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On the Improvement of Understanding, by Benedict de Spinoza, [1883], at


[86] (1) Hence, as far as is possible at the outset, we have acquired a knowledge of our understanding, and such a standard of a true idea that we need no longer fear confounding truth with falsehood and fiction. (2) Neither shall we wonder why we understand some things which in nowise fall within the scope of the imagination, while other things are in the imagination but wholly opposed to the understanding, or others, again, which agree therewith. (3) We now know that the operations, whereby the effects of imagination are produced, take place under other laws quite different from the laws of the understanding, and that the mind is entirely passive with regard to them.

[87] (1) Whence we may also see how easily men may fall into grave errors through not distinguishing accurately between the imagination and the understanding; such as believing that extension must be localized, that it must be finite, that its parts are really distinct one from the other, that it is the primary and single foundation of all things, that it occupies more space at one time than at another and other similar doctrines, all entirely opposed to truth, as we shall duly show.

[88] (1) Again, since words are a part of the imagination—that is, since we form many conceptions in accordance with confused arrangements of words in the memory, dependent on particular bodily conditions,—there is no doubt that words may, equally with the imagination, be the cause of many and great errors, unless we strictly on our guard.

[89] (1) Moreover, words are formed according to popular fancy and intelligence, and are, therefore, signs of things as existing in the imagination, not as existing in the understanding. (2) This is evident from the fact that to all such things as exist only in the understanding, not in the imagination, negative names are often given, such as incorporeal, infinite, &c. (3) So, also, many conceptions really affirmative are expressed negatively, and vice versa, such as uncreate, independent, infinite, immortal, &c., inasmuch as their contraries are much more easily imagined, and, therefore, occurred first to men, and usurped positive names. (89:4) Many things we affirm and deny, because the nature of words allows us to do so, though the nature of things does not. (5) While we remain unaware of this fact, we may easily mistake falsehood for truth.

[90] (1) Let us also beware of another great cause of confusion, which prevents the understanding from reflecting on itself. (2) Sometimes, while making no distinction between the imagination and the intellect, we think that what we more readily imagine is clearer to us; and also we think that what we imagine we understand. (3) Thus, we put first that which should be last: the true order of progression is reversed, and no legitimate conclusion is drawn.

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