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On the Improvement of the Understanding
(Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect)

by Baruch Spinoza  [Benedict de Spinoza]

Translated by R. H. M. Elwes


1   On the Improvement of the Understanding
3   Of the ordinary objects of men's desires
12  Of the true and final good
17  Certain rules of life
19  Of the four modes of perception
25  Of the best mode of perception
33  Of the instruments of the intellect, or true ideas
43  Answers to objections

First part of method:

50  Distinction of true ideas from fictitious ideas
64  And from false ideas
77  Of doubt
81  Of memory and forgetfulness
86  Mental hindrances from words - and from the popular confusion
    of ready imagination with distinct understanding. 

Second part of method: 

91  Its object, the acquisition of clear and distinct ideas
94  Its means, good definitions
    Conditions of definition
107 How to define understanding


[Notice to the Reader.]
(This notice to the reader was written by the editors of the
Opera Postuma in 1677.  Taken from Curley, Note 3, at end)

*This Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect etc., which we
give you here, kind reader, in its unfinished [that is, defective]
state, was written by the author many years ago now. He always
intended to finish it. But hindered by other occupations, and
finally snatched away by death, he was unable to bring it to the
desired conclusion. But since it contains many excellent and useful
things, which - we have no doubt - will be of great benefit to
anyone sincerely seeking the truth, we did not wish to deprive you
of them. And so that you would be aware of, and find less difficult
to excuse, the many things that are still obscure, rough, and
unpolished, we wished to warn you of them. Farewell.*

[1]  (1) After experience had taught me that all the usual
surroundings of social life are vain and futile; seeing that none
of the objects of my fears contained in themselves anything either
good or bad, except in so far as the mind is affected by them,
I finally resolved to inquire whether there might be some real
good having power to communicate itself, which would affect the
mind singly, to the exclusion of all else: whether, in fact, there
might be anything of which the discovery and attainment would
enable me to enjoy continuous, supreme, and unending happiness.

[2]  (1) I say "I finally resolved," for at first sight it seemed
unwise willingly to lose hold on what was sure for the sake of
something then uncertain.  (2) I could see the benefits which are
acquired through fame and riches, and that I should be obliged to
abandon the quest of such objects, if I seriously devoted myself
to the search for something different and new.  (3) I perceived
that if true happiness chanced to be placed in the former I should 
necessarily miss it; while if, on the other hand, it were not so
placed, and I gave them my whole attention, I should equally fail. 

[3]  (1) I therefore debated whether it would not be possible to
arrive at the new principle, or at any rate at a certainty
concerning its existence, without changing the conduct and usual
plan of my life; with this end in view I made many efforts,
in vain.  (2) For the ordinary surroundings of life which are
esteemed by men (as their actions testify) to be the highest
good, may be classed under the three heads - Riches, Fame, and
the Pleasures of Sense: with these three the mind is so absorbed
that it has little power to reflect on any different good.

[4]  (1) By sensual pleasure the mind is enthralled to the extent
of quiescence, as if the supreme good were actually attained, so
that it is quite incapable of thinking of any other object; when
such pleasure has been gratified it is followed by extreme
melancholy, whereby the mind, though not enthralled, is disturbed
and dulled.  (2) The pursuit of honors and riches is likewise very
absorbing, especially if such objects be sought simply for their
own sake, [a] inasmuch as they are then supposed to constitute the
highest good.

[5]  (1) In the case of fame the mind is still more absorbed, for fame
is conceived as always good for its own sake, and as the ultimate end
to which all actions are directed.  (2) Further, the attainment of
riches and fame is not followed as in the case of sensual pleasures by
repentance, but, the more we acquire, the greater is our delight, and,
consequently, the more are we incited to increase both the one and the

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