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Conatus: A Pivotal Doctrine At The Center Of The Ethics

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Chapter Summary

One may question the truth of the conatus principle and the soundness of the argumentation that Spinoza offers in its favor. There can be no question about the centrality of this doctrine for the Ethics. The concept of conatus smoothes the transition from the early discussion of the inertial force of simple bodies to the full-blown affective and motivational psychology of the later parts of the work. Spinoza's elaborate theory of the emotions begins with three primary affects - desire, joy and sadness. Desire is nothing but the individual's striving to persevere in being when directed to objects that promote his preservation (3p9s). Joy and sadness are defined in terms of the individual's "passing to a greater or lesser perfection" (3p11s), where "perfection" refers to the individual's power. These three basic affects are to be understood by reference to the conatus, and all other human emotions are ultimately derived from these three.

Keywords: conatus; desire; Ethics; human emotions; joy; motivational psychology; sadness; Spinoza



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