THE ETHICS OF NEW TIME, The Ethics of Classical European Rationalism, Descartes, Leibniz - Ethics


The new time is the era in which Western civilization gradually acquires its modern outlines. This applies to all processes - political, economic, cultural, intellectual and moral. Given the conventionality of time boundaries, we will count down this period from the XVII century. In the philosophical plan, the New Time continues to develop the revivalist ideas about the independence of the human mind and the sovereignty of the individual. Rationality, intellectual validity, become the main value on the path to understanding the truth. Rationalism is the central and most noticeable trend in the New European philosophy. It is based on the belief in the possibility of a rational explanation of all the phenomena of the world. But rationalism in ethics means something different, namely the conviction that morality is a life that agrees with reason, and the good is a reasonable understanding of reality.

The Ethics of Classical European Rationalism


The French philosopher René Descartes (1596- 1650) is rightly considered the founder of European rationalism and scientific methodology of the New Time. He did not write a special work on ethics. Views on morality are scattered throughout his various books. Nevertheless, he considers ethics to be one of the most significant sciences. Thus, in the work "The First Principles of Philosophy" he characterizes it as "the highest and most perfect science that assumes knowledge of other sciences and is the last step to higher wisdom." The philosopher, like the Stoics, compares the whole of philosophy with a tree whose roots are metaphysics, the trunk is physics, and branches and fruits are all other sciences, including ethics. He confirms that moral philosophy should be addressed after studying other sciences just for the highest good.

However, in another famous work - "Discourse about the method & quot; (which is not only a guide for knowledge, but primarily for a correct life) Descartes proposes a different model of the sequence of knowledge. From his point of view, before embarking on a serious study of the sciences, one should arrange his life ("to live as happily as possible"). Descartes admits that, in pursuing this goal, he composed for himself the "temporary rules of morality", which "three or four":

1. "To obey the laws and customs of my country, persistently adhering to a religion in which, but by the mercy of God, I was raised from childhood, and guided in everything else by the most moderate and alien extremes, jointly worked out by the most prudent people, among whom I had to live." ;

2. "To remain as firm and resolute in my actions as possible in my power, and with no less persistence to follow even the most dubious opinions, if I took them for quite correct".

3. Always strive to conquer yourself rather than the fate of (fortune ), change your desires, and order the world and generally get used to the idea that in our full power are only ours thoughts & quot;

4. Here Descartes simply says that "to consider the various occupations of people in this life, in order to try to choose the best of them." The result of the search is: & quot; ... There is nothing better than continuing the business that I am doing, i.e. devote my whole life to the perfection of my mind and move forward as far as I can, in the knowledge of truth according to the method I have adopted. " As a result, the philosopher states: "Since I began to use this method, I have experienced many times the extraordinary pleasure, which is more pleasant and purer than that one can hardly get in this life."

In these rules it is not difficult to notice the influence of the ancient worldview. For example, the first of them calls for avoiding extremes and observing the measure, in the third one sees the distinct influence of Stoicism, and in the latter one reads the motives of Socrates' search for truth. You can evaluate these rules in different ways. They are more like everyday teachings than moral demands. But, firstly, it is a question of "temporary rules of morality", suitable for clearing a way to knowledge, and through it - for good. And secondly, we see here the first distinct attempt to formulate the moral foundations of scientific ethos, i.e. the philosopher made up the rules of life of the ideal scientist. What Bruno expressed in a poetic form, Descartes indicated in the form of rational requirements.

Nevertheless, the formulated rules concerned the "temporary morality", i.e. they were needed as conditions for knowledge. But to what does knowledge itself lead? Answering this question, Descartes applies methods of rationalizing moral experience. He believes that the main thing of our soul is thinking, and the essence of the world around us is stretching. But since man is a corporeal being, he is in a third reality - the influence of the body on the soul, which he called passions. What is considered a struggle between the lower and the higher soul (Aristotle), between passion and reason, between feeling and thinking, is in fact a conflict between the soul and the body. And Descartes understands the conflict mechanically, i.e. as a physical effect of "life spirits" on the body. If we follow a reasonable will, we will be able to curb the spirits. Hence the highest goal of moral life - freedom from passions, life according to pure reason. Aim and at the same time a task.

However, in the teachings of Descartes, passions are divided into rational and unreasonable lusts, which are the causes of our actions. For example, the desire to achieve spiritual freedom is also lust. How can we distinguish between positive and negative desires? The criterion is quite simple: those desires, the realization of which depends only on us, are reasonable, and if their achievement does not depend to the full of us, they are unreasonable. Hence the most important desire is complete freedom of mind from external influences. Descartes calls this state the "greatness of the soul". Freedom of the spirit means freedom from such passions that subordinate the soul to a temporary, vain thing.

At the end of life, Descartes will once again return to reasoning about the highest good. In his famous letter to the Swedish Queen Christine, he writes that the highest good should be in our hands. The only thing that fully corresponds to this criterion is cognition. The will to knowledge, to independent knowledge is the freest. And the soul calms down only when it reaches the desired knowledge in spite of the passions. Therefore, Descartes explicitly calls freedom of will the supreme good, understanding it as the ability to live but to his mind. Thus, we see that Descartes not only identified morality and intelligence, but also the mind with freedom.


Benedict (Baruch) Spinoza (1632-1677) - a native of the Jewish community of Amsterdam, subjected to expulsion from her for his freedom-loving views and forced to hide all his life from the vindictive intentions of his former mentors in the faith , and from the persecution of the Inquisition. Spinoza was under the great influence of the philosophy of Descartes and in many ways developed his teaching. It can be said that for him ethics and philosophy are identical, for philosophy is the path of ascent to the highest good. Spinoza's final product was a book called "Ethics" (published posthumously) - the most revealing example of moral rationalism. The presentation of the material in his book is constructed as a description of a rigorous scientific theory, definitions, axioms, theorems are given, as well as consequences of these theorems.

The geometrical method of finding the truth testifies that the essence of the highest good can be determined scientifically. On the other hand, it is indicative that for the ethics of rationalism, engaging in science means moving on the road to perfection. In Spinoza's view, Perfection is God, and all that is in the world is the manifestation of God. Accordingly, a person is also a manifestation of God, but he does not understand this because of his irrational behavior. If we were capable of adequate, i.e. exclusively to a reasonable knowledge of things, then we would know God himself.

As in the Descartes system, a person, in Spinoza's opinion, is a sentient being, but in slavery to affect (emotions). Therefore, ethics includes two parts: the first helps to overcome the affects, the second - to find the highest good itself. The fight against affects must begin with their correct understanding. Spinoza believes that passions are qualities of human nature, and therefore they can not be considered vices. Man is imperfect, and therefore, not free being: he is dependent on the influence of the surrounding world and in relation to him is a passive being. Affects - this is the influence exerted on us by bodily things. They are manifested in our soul in the form of desires.

But we do not understand how to overcome the affects, if we do not realize the essence of our soul. Any thing in nature is a mode of the divine attribute, and it seeks to preserve itself in that capacity. Man is no exception: just as an expression of the divine substance, we must strive to preserve ourselves. Desire to own preservation Spinoza calls will. Here it should be noted that under self-preservation, the philosopher understands not only the salvation of his life, but, most importantly, the isolation of the person on himself, the care for the inner state of his own mind, in which the influence of stoicism can be traced. If the world is a manifestation of God, then we can not change anything in it. The only thing in our power is to know ourselves and eventually to understand that we are also His manifestation.

Among the affects there are those that reduce the strength of the body and prevent self-preservation, but there are those that help it, and therefore contribute to improvement. Every ability to act increases our perfection, inability to act, on the contrary, reduces. The more perfect our spirit, the more it strives for self-preservation. In this way, our lust, our will is either satisfied or restrained. The consciousness of the satisfied desire is joy, the consciousness of the unsatisfied is sadness. And then Spinoza sets out the whole doctrine of the essence of passions, the meaning of which is maxim: "avoid suffering and increase pleasure." The joy of life is an indicator that we are moving in the right direction . And the most important joyful passion is love, for it fills our life with meaning and makes us want the affirmation of being loved.

For all of this - we will note once again - is relevant only to the sensory part of the soul. Having plunged into the world of affects, artistically painted by Spinoza, we can falsely imagine that we have already reached the peak of bliss. But in the fourth part of the "Ethics", called "About human slavery or the power of affects", the philosopher shows that imaginary bliss turns into slavery of will. A person who lives with affects is deprived of freedom, for it becomes dependent on passions. Perfection can not be without freedom, so the path to it presupposes victory over passions. Unfortunately, the forces of man are limited, and they are infinitely superior to their power external causes. There are emotions that are stronger than our active (reasonable) state, and they can be defeated only by a stronger affect. This can be the very desire for excellence, love and a blessed life. On the way to combat negative affects and the movement towards positive people, one must be guided by certain rules that remind us of "temporal rules of morality" Descartes, but only wider. They are in the 4th part of the "Ethics & quot; enough. Let us dwell on the most important ones.

1. Live, guided by reason; this is the movement towards perfection, overcoming passions. Higher knowledge is the knowledge of God. To know God means to gain omnipotence.

2. Do good to other people. Spinoza argues that the most important thing in the world for our perfection is another person who lives by reason. Hence his famous thought: "Man to man - God."

3. The one who lives according to reason must, for anger, hatred, and love, render only love.

4. Finally, the wise man can find joy in life and get pleasure from different things. A free man thinks least of all about death and most of all about life.

Following these rules strengthen our mind and lead to freedom from affects. But remember: the affects are different. Spinoza encourages us to fight with vague affect-lust, but there are also reasonable affects, concluded in the passion for knowledge and freedom. Cognition brings us the great joy of liberation from slavery, and the greatest joy is the knowledge that sees the need for our affects. We understand that exposure to affects is a normal, natural state of our soul. But experienced affects do not threaten us. We see that they are generated by a mass of causes and are not independent; binding for us. From now on, passion, known by reason, does not threaten us.

Clear, reasonable cognition allows you to see things in their true light, i.e. to realize that the world in its foundation is God. The knowledge of God can only be intuitive; direct comprehension. This knowledge, which brings the highest joy, which man will eternally desire. Joy, accompanied by the idea of ​​God as its cause, according to one of the definitions of Spinoza, is love. Intellectual love for God is the highest affect, the leading personality to perfection. More precisely, it is God's love for himself, manifested in the soul of a perfect person. The one who has found this love becomes the most free and most free being in the world. This is the ideal of Spinoza, which, perhaps, became the most vivid expression of hope that rational knowledge leads to supreme bliss.


Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) is a universal thinker who aspired to give answers to all questions of being. In the history of philosophy he entered, mainly, as a tireless defender of the idea of ​​the omnipotence of the human mind, convinced that our world is the best of the worlds, since it is the only really existing of all possible created by God. Leibniz's judgments about ethics, like that of Descartes, are scattered over many of his works. The most revealing of them is & quot; Experiments on the theodicy about the goodness of God, human freedom and the beginning of evil, " although this book is more about theological than moral.

According to Leibniz, the will to moral deeds is peculiar to the whole human race. As in knowledge there are innate ideas, so in volitional action is an innate moral instinct. He defines the natural moral norm common to all mankind, which is based on elementary feelings of humanity: compassion, mercy, pity, etc. However, life according to the laws of natural morality, in accordance with moral feelings, can not lead to good, because it is not realized. A person needs from the natural instinct of philanthropy to come to a reasonable moral will, which is guided by rational requirements. But how to do that? The philosopher believes that a person also has a tendency to strive for the highest bliss, happiness. This is the last goal to which all our sensual inclinations vaguely gravitate. Therefore, good is joy from approaching to happiness, and evil is grief as a result of distance from it. However, at the sensual level, the pursuit of happiness turns into selfishness. Man desires the good for himself as for a single being, and not for all people on earth.

To true happiness leads only to the joy that grows as our cognitive power increases. We can say that this craving is the most important passion, but it is reasonable. In this case, the power of the mind concerns not only knowledge, but also the ability to suppress sensual temptations and subordinate to oneself a natural moral instinct. The more our will submits to reason, the more we become free and gain good and good. Moreover, a reasonable way of thinking, unlike sensual desires, presupposes freedom and good not only for itself, but for all intelligent beings. The moral instinct of philanthropy, comprehended by reason, lies at the basis of the idea of ​​world harmony. The mind wishing to establish it must be guided by the principle: "Desire for your happiness and fulfill it for the happiness of mankind, think of the whole, acting for yourself."

Descartes and Spinoza substantiated the rational ideal of morality and good, but the ideal is individualistic. Leibniz developed their ideas, tried to combine the individual's desire for happiness with the public good. For this trend, it was very important to justify the idea of ​​the integrity of the human being as the unity of reason, will, morality and good. But rationalism is not the only doctrine that existed in the Ethics of the New Time.

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