Spinoza’s rejection of natural moral equality and its relevance for modern democracy

Read the Story

Show Top Comments

The author starts mixing up points of view and positions from the start and therefore comes to weird results. Being „morally equal“ is not the same as being of „equal worth“ as a human being. Moral is a social construct and not embedded into nature itself, but a result of our social system – and arguably embedded into human nature – that comes from the need to organise our lives when living together so that we can life in peace and safety. Also, a democracy does make judgements upon the morality we attach to actions, that is embedded into our law systems, and treats people different after judging them. Someone who is legally branded a „criminal“ is a person with different rights than another person – based on morality, because our laws are nothing but rules based on what a society understands as „moralistic behavior“.


This was really a good read. The idea that humans have a higher sense of morality just because *”we are a superior species”* doesn’t really make sense. Our advantage on other species is not **being** superior, it’s our ability to understand and learn more deeply, and using that knowledge to **become** superior. Following Spinoza’s terms then, it’s not in human’s nature to believe that everyone is morally equal, but it rationally makes sense to be so. I’d say it’s also a form of self-preservation – Let’s compete for power, but not at the price of losing my life for it. An illuminating article on why democracy exists and the role of power in society, thanks for sharing this.


This tries to synthesize an indefensible claim that some people are “closer to nature” as an axiomatic observation, then turns that to a further ridiculous assertion that increased personal power is inevitably accompanied with greater rationality. It ignores a) that a massive component of personal agency is borne of the privilege of one’s birth, a starting point at which we are all essentially equally rational (we’ve all shit our own pants; babies are stupid), and b) that reasoning is not a singular axis. Bill Gates has no idea how much a box of cereal costs. The particulars of rational understanding required at different strata of personal agency are often mutually exclusive, and the understanding of the mechanics of power comes at the expense of the understanding of living without it. It is natural that the powerful would have a different perspective, but it’s indefensible to state that the perspective confers the power. In many ways, it’s the power that confers the perspective. Repositioning causality in that way subsequently eliminates any sense of hierarchical value that comes as a product of it. Accordingly, I think this approaches an explanation of the generational perpetuation of power, but fails to provide any concept of ethics behind it. Every ethical argument depends on constructed ethics advertising themselves as nature.


If Spinoza could be translated out for common understanding, we would have a new Bible. Anyway, I have heard it said that Spinoza’s number one ethical virtue is intelligence to choose the right course, which is what I assume he and others mean by *rationality*. If this is the case, then only an ideologue could argue against the basic observation that people who are not as intelligent as others are going to be less free and that it doesn’t really matter what your feelings on the subject are, smart people will dominate the less smart people. Seeing this, Spinoza seems to make a really good recommendation to start a republic so that everyone gets the benefit of this domination. I think one of the most difficult things for people to get past when studying Spinoza is that he is very dispassionate in his analysis and doesn’t overly praise anything, but he comes out with a wonderful idea on the other side if you stick with it.


This is great! Thanks for sharing. Reminds me of an essay I read recently (can’t remember the author) that basically claimed that in a democracy, we have a moral obligation to view peers as moral equals. Specifically, we have a moral obligation to view a peer’s political views as their best attempts at contributing (positively) to society. So even if we disagree over how to handle x situation – and the stakes are high, so we each feel that the other’s policy will result in lives lost – we should be unable to moralize the opponent as “bad”, even though from a consequentialist perspective (their incorrect view will kill people) we may see it as “bad”.