expression takes various forms, such
as the idea that God is the totality of all things, or that He is the soul of the world, or that He is
the one single universal spirit suffused throughout nature. The common ground which Bayle
perceives is that the whole universe is but one substance, and that God and the world are but
one being.
Lai, The Linking of Spinoza to Chinese Thought by Bayle and Malebranche, 159.
33. Arnold H. Rowbotham, The Impact of Confucianism on Seventeenth Century Europe, The Far
Eastern Quarterly, 4, no. 3, May 1945: 224-242, accessed December 1, 2010,
http://www.istor.org/stable/2049514. 231.
21


connected only by the singular metaphysical principle of the one substance shared by
their respective texts, Bayle, Malebranche, and others relegate Spinozas complex
philosophy to a mere shadow of Eastern thought. However, no evidence supports the
theory that Spinoza had ever read any of the Chinese texts from which he might have
appropriated the idea of Dao, the one and ultimate reality, when creating his own
notion of God as the one and ultimate substance. Actually, some may find this
argument moot, at least in the context of this papers comparison, since the Latin
translation of the DDJ did not appear in Europe until much later in the nineteenth
century.34 Nevertheless, since the argument may yet be made that Confucian texts,
translated by the French Jesuits in the late sixteenth century,35 contain some ideas
inherited from the DDJ, in this section I will strive to establish that Spinoza did not
need to borrow ideas from Chinese doctrines to construct his own philosophy.
In response to the two aforementioned problems in East-West philosophical
studies, one represented by the claims of Longxi Zhang, and the other represented by
the claims of Bayle and Malebranche, I suggest that a comparison of Ethics and the
DDJ without distorting either text in ones own cultural references is possible,
34. Chan, Laozi.
35. David Kratz Mathies, Holding Fast to Principles or Drawing Boundaries of Exclusion? The Use
and Misuse of the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite PerspectiveConrad Grebel Review,
25, no. 3, 2007: 68-85. accessed December 2, 2010,
httD://grebel.uwaterloo.ca/academic/cgreview/documents/CGR-Fall-2007.Ddf. 68.
22


provided that the comparison is limited to the texts ontological arguments.36
Examining ontological claims is a fundamental starting place for East-West studies,
since all human beings, regardless of their Weltanschauung, attempt to address the
problem of what it means to be a human being. On the other hand, identifying the
historical influences can help us understand the philosophical questions that Spinoza
and Laozi attempted to address in their respective times. The historical influences, as
well as the lack of evidence that Spinoza had direct access to Chinese thought, will
help refute such arguments as those made by Bayle and Malebranche that Spinoza
emulated Chinese thought when formulating his monistic philosophy. Hence, I offer
the alternative theory that each of Spinozas and Laozis respective texts was
developed from their own, albeit similar, nature-based ontologies. In this chapter, I
will enumerate several historical influences from which each of Spinozas and
Laozis fundamental arguments were developed.
Western Thought on Spinozas Ontology of Nature
Though Bayle and Malebranche and later scholars argued that Spinoza (1632-
1677) borrowed the concept of a nature-based monism from various Eastern
ideologies, including Chinese philosophy, they neglected to consider the
overwhelming philosophical and theoretical influences from Spinozas own
36. Rather than become entangled in comparisons of the linguistic structure of the philosophers
arguments, or in the methods by which they did or did not prove those arguments, I suggest
limiting comparisons to the basic questions surrounding existence that underlie each of their
philosophies.
23


Weltanschauung: the predominantly Judeo-Christian seventeenth-century Europe, set
in turmoil by the introduction of science, which more likely induced the
scientifically-minded Spinoza37 to reconcile science and religion with an ontology
based on nature in the Ethics. Spinozas complex metaphysics was not without
Western philosophical precedence. Nadler asserted that Spinozas development of a
complex formal structure of propositions, demonstrations, corollaries, scholia, and
appendices in the Ethics was based on various intellectual sources.38 39 He identified
traces of ideas from those sources in the Ethics:
Despite a dearth of explicit references to past thinkers, the Ethics exhibits
enormous erudition, and quite a few philosophical traditions converge in its
pages. Spinozas knowledge of ancient, medieval, Renaissance, and modem
authors pagan, Christian, and Jewish is quietly evident throughout. His
most important philosophical mentor was, without question, Descartes. But
Plato, Aristotle, and the ancient (and modem) Stoics all belong to the
intellectual background of the work. It is also clear that he was impressed by
his reading of contemporary political thinkers, especially the Englishman
Thomas Hobbes, but also Dutch and French theorists; and by recent scientific
developments (including those of Bacon, Galileo, and Boyle). And many of
the central elements of the Ethics derive from Spinozas study of medieval
Jewish thought, particularly Maimonides and Gersonides.
None of this, however, should distract us from the sheer originality of the
Ethics?9
Distinguishing the originality in Spinozas own writing from his intellectual sources
37. W N A Klever, Spinozas Life and Works, In The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza, edited by
Don Garrett, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 19.
38. Steven Nadler, Spinoza's Ethics: An Introduction, Cambridge Introductions, (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 2006), xiii.
39. Nadler, Spinozas Ethics: An Introduction, xiii.
24


requires a closer examination of those sources, and an understanding of how Spinoza
generated original arguments that reconciled the ideas of his philosophical mentors.
In the interest of brevity, I will address only the major influences, such as Spinozas
own Weltanschauung, Descartes, Leibniz, and other thinkers, whose theories are
implied in the Ethics.
With the seventeenth century emphasis on understanding the world through
the scientific study of nature, a new difficulty was established for philosophers who
were trying to deal with the problem of the existence of God. For the rationalist
Spinoza, whose enthusiasm for natural science was rooted in his background in
optics,40 the perceived gap between the ability to understand nature and the ability to
understand God helped lead him to establishing an ontological monism. Spinoza
understood science in terms of the already dominant seventeenth century conception
that it was the study of the natural world. Klever explains: There was only one
science in the days of Galileo, Descartes, Huygens, and Newton, the science of
nature, alternatively called philosophia or n mathematical, and this was the science
40. Spinoza may initially have taken up the production of lenses and instruments to support himself-
it was now, besides loans and gifts from his friends, his chief source of income but it also
served his own scientific interests. With his general enthusiasm for the new mechanistic
science of nature, Spinoza was fascinated by the latest detailed explanations of the
microphenomena of biology and chemistry and the ever-improving observations of the
macrophenomena of astronomy, as well as by the mathematical principles of optics that made
such discoveries possible.
Nadler, Spinozas Ethics: An Introduction, 14.
25


to which Spinoza henceforth was dedicated. 41 This understanding of science as the
study of nature posed a serious threat to the argument for the existence of God.
Given that science examined the causal world for knowledge, and that God was
understood as a transcendent Being above or beyond the causal world, it followed that
knowledge of the causal world could not serve as evidence of the transcendent Being.
In other words, since the proposition that God exists requires the antecedent that
knowledge of God is possible, we cannot prove that God exists if we cannot know
God (through examination of the natural world). Science, therefore, placed the
existence of God in doubt. Spinoza contributed to a resolution of this problem by
breaking from the Judeo-Christian conception of God as the Creator of all beings. He
instead offered that God is the infinite Being and substance in which all things exist
as finite modes. Donagan elucidates Spinozas understanding of God in the Ethics'.
No substance except God, he contends, can be, or be conceived; and he draws
the inevitable inference that the extended and thinking things of everyday
experience "are either attributes of God, or affections [i.e., modes] of God's
attributes" (E ipi4C2). God, he concludes, cannot create anything outside
himself. He is "the immanent, not the transient, cause of all things," and not of
their existence only, but also of their essence, which cannot be identical with
their existence (E ipi8,24,25).42
Spinoza re-envisioned God as the natural, substantive world, in order to render God
as the object of scientific studies. He had to construct an elaborate ontological system
41. Klever, Spinozas Life and Works, 19.
42. Alan Donagan, Spinozas Theology, In The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza, edited by Don
Garrett, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 345.
26


based on a geometrical order to prove that the natural world and God were one and
the same, and that knowledge of the natural world was equivalent to knowledge of
God. According to Nadler: [Spinozas] Ethics was an attempt to provide a fuller,
clearer, and more systematic layout in the geometric style for his grand
metaphysical and moral philosophical project.43 The main focus of Spinozas
project was to rationalize God, and Spinoza completed this project by using the
scientific method to justify the existence of God in the new world of science. Della
Rocca explains that Spinozas metaphysics sought to place human beings and God in
the natural world:
Spinoza, as we shall see, has no objection to belief in God insofar as it is
rational, but a less than rational belief in God is objectionable precisely
because it is a refusal to dig deeper for an explanation of our place in the
world and of the nature of the divinity. In the same way, reliance on
philosophical primitives is an irrational refusal to dig deeper for an
explanation. Spinozas worries about Descartes and other insufficiently
rationalist predecessors wasand his worry about so much of philosophy
down to the present day would bethat, by appealing to primitives or
inexplicable notions, philosophy has not advanced much beyond irrational
faith.44
According to Della Rocca, Spinoza wanted to codify philosophy as a means of
critically pursuing deeper truths, rather than the superficial truths that irrational faith
gives us. Unsatisfied with the answers that his rational predecessors had offered,
Spinoza wanted to formulate new answers about the roles of God and humankind
43. Nadler, Spinoza's Ethics: An Introduction, 15.
44. Della Rocca, Spinoza, 3.
27


through critical reexamination of the ontological terms themselves. I do not mean to
suggest that the emphasis on the scientific study of nature posed the only (or even
most prevalent) issue for philosophers working on the problem of the existence of
God during Spinozas time, or that following the publication of the Ethics, that these
issues were all resolved. The debate regarding science, and its relationship to
philosophical theology, remains too great a subject to address within the limited
scope of this paper. I am merely attempting to establish that Spinozas philosophy
with its ontological monism helped him bridge the gap between understanding nature
and understanding God. Essentially, Spinoza formulated a new ontology as his
answer to the problem that his predecessors had begun to address: How to defend
and assert scientific knowledge of the world while preserving Gods existence.
Perhaps the greatest known influence upon Spinoza and his ontology was
Descartes, a rationalist who created a metaphysics that gave union to mind and
matter, and reaffirmed the role of God as the Creator and Preserver of the universe.45
Part of Descartes philosophy responded to the problem that science posed to theism:
Since the scientific method could not prove the existence of a transcendent Being that
was above or beyond the sensory world, the inevitable conclusion would be that God
is not knowable. To defend the scientific method for knowledge, Descartes denied
45. Gary Hatfield, Rene Descartes, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, December 3, 2008,
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/descartes/.
28


Aristotles claim that all knowledge comes from our senses.46 Instead, he offered that
knowledge begins from the mind, in that human beings possess an immaterial mind
that can reveal the true nature of substances through a purely intellectual perception.
This means that in order to procure the fundamental truths of metaphysics, we must
withdraw the mind from the senses (7:4,12,14) and turn toward our innate ideas of
the essences of things, including the essences of mind, matter, and an infinite being
(God).47 Spinoza accepted the Cartesian idea that the mind has intellectual
perception to know God without sensory experience. He also accepted Descartes
conclusion that the pineal gland of the brain housed the mind (or soul), and regarded
it as the principal seat of the soul and the place in which all our thoughts are
formed.48 The Cartesian ideas led Spinoza to deduce that we must strengthen the
mind in order to intellectually perceive and know God. Garrett suggested that the
argument for strengthening the mind was Spinozas goal in writing the Ethics:
[P]art of Spinoza's philosophical project was to improve and strengthen the
intellect. In Part 2 of the Ethics, he proposed to demonstrate as
consequences of his metaphysics the character of the human mind as the
idea of the human body, the nature of sense perception, the relation between
true and false ideas, and the way in which all ideas (including human minds)
are contained in the infinite intellect of God.49
46. Hatfield, Rene Descartes.
47. Hatfield, Rene Descartes.
48. Gert-Jan Lokhorst, Descartes and the Pineal Gland, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
November 5, 2008, accessed September 5, 2010, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pineal-
gland/#2.
49. Don Garrett, Introduction, In The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza, (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 2006), 5.
29


By proposing that the human mind is the idea of the body, and that Gods infinite
intellect contained all ideas, Spinoza could argue that human beings can access Gods
intellect through the mind. Therefore, Spinozas philosophical project made
improving the mind an incentive for knowing God.
Spinoza expanded upon Descartes geometrically ordered metaphysics,
consisting of substance, modes and attributes, to demonstrate the metaphysical
principle that God is the only substance. According to Garrett, Spinoza believed that
the coherence of his ethical claims was contingent on a clearly, pre-established
metaphysical system, and thus he structured an ontology based on Descartes
metaphysical principles prior to making ethical claims:
In the Ethics, Spinoza sought to demonstrate his ethical doctrines in proper
order from the metaphysical principles on which, he believed, they depend
and through which they must be understood. His metaphysical ontology, like
Descartes's, consists of substance, attributes (what Descartes called principal
attributes), and modes. According to Spinoza, a substance is that which is
in itself and conceived through itself'; an attribute is that which "the intellect
perceives of a substance, as constituting its essence; and modes are the
affections of substance, or that which is in another through which also it is
conceived50
Spinoza utilized the Cartesian system to show that substance is in itself and
conceived through itself, and asserted what Descartes had implied: that God is the
only substance and the self-caused cause. He further turned the entire scholastic
50. Garrett, Introduction, 3.
30


traditional understanding of God as the Creator on its head.51 52 In Spinozas formula,
God is no longer the transcendent Creator, but the only substance that encompasses
the natural world. All things in the natural world are merely modes or modifications
of the God/substance. These ontological claims entailed many ethical implications,
including the idea that we should study the natural world to know God. By using
Descartes metaphysical system to equate God and substance, Spinoza demonstrated
that God is knowable.
Spinoza also utilized the geometric method to demonstrate that metaphysical
principles can be proven valid with scientific certainty. Nadler provides a different
argument than Garrett that Spinoza looked to Euclids Elements for creating a
metaphysics, because math was the model for finding certain knowledge in the
seventeenth century. For Spinoza, philosophy shared sciences role of finding
51. Jacub Jirsa, The ethical significance of substance-God difference in Spinozas Ethics I, E-
LOGOS Electronic Journal for Philosophy, 2003: 2, accessed May 10, 2010, ISSN: 1211-
0442.
52. The model for certain knowledge in the seventeenth century was mathematics. Its propositions or
theses were clearly formulated, its demonstrations (when properly attended to) indubitable,
and its methods (when properly employed) foolproof. Euclids Elements, the most famous
paradigm for the discipline, begins with twenty three basic definitions (A point is that which
has no part, A line is a breadthless point), five postulates (That all right angles are equal
to one another,) and five common notions or axioms (Things that are equal to the same
thing are also equal to one another, If equals be added to equals, the wholes are equal).
With these simple tools in hand as assumed premises, Euclid proceeds to prove a great
number of propositions about plane figures and their properties, some of them extremely
complex. (The first proposition of Book One, for example, lays out the method for
constructing an equilateral triangle on a finite straight line; the fifth proposition states that in
an isosceles triangle the angles at the base are equal to one
Nadler, Spinoza's Ethics: An Introduction, 37.
31


certain knowledge:
With [Euclids] model in mind, Spinoza hoped to fulfill and even expand
upon Descartess own dream of maximum certainty in the sciences. Like his
intellectual mentor, he thought that philosophy (understood broadly to include
much that today would more properly fall under the natural and social
sciences) could reach a degree of precision and indubitability that
approximated if not equaled that achieved by mathematics. Spinoza wanted to
do for metaphysics, epistemology, physics, psychology, and even ethics what
Euclid had done for geometry. Only in this way could philosophy, the
discipline that must prescribe for human beings the path to happiness and
well-being, become truly systematic and its conclusions guaranteed to be
valid. The means for accomplishing this goal was literally to put metaphysics
and the other subjects in the exact same form in which Euclid had organized
his material.53
Spinoza organized Ethics according to Euclids method to show that philosophical
propositions can be systematically proven and validated like scientific claims. He
believed that this mathematical method could bring precise proofs to even
philosophical propositions, such as the ethical duties of human beings. Nadler
clarified that Spinoza did not use the geometrical order to discover truths, but rather
used the method to present philosophical discoveries. Spinoza assumed that the
preciseness of the systematic method could arrive at absolutely certain truths.54
This is an example of how Spinoza attempted to reconcile science with metaphysics.
Spinozas God, like Descartes, is the God of Physics, or the God of cause and
effect. Garrett explains Descartes argument, which had influence over Spinozas
conception of God:
53. Nadler, Spinozas Ethics: An Introduction, 38.
54. Nadler, Spinoza's Ethics: An Introduction, 39.
32


Because he maintained that all other things are causally dependent on God for
their creation and conservation, Descartes had recognized a strict sense of the
term "substance" in which God is the only substance.... [H]owever, he
recognized two kinds of created substance, each with its own principal
attribute: extended substances, whose principal attribute is extension (i.e.,
spatial dimensionality); and minds, whose principal attribute is thought.55
Spinoza accepted Descartes idea that God is the only substance, but he did not agree
with Descartes conclusion that there are two kinds of created substances (extended
substances and minds) in the world, and that those substances each contained separate
attributes of spatiality and thought. Instead, Spinoza offered that God, the only
substance, contains infinite attributes including extension and thought. All things are
modes of the only substance, and carry some of the infinite attributes of that
substance:
Spinoza's God is a self-caused substance of "infinite" attributes, including
both extension and thought, from whose nature everything possible
necessarily flows. It follows that individual things, such as human beings, can
only be modes of this one substance which Spinoza sometimes called "God
or Nature" ["Deus, sive Nature"). In Spinoza's view, every mode of extension
is identical with a corresponding mode of thought, so that everything is
thinking, as well as extended. One application of this doctrine is that the
human body is identical with the human mind. Nevertheless, because
extension and thought are each independent and self contained attributes of
God or Nature, there can be no causal interaction or explanatory relation
between them.56
Spinoza turned Descartes created substance of extended substance and minds into
modes (of extensions) of the only substance, and connected them by offering that
every mode of extension is identical with a corresponding mode of thought, so that
55. Ganett, Introduction, 4.
56. Garrett, Introduction, 4.
33


everything is thinking, as well as extended. In other words, all things are
qualitatively the same, since they all carry the attributes of extension and thought. In
terms of human beings, the body (mode of extension) corresponds with the mind
(mode of thought), and thus the body and mind are identical. However, the body and
mind cannot have causal relationships, because they each contain the separate
attributes of extension and thought. With the understanding that creation of all
substantive things depended on God, or that nothing in the natural world is self-
causal, Spinoza implied that we can examine causes and effects in nature as
movements of Gods being. Like Descartes, Spinoza wanted to develop an
ontological theory that allowed for all beings, including God, to be scientifically
studied.
Though I have demonstrated that some of Spinozas philosophical ideas are
derived from Cartesian motives, I believe that Spinoza appropriated the Cartesian
system for making his own unique arguments. Meyer spoke to how Spinoza deviated
from Descartes propositions:
Spinoza not only often deviates from Descartes in the arrangement and
explanation of the axioms, demonstrations, and conclusions, but also that
Spinoza himself in many cases does not agree with Descartes's propositions,
which are faithfully presented by him. So let no one think that he is teaching
here either his own opinions, or only those which he approves of.; Spinoza,
for example, does not think that the will is distinct from the intellect, much
less that it is endowed with freedom. According to [Meyer], Descartes is only
assuming and does not prove that the human mind is a substance thinking
absolutely.57
57. Klever, Spinozas Life and Works, 30.
34


Thus, Spinozas philosophy was not merely a facsimile of Cartesian thought. Spinoza
deviated from Descartes conclusions by making such claims as the human mind is a
substance thinking absolutely. Though Descartes himself did not indicate that the
mind is merely substance, Spinoza went further and asserted that the mind, like the
body, is substance as well. With this claim of mind-body parallelism, Spinoza
explained how the mind could interact with the body (both are modes or
co
modifications of God, the only substance), and this explanation offered a solution to
the mind/body problem that he inherited from Descartes. Della Rocca identifies
another major distinction between Spinozas and Descartes thoughts: Like
Descartes, Spinoza regards thought and extension as attributes. Unlike Descartes,
Spinoza holds that there is an infinity of attributes including thought and extension.
For Spinoza, the other attributes are unknown to human beings (Letter 64).58 59
Spinoza expanded Descartes idea of attributes beyond just thought and extension by
arguing that substance has infinite attributes, out of which only thought and extension
are known to human beings. Such deviations revealed that Spinoza, whom many
perceived as a rigorous defender of Cartesian thought,60 not only disagreed with some
58. Jonathan Bennett, Spinozas Metaphysics, In The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza, edited by
Don Garrett, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 78.
59. Della Rocca, Spinoza, 43.
60. Spinoza had long before been branded an atheist and heretic, and at age 24 was formally
excommunicated from his Jewish synagogue and community where he had lived all his life.
His banishment was because he refused to stop teaching the Cartesian philosophy of
35


of Descartes conclusions, but also attempted to solve the problems left by those
conclusions with a reconfigured ontological system. Spinozas ontology of nature,
though based on Cartesian metaphysics, indeed put forward a unique, monistic view
of the natural world that was different than the one that Descartes had conceived.
Most Spinozan scholars agree that Spinozas natural philosophy was indebted
to Cartesian thought, yet recent findings have brought to light other possible Western
influences that led Spinoza to encounter Cartesian thought, and held sway over
Spinozas ontology. According to W.N.A. Klever, Van den Enden, who was
Spinozas teacher, most likely planted the seeds of Cartesian thought and political
theory in Spinozas philosophical thinking. Klever discovered evidence that Van den
Endens written works contained many philosophical ideas present in Spinozas own
texts; he recently unearthed printed pamphlets authored by Van den Enden in 1661
and 1662 with the title Kort Verhael van Nieuw-Nederlants .. (1662) and another
one, published in 1665 under the title Vrije Politijcke Stellingen, but written in
1663.61 With discoveries such as Van den Endens works that contained a political
theory similar to the one in Spinozas, and that Spinoza was a part of Van den
Endens circle of intellectuals, Klever concluded that Van den Enden may be the
Descartes. Contributing to his banishment had been his article, "Short Treatise on God, Man
and His Well-Being" written even at that early age in his life.
Linda S Schrigner, Benedict Spinoza Ontology for the New Millennium, 1996, accessed July
18, 2010, http://www.crcsite.ore/printspinoza2.htm. 3.
61. Klever, Spinozas Life and Works, 26.
36


proto-Spinoza:
On the basis of the mentioned works I came to the conclusion that Van den
Enden must be considered a proto-Spinoza, the genius behind Spinoza,-
Bedjai defends in his thesis the same idea, by claiming that the so-called
Amsterdam Spinoza circle could better be named "Van den Enden and his
circle" (Bedjai 1990). The works of Van den Enden contain a political theory
which is in fact the same as the one worked out by Spinoza in his Theological-
Political Treatise and Political Treatise. One finds moreover between the
lines all the items which would later be proven deductively by Spinoza in his
Ethics: full-fledged determinism, the distinction between three kinds of
knowledge (and other epistemological claims), human passivity, the conatus
theory, the intellectual love of God, and so on.
Klevers conclusions implied that Van den Enden was Spinozas great benefactor in
various philosophical ideas, and that Spinozas incorporated many of Van den
Endens conclusions in Ethics and Theologico-Political Treatise.
Historical evidence points to Leibniz, Spinozas friend and fellow Rationalist
and Cartesian thinker, as another possible influence on Spinoza. Being a philosopher
and a mathematician, Leibniz was interested in Spinozas theories on optics. He
exchanged correspondence and written works with Spinoza in 1671; Leibniz sent
Spinoza Notita Opticae Promoteae, and Spinoza sent Leibniz Tractatus Theologico-
Politicus. In the correspondence to Spinoza, Leibniz offered his own theory as well
as theories from other thinkers on eliminating spherical aberration in optics:62 63
62. Klever, Spinozas Life and Works, 26.
63. Definition: aberration that is caused by the spherical form of a lens or mirror and that gives
different foci for central and marginal rays
Memam Webster, Spherical Aberration, Merriam Webster Online, accessed August 10
2010, http://www.merriam-
webster.com/medical/spherical+aberration?show=Q&t= 1284473772.
37


Leibniz sends Spinoza his Notitia opticae promotae (1671), mentions the
dioptrical work of Francisco Lana and Johannes Oltius and his own
Hypothesis physica nova (1671), and proposes a way of eliminating spherical
aberration. Spinoza replies that he has not yet seen the latter three works and,
confessing that he does not quite follow Leibniz's argument in the Notitia,
asks for further clarification and offers an idea of his own that he had already
used in his reply to Jelles's difficulty over Descartes.64
Spinozas responses upon receiving the correspondence showed that in the same time
period, he questioned and contemplated Leibnizs theory and Cartesian thought.
Gabbey argued that Spinoza himself implied that he accepted and incorporated some
ideas from Leibniz and Descartes as part of his proofs of Gods existence in Ethics:
Notwithstanding these heresies, [Spinoza] implies that two of his three proofs
of God's existence in Ethics ipi5, as well as an additional one in its scholium,
are a priori; and of these four, two not only look like the "ontological" proofs
offered by Descartes and Leibniz, but one is reminiscent of those of Anselm
and of Duns Scotus (E ipi4c2). Since he also follows many orthodox
theologians in deducing from God's infinity the negative "attributes" they
ascribed to him, which he denied to be genuine attributes namely,
indivisibility, uniqueness, causal independence, eternity, immutability and the
indistinguishability of his existence from his essence (E ipi3,
I4ci,i7ci,2o,2oc2).65
Though Spinoza formulated his argument for God based on some of the proofs from
Leibniz, Descartes and orthodox theologians, he denied the theologians view that
God has such attributes as indivisibility, uniqueness, causal independence, eternity,
immutability and the indistinguishability of his existence from his essence. This
64. Alan Gabbey, Spinozas Natural Science and Methodology, In The Cambridge Companion to
Spinoza, edited by Don Garrett, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 150.
65. Donagan, Spinozas Theology, 345.
38


denial demonstrated that Spinoza did not merely accept ideas from his intellectual
sources, but he reacted to those ideas with original claims of God in terms of nature
(Spinozas God, who is nature itself, shared attributes with the natural and causal
world). These intellectual sources essentially served as catalysts for Spinozas
ontology based on God as nature.
I have addressed the Weltanschauung of seventeen-century Europe, as well as
various Western philosophical and scientific ideas that had major influence over
Spinozas thinking, to demonstrate that Spinoza needed not to have borrowed ideas
from Chinese philosophy to form an ontology of nature. Spinoza, as a scientist,
equated God and nature to validate science as the way of obtaining knowledge of
God. The foundation of his ontological theory depended on God being nature itself.
To make his argument coherent, Spinoza borrowed the structure of Descartes
metaphysics to create his own natural philosophy. He expanded upon Descartes
geometrical order of substance and extension to a metaphysical ontology based on
natural laws; he created his ontology as a new way of thinking about the nature of
God and beings.66 Van den Enden, Spinozas teacher, introduced Spinoza to
Cartesian thought and ideas on natural philosophy. In fact, Van den Endens printed
pamphlets contained a political theory and natural philosophical ideas that were
similar to those in Spinozas texts. Leibniz also contributed theories on optics and
argumentation on nature that Spinoza took interest in. These various historical
66. Schrmger, Benedict Spinoza Ontology for the New Millennium, 1.
39


influences attest to the indebtedness of Spinozas philosophy to some of the ideas
from his contemporaries and seventeenth century Rationalism.
Given these Western sources of influence, I believe that we need not resort to
such argument made by Bayle and Malebranche that Spinozas philosophy was a
rendering of ideas from Chinese thought. Their argument appears weak, since no
evidence to date supports Spinoza ever having read any Chinese texts. However, we
can trace specific propositions in Ethics to various intellectual sources, from ancient
Greek philosophy to philosophical and theoretical concerns in Spinozas own time.
This proves that Spinoza formed his complex and original philosophy based on his
extensive knowledge of Western philosophical traditions.
Ancient Chinese Beliefs and Nature as the Ontological Force
Unlike Spinoza, we cannot reference Laozis personal history for
understanding the ideas of the Chinese philosopher, since 1) we do not know if Laozi
is an actual person, and 2) some evidence shows that the Daodejing, also known as
the Laozi, is a compilation of various texts from unknown sources.67 This means that
it is not possible to contextualize the interpretation of the Daodejing (herein DDJ)
with an examination of Laozis personal history. Since context is necessary for
understanding the questions, or the objects of concern, in a philosophical text, the
problem follows: How can we approach the Z)A/through a historical lens? The
67. See in this paper Chapter 1 on the discussion of the authorship and dating of the DDJ.
40


answer lies in finding the approximate time period in which the entire text was
written and compiled. An archeological excavation in 1993 discovered the Guodian
text, which is the earliest known version of the DDJ transcribed on bamboo scrolls
around 300 B.C.E. Since the Guodian text is the earliest known version, I will
examine Chinese history around 300 B.C.E. to provide the DDJ with context.
Around this time period, the ancient Chinese thrived on an agrarian economy and
beliefs related to the natural world. The historical conception of nature around this
time may have held sway over the creation of the DDJ, and thereby served as the root
for Laozis formation of an ontology of nature.
First, Laozis conception of nature as the entire universe was influenced by
the ancient Chinese, who recognized nature as synonymous with the world long
before the transcription of the DDJ around 300 B.C.E. To understand the thinking of
the ancient Chinese, we need to examine their lifestyle, as well as the structures of
their society and politics. During this time, two agrarian economic classes of
peasants and state officials comprised the ancient Chinese rural society, which
functioned to follow the natural laws of life; the state officials administered laws
based on the peasants agrarian lifestyle and subordination to nature.68 69 The agrarian
lifestyle was conditioned by natural laws, which referred to the natural seasonal
68. Shen, Laozi (Lao Tzu), 355.
69. Marina Camogurska, Original ontological roots of ancient Chinese philosophy, Asian Philosophy
8, no. 3, November 1998: 202, accessed November 10, 2009, http://www.ebscohost.com/.
41


cycles that dictated when the ancient Chinese could plant, cultivate or harvest crops.
Since the natural seasonal cycles shaped and controlled the lifestyle of an agrarian
society, the ancient Chinese recognized nature as the non-visible force that governed
beings with natural laws.
Historical documents that pre-date the DDJ, such as the Book of Changes, or
Yijin, also attest to the ancient Chineses perception that the world was the same as
nature. Camogurska asserts: [The ancient Chinese] only ideologydocumented by
Chinese primeval myths as well as by some shaman practices, connected with the
Book of Changes (Yijin) [3]was one which pressed people to strictly respect the
natural laws of life, to fit into the real natural framework of their world between
Heaven and Earth.70 In the ancient Chinese worldview, the universe was constituted
by three components: Heaven, the world, and the Earth. Given that the ancient
Chinese assumed that the natural laws governed all life, they equated nature to their
world between Heaven and Earth. Furthermore, they believed that Heaven was a
powerful force that had dominance over all of existence, and thus supposed that laws
of nature were the same as laws of Heaven. Influenced by this notion of the universe,
Laozi consciously strove for man to be in organic unity with nature (Heaven)
obeying all its heavenly laws71 in his philosophy. The connections between the
ideology of the ancient Chinese and the ideology in the DDJ revealed that Laozis
70. Camogurska, Original ontological roots of ancient Chinese philosophy, 202.
71. Camogurska, Original ontological roots of ancient Chinese philosophy, 202.
42


conception of nature had precedence in ancient Chinese thought.
Chinas geography also ensured that Laozi only had access to the ancient
Chinese thinking that nature was the entire universe. He could not have become
familiar with other philosophical ideas of the world, since China, surrounded by
huge geophysical obstacles, was at that time almost hermetically sealed off from
other world civilisations and was locked inside its own specific world view.72 The
worldview of the ancient Chinese was based on an agrarian lifestyle, which required
observation and awareness of nature and its forces. And like the ancient Chinese,
Laozi perceived nature and its forces as operating in the world, and expressed this
perception in his philosophy.
Giving a name to the ancient Chinese notion of nature, Laozi coined the term
Dao to refer to the Creative force of nature, which also served as the ontological
foundation of the universe. Specifically, the ancient Chinese perceived the Creative
force of nature as:
[An] unstoppable dialectical process of unending multifarious transformations
of its Creative Power De.... This Creative Power (or in a more modem
conception, Creative Energy) was for the first time applied and
philosophically explained only by Laozi in his Dao de jing, but at the end of
the 5th century BC it began to be universally accepted by all Chinese thinkers,
although most of them accepted it only as the highest ethical and moral
category and not the ontological one.73
Laozi coined the term De to refer to the Dao's manifestation as Creative
72. Camogurska, Original ontological roots of ancient Chinese philosophy, 202.
73. Camogurska, Original ontological roots of ancient Chinese philosophy, 203.
43


Power/Energy in the world. He accepted the ancient Chinese notion that a creative
force (Dao) operated in the universe with its Creative Power/Energy (De). After the
DDJ became widespread in China, all Chinese thinkers accepted Dao and De as
synonymous with the Creative force of nature. However, post-Laozian thinkers,
seeing the two separate terms, misinterpreted Dao as the ontological category, and its
Creative Power/Energy De as the highest ethical moral category. In actuality, both
terms are ontological categories based on the ancient Chinese conception that the
Creative Power/Energy (De) represented the unending multifarious transformations
of the Creative force (Dao). Essentially, Laozi borrowed the ancient Chinese notions
of the Creative Force and Creative Power to make the ontological terms of Dao and
De.14
It is important to note that Laozi did not mean for the term Dao to become a
name for the Creative force, but rather, he intended to use it as a mere signifier of that
which the ancient Chinese understood as ineffable. Chan elaborates: To [Laozi],
Tao is nameless and is the simplicity without names. When names arise, that is, when
the simple oneness of Tao is split up into individual things with names, it is time to
stop.* 75 In other words, Dao itself is nameless, and only things derived from it have
names. It is likely that Laozi uses the word Dao for the sake of being able to refer to
74.1 will address the connection between Laozis ontological and ethical claims in Chapter 4 of this
paper.
75. Chan, "The Natural Way of Lao Tzu," 139.
44


Creative Force throughout the DDJ, and being able to discuss the concept in his own
terms.
Laozis claim that Dao ontologically moved through the universe also
mirrored the ancient Chinese axiom that nature operated in all things in its own Way.
The ancient Chinese perceived in the universe:
[A] non-homogeneous dialectical process of the ontological movements of
Dao and its Creative Power in the whole Universe and in its time-spaces. In
this sense the whole background of the Universe is only the bipolar synergy of
mutual creativity and liquidation (in a process of bipolar contradictions) of its
own Way which is never in a state of an absolutely homogeneous Substance
or qualitatively eternal monolith.76
They believed that the Way of Dao was to change between physical and non-physical
states, as the Way was never in a state of an absolutely homogenous Substance or
qualitatively eternal monolith. Laozi also did not perceive Dao as a homogeneous
Substance, but as a time-space phenomenon from which all substances are bom.77
However, the fact that the Creative force can also be a Substance created a
contradiction for many Western scholars. Kile Jones discusses how Western scholars
might find the definition of Dao philosophically problematic. The definition of Dao
as both a Creative force and a Substance is a paradox for Western scholars, who
understand the creation of a thing, that arises from something, as an original source:
[W]hen the Daodejing says things like what is there arises from what is not
there, without going out the door, one can know the whole world, and
76. Camogurska, Original ontological roots of ancient Chinese philosophy, 203.
77. Camogurska, Original ontological roots of ancient Chinese philosophy, 203.
45


straightforward words seem paradoxical, a baffled look comes across the
faces of Western scholars. Most Western scholars in the tradition of
Wittgenstein, Russell, and Frege would dissect these sentences into truth
value, internal consistency, and propositional attitude which are a far cry,
methodologically speaking, from what the Daodejing was meant for and
concerned with.78
Chinese philosophical claims do not follow the linear sequence in Western
argumentation, where a conclusion follows a sequence of premises. Thus, Chinese
propositions tend to appear paradoxical to Western scholar, who expect a proposition
to state a clear true or false statement. I believe that we can understand the concept
by recognizing it as a metaphor; the most appropriate metaphor to explain Daos
contradictory nature is to compare the term to water. Since Dao ontologically moves
through a universe that is the bipolar synergy of mutual creativity and liquidation, it
fluctuates between states in the same manner that water can be found in the states of
solid, liquid and gas. And given that Dao is a Creative force that is ontologically
inherent in all beings, it would necessarily present itself in a beings given state as
energy or substance. Laozis conception of Dao seemed to be designed to fit within
the binary-pair nature of the universe envisioned by the ancient Chinese.
Laozi, like the ancient Chinese, understood events in the world as expressions
of relationships and patterns, and not as results of cause and effect.79 Particularly, the
78. Jones, The Philosophy of the Daodejing, 21.
79. This has implications in my later comparisons between Laozis and Spinozas philosophy, where I
will discuss how Laozis conception of world events as expressions of relationships and
patterns, and how Spinozas scientific perspective that all events are cause and effect, affect
their respective ontological claims.
46


ancient Chinese saw patterns as being expressions of natures bi-polarities:
For the Chinese there are two fundamental laws underlying change in the
universe, the law of polar reversal and the law of periodicity. Polar Reversal
means that things change into their opposites, but not only that. Even more
profoundly, the seeds of change are carried within each entity; each entity
contains within itself the tendency that will one day manifest as its opposite.
Periodicity means things change in recurring cycles, like night and day or the
changing of the seasons.80 81
The ancient Chinese may have developed the principles of Periodicity and Polar
Reversal from observing the cyclical changes in nature. They not only deemed these
principles to be active in the universe, but also active in every entity. The ontological
implications of these principles are that the nature of all beings, including human
beings, are inclined to change into their opposite. The word change implies
movement. Since the ancient Chinese assumed that the creative force is intrinsically
endowed in all things, they believed that all entities inevitably move according to the
two principles. All events in the universe were then mere occurrences of the
relationship of movements between all things. Moreover, the view of a cyclical
moving universe suggests that the world is an integral whole, a web of interrelated
things and events. Within this web ... an entity can be defined only by its function
and has significance only as part of the whole pattern.82 This is essentially a
80. William Meacham, Tao Te Ching Ontology, In Being Human: Essence and Fulfillment,
September 24, 2010, accessed July 23, 2010: 5,
httD://www.bmeacham.com/whatswhat/TaoTeChingOntology.html.
81. Meacham, Tao Te Ching Ontology.
82. Meacham, Tao Te Ching Ontology.
47


monistic view of the universe in which all beings move and are related to the
existence of another. Thus, all beings are significant insofar as each functions in the
moving pattern.
For both Laozi and the ancient Chinese, a circular moving universe also
implies that the evolution of all beings follows a circular pattern:
[The] ontological movement within the overall process of endurance of the
Way (Dao), was never perceived as only a linear process, nor as only an
evolutionary process (from one definite beginning to its future definitive final
end), which is so popular in Western ontological theories, but as a bipolar
circulation of regular, though asymmetrical and changeable polarisations of
the charge fields and time-space forms of the creative power of the Universe.
Its energy, as Laozi said, is in every way an expansivity from itself.
Dao s energy expands over and moves in all things through a circular and
evolutionary process characterized by its moving between the encounters of polar
opposites. In Western ontological theories, evolution is a linear process. However, in
the Eastern ontological theories, all beings in a circular moving universe evolve in a
circular pattern. This ancient Chinese understanding of the universe as a place of
moving energies between bi-polarities, and not a place of cause and effect, resonates
in Laozis philosophy. The DDJ, in fact, does not address questions of ontology in
terms of causality. Rather, it extensively discusses the cyclical patterns and laws
inherent in the natural world, to which all beings are subject.
Laozi also borrows from the ancient Chinese the idea that political and moral
conduct should follow natural laws. The ancient Chinese conception of a patterned 83
83. Camogurska, Original ontological roots of ancient Chinese philosophy, 4.
48


universe reveals that they believe the world has its own inherent order which all
beings must follow. Thus, the premise of ancient Chinese politics is based on
following natural laws, and this premise is reflected in the DDJ. Laozi implies in
several chapters in the DDJ that a ruler should govern the people with laws based on
nature, and the people should act in such ways that accord with nature. For Laozi, as
well as for the ancient Chinese, politics and moral conduct are essentially conditioned
by natural laws. Moeller argues that Laozi intended for the DDJ to be a political
manual for rulers. During the time of agrarian society, Laozi and other Chinese
thinkers wrote philosophical texts to assist the rulers with managing peasant work:
Like it or not, philosophy or intellectual activity in ancient China was
distinguished from manual labor, and thus philosophical texts were not only
political in nature (because they normally addressed the issue of good
government and social order) but also esoteric. They were not meant to
contribute to general education, but to be studied only by a small fraction of
the population, i.e., by those who had access to learning and power. If we
want to understand the Laozi historically, we have to accept this context and
thus also the fact that, as a philosophical treatise, it did not attempt to be
generally accessible. It was originally a text for the fewand it clearly
shows.84
Moeller implies that the DDJ was mainly a political text written for the elites.
However, the interest of this paper is not on analyzing the DDJ as a political text, but
to connect the texts ethical propositions to its ontological root. The main concern is
to show that the conception of nature with an inherent order, a view shared by Laozi
and the ancient Chinese, affected the political and ethical claims in the DDJ.
84. Moeller, The Philosophy of the Daodejing, xi.
49


Ancient Chinese thinking, discussed extensively in the above section, had
fueled the development of certain ideas in Laozian philosophy. For example, Laozi
coined the term Dao to describe a creative or ontological force that the pre-Laozian
Chinese already recognized as intrinsic in all things. The pre-Laozian Chinese also
believed that all things moved due to the creative force within them that fluctuated
between bi-polarities. These pre-existing perceptions suggested that ancient Chinese
ideas were encoded in Laozis ontology of nature. Laozis explanations of how
things come into being were all related to the belief of a creative force that cyclically
moves between the energy fields in a bipolarized universe. Essentially, Laozi was
concerned with same questions that the ancient Chinese attempted to address: He
wanted to provide explanations of what exists in the universe, and how the behaviors
of beings are determined. The ancient Chinese essentially provided Laozi with the
premise of a creative force that gives birth and asserts order in the world, and thus the
concept of Dao appears in the DDJ as the ontological force of all things.
Nature as the Basis of Ontology
In this chapter, I have demonstrated that Spinoza and Laozi each found the
basis for their common conception that the world is entirely composed of nature from
the intellectual discussions and writings of their respective contemporaries. Spinoza,
as a scientist, did not have to borrow ideas from Laozi to create a monistic ontology
of nature, since nature was the very object of his discipline. Laozi was influenced by
ancient Chinese to think of nature as encompassing the universe. Consequently, by
50


using nature as the basis of ontology, Spinozas and Laozis definitions of ontological
categories seem similar. In Chapter Three, I will define and analyze the ontological
term, God/substance from the Ethics, and the ontological term, Dao from the DDJ,
and demonstrate that those terms share similar ideas due to the premise that existence
is derived from the natural world. Then, I will demonstrate through comparison that
Laozi and Spinoza share similar moral and ethical ideas due to each of their prior
establishment of an ontological system based on nature.
51


3. DEFINITIONS IN ONTOLOGY OF NATURE
Both Spinoza and Laozi use nature as the foundation of their ontologies, and
the justification for their subsequent ethical claims. The beginning chapters of both
Spinozas Ethics and Laozis Daodejing (herein DDJ) present extensive ontological
definitions of what exists, and the nature of the relationship between those existents.
Part One of the Ethics contains definitions for substance, attribute and mode,
which frame the argument that God is the only substance. According to Nadler, the
definitions have a dynamic function, in that they initiate Spinozas propositions.
They further support and develop the already demonstrated propositions into
subsequent propositions. Nadler clarifies the logic behind erecting definitions in the
Ethics'.
A definition delineates the essence of a thing what it is to be a substance;
what it is to be a cause, etc. It allows one to deduce the properties that
necessarily belong to its object. We require a concept, or definition, of the
thing such that when it is considered alone, without any others conjoined, all
the things properties can be deduced from it (TIE, G II.35/C 1.40). From the
definition of a circle, one can deduce that all the lines drawn from the center
to the circumference are equal. From the definition of substance, it must be
possible to derive all the properties (eternity, infinitude, uniqueness,
existence) that necessarily belong to any substance.85
85. Nadler, Spinoza's Ethics: An Introduction, 44.
52


In other words, the premise of Spinozas ontology relies on establishing the essence
of things through definitions. In so doing, Spinoza could deduce from a things
essence its properties. This method allows Spinoza to assign properties to substance,
and designate how all extended beings come to exist and behave according to the
properties of substance. By beginning the Ethics with the definition of substance,
which is equivalent to the natural world, Spinoza demonstrates the significance of
substance/nature in his subsequent ontological and ethical claims. Thus,
understanding the definitions is a prerequisite for following the overall logic of the
geometrically ordered system in the Ethics.
Functioning similarly to the definitions in the Ethics, the definition of Dao
serves as the starting point for developing subsequent propositions in the DDJ. In
Chapter One, Laozi offers a paradoxical definition of Dao as that which is
nameless, the mother of all things, the hidden, the manifest, the Mystery
and the Door of all essence, suggesting that the term designates something
ineffable or multivalent. Since Dao also refers to the Door of all essences, this
implies that through Dao we can determine what exists in the universe. Subsequent
ontological and ethical propositions in the DDJ are derived from such paradoxical
and elusive definitions of Dao. Different chapters in the DDJ, as a result, advance
contradictory propositions regarding Daos attributes and categories. Unlike the
Ethics and other Western philosophical texts, the DDJ does not contain a reasoned, 86
86. Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching, 3.
53


chain-like sequence of thought,87 but provides various arguments based on different
definitions of Dao in different chapters. Jones summarizes the definitions of Dao
according to various interpretations by scholars:
As a psychological definition, LaFargue describes the dao as a hypostatized
internal presence, force, or power, which has the ability to bring people
a true understanding of things, 0 and as a cosmological definition Wong
describes the dao as an impersonal and unnamed force behind the workings
of the universe.11 Alan Chan concludes that the dao is thought of as the
source of all being yet that it cannot be itself a being, for then the problem
of infinite regress cannot be overcome.12 Each of these definitions, though
fair to the Daodejing and Taoism in general, are only able to give partially
definitive and denotative surety due to the elusive nature of the dao and the
inability of language to penetrate its true essence. This is true of all
definitions, yet, as was shown earlier, the Daodejing makes many attempts at
doing so.88
The fact that Dao has been defined as a force and a non-being that is simultaneously
the source of all beings illustrates that the term Dao cannot be confined to a single
definition, and that its meaning fluctuates with interpretation. Even in several
chapters of the DDJ, Laozi attempts to offer different definitions to elucidate the
meaning of Dao. Nonetheless, like the definitions in the Ethics, the various
definitions of Dao are prerequisites for understanding the metaphysics of the DDJ.
Interpretation of Laozis subsequent claims must be cognizant of the varied
definitions of Dao itself.
Given that Spinoza and Laozis ontological claims are outgrowths of the many
definitions of existents, analyzing these definitions is essential in making the
87. Jones, The Philosophy of the Daodejing, 22.
88. Jones, The Philosophy of the Daodejing, 22.
54


philosophical comparison of the Ethics and the DDJ possible. I will focus on
comparing the specific properties of the objects of those definitions. In so doing, I
will demonstrate how the most important definitions in the two texts share similar
traits, and show that Spinoza and Laozi make similar ontological claims based on
making similar ontological definitions.
God/Dao as Nature
The most important ontological definitions in the monistic systems of the
Ethics and the DDJ are God and Dao, which seem to be analogous terms. Though
Spinozas God is a being, and Laozis Dao is a non-being, God and Dao each refer to
an originary source of the substantive or natural world, and express the one or
ultimate reality for all beings. These two terms respectively lay the foundations for
the entire philosophical systems of the Ethics and the DDJ. Spinozas and Laozis
subsequent ontological definitions and propositions, which are built on the principle
definitions of God and Dao, also share similar ideas. It is by equating God /Dao to the
natural world that Spinoza and Laozi are able to establish their monistic systems.
Spinozas God/Substance
At the very beginning of Part I of the Ethics, Spinoza places the definition of
substance as basis for the claim that God is the only substance that constitutes the
entire natural world, which in turn proves that God exists. Spinoza begins the
definition of self-caused, then attributes that property to substance:
55


By that which is self-caused, I mean that of which the essence involves
existence, or that of which the nature is only conceivable as existent (EEDI);
By substance, I mean that which is in itself, and is conceived through itself; in
other words, that of which a conception can be formed independently of any
other conception (EIDIII); By attribute, I mean that which the intellect
perceives as constituting the essence of substance (EIDIV); By mode, I mean
the modifications ["Affectiones "] of substance, or that which exists in, and is
conceived through, something other than itself (EIDV).89
Since only substance is conceived through itself and contains all attributes and
modes, all finite things, or modes, depend on substance for their conception.
Spinoza follows this definition of substance with the definition of God to show
parallel between God and substance:
By God, I mean a being absolutely infinitethat is, a substance consisting in
infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality
(EID6).90
God is substance by virtue of carrying the properties of infinity and attributes that
belong to substance. It seems that Spinoza establishes the definition of substance to
infer Gods existence from the essence of Gods being as substance. According to
Bennett, Spinoza does so because he accepted the then standard view that no
substance can depend on anything else for its existence; so any substance must
depend on itself for its existence.91 Since substance was commonly understood
89. Henceforth, all references to passages in the Ethics are from this web edition.
Baruch Spinoza, Ethics, Translated by R H M Elwes, MTSTJ Philosophy WebWorks
Hypertext Edition 1997, http://frank.mtsu.edu/~rbombard/RB/Spinoza/ethical.html.
90. Spinoza, Ethics.
91. Bennett, Spinozas Metaphysics, 64.
56


during Spinozas time as an independent thing that conceives its own existence,
Spinoza equates God and substance so to prove that God is a being that conceives
itself. This leads to the conclusion that God exists, since Gods being is the natural
world of substance.
Following the definitions that demonstrate how God is substance, Spinoza
asserts that the essence of God/substance entails existence. The proposition states:
Existence belongs to the nature of substance (EIP7).92
To understand how the essence of God/substance entails existence, we need to
examine what the term essence means for Spinoza. The definition of essence is
implied in a later proposition:
God's power is identical with his essence (EIP34).
Here, we understand the term essence to mean power. However, the proposition does
not clarify whether or not the essence of God is different from all essences. Earle
explains that Spinoza does not deem that all essences lead to existence:
Spinoza does not assert that all essences involve existence, nor that essence as
such involves existence. Here he would insist that most essences do not and
cannot involve existence. The question concerns only one special essence, the
essence of substance, or of that "which is in itself and conceived through
itself." This one, Spinoza asserts, must involve existence; and to see why, we
must know what Spinoza means by the terms, "essence," "existence," and
"substance."
Let us first examine the notion of essence. Essence, for Spinoza, is not a
purely logical term, the mere object of any definable sign. Essence expresses
something positive, it expresses power or reality.93
92. Spinoza, Ethics.
57


In other words, the only essence that involves existence is the essence of substance,
which is identical with God. If essence expresses power or reality, then
God/substance, the only one that can conceive itself (EID3), must express the
ultimate power or reality.
Spinoza supports the claim that the essence of God/substance expresses the
ultimate reality with the reason that God/substance is an absolutely infinite being. In
EID6e, Spinoza relates God/substance as an absolutely infinite being to reality, and
offers in EIA7 that only existents can be in the reality expressed by the essence of
God/substance:
I say absolutely infinite, not infinite after its kind: for, of a thing infinite only
after its kind, infinite attributes may be denied; but that which is absolutely
infinite, contains in its essence whatever expresses reality, and involves no
negation (EID6e); If a thing can be conceived as non-existing, its essence does
not involve existence (EIA7).93 94
ELA7 has implications for interpreting EID6e. Whatever expresses reality means
that the absolutely infinite being includes all that exists. Therefore, if God is
absolutely infinite, encompassing all reality, this must, by definition, include the
natural world. And since ELA7 states that there is no thing that does not exist, this
means that there is no thing that is not part of God. This supports the definition of
EID6 that God is substance. Forsyth asserts that the reason Spinoza equates God to
93. William A Earle, The Ontological Argument in Spinoza. Philosophy and Phenomenological
Research, 11, no. 4, June 1951: 549-554, accessed May 8 2009, Published by International
Phenomenological Society, http://www.istor.Org/stable/2103966.
94. Spinoza, Ethics.
58


the ultimate reality is because to [God] must pertain all fullness of being and
completeness of nature, and because God must be conceived as eternal, infinite and
perfect being. And furthermore, [i]f God is to be all that is truly meant by God,
nothing else will suffice; since anything less than this falsifies the divine nature by
turning it into something finite and therefore imperfect.95 With Gods being
expressing the ultimate reality, God must be the perfect and complete being without
deficiency. The concept of the ultimate reality also makes certain the reality of
Gods existence, since existence is involved in the very nature of the being thus
defined.96 In this world of one reality, all things must be the parts that constitute the
entirety of the being of God/substance. This means that the substantive and natural
world serves as testament to Gods existence.
Spinoza further proves that God exists as the substantive world with
subsequent propositions that all finite things depend on God/substance for their
conception and existence:
God, or substance, consisting of infinite attributes, of which each expresses
eternal and infinite essentiality, necessarily exists (EIP11); Besides God no
substance can be granted or conceived. (EIP14); Whatsoever is, is in God,
and without God nothing can be, or be conceived'. (EIP15).97
These arguments show that God/substance must necessarily exist since all things
95. T M Forsyth, Spinozas Doctrine of God in Relation to His Conception of Causality, Philosophy,
23, no. 87, October 1948: 293, accessed October 4 2008, JSTOR http://www.istor.org.
96. Forsyth, Spinozas Doctrine of God in Relation to His Conception of Causality, 293.
97. Spinoza, Ethics.
59


carry and depend on its infinite attributes for existence. Given that nothing can be
conceived without God/substance, the ultimate reality for all finite things must be the
God/substance of which they constitute.
Asserting that Gods being is infinitely real is one of the ways Spinoza built
his argument toward ontological monism, or the One substance. Bar-Elli suggests
Spinoza was influenced by the common seventeenth century idea that a thing can be
more real than another thing by having more qualities and attributes. This logically
leads to the argument that something that contains infinite attributes and properties
would be infinitely real. Therefore, Spinoza derives from the idea of a substance its
being infinitely real, and from this that it is absolutely infinite, or God.98 Keeping
in mind the belief of his seventeenth century predecessors, Spinoza defined substance
as having infinite attributes, to argue that substance is the most real, or infinitely
real. This helped him establish that God is substance, and then argue that all of
existence is the outgrowth of substance. The understanding of substance contributed
to Spinozas development of an ontological monism in which all beings exist in
God/substance. He stated:
Existence belongs to the nature of substance (EIP7).99
This meant that all things are bom from a single source, that is the One substance.
98. Gilead Bar-Elli, Spinozas Modal-Ontological Argument for Monism, March 28, 2006: 2,
accessed April 14, 2010, http://www.bar-elli.co.il/SDinoza-P14.Ddf.
99. Spinoza, Ethics.
60


The God/substance as ultimate reality argument also counters the Judeo-Christian
understanding of Gods being as external to the natural world.100 It offers instead that
God is the only substance in which all finite things consist as modes, and that reality
exists within the natural world. Thus, Spinozas ontology is simultaneously the study
of Gods being as well as the study of reality of the natural world.
Spinozas idea of the One substance further solves the issue of the infinite
regression of being, which problematizes the existence of God in an infinite chain of
causality. The issue stems from attempting to identify the first cause of all of
existence, which begs the question of the antecedent cause of the first cause. Spinoza
approaches this problem in two ways: 1) Prove that all things depend on
God/substance for their existence, and 2) God/substance is causa-sui, and necessarily
exists by self-causality. Each approach is elaborated below.
First, to prove that all things exist by God/substance, he proposes that each
thing can be distinguished from another by the attribute it carries, implying that all
things are modes of God/substance101:
Two or more distinct things are distinguished one from the other either by the
difference of the attributes of the substances, or by the difference of their
modifications (EIP4).102
100. Jacub Jirsa, The ethical significance of substance-God difference, EBSCO, accessed May 10,
2010, http://www.ebscohost.com/. 4.
101. In EID5, a mode is defined as that which exists in, and is conceived through, something other
than itself. A thing, by nature carries the attribute of God/substance, would be a mode. By
stating in EIP4 that things can be distinguished from the other by the attributes they carry,
Spinoza is implying that all things are modes of God/substance.
102. Spinoza, Ethics.
61


Every existent is a modification of the only substance because each existent carries
an attribute. With the ideas that attributes are properties of the One substance, and
each existent can carry different attributes, Spinoza is able to explain why things can
be distinguished from each other in a monistic system. This eliminates the problem
of infinite regress when existents are constituents or modes of the One substance
that produced them; the vision of the One substance suggests that there is only One
cause of all things, which eliminates the problem of identifying a first cause.
Second, Spinoza introduces God/substance as causa-sui to prove that God,
whose nature is substance, necessarily exists as the cause of all things in the
substantive world. He states that:
One substance cannot be produced by another substance (EIP6).103
Since nothing precedes or produces substance, it follows that God/substance must
have caused its own existence.104 With further propositions that God is substance:
God, or substance consisting of infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal
and infinite essentiality, necessarily exists (EIP11),105 and that all things are
conceived by God: besides God no substance can be granted or conceived'
103. Spinoza, Ethics.
104. Jirsa, The ethical significance of substance-God difference, 5.
105. Spinoza, Ethics.
62


(EIP14),106 Spinoza presents a monism based on God/substance.
If we are to accept that all things are conceived by and exist within
God/substance, then logically all things would be subject to the causality of
God/substance. Spinoza does address the condition of a thing as a mode:
Individual things are nothing but modifications of the attributes of God, or
modes by which the attributes of God are expressed in a fixed and definite
manner (EIPC25c); [a] thing, which has been conditioned by God to act in a
particular way, cannot render itself unconditioned (EIP27).107
These propositions show that a thing is by essence a mode of God, and thus if God
acts, a thing must act as well, since a thing is conditioned to act like God. The
substantive world, which is constitutive of God, is conditioned by God to obey the
laws of causality. In a corollary to a later proposition, Spinoza clarifies that
God/substance is the sole cause of being, and without God/substance, nothing can
exist:
God is cause of the being of things (essendi rerum). For whether things exist,
or do not exist, whenever we contemplate their essence, we see that it involves
neither existence nor duration; consequently, it cannot be the cause of either
the one or the other. God must be the sole cause, inasmuch as to him alone
does existence appertain. (Prop. xiv. Coroll, i.) Q.E.D. (EIP24c)108
In other words, God causes the conception of all beings, and no individual being can
cause another being to be conceived. All essences are derived from the only cause
106. Spinoza, Ethics.
107. Spinoza, Ethics.
108. Spinoza, Ethics.
63


that is God.
By proving God/substance is causa-sui and the cause of all things, Spinoza
arrives at the proposition that God/substance and nature refer to the same entity. He
distinguishes nature into two types, as active and passive natures, to support his
proposition. According to Spinoza, if the natural world is the place of cause and
effect,109 and God/substance is the cause of all things, then God/substance must also
be the natural world. In EIP29p, Spinoza provides the characteristics for nature that
appear identical to that of God/substance; he differentiates nature into two types, as
active nature (natura naturans), and passive nature (natura naturata), and then details
how they resemble aspects of God/substance:
[B]y nature viewed as active we should understand that which is in itself, and
is conceived through itself, or those attributes of substance, which express
eternal and infinite essence, in other words (Prop, xiv., Coroll, i., and Prop,
xvii., Coroll, ii.) God, in so far as he is considered as a free cause.
By nature viewed as passive I understand all that which follows from the
necessity of the nature of God, or of any of the attributes of God, that is, all
the modes of the attributes of God, in so far as they are considered as things
which are in God, and which without God cannot exist or be conceived.
(EIP29p)110
Spinoza associates active nature (natura naturans) and passive nature (natura
naturata) to the nature of God/substance: Natura naturans is a free cause that
conceives through itself infinite attributes of substance; And, natura naturata refers
109. It is the position of the rationalists and seventeenth century thinkers that the world functions on
causality.
110. Spinoza, Ethics.
64


to modes that exist by God/substance, and must depend on God/substance for their
existence. In other words, the active nature defines Gods causa-sui nature, while the
passive nature exhibits characteristics of things that exist within God/substance.
Natures properties are thus the same as those in God/substance. Jirsa argues that the
unity of the three entities, substance, nature and God, have significant affect on
Spinozas later propositions:
[S]ubstance, nature (as natura naturans) and God are one and the same
entity, ens absolutum, as a fundamental self-causing active principle. Each of
these is ens absolutum, albeit ens absolutum as grasped from a particular point
of view. This absolute being manifests itself in different ways and as such
must be conceived, but it cannot be conceived in an adequate way if we do not
see the unity of these different manifestations.111
The three entities represent different manifestations of God. In addition to Jirsas
argument, I believe that Spinoza unifies the three entities in order to present a
coherent, monistic view of the world. This view serves as the foundation for his later
ethical claims regarding the moral conduct of human beings who are constitutive of
the world they live in. Furthermore, given that the natural world is the manifestation
of Gods being, then one can argue that the laws of cause and effect in the natural
world reflect the laws inherent in God/substance. This has implications on Spinozas
later ethical claims that human beings, as part of the natural world, are subject to the
laws of cause and effect. Spinoza emphasizes that human beings are part of Nature in
Part IV of the Ethics:
111. Jirsa, The ethical significance of substance-God difference. 5.
65


It is impossible, that man should not be apart of Nature, or that he should be
capable of undergoing no changes, save such as can be understood through
his nature only as their adequate cause (EIVP4).//2
Spinoza suggests, through this proposition, that human beings, as part of Nature, can
change their nature according to causes in the natural world. In this sense, the
behaviors of human beings are connected to the natural world. Spinozas ethics will
be discussed more extensively in Chapter Four.
In the next section, I will discuss what Laozi means by Dao, and how the
concept is similar to Spinozas concept of God/substance. Other similarities will be
revealed as well, such as how Spinozas unification of the three manifestations of
God mirrors Laozis unification of the three manifestations of Dao. The discussion
will show that Laozi, like Spinoza, correlates the ontological force to the natural
world.
Laozis Dao
Laozis definition of Dao resembles Spinozas God/substance in many ways,
in that Dao possesses the properties that are similar to God/substance, such as having
infinite attributes, being the ultimate reality and being the source of the natural world,
Dao's ontological status, however, is not as clearly defined as God/substance. Laozi
describes Dao as a Mystery of all mysteries in Chapter One, showing that the term
cannot be limited to definition. The lack of clarification points to the ineffability of 112
112. Spinoza. Ethics.
66


Dao, which frustrates many scholars who want to decipher the concept. Lai
advocates Charles Fus influential interpretation as a beginning point for
comprehending Daos complexity: Charles Fu identifies six dimensions of dao:
material reality (reality and manifestation), origin, principle, function, virtue and
technique (1973). These six dimensions are, effectively, different ways of
conceptualising dao\ they are not mutually exclusive categories.113 Fus
interpretation makes apparent the difficulty in pinpointing the exact meaning of Dao,
when the concept contains possibly six dimensions. Thus, the interpretation of Dao
will vary depending on the context of the chapter in which the term appears. The
definition of the term is further complicated by its etymological meaning, which
carries differs from its philosophical meaning. Shen explains:
Laozi posits dao as the most important concept in his system of thought,
replacing heaven in ancient Chinese thought as representing the ultimate
reality. Etymologically, the Chinese word dao means a way on which one
could work out a direction and a way out. It could also mean to say, to
speak, or to discourse, though this aspect is generally denied by Laozi, for
whom the function of discourse is always taken in its negative sense.114
For this paper, the philosophical meaning of Dao as the replacement for the ancient
Chinese concept of heaven and ultimate reality is of interest. Rather than
focusing on the etymological meaning of Dao, which refers to the function of
discourse that Laozi viewed negatively, I will explore the philosophical meaning of
113. Karyn L Lai, An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy, (New York: Cambridge University Press,
2008), 74.
114. Shen, Laozi (Lao Tzu), 356.
67


Dao in my interpretation of the DDJ. This, in turn, will allow me to compare the
philosophical ideas that are shared between Spinozas and Laozis texts.
Like Spinoza, Laozi begins the DDJ with the definition of Dao as the
foundation for his ontological system, but the definition does not clearly show if Dao
itself is a being or a non-being. The literal meaning of the term is Way,115 116 implying
that it refers to a force, and not a physical entity. At first, Chapter One defines Dao
(iI)//<5 as the nameless origin of all things:
TAO can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao.
Names can be named, but not the Eternal Name.
As the origin of heaven-and-earth, it is nameless:
As "the Mother" of all things, it is nameable.
So, as ever hidden, we should look at its inner essence:
As always manifest, we should look at its outer aspects.
These two flow from the same source, though differently named;
And both are called mysteries.
The Mystery of mysteries is the Door of all essence. (DDJ l)117
115. Note: Chan translates the first verse of Chapter One as: The Tao (Way) that can be told of is not
the eternal Tao. Tao and Way appear equivalent in this verse.
Laozi, The Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching), quoted in The Natural Way Of Lao Tzu, in A Source
Book In Chinese Philosophy, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963, 139.
116. There are two phonetic pronunciations of the word jS as Tao or Dao. Since Dao is the closer
phonetic pronunciation of the word, I will use Dao to refer to iM throughout my analysis of
DDJ. Please note that Dao and Tao both refer to the word ill, and that certain quotes in this
paper will use Tao to refer to the same Chinese word.
117. Note: Out of more than one hundred translated versions of DDJ, I choose to utilize the
translations from John C. H. Wus version and Wing-Tsit Chans version for philosophical
analysis, because both Wu and Chan present more literal and scholarly translations of the
Chinese text. When appropriate, I will use verses from both versions to support my
interpretation. Herein, all references to English translations of DDJ are from either Wus or
Chans version.
Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching, 3.
68


it bT31, m, W £iH1feS
&nm, ; #*r, jttm#, i^
Hf££o ££X£, MW>2.Flo (£>£>./1)118
The first two lines differentiate Dao (iH) from the Eternal Dao" ('ffi'xS), suggesting
that the term Dao cannot directly define or name that which is Eternal. Ergo, the
term Eternal Dao serves as a linguistic placeholder for something that is ineffable.
The concept of Dao also presents many paradoxical properties that speak to its
mutable nature. According to the fifth and sixth lines, Dao has both the properties of
the hidden or nothingness119 ($S) and the manifest or thingness120 (W). The
above lines clarify the meaning of the third and fourth lines that Dao becomes the
origin of heaven (^c) and earth when it is nameless, or has no name
(£), and that Dao becomes the Mother of all things when it can be
named, or has name121 (#£). This shows that Dao can change between the state of
118. Herein, all references to the original Chinese texts of DDJ are from this online version.
Laozi, Lau-zi dao de jing, Project Gutenberg, May 10, 2009, Produced by Ching-yi Chen,
accessed June 6, 2010, http://www.eutenberg.org/cache/epub/7337/pg7337.html.
119. Note: The literal translation of (fffi) is nothingness; due to the difficulty of translating the poetic
language of DDJ into English, John C. H. Wu altered the meaning of specific Chinese words
in order to translate each verse in DDJ as coherent English sentences. For the sake of doing
philosophical analysis of specific words and phrases in the Chinese context, I provide next to
Wus translations the additional literal meaning for those words and phrases. Herein, all notes
regarding literal translation of Chinese words signal my additions.
120. Note: The literal translation of (^T) is thingness.
121. Note: The literal translation of ) is has name.
69


being nothing and being something. Since a name is used to identify a being, naming
Dao as the Mother would designate Dao as a being. Yet, Dao seems to be a non-
being as the nameless origin of the universe. It follows that the Mother and the
origin describe two different states of Dao, which leaves the question of Duos
ontological status. However, the end of Chapter One does not offer a satisfactory
answer to this question. The last two lines affirm that Dao itself is the Mystery (30
of all mysteries, and that we are to accept it as the origin of all essences (J$) without
explanation. Furthermore, nothing in the DDJ offers a clarification of why the
concept is a Mystery, or explicitly states whether it refers to a being or a non-being.
However, the fact that Dao is the first concept defined in the DDJ, and is
continuously defined throughout other chapters, shows the importance of Dao in
Laozis metaphysics.
Many scholars attempt to address the contradiction of Dao as simultaneously
a being and non-being, and Shen offers an interesting interpretation of the terms Wu
or Nonbeing (M) and You or being (^f) that solves the contradiction. He suggests
that the terms do not designate Dao's ontological status, but rather, they describe the
ontological moments in which Dao manifests:
Nonbeing (wu) and being (you) can be seen as the two ontological moments
through which the dao manifests itself. The dao first manifests itself into
nonbeing, as the realm of possibilities. When compared with actuality these
are nonbeing, but in themselves they are marvelous possibilities. From this
realm of nonbeing some possibilities are realized in the realm of being, and to
become being is to take the form of body. That is why the realm of being is
70


rare and the realm of nonbeing is much richer.122
According to this view, Dao manifests in different forms according to the ontological
moment. Since Wu or non-being is the place where Dao, the Door to all essences,
fully realizes all of its possibilities, it follows that the essences represent the
possibilities for the fruition of being. To understand in another way, Wu or nonbeing,
describes the momentary reserve of possibilities with which Dao can manifest. It is
in the moment of You or being that Dao manifests as the Mother of all things in the
realm of being. In this sense, the essences of all things come from the essences of
Dao.
Laozis Dao resembles Spinozas God/substance in that it gives birth to all
things. However, Dao is further credited as being the origin of both the earth, or the
substantive realm, and heaven, or the non-substantive realm. Though the addition of
the term, heaven, may seem to indicate that God/substance and Dao conceive and
encompass different ontological realms, an analysis of heaven will show that it refers
to one of the essences possessed by both God/substance and Dao. We need to first
examine the definition of heaven in Chinese thought, in order to understand its place
in the ontological system of Dao. According to Moeller:
The Chinese term for heaven (tian) is ... often translated as nature.
Heaven is not something transcendent, not something beyond or after this
world, but the center of the worlds functioning. Heaven is the course of the
celestial bodies and thus the course of the seasons and the course of time
122. Shen, Laozi (Lao Tzu), 357.
71


123
itself. It is the cycle of life that life passes through.
The Chinese use the term heaven to represent time in which the cycle of life, the
course of the seasons and the course of the celestial bodies take place. In other
words, the essence of heaven expresses cyclical time of the world. Since the
functionality of the world is based on time, heaven is rendered as an essential part of
Dao, the Mother of all things. The word cyclical also represents infinity, which
means that cyclical time refers to eternity. Heaven, then, is a term synonymous with
eternity. It reasons that Dao, which encompasses heaven, has the property of eternity.
Like Laozi, Spinoza also ascribes to God/substance the property of eternity. He
provides the definition of the infinite being, and then proposes that Gods being is
eternal:
By eternity, I mean existence itself, in so far as it is conceived necessarily to
follow solely from the definition of that which is eternal (EED8)123 124; God, and
all the attributes of God, are eternal (EEP9).125
Since God/substance, its attributes, and all that are conceived by God/substance are
eternal, this shows that eternity, or infinite time, is one of the properties of
God/substance. In this way, God/substance and Dao share the property of time.
The essence of Dao, like the essence of God/substance, expresses the ultimate
reality for all things. Yet, the difference between Dao and God/substance is that Dao
123. Moeller, The Philosophy of the Daodejing, 17.
124. Spinoza, Ethics.
125. Spinoza, Ethics.
72


is a non-being that can express reality. Chapter Fourteen mentions the realities that
constitute the timeless Dao:
LOOK at it but you cannot see it!
Its name is Formless.
Listen to it but you cannot hear it!
Its name is Soundless.
Grasp it but you cannot get it!
Its name is Incorporeal.
These three attributes are unfathomable;
Therefore they fuse into one.
Its upper side is not bright:
Its under side not dim.
Continually the Unnameable moves on,
Until it returns beyond the realm of things.
We call it the formless Form, the imageless Image.
We call it the indefinable and unimaginable.
Confront it and you do not see its face!
Follow it and you do not see its back!
Yet, equipped with this timeless Tao,
You can harness present realities.
To know the origins is initiation into the Tao. (DDJ14)126 127
£0 r^j ; £0 r#j : m&m £0 rw
The first six lines explain that Dao has the three attributes (#) of formless
(51), soundless (#), and incorporeal ($%). The fact that one cannot see, hear, or
get Dao means that this term refers to Dao's incorporeal state. Dao is also
126. Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching, 29.
127. Laozi. Lau-zi dao de jing.
73


128
unfathomable, since it originates from beyond the realm of things, or the nothing
($&%)). Thus, its three attributes are necessarily unfathomable and can be fused into
one or blended into one128 129 ). This mixture depicts Dao as the one reality
that is comprised of all things. However, since the word timeless indicates that
Dao is infinite, this means that finite beings are derived from the infinite non-being,
which is a contradiction. It follows that the present or timed realities by which
finite things exist are not the timeless Dao. How, then, can finite things have direct
access to Dao? If Dao is to be understood as the only reality, then present realities
would refer to the incomplete parts of the only reality for the realm of things. In this
way, finite beings have limited access through present realities that partially
constitute the ultimate reality of Dao. There is still hope, however, that one can
access the ultimate reality. The last two lines hint that one can initiate the timeless
Dao by equipping it. The fact that we can equip Dao reveals that Dao is readily
available in the realm of things. Thus, Dao is the ultimate reality for all things,
though it is hidden and unfathomable.
Laozis use of the concept of an ultimate reality parallels Spinozas use, in
that both philosophers use the concept to construct a coherent monistic system. In the
DDJ, the reasoning for equating Dao to the ultimate reality is to suggest that Dao is
the one reality that encompasses all of existence. Spinoza also presents
128. Note: The literal translation of (M$>) is nothing.
129. Note: The literal translation of ) is blended into one.
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God/substance as the ultimate reality to emphasize the oneness of reality for all
things. Both philosophers interestingly consider that there are varying degrees of
realities, and to unite existence as one, they posit that all things are derived from one,
ultimate reality. In the case of the DDJ, Laozi claims in Chapter One that there are
two types of Dao, Dao (iS) and the Eternal Dao (SiM), that express varying degrees
of reality. Lai asserts that out of the two, only the Eternal Dao is the ultimate reality:
According to Daodejing 1, there are two daos, one real (chang dao) and the
other apparent, superficial or impermanent (the dao that can be told). Passages
in the Daodejing suggest that chang dao, conceived of as the entirety of
reality, is greater than the sum of its individual parts (chapter 14). This is
because the relationships between the individual entities are also an important
part of dao.'30 Individual entities inevitably act on and mutually influence
others; the resulting whole is dynamic and ceaselessly transforming. The
dynamic interactions and mutual influences among all things comprising dao
contribute to its ineffability and mystery (chapters 14, 16, 39, 42). 31
As opposed to the apparent, superficial or impermanent Dao, Lai suggests that the
permanent, hidden and Eternal Dao is more real, because only the Eternal Dao is
comprised of the entirety of all parts of reality. Shen offers another interpretation of
the difference between Dao and the Eternal Dao:
[T]he dao [is] the always self-manifesting ultimate reality. The self-
manifesting dao is reality itself, whereas all we say about the dao is but
constructed reality, which is not and never could it be reality itself. This is
as shown by Laozis saying The dao that could be said is not the constant
dao.'32 130 131 132
130. Lai, An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy, 75.
131. Lai, An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy, 75.
132. Shen, Laozi (Lao Tzu), 356.
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For Shen, the self-manifesting Dao is the one that presents reality. Anything that we
can say about Dao is our superficial construction of what we think the concept is.
We can never get to its essence by speaking about it. In other words, language
imposes an interpretation on Dao that distances us further from accessing the true
reality of the Eternal Dao. This idea that the Eternal Dao is more real than the
impermanent Dao (Dao that can be spoken of) is similar to Spinozas idea that
God/substance is the ultimate reality. I mentioned in the previous section of this
paper that Spinoza adopted the common seventeenth century belief that the more
real something is, the more qualities or attributes it has.133 It is by this belief that
Spinoza asserted that God/substance has infinite attributes, to demonstrate that
God/substance is the ultimate reality for all things. For Laozi, Eternal Dao is the
ultimate reality by the reason that it is comprised of the entirety of the realm of
beings. Both God/substance and Eternal Dao are elevated to the highest category by
their property of completeness. It is by attributing the property of the ultimately real
or completeness to God/substance or Dao that Spinoza and Laozi are able to create a
monistic ontological system in which all things are inextricably connected to that
origin.
To maintain that Dao is the ontological ground, Laozi made subsequent
claims in Chapter Forty and Forty-Two that all things depend on Dao (iH) for their
133. Bar-Elli, Spinozas Modal-Ontological Argument for Monism, 2.
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conception. According to Chapter Forty:
THE movement of the Tao consists in Returning.
The use of the Tao consists in softness.
All things under heaven are bom of the corporeal:
The corporeal is bom of the Incorporeal. (DDJ 40)134 135
(ddj40)135
The word Returning (S) characterizes Dao (iH) as moving between bipolarities.
The idea of bipolarity is related to the conception and behavior of beings. In the third
and fourth lines, the corporeal are said to be bom (^£) under heaven (^),
the incorporeal realm. This would suggest that heaven is the source of all that is
corporeal. However, since we learn from Chapter One that Dao encompasses both
heaven and earth, this would mean that Dao (iM) would be the origin of both the
corporeal and the incorporeal. Chapter Forty-Two further details the cosmic birthing
process from the single source that is Dao (iM):
TAO gave birth to One,
One gave birth to Two,
Two gave birth to Three,
Three gave birth to all the myriad things.
All the myriad things carry the Yin on their backs and hold the Yang in their
embrace,
Deriving their vital harmony from the proper blending of the two vital
Breaths. (DDJ 42)136
134. Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching, 83.
135. Laozi. Lau-zi dao de jing.
136. Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching, 87.
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ii£-
(DDJ 42)137
Being conceived by Z)ao, all the myriad things (M#!)) possess the attributes of
Yin (PH) and Yang ($k), and their vitality depends on balancing the two vital
Breaths (M) of Yin and Yang. Like all things in Spinozas system, the myriad
things in Laozis system carry and exist by the attributes of Dao, specifically Yin and
Yang. This shows that Dao, like God/substance, is present within all existents. The
ontological metaphysics in the Ethics and the DDJ are constructed with the
understanding that all things are connected to God/substance or Dao through the
attributes.
The purpose of Chapter Forty and Forty-Two is to establish the oneness of
the creative force of Dao. Chapter Forty presents the Eternal Dao as that which
moves between bipolarities, and Chapter Forty-Two confirms that all things are not
only bom from the Eternal Dao, but that they bear its attributes of Yin and Yang.
The two chapters demonstrate that the Eternal Dao is a moving force within all
existents, and supports the argument that the dynamic interaction between individual
entities contributes to the Eternal Dao as the Mystery, or the ineffable reality for all
things.
Based on the definition of Dao as the ultimate reality, Laozi then proposes
that there are specific categories of existence that share the same ontological status
137. Laozi. Lau-zi dao dejing.
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within a Dao centered ontological system. Chapter Twenty-Five distinguishes all the
great ontological categories and where human beings are positioned in the universe:
I do not know its name; I call it Tao.
If forced to give it a name, I shall call it Great.
Now being great means functioning everywhere.
Functioning everywhere means far-reaching.
Being far-reaching means returning to the original point.
Therefore Tao is great.
Heaven is great.
Earth is great.
1 IQ
And [humankind] is also great.
There are four great things in the universe, and [humankind] is one of them.
[Humankind] models himself after Earth.
Earth models itself after Heaven.
Heaven models itself after Tao.
And Tao models itself after Nature (DDJ 25).138 139
3#j=2BiI, &&2£B*0 AB2r, 3fiBia, iaBKo
MA, AA, ifiA, A/#*o $*^EA, lAEI-t AM,
HUM, AM, (DDJ25)140
The word great (A), affixed to several terms throughout this Chapter, has the
138. Wing-Tsit Chan refers to Wang Pi and Ho-shang Kung version of DDJ to translate the word A
into the word King, but the literal translation of A is Human or Humankind. Chan
does address the problem by suggesting that the word King should be understood as
representing man. To prevent possible connotations of the word King from affecting the
overall interpretation of this Chapter, I will use the word, Humankind, in my analysis. To
support my translation, scholars also find the translation King to be erroneous. According to
Shen: In making the king one of the four categories of existence, the text has committed an
error, misplacing a category and politicizing ontological thinking. Also, how can one put the
dao, earth, heaven, and humankind into the realm of a kingdom and change the status of these
categories of existence into categories of the political? Shen suggests an ontological
politicizing occurs when the word A is translated into King, which carries a far more
political connotation than a literal translation.
Shen, Laozi (Lao Tzu), 357.
139. Lao Tzu. Tao Teh Ching. p. 51.
140. Laozi. The Lao Tzu (Tao-Te Ching). Translated by Wing-Tsit Chan, 152.
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purpose of assigning to those terms ontological value. The term first appears in the
fourth line to suggests that Dao is great (ill A) by its ability to simultaneously
move forward and return, or make bipolar movements; since Dao is the origin of
heaven and earth and the Mother of all things (DDJ\), it follows that the universe
is a bipolarized place in which the force ontologically moves and conceives. Then, in
lines seven through ten, the word great is applied to three additional terms: Heaven
is great (A A), Earth is great (ililA), and [Humankind] is great (A A). The
word great elevates Heaven, Earth and humankind to the status of Dao, implying that
Heaven, Earth, humankind and Dao represent four ontological categories. Finally,
lines thirteen through sixteen present the interdependency of those four ontological
categories by the way they model after each other: In this equation, [Humankind]
models himself after Earth (Afeitil), Earth models itself after Heaven (i&feA),
Heaven models itself after Tao (Afeii) and And Tao models itself after Nature
(iSfe fl #&). Since humankind, Earth and Heaven essentially all model themselves
after Nature, or Dao, this means that Dao is the originator of and the archetype for the
models of all ontological categories. Since humankind models or is subjected to the
laws of the Earth, or the natural world, this shows that the universe is not human-
centric, but rather, that humankind, like all other ontological categories, are subjected
to the laws of Dao. This cyclical order where all things are derived from and models
themselves after Dao, and that Dao models after itself, allows Laozi to argue that all
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existence, including humankind, is subject to the ways or Daos inherent order. In
this way, there is no hierarchical order in Laozis ontological system.
Like Laozi, Spinoza asserts that all ontological categories, including
humankind, exist as constituents of the greater whole of the natural world. By
creating a vision of the One universe, Spinoza also does not assert that there is
hierarchy in his ontological system. Younkins explains Spinozas system:
There is no ontological hierarchy for Spinoza. For him, the transcendent world
does not exist. He proclaims there is no world except the existing one. In
Spinoza's pantheistic notion there is only one substance (God), an absolutely
infinite being made up of infinite attributes of which only two, thought and
physical extension, are known by man. He states that God's existence is
necessary and that, because there is nothing other than the divine substance
and its modifications, there is nothing that is contingent.141
Since there is no world beyond the One universe, and that all things are parts of the
body of God/substance, one cannot distinguish ontological hierarchy in Spinozas
system. Furthermore, this system justifies existence: All existents are necessary, in
that they necessarily constitute the body of God/substance. Both Spinoza and Laozi
establish ontological categories for making later ethical claims. For example, the
vision of One universe means that human beings are subjected to the other
ontological categories, and are subjected to the laws of nature. My view is also
supported by Younkins interpretation:
All entities, including man, are determined by universal natural laws to exist
141. Edward W Younkins, Spinoza, on Freedom, Ethics, and Politics, Le Quebecois Libre, no. 178,
May 7, 2006, accessed July 18, 2010, The Radical Academy,
http://www.radicalacademv.com/studentrefphilEWY.htm.
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and to act in a given definite and fixed manner. Spinoza maintains that all
things in the universe are modifications of the same single substance and,
therefore, not totally free in the sense in being able to do anything
whatsoever.142
Though human beings, as modes, have to follow the inherent order of God/substance,
Spinoza argues that we still have certain freedoms as individuals in this monistic
worldview. Spinozas ethical propositions and the implications of God/substance and
Dao on the conduct on human beings will be discussed at length in Chapter Four.
Finally, we arrive at the main point of comparison that is the focus of this
section, which is Laozis equation of the natural world to Dao. Laozi ascribes to
Nature the attribute of creation, in order to show that Nature is itself the ontological
force. He associates various natural elements with the birthing process. The most
prominent element of nature associated with birth is the valley that appears in
Chapter Six:
The spirit of the valley never dies.
It is called the subtle and profound female.
The gate of the subtle and profound female
Is the root of Heaven and Earth.
It is continuous, and seems to be always existing.
Use it and you will never wear it out. (DDJ 6)14
IlJfto P!,
(zm/6)144
142. Younkins, Spinoza, on Freedom, Ethics, and Politics.
143. Laozi. The Lao Tzu (Tao-Te Ching). Translated by Wing-Tsit Chan, 142.
144. Laozi, Lau-zi dao de jing.
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The valley (£r) is associated with female (fti), gate (F^) and root (), which
all depict the origins of birth in the natural world. However, the spirit (#) refers to
that which never dies, meaning that the spirit refers to that which is infinite. Since
the fourth line describes the spirit as the root that precedes the existence of Heaven
and Earth, this suggests that the spirit is from the realm of non-being, or the space of
possibilities, whereas the valley exists in the realm of being, or the natural world.145
The spirit of the valley, then, would be the Nature, or the ontological force that
actualizes beings in the natural world. Moreover, given that Chapter One states Dao
is the origin of Heaven and Earth, this would render the spirit of the valley (#)
as another name or expression for Dao. In this sense, the spirit of the valley as
Nature carries the attribute of creation. This interpretation is further evidenced by the
fifth line that the spirit of the valley is always existing. Since Dao is eternal, and
the spirit of the valley always exists, they are, ergo, synonymous terms. This Dao
that represents the spirit refers to the manifestation of the Eternal Dao in the realm
of non-beings. Since Chapter One makes a distinction between Dao (non-permanent)
and the Eternal Dao (permanent), this means that Dao, the Eternal Dao and the
natural world are three manifestations of the single entity that originates the
145. See page 68-69 on the explanation of the two ontological moments, Wu or Nonbeing (M) and You
or being (W), in which Dao manifests.
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universe.146 The natural world is thus one of the manifestations of Dao that
ontologically acts upon existence.
The purpose of Chapter Three is to demonstrate that both Spinozas
God/substance and Laozis Dao exhibit similar properties and attributes, and consist
of the natural world. Like Spinozas God/substance, whose essence is the power for
existence, Dao's essence is the force for creation, and their essences are expressed by
the birthing process of Nature (the concept refers to the ontological force). Dao also
carries properties like those of God/substance. For example, it possesses the attribute
of causa-sui, in that it can manifest itself, either in the realm of being or non-being,
and acts as an infinite, creative force that shapes the order of the natural world. Since
all other ontological categories (Heaven, Earth, Human Beings) are derived from and
follow after Dao, or that which is inherent in the natural world and its way of
functioning, it follows that the laws of the natural world necessarily are modeled after
the laws inherent in Dao. Nature is thus its manifestation in the realm of being. The
above descriptions correlate Dao to the characteristics of God/substance, and present
a monistic view of the world existing by and within its originator. Finally, the
chapter concludes with the revelation that Laozis depiction of Dao with its three
manifestations of Dao, the Eternal Dao and the natural world appears similar to
Spinozas unification of the three manifestations of God, substance, and the natural
146. There are other mentions of nature in DDJ, but those mentions are related to how ethics and
morality follow the laws of nature. Some mentions of nature will be discussed in terms of
ethics and morality in Chapter Four.
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world.
All of the similarities culminate in the idea of One substance or One universe.
I have shown that Spinoza and Laozi each establishes an ontological definition as the
foundation for their monistic systems: In Part I of the Ethics, Spinoza provides an
elaborate definition of God as substance and Nature, which helps him argue that all
beings in the natural world are parts that constitute God, the One substance; in
Chapter One and supplemental Chapters of the DDJ, Laozi provides the definition of
Dao as the origin of the universe and an ontological force in the natural world, to
argue that all natural elements constitute the One universe. These similarities make
apparent that Spinoza and Laozi include nature as part of their respective definitions
of God/substance and Dao, to forward an ontological monism based on nature and its
forces.
Ontology of Nature as the Basis of Ethics
I believe that Spinoza and Laozi incorporate the natural world in their
ontologies to make subsequent propositions that ethical and moral conduct should
follow nature, a place governed by the laws of cause and effect. Miller argues, in
terms of Spinozas philosophy, that the natures of all beings contain and are governed
by natura naturata: It is true that within modified naturewhat Spinoza sometimes
calls natura naturatabeings are governed by both the laws inherent in their own
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natures and the laws of the natures of higher-level beings.147 In ELP29p, Spinoza
explains that there are two types of nature, active nature (natura naturans), and
passive nature (natura naturata), and natura naturata is inherent in the nature of all
modifications, including human beings. In this way, the laws of nature are inherent in
and govern the nature of human beings, and thus human beings are subject to the laws
of nature. Lucash adds that human beings are further affected by other parts of
nature: Because we are part of nature, we are limited by other parts which are more
powerful than we are. (E4P2, P3).148 Like all constitutive parts of nature, human
beings are affected by the laws of causality in nature, as well as by the causality of
other natural elements. Following this logic, Spinoza asserts that society, whose
members are part of the causal world, should model its laws to the laws of physics, or
the laws of cause and effect of the natural world. His ethical propositions are derived
from his definition of God/substance as Nature.
For Laozi, ascribing Dao's ontological power to the natural world means that
all things in the natural world are subject to the ways that Dao functions. This has
implication on the moral and ethical ways that human beings should function as well.
Moeller puts forth the theory that Dao represents the model of efficacy, in that it
effects the functioning of the elements of nature, and all beings that exist within
147. Jon Miller, Spinoza and the Concept of a Law of Nature, History of Philosophy Quarterly, 20,
no. 3, 2003: 263.
148. Frank Lucash, The Origin and Development of Spinozas Political Philosophy, Southwest
Philosophy Review, 21, no. 2, 2005: 6.
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nature:
The Dao of the Laozi seems to be the way (this is the literal meaning of the
word) that processes (or mechanisms or organisms or things) function when
they function well. The images show that this model of efficacy is not limited
to a particular realm. It is applicable to nature or the cosmos as well as to
social or political issues. It applies to agriculture, government, and also
artisanship. It may be taken into account when growing and nourishing plants
and animals, when ordering a community, producing things, or, in general,
when living between heaven and earth.14
Moeller suggests that the ways of Dao, the model of efficacy, structures every aspect
of human life, including the order of society and politics. The ethical philosophy of
the DDJ, in this way, resembles the one proposed by the Ethics. In the following
chapter, I will show how Spinozas and Laozis ethical and moral claims are related
to their ontological systems. 149
149. Moeller, The Philosophy of the Daodejing, 20.
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4. ETHICS FROM ONTOLOGY OF NATURE
I will demonstrate that the coherence of Spinozas and Laozis propositions on
the ethics of being are contingent on the pre-established ontological monisms of
God/substance and Dao. Their assertions of what determines the behaviors of human
beings are based on the proposition that all beings, including human beings, are parts
of the One substance for Spinoza, and parts of the One universe for Laozi. By
equating God/substance and Dao to the natural world, the nature of human beings
becomes subject to natural causality. Spinoza and Laozi thus propose an ethics of
self-preservation based on the premise that the natural world exerts causal influence
that threatens to destroy beings.
Spinozas Conatus and Laozis De
The ontological principles in the Ethics and in the DDJ serve as links to the
development of ethical arguments. The basis of Spinozas ethical claims is the
ontological principle of conatus, and the basis of Laozis ethical claims is the
ontological principle of De. Both of these principles are present in the nature of
human beings. Through the principles, human beings can achieve individuality, and
achieve a virtuous life. The significance of the principles to the understanding of
human nature will be discussed at length and compared in the following section.
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Conatus and the Ethics of Self-Preservation
The nexus between Spinozas ontology and ethics is the proposition that
everything has the power to persist in its own being, or the power of self-
preservation. In a similar placement to the definition of substance at the very
beginning of the Part I of the Ethics, this proposition is placed at the beginning of Part
III of the Ethics entitled, On the Origin and Nature of the Emotions, to serve as the
foundation of later propositions on the nature of human beings. Most Spinozan
scholars interpret the power to persist in its own being as the power of conatus,
which can be translated as the endeavor to exist, or the power of self-preservation.150
Younkins explains that for Spinoza, conatus is inherent in human nature, and a law by
which a being can be distinct from another:
According to Spinoza, primacy of self-interest is a basic law of human nature.
He says that human beings share a common drive for self-preservation and
seek to maintain the power of their being. Conatus is the power to preserve in
being. Spinozas conatus principle states that human individuals aim to persist
in being in order to assert themselves in the world in their distinct
individuality. Like all things in nature, man through his body and through his
mind strives to persevere in his being and his mind is conscious of this
striving. It is in mans capacity to think that he differs from all other natural
entities.151
This inherent power allows individuals to preserve their being and assert their
individuality in the world, and it has far reaching implications on moral and ethical
behaviors, and on the nature of human beings who possess this power. My
150. Jirsa, The ethical significance of substance-God difference in Spinozas Ethics I, 6.
151. Younkins. Spinoza, on Freedom, Ethics, and Politics.
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interpretation agrees with Jacob Jirsa; Spinoza asserts that the ontological principle of
conatus is inherent in beings to justify the ethics of self-preservation. I will discuss
how Spinoza develops this argument in the following section.
The argument for the presence of conatus in beings first appears in EIIIP6.
Prior to the proposition on conatus, Spinoza offers the premises that a thing has its
own ontological integrity, and that external causes can threaten to destroy its
existence:
Nothing can be destroyed, except by a cause external to itself (EIIIP4); Things
are naturally contrary, that is, cannot exist in the same object, in so far as one
is capable of destroying the other (EIIIP5).152
Since all things are parts of the causal world, a things existence can be threatened by
the causality of another thing. To respond to this threat, Spinoza then asserts that
everything has the ability to persist in its own being:
Everything, in so far as it is in itself, endeavours to persist in its own being
(EIIEP6).153
Since everything has this ability in itself, this means that the ability is inherent in
the nature of things. The proposition further implies that it is an existents
ontological imperative to strive to exist, and that without conatus, things can easily
lose their state of existence. This means that all things must possess the power of
conatus in order to persist in their own beings. The power of conatus is thus the
152. Spinoza, Ethics.
153. Spinoza, Ethics.
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ontological imperative to ensure existence.
Given that a thing has to endeavour to exist, two questions follow: 1) How
did the power of conatus come to be inherent in beings?; 2) why is the power of
conatus necessary? Spinoza offers the following proposition that answers both
questions:
The endeavour, wherewith everything endeavours to persist in its own being,
is nothing else but the actual essence of the thing in question (EIIIP7).154 155
We learn that the source of the power originates from the actual essence of the
thing, meaning that it is the primary nature of a being to persist in its own being.
However, the word actual, applied as a descriptor to the word essence, gives an
additional meaning. Jirsa argues that Spinoza uses the word actual to show that the
essence itself is active. He interprets actual essence to mean the active principle
that functions in beings to persist and react to external forces:
According to [proposition EIIIP7] and its demonstration there is a certain
activity, the active principle which not only reacts to the external causes of its
possible corruption, but the thing holds itself in its being. The actual in the
Latin original of proposition 7 has to be understood as coming from its root
actus, an act, and its verbal form to act. The essence of a given thing is
thus the active principle or power of a given thing, not only the force reacting
to possible external causes. 5
Jirsa bases his interpretation of the word actual on the Latin root of the word, which is
to act. Hence, the actual essence of the thing refers to the active principle or power of
154. Spinoza, Ethics.
155. Jirsa, The ethical significance of substance-God difference in Spinozas Ethics I, 7.
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the thing. Spinoza, however, does not intend for the actual essence of the thing to
mean that the essence is conceived by the being itself. According to Part I of the
Ethics, God/substance is solely responsible for conceiving all essences:
The existence of God and his essence are one and the same (EIP20); The
essence of things produced by God does not involve existence (EIP24).156
All essences are actually conceived by and derived from God/substance. Given that
in EIIEP7, Spinoza equates the power of the endeavours to persist in its own being
as the actual essence of a thing, and that all essences are conceived by God/substance,
it follows that the power of conatus in beings comes from God/substance. This
answers the first question on how the power conatus in beings comes to be.
Though the above section demonstrates the necessity of conatus in beings, the
activeness of a beings endeavour to persist in its own being contradicts the passive
nature of beings. According to the proposition in EIP29p, all things are part of the
passive nature that follows God/substance, and that only God/substance can actively
conceive through itself the attributes and eternal essences for all things.157 If all
things possess passive nature, how then, are things able to actively strive to persist in
their own beings? To reconcile these ideas, we can look to the definition of a mode
for the answer. According to Part I of the Ethics, a mode by nature carries attributes
156. Spinoza, Ethics.
157. See in this paper Chapter 3 on the distinction between active nature and passive nature.
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that express the powers of God/substance.158 159 This means that it is in the nature of all
modifications, such as human beings, to carry the attributes and express the powers
of their progenitor. Therefore, even though beings possess passive nature, they are
able to actively persist in their being through the power of God/substance. To
understand in another way, things, as modes, are endowed with power by the
presence of attributes (from God/substance) within them. Passive and active natures
are thus reconciled through the attributes, which allow modes, who carry them, to
actively express the powers of God/substance. A being is thus able to actively
endeavour to persist its own being by innately carrying Gods active power.
However, the inherent power of conatus is complicated by the nature of
human beings, whom Spinoza argues possess both mind and body. Since a thing,
which does not have a mind, is affected by the power of conatus to actively maintain
its existence, a question follows: Does the power of conatus impel the mind to
become active as well? Spinoza explains that the mind has two states of being, active
(with adequate ideas) or passive (with inadequate ideas):
Our mind is in certain cases active, and in certain cases passive. In so far as it
has adequate ideas it is necessarily active, and in so far as it has inadequate
ideas, it is necessarily passive (EIIIP1); Body cannot determine mind to think,
neither can mind determine body to motion or rest or any state different from
these, if such there be (EIIIP2). 59
With the mention of our mind, Spinoza suggests that only human beings have
158. See in this paper Chapter 3 on the explanation of the definition of a mode.
159. Spinoza, Ethics.
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THE CONNECTION BETWEEN ONTOLOGY OF NATURE AND ETHICS IN THE PHILOSOPHIES OF SPINOZA AND LAOZI By Sherry Jones B.A., University of Colorado Denver, 2007 A thesis submitted to the University of Colorado at Denver in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Humanities 2011

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This thesis for the Master of Humanities degree by Sherry Jones has been approved by I I Date

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Jones, Sherry (Master of Humanities) The Connection between Ontology ofNature and Ethics in the Philosophies of Spinoza and Laozi Thesis directed by Professor Robert D. Metcalf ABSTRACT The Daodejing by Laozi and the Ethics by Spinoza share numerous philosophical ideas that qualify them as exemplary models for an East-West philosophical study. The objective of this thesis is to demonstrate, through historical examination and comparative philosophical analysis, that Laozi and Spinoza make similar ontological and ethical claims by constructing ontological monisms based on nature. This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate's thesis. I recommend its publication.

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DEDICATION To my parents, who instilled within me the love and appreciation for literary and philosophical studies. I also dedicate this to my husband, Stephen Getter, and to my brother, Simon Jones, for their unfaltering support and understanding while I complete this thesis.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENT I sincerely thank all my thesis committee members, Dr. Robert D. Metcalf, Dr. Candice Shelby and Dr. Margaret Woodhull, for placing faith in me and graciously approving this challenging thesis. I am grateful to them for the opportunity to pursue a most fascinating topic on which I may persist to write in my academic career. This thesis comes to fruition with the unique attention from each committee member: I am indebted to Dr. Metcalf for training my philosophical thinking with his impressively comprehensive "Philosophy of Religion" and "Heidegger" courses, without which I would not have had the wherewithal to complete a philosophical analysis; Dr. Shelby's advice on directing the research toward the place ofnature and ethics in Spinoza's and Laozi's philosophies has helped me hone a more definitive thesis argument with a clearer direction; Dr. Woodhull's "Methods and Texts of Humanities" and "Directed Readings and Research in the Humanities" courses have prepared me to face the immense challenges of composing a thesis. I give special thanks to my colleague, Professor Daniel Singer, whose expertise is in composition and rhetoric, for his invaluable advice on how to approach, structure and organize the thesis in a logical manner. Finally, I thank my husband, Stephen Getter, for lending his professional editing eye to ensure the refinement of my writing.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION ....................................................................................... 1 Statement of the Problems .................................................................... 6 Methodological Approach .................................................................... 8 A Note on the Correlation between Morality and Ethics ........ 11 A Note on English Translations of the Daodejing .................. 12 Arrangement of Paper ......................................................................... 15 2. INFLUENCES ........................................................................................... 18 Western Thought on Spinoza's Ontology ofNature ........................... 23 Ancient Chinese Beliefs and Nature as the Ontological Force ........... 40 Nature as the Basis of Ontology ......................................................... 50 3. DEFINITIONS IN ONTOLOGY OF NATURE ....................................... 52 God/Dao as Nature .............................................................................. 55 Spinoza 's God/Substance ........................................................ 55 Laozi 's Dao ...... ....................................................................... 66 Ontology ofNature as the Basis of Ethics .......................................... 85 4. ETHICS FROM ONTOLOGY OF NATURE ........................................... 88 Vll

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Spinoza's Conatus and Laozi's De ..................................................... 88 Conatus and the Ethics of Self-Preservation .......................... 89 De and the Natural Way of Being ........................................... 99 Comparison between Conatus and De .............................................. II 0 5. CONCLUSION ........................................................................................ II2 BIBLIOGRAPHY ......................................................................................... II6 Vlll

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1. INTRODUCTION Many scholars have noted that the Daodejing (also known as the Tao Te Ching, or the Laozi) (300 B.C.E. ?), written by the assumed Chinese philosopher Laozi (Before 300 B.C.E.-?)1 contains philosophical ideas that seem comparable to those found in various Western texts. In fact, a significant amount of scholarship has been devoted to comparing the Daodejing (herein DDJ) with such Western philosophical works as those by Hume, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Levinas, Wittgenstein and many others. It is unusual that the DDJ is the object of many, comparative philosophical analyses, since the language ofthe text expresses paradoxical ideas in poetic and rhyming schemes that would seem baffling and unconventional to most Western thinkers. There exist various opinions on how to approach the DDJ, especially on identifying what philosophical categories are present in the text for the comparison to be possible. Hansen (1992), Moeller (2006), Graham (1989) and other Daoist scholars contend that all philosophical categories can be found in the text: 1. "Lao Tzu might not have been the author of Daodejing (The book of ethics), the book historically attributed to him. Fung argues that the book was written later than Lao Tzu/Zi the person, perhaps around 300 B.C., after the emergence of the School ofNames (c. 350-250 B.C., see Fung, chap.8) [the debate over Lao Zi's birth date was a heated topic in 20th century China. One author, Hu Shi, who disagreed with Fung Yulan and some others, later fretted, "who cares about when Lao Zi was born. After all, he was not my father [Lao Zi, in Chinese, are also the characters for referencing the father]." Diana Lin. "Daoisrn." Indiana University Northwest, February, 14, 2006, accessed May 13, 2010, http://www.iun.edu/-hisdcllh425/Daoisrn.htrn. 1

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The Laozi could be seen as encompassing all [philosophical categories] such categories as the metaphysical, ethical, political, mystical, and religious form a unified whole in Daoist thinking and are deemed separate and distinct only in modem Western thought.2 On the other hand, Jones offers the antithetical proposal that the text "does not contain the Western philosophical categories employed by the Greeks, NeoPlatonists, Medieval's, Enlightenment thinkers, and contemporary European and American philosophers."3 Nevertheless, scholars attempt to make sense of the DDJ which literally translates to the "True Classic of the Way and Virtue,"4 through ontological, cosmological, ethical, epistemological, hermeneutical, psychological, political and other approaches to identify commonalities between Eastern and Western thought. It is the position of this paper to agree with the previous assertion by Hansen, Moeller, Graham and others that the classic does possess philosophical categories that allow for comparison to Western texts. Given that the DDJ is the second most translated text after the bible in the West,5 the question remains, why does the West find the Chinese text so philosophically appealing? 2. Alan Chan, "Laozi," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, May 5, 2007, accessed January IO, 20IO, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/laozi/. 3. Kile Jones, ''The Philosophy of the Daodejing," The International Journal of the Asian Philosophical Association, I, no. I, 2008: 20. 4. Alan Chan, "Laozi." 5. Vincent Shen, "Laozi (Lao Tzu)," in Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy, Edited by Anthony S. Cua, (New York: Routledge, 2003), 355. 2

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Of the possible reasons that the DDJ attracts great interest, I am concerned with 1) the profundity of its metaphysics, and 2) the insight it provides into modem Chinese thought. First, the DDJ answers difficult questions regarding existence and the role of human beings in the universe through an elaborate philosophical system. Containing only five-thousand words, the text addresses ontological, cosmological, ethical, social and even political questions in the form of short chapters with poetic prose. This type of arrangement for a work on metaphysics would appear strange to Western philosophers, but recognizable to Chinese thinkers. According to Shen, the DDJ expresses the traditional Chinese way of thinking: "[I]n very profound and appealing words, similar to but more systematic than the pre-Socratic fragments, the Laozi or Daodejing offers the best summing-up of a deep-layered way of thinking in traditional Chinese culture."6 By exhibiting "a deep-layered way of thinking" and ideas similar to "pre-Socratic fragments," the text creates a space for dialectical exchange between the East and the West. Second, the DDJ garners further interest for the influence it still exerts on modem Chinese thought. The prominent scholar of Chinese philosophy, WingTsit Chan, claims: "No one can hope to understand Chinese philosophy, religion, government, art, medicine--or even cooking--without a real appreciation of the profound philosophy taught in this little book."7 For those 6. Shen, "Laozi (Lao Tzu)," 357. 7. Wing-Tsit Chan, "The Natural Way of Lao Tzu," in A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963), 136. 3

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interested in understanding Chinese philosophy, deciphering the ideas in DDJ serves as an essential starting point. A primary method by which Western scholars can begin accessing the ideas in the DDJ is to compare it to another Western text with concerns of similar philosophical categories. In this paper, I intend to offer a philosophical comparison of the DDJto an influential Western text, the Ethics (1677) written by Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), with emphasis on the significant commonalities of the metaphysical systems in the two texts. As the DDJ is significant to the intellectual tradition of the Chinese, the Ethics carries great importance for the intellectual tradition of the West. Being the exemplary text for Rationalism, the Ethics advocates the use of reason as the action for finding answers to all questions. Della Rocca points out the emphasis on intellectual thinking in Spinoza's writing: "Spinoza's philosophy is characterized by perhaps the boldest and most thoroughgoing commitment ever to appear in the history of philosophy to the intelligibility of everything. For Spinoza, no why-question is off limits, each why-question-in principle-admits of a satisfactory answer."8 The pursuit of the "intelligibility of everything" is, in essence, the satisfaction of human curiosity on any question that the intellect requires. This is part ofSpinoza's grand mission in composing the Ethics, in which he constructs an elaborate and complex metaphysical system with the aim to demonstrate that all knowledge is possible. In light of the scientific understanding of the world as a place of cause and effect, 8. Michael Della Rocca, Spinoza, (New York: Routledge, 2008), 1. 4

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Spinoza addresses such questions regarding existence and moral behavior, traditionally answered by religion, through the demonstration of causal chains that lead to the heart ofthe issues. He shows that all objects in question are only forms of intelligibility. Thus, causality can be understood through reason alone: [T]he causation of one thing by another is nothing but one thing making the other intelligible. Our place in the world simply is the way in which we are explained by certain things and can serve to make intelligible-i.e. explaincertain other things. Our emotions are just different manifestations of our power over, and of our subjection to, other things; they are manifestations of the way in which we explain and are explained by other things. For Spinoza, all philosophical problems bottom out in intelligibility itself. 9 With the causal world in mind, Spinoza constructs an elaborate monistic system based on nature to explain the existence and relationship of all things in the natural world. For this paper, it is the monistic system based on nature in the Ethics that is the object of comparison to the one in the DDJ. For the philosophies of the Ethics and the DDJ, Nature10 serves as the foundation of their systems, and the ground on which various propositions are built. For example, Spinoza makes claims about God, human beings, society, and politics based on the premise that all beings are derived from and are constitutive of the natural world. Laozi similarly advocates that human beings and society should 9. Della Rocca, Spinoza, 1. 10. For Spinoza and Laozi, "Nature" refers to the ontological source of all existence. Thus, I will use the uppercase version of the word, ''Nature," to indicate that it is the ontological concept. I will use the lowercase terms, "nature" and the "natural world," to indicate that I am only discussing the physical world, rather than the ontological concept. Herein, all instances of the uppercase word "Nature" will represent the ontological concept. 5

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follow and return to Dao, the origin of the natural world, to live the most natural way of being. Both the Ethics and DDJ contain systems modeled on the natural world, and present propositions regarding moral and political conducts based on the ways of Nature. Though I have pointed out the fundamental similarities of the metaphysical systems of the two texts, various methodological concerns must be addressed in order to make the comparison logical and coherent. Statement of the Problems Three main problems arise when finding a methodological approach to compare the Ethics with the DDJ. First, how do we explain the striking parallels between the ideas in the Ethics and the DDJ when the texts were written through different cultural, historical and conceptual frames? To address the similarities, some scholars have resorted to the simplistic argument that Spinoza must have borrowed ideas from the DDJ prior to constructing the Ethics. Yet, the lack of evidence that Spinoza had ever read any Chinese text renders this claim insufficient. 11 Second, the 11. Some scholars have argued that Leibniz provided Spinoza access to Chinese texts that became part of the Ethics, on the insufficient ground that Spinoza was friends with Leibniz, a contemporary philosopher, philologist and sinophile who translated Chinese texts. However, there is no direct evidence that Spinoza had ever read any Chinese text, so the evidence does not satisfy the claim. Furthermore, among all the Chinese classics that he translated, Leibniz never studied the DDJ: "Leibniz was perhaps the first major European intellect to take a close interest in Chinese civilization, which he knew by corresponding with, and reading other work by, European Christian missionaries posted in China. He concluded that Europeans could learn much from the Confucian ethical tradition. He mulled over the possibility that the Chinese characters were an unwitting form of his universal characteristic. He noted with fascination how the I Ching hexagrams correspond to the binary numbers from 0 to 111111, and mistakenly concluded that this mapping was evidence of major Chinese accomplishments in the sort of philosophical mathematics he admired." 6

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creation date and authorship of the DDJ are currently in dispute, which means that we cannot contextualize the interpretation of the DDJwith the author's own Weltanschauung.12 The extent ofthe problem of authorship is amplified by Shen's suggestion that the DDJ may be a compilation of texts written by different writers: [T]he name Laozi refers to one or a few questionable historical figures and a group of texts. First, as a historical figure, Laozi was the founder of Daoism, although much about him remains unknown, and the historical accounts we have are not very certain about his identity and life. 13 The fact that the DDJ may be a group of texts speaks to the difficulty in reinforcing interpretation with an historical context. Furthermore, recent scholarship accepts that the classic may be derived from an oral tradition, and the written version was either a recording of Laozi' s teachings by his disciples, or that an editor compiled disparate sayings of Laozi from different sources. Michael LaFargue complicates the problem of authorship by emphasizing that "oral tradition need not refer to the sayings of one person; it functions rather as a reservoir of' aphorisms,' which were circulated among Rational Vedenta, "Gottfried Leibniz ( 1646 1716 CE)," Biographies, accessed August 4, 2010, http://www .rationalvedanta.net/bios/rationalists/leibniz. 12. "Weltanschauung" is a German word that translates as worldview ("Origin ofWeltanschauung: German, from Welt world+ Anschauung view. First Known Use: 1868"). By Weltanschauung, I mean the social, cultural, and historical constructions that help form one's philosophical view. Chapter Two will examine Laozi's and Spinoza's respective Weltanschauung to support the argument that each philosopher developed philosophies, albeit similar, based on their own social, cultural, and historical constructions. The argument further suggests that Spinoza needed not have derived from Chinese philosophy the ideas of monism and nature-based ontology to develop his own natural monism. Merriam Webster, "Weltanschauung," Merriam Webster Online, accessed December 2 2010, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionarv/weltanschauung 13. Shen, "Laozi (Lao Tzu)," 355. 7

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like-minded 'Laoist' scholars and formed the basis of the Daodejing (1992, 197)."14 These issues all demonstrate the obstacles that prevent us from accessing the author's Weltanschauung. The third and final problem rests with the seeming similarities of the ontological and ethical propositions in both texts. How do we account for the connection between the ontological and ethical propositions? In other words, how do we establish that the ontological arguments are responsible for the later ethical arguments? These problems will be addressed by my methodological approach discussed extensively in the next section. Methodological Approach My method for a comparative philosophical analysis of the Ethics and the DDJwill be an examination ofthe ontological and ethical arguments present in both texts. Ontology can be defined as, "the total grasp of the universe by human wisdom and the search of its foundations by natural intelligence."15 Since all human beings have, at some points in our lives, questioned the meaning of being, and our place in the universe, the ontological arguments would serve as reasonable points of comparison that transcend cultural and historical limitations. In addition, I intend to include a comparison between the two texts' ethical propositions, which, like the 14. Alan Chan, "Laozi." 15. Guoxi Gao, "Ontology and the Foundation of Ethics," Conference Paper, The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy (CRVP), Edited by George F. McLean, Series III (East Asia), March 28, 2003, accessed July 18, 2010, http://www.crvo.org/book!Series03/III13/chapter xiv.htm. 8

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ontological propositions, share many similarities. In an attempt to explain this phenomenon, some scholars have argued that we should look to ontology and history of ethics to understand ethics, and Cheng provides a representative claim: "Ethics can learn from ontology and history, particularly the ontology of the human person and the history of ethics itself."16 Gao Guoxi lists seven major reasons, which represent the arguments of most contemporary ethical theorists, as to why ontology necessarily leads to the development of ethical claims: 1. Ontology provides ethics with the foundation of a Weltanschauung and principles for argumentation and agreement. Thereby it provides ethical theory with unity and continuity ... 2. Ontology provides value-orientation and value-criteria ... 3. Ontology transcends morality ... 4. Ontology provides the first principle of action ... 5. Ontology provides ethics with its primary method of moral enquiry ... 6. Ontology provides ethical criticism ... 7. Ontology can provide the ultimate explanation of moral status in society. 17 The implications are that an ontological system can serve as the Weltanschauung for the entire philosophy, and the precursor or premise to developing arguments that promote action, establish morality and justify or assess moral claims. To emphasize the relationship between ontology and ethics, Gao adds that "all the ethical theories have their own foundation, value-orientation and viewpoint on human life. If ethics is to play a greater role in human life, we must have a more rational system of moral 16. Chung-ying Cheng, "Integrating the Onto-Ethics of Virtues (East) and the Meta-Ethics of Rights (West)," Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, 1, no. 2, June 2002: 157. 17. Guo xi Gao, "Ontology and the Foundation of Ethics." 9

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philosophy."18 In other words, an ontological system provides the rationale for making moral and ethical claims. 19 This argument allows us to suppose that Spinoza and Laozi made similar ethical claims by grounding their philosophy on a similar premise, the ontology of nature. Thus, the primary method of this paper is to compare the ontological and ethical propositions in both texts, which provides a solution to problem three listed in the previous section. Though ontology alone can serve as the Weltanschauung of a philosophical text, I will provide an extensive discussion on the precursory histories of the writings of the Ethics and the DDJ. The history will reveal the possible questions that Spinoza and Laozi attempted to solve in their respective times that led to their separate development of an ontological monism based on nature. Given that we cannot identify aspects ofLaozi's life based on current scholarship, we can, instead, refer to the lives led by the ancient Chinese people that preceded the emergence of the DDJ as historical context. Moeller explains that a historical approach to the DDJ"means that contemporary hermeneutical principles cannot readily be applied." This is due to the problems of authorship and the dating of the text. 20 And furthermore: "The political discourse of today bears little resemblance to that of China about 2,500 years 18. Guoxi Gao, "Ontology and the Foundation of Ethics." 19. See in this paper Chapter 1 on the section, "A Note on the Connection between Ethics and Morality." 20. Hans Georg Moeller, The Philosophy of the Daodejing, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), X. 10

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ago. It is just as hermeneutically problematic to approach the text with a formal bias as it is to expect that it will fit seamlessly into today's semantics."21 Thus, instead of applying a hermeneutical or linguistic reading, the focus will be to provide historical contexts for the understanding of the questions that concerned Spinoza and Laozi, and why both based their monistic systems on nature. This solves problems one and two listed in the previous section. In defense of East-West philosophical studies, I offer this example comparison between Spinoza's and Laozi's philosophies, focusing on the specific connective thread that both philosophies contain ontological monisms based on nature, and their similar ontologies necessarily lead to similar ethics. Through this example, I will demonstrate that East-West studies can be viable, provided that such comparisons remain confined to the ontological arguments. A Note on the Correlation between Morality and Ethics Part of this paper intends to argue that Spinoza's and Laozi's moral and ethical propositions are derived from their ontology of nature, and the terms, morality and ethics, will be used interchangeably in the development of this argument. Cheng's view that the two terms represent the two-dimensions of moral-ethical theory supports my use of them in this way within the context of an ontology: The reason that we can use these two words "morality" and ethics" interchangeably and yet with some sense of distinction is that they stand for 21. Moeller, The Philosophy of the Daodejing, x. 11

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two dimensions of a human life-unity: the unity of the individual and the social. .. [Ethics and morality] have to do with what a human person is and ought to be. Even though "what-is" and "what-ought-to-be" conceptually belong to two different categories, in light of our understanding of the ontology of the human person, what a person is leads to and justifies what he or she ought to be; whereas what a human person ought to be should reflect and justify what he or she is. We may call morality the inner dimension of humanity that one finds in individual persons and ethics the outer dimension of humanity that one finds in human societies. Morality and ethics are unified in one moral-ethical theory as its two dimensions.Z2 Since morality and ethics both deal with the questions of"what is" and "what ought to be," which are the essence of the ontology of human beings, I will discuss Spinoza's and Laozi's moral and ethical arguments to show how their ontologies of nature structure the way of human existence. A Note on English Translations of the Daodejing According to Hansen's estimation, "[t]here are now over 100 different translations and closer to 2000 commentaries in Chinese"23 of the DDJ. How should one select the translated version most appropriate for interpretation? The translation of the classic is problematic for several reasons, of which I will only mention a few here: 1) the Chinese language and the English language have vastly different linguistic structures; 2) it is difficult to translate the text according to its cultural and historical background, given that the date that the DDJ was first written is still in 22. Cheng, "Integrating the Onto-Ethics of Virtues (East) and the Meta-Ethics of Rights (West)," 157. 23. Chad Hansen, "Laozi (Lao Tzu)," (online, Hong Kong University, Hong Kong) accessed May 19, 2010, http://www.hku.hk/philodep/ch/Iaoency.htm. 12

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dispute; 3) the DDJ contains poetic language that does not easily translate into the English language; 4) certain words in the DDJ are non-existent in the English vocabulary; 5) the translated versions often reflect the translator's philosophical or religious leanings, or are contingent on the extent of the translator's knowledge of Chinese philosophy and language. Often, for the sake of translating the lines from verses in the DDJ into coherent English sentences, while satisfying the grammatical requirements for English, many translators resort to altering the meaning of, or even omitting certain Chinese words, to create logical English sentences. This explains why new translations of the DDJ continue to be published. As an illustration of the difficulties involved in translating the DDJ, the following sample demonstrates the difference between a scholarly translation and a literal translation of the original first line in Chapter One ofthe DDJ: The literal translation of the six words in this sentence is: "Dao can Dao, not Permanent Dao." However, John C. H. Wu interprets this sentence as "TAO can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao."25 He inserts the additional article (the), subordinator (but), preposition (about) and participle (talked) in order to make the above Chinese line satisfy the grammatical requirements of an English sentence. 24. Laozi, Lau-zi dao dejing, Project Gutenberg, May 10, 2009, Produced by Ching-yi Chen, accessed June 6, 2010, http://www .gutenberg.org/cache/epub/733 7/pg733 7 .html. 25. Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching, Translated by John C H Wu, (New York: St. John's University Press, 1961), 3. 13

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Furthermore, he translates the Chinese words for "Permanent" as "Eternal," which agrees with English language conventions, but conveys a slightly alternate meaning ofthe Chinese word itself. His interpretation shows that at certain times, translators have to resort to replacing a Chinese word with an English word that does not possess the same meaning for the sake of providing coherent translations. The meaning of certain words is thus lost in translation. Therein lies the inherent problem with Chinese to English translations. To provide a more precise and clear philosophical analysis of the DDJ, throughout this paper I will offer both the English and the Chinese versions of the verses being analyzed next to each other. The various translations from scholars I provide to help support and strengthen my interpretation. Also, I will inject my own translations for certain Chinese terms when the scholarly translations, in an effort to re-cast the poetic verses into coherent, English sentences, forego the literal meaning of those terms. This is done to ensure that the Chinese concepts are translated according to their original meaning, and to avoid contamination of the concepts with Western thinking. I will include a footnote next to each translated word to indicate that it is based on my own translation. Furthermore, there are different translations of the author's name that need to be addressed to avoid confusion. Laozi, Laotzu, and Lao Tzu are all variations of the author's name, "the Old Master" (::15-1-), which is merely an honorific for the sage whose real name is unknown. I will use Laozi over the other variations throughout 14

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this paper, to indicate that it refers to the honorific, the Old Master, and not the first and last name of the author as the two words, Lao Tzu, might suggest. Laozi is also a closer, phonetic pronunciation The translation of the Chinese concept, J!!, is another issue that needs to be addressed to clarify the variations of the term used in this paper. Most translations follow the phonetic pronunciation of the Chinese concept by translating it as "Tao" or "Dao," while the literal meaning of the word is "the Way." I will consistently use Dao throughout my paper for its closer, phonetic pronunciation of i!!, and use the Way when its literal meaning affects interpretation. Since I will incorporate different translated versions of the DDJ in the paper for analysis, the term Tao will still appear and be preserved in certain verses, for its repeated mentions in those verses. To clarify, Tao, Dao, and the Way all refer to the same Chinese concept, J!!. Arrangement of Paper This thesis will be arranged in the following order. Chapter Two traces the historical influences and Weltanschauung that led to the separate development of Spinoza's and Laozi's ontology of nature. An examination of the Western influences will show that Spinoza's ideology had seed in the philosophies of his mentors and contemporaries, such as Descartes and Leibniz, who both discussed the existence of God in terms of the natural world. On the other hand, an examination of ancient Chinese thought will show that Laozi accepted and borrowed philosophical ideas 15

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from the ancient Chinese in composing the Daodejing. The purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate that Spinoza and Laozi composed their works based on influences from their own Weltanschauung, and thus support the argument that Spinoza did not have to read the DDJ in order to arrive at an ontology of nature. Chapter Three provides a close analysis ofSpinoza's definition of God/substance and Laozi's definition of Dao that respectively introduce the entire philosophical systems of the Ethics and the DDJ. Critical comparison will reveal that God/substance and Dao are analogous terms that refer to an originary source of all existence. It is with these terms that Spinoza and Laozi establish their ontologies of nature. Chapter Four compares the ethical propositions in the Ethics and the DDJ to show their similarities. The main argument of the chapter is that Spinoza and Laozi separately arrived at similar conclusions regarding human nature and moral conduct based on an ontology of nature. Both the Ethics and the DDJ provide ethical propositions derived from examinations of the natural world. Assuming the premise that ontology leads to ethics, the purpose of including the main argument of this chapter is to demonstrate that Spinoza and Laozi present similar ethical propositions due to establishing a similar ontology of nature as the starting point for their subsequent claims. Finally, Chapter Five concludes the thesis by addressing how Spinoza and Laozi both arrive at similar ontology of nature, which leads them to make similar 16

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ethical claims. Through this analysis, the paper demonstrates that common ground exists between Eastern and Western texts upon which an understanding can be formed. This common ground is found in philosophical principles, which in the case of Spinoza and Laozi, lies in ontological propositions. 17

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2. INFLUENCES Although an analysis of the historical influences and Weltanschauung which predicated Spinoza's development of the Ethics and the separate influences under which Laozi created the Daodejing (herein DDJ) is not essential for the purposes of an ontological comparison of the two texts, I offer an analysis in this section as justification for initiating the comparison at all considering the objections that have been directed at the discipline of East-West philosophical studies. Among others, two dominant problems threaten the worth of this discipline. The first problem comes from the fear that methods ofEast-West studies inevitably lead to cultural relativism. Ming Dong Gu provides a representative model of this fear in Longxi Zhang's claim: "[T]he East and the West are so distinctly different that ways ofthinking and expression cannot be made intelligible from one to the other, and therefore the knowledge of one must be kept apart from that of the other [Longxi Zhang xvii]."26 Implied is that one would unavoidably overshadow or distort the interpretation of a different cultural text to fit within one's own cultural frame. Thus, Longzi Zhang and others deny the value of conducting such comparison. The other problem arises from those who resort to the argument that one philosophy must have been influenced by or directly appropriated from the other 26. Dong Gu Ming, "The Universal One Toward a Common Conceptual Basis for Chinese and Western Studies," Diacritics, 32, no. 2, summer 2002: 86-105, Johns Hopkins University Press, accessed July 25, 2010. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1566288. 18

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philosophy in order to explain the similarities shared between Eastern and Western texts. The discipline is thereby reduced to tracing shared ideas to an Eastern or Western root. This second problem is given special attention here, since Pierre Bayle, along with Nicholas Malebranche and several other notable philosophers,27 attempted to show a link between Spinoza's philosophy and Asian thought. In particular, Bayle's work, Dictionnaire historique et critique (Rotterdam,1702), contains numerous implicit connections between Spinoza and Asian philosophy. In the Dictionnaire entry on "Spinoza," Bayle curiously mentions about a Chinese sect, Foe Kiao, who he finds "monstrous" for asserting that "plants, brutes and men are really the same thing," by making them indistinct from their "principle."28 By "principle," Bayle means the one substance, or the vacuum from which all existence begins and ends. The very mention of the Chinese sect in the "Spinoza" entry implies an association of ideas, yet Bayle continues by stating: Spinoza was not so absurd: the only or sole substance he admits, is always 27. "Bayle and Malebranche led the way in creating this link [between Spinoza and China], and their opinions were echoed in the eighteenth century by Count Henri de Boulainvillier, Jean Levesque de Burigny, Anthony Collins, and Jean Baptiste de Boyer, better known as Marquis d'Argens." YuenTing Lai, "The .Linking of Spinoza to Chinese Thought by Bayle and Ma1ebranche," Journal of the History of Philosophy, 23, no. 2, April 1985: 151-178, accessed June 23, 2010, http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/journal of the history of philosophy/v023/23.2lai.pdf, 151. 28. Pierre Bayle, An Historical and Critical Dictionary, Vol. 3, Translated, (London: Hunt and Clarke, 1826), accessed December 10, 2010. http:/ /books.google.comlbooks?id=bw 1 Co A WUFSAC&pg=P A 1 &dg=bayle+historical+and+ critical+dictionarv+vol+lll&hl=en&ei=xPOeTYHtGeSinAftzP3mCw&sa=X&oi=book result &ct=result&resnum=3&ved=OCDAQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&g=bayle%20historical%20and% 20critical%20dictionary%20vol%20III&f=false, 280. 19

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acting, always thinking; and his most general abstractions could not enable him to divest it of action and thought: the foundations of his doctrine do not allow it.29 Associating Foe Kiao's "monstrous" ideas with those ofSpinoza represents Bayle's clear attempt to reject one substance monism, as well as cast suspicion on the originality of the latter's philosophy. Furthermore, in the entry on "Japan," Bayle again mentions Spinoza while discussing the philosophy of the Japanese Buddhists: those that seek internal and insensible reality, they reject paradise and hell, and teach things that are very similar to the philosophy of Spinoza ... they say ... that knowledge is no different from ignorance; that good and bad are not two entities, but that the one is not separated from the other .... It is very certain that [Spinoza] has taught together with these Japanese Preachers, that the first principle of all things, and all beings that constitute the Universe, are nothing else but one and the same substance. 30 Bayle suggests that Spinoza's idea of the one substance aligns with the Japanese Buddhist notion ofthe one universe. According to Yuen-Ting Lai, Bayle is the first philosopher to establish a connection between Spinoza and China: Bayle is responsible for the initial widespread currency of the linkage of Spinoza and China. His article on Spinoza in the Dictionnaire establishes it firmly. This piece constitutes the main thrust ofhis campaign against what he overtly claims as Spinoza's pernicious influence. 31 Lai argues that Bayle's "campaign" against Spinoza's monistic philosophy includes 29. Bayle, An Historical and Critical Dictionary, 280 30. Ellipses in quote added by Weststeijn. Thijs Weststeijn, "Spinoza sinicus: An Asian Paragraph in the History of the Radical Enlightenment," Journal ofthe History of Ideas, 68, no. 4, October 2007: 537-561, accessed December 5, 2010, http://muse.jhu.edu/joumals/jhi/summary/v068/68.4weststeijn.html, 537. 31. Lai, "The Linking ofSpinoza to Chinese Thought by Bayle and Malebranche," 159. 20

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the linking ofSpinozism with Chinese thought. He identifies ideas in Bayle's Dictionnaire as the main disseminator of the belief that Spinoza's theory of one substance parallels ideas of the one substance/universe from various disreputable views from all over the world, including the view of the Chinese literati. 32 Lai 's observation concurs with a similar statement made by Arnold H. Rowbotham: [Bayle] finds similarities between the animistic practices of China and the ideas of Spinoza (who has been thought by others to have been influenced by Chinese thought). Malebranche, also, noted these similarities. The latter writer studied carefully the thought of the Orient and his Conversation between a Christian philosopher and a Chinese philosopher on the existence of God (1708) is an attempt to refute certain Chinese doctrines.33 Malebranche espouses Bayle's argument that Spinoza's philosophy shares similarities with Chinese doctrines; however, Malebranche appropriates the argument for his own purpose of discrediting both. In placing Spinoza in a context amongst several Asian philosophers, 32. "Focusing on Spinoza's theory that one and only one substance constitutes ultimate reality, Bayle categorizes it with the monism of an assortment of views from all over the world which were disreputable in Europe. He cites the positions of the Sufies of Persia, the Pendets oflndia, certain Mohammedan sects, David Dinant of twelfth-century Europe, Alexander the Epicurean who lived at the time of Plutarch, Strato the Peripatetic, and many others. Included in this group are the Japanese and Chinese Buddhists, as well as the Chinese literati. The beliefs from these diverse sources are generalized under one structure of ideas, characterized by the recognition of a single metaphysical principle. Its expression takes various forms, such as the idea that God is the totality of all things, or that He is the soul of the world, or that He is the one single universal spirit suffused throughout nature. The common ground which Bayle perceives is that the whole universe is but one substance, and that God and the world are but one being." Lai, "The Linking ofSpinoza to Chinese Thought by Bayle and Malebranche," 159. 33. Arnold H. Rowbotham, "The Impact of Confucianism on Seventeenth Century Europe," The Far Eastern Quarterly, 4, no. 3, May 1945: 224-242, accessed December 1, 2010, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2049514, 231. 21

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connected only by the singular metaphysical principle of the one substance shared by their respective texts, Bayle, Malebranche, and others relegate Spinoza's complex philosophy to a mere shadow of Eastern thought. However, no evidence supports the theory that Spinoza had ever read any of the Chinese texts from which he might have appropriated the idea of Dao, the one and ultimate reality, when creating his own notion of God as the one and ultimate substance. Actually, some may find this argument moot, at least in the context of this paper's comparison, since the Latin translation of the DDJ did not appear in Europe until much later in the nineteenth century.34 Nevertheless, since the argument may yet be made that Confucian texts, translated by the French Jesuits in the late sixteenth century,35 contain some ideas inherited from the DDJ, in this section I will strive to establish that Spinoza did not need to borrow ideas from Chinese doctrines to construct his own philosophy. In response to the two aforementioned problems in East-West philosophical studies, one represented by the claims of Longxi Zhang, and the other represented by the claims of Bayle and Malebranche, I suggest that a comparison of Ethics and the DDJ without distorting either text in one's own cultural references is possible, 34. Chan, "Laozi." 35. David Kratz Mathies, '"Holding Fast' to Principles or Drawing Boundaries of Exclusion? The Use and Misuse ofthe Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective," Conrad Grebe/ Review, 25, no. 3, 2007: 68-85. accessed December 2, 2010, http://grebel.uwaterloo.calacademic/cgreview/documents/CGR-Fall-2007.pdf, 68. 22

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provided that the comparison is limited to the texts' ontological arguments.36 Examining ontological claims is a fundamental starting place for East-West studies, since all human beings, regardless of their Weltanschauung, attempt to address the problem of what it means to be a human being. On the other hand, identifying the historical influences can help us understand the philosophical questions that Spinoza and Laozi attempted to address in their respective times. The historical influences, as well as the lack of evidence that Spinoza had direct access to Chinese thought, will help refute such arguments as those made by Bayle and Malebranche that Spinoza emulated Chinese thought when formulating his monistic philosophy. Hence, I offer the alternative theory that each ofSpinoza's and Laozi's respective texts was developed from their own, albeit similar, nature-based ontologies. In this chapter, I will enumerate several historical influences from which each of Spinoza's and Laozi's fundamental arguments were developed. Western Thought on Spinoza's Ontology ofNature Though Bayle and Malebranche and later scholars argued that Spinoza (16321677) borrowed the concept of a nature-based monism from various Eastern ideologies, including Chinese philosophy, they neglected to consider the overwhelming philosophical and theoretical influences from Spinoza's own 36. Rather than become entangled in comparisons of the linguistic structure of the philosophers' arguments, or in the methods by which they did or did not prove those arguments, I suggest limiting comparisons to the basic questions surrounding existence that underlie each of their philosophies. 23

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Weltanschauung: the predominantly Judeo-Christian seventeenth-century Europe, set in turmoil by the introduction of science, which more likely induced the scientifically-minded Spinoza37 to reconcile science and religion with an ontology based on nature in the Ethics. Spinoza's complex metaphysics was not without Western philosophical precedence. Nadler asserted that Spinoza's development of a complex "formal structure of propositions, demonstrations, corollaries, scholia, and appendices" in the Ethics was based on various intellectual sources. 38 He identified traces of ideas from those sources in the Ethics: Despite a dearth of explicit references to past thinkers, the Ethics exhibits enormous erudition, and quite a few philosophical traditions converge in its pages. Spinoza's knowledge of ancient, medieval, Renaissance, and modern authors-pagan, Christian, and Jewish-is quietly evident throughout. His most important philosophical mentor was, without question, Descartes. But Plato, Aristotle, and the ancient (and modern) Stoics all belong to the intellectual background of the work. It is also clear that he was impressed by his reading of contemporary political thinkers, especially the Englishman Thomas Hobbes, but also Dutch and French theorists; and by recent scientific developments (including those ofBacon, Galileo, and Boyle). And many of the central elements of the Ethics derive from Spinoza's study of medieval Jewish thought, particularly Maimonides and Gersonides. None of this, however, should distract us from the sheer originality ofthe Ethics.39 Distinguishing the originality in Spinoza's own writing from his intellectual sources 37. W N A Klever, "Spinoza's Life and Works," In The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza, edited by Don Garrett, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 19. 38. Steven Nadler, Spinoza 's Ethics: An Introduction, Cambridge Introductions, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), xiii. 39. Nadler, Spinoza 's Ethics: An Introduction, xiii. 24

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requires a closer examination of those sources, and an understanding ofhow Spinoza generated original arguments that reconciled the ideas ofhis philosophical mentors. In the interest ofbrevity, I will address only the major influences, such as Spinoza's own Weltanschauung, Descartes, Leibniz, and other thinkers, whose theories are implied in the Ethics. With the seventeenth century emphasis on understanding the world through the scientific study of nature, a new difficulty was established for philosophers who were trying to deal with the problem ofthe existence of God. For the rationalist Spinoza, whose enthusiasm for natural science was rooted in his background in optics,40 the perceived gap between the ability to understand nature and the ability to understand God helped lead him to establishing an ontological monism. Spinoza understood science in terms of the already dominant seventeenth century conception that it was the study of the natural world. Klever explains: "There was only one science in the days ofGalileo, Descartes, Huygens, and Newton, the science of nature, alternatively called 'philosophia' or n mathematical, and this was the science 40. "Spinoza may initially have taken up the production oflenses and instruments to support himselfit was now, besides loans and gifts from his friends, his chief source of income-but it also served his own scientific interests. With his general enthusiasm for the new mechanistic science of nature, Spinoza was fascinated by the latest detailed explanations of the rnicrophenomena ofbiology and chemistry and the ever-improving observations of the macrophenomena of astronomy, as well as by the mathematical principles of optics that made such discoveries possible." Nadler, Spinoza 's Ethics: An Introduction, 14. 25

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to which Spinoza henceforth was dedicated." 41 This understanding of science as the study of nature posed a serious threat to the argument for the existence of God. Given that science examined the causal world for knowledge, and that God was understood as a transcendent Being above or beyond the causal world, it followed that knowledge of the causal world could not serve as evidence of the transcendent Being. In other words, since the proposition that God exists requires the antecedent that knowledge of God is possible, we cannot prove that God exists ifwe cannot know God (through examination ofthe natural world). Science, therefore, placed the existence of God in doubt. Spinoza contributed to a resolution of this problem by breaking from the Judeo-Christian conception of God as the Creator of all beings. He instead offered that God is the infinite Being and substance in which all things exist as finite modes. Donagan elucidates Spinoza's understanding of God in the Ethics: No substance except God, he contends, can be, or be conceived; and he draws the inevitable inference that the extended and thinking things of everyday experience "are either attributes of God, or affections [i.e., modes] of God's attributes" (E ipi4C2). God, he concludes, cannot create anything outside himself. He is "the immanent, not the transient, cause of all things," and not of their existence only, but also of their essence, which cannot be identical with their existence (E ipi8,24,25).42 Spinoza re-envisioned God as the natural, substantive world, in order to render God as the object of scientific studies. He had to construct an elaborate ontological system 41. Klever, "Spinoza's Life and Works," 19. 42. Alan Donagan, "Spinoza's Theology," In The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza, edited by Don Garrett, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 345. 26

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based on a geometrical order to prove that the natural world and God were one and the same, and that knowledge of the natural world was equivalent to knowledge of God. According to Nadler: "[Spinoza's] Ethics was an attempt to provide a fuller, clearer, and more systematic layout in 'the geometric style' for his grand metaphysical and moral philosophical project.'.43 The main focus of Spinoza's project was to rationalize God, and Spinoza completed this project by using the scientific method to justify the existence of God in the new world of science. Della Rocca explains that Spinoza's metaphysics sought to place human beings and God in the natural world: Spinoza, as we shall see, has no objection to belief in God insofar as it is rational, but a less than rational belief in God is objectionable precisely because it is a refusal to dig deeper for an explanation of our place in the world and of the nature of the divinity. In the same way, reliance on philosophical primitives is an irrational refusal to dig deeper for an explanation. Spinoza's worries about Descartes and other insufficiently rationalist predecessors was-and his worry about so much of philosophy down to the present day would be-that, by appealing to primitives or inexplicable notions, philosophy has not advanced much beyond irrational faith.44 According to Della Rocca, Spinoza wanted to codify philosophy as a means of critically pursuing deeper truths, rather than the superficial truths that irrational faith gives us. Unsatisfied with the answers that his rational predecessors had offered, Spinoza wanted to formulate new answers about the roles of God and humankind 43. Nadler, Spinoza 's Ethics: An Introduction, 15. 44. Della Rocca, Spinoza, 3. 27

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through critical reexamination of the ontological terms themselves. I do not mean to suggest that the emphasis on the scientific study of nature posed the only (or even most prevalent) issue for philosophers working on the problem of the existence of God during Spinoza's time, or that following the publication of the Ethics, that these issues were all resolved. The debate regarding science, and its relationship to philosophical theology, remains too great a subject to address within the limited scope of this paper. I am merely attempting to establish that Spinoza's philosophy with its ontological monism helped him bridge the gap between understanding nature and understanding God. Essentially, Spinoza formulated a new ontology as his answer to the problem that his predecessors had begun to address: How to defend and assert scientific knowledge of the world while preserving God's existence. Perhaps the greatest known influence upon Spinoza and his ontology was Descartes, a rationalist who created a metaphysics that gave union to mind and matter, and reaffirmed the role of God as the Creator and Preserver of the universe.45 Part of Descartes' philosophy responded to the problem that science posed to theism: Since the scientific method could not prove the existence of a transcendent Being that was above or beyond the sensory world, the inevitable conclusion would be that God is not knowable. To defend the scientific method for knowledge, Descartes denied 45. Gary Hatfield, '"Rene Descartes," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, December 3, 2008, http:/ /plato .stan ford.edu! entries/ descartes/. 28

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Aristotle's claim that all knowledge comes from our senses.46 Instead, he offered that knowledge begins from the mind, in that human beings possess an immaterial mind that can reveal the true nature of substances "through a purely intellectual perception. This means that in order to procure the fundamental truths of metaphysics, we must 'withdraw the mind from the senses' (7:4, 12, 14) and tum toward our innate ideas of the essences of things, including the essences of mind, matter, and an infinite being (God)."47 Spinoza accepted the Cartesian idea that the mind has "intellectual perception" to know God without sensory experience. He also accepted Descartes' conclusion that the pineal gland of the brain housed the mind (or soul), and "regarded it as the principal seat of the soul and the place in which all our thoughts are formed.'.48 The Cartesian ideas led Spinoza to deduce that we must strengthen the mind in order to intellectually perceive and know God. Garrett suggested that the argument for strengthening the mind was Spinoza's goal in writing the Ethics: [P]art of Spinoza's philosophical project was to improve and strengthen the intellect. In Part 2 of the Ethics, he proposed to demonstrate as consequences ofhis metaphysicsthe character of the human mind as the "idea" of the human body, the nature of sense perception, the relation between true and false ideas, and the way in which all ideas (including human minds) are contained in the infinite intellect ofGod.49 46. Hatfield, "Rene Descartes." 47. Hatfield, "Rene Descartes." 48. Gert-Jan Lokhorst, "Descartes and the Pineal Gland," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, November 5, 2008, accessed September 5, 2010, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pineal gland/#2. 49. Don Garrett, "Introduction," In The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 5. 29

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By proposing that the human mind is the "idea" of the body, and that God's infinite intellect contained all ideas, Spinoza could argue that human beings can access God's intellect through the mind. Therefore, Spinoza's philosophical project made improving the mind an incentive for knowing God. Spinoza expanded upon Descartes' geometrically ordered metaphysics, consisting of substance, modes and attributes, to demonstrate the metaphysical principle that God is the only substance. According to Garrett, Spinoza believed that the coherence of his ethical claims was contingent on a clearly, pre-established metaphysical system, and thus he structured an ontology based on Descartes' metaphysical principles prior to making ethical claims: In the Ethics, Spinoza sought to demonstrate his ethical doctrines in proper order from the metaphysical principles on which, he believed, they depend and through which they must be understood. His metaphysical ontology, like Descartes's, consists of substance, attributes (what Descartes called "principal attributes"), and modes. According to Spinoza, a substance is that which is "in itself and conceived through itselr'; an attribute is that which "the intellect perceives of a substance, as constituting its essence"; and modes are "the affections of substance, or that which is in another through which also it is conceived"50 Spinoza utilized the Cartesian system to show that substance is "in itself and conceived through itself," and asserted what Descartes had implied: that God is the only substance and the self-caused cause. He further turned the entire scholastic 50. Garrett, "Introduction," 3. 30

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traditional understanding of God as the Creator on its head. 5 1 In Spinoza's formula, God is no longer the transcendent Creator, but the only substance that encompasses the natural world. All things in the natural world are merely modes or modifications of the God/substance. These ontological claims entailed many ethical implications, including the idea that we should study the natural world to know God. By using Descartes' metaphysical system to equate God and substance, Spinoza demonstrated that God is knowable. Spinoza also utilized the geometric method to demonstrate that metaphysical principles can be proven valid with scientific certainty. Nadler provides a different argument than Garrett that Spinoza looked to Euclid's Elements for creating a metaphysics, because math was the model for finding certain knowledge in the seventeenth century.52 For Spinoza, philosophy shared science's role of finding 51. Jacub Jirsa, "The ethical significance of substance-God difference in Spinoza' s Ethics I," LOGOS Electronic Journal for Philosophy, 2003: 2, accessed May 10, 2010, ISSN: 12110442. 52. "The model for certain knowledge in the seventeenth century was mathematics. Its propositions or theses were clearly formulated, its demonstrations (when properly attended to) indubitable, and its methods (when properly employed) foolproof. Euclid's Elements, the most famous paradigm for the discipline, begins with twenty three basic definitions ("A point is that which has no part," "A line is a breadthless point"), five postulates ("That all right angles are equal to one another,") and five "common notions" or axioms ("Things that are equal to the same thing are also equal to one another", "If equals be added to equals, the wholes are equal"). With these simple tools in hand as assumed premises, Euclid proceeds to prove a great number of propositions about plane figures and their properties, some of them extremely complex. (The first proposition of Book One, for example, lays out the method for constructing an equilateral triangle on a finite straight line; the fifth proposition states that in an isosceles triangle the angles at the base are equal to one" Nadler, Spinoza 's Ethics: An Introduction, 37. 31

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certain knowledge: With [Euclid's] model in mind, Spinoza hoped to fulfill and even expand upon Descartes's own dream of maximum certainty in the sciences. Like his intellectual mentor, he thought that philosophy (understood broadly to include much that today would more properly fall under the natural and social sciences) could reach a degree of precision and indubitability that approximated if not equaled that achieved by mathematics. Spinoza wanted to do for metaphysics, epistemology, physics, psychology, and even ethics what Euclid had done for geometry. Only in this way could philosophy, the discipline that must prescribe for human beings the path to happiness and well-being, become truly systematic and its conclusions guaranteed to be valid. The means for accomplishing this goal was literally to put metaphysics and the other subjects in the exact same form in which Euclid had organized his material. 53 Spinoza organized Ethics according to Euclid's method to show that philosophical propositions can be systematically proven and validated like scientific claims. He believed that this mathematical method could bring precise proofs to even philosophical propositions, such as the ethical duties of human beings. Nadler clarified that Spinoza did not use the geometrical order to discover truths, but rather used the method to present philosophical discoveries. Spinoza assumed that the preciseness of the systematic method could arrive at "absolutely certain truths."54 This is an example of how Spinoza attempted to reconcile science with metaphysics. Spinoza's God, like Descartes', is the God of Physics, or the God of cause and effect. Garrett explains Descartes' argument, which had influence over Spinoza's conception of God: 53. Nadler, Spinoza 's Ethics: An Introduction, 38. 54. Nadler, Spinoza 's Ethics: An Introduction, 39. 32

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Because he maintained that all other things are causally dependent on God for their creation and conservation, Descartes had recognized a strict sense of the term "substance" in which God is the only substance .... [H]owever, he recognized two kinds of created substance, each with its own principal attribute: extended substances, whose principal attribute is extension (i e., spatial dimensionality); and minds, whose principal attribute is thought. 55 Spinoza accepted Descartes' idea that God is the only substance, but he did not agree with Descartes' conclusion that there are "two kinds of created substances" (extended substances and minds) in the world, and that those substances each contained separate attributes of spatiality and thought. Instead, Spinoza offered that God, the only substance, contains infinite attributes including extension and thought. All things are modes ofthe only substance, and carry some of the infinite attributes of that substance: Spinoza's God is a self-caused substance of "infinite" attributes, including both extension and thought, from whose nature everything possible necessarily flows. It follows that individual things, such as human beings, can only be modes of this one substancewhich Spinoza sometimes called "God or Nature" ["Deus, sive Nature''). In Spinoza's view, every mode of extension is identical with a corresponding mode of thought, so that everything is thinking, as well as extended. One application of this doctrine is that the human body is identical with the human mind. Nevertheless, because extension and thought are each independent and self contained attributes of God or Nature, there can be no causal interaction or explanatory relation between them. 56 Spinoza turned Descartes' created substance of extended substance and minds into modes (of extensions) of the only substance, and connected them by offering that "every mode of extension is identical with a corresponding mode of thought, so that 55. Garrett, "Introduction 4. 56. Garrett, "Introduction," 4 33

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everything is thinking, as well as extended." In other words, all things are qualitatively the same, since they all carry the attributes of extension and thought. In terms of human beings, the body (mode of extension) corresponds with the mind (mode of thought), and thus the body and mind are identical. However, the body and mind cannot have causal relationships, because they each contain the separate attributes of extension and thought. With the understanding that creation of all substantive things depended on God, or that nothing in the natural world is selfcausal, Spinoza implied that we can examine causes and effects in nature as movements of God's being. Like Descartes, Spinoza wanted to develop an ontological theory that allowed for all beings, including God, to be scientifically studied. Though I have demonstrated that some ofSpinoza's philosophical ideas are derived from Cartesian motives, I believe that Spinoza appropriated the Cartesian system for making his own unique arguments. Meyer spoke to how Spinoza deviated from Descartes' propositions: Spinoza not only often deviates from Descartes in the arrangement and explanation of the axioms, demonstrations, and conclusions, but also that Spinoza himself in many cases does not agree with Descartes's propositions, which are faithfully presented by him. "So let no one think that he is teaching here either his own opinions, or only those which he approves of."; Spinoza, for example, does not think that the will is distinct from the intellect, much less that it is endowed with freedom. According to [Meyer], Descartes is only assuming and does not prove that the human mind is a substance thinking absolutely. 57 57. Klever, "Spinoza's Life and Works," 30. 34

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Thus, Spinoza's philosophy was not merely a facsimile of Cartesian thought. Spinoza deviated from Descartes' conclusions by making such claims as the "human mind is a substance thinking absolutely." Though Descartes himself did not indicate that the mind is merely substance, Spinoza went further and asserted that the mind, like the body, is substance as well. With this claim of mind-body parallelism, Spinoza explained how the mind could interact with the body (both are modes or modifications of God, the only substance),58 and this explanation offered a solution to the mind/body problem that he inherited from Descartes. Della Rocca identifies another major distinction between Spinoza's and Descartes' thoughts: "Like Descartes, Spinoza regards thought and extension as attributes. Unlike Descartes, Spinoza holds that there is an "infinity of attributes" including thought and extension. For Spinoza, the other attributes are unknown to human beings (Letter 64)."59 Spinoza expanded Descartes' idea of attributes beyond just thought and extension by arguing that substance has infinite attributes, out of which only thought and extension are known to human beings. Such deviations revealed that Spinoza, whom many perceived as a rigorous defender of Cartesian thought,60 not only disagreed with some 58. Jonathan Bennett, "Spinoza's Metaphysics," In The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza, edited by Don Garrett, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 78. 59. Della Rocca, Spinoza, 43. 60. "Spinoza had long before been branded an atheist and heretic, and at age 24 was formally excommunicated from his Jewish synagogue and community where he had lived all his life. His banishment was because he refused to stop teaching the Cartesian philosophy of 35

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of Descartes' conclusions, but also attempted to solve the problems left by those conclusions with a reconfigured ontological system. Spinoza's ontology of nature, though based on Cartesian metaphysics, indeed put forward a unique, monistic view of the natural world that was different than the one that Descartes had conceived. Most Spinozan scholars agree that Spinoza's natural philosophy was indebted to Cartesian thought, yet recent findings have brought to light other possible Western influences that led Spinoza to encounter Cartesian thought, and held sway over Spinoza's ontology. According to W.N.A. Klever, Van den Enden, who was Spinoza's teacher, most likely planted the seeds of Cartesian thought and political theory in Spinoza's philosophical thinking. Klever discovered evidence that Van den Enden's written works contained many philosophical ideas present in Spinoza's own texts; he recently unearthed printed pamphlets authored by Van den Enden "in 1661 and 1662 with the title Kort Verhael van Nieuw-Nederlants ... (1662) and another one, published in 1665 under the title Vrije Politijcke Stellingen, but written in 1663."61 With discoveries such as Van den Enden's works that contained a political theory similar to the one in Spinoza's, and that Spinoza was a part of Van den Enden's circle of intellectuals, Klever concluded that Van den Enden may be the Descartes. Contributing to his banishment had been his article, "Short Treatise on God, Man and His Well-Being" written even at that early age in his life." Linda S Schrigner, Benedict Spinoza Ontology for the New Millennium, 1996, accessed July 18, 2010, http://www.crcsite.org/printspinoza2.htm, 3. 61. Klever, "Spinoza's Life and Works," 26. 36

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proto-Spinoza: "On the basis of the mentioned works I came to the conclusion that Van den Enden must be considered a proto-Spinoza, the genius behind Spinoza, Bedjai defends in his thesis the same idea, by claiming that the so-called Amsterdam Spinoza circle could better be named "Van den Enden and his circle" (Bedjai 1990). The works of Van den Enden contain a political theory which is in fact the same as the one worked out by Spinoza in his Theological Political Treatise and Political Treatise. One finds moreover between the lines all the items which would later be proven deductively by Spinoza in his Ethics: full-fledged determinism, the distinction between three kinds of knowledge (and other epistemological claims), human passivity, the conatus theory, the intellectual love of God, and so on."62 Klever's conclusions implied that Van den Enden was Spinoza's great benefactor in various philosophical ideas, and that Spinoza's incorporated many ofVan den Enden's conclusions in Ethics and Theologico-Political Treatise. Historical evidence points to Leibniz, Spinoza's friend and fellow Rationalist and Cartesian thinker, as another possible influence on Spinoza. Being a philosopher and a mathematician, Leibniz was interested in Spinoza's theories on optics. He exchanged correspondence and written works with Spinoza in 1671; Leibniz sent Spinoza Notita Opticae Promoteae, and Spinoza sent Leibniz Tractatus TheologicoPoliticus. In the correspondence to Spinoza, Leibniz offered his own theory as well as theories from other thinkers on eliminating spherical aberration in optics:63 62. Klever, "Spinoza's Life and Works," 26. 63. Defmition: "aberration that is caused by the spherical form of a lens or mirror and that gives different foci for central and marginal rays" Merriam Webster, "Spherical Aberration," Merriam Webster Online, accessed August 10 2010, http://www.merriamwebster.com/medical/spherical+aberration?show=O&t= 12844 73 772. 37

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Leibniz sends Spinoza his Notitia opticae promotae (1671), mentions the dioptrical work of Francisco Lana and Johannes Oltius and his own Hypothesis physica nova (1671), and proposes a way of eliminating spherical aberration. Spinoza replies that he has not yet seen the latter three works and, confessing that he does not quite follow Leibniz's argument in the Notitia, asks for further clarification and offers an idea of his own that he had already used in his reply to Jelles's difficulty over Descartes.64 Spinoza's responses upon receiving the correspondence showed that in the same time period, he questioned and contemplated Leibniz's theory and Cartesian thought. Gabbey argued that Spinoza himself implied that he accepted and incorporated some ideas from Leibniz and Descartes as part of his proofs of God's existence in Ethics: Notwithstanding these heresies, [Spinoza] implies that two of his three proofs of God's existence in Ethics ipi5, as well as an additional one in its scholiwn, are a priori; and of these four, two not only look like the "ontological" proofs offered by Descartes and Leibniz, but one is reminiscent of those of Anselm and of Duns Scotus (E ipi4c2). Since he also follows many orthodox theologians in deducing from God's infinity the negative "attributes" they ascribed to him, which he denied to be genuine attributes namely, indivisibility, uniqueness, causal independence, eternity, immutability and the indistinguishability of his existence from his essence-(E ipi3, I4ci,i7ci,2o,2oc2). 65 Though Spinoza formulated his argument for God based on some of the proofs from Leibniz, Descartes and orthodox theologians, he denied the theologians' view that God has such attributes as "indivisibility, uniqueness, causal independence, eternity, immutability and the indistinguishability of his existence from his essence." This 64. Alan Gabbey, "Spinoza's Natural Science and Methodology," In The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza, edited by Don Garrett, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 150. 65. Donagan, "Spinoza's Theology," 345. 38

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denial demonstrated that Spinoza did not merely accept ideas from his intellectual sources, but he reacted to those ideas with original claims of God in terms of nature (Spinoza's God, who is nature itself, shared attributes with the natural and causal world). These intellectual sources essentially served as catalysts for Spinoza's ontology based on God as nature. I have addressed the Weltanschauung of seventeen-century Europe, as well as various Western philosophical and scientific ideas that had major influence over Spinoza's thinking, to demonstrate that Spinoza needed not to have borrowed ideas from Chinese philosophy to form an ontology of nature. Spinoza, as a scientist, equated God and nature to validate science as the way of obtaining knowledge of God. The foundation of his ontological theory depended on God being nature itself. To make his argument coherent, Spinoza borrowed the structure of Descartes' metaphysics to create his own natural philosophy. He expanded upon Descartes' geometrical order of substance and extension to a metaphysical ontology based on natural laws; he created his ontology as a new way ofthinking about the nature of God and beings.66 Van den Enden, Spinoza's teacher, introduced Spinoza to Cartesian thought and ideas on natural philosophy. In fact, Van den Enden's printed pamphlets contained a political theory and natural philosophical ideas that were similar to those in Spinoza's texts. Leibniz also contributed theories on optics and argumentation on nature that Spinoza took interest in. These various historical 66. Schringer, Benedict Spinoza Ontology for the New Millennium, I. 39

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influences attest to the indebtedness ofSpinoza's philosophy to some ofthe ideas from his contemporaries and seventeenth century Rationalism. Given these Western sources of influence, I believe that we need not resort to such argument made by Bayle and Malebranche that Spinoza's philosophy was a rendering of ideas from Chinese thought. Their argument appears weak, since no evidence to date supports Spinoza ever having read any Chinese texts. However, we can trace specific propositions in Ethics to various intellectual sources, from ancient Greek philosophy to philosophical and theoretical concerns in Spinoza's own time. This proves that Spinoza formed his complex and original philosophy based on his extensive knowledge of Western philosophical traditions. Ancient Chinese Beliefs and Nature as the Ontological Force Unlike Spinoza, we cannot reference Laozi's personal history for understanding the ideas of the Chinese philosopher, since 1) we do not know ifLaozi is an actual person, and 2) some evidence shows that the Daodejing, also known as the Laozi, is a compilation of various texts from unknown sources. 67 This means that it is not possible to contextualize the interpretation of the Daodejing (herein DDJ) with an examination ofLaozi's personal history. Since context is necessary for understanding the questions, or the objects of concern, in a philosophical text, the problem follows: How can we approach the DDJ through a historical lens? The 67. See in this paper Chapter 1 on the discussion of the authorship and dating of the DDJ. 40

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answer lies in finding the approximate time period in which the entire text was written and compiled. An archeological excavation in 1993 discovered the Guodian text, which is the earliest known version of the DDJ transcribed on bamboo scrolls around 300 B.C.E. 68 Since the Guodian text is the earliest known version, I will examine Chinese history around 300 B.C.E. to provide the DDJ with context. Around this time period, the ancient Chinese thrived on an agrarian economy and beliefs related to the natural world. The historical conception of nature around this time may have held sway over the creation of the DDJ, and thereby served as the root for Laozi' s formation of an ontology of nature. First, Laozi's conception of nature as the entire universe was influenced by the ancient Chinese, who recognized nature as synonymous with the world long before the transcription of the DDJ around 300 B.C.E. To understand the thinking of the ancient Chinese, we need to examine their lifestyle, as well as the structures of their society and politics. During this time, two agrarian economic classes of peasants and state officials comprised the ancient Chinese rural society, which functioned to follow the natural laws of life; the state officials administered laws based on the peasants' agrarian lifestyle and subordination to nature.69 The agrarian lifestyle was conditioned by natural laws, which referred to the natural seasonal 68. Shen, "Laozi (Lao Tzu)," 355. 69. Marina Camogurska, "Original ontological roots of ancient Chinese philosophy," Asian Philosophy 8, no. 3, November 1998: 202, accessed November 10, 2009, http://www.ebscohost.com/. 41

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cycles that dictated when the ancient Chinese could plant, cultivate or harvest crops. Since the natural seasonal cycles shaped and controlled the lifestyle of an agrarian society, the ancient Chinese recognized nature as the non-visible force that governed beings with natural laws. Historical documents that pre-date the DDJ, such as the Book of Changes, or Yijin, also attest to the ancient Chinese's perception that the world was the same as nature. Carnogurska asserts: "[The ancient Chinese'] only ideology--documented by Chinese primeval myths as well as by some shaman practices, connected with the Book of Changes (Yijin) [3]--was one which pressed people to strictly respect the natural laws of life, to fit into the real natural framework of their world between Heaven and Earth."70 In the ancient Chinese worldview, the universe was constituted by three components: Heaven, the world, and the Earth. Given that the ancient Chinese assumed that the natural laws governed all life, they equated nature to "their world between Heaven and Earth." Furthermore, they believed that Heaven was a powerful force that had dominance over all of existence, and thus supposed that laws of nature were the same as laws of Heaven. Influenced by this notion of the universe, Laozi "consciously strove for man to be in organic unity with nature (Heaven) obeying all its heavenly laws"71 in his philosophy. The connections between the ideology of the ancient Chinese and the ideology in the DDJ revealed that Laozi' s 70. Carnogurska, "Original ontological roots of ancient Chinese philosophy," 202. 71. Camogurska, "Original ontological roots of ancient Chinese philosophy," 202. 42

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conception of nature had precedence in ancient Chinese thought. China's geography also ensured that Laozi only had access to the ancient Chinese thinking that nature was the entire universe. He could not have become familiar with other philosophical ideas of the world, since "China, surrounded by huge geophysical obstacles, was at that time almost hermetically sealed off from other world civilisations and was locked inside its own specific world view."72 The worldview ofthe ancient Chinese was based on an agrarian lifestyle, which required observation and awareness of nature and its forces. And like the ancient Chinese, Laozi perceived nature and its forces as operating in the world, and expressed this perception in his philosophy. Giving a name to the ancient Chinese notion of nature, Laozi coined the term Dao to refer to the Creative force of nature, which also served as the ontological foundation ofthe universe. Specifically, the ancient Chinese perceived the Creative force of nature as: [An] unstoppable dialectical process of unending multifarious transformations of its Creative Power De .... This Creative Power (or in a more modern conception, Creative Energy) was for the first time applied and philosophically explained only by Laozi in his Dao de jing, but at the end of the 5th century BC it began to be universally accepted by all Chinese thinkers, although most of them accepted it only as the highest ethical and moral category and not the ontological one.'m Laozi coined the term De to refer to the Dao's manifestation as Creative 72. Camogurska, "Original ontological roots of ancient Chinese philosophy," 202. 73. Camogurska, "Original ontological roots of ancient Chinese philosophy," 203. 43

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Power/Energy in the world. He accepted the ancient Chinese notion that a creative force (Dao) operated in the universe with its Creative Power/Energy (De). After the DDJ became widespread in China, all Chinese thinkers accepted Dao and De as synonymous with the Creative force of nature. However, post-Laozian thinkers, seeing the two separate terms, misinterpreted Dao as the ontological category, and its Creative Power/Energy De as the "highest ethical moral category." In actuality, both terms are ontological categories based on the ancient Chinese conception that the Creative Power/Energy (De) represented the "unending multifarious transformations" ofthe Creative force (Dao). Essentially, Laozi borrowed the ancient Chinese notions of the Creative Force and Creative Power to make the ontological terms of Dao and D 74 e. It is important to note that Laozi did not mean for the term Dao to become a name for the Creative force, but rather, he intended to use it as a mere signifier of that which the ancient Chinese understood as ineffable. Chan elaborates: "To [Laozi], Tao is nameless and is the simplicity without names. When names arise, that is, when the simple oneness ofTao is split up into individual things with names, it is time to stop."75 In other words, Dao itself is nameless, and only things derived from it have names. It is likely that Laozi uses the word Dao for the sake of being able to refer to 74. I will address the connection between Laozi's ontological and ethical claims in Chapter 4 of this paper. 75. Chan, "The Natural Way of Lao Tzu," 139. 44

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Creative Force throughout the DDJ, and being able to discuss the concept in his own terms. Laozi's claim that Dao ontologically moved through the universe also mirrored the ancient Chinese axiom that nature operated in all things in its own Way. The ancient Chinese perceived in the universe: [A] non-homogeneous dialectical process of the ontological movements of Dao and its Creative Power in the whole Universe and in its time-spaces. In this sense the whole background of the Universe is only the bipolar synergy of mutual creativity and liquidation (in a process of bipolar contradictions) of its own Way which is never in a state of an absolutely homogeneous Substance or qualitatively eternal monolith.76 They believed that the Way of Dao was to change between physical and non-physical states, as the Way was "never in a state of an absolutely homogenous Substance or qualitatively eternal monolith." Laozi also did not perceive Dao as a "homogeneous Substance," but as a ''time-space" phenomenon from which all substances are born.77 However, the fact that the Creative force can also be a Substance created a contradiction for many Western scholars. Kile Jones discusses how Western scholars might find the definition of Dao philosophically problematic. The definition of Dao as both a Creative force and a Substance is a paradox for Western scholars, who understand the creation of a thing, that arises from something, as an original source: [W]hen the Daodejing says things like "what is there arises from what is not there," ''without going out the door, one can know the whole world," and 76. Camogurska, "Original ontological roots of ancient Chinese philosophy," 203. 77. Camogurska, "Original ontological roots of ancient Chinese philosophy," 203. 45

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"straightforward words seem paradoxical," a baffled look comes across the faces of Western scholars. Most Western scholars in the tradition of Wittgenstein, Russell, and Frege would dissect these sentences into truth value, internal consistency, and propositional attitude which are a far cry, speaking, from what the Daodejing was meant for and concerned with. 8 Chinese philosophical claims do not follow the linear sequence in Western argumentation, where a conclusion follows a sequence of premises. Thus, Chinese propositions tend to appear paradoxical to Western scholar, who expect a proposition to state a clear true or false statement. I believe that we can understand the concept by recognizing it as a metaphor; the most appropriate metaphor to explain Dao's contradictory nature is to compare the term to water. Since Dao ontologically moves through a universe that is "the bipolar synergy of mutual creativity and liquidation," it fluctuates between states in the same manner that water can be found in the states of solid, liquid and gas. And given that Dao is a Creative force that is ontologically inherent in all beings, it would necessarily present itself in a being's given state as energy or substance. Laozi's conception of Dao seemed to be designed to fit within the binary-pair nature of the universe envisioned by the ancient Chinese. Laozi, like the ancient Chinese, understood events in the world as expressions of relationships and patterns, and not as results of cause and effect. 79 Particularly, the 78. Jones, "The Philosophy of the Daodejing," 21. 79. This has implications in my later comparisons between Laozi's and Spinoza's philosophy, where I will discuss how Laozi's conception of world events as expressions of relationships and patterns, and how Spinoza' s scientific perspective that all events are cause and effect, affect their respective ontological claims. 46

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ancient Chinese saw patterns as being expressions of nature's hi-polarities: For the Chinese there are two fundamental laws underlying change in the universe, the law of polar reversal and the law of periodicity. Polar Reversal means that things change into their opposites, but not only that. Even more profoundly, the seeds of change are carried within each entity; each entity contains within itself the tendency that will one day manifest as its opposite. Periodicity means things change in recurring cycles, like night and day or the changing of the seasons. 80 The ancient Chinese may have developed the principles of "Periodicity" and "Polar Reversal" from observing the cyclical changes in nature. They not only deemed these principles to be active in the universe, but also active in every entity. The ontological implications of these principles are that the nature of all beings, including human beings, are inclined to "change into their opposite." The word "change" implies movement. Since the ancient Chinese assumed that the creative force is intrinsically endowed in all things, they believed that all entities inevitably move according to the two principles.81 All events in the universe were then mere occurrences of the relationship of movements between all things. Moreover, the view of a cyclical moving universe suggests that the "world is 'an integral whole, a web of interrelated things and events. Within this web ... an entity can be defined only by its function and has significance only as part of the whole pattern. "'82 This is essentially a 80. William Meacham, "Tao Te Ching Ontology," In Being Human: Essence and Fulfillment, September 24, 2010, accessed July 23, 2010: 5, http://www.bmeacham.com/whatswhat/TaoTeChingOntology.html. 81. Meacham, "Tao Te Ching Ontology." 82. Meacham, "Tao Te Ching Ontology." 47

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monistic view of the universe in which all beings move and are related to the existence of another. Thus, all beings are significant insofar as each functions in the moving "pattern." For both Laozi and the ancient Chinese, a circular moving universe also implies that the evolution of all beings follows a circular pattern: [The] ontological movement within the overall process of "endurance" of the Way (Dao), was never perceived as only a linear process, nor as only an evolutionary process (from one definite beginning to its future definitive final end), which is so popular in Western ontological theories, but as a bipolar circulation of regular, though asymmetrical and changeable polarisations of the charge fields and time-space forms ofthe creative power of the Universe. Its energy, as Laozi said, is in every way an expansivity from itself.83 Dao 's energy expands over and moves in all things through a circular and evolutionary process characterized by its moving between the encounters of polar opposites. In Western ontological theories, evolution is a linear process. However, in the Eastern ontological theories, all beings in a circular moving universe evolve in a circular pattern. This ancient Chinese understanding of the universe as a place of moving energies between hi-polarities, and not a place of cause and effect, resonates in Laozi 's philosophy. The DDJ, in fact, does not address questions of ontology in terms of causality. Rather, it extensively discusses the cyclical patterns and laws inherent in the natural world, to which all beings are subject. Laozi also borrows from the ancient Chinese the idea that political and moral conduct should follow natural laws. The ancient Chinese' conception of a patterned 83. Camogurska, "Original ontological roots of ancient Chinese philosophy," 4. 48

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universe reveals that they believe the world has its own inherent order which all beings must follow. Thus, the premise of ancient Chinese politics is based on following natural laws, and this premise is reflected in the DDJ. Laozi implies in several chapters in the DDJ that a ruler should govern the people with laws based on nature, and the people should act in such ways that accord with nature. For Laozi, as well as for the ancient Chinese, politics and moral conduct are essentially conditioned by natural laws. Moeller argues that Laozi intended for the DDJ to be a political manual for rulers. During the time of agrarian society, Laozi and other Chinese thinkers wrote philosophical texts to assist the rulers with managing peasant work: Like it or not, philosophy or intellectual activity in ancient China was distinguished from manual labor, and thus philosophical texts were not only political in nature (because they normally addressed the issue of good government and social order) but also "esoteric." They were not meant to contribute to general education, but to be studied only by a small fraction of the population, i.e., by those who had access to learning and power. If we want to understand the Laozi historically, we have to accept this context and thus also the fact that, as a philosophical treatise, it did not attempt to be generall.(' accessible. It was originally a text for the few-and it clearly shows.8 Moeller implies that the DDJ was mainly a political text written for the elites. However, the interest of this paper is not on analyzing the DDJ as a political text, but to connect the text's ethical propositions to its ontological root. The main concern is to show that the conception of nature with an inherent order, a view shared by Laozi and the ancient Chinese, affected the political and ethical claims in the DDJ. 84. Moeller, The Philosophy of the Daodejing, xi. 49

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Ancient Chinese thinking, discussed extensively in the above section, had fueled the development of certain ideas in Laozian philosophy. For example, Laozi coined the term Dao to describe a creative or ontological force that the pre-Laozian Chinese already recognized as intrinsic in all things. The pre-Laozian Chinese also believed that all things moved due to the creative force within them that fluctuated between hi-polarities. These pre-existing perceptions suggested that ancient Chinese ideas were encoded in Laozi's ontology of nature. Laozi's explanations of how things come into being were all related to the belief of a creative force that cyclically moves between the energy fields in a bipolarized universe. Essentially, Laozi was concerned with same questions that the ancient Chinese attempted to address: He wanted to provide explanations of what exists in the universe, and how the behaviors of beings are determined. The ancient Chinese essentially provided Laozi with the premise of a creative force that gives birth and asserts order in the world, and thus the concept of Dao appears in the DDJ as the ontological force of all things. Nature as the Basis of Ontology In this chapter, I have demonstrated that Spinoza and Laozi each found the basis for their common conception that the world is entirely composed of nature from the intellectual discussions and writings of their respective contemporaries. Spinoza, as a scientist, did not have to borrow ideas from Laozi to create a monistic ontology of nature, since nature was the very object of his discipline. Laozi was influenced by ancient Chinese to think of nature as encompassing the universe. Consequently, by 50

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using nature as the basis of ontology, Spinoza's and Laozi's definitions of ontological categories seem similar. In Chapter Three, I will define and analyze the ontological term, God/substance from the Ethics, and the ontological term, Dao from the DDJ, and demonstrate that those terms share similar ideas due to the premise that existence is derived from the natural world. Then, I will demonstrate through comparison that Laozi and Spinoza share similar moral and ethical ideas due to each of their prior establishment of an ontological system based on nature. 51

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3. DEFINITIONS IN ONTOLOGY OF NATURE Both Spinoza and Laozi use nature as the foundation of their ontologies, and the justification for their subsequent ethical claims. The beginning chapters of both Spinoza's Ethics and Laozi's Daodejing (herein DDJ) present extensive ontological definitions ofwhat exists, and the nature of the relationship between those existents. Part One of the Ethics contains definitions for substance, attribute and mode, which frame the argument that God is the only substance. According to Nadler, the definitions have a dynamic function, in that they initiate Spinoza's propositions. They further support and develop the already demonstrated propositions into subsequent propositions. Nadler clarifies the logic behind erecting definitions in the Ethics: A definition delineates the essence of a thing-what it is to be a substance; what it is to be a cause, etc. It allows one to deduce the properties that necessarily belong to its object. "We require a concept, or definition, of the thing such that when it is considered alone, without any others conjoined, all the thing's properties can be deduced from it" (TIE, G 11.35/C 1.40). From the definition of a circle, one can deduce that all the lines drawn from the center to the circumference are equal. From the definition of substance, it must be possible to derive all the properties (eternity, infinitude, uniqueness, existence) that necessarily belong to any substance. 85 85. Nadler, Spinoza 's Ethics: An Introduction, 44. 52

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In other words, the premise of Spinoza's ontology relies on establishing the essence of things through definitions. In so doing, Spinoza could deduce from a thing's essence its properties. This method allows Spinoza to assign properties to substance, and designate how all extended beings come to exist and behave according to the properties of substance. By beginning the Ethics with the definition of substance, which is equivalent to the natural world, Spinoza demonstrates the significance of substance/nature in his subsequent ontological and ethical claims. Thus, understanding the definitions is a prerequisite for following the overall logic of the geometrically ordered system in the Ethics. Functioning similarly to the definitions in the Ethics, the definition of Dao serves as the starting point for developing subsequent propositions in the DDJ. In Chapter One, Laozi offers a paradoxical definition of Dao as that which is "nameless," "the mother of all things," the "hidden," the "manifest," the "Mystery" and "the Door of all essence," 86 suggesting that the term designates something ineffable or multivalent. Since Dao also refers to the "Door of all essences," this implies that through Dao we can determine what exists in the universe. Subsequent ontological and ethical propositions in the DDJ are derived from such paradoxical and elusive definitions of Dao. Different chapters in the DDJ, as a result, advance contradictory propositions regarding Dao's attributes and categories. Unlike the Ethics and other Western philosophical texts, the DDJ does not contain "a reasoned, 86. Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching, 3. 53

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chain-like sequence ofthought,"87 but provides various arguments based on different definitions of Dao in different chapters. Jones summarizes the definitions of Dao according to various interpretations by scholars: As a psychological definition, LaFargue describes the dao as a "hypostatized internal presence", "force", or "Pcower", which has the ability to "bring people a true understanding of things", 0 and as a cosmological definition Wong describes the dao as "an impersonal and unnamed force behind the workings of the universe."11 Alan Chan concludes that the dao is thought of as "the source of all being" yet that "it cannot be itself a being", for then "the problem of infinite regress cannot be overcome."12 Each of these definitions, though fair to the Daodejing and Taoism in general, are only able to give partially definitive and denotative surety due to the elusive nature of the dao and the inability of language to penetrate its true essence. This is true of all definitions, yet, as was shown earlier, the Daodejing makes many attempts at doing so.88 The fact that Dao has been defined as a force and a non-being that is simultaneously the "source" of all beings illustrates that the term Dao cannot be confined to a single definition, and that its meaning fluctuates with interpretation. Even in several chapters of the DDJ, Laozi attempts to offer different definitions to elucidate the meaning of Dao. Nonetheless, like the definitions in the Ethics, the various definitions of Dao are prerequisites for understanding the metaphysics of the DDJ. Interpretation ofLaozi's subsequent claims must be cognizant ofthe varied definitions of Dao itself. Given that Spinoza and Laozi's ontological claims are outgrowths of the many definitions of existents, analyzing these definitions is essential in making the 87. Jones, "The Philosophy of the Daodejing," 22. 88. Jones, "The Philosophy of the Daodejing," 22. 54

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philosophical comparison of the Ethics and the DDJ possible. I will focus on comparing the specific properties of the objects of those definitions. In so doing, I will demonstrate how the most important definitions in the two texts share similar traits, and show that Spinoza and Laozi make similar ontological claims based on making similar ontological definitions. God/Dao as Nature The most important ontological definitions in the monistic systems of the Ethics and the DDJ are God and Dao, which seem to be analogous terms. Though Spinoza's God is a being, and Laozi's Dao is a non-being, God and Dao each refer to an originary source of the substantive or natural world, and express the one or ultimate reality for all beings. These two terms respectively lay the foundations for the entire philosophical systems of the Ethics and the DDJ. Spinoza's and Laozi's subsequent ontological definitions and propositions, which are built on the principle definitions of God and Dao, also share similar ideas. It is by equating God/Dao to the natural world that Spinoza and Laozi are able to establish their monistic systems. Spinoza 's God/Substance At the very beginning of Part I of the Ethics, Spinoza places the definition of substance as basis for the claim that God is the only substance that constitutes the entire natural world, which in turn proves that God exists. Spinoza begins the definition of"self-caused," then attributes that property to substance: 55

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By that which is self-caused, I mean that of which the essence involves existence, or that of which the nature is only conceivable as existent (EIDI); By substance, I mean that which is in itself, and is conceived through itself; in other words, that of which a conception can be formed independently of any other conception (EIDIII); By attribute, I mean that which the intellect perceives as constituting the essence of substance (EIDIV); By mode, I mean the modifications [ "Affectiones '1 of substance, or that which exists in, and is conceived through, something other than itself (EIDV). 89 Since only substance is conceived through itself and contains all attributes and modes, all finite things, or "modes," depend on substance for their conception. Spinoza follows this definition of substance with the definition of God to show parallel between God and substance: By God, I mean a being absolutely infinite--that is, a substance consisting in infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality (EID6).90 God is substance by virtue of carrying the properties of infinity and attributes that belong to substance. It seems that Spinoza establishes the definition of substance to infer God's existence from the essence of God's being as substance. According to Bennett, Spinoza does so because he "accepted the then standard view that no substance can depend on anything else for its existence; so any substance must depend on itself for its existence.91 Since substance was commonly understood 89. Henceforth, all references to passages in the Ethics are from this web edition. Baruch Spinoza, Ethics, Translated by R H M Elwes, MTSU Philosophy Web Works Hypertext Edition 1997, http://frank.mtsu.edu/-rbombard!RB/Spinoza/ethica l.html. 90. Spinoza, Ethics. 91. Bennett, "Spinoza's Metaphysics," 64. 56

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during Spinoza's time as an independent thing that conceives its own existence, Spinoza equates God and substance so to prove that God is a being that conceives itself. This leads to the conclusion that God exists, since God's being is the natural world of substance. Following the definitions that demonstrate how God is substance, Spinoza asserts that the essence of God/substance entails existence. The proposition states: Existence belongs to the nature of substance (EIP7). 92 To understand how the essence of God/substance entails existence, we need to examine what the term essence means for Spinoza. The definition of essence is implied in a later proposition: God's power is identical with his essence (EIP34). Here, we understand the term essence to mean power. However, the proposition does not clarify whether or not the essence of God is different from all essences. Earle explains that Spinoza does not deem that all essences lead to existence: Spinoza does not assert that all essences involve existence, nor that essence as such involves existence. Here he would insist that most essences do not and cannot involve existence. The question concerns only one special essence, the essence of substance, or of that "which is in itself and conceived through itself." This one, Spinoza asserts, must involve existence; and to see why, we must know what Spinoza means by the terms, "essence," "existence," and "substance." Let us first examine the notion of essence. Essence, for Spinoza, is not a purely logical term, the mere object of any definable sign. Essence expresses something positive, it expresses power or reality.93 92. Spinoza, Ethics. 57

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In other words, the only essence that involves existence is the essence of substance, which is identical with God. If essence "expresses power or reality," then God/substance, the only one that can conceive itself (EID3), must express the ultimate power or reality. Spinoza supports the claim that the essence of God/substance expresses the ultimate reality with the reason that God/substance is an absolutely infinite being. In EID6e, Spinoza relates God/substance as an absolutely infinite being to reality, and offers in EIA 7 that only existents can be in the reality expressed by the essence of God/substance: I say absolutely infinite, not infinite after its kind: for, of a thing infinite only after its kind, infinite attributes may be denied; but that which is absolutely infinite, contains in its essence whatever expresses reality, and involves no negation (EID6e ); If a thing can be conceived as non-existing, its essence does not involve existence (EIA 7).94 EIA 7 has implications for interpreting EID6e. "Whatever expresses reality" means that the absolutely infinite being includes all that exists. Therefore, if God is absolutely infinite, encompassing all reality, this must, by definition, include the natural world. And since EIA 7 states that there is no thing that does not exist, this means that there is no thing that is not part of God. This supports the definition of EID6 that God is substance. Forsyth asserts that the reason Spinoza equates God to 93. William A Earle, "The Ontological Argument in Spinoza." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 11, no. 4, June 1951: 549-554, accessed May 8 2009, Published by International Phenomenological Society, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2103966. 94. Spinoza, Ethics. 58

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the ultimate reality is "because to [God] must pertain all fullness of being and completeness of nature, and because God must be conceived as eternal, infinite and perfect being." And furthermore, "[i]fGod is to be all that is truly meant by God, nothing else will suffice; since anything less than this falsifies the divine nature by turning it into something finite and therefore imperfect.95 With God's being expressing the ultimate reality, God must be the perfect and complete being without deficiency. The concept of the "ultimate reality" also makes certain the reality of God's existence, since "existence is involved in the very nature of the being thus defined."96 In this world of one reality, all things must be the parts that constitute the entirety of the being of God/substance. This means that the substantive and natural world serves as testament to God's existence. Spinoza further proves that God exists as the substantive world with subsequent propositions that all finite things depend on God/substance for their conception and existence: "God, or substance, consisting of infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality, necessarily exists" (EIPll ); "Besides God no substance can be granted or conceived. (EIP14); "Whatsoever is, is in God, and without God nothing can be, or be conceived''. (EIP 15). 97 These arguments show that God/substance must necessarily exist since all things 95. T M Forsyth, "Spinoza's Doctrine of God in Relation to His Conception of Causality," Philosophy, 23, no. 87, October 1948: 293, accessed October 4 2008, JSTOR http://www.jstor.org. 96. Forsyth, "Spinoza's Doctrine of God in Relation to His Conception of Causality," 293. 97. Spinoza, Ethics. 59

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carry and depend on its infinite attributes for existence. Given that nothing can be conceived without God/substance, the ultimate reality for all finite things must be the God/substance of which they constitute. Asserting that God's being is infinitely real is one of the ways Spinoza built his argument toward ontological monism, or the One substance. Bar-Elli suggests Spinoza was influenced by the common seventeenth century idea that a thing can be more real than another thing by having more qualities and attributes. This logically leads to the argument that something that contains infinite attributes and properties would be infinitely real. Therefore, "Spinoza derives from the idea of a substance its being infinitely real, and from this-that it is absolutely infinite, or God."98 Keeping in mind the belief of his seventeenth century predecessors, Spinoza defined substance as having infinite attributes, to argue that substance is the most real, or "infinitely real." This helped him establish that God is substance, and then argue that all of existence is the outgrowth of substance. The understanding of substance contributed to Spinoza's development of an ontological monism in which all beings exist in God/substance. He stated: Existence belongs to the nature of substance (EIP7).99 This meant that all things are born from a single source, that is the One substance. 98. Gilead Bar-Elli, "Spinoza's Modal-Ontological Argument for Monism," March 28, 2006: 2, accessed Aprill4, 2010, http://www.bar-elli.co.iVSpinoza-P14.pdf. 99. Spinoza, Ethics. 60

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The God/substance as ultimate reality argument also counters the Judeo-Christian understanding of God's being as external to the natural world. 100 It offers instead that God is the only substance in which all finite things consist as modes, and that reality exists within the natural world. Thus, Spinoza's ontology is simultaneously the study of God's being as well as the study of reality of the natural world. Spinoza's idea of the One substance further solves the issue of the infinite regression ofbeing, which problematizes the existence of God in an infinite chain of causality. The issue stems from attempting to identify the first cause of all of existence, which begs the question of the antecedent cause of the first cause. Spinoza approaches this problem in two ways: 1) Prove that all things depend on God/substance for their existence, and 2) God/substance is causa-sui, and necessarily exists by self-causality. Each approach is elaborated below. First, to prove that all things exist by God/substance, he proposes that each thing can be distinguished from another by the attribute it carries, implying that all things are modes ofGod/substance101: Two or more distinct things are distinguished one from the other either by the difference of the attributes of the substances, or by the difference of their modifications (EIP4).102 100. Jacub Jirsa, "The ethical significance of substance-God difference," EBSCO, accessed May 10, 2010, http://www.ebscohost.com/, 4. 101. In EID5, a mode is defmed as "that which exists in, and is conceived through, something other than itself." A thing, by nature carries the attribute of God/substance, would be a mode. By stating in EIP4 that things can be distinguished from the other by the attributes they carry, Spinoza is implying that all things are modes of God/substance. 102. Spinoza, Ethics. 61

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Every existent is a "modification" of the only substance because each existent carries an attribute. With the ideas that attributes are properties ofthe One substance, and each existent can carry different attributes, Spinoza is able to explain why things can be distinguished from each other in a monistic system. This eliminates the problem of infinite regress when existents are constituents or "modes" of the One substance that produced them; the vision of the One substance suggests that there is only One cause of all things, which eliminates the problem of identifying a first cause. Second, Spinoza introduces God/substance as causa-sui to prove that God, whose nature is substance, necessarily exists as the cause of all things in the substantive world. He states that: One substance cannot be produced by another substance (EIP6).103 Since nothing precedes or produces substance, it follows that God/substance must have caused its own existence.104 With further propositions that God is substance: "God, or substance consisting of infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality, necessarily exists" (EIP 11 ), 105 and that all things are conceived by God: "besides God no substance can be granted or conceived'' 103. Spinoza, Ethics. 104. Jirsa, "The ethical significance of substance-God difference," 5. 105. Spinoza, Ethics. 62

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(EIP14), 106 Spinoza presents a monism based on God/substance. If we are to accept that all things are conceived by and exist within God/substance, then logically all things would be subject to the causality of God/substance. Spinoza does address the condition of a thing as a mode: Individual things are nothing but modifications of the attributes of God, or modes by which the attributes of God are expressed in a fixed and definite manner (EIPC25c ); {a] thing, which has been conditioned by God to act in a particular way, cannot render itself unconditioned (EIP27).107 These propositions show that a thing is by essence a mode of God, and thus if God acts, a thing must act as well, since a thing is conditioned to act like God. The substantive world, which is constitutive of God, is conditioned by God to obey the laws of causality. In a corollary to a later proposition, Spinoza clarifies that God/substance is the sole cause ofbeing, and without God/substance, nothing can exist: God is cause of the being of things (essendi rerum). For whether things exist, or do not exist, whenever we contemplate their essence, we see that it involves neither existence nor duration; consequently, it cannot be the cause of either the one or the other. God must be the sole cause, inasmuch as to him alone does existence appertain. (Prop. xiv. Coroll. i.) Q.E.D. (EIP24c)108 In other words, God causes the conception of all beings, and no individual being can cause another being to be conceived. All essences are derived from the only cause 106. Spinoza, Ethics. I 07. Spinoza, Ethics. 108. Spinoza, Ethics. 63

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that is God. By proving God/substance is causa-sui and the cause of all things, Spinoza arrives at the proposition that God/substance and nature refer to the same entity. He distinguishes nature into two types, as active and passive natures, to support his proposition. According to Spinoza, if the natural world is the place of cause and effect, 109 and God/substance is the cause of all things, then God/substance must also be the natural world. In EIP29p, Spinoza provides the characteristics for nature that appear identical to that of God/substance; he differentiates nature into two types, as active nature (natura naturans), and passive nature (natura naturata), and then details how they resemble aspects of God/substance: [B]y nature viewed as active we should understand that which is in itself, and is conceived through itself, or those attributes of substance, which express eternal and infinite essence, in other words (Prop. xiv., Coroll. i., and Prop. xvii., Coroll. ii.) God, in so far as he is considered as a free cause. By nature viewed as passive I understand all that which follows from the necessity of the nature of God, or of any of the attributes of God, that is, all the modes ofthe attributes of God, in so far as they are considered as things which are in God, and which without God cannot exist or be conceived. (EIP29p)IIO Spinoza associates active nature (natura naturans) and passive nature (natura naturata) to the nature of God/substance: Natura naturans is a free cause that conceives through itself infinite attributes of substance; And, natura naturata refers 109. It is the position of the rationalists and seventeenth century thinkers that the world functions on causality. 110. Spinoza, Ethics. 64

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to modes that exist by God/substance, and must depend on God/substance for their existence. In other words, the active nature defines God's causa-sui nature, while the passive nature exhibits characteristics of things that exist within God/substance. Nature's properties are thus the same as those in God/substance. Jirsa argues that the unity of the three entities, substance, nature and God, have significant affect on Spinoza's later propositions: [S]ubstance, nature (as 'natura naturans') and God are one and the same entity, ens absolutum, as a fundamental self-causing active principle. Each of these is ens absolutum, albeit ens absolutum as grasped from a particular point ofview. This absolute being manifests itself in different ways and as such must be conceived, but it cannot be conceived in an adequate way ifwe do not see the unity of these different manifestations. 111 The three entities represent different manifestations of God. In addition to Jirsa's argument, I believe that Spinoza unifies the three entities in order to present a coherent, monistic view of the world. This view serves as the foundation for his later ethical claims regarding the moral conduct of human beings who are constitutive of the world they live in. Furthermore, given that the natural world is the manifestation of God's being, then one can argue that the laws of cause and effect in the natural world reflect the laws inherent in God/substance. This has implications on Spinoza's later ethical claims that human beings, as part of the natural world, are subject to the laws of cause and effect. Spinoza emphasizes that human beings are part of Nature in Part IV of the Ethics: Ill. Jirsa, "The ethical significance of substance-God difference." 5. 65

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It is impossible, that man should not be apart of Nature, or that he should be capable of undergoing no changes, save such as can be understood through his nature only as their adequate cause (EIVP4).112 Spinoza suggests, through this proposition, that human beings, as part of Nature, can change their nature according to causes in the natural world. In this sense, the behaviors of human beings are connected to the natural world. Spinoza's ethics will be discussed more extensively in Chapter Four. In the next section, I will discuss what Laozi means by Dao, and how the concept is similar to Spinoza's concept of God/substance. Other similarities will be revealed as well, such as how Spinoza's unification of the three manifestations of God mirrors Laozi's unification of the three manifestations of Dao. The discussion will show that Laozi, like Spinoza, correlates the ontological force to the natural world. Laozi's Dao Laozi's definition of Dao resembles Spinoza's God/substance in many ways, in that Dao possesses the properties that are similar to God/substance, such as having infinite attributes, being the ultimate reality and being the source of the natural world, Dao's ontological status, however, is not as clearly defined as God/substance. Laozi describes Dao as a "Mystery of all mysteries" in Chapter One, showing that the term cannot be limited to definition. The lack of clarification points to the ineffability of 112. Spinoza. Ethics. 66

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Dao, which frustrates many scholars who want to decipher the concept. Lai advocates Charles Fu's influential interpretation as a beginning point for comprehending Dao's complexity: "Charles Fu identifies six dimensions of dao: material reality ('reality and manifestation'), origin, principle, function, virtue and technique (1973). These six dimensions are, effectively, different ways of conceptualising dao; they are not mutually exclusive categories."113 Fu's interpretation makes apparent the difficulty in pinpointing the exact meaning of Dao, when the concept contains possibly six dimensions. Thus, the interpretation of Dao will vary depending on the context of the chapter in which the term appears. The definition of the term is further complicated by its etymological meaning, which carries differs from its philosophical meaning. Shen explains: "Laozi posits dao as the most important concept in his system of thought, replacing heaven in ancient Chinese thought as representing the ultimate reality. Etymologically, the Chinese word dao means a way on which one could work out a direction and a way out. It could also mean "to say," "to speak," or "to discourse," though this aspect is generally denied by Laozi, for whom the function of discourse is always taken in its negative sense."114 For this paper, the philosophical meaning of Dao as the replacement for the ancient Chinese concept of "heaven" and "ultimate reality" is of interest. Rather than focusing on the etymological meaning of Dao, which refers to the function of discourse that Laozi viewed negatively, I will explore the philosophical meaning of 113. Karyn L Lai, An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 74. 114. Shen, "Laozi (Lao Tzu)," 356. 67

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Dao in my interpretation of the DDJ. This, in tum, will allow me to compare the philosophical ideas that are shared between Spinoza's and Laozi's texts. Like Spinoza, Laozi begins the DDJ with the definition of Dao as the foundation for his ontological system, but the definition does not clearly show if Dao itself is a being or a non-being. The literal meaning of the term is Way, 115 implying that it refers to a force, and not a physical entity. At first, Chapter One defines Dao (@)1 16 as the nameless origin of all things: TAO can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao. Names can be named, but not the Eternal Name. As the origin of heaven-and-earth, it is nameless: As "the Mother" of all things, it is nameable. So, as ever hidden, we should look at its inner essence: As always manifest, we should look at its outer aspects. These two flow from the same source, though differently named; And both are called mysteries. The Mystery of mysteries is the Door of all essence. (DDJ 1)117 115. Note: Chan translates the frrst verse of Chapter One as: "The Tao (Way) that can be told of is not the eternal Tao." Tao and Way appear equivalent in this verse. Laozi, "The Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching)," quoted in "The Natural Way Of Lao Tzu," inA Source Book In Chinese Philosophy, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963, 139. 116. There are two phonetic pronunciations of the word ":ii" as Tao or Dao. Since Dao is the closer phonetic pronunciation of the word, I will use Dao to refer to ":ii" throughout my analysis of DDJ. Please note that Dao and Tao both refer to the word ":ii," and that certain quotes in this paper will use Tao to refer to the same Chinese word. 117. Note: Out of more than one hundred translated versions of DDJ, I choose to utilize the translations from John C. H. Wu 's version and WingTsit Chan's version for philosophical analysis, because both Wu and Chan present more literal and scholarly translations of the Chinese text. When appropriate, I will use verses from both versions to support my interpretation. Herein, all references to English translations of DDJ are from either Wu's or Chan's version. Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching, 3. 68

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(DDJI)118 The first two lines differentiate Dao (m) from the "Eternal Dao'' suggesting that the term Dao cannot directly define or name that which is "Eternal." Ergo, the term Eternal Dao serves as a linguistic placeholder for something that is ineffable. The concept of Dao also presents many paradoxical properties that speak to its mutable nature. According to the fifth and sixth lines, Dao has both the properties of the "hidden" or nothingness119 (.)and the "manifest" or thingness120 The above lines clarify the meaning of the third and fourth lines that Dao becomes the origin of"heaven" and when it is "nameless," or has no name ), and that Dao becomes "the Mother of all things" a) when it "can be named," or has name121 ). This shows that Dao can change between the state of 118. Herein, all references to the original Chinese texts of DDJ are from this online version. Laozi, "Lau-zi dao de jing," Project Gutenberg, May I 0, 2009, Produced by Ching-yi Chen, accessed June 6, 2010, http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/7337/pg7337.html. 119. Note: The literal translation is "nothingness"; due to the difficulty of translating the poetic language of DDJ into English, John C. H. Wu altered the meaning of specific Chinese words in order to translate each verse in DDJ as coherent English sentences. For the sake of doing philosophical analysis of specific words and phrases in the Chinese context, I provide next to Wu's translations the additional literal meaning for those words and phrases. Herein, all notes regarding literal translation of Chinese words signal my additions. 120. Note: The literal translation of(1f) is thingness. 121. Note: The literal translation of(1f11) is has name. 69

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being nothing and being something. Since a name is used to identify a being, naming Dao as "the Mother" would designate Dao as a being. Yet, Dao seems to be a nonbeing as the nameless origin ofthe universe. It follows that "the Mother" and "the origin" describe two different states of Dao, which leaves the question of Dao's ontological status. However, the end of Chapter One does not offer a satisfactory answer to this question. The last two lines affirm that Dao itself is the of all mysteries, and that we are to accept it as the origin of all essences (WY) without explanation. Furthermore, nothing in the DDJ offers a clarification of why the concept is a Mystery, or explicitly states whether it refers to a being or a non-being. However, the fact that Dao is the first concept defined in the DDJ, and is continuously defined throughout other chapters, shows the importance of Dao in Laozi's metaphysics. Many scholars attempt to address the contradiction of Dao as simultaneously a being and non-being, and Shen offers an interesting interpretation of the terms Wu or Nonbeing You or being (1f) that solves the contradiction. He suggests that the terms do not designate Dao's ontological status, but rather, they describe the ontological moments in which Dao manifests: Nonbeing (wu) and being (you) can be seen as the two ontological moments through which the dao manifests itself. The dao first manifests itself into non being, as the realm of possibilities. When compared with actuality these are nonbeing, but in themselves they are marvelous possibilities. From this realm of nonbeing some possibilities are realized in the realm of being, and to become being is to take the form of body. That is why the realm of being is 70

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rare and the realm ofnonbeing is much richer.122 According to this view, Dao manifests in different forms according to the ontological moment. Since Wu or non-being is the place where Dao, the "Door to all essences," fully realizes all of its possibilities, it follows that the essences represent the possibilities for the fruition of being. To understand in another way, Wu or nonbeing, describes the momentary reserve of possibilities with which Dao can manifest. It is in the moment of You or being that Dao manifests as the "Mother of all things" in the realm of being. In this sense, the essences of all things come from the essences of Dao. Laozi's Dao resembles Spinoza's God/substance in that it gives birth to all things. However, Dao is further credited as being the origin of both the earth, or the substantive realm, and heaven, or the non-substantive realm. Though the addition of the term, heaven, may seem to indicate that God/substance and Dao conceive and encompass different ontological realms, an analysis ofheaven will show that it refers to one of the essences possessed by both God/substance and Dao. We need to first examine the definition of heaven in Chinese thought, in order to understand its place in the ontological system of Dao. According to Moeller: The Chinese term for heaven (tian) is ... often translated as "nature." "Heaven" is not something transcendent, not something beyond or after this world, but the center of the world's functioning. Heaven is the course of the celestial bodies and thus the course of the seasons and the course of time 122. Shen, "Laozi (Lao Tzu)," 357. 71

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itself. It is the cycle oflife that life passes through.123 The Chinese use the term heaven to represent time in which the "cycle of life," the "course of the seasons" and the "course of the celestial bodies" take place. In other words, the essence of heaven expresses "cyclical time" ofthe world. Since the functionality of the world is based on time, heaven is rendered as an essential part of Dao, the Mother of all things. The word cyclical also represents infinity, which means that cyclical time refers to eternity. Heaven, then, is a term synonymous with eternity. It reasons that Dao, which encompasses heaven, has the property of eternity. Like Laozi, Spinoza also ascribes to God/substance the property of eternity. He provides the definition of the infinite being, and then proposes that God's being is eternal: By eternity, I mean existence itself, in so far as it is conceived necessarily to follow solely from the definition of that which is eternal (EID8)124 ; God, and all the attributes of God, are eternal (EIP9).125 Since God/substance, its attributes, and all that are conceived by God/substance are eternal, this shows that eternity, or infinite time, is one of the properties of God/substance. In this way, God/substance and Dao share the property of time. The essence of Dao, like the essence of God/substance, expresses the ultimate reality for all things. Yet, the difference between Dao and God/substance is that Dao 123. Moeller, The Philosophy of the Daodejing, 17. 124. Spinoza, Ethics. 125. Spinoza, Ethics. 72

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is a non-being that can express reality. Chapter Fourteen mentions the "realities" that constitute the "timeless" Dao: LOOK at it but you cannot see it! Its name is Formless. Listen to it but you cannot hear it! Its name is Soundless. Grasp it but you cannot get it! Its name is Incorporeal. These three attributes are unfathomable; Therefore they fuse into one. Its upper side is not bright: Its under side not dim. Continually the Unnameable moves on, Until it returns beyond the realm of things. We call it the formless Form, the imageless Image. We call it the indefinable and unimaginable. Confront it and you do not see its face! Follow it and you do not see its back! Yet, equipped with this timeless Tao, You can harness present realities. To know the origins is initiation into the Tao. (DDJ 14)126 Ja ill!Z./fJLtt. fAt!Jz@, (DDJ 14) 127 The first six lines explain that Dao has the "three of"formless" and The fact that one cannot see, hear, or get Dao means that this term refers to Dao' s incorporeal state. Dao is also 126. Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching, 29. 127. Laozi. Lau-zi dao dejing. 73

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unfathomable, since it originates from "beyond the realm of things," or the nothing128 Thus, its three attributes are necessarily unfathomable and can be "fused into one" or blended into one129 (mfffiA-). This mixture depicts Dao as the one reality that is comprised of all things. However, since the word "timeless" indicates that Dao is infinite, this means that finite beings are derived from the infinite non-being, which is a contradiction. It follows that the present or "timed" realities by which finite things exist are not the timeless Dao. How, then, can finite things have direct access to Dao? If Dao is to be understood as the only reality, then present realities would refer to the incomplete parts of the only reality for the realm of things. In this way, finite beings have limited access through present realities that partially constitute the ultimate reality of Dao. There is still hope, however, that one can access the ultimate reality. The last two lines hint that one can initiate the timeless Dao by equipping it. The fact that we can equip Dao reveals that Dao is readily available in the realm of things. Thus, Dao is the ultimate reality for all things, though it is hidden and unfathomable. Laozi's use of the concept of an ultimate reality parallels Spinoza's use, in that both philosophers use the concept to construct a coherent monistic system. In the DDJ, the reasoning for equating Dao to the ultimate reality is to suggest that Dao is the one reality that encompasses all of existence. Spinoza also presents 128. Note: The literal translation is nothing. 129. Note: The literal translation is blended into one. 74

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God/substance as the ultimate reality to emphasize the oneness of reality for all things. Both philosophers interestingly consider that there are varying degrees of realities, and to unite existence as one, they posit that all things are derived from one, ultimate reality. In the case of the DDJ, Laozi claims in Chapter One that there are two types of Dao, Dao (i!!) and the Eternal Dao that express varying degrees of reality. Lai asserts that out of the two, only the Eternal Dao is the ultimate reality: According to Daodejing 1, there are two daos, one real (chang dao) and the other apparent, superficial or impermanent (the dao that can be told). Passages in the Daodejing suggest that chang dao, conceived of as the entirety of reality, is greater than the sum of its individual parts (chapter 14). This is because the relationships between the individual entities are also an important part of dao.130 Individual entities inevitably act on and mutually influence others; the resulting whole is dynamic and ceaselessly transforming. The dynamic interactions and mutual influences among all things dao contribute to its ineffability and mystery (chapters 14, 16, 39, 42). 31 As opposed to the "apparent, superficial or impermanent" Dao, Lai suggests that the permanent, hidden and Eternal Dao is more real, because only the Eternal Dao is comprised of the entirety of all parts of reality. Shen offers another interpretation of the difference between Dao and the Eternal Dao: [T]he dao [is] the always self-manifesting ultimate reality. The self manifesting dao is "reality itself," whereas all we say about the dao is but "constructed reality," which is not and never could it be reality itself. This is as shown by Laozi's saying "The dao that could be said is not the constant d 132 ao. 130. Lai, An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy, 75. 131. Lai, An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy, 75. 132. Shen, "Laozi (Lao Tzu)," 356. 75

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For Shen, the self-manifesting Dao is the one that presents reality. Anything that we can "say" about Dao is our superficial construction of what we think the concept is. We can never get to its essence by speaking about it. In other words, language imposes an interpretation on Dao that distances us further from accessing the true reality of the Eternal Dao. This idea that the Eternal Dao is more real than the impermanent Dao (Dao that can be spoken of) is similar to Spinoza's idea that God/substance is the ultimate reality. I mentioned in the previous section of this paper that Spinoza adopted the common seventeenth century belief that ''the more real something is, the more qualities or attributes it has."133 It is by this belief that Spinoza asserted that God/substance has infinite attributes, to demonstrate that God/substance is the ultimate reality for all things. For Laozi, Eternal Dao is the ultimate reality by the reason that it is comprised of the entirety of the realm of beings. Both God/substance and Eternal Dao are elevated to the highest category by their property of completeness. It is by attributing the property of the ultimately real or completeness to God/substance or Dao that Spinoza and Laozi are able to create a monistic ontological system in which all things are inextricably connected to that ongm. To maintain that Dao is the ontological ground, Laozi made subsequent claims in Chapter Forty and Forty-Two that all things depend on Dao their 133. Bar-Elli, "Spinoza's Modal-Ontological Argument for Monism," 2. 76

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conception. According to Chapter Forty: THE movement of the Tao consists in Returning. The use of the Tao consists in softness. All things under heaven are born of the corporeal: The corporeal is born of the Incorporeal. (DDJ 40)134 The word Returning (.50 characterizes Dao (Ji!) as moving between bipolarities. The idea of bipolarity is related to the conception and behavior of beings. In the third and fourth lines, "the corporeal" are said to be born under heaven (:::7(), the incorporeal realm. This would suggest that heaven is the source of all that is corporeal. However, since we learn from Chapter One that Dao encompasses both heaven and earth, this would mean that Dao (Ji!) would be the origin of both the corporeal and the incorporeal. Chapter FortyTwo further details the cosmic birthing process from the single source that is Dao (Ji!): TAO gave birth to One, One gave birth to Two, Two gave birth to Three, Three gave birth to all the myriad things. All the myriad things carry the Yin on their backs and hold the Yang in their embrace, Deriving their vital harmony from the proper blending of the two vital Breaths. (DDJ 42)136 134. Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching, 83. 135. Laozi. Lau-zi dao dejing. 136. Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching, 87. 77

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(DDJ 42)137 Being conceived by Dao, "all the myriad things" possess the attributes of "Yin"(.) and and their vitality depends on balancing the two vital "Breaths"(.) of Yin and Yang. Like all things in Spinoza's system, the myriad things in Laozi's system carry and exist by the attributes of Dao, specifically Yin and Yang. This shows that Dao, like God/substance, is present within all existents. The ontological metaphysics in the Ethics and the DDJ are constructed with the understanding that all things are connected to God/substance or Dao through the attributes. The purpose of Chapter Forty and FortyTwo is to establish the "oneness" of the creative force of Dao. Chapter Forty presents the Eternal Dao as that which moves between bipolarities, and Chapter FortyTwo confirms that all things are not only born from the Eternal Dao, but that they bear its attributes of Yin and Yang. The two chapters demonstrate that the Eternal Dao is a moving force within all existents, and supports the argument that the dynamic interaction between individual entities contributes to the Eternal Dao as the Mystery, or the ineffable reality for all things. Based on the definition of Dao as the ultimate reality, Laozi then proposes that there are specific categories of existence that share the same ontological status 137. Laozi. Lau-zi dao dejing. 78

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within a Dao centered ontological system. Chapter Twenty-Five distinguishes all the great ontological categories and where human beings are positioned in the universe: I do not know its name; I call it Tao. If forced to give it a name, I shall call it Great. Now being great means functioning everywhere. Functioning everywhere means far-reaching. Being far-reaching means returning to the original point. Therefore Tao is great. Heaven is great. Earth is great. And [humankind]138 is also great. There are four great things in the universe, and [humankind] is one of them. [Humankind] models himself after Earth. Earth models itself after Heaven. Heaven models itself after Tao. And Tao models itself after Nature (DDJ 25). 139 (DDJ25)140 The word "great" (*), affixed to several terms throughout this Chapter, has the 138. Wing-Tsit Chan refers to Wang Pi and Ho-shang Kung version of DDJto translate the word "A" into the word "King," but the literal translation of"A" is "Human" or "Humankind." Chan does address the problem by suggesting that the word "King" should be understood as representing man. To prevent possible connotations of the word "King" from affecting the overall interpretation of this Chapter, I will use the word, "Humankind," in my analysis. To support my translation, scholars also find the translation King to be erroneous. According to Shen: "In making the king one of the four categories of existence, the text has committed an error, misplacing a category and politicizing ontological thinking. Also, how can one put the dao, earth, heaven, and humankind into the realm of a kingdom and change the status of these categories of existence into categories of the political?" Shen suggests an ontological politicizing occurs when the word "A" is translated into King, which carries a far more political connotation than a literal translation. Shen, "Laozi (Lao Tzu)," 357. 139. Lao Tzu. "Tao Teh Ching." p. 51. 140. Laozi. The Lao Tzu (Tao-Te Ching). Translated by Wing-Tsit Chan, 152. 79

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purpose of assigning to those terms ontological value. The term first appears in the fourth line to suggests that "Dao is great" (:@.:.k) by its ability to simultaneously move forward and return, or make bipolar movements; since Dao is "the origin of heaven and earth" and "the Mother of all things" (DDJ 1 ), it follows that the universe is a bipolarized place in which the force ontologically moves and conceives. Then, in lines seven through ten, the word great is applied to three additional terms: "Heaven is great" CR.:.k), "Earth is great" (:ffi!.:.k), and "[Humankind] is great" (A.:.k). The word great elevates Heaven, Earth and humankind to the status of Dao, implying that Heaven, Earth, humankind and Dao represent four ontological categories. Finally, lines thirteen through sixteen present the interdependency of those four ontological categories by the way they model after each other: In this equation, "[Humankind] models himself after Earth" (Att:ffi!), "Earth models itself after Heaven" (:ffi!ttJ(), "Heaven models itself after Tao" (7($:@) and "And Tao models itself after Nature" (l!!rt Since humankind, Earth and Heaven essentially all model themselves after Nature, or Dao, this means that Dao is the originator of and the archetype for the models of all ontological categories. Since humankind models or is subjected to the laws of the Earth, or the natural world, this shows that the universe is not human centric, but rather, that humankind, like all other ontological categories, are subjected to the laws of Dao. This cyclical order where all things are derived from and models themselves after Dao, and that Dao models after itself, allows Laozi to argue that all 80

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existence, including humankind, is subject to the ways or Dao's inherent order. In this way, there is no hierarchical order in Laozi's ontological system. Like Laozi, Spinoza asserts that all ontological categories, including humankind, exist as constituents of the greater whole of the natural world. By creating a vision of the One universe, Spinoza also does not assert that there is hierarchy in his ontological system. Younkins explains Spinoza's system: There is no ontological hierarchy for Spinoza. For him, the transcendent world does not exist. He proclaims there is no world except the existing one. In Spinoza's pantheistic notion there is only one substance (God), an absolutely infinite being made up of infinite attributes ofwhich only two, thought and physical extension, are known by man. He states that God's existence is necessary and that, because there is nothing other than the divine substance and its modifications, there is nothing that is contingent.141 Since there is no world beyond the One universe, and that all things are parts of the body of God/substance, one cannot distinguish ontological hierarchy in Spinoza's system. Furthermore, this system justifies existence: All existents are necessary, in that they necessarily constitute the body of God/substance. Both Spinoza and Laozi establish ontological categories for making later ethical claims. For example, the vision of One universe means that human beings are subjected to the other ontological categories, and are subjected to the laws of nature. My view is also supported by Younkin's interpretation: All entities, including man, are determined by universal natural laws to exist 141. Edward W Younkins, "Spinoza, on Freedom, Ethics, and Politics," Le Quebecois Libre, no. 178, May 7, 2006, accessed July 18, 2010, The Radical Academy, http://www .radicalacademy.com/studentrefi>hiiEWY .htm. 81

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and to act in a given definite and fixed manner. Spinoza maintains that all things in the universe are modifications ofthe same single substance and, therefore, not totally free in the sense in being able to do anything whatsoever.142 Though human beings, as modes, have to follow the inherent order of God/substance, Spinoza argues that we still have certain freedoms as individuals in this monistic worldview. Spinoza's ethical propositions and the implications of God/substance and Dao on the conduct on human beings will be discussed at length in Chapter Four. Finally, we arrive at the main point of comparison that is the focus of this section, which is Laozi's equation of the natural world to Dao. Laozi ascribes to Nature the attribute of creation, in order to show that Nature is itselfthe ontological force. He associates various natural elements with the birthing process. The most prominent element of nature associated with birth is the "valley" that appears in Chapter Six: The spirit of the valley never dies. It is called the subtle and profound female. The gate of the subtle and profound female Is the root of Heaven and Earth. It is continuous, and seems to be always existin. Use it and you will never wear it out. (DDJ 6)14 1t$JF:9E, (DDJ6)144 142. Younkins, "Spinoza, on Freedom, Ethics, and Politics." 143. Laozi. The Lao Tzu (Tao-Te Ching). Translated by Wing-Tsit Chan, 142. 144. Laozi, Lau-zi dao dejing. 82

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The is associated with "female" (tit), and "root" (fH), which all depict the origins of birth in the natural world. However, the "spirit" (fif!) refers to that which "never dies," meaning that the spirit refers to that which is infinite. Since the fourth line describes the spirit as the root that precedes the existence of Heaven and Earth, this suggests that the spirit is from the realm of non-being, or the space of possibilities, whereas the valley exists in the realm ofbeing, or the natural world.145 The spirit of the valley, then, would be the Nature, or the ontological force that actualizes beings in the natural world. Moreover, given that Chapter One states Dao is the origin ofHeaven and Earth, this would render the "spirit of the valley" as another name or expression for Dao. In this sense, the "spirit of the valley" as Nature carries the attribute of creation. This interpretation is further evidenced by the fifth line that the "spirit of the valley" is "always existing." Since Dao is eternal, and the "spirit of the valley" always exists, they are, ergo, synonymous terms. This Dao that represents the "spirit" refers to the manifestation of the Eternal Dao in the realm of non-beings. Since Chapter One makes a distinction between Dao (non-permanent) and the Eternal Dao (permanent), this means that Dao, the Eternal Dao and the natural world are three manifestations of the single entity that originates the 145. See page 68-69 on the explanation of the two ontological moments, Wu or Nonbeing You or being (ff), in which Dao manifests. 83

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universe.146 The natural world is thus one of the manifestations of Dao that ontologically acts upon existence. The purpose of Chapter Three is to demonstrate that both Spinoza's God/substance and Laozi's Dao exhibit similar properties and attributes, and consist ofthe natural world. Like Spinoza's God/substance, whose essence is the power for existence, Dao's essence is the force for creation, and their essences are expressed by the birthing process ofNature (the concept refers to the ontological force). Dao also carries properties like those of God/substance. For example, it possesses the attribute of causa-sui, in that it can manifest itself, either in the realm of being or non-being, and acts as an infinite, creative force that shapes the order of the natural world. Since all other ontological categories (Heaven, Earth, Human Beings) are derived from and follow after Dao, or that which is inherent in the natural world and its way of functioning, it follows that the laws of the natural world necessarily are modeled after the laws inherent in Dao. Nature is thus its manifestation in the realm of being. The above descriptions correlate Dao to the characteristics of God/substance, and present a monistic view of the world existing by and within its originator. Finally, the chapter concludes with the revelation that Laozi's depiction of Dao with its three manifestations of Dao, the Eternal Dao and the natural world appears similar to Spinoza's unification of the three manifestations of God, substance, and the natural 146. There are other mentions of nature in DDJ, but those mentions are related to how ethics and morality follow the laws of nature. Some mentions of nature will be discussed in terms of ethics and morality in Chapter Four. 84

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world. All ofthe similarities culminate in the idea of One substance or One universe. I have shown that Spinoza and Laozi each establishes an ontological definition as the foundation for their monistic systems: In Part I of the Ethics, Spinoza provides an elaborate definition of God as substance and Nature, which helps him argue that all beings in the natural world are parts that constitute God, the One substance; in Chapter One and supplemental Chapters of the DDJ, Laozi provides the definition of Dao as the origin of the universe and an ontological force in the natural world, to argue that all natural elements constitute the One universe. These similarities make apparent that Spinoza and Laozi include nature as part of their respective definitions of God/substance and Dao, to forward an ontological monism based on nature and its forces. Ontology ofNature as the Basis of Ethics I believe that Spinoza and Laozi incorporate the natural world in their ontologies to make subsequent propositions that ethical and moral conduct should follow nature, a place governed by the laws of cause and effect. Miller argues, in terms ofSpinoza's philosophy, that the natures of all beings contain and are governed by natura naturata: "It is true that within modified nature--what Spinoza sometimes calls "natura naturata"--beings are governed by both the laws inherent in their own 85

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natures and the laws of the natures ofhigher-level beings."147 In EIP29p, Spinoza explains that there are two types of nature, active nature (natura naturans), and passive nature (natura naturata), and natura naturata is inherent in the nature of all modifications, including human beings. In this way, the laws of nature are inherent in and govern the nature of human beings, and thus human beings are subject to the laws of nature. Lucash adds that human beings are further affected by other parts of nature: "Because we are part of nature, we are limited by other parts which are more powerful than we are. (E4P2, P3)."148 Like all constitutive parts of nature, human beings are affected by the laws of causality in nature, as well as by the causality of other natural elements. Following this logic, Spinoza asserts that society, whose members are part of the causal world, should model its laws to the laws of physics, or the laws of cause and effect of the natural world. His ethical propositions are derived from his definition of God/substance as Nature. For Laozi, ascribing Dao's ontological power to the natural world means that all things in the natural world are subject to the ways that Dao functions. This has implication on the moral and ethical ways that human beings should function as well. Moeller puts forth the theory that Dao represents the "model of efficacy," in that it effects the functioning of the elements of nature, and all beings that exist within 147. Jon Miller, "Spinoza and the Concept of a Law of Nature," History of Philosophy Quarterly, 20, no. 3, 2003: 263. 148. Frank Lucash, "The Origin and Development ofSpinoza's Political Philosophy," Southwest Philosophy Review, 21, no. 2, 2005: 6. 86

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nature: The Dao of the Laozi seems to be the "way" (this is the literal meaning of the word) that processes (or mechanisms or organisms or things) function when they function well. The images show that this model of efficacy is not limited to a particular realm. It is applicable to nature or the cosmos as well as to social or political issues. It applies to agriculture, government, and also artisanship. It may be taken into account when growing and nourishing plants and animals, when ordering a community, things, or, in general, when living "between heaven and earth."14 Moeller suggests that the ways of Dao, the model of efficacy, structures every aspect of human life, including the order of society and politics. The ethical philosophy of the DDJ, in this way, resembles the one proposed by the Ethics. In the following chapter, I will show how Spinoza's and Laozi's ethical and moral claims are related to their ontological systems. 149. Moeller, The Philosophy of the Daodejing, 20. 87

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4. ETHICS FROM ONTOLOGY OF NATURE I will demonstrate that the coherence ofSpinoza's and Laozi's propositions on the ethics of being are contingent on the pre-established ontological monisms of God/substance and Dao. Their assertions of what determines the behaviors of human beings are based on the proposition that all beings, including human beings, are parts ofthe One substance for Spinoza, and parts of the One universe for Laozi. By equating God/substance and Dao to the natural world, the nature of human beings becomes subject to natural causality. Spinoza and Laozi thus propose an ethics of self-preservation based on the premise that the natural world exerts causal influence that threatens to destroy beings. Spinoza's Conatus and Laozi's De The ontological principles in the Ethics and in the DDJ serve as links to the development of ethical arguments. The basis ofSpinoza's ethical claims is the ontological principle of conatus, and the basis ofLaozi's ethical claims is the ontological principle of De. Both of these principles are present in the nature of hwnan beings. Through the principles, hwnan beings can achieve individuality, and achieve a virtuous life. The significance of the principles to the understanding of human nature will be discussed at length and compared in the following section. 88

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Conatus and the Ethics of Self-Preservation The nexus between Spinoza's ontology and ethics is the proposition that everything has the power "to persist in its own being," or the power of selfpreservation. In a similar placement to the definition of substance at the very beginning of the Part I of the Ethics, this proposition is placed at the beginning of Part III of the Ethics entitled, "On the Origin and Nature ofthe Emotions," to serve as the foundation of later propositions on the nature ofhuman beings. Most Spinozan scholars interpret the power to "persist in its own being" as the power of conatus, which can be translated as the endeavor to exist, or the power of self-preservation.150 Younkins explains that for Spinoza, conatus is inherent in human nature, and a law by which a being can be distinct from another: According to Spinoza, primacy of self-interest is a basic law of human nature. He says that human beings share a common drive for self-preservation and seek to maintain the power of their being. Conatus is the power to preserve in being. Spinoza's conatus principle states that human individuals aim to persist in being in order to assert themselves in the world in their distinct individuality. Like all things in nature, man through his body and through his mind strives to persevere in his being and his mind is conscious of this striving. It is in man's capacity to think that he differs from all other natural entities.151 This inherent power allows individuals to preserve their being and assert their individuality in the world, and it has far reaching implications on moral and ethical behaviors, and on the nature ofhuman beings who possess this power. My 150. Jirsa, "The ethical significance of substance-God difference in Spinoza's Ethics 1," 6. 151. Younkins. "Spinoza, on Freedom, Ethics, and Politics." 89

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interpretation agrees with Jacob Jirsa; Spinoza asserts that the ontological principle of conatus is inherent in beings to justify the ethics of self-preservation. I will discuss how Spinoza develops this argument in the following section. The argument for the presence of conatus in beings first appears in EIIIP6. Prior to the proposition on conatus, Spinoza offers the premises that a thing has its own ontological integrity, and that external causes can threaten to destroy its existence: Nothing can be destroyed, except by a cause external to itself(EIIIP4); Things are naturally contrary, that is, cannot exist in the same object, in so far as one is capable of destroying the other (EIIIP5).152 Since all things are parts of the causal world, a thing's existence can be threatened by the causality of another thing. To respond to this threat, Spinoza then asserts that everything has the ability to "persist in its own being": Everything, in so far as it is in itself, endeavours to persist in its own being (EIIIP6). 153 Since everything has this ability "in itself," this means that the ability is inherent in the nature of things. The proposition further implies that it is an existent's ontological imperative to strive to exist, and that without conatus, things can easily lose their state of existence. This means that all things must possess the power of conatus in order to persist in their own beings. The power of conatus is thus the 152. Spinoza, Ethics. 153. Spinoza, Ethics. 90

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ontological imperative to ensure existence. Given that a thing has to "endeavour" to exist, two questions follow: 1) How did the power of conatus come to be inherent in beings?; 2) why is the power of conatus necessary? Spinoza offers the following proposition that answers both questions: The endeavour, wherewith everything endeavours to persist in its own being, is nothing else but the actual essence of the thing in question (EIIIP7).154 We learn that the source of the power originates from the "actual essence of the thing," meaning that it is the primary nature of a being to persist in its own being. However, the word "actual," applied as a descriptor to the word essence, gives an additional meaning. Jirsa argues that Spinoza uses the word "actual" to show that the essence itself is active. He interprets "actual essence" to mean the active principle that functions in beings to persist and react to external forces: According to [proposition EIIIP7] and its demonstration there is a certain activity, the active principle which not only reacts to the external causes of its possible corruption, but the thing 'holds' itself in its being. The 'actual' in the Latin original of proposition 7 has to be understood as coming from its root 'actus', 'an act', and its verbal form 'to act'. The essence of a given thing is thus the active principle or of a given thing, not only the force reacting to possible external causes. 55 Jirsa bases his interpretation of the word actual on the Latin root of the word, which is to act. Hence, the actual essence of the thing refers to the active principle or power of 154. Spinoza, Ethics. 155. Jirsa, "The ethical significance of substance-God difference in Spinoza's Ethics 1," 7. 91

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the thing. Spinoza, however, does not intend for the "actual essence of the thing" to mean that the essence is conceived by the being itself. According to Part I of the Ethics, God/substance is solely responsible for conceiving all essences: The existence of God and his essence are one and the same (EIP20); The essence of things produced by God does not involve existence (EIP24).156 All essences are actually conceived by and derived from God/substance. Given that in EIIIP7, Spinoza equates the power of the "endeavours to persist in its own being" as the actual essence of a thing, and that all essences are conceived by God/substance, it follows that the power of conatus in beings comes from God/substance. This answers the first question on how the power conatus in beings comes to be. Though the above section demonstrates the necessity of conatus in beings, the activeness of a being's endeavour to persist in its own being contradicts the passive nature ofbeings. According to the proposition in EIP29p, all things are part of the passive nature that follows God/substance, and that only God/substance can actively conceive through itself the attributes and eternal essences for all things. 157 If all things possess passive nature, how then, are things able to actively strive to persist in their own beings? To reconcile these ideas, we can look to the definition of a mode for the answer. According to Part I of the Ethics, a mode by nature carries attributes 156. Spinoza, Ethics. 157. See in this paper Chapter 3 on the distinction between active nature and passive nature. 92

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that express the powers of God/substance. 158 This means that it is in the nature of all "modifications," such as human beings, to carry the attributes and express the powers of their progenitor. Therefore, even though beings possess passive nature, they are able to actively persist in their being through the power of God/substance. To understand in another way, things, as modes, are endowed with power by the presence of attributes (from God/substance) within them. Passive and active natures are thus reconciled through the attributes, which allow modes, who carry them, to actively express the powers of God/substance. A being is thus able to actively "endeavour to persist its own being" by innately carrying God's active power. However, the inherent power of conatus is complicated by the nature of human beings, whom Spinoza argues possess both mind and body. Since a thing, which does not have a mind, is affected by the power of conatus to actively maintain its existence, a question follows: Does the power of conatus impel the mind to become active as well? Spinoza explains that the mind has two states ofbeing, active (with adequate ideas) or passive (with inadequate ideas): Our mind is in certain cases active, and in certain cases passive. In so far as it has adequate ideas it is necessarily active, and in so far as it has inadequate ideas, it is necessarily passive (EIIIP 1 ); Body cannot determine mind to think, neither can mind determine bod(s to motion or rest or any state different from these, if such there be (EIIIP2). 59 With the mention of"our mind," Spinoza suggests that only human beings have 158. See in this paper Chapter 3 on the explanation of the definition of a mode. 159. Spinoza, Ethics. 93

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minds. He also distinguishes the mind from the body to clarify that they are separate domains. The active mind, with its adequate ideas, is a manifestation of the power of conatus to persist in its existence. This is evidenced by the following proposition that this power is present in the mind: The mind, both in so far as it has clear and distinct ideas, and also in so far as it has confused ideas, endeavours to persist in its beinrJor an indefinite period, and of this endeavour it is conscious (EIIIP9). 0 Though Spinoza distinguishes the mind from the body, he offers that the mind functions in a similar way to the body. He proposes that the mind, like the body, also "endeavours to persist in its being," and that it is "conscious" of this power. This suggests that human beings can recognize the will of this power through the mind. In fact, Spinoza adds a note to EIIIP9 that reveals the power to "endeavour" to exist, in terms of the mind, is "will," and in terms of the mind and the body, is "appetite": This endeavour, when referred solely to the mind, is called will, when referred to the mind and body in conjunction it is called appetite; it is, in fact, nothing else but man's essence, from the nature ofwhich necessarily follow all those results which tend to its preservation; and which man has thus been determined to perform (EIIIP9n). 161 The endeavour to survive is thus the appetite, and the essence of human nature. In other words, it is within human beings' appetite to preserve their beings, since the power of conatus is the essence of their nature. Jirsa offers an interpretation that clarifies how conatus functions in both the mind and the body: 160. Spinoza, Ethics. 161. Spinoza, Ethics. 94

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Essential to the understanding ofthis is the conception of the mind as the idea of the body. So when the mind is affirming its own existence, it affirms the existence of the body as well. Just as the body, in its endeavor to persist in its being, tends to reject any change or affect contrary to its nature, so the mind tends to reject the idea of anything contrary to the existence or well-being of the body ( cf. EIIIP 1 0). 162 According to Jirsa, conatus is also the power to "reject" external causes that may threaten the existence of the thing in question. The power allows the body to "reject any change or affect contrary to its nature," and allows the mind to "reject the idea of anything contrary to the existence or well-being of the body." Since propositions in EIIIP4 and EIIIP5 tell us that a thing can be destroyed by external causes, we can interpret conatus as the power for things to reject external causes for the sake of maintaining existence. The note in EIIIP9n further tells us that human beings are conscious of their will for survival, which implies that it is in the ethics ofhuman beings to strive with the mind and body to resist causes that can destroy their being. In this way, the ontological principle of conatus leads to the beginning of the ethics of self-preservation. Spinoza develops an ethics of self-preservation with the premise that the power of conatus is the active essence of the mind and the body: He argues that our minds, without the activity of conception, are susceptible to affects such as pain, and thus, we can strengthen the power of the mind, which is conatus, to avoid pain. First, Spinoza offers that the mind can increase the power of the body by using the power of 162. Jirsa, "The ethical significance of substance-God difference in Spinoza's Ethics 1," 7. 95

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reason: The mind, as far as it can, endeavours to conceive those things, which increase or help the power of activity in the body (EIIIP12); When the mind conceives things which diminish or hinder the body's power of activity, it endeavours, as Jar as possible, to remember things which exclude the existence of the first-named things (EIIIP 13 ). 163 The mind, based on what it has conceived, can increase the power of the body. When the mind conceives things that threaten to diminish the body's power, it will actively reject those things. This reveals that the mind's power of conception, or reason, can help preserve the body. However, the mind can be overwhelmed by emotions (EIII14), and fail to reject the object of hate that cause pain (EIII15). Spinoza clarifies the connection between the mind and emotions: He who conceives that the object of his love is destroyed will feel pain; if he conceives that it is preserved he will feel pleasure (EIIIP 19); He who conceives that the object of his hate is destroyed will feel pleasure (EIIIP20).164 This shows that conception is directly correlated to the emotions. It follows that one would need to reject, from the mind, the object of hate in order to avoid feeling pain. In terms of ethics, this means that one should fortify the mind to increase the power of the body, and live a life that is free from the influence of the affects. For Spinoza, the way to fortify the mind and avoid the influence of emotions is through reason and knowledge, which leads to a virtuous life. He explains this 163. Spinoza, Ethics. 164. Spinoza, Ethics. 96

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position in Part IV of the Ethics, beginning with the propositions that emotion can be controlled by another: An emotion can only be controlled or destroyed by another emotion contrary thereto, and with more power for controlling emotion (EIVP7); The knowledge of good and evil is nothing else but the emotions of pleasure or pain, in so far as we are conscious thereof(EIVP8).165 The proposition in EIVP7 reveals that like a being, an emotion can be destroyed by a more powerful emotion. Then, the proposition in EVIP8 equates "knowledge of good and evil" to "emotions of pleasure or pain." This means that knowledge of good is emotion of pleasure, and knowledge of evil is emotion of pain. To fortify the mind with knowledge of good, then, is the means to eliminate the emotion of pain, so to live a pleasurable life. The previous proposition leads to the question of exactly what constitutes the knowledge of good. Spinoza answers that the highest good a human being can achieve is by knowing God. He states: The mind's highest good is the knowledge of God, and the mind's highest virtue is to know God (EIVP28).166 This proposition makes clear that knowledge of God constitutes the highest virtue for the mind, and that the way to attain knowledge of God is through reason. Essentially, Spinoza elevates reason and knowledge over emotions as ways to achieve a virtuous life. He emphasizes the important relationship between the love for the mind and the 165. Spinoza, Ethics. 166. Spinoza, Ethics. 97

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love for God: The intellectual love of the mind towards God is that very love of God whereby God loves himself. not in so far as he is infinite, but in so far as he can be explained through the essence of the human mind regarded under the form of eternity; in other words, the intellectual love of the mind towards God is part of the infinite love wherewith God loves himself(EVP36).161 The intellectual love indicates a love for the intellect, or for its ability to reason. And, by loving the mind, or intellectually exercising the mind, one is simultaneously loving God. According to the proposition in EVP24, we can know more about God by obtaining more knowledge about things in the world: The more we understand particular things, the more do we understand God (EVP24). Since knowledge of elements in the natural world is equated to knowledge of God, this shows that the ontology of nature is a prerequisite to the ethical position that knowledge of God is the highest good. The above section demonstrates that Spinoza had to establish an ontological monism based on nature in Part I of the Ethics as the necessary premise to ethical propositions on the necessity of self-preservation and the love of knowledge and God. The nexus between ontology and ethics in the Ethics is the ontological principle of conatus, which refers to every being's inherent power to persist in its own being. It also resists the destructive causes that threaten to destroy a thing. In terms of human beings, conatus is present in both the mind and the body, and human beings must 167. Spinoza, Ethics. 98

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utilize conatus to resist the mind's object of conception that threatens to lower the power of conatus in the body, and make a person feel pain. Through reason and knowledge, we can increase the power of conatus and fortify our mind's ability to reject negative objects of conception. In other words, we have the freedom to increase our mental power of conatus with love of the intellect. Spinoza tells us that the love of the intellect is simultaneously the love of God, and that to love God is the highest good that the mind can achieve. Since loving God is a virtue, and God and the natural world are synonymous, a virtuous person is one who continuously obtains knowledge about the natural world to increase his/her power of conatus. The monistic structure of the Ethics helps maintain the coherency of its ontological and ethical arguments. Since God is both the substance and the natural world, to know more about the natural world becomes a virtue. Essentially, it is through the ontological principle of conatus that Spinoza is able to propose the ethical arguments regarding the need for free individuals to preserve their existence, seek knowledge, and love God. In the next section, I will discuss the ontological principle of De in Laozi's system, and through a detailed explanation ofhow De affects human beings, show that De is a parallel concept to conatus. De and the Natural Way of Being I believe the proposition that De is the ontological principle of virtue inherent in all beings serves as the link between ontology and ethics in the DDJ. Furthermore, Laozi establishes the premise that Dao is the ontological force inherent in the natural 99

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world to make the argument that De is an extension of Dao that functions in natural things. Since all things are parts of the natural world, they are subject to the ways of Dao, and behave according to its ontological principle, De. In this sense, Laozi's ontological monism contributes to his ethical arguments. Scholars have varying opinions regarding the meaning of De. For example, Ames argues that the term should be interpreted as a particularity of Dao: Ames says de is used both to denote a particular aspect of the dao and to denote the whole. He refers to dao and de as "field and focus," because "Dao is the defining condition-the context or environment-for the particular d ,(68 e. In Ames' interpretation, De is an aspect and focus of Dao. It is also defined by the condition of Dao in a given environment. The concept, in this sense, refers to a specific representation of Dao in the natural world. Ames further argues that De expresses Dao as an individuating and integrating principle: Ames tells us that when de is cultivated, it fully expresses the whole, and "the distinction between dao and de collapses and de becomes both an individuating concept and an integrating concept." Ames writes that the difference between dao and de is only a matter of degree. De, then, is a principle of individuation when it is a particular event in the dao, and it is a principle of integration when it is a "holograph of this underlying harmony, diffusing in all directions in coloration ofthe whole ... "169 Specifically, Ames believes that De only differs from Dao in terms of its particularity. De expresses the "principle of individuation" during a particular event, 168. Erin M. Cline, "Two Interpretation of De in the Daodejing," Journal of Chinese Philosophy 31, no. 2, June 2004: 219-233 2004 Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 220. 169. Cline, "Two Interpretation of De in the Daodejing," 221. 100

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and it expresses the "principle of integration" that hannonizes particular elements within the whole of Dao. In this way, De functions as the expression of the power of Dao. On the other hand, Ivanhoe interprets De as virtue.170 This interpretation requires a clarification of the Daoists' perspective on ethics and virtue. Ivanhoe argues that the Daoists believe there is no distinction between what is ethical and what is the natural thing to do, and that the most ethical thing that an individual can do is to return to their original uncarved state, "as opposed to carving themselves into a shape dictated by cultured society, one believed to overcome the imperfections of their original state."171 Their idea of virtue is to return to the natural origin that is not yet contaminated or structured by social and cultural rules. Thus, to be a virtuous person, one should follow Dao (the origin of all things) as the most natural way of being. This is supported by Ivanhoe's argument that the "Daoists think that for most humans, it is not easy to act in accord with the dao, and we must come to a different understanding of ourselves and the world in order to accord with the "natural" patterns and processes of the dao."172 Though Laozi denies knowledge, which conveys the ideas of dominant power structures, he does tout the understanding of the self and the natural world as the way to return to Dao. In the following section, I will expound on how De, like Spinoza's conatus, is a power or attribute that extends from 170. Cline, "Two Interpretation of De in the Daodejing," 221. 171. Cline, "Two Interpretation of De in the Daodej ing," 221. 172. Cline, "Two Interpretation of De in the Daodejing," 221. 101

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the ontological source, and exists in all beings. The discussion will show that De has the abilities to sustain existence, effects individuation, purifies and protects individuals from harm, and that by achieving De (through the understanding of ourselves and the world), an individual can return to Dao. The word De first appears in Chapter Ten of the DDJ, and it clarifies that the highest virtue is to act without overreaching: To produce things and to rear them, To produce, but not to take possession of them, To act, but not to rely on one's own ability, To lead them, but not to master them-This is called profound and secret virtue (hsiian-te) (DDJ 10).173 According to this Chapter, a virtuous act is one that acts without authority, as evidenced by line five, that a leader does not act as a master (/F*) The second and third lines indicate that virtue also means to be responsible without being possessive, in that to "produce" (1:.) "includes" (Z) "rearing"(*), and to produce is to not be possessive (/F::ff). The ethical behaviors mentioned in the first four lines are defined by the last line as examples of"profound virtue" The seems to append to De (ft) an additional profoundness, implying that there are two types of virtues in the world, f! and Thus, I interpret the second term to mean the 173. Laozi. The Lao Tzu (Tao-Te Ching). Translated by Wing-Tsit Chan, 144. 174. Laozi, Lau-zi dao dejing. 102

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highest virtue, which according to previous lines, is achieved by acting responsibly without oppressiveness. Liu offers another interpretation of (Xuan-de) as the connection between Dao and the human world: "Xuan-de is a feature character of Dao, and serves as the bridge between Dao and the human world. It is embodied by the sage who is a model in practicing the values, ways, and principles represented and promoted by Dao."175 According to this interpretation, human beings can access Dao through the way of This shows the significance of virtue in Laozi's ontology. Though Chapter Ten defines ethical behavior as De, it does not clarify what De itself is, or where it comes from. We have to examine more Chapters to understand what Laozi means by De. Before examining more chapters, I want to give emphasis to the significance of the act of following Dao in terms of virtue. According to Chapter TwentyFive, the natural order of the universe is for all ontological categories, including the humankind, to follow Dao.116 Following Dao seems to be the highest virtue for beings to achieve, for the sake of maintaining existence. According to Ivanhoe's interpretation, De is a power by which individuals can return to the peaceful state of Dao: 175. Xiaogan Liu, "Daoism (1): Lao Zi and the Dao-De-Jing," Routledge History of World Philosophies 3, History of Chinese Philosophy, Edited by Bo Mou, (New York: Routledge, 2009), 225. 176. See in this paper Chapter 3 for explanation on the ontological categories in the universe according to Laozi. 103

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By following prereflective tendencies such as openness, individuals can "discern and harmonize with the patterns and processes of the dao," and de is generated. De accrues to those who possess calmness, compassion, and confidence. It is a power capable of attracting, disarming, reassuring, and pacifying others, while enabling the sage to move others to "abandon the insanity of normal society and return without coercion to the peace, contentment, and prosperity of the dao."171 Ivanhoe attributes to the power of De the qualities "of attracting, disarming, reassuring, and pacifying others." These qualities suggest that, with the power of De, individuals can resist disruptive external causes, such as "the insanity of normal society," and return to Dao, a peaceful, content, and prosperous state of being. In this way, following Dao is an ontological imperative. De is the power by which the return to Dao can be achieved. De as the method to return to the ontological source is evidenced by several Chapters in the DDJ, and there are ethical reasons for using this power. Chapter Twenty One reveals that the nature of De is to follow Dao, which suggests that the power of De is subject to Dao. IT lies in the nature of Grand Virtue To follow the Tao and the Tao alone (DDJ 21 ).178 The "Grand Virtue" (fU!), or the highest virtue, is to follow "Dao alone" ('it@). 177. Cline, "Two Interpretation of De in the Daodejing," 222. 178. Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching, Translated by John C H Wu, 43. 179. Laozi, Lau-zi dao dejing. 104

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The word "alone" emphasizes that following Dao is the only way for achieving the Grand Virtue. We gather from the said chapters that the nature of virtue is in all things, however, Chapter TwentyThree specifies that human beings have the ability to identify themselves with virtue and Dao: Therefore he who follows Tao is identified with Tao. He who follows virtue is identified with virtue.(DDJ23).180 The emphasis on "he who follows" means that only a person who follows Dao can be identified with the ontological force. It follows that human beings have the freedom to identify themselves as "one with Dao'' (i]!::g), or "one with De" So far, the said Chapters suggest that being one with Dao is a virtue, but the reason for doing so has not yet been revealed. The answer comes in a much later Chapter: Always to know the standard is called profound and secret virtue. Virtue becomes deep and far-reaching, And with it all things return to their original natural state. Then complete harmony will be reached (DDJ 65). m :Wlo/1&* (DDJ 65).182 For "all things to return to their original natural state" (:Wlo/1&*) is justified by the complete harmony <*1 that follows the act. A thing achieves profound or highest 180 Laozi, The Lao Tzu (Tao-Te Ching), Translated by Wing-Tsit Chan, 151. 181. Laozi, Lau-zi dao dejing. 182. Laozi, Lau-zi dao de }in g. 105

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virtue by the return. Hence, De is the way by which a thing reverts to its origin. Since Dao, according to Chapter One, is the origin of all things, this means that the object of being virtuous is to become one with Dao. The reward for being with Dao is to live a life of harmony. According to Laozi, the power of De is inherent in all beings, and therefore, individuals are able to utilize its power. However, he also adds that virtue requires cultivation, as Chapter Fifty-Four states: When one cultivates virtue in his person, it becomes genuine virtue. When one cultivates virtue in his family, it becomes overflowing virtue. When one cultivates virtue in the community, it becomes lasting virtue. When one cultivates virtue in his country, it becomes abundant virtue. When one cultivates virtue in the world, it becomes universal (DDJ 54).183 (DDJ54).184 Through cultivation, and depending on the number of people involved, virtue can be elevated to varying degrees: 1) "genuine virtue" for a person; 2) overflowing virtue for a family; 3) "lasting virtue" for a community; 4) "abundant for a country; 5) "universal virtue" for the world. It is reasonable to deduce, based on the varying levels of virtue, that the power of De can increase or diminish depending on the action of the being in question. This shows that even though De is an inherent power, a being must 183. Laozi, The Lao Tzu (Tao-Te Ching), Translated by Wing-Tsit Chan, 165. 184. Laozi, Lau-zi dao de jing. 106

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continue to cultivate it in order to maintain it. Another question stems from the necessity to cultivate virtue: What would be the consequence of living a less virtuous life? Laozi argues that virtue provides beings the power for self-preservation. We know from Chapter Sixty-Five that the object of virtue is to achieve harmony. Given that a person with the highest virtue lives a harmonious life, it follows that the life of a less virtuous person is full of disruptions and strife. The existence of a less virtuous being is thus endangered. Laozi implies that virtue gives a being the ability to resist external causes that threaten to destroy its existence: He who possesses virtue in abundance May be compared to an infant Poisonous insects will not sting him. Fierce beasts will not seize him. Birds of prey will not strike him. His bones are weak, his sinews tender, but his grasp is firm. He does not yet know the union of male and female, But his organ is aroused. This means that his essence is at its height. He may cry all day without becoming hoarse, This means that his (natural) harmony is perfect. To know harmony means to be in accord with the eternal. To be in accord with the eternal means to be enlightened. To force the growth of life means ill omen. For the mind to employ the vital force without restraint means violence. After things reach their prime, they begin to grow old. Whatever is contrary to Tao will soon perish (DDJ 55).185 rMJ 185. Laozi, The Lao Tzu (Tao-Te Ching), Translated by Wing-Tsit Chan, 165. 107

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f*"J, a a t.-ff:itB a !Jo/Jfr (DDJ55).186 For Laozi, the most virtuous person is an infant, because an infant, being newly birthed, exists closest to the Mother of all things, which is Dao. Since an infant has not been corrupted by societal rules that can diminish virtue, it possesses an abundance of De. According to lines three to five, an infant, with the power, deflects attacks from natural elements, or to explain in another way, the insects refuse to bite him the beasts refuse to seize him and birds of prey refuse to strike him for recognizing the De within him. At this state of infancy, Laozi claims that harmony is perfect The state of harmony is then compared to the state of being eternal, which is another reference to Dao. The idea of harmony, or balance, also applies to the vital force of Dao. Line fifteen states that the mind can tum violent by the strength of the vital force (L'{f:i\:B ), suggesting that the mind should not overuse the vital force. The last line of the verse, however, warns that those who act against Dao will lose Dao and perish !fE.). Laozi emphasizes the necessity to cultivate virtue: To recover quickly means to accumulate virtue heavily. By the heavy accumulation of virtue one can overcome everything (DDJ 59).187 186. Laozi, Lau-zi dao de jing. 187. Laozi, The Lao Tzu (Tao-Te Ching), Translated by Wing-Tsit Chan, 167. 108

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The fact that "one can overcome everything" by "heavily accumulating virtue" cm:t.JH!O demonstrates that virtue gives the being the power to resist external causes that endanger its existence. Essentially, Laozi is making an ethical claim that all beings should return to Dao in order to preserve their beings. The way to access Dao is through the cultivation of De, and the incentive to do so is to achieve the highest virtue and live a harmonious life. Finally, Laozi addresses the connection between virtue and moral goodness, in that a good man is virtuous, and thus he is with the Way: To patch up great hatred is surely to leave some hatred behind. How can this be regarded as good? Therefore the sage keeps the left-hand portion (obligation) of a contract And does not blame the other party. Virtuous people attend to their left-hand portions, While those without virtue attend to other people's mistakes. "The Way of Heaven has no favorites. It is always with the good man (DDJ79)."189 -TAo m--Ao (DDJ 79).190 For Laozi, a good man is not a man with "hatred" A virtuous person is one who tends to his/her own mistakes, rather than "blame others" A). Essentially, 188. Laozi, Lau-zi dao dejing. 189. Laozi, The Lao Tzu (Tao-Te Ching), Translated by Wing-Tsit Chan, 175. 190. Laozi, Lau-zi dao dejing. 109

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being with the Way of Heaven, or Dao itself, is the only qualification for a good person. Dao always abides by the good person who does not pose hatred, or the intent of harm to others. Comparison between Conatus and De The above sections demonstrate that both Spinoza and Laozi had to establish an ontological monism based on nature as the necessary premise to ethical propositions on the necessity of self-preservation. For Spinoza, the ontological principle of conatus allows for the individual to strengthen his/her mind to know God, whereas for Laozi, the ontological principle of De is the inherent power that an individual can increase to return and access Dao. Both philosophers use the ontological principles as the bridge between their ontology and ethics. The concept of De also shares many qualities with conatus. For example, like conatus, De is an ontological principle that is inherent in all things. By cultivating the power of De, or virtue, a being has the ability to resist the destructive causes that threaten to destroy its existence. Though Laozi is not concerned by the mind, he does imply that the power of Dao is also inherent in the mind, which can tum violent by accruing too much of its vitality. This is similar to Spinoza's argument that the power of conatus functions in the mind, as well as the body. Like Spinoza's conatus that requires reason and knowledge to increase power, Laozi also urges human beings to cultivate and increase the power of virtue, so that they can avoid being harmed by external forces. By accruing the highest amount of virtue, a being is able to return to Dao and 110

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live a harmonious life. This resembles Spinoza's argument that a strengthened mind (by reason and knowledge) is able to know God and live a happy life. For both Spinoza and Laozi, to be one with the originary source (God/substance for Spinoza and Dao for Laozi) is the highest good that a person can achieve. Since the originary source and the natural world are one of the same, a virtuous person who understands his/her own nature and the natural world simultaneously understands the power within them. Essentially, the monistic structures ofboth the Ethics and the DDJhelp maintain the coherency of their ontological and ethical arguments. For Spinoza, it is through the ontological principle of conatus that he is able to propose the ethical arguments regarding the need for free individuals to preserve their existence, seek knowledge, and love God. And, for Laozi, it is through the ontological principle of De that he is able to propose the ethical arguments regarding the freedom for self preservation, the necessity for pursuing virtue, and to return to Dao. These similarities show that Laozi and Spinoza reach similar ethical conclusions due to constructing similar ontologies of nature. 111

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5. CONCLUSION In this thesis, I attempt to demonstrate that the similarities between Spinoza's and Laozi's philosophy is due to the design of their ontologies. Both construct a system based on nature, and present a monistic ontology grounded in the natural world. Consequently, their ontologies follow a similar trajectory, and land in similar conclusions. I also attempt to demonstrate that the coherence ofSpinoza's and Laozi's ethical arguments are contingent on their ontologies of nature. Prior to the analysis, problems of methodology naturally arise from the task of comparing Spinoza's book, the Ethics to Laozi's book, the Daodejing. I address the problem of East-West studies by examining the philosophical categories shared by the two texts, namely, ontology and ethics. A philosophical comparison eliminates the problem of cultural interpretation that seeks to dominate the meaning of the text with cultural bias. Since the authorship of Daodejing is still being debated, I address the problem of providing the text with a Weltanschauung through discussing the history of the ancient Chinese that predicated Laozi's text. The historical analyses in Chapter Two make apparent that both Spinoza and Laozi derive the notion of nature as the world from their respective times. The numerous influences in Spinoza's own time, and Spinoza's own interest in science, serve as evidence that he did not have to borrow from Laozi the idea of nature based 112

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monism, since nature is the object of his studies, which is science. For Laozi, the ancient Chinese understanding of nature as the whole of the universe seems to indicate that the ontology of nature in Daodejing was indebted to ancient Chinese thinkers. As a result, both Spinoza and Laozi propose ontological definitions of God/substance and Dao that share similar characteristics. Chapter Three demonstrates the argument that Spinoza and Laozi incorporate the nature in their ontological definitions of God/substance and Dao, and thus the definitions share various aspects. Both the essence of God/substance and Dao represent power for existence and creation in the natural world, and both ontological forces conceive all essences, beings, and the world itself. Furthermore, the ontological forces are causa-sui, meaning that they conceive their own beings, and manifest themselves as Nature. In Spinoza's and Laozi's monistic systems, all beings exist by and within the source of their creation. The Chapter includes an interesting revelation that each God/substance and Dao have three manifestations, of which one includes the natural world. Finally, both Spinoza and Laozi propose the idea of One (for Spinoza, it is One substance, and for Laozi, it is One universe). I believe that these similarities can be explained by the fact that both philosophers design their ontological systems in consideration of the natural world, and the forces within nature. In Chapter Four, I attempt to show that Spinoza and Laozi make similar 113

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ethical claims on the necessity of self-preservation and the good to return to the ontological source due to their shared premise, which is their ontological monisms based on nature. Spinoza justifies his ethical claims with the ontological principle of conatus, which refers to a thing's inherent power to persist in its own being. Similary, Laozi justifies his ethical claims with the ontological principle of De, which is a being's inherent power to increase its virtue and return to Dao. Conatus and De are also powers that can help preserve existence. According to Spinoza, conatus is present in the mind and the body, and the increase of its power helps the individual to reject conceptions that threaten to destroy its existence. With a strengthened mind, through reason and knowledge of the natural world, an individual is able to achieve the highest good, which is to know God. According to Laozi, De is present in all beings, and requires cultivation to strengthen the existence of a being. The increase of De leads to the return to Dao, and doing so, Laozi argues, is the way to live a harmonious life. Being one with Dao is the highest good that an individual can achieve. The main argument ofSpinoza's and Laozi's ethics is for individuals to pursue a happy and virtuous life through self-preservation and recognition of their place in the natural world. Since conatus and De are ontological principles associated with the natural world, and that they are the justifications for subsequent ethical arguments, this proves that Spinoza and Laozi had to construct their ontological systems based on nature to complete their ethical arguments. 114

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Through this extensive philosophical comparative analysis of Spinoza's book, the Ethics, and Laozi's book, the Daodejing, I have demonstrated that an East-West study is possible, provided that we compare the philosophical categories that are shared between Eastern and Western texts. Though some scholars have argued that Eastern texts lack the philosophical categories necessary for the comparison, I hope that my comparison of the model texts by Spinoza and Laozi prove that Eastern and Western thoughts share many ideas that warrant further examination. Even though divergent interpretations may appear based on the philosophical categories being compared, I believe that the field can find the threads of ideas that concern East-West thinkers. 115

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