Spinoza's Triangle #1
Spinoza's Triangle #1
“Not to mock, not to lament, and not to detest, but to understand (human actions).” — A Political Treatise, Works of Spinoza, translation by Elwes, Vol. 1, p. 288
10 ½” x 8 ¼”
Limited Edition Giclée Print, 50 units
The title of this piece is based on a quote of Spinoza in one of his letters: “We doubt of the existence of God, and consequently of all else, so long as we have no clear and distinct idea of the nature of God, but only a confused one. For, as he who knows not rightly the nature of a triangle, knows not that its three angles are equal to two right angles, so he who conceives the Divine nature confusedly, does not see that it pertains to the nature of God to exist.” (Letter 34, Ibid. vol. 2, p. 340)
What struck me about this quote was the implied parallel he makes between mathematics, or geometry, and the belief in God. The eternal, unshakable reliability of mathematical rules, especially as they manifest in Islamic architectural and other artistic patterns, have always made me (who grew up in asecular Kibbutz in Israel) feel an overwhelming awe that is very close to “Yir’at Elohim”(“fearing God”).
So little in our life is clear, permanent, reliable. Yet the rules of geometry, at least for the layman, are always the same. You can trust that the radius of a circle will always create a Star of David if you mark it on the circumference of that circle 6 times and connect the dots. I use this rule in my drawings often. Some things ARE reliable and eternal, it seems, and that brings a lot of comfort and reassurance in a world of chaos, change and uncertainty.
So, while the God of the Torah, who supervises human behavior, threatening with punishments and promising rewards, is impossible for me to believe in, as it was for Spinoza, the order and harmony of the natural world is manifest everywhere and it is awesome.
The verse inside of the triangle, translated above, represents Spinoza’s search for equanimity based on the understanding that everything that IS, is from God. Humans often make awful choices, but their freedom of choice, governed by genetics, upbringing, and circumstances, which sometimes allows their selfish inclinations to overcome their kind, social ones, are part of the IS, of the order of the world. So to lament them, to mock them, or to detest them, is futile. To understand them is the rational response, and to forgive them is sometimes the compassionate one*.
Einstein seems to agree with that attitude when he says: “I believe in Spinoza's God, who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind...
— In a cable to Rabbi Herbert Goldstein (1929)
*This piece is very close in spirit to my other recent piece, Cognition-Compassion.