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Enjoy Spinoza while I Slog!

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on September 18, 2012

I am happy πŸ™‚ Today I am washing away at least 50% of my bad Karmas; Helping my parents unpack and settle in a new place they will be calling home. And unpacking and setting up a house is no easy task. In our culture parents are considered only next to Gods and serving them bestows one with the highest blessing. While I work on improving my next life even more, I leave you with a post that was inspired by one of my favorite philosophers, Spinoza. It is titled “Humility is not a Virtue”.

“Humility is a sadness which arises from the fact that a man considers his own lack of power.Moreover, insofar a man knows himself by true reason, it is supposed that he understands his own essence,his own power. So if a man,in considering himself, perceives some lack of power of his,this is not because he understands himself but because his power of acting is restrained.

-Benedict de Spinoza, Ethics

Not surprisingly, this has been a prevalent thought in Western Philosophy and a key tenet that differentiates it from Eastern thought. While the Athenians, Stoics, Epicureans and others treated man as part of a society and framed definitions inspired by man’s interaction with his external surroundings viz. the state, fellow humans et al., Eastern philosophy focused on the individuality of a man, his struggles with his inner beings, the divinity that lay within him.

So why the two different approaches? One possible explanation could be that while the Athenians were struggling to find the answer to a Utopian form of state, the East may have already figured out the best form of governance. The East was already beyond the struggles of community living and had now reached a level of spirituality where the biggest struggle for a man was against the forces within and not without. Any further explanations? Or is my observation off the mark?





13 Responses to “Enjoy Spinoza while I Slog!”

  1. When Spinoza says, “So if a man, in considering himself, perceives some lack of power of his, this is not because he understands himself but because his power of acting is restrainedβ€œ— by society or community that is. So all things follow along societal dictates (government, church, religion, morals, etc.) unlike those of Eastern philosophies where the emphasis is on the individual who focuses inward not out.

    Has the East though figured out their best form of governance though? This would be my next question to you. And if so, how?

    • Raunak said

      One of the earliest texts of political economy in India is “Arthashastra” authored by a 3rd century BC scholar named Kautilya.
      The best governance would be self governance where an individual has reached a certain level of self righteousness and an ability to reason.
      We are nowhere near it πŸ™‚

  2. Self-governance, I mean…

    • Raunak said

      we see something close to it work in small units like families that have a guiding force like a father or mother. an underlying bond within a family allows this to realize. A bigger unit finds this bond weakened and beyond a level, the bond breaks.

  3. I am going to have to read this again. πŸ™‚ I have always had a more eastern philosophy but how do you separate it from selfishness? Sort of a rhetorical question but I think Americans can sometimes confuse the two? Another question… how do you approach the issue when parents don’t know how to raise or deal with their children properly? Should they be honored so high no matter what? I will take more time and read this again I really like the post. πŸ™‚

    • Raunak said

      I shall have to dig into ancient scriptures to find answers to that πŸ™‚ For some reason parents have been given that high pedestal in our mythological epics as well. Sayings such as “Heaven is at our parents’ feet” are very commonly used.

      would love to hear more of your thoughts πŸ™‚

  4. enjoyed the post today. had to read it about a hundred times then got a little lost in the ensuing debate. BUT. i’ll take a shot. πŸ™‚ i’m often humbled, but it’s not a result of feeling lack of power. it results from the feeling of blessedness knowing that the universe has given me amazing gifts. it’s like a humility and gratitude sandwich. the flavors get lost in each other a bit while i chew. πŸ˜‰

    the idea that spun out of spinoza’s assertion, that eastern philosophers corner the market on personal power (am i way off here?), may be true in theory, but if it’s not achievable through centuries of practice, some tweaking needs to be done. this is why i like east meets west. a little bit of me, a dash of you… voila! world peace. πŸ˜‰ (at least it sounds nice.)

    • Raunak said

      vanessa, great to read such well thought out comments!

      I think no study of a philosophical thought is complete without a look into the environment that the philosopher grew up in. Spinoza was a Portuguese Jew who was brought up in Holland. His questioning of God got him excommunicated, and the world around him those days was nothing less than a dog eat dog world. In those days I think he did not get a chance to come across many people who displayed a combination of humility and gratitude that you mention.

      world peace! I’m not so certain if that is possible for humans. Individual survival instinct and survival of loved ones will triumph over the common good. at least 99% times. In such a scenario I find it tough to realize.

      check out my new post:

  5. […] Enjoy Spinoza while I Slog! […]

  6. […] Enjoy Spinoza while I Slog! […]

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