The Object (ϕ) of my affect (ψ)

I’ve been meaning to write some words on this issue for a long time on Noumenal Realm. Let me state a running thought in Spinoza that I have trouble trying to grapple on.

There is a story attributed to Derek Parfit (cf. Cogito interview) that goes like this: one day, Parfit was having car trouble, due to the cold weather, and his lack of preparation to get the car in a suitable condition to drive in the cold. This set the scene, emotionally, at least, for the rest of Parfit’s day. So, he finds that the slightest thing would make him angry.

The Spinozist thought here, is this. Sometimes things happen during our day that cause a change in our mood

S(ϕa) –> S(ψa)

This change in our mood may lead to our conduct of the rest of the day being altered, in lieu of this; our motivational profile, on a synchronic scale, can be explained in virtue of this change in our mood [S(ψa)].

x(S(ψa)) —> x(S(ϕx) (ψa <–> ϕx))

Spinoza’s suggestion, however, is that if we change the antecedent belief or mental state upon which we are occaisioned, the feeling which hitherto was our reference point for explaining our immediate consequenct action, we may be able to change the kind of action such that (ϕx) may change into a different species (ϕy), given we address the cause of the motivation of our action (ψa). Once we realise the object of our affect, and realise upon what our affect springs itself from, we may limit the particular feeling and dedicate it to its proper place, and not let it affect our other actions.

The construal of the Spinozist solution invites us to challenge it. Even if I know from which my feeling lies, you may object, I still feel angry! Yes, indeed, one may reply. But all the better of being aware, and all the better of being reflective in such a way to review our own motivations, beliefs and other such mental states insofar as it affects our action, that such a reflective way of addressing our inner states may help us to emendate ourselves.

The Spinozist story of the good life is wider than this, granted. However, what is said of this step? When we realise the object of our affect; do we conditionalise upon our belief? do we have sufficient motivational grounds to change our actions of species ψx given that it is not the case that ϕa? This raises the deeper issue of the relation between our mental states, and action. My initial prejudiced answer would be that we have beliefs and deliberative mental furniture, which is an input, and the output is action. The scientific story, as I am being told many a time, is not as easy as this….

Michael (and Destre)


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