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Eternity and Sempiternity Author(s): M. Kneale Source: Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, Vol.
Eternity and Sempiternity Author(s): M. Kneale Source: Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, Vol.

Eternity and Sempiternity Author(s): M. Kneale Source: Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, Vol. 69 (1968 - 1969), pp. 223-238

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Meetingof the AristotelianSocietyat 21, BedfordSquare,London,W.C.1, on Monday,19thMay, 1969,at 7.30 p.m.





In thefirstpartof thepaperI shalldiscusswhetheran eternal objectcan or must be also sempiternal. The questionhas at least historicalinterest,sincephilosophersand theologianshave heldwidelydifferingviewson it. I believethatit is alsoof logical interestand I hope that this will emergein the course of the


Of the two notions with which we are concerned,that of

sempiternityis comparativelysimple. A sempiternalobject is

one whichexistsat all momentsof time.

whetherwe believetimeto be finitein one or both directionsor infinitein both. But the notion of eternityis far less clear. WilliamKneale1hasarguedthatthetheologicalnotionof eternity

arisesfromna self-defeatingattemptto combinethe notionof life with that of the timelessexistenceof the PlatonicFormsand he tracesthe attemptback to Parmenidesand Plato. I acceptthe historyhe givesas at leastplausiblebut I shouldlike to makea

further point.

The alleged contradictorycombination was

already present in the word aion which Plato uses in the Timnaeusfor eternity. C. T. Onians2has argued plausibly that this word originallymeant the spinalmarrow,which was

held to be in a specialway the vehicleof a creature'slife. He

remarks,"It is

life ' fluid' mightcometo meanthelife whichthefluidrepresents and so the lifetimetemporallyconsidered,the lifetimedependent

upon it

have increasedby popularassociationof the word withaei, aiei

This definitionholds

not difficultto see how a word designatingthe

The temporalsuggestionappearsgraduallyto

(always) till at last it meant ' eternity '."

If Onians is right then

1 P.A.S., 1960/61,pp. 87-108.

' Origins of European Thought, p. 209.

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the word aionios, whichPlato uses in a seminalpassageof the Timaeus3to expressthe natureof that whichis merelyimitated by time, would carrywith it the connotationof 'life' and it is noteworthythat Aristotle'sonly uses of the wordin the Meta- physics4are applicationsof it to God and the intellect.5 In arguingfor the everlastingnessof the heavenlybodiesand of the ouranos(the heavens)itself,he usesthe less emotivetermsaidios

and aei on (alwaysexistent).6

It is clear that at least some ancientphilosophersheld that thereare some sempiternalobjects. As we have seen,Aristotle saysthattheheavensin generalandthestarsandsunin particular are sempiternal. SimilarlyEpicurusand his followersheld that the primordialatomsareeverlasting,but if we take Lucretiusas typical of them,they madeno distinctionbetweeneternityand sempiternity. He saysof the atoms Suntigitursolidaprimordiasimplicitate nec rationequeuntalia servataper aevum ex infinitojam temporeresreparare.7 ("The primordialthingsarethereforeof solidsimplicity,forthey could not otherwiseremain,throughendlessduration(aevum) and repairthingsfrominfinitetime") and also

quae quoniam sunt

illa quoqueessetibi solidaatqueaeternafatendum.8 (For whichreasonyou mustalso admitthatthey(theatoms)are solid and eternal.) Again it is not at all clearto me that Aristotlewould have drawnany distinctionin meaningbetweenaYdios(sempiternal) and aionios (eternal)beyond the fact that usage restrictsthe applicationof the latterto whatis alive. Plato, however,in the Timaeus passagealreadymentioned

3 37C ff.

4 1072b29 and 1075a 10.

6 Cf. also a curious discussion in De Caelo, I, 9, 279a 22-29 where

Aristotleseemsto attributethe similarityof the wordsaion and aei to divine inspiration. Thisofferssomesupportto Onians.

6 Metaphysics, 1050b22 ff.

7 De Rerum Natura I, 548.


I, 627.

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seemsto drawa sharpdistinctionin that he maintainsthat past and futuretensesare not applicableto whatis aionios. Of this onecansayonlythatit is, i.e., as we shouldsay,thatit is timeless. Now the most obviouslytimelessthingsfor PlatoareFormsand mathematicalobjects(if there are such), but to these Aristotle appliesthe sameword that he appliesto the sun and the stars,


I havegiventhesefacts aboutancientthinkersto show how

the notions of eternityand sempiternityfirstcameinto western thought,but my mainconcernis to considerthe logicalrelation


consider. The two notions may be identical, they may be differentbut mutuallyentaileachother,theremaybe entailment one way or the other,theremay be merecompatibilityor there may be incompatibility. As it happensthree of the possible viewsare alreadyexpressedby the authorswe have considered. For Plato eternityand sempiternityare incompatiblebecause eternityexcludessuccession,before and after, while these are plainlyentailedby sempiternity;for Epicurusand his follower Lucretiusthe termsexpressa singlenotion; while for Aristotle theyareat leastcompatible. Thelife of Godis bothaioniosand aYdios.10It is difficultto be moreexact about Aristotle'sviews, butI shalllatershowthathemayhaveheldthatthereis a two-way entailmentbetweeneternityin one senseand sempiternity.

Turningto moderntimes we find that for populartheology the two are at least compatible. If any object is held to be eternal,that objectis God. Yet we sing Beforethe hillsin orderstood Orearthreceivedherframe FromeverlastingThouartGod To endlessyearsthe same. Heresempiternityis plainlyattributedto God,whileI believethat the somewhatmysteriouspresenttenseof the thirdline indicates His eternity. Againwe experienceno shockof incongruitywhen Hamletexpressesthe wish that " The Everlastinghad not fixed

It is clearthatwe havesixpossiblerelationsto

"Physics 252b, 1-5


Metaphysics 1072b 29.

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His canon 'gainstself-slaughter"."l Clearly'the Eternal' and 'the Everlasting'are equallysatisfactorydesignationsfor God. I thinkthat the vaguethoughtbehindthe utterancesof popular theologyis thatGod'seternityentailshis sempiternity. In short there is a one-wayentailment,for the reversedoes not hold. Something,e.g., the atoms of the old atomic theory may be sempiternalwithoutbeingeternal. It is obviousthatwe cannotdeterminewhichof thesepossible views is correct without being clearer about the notion of eternity. Consideringall the texts,it seemsto me thatthereare two qualitiesdifferentfrom sempiternitywhich are at different times connotedby the word 'eternal' and its equivalents. The one is timelessness,the mannerof existenceattributedto the PlatonicForms,andtheotheris necessity. Inmuchof traditional theologythe eternalbeingis also thenecessarybeing. Theextra connotationof life whichis conveyedby the Greekwordsaion

and aionios,

I believe to be a philological accident, as suggestedby

Onians,butit undoubtedlymadeit easierfor latertheologiansto regard God as the unique eternal object. Boethius, indeed, introducesthe notion into his definitionof eternity:Aeternitas


interminabilis vitae






(" Eternityis theendlessandperfectpossessionof lifeallatonce"). This definitionis defendedby St Thomasin PartI, QuaestioX, Art. 1 of the SummaTheologica,although,in his own statement, he does not use any wordequivalentto 'life' but insistssimply that eternityis totasimul(all at once). It shouldbe remarked,however,thatin otherplacesAquinas, as often,attemptsto combinea PlatonicandanAristotelianpoint

of view. In Summa Contra Gentiles I, 15 he says both Tempore igitur non mensuratur. Igitur in ipso non est prius et posterius

accipere ("[God] is not measured by time. Therefore we cannot attribute before and after to him") and also

. quia quod semper fuit,

igitur aeternus (" because what

habet virtutemsemper essendi.

always was






always being. It

is therefore eternal").

I agree with

I" Hamlet,Act I, scene2, 132. 12 De ConsolationePhilosophiae,V, 6.

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Professor Kneale that this notion of life ' all at once' is self-contradictory,and I would emphasisethe point further by sayingthat to contrasteternitywith time by sayingthat it is totasimulis self-defeatingbecausesimulisitselfa temporalnotion. Thingsin timehappeneithersuccessivelyor together(simul)and to say that the parts of time, past, presentand futurehappen togetheris to denythe necessaryconditionof simultaneity. The pointcanbe broughtout moreclearlyif we attemptto developin detailthe similewhichBoethiususes to makehis conceptionof eternityplausible.'3 God'sprovidence,he says,is the cognition of the lowly detailsof this worldas froma highmountain. He does not elaboratethe simile furtherbut presumablywhat he meansis that the man on the top of the mountaincan see the bends and ups and downs of a road all at once whereasthe travelleron the road sees only a limitedstretchat a giventime. But when we come to think it out, the simile does not help. Thespectatoron highseestheroadall at oncebuthe doesnot see the travellerin all positionsat once. Thiswouldbe a contradic- tion. His perceptionsmust be as successiveas the positions themselves. Theonlywayto evadethecontradiction,as faras I can see,is to regardthetravellerin Minkowskifashionas a four- dimensionalextendedobject,butthenin orderto accountfor his successiveawarenesseswe haveto postulatesomethinglikeJ. W. Dunne'sserialtimeand thisinvolvesa viciousinfiniteregress. I concludethattimelessnessas thetotumsimulof timeis a self- contradictorynotionandwe musteitherfinda differentmeaning forit oridentifyit withnecessity. Whenpeoplecallobjectssuch as numbers' timeless' perhapsall theymeanis thattheseandthe relationsbetweenthem are somehownecessary,but it may be that they have in mind another and vaguernotion which is connectedwiththe ' timelessness' of mathematicaltruths. I will nowtryto givemoreprecisionto thisnotionof timelessness,andit will turnout rathersurprisinglythatit is eitheridenticalwiththe notionof sempiternityor thatthetwo notionsentaileach other. As faras I cansee,allthatis meantbycallingmathematicaltruths

13 Loc. cit.

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' timeless'is thatthereisnopointin askingwhentwo andtwoare fourin thewaythatthereis pointin askingwhenthedaffodilsare in bloom, Butthisdoesnot meanthatit is not thecasethattwo and two arefour to-day,that they werefour yesterdayand that theywillbe fourto-morrow. Thesestatementsarenot meaning- less or untrue,butsimplyso obviousas to be pointless. I would go so farasto saythatit is truethatto-daytwoandtwohavebeen fourfor a daylongerthantheywereyesterdayandsimilarlythat, if God exists, he has existeda day longer to-day than he had existedyesterday. I admitthat suchremarksseemparadoxical, but they are neithermeaninglessnor untrue. It seemsto have beenthe beliefthattheyaremeaninglesswhichled Spinoza(who willbethesubjectof thesecondpartof thispaper)to makea sharp distinctionbetweendurationand eternityand thus to makethe final section of the Ethics intolerablyobscure. He says, for example,in 1, 33; Schol.2. thatthereis in eternityneitherwhen,

beforenor after (At cumin aeternonondeturquando,ante necpost).

Thereis one wayof takingthis remarkwhichmakesit quitetrue

and harmless. If it meansthatthereis no sensein askingwhen

eternitybegins or ends, then it is perfectlyjust.

eternalobject,e.g., God,thenthereis obviouslyno sensein asking

whenhe beganto existor whenhe will ceaseto exist.

If thereis an


is at all times,heis not intime,butthisis not to be confusedwith

sayingthathe doesnot existat anytime,i.e.,notyesterday,to-day or to-morrow. Similarlytwo andtwo werefouryesterday,they arefour to-day and they will be four to-morrow. Timelessness is lack of limitationof existencein time; it is not failureto exist at alltimes. Mutatismutandisthisholdsof timelesstruths. This is difficultfor me to express,as I rejectthe notion of truth-at-a-


The argumentwhichled Spinozaand has led manyothersto denythataneternalobjectexistsat a giventimeis of a typewhich has seemedto someverymodern. It was muchfavouredby the late ProfessorAustin and its generalform is: ' There are no conceivablecircumstancesin whichit wouldbe pointfulto utter

the sentence S.

Usingthis kind of argument,Austindeniesin effectthat ' He sat

Butmoreof thislater.

Thereforethe sentence S is


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down intentionally' in normal circumstances expresses any proposition at all, let alone a true proposition." It seems to me that this type of argument has been sufficiently dealt with by ProfessorJ. R. Searlein his paper " AberrationsandAssertions "'.15 As he remarks, it depends on confusing the conditions under which it is correct (conventionally or socially) to assert that-P with the conditions under which it is true that-P. It is very rarely, if ever, socially correct to assert that two and two are four on Wednesdays,becausethis suggeststhat they might be something else on other days. Nevertheless, it is perfectly true. In a way my point is the reverse of Professor Searle's. He is arguing against Austin's slogan ' No modification without aberration' that adverbialmodifications such as ' voluntarily ' yield sentences which express perfectly good propositions even in non-aberrant circumstances, while I am arguing that temporal modifications express perfectly good propositions even in aberrantuses, for the ordinary non-aberrant use of time determinations is to report events or describe states which occur at a definite, or endure for a limited time. The sort of argumentdealt with by Professor Searle seems to me to be the only sort of argumentthat has ever been put forward for denying that the so-called timeless truths hold at all times; and as I think that Professor Searle has shown that it is not

a good sort of argument,I am ready to maintain that the so-called timeless truths do hold at all times and that, if such holding involves the existence of timeless objects, these will also be sempiternal objects. But does it involve the existence of time- less objects? I have so far avoided this question. Let us admit that ' Two and two are four' expresses a timeless truth. Does this involve us in saying that the number two is a timeless object?

I see no reason so far for being committed to this Fregean conclusion; for, as Descartes remarked, the truths of arithmetic are hypothetical, and I believethat to say 'Two and two are four 'is to make a statement about all possible pairs of objects. The answer to the question whether there are timeless objects

"I" A



Philosophical Papers.

1" British



Excuses ",















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is obviouslydeterminedby the exactsensewe attachto the word

' object' and is perhapsbest approachedindirectlythroughthe notion of a timelesstruth,whichI will now try to makeprecise.

I willtakeas aninstancetheassertionof theexistenceof a quality,

e.g., theassertionthatthereis sucha thingassaintliness,takennot in the sense that thereare saintlypeople but that it is possible that some people should be saintly. The only clear sense which I can attach to the assertion that this is a timeless

truthis that the wordsin which it is expressedexpressa true propositionatwhatevertime,whereverandbywhomsoevertheyare used,providedonlythatthewordsusedretaintheirpresentsense. In this the sentencediffersfrom many sentencesof everyday speech which are now generallyrecognisedto be capable of expressingpropositions of different truth-valuein different circumstances. Theexpressionof a truthin all circumstancesis a necessarybut not a sufficientconditionfor the expressionof a timeless truth by a sentence;for it is also sharedby Quine's

" eternalsentences ',16 whichdo not expresstimelesstruthsbut aresimplyartificialdevicesfor expressingin the timelesspresent propositionsthat would normallybe expressedby the use of tenses. It seemsthat Quineis mistakenin supposingthat his eternalsentencescontainno devicethattakesthe placeof tense; for theycontaindates,anda systemof datescan be usedonly by referringdirectlyor indirectlyto an originwhichis relatedto the time of utteranceof the sentencein question."7 By a timeless truththereforeI meana truepropositionwhichneedsneithera systemof tensesnor a systemof datingfor its expression. Does the existenceof such sentencesentail the existenceof timeless objects?Shall we say that saintlinessis such a timelessobject? This seems to me to be a not very importantquestion. Its answerdependson a choiceas to how we use the word' object'. The importantquestionfor me is whether,if we say that it is a timelessobject,we mustalso say that it is a sempiternalobject,


Wordand Object,p. 193. 17 This point is argued in detail in a paper " Propositionsand Time " by W. and M. Kneale forthcomingin a volumeon the Philosophyof G. E. Moore edited by A. Ambroseand S. Lazerowitz.

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andI holdthatwe mustacceptthe secondthesisbecausethe only

clear criterionfor

sentencewhichcanbe usedto assertits existencemustnot require a deviceliketenseordatebutexpressa truepropositionwhenever, whereverand by whomeverspoken. By thiscriterionsaintliness

is a timelessobject,and so, contraryto whatI suggestedbefore,

are numbers. Moreover,ratherunexpectedly,there may be (I don'tsaythereare)timelessphysicalobjects. For supposethere were exactlyn Epicureanatoms, then the sentence'There are

exactly n atoms' would expressa true propositionwhenever, whereverand by whomeveruttered. It maybe thoughtthatthis conclusionconstitutesa reductioad absurdumof my criterionof timelessness,andperhapsthereis a betterandtightercriterionof timelessnesswhichwouldavoidthisconclusion,butatthemoment

it seemsto me that the notion of timelessnessis otioseand could

wellbe allowedto collapseeitherintothatof sempiternityorthat of necessity.

the existenceof a timelessobjectis that any

I nowturnto thislatternotion.

Thereis a differencebetween

a timelesslytrue and a necessarilytrue proposition. The pro- positionthatthereareexactlyn Epicureanatomswould,if true, be timelesslytrue,but obviouslynot necessarilytrue,whereasthe proposition that there is such a property as saintliness is necessarilytrue,sinceit is analysableinto a modalproposition, which like all true modal propositions is necessarilytrue. Similarlypropositionswhichare simplyaboutnumbersor other mathematicalobjectsare,if true,necessarilytrue. I say' simply' in order to excludepropositionswhich are expressedby such sentencesas 'I am nowthinkingaboutthenumbertwo', whichis neithernecessarynortimeless. In so farthenas I havebeenableto finda precisedefinitionof timelessness,it bothentailsandis entailedby sempiternity. What remainsfor us to consider,then,is the relationbetweennecessity, the otherconstituentof the notion of eternityand sempiternity. The position I want to uphold is that necessity entails

sempiternity but not vice-versa.

Thefirstpointisclearinrelationbothtonecessarytruthsandto necessaryobjects. For example,it is a necessarytruththat two

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and two are four.


Now supposeit to be the case that at some

time they are not four; since ab esse adposse valet consequentia,it

is possiblethattheyshouldnot be four.

diction,andit mustbe thecasethattwo andtwo arealwaysfour.

Similarly,if thereis a necessaryobject,e.g., God, thenthereis a true propositionexpressibleby the sentence' God necessarily exists'. Now suppose God not to be sempiternal;obviously therewill be a truepropositionexpressible,accordingto the time of utterance,by ' God did not exist', ' God does not exist', or

' God will not exist'. It follows that 'Possibly God does not exist' expressesa true proposition,so that again we have a contradiction. Thereforeif God is eternal, in the sense of

' necessary',he is also sempiternal. This proof holds whatever objectwe substitutefor God and thereforeany necessaryobject is also sempiternal. Butis the sempiternalalso necessary? Therearepassagesin


attributeit to himdo not hold thatit is true.

paradoxical,beingequivalent,as can be shownby simplecontra- position,to the propositionthat whateveris possiblesometimes

exists. Myconclusionaboutthenotionswehavebeendiscussing

is thereforeas follows.

sempiternityor they are mutuallyentailing. Necessity entails

Wehavethusa contra-

It is indeedhighly

Timelessnessis either identical with

sempiternitybut not vice-versa.


In westernphilosophicaltraditionwe havefoundtwo strongly opposingviews. Accordingto the one (heldby Plato,Augustine, Boethius and St Thomas in his Platonic moods) eternityand sempiternityareincompatible,whileaccordingtotheother(heldby

18 For a full discussion of these passages see J. Hintikka, " Necessity, Universalityand Time in Aristotle", Ajatus,20 (1957) pp. 65-90, and " An

AristolelianDilemma", " Ajatus,22 (1969),pp. 87-92, and C. J. F. Williams,

(1960),pp. 95-107and

203-215. Either an identification of or a mutual entailment between necessityand sempiternityis also sometimesmaintainedby medievalphilo- sophers. See e.g., Duns Scotus,OpusOxoniense,Dist. II, Quaestio1, Art. ii. in DunsScotus,PhilosophicalWritings,ed. Allan Wolter,O.F.M., p. 55.

Aristotle and Corruptibility", ReligiousStudies, I

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Aristotle, Epicurus,and St Thomas in his

moods) eternity,whetheras timelessnessor necessityis either identicalwithsempiternityor relatedto it by mutualentailment. Now Spinozawas subjectedeitherdirectlyor indirectlyto the influenceof boththeseviews,19andI wishto usetheresultsof my firstpart to suggesta new interpretationof his Ethics, Part V, propositions21 and following, a section which commentators havefoundpeculiarlybaffling. Theirbafflementarisesfromthe following facts. There are many passagesin which Spinoza connectseternitywith necessityand suggeststhat only God and His attributesarefully eternalandnecessary. Theconnexionis madein the definitionof eternityitself,Per aeternitatemintelligo

ipsam existentiam quatenusex sola rei aeternae necessario sequi

concipitur20, (" ByeternityI understandexistenceitselfin so far as it is conceivedas followingfromthe definitionof the eternal thing alone.") We are told in I, 24 that the essenceof things producedby God doesnot involveexistence,in otherwordsthat they are not necessary,and II, Axiom 1 tells us that men are

amongthose things.

more Aristotelian

Hominis essentia non involvit necessariam

existentiam, hoc est ex naturaeordinetamfieri potest, ut hic et ille

homo existat, quamut nonnon existat (" Theessenceof man does

not involvenecessaryexistence,thatis, in the orderof natureit can equallycomeaboutthatthis or thatmanshouldexistor not exist.") Yet we havein V, 23, Schol.Sentimusexperimurquenos aeternosesse (" We feel and know by experiencethat we are eternal.") It is true that the demonstrationto whichthis is a scholiumattributeseternityto the humanmindalone,but on the face of it the humanmind is no less a createdthing than the humanbody. Thisis one contradiction:Manbothis andis not necessaryand eternal. But there is also a second apparent contradiction. Much of the languagein which the eternityof the humanmind is explainedis appropriateto duration. Pro-

position 23, itself says Mens hwnana non potest cum corpore

absolute destrui; sed

eius aliquid remanet quod aeternum est

1' For possiblelines of transmissionsee H. A. Wolfson, The Philosophyof Spinoza,ChapterX.


EthiCS, I, Def


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(" Thehumanmindcannotbe absolutelydestroyedwiththebody butsomethingofit remainswhichis eternal.") Theverbremanere certainlysuggestsduration,and againit is statedexplicitlyat the end of the Scholiumto V, 20, whichis the introductionto this sectionof the Ethicsthat" it is nowtimeto moveto thosethings whichpertainto the durationof the mindwithoutrelationto the body." Thereactionof commentatorsto thesecontradictionshas for the mostpartbeento say that,whenSpinozain this sectionuses the languageappropriateto duration,he doesnot meanwhathe saysbutis obligedto speakmetaphorically. Allheis sayingisthat at certainmomentsof ourliveswe areawareof necessarytruths andso in a certainsenseexperienceeternity. ThusPollock:

Spinoza'seternallifeis nota continuanceof existencebuta mannerof existence;somethingwhichcanbe realisedhere and now as muchas at any othertime and place; not a future reward of the soul's perfection,but the soul's


and morerecentlyHampshire:

Thepossibleeternityof the humanmindcannottherefore beintendedby Spinozato meanthatI literallysurvive,as a distinguishableindividual,in so far as I attain genuine knowledge,for in so faras I do attaingenuineknowledge, my individualityas a particularthingdisappearsand my mindbecomesso farunitedwithGod or Natureconceived underthe attributeof thought.22 Thesewritershavebeeninfluenced,I believe,not onlybythose passagesin whichSpinozadrawsa sharpline betweenduration and eternity,but also by the thoughtthat Spinozacould not be puttingforwardanythingso vulgaras the doctrineof personal survivalafterdeath. Butthisseemsto mepreciselywhatSpinoza is putting forward. Hampshire'sview that qua eternal the individualhumanmind is lost in the divineconsciousnessmust be wrong;for the premissto the argumentfor the eternityof the

21 22 Spinoza,p. Spinoza,p. 275. 131.

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illius corporishumaniessentiamsub specie aeternitatis exprimit3

("Thereexistsnecessarilyhowever,in Godanideawhichexpresses the essence of this and that human body under the form of eternity.") It is the eternityof the idea of thisandthathuman body, i.e., of this and that human mind which is preciselyin question. AgainSpinozaexpresslyconnectstheintellectuallove of God which accompaniesthe eternityof the mind with the thirdkindof knowledge(scientiaintuitiva)whichis knowledgeof


Butif we rejectthe Pollock-Hampshireinterpretationof this sectionof the Ethics,whatbetterhavewe to offer? I thinkthat no interpretationcan be givenwhichis consistentwitheverything that Spinozasays becausein the courseof his philosophicallife, perhapseven duringthe writingof the Ethics,whichcontinued for a numberof years,he changedhis mind aboutthe relation betweeneternityand duration. WhatI shallput forwardas an interpretationof this sectionis whatI thinkSpinozawouldhave put forwardhad he had the time fully to think out and the libertyfully to expresswhathe is heretryingto say. First,a conjectureas to history. I thinkthat Spinozabegan with a Platonicviewof eternityas timelessnesssharplyseparated fromduration. I havealreadyquotedone passageto this effect fromthe Ethics.25 Thereis an evenmorestrikingexpressionof the sameviewin the CogitataMetaphysics,26an earlyworkwhich is of doubtfulauthorityfor Spinoza'smatureviews. Here he explainswhathe meansby aeternitasandusespreciselythe kind of argumentwhichis explodedby Searlein orderto distinguish thisnotionsharplyfromthatof duration. If, hesays,weseparate God's essencefrom hisexistence,we are temptedto askwhether God hasexistedfor a longertimesincehe createdAdamthanhe had before,whichhas the samekind of absurdityas sayingthat the essenceof the triangleor the circle,consideredas an eternal

reads In Deo tamen datur necessario idea, quae huius et


Ethics,V, 22.

21 V,





24 and 33. 23, Schol. 2.


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truthhas existedlongernow than it had at the time of Adam. Thisway of thinkingpersistsinto the Ethics,as we haveshown, butby thetimehe cameto writePartV, I thinkthatSpinozawas

thinkingin a more Aristotelianway.

was essentiallynecessity,that he can provethe necessityof the

humanmindandfromthis the sempiternityof the humanmind.

I say deliberately' sempiternity' ratherthan ' survival' because therearetwo curiouspassageswhichsuggestthe pre-existenceas wellas thepost-existenceof thehumanmind. Thefirstoccursin

V, 23, Schol.

beforethe body, neverthelesswe feel our mind to be eternal", whichstronglysuggeststhat its eternityentailsthe pre-existence

as well as the post-existenceof the humanmind. Thesecondis in the Scholiumto Proposition31, wherehe saysthathe proposes to considerthe humanmindas if it hadjust begunto existandto understandthingsundertheformof eternity. This,hesuggests,is

false, and what follows is not that the mind subspecie aeternitatis

He thoughtthat eternity

" Althoughwe do not rememberthat we existed

has no durationbut thatits durationis endlessin bothdirections likethatof Aristotle'souranos. HowcouldSpinozahavereached this strangeconclusion? He began,I think, with a theological premiss,oneso deeplyingrainedbyhisreligiousandphilosophical training,thatit wasimpossiblethathe shouldcall it in question, namely the omniscienceof God. He identifiedGod with the universefor reasonswhichhave someplausibilitybut whichare not germaneto the presentquestion. The universe,thereforeis omniscient. Everythingis known,includingthehumanbodyand the reason why any particularhuman body is a part of the universe. Thisknowledge,in thecaseof eachhumanbodyis the correspondinghumanmind, or at least that part of it whichis eternal. Thereis in God the knowledgeof the essenceof each humanbody, whichis differentfromthe essenceof everyother humanbody and this knowledgeis necessary,i.e., eternaland thereforesempiternal. Onlyfor the briefspaceof our physical lives is it combinedwith the confusedperceptionsand passive emotions which torment our bodily existence. Otherwise throughendlesstimeit enduresin the enjoymentof thatcomplete understandingwhichevenin this life is our highestsatisfaction.

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How, then, in eternity, or ratherin sempiternity,we may ask, does one human mind differfrom another? Spinoza gives no answer, but it is possible to give one. The system of truths about the universe is like that of axioms and theorems in a logical system.

It may be arrangedin many differentways. A given human mind,

I suggest, is that system of knowledge which has the existence of

God as its first premiss (this is common to all), the existence of

other parts of the universe as intermediate premisses, and the existence of its own body as conclusion. Thus everyhuman mind is in a way the same system of knowledge as every other human mind, but it is the system arrangedin a differentway. Hence our individuality, not merely in this life but sempiternally.

There are a number of ineradicable flaws in this system, but it

is not, 1 think,

even if he had thought it out in full clarity, which I suspect he had not, would have shrunk from expressing it with full openness. For it entails two doctrines of extreme unorthodoxy, and pace

did wish to be read and to secure a hearing.

Pollock,27 Spinoza

It is obvious, for example, that he is being tactful towards Christianity in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. The two unorthodox doctrines entailed by the second part of Ethics V are the pre-existence of the human soul and the doctrine of universal salvation. Spinoza is committed, like Origen, to the view that even the devil (if there is one) must have beatitudoin the end, and not only at the end but also at the beginning and presumably throughout most of the temporal duration of the universe. Of these two unorthodox doctrines, the second was the more hateful to Spinoza's contemporaries. This is shown by the fact that the politic Leibniz, who dared to put forward a kind of pre-existence, felt bound, in spite of his general optimism, to maintain that the number of the damned is far greater than the number of the saved at least as regards the inhabitants of this planet.28 Thereis no wonder that Spinoza, if he held the doctrine, should have presented it in a somewhat veiled manner.

an ignoble one. There are reasons why Spinoza,

27 Spinoza,p. 276.

28 Theodicy,19.

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Had his attemptsucceeded,it wouldhavebeenan enormous triumph. He wouldhaveshownthata purenaturalismcanoffer the certaintyof salvationin place of the hope put forwardby revealedreligion,andyet giveequalencouragementto virtueand piety;for, as he himselfemphasises,he hasshownin PartIV and the earlierpropositionsof PartV that, evenin this life, virtueis our only blessedness.

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