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SPINOZA, Baruch

On the Improvement of Understanding

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Of the four modes of perception

Reflection shows that all modes of perception or knowledge may be reduced to four:

- Perception arising from hearsay or from some sign which everyone may name as he please.

- Perception arising from mere experience—that is, from experience not yet classified by the intellect, and only so called because the given event has happened to take place, and we have no contradictory fact to set against it, so that it therefore remains unassailed in our minds.

- Perception arising when the essence of one thing is inferred from another thing, but not adequately; this comes when from some effect we gather its cause, or when it is inferred from some general proposition that some property is always present.

- Lastly, there is the perception arising when a thing is perceived solely through its essence or the knowledge of its proximate cause.

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The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free.

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If you want the present to be different from the past, study the past.

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Those who wish to seek out the cause of miracles and to understand the things of nature as philosophers, and not to stare at them in astonishment like fools, are soon considered heretical and impious, and proclaimed as such by those whom the mob adores as the interpreters of nature and the gods. For these men know that, once ignorance is put aside, that wonderment would be taken away, which is the only means by which their authority is preserved.

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I would warn you that I do not attribute to nature either beauty or deformity, order or confusion. Only in relation to our imagination can things be called beautiful or ugly, well-ordered or confused.

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When a man is prey to his emotions, he is not his own master.

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Happiness is not the reward of virtue, but is virtue itself; nor do we delight in happiness because we restrain from our lusts; but on the contrary, because we delight in it, therefore we are able to restrain them.


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Of all the things that are beyond my power, I value nothing more highly than to be allowed the honor of entering into bonds of friendship with people who sincerely love truth. For, of things beyond our power, I believe there is nothing in the world which we can love with tranquility except such men.

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The supreme mystery of despotism, its prop and stay, is to keep men in a state of deception, and with the specious title of religion to cloak the fear by which they must be held in check, so that they will fight for their servitude as if for salvation.

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Better that right counsels be known to enemies than that the evil secrets of tyrants should be concealed from the citizens. They who can treat secretly of the affairs of a nation have it absolutely under their authority; and as they plot against the enemy in time of war, so do they against the citizens in time of peace.

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