Presented by Susan James (Birkbeck College)

For Spinoza, one of the manifestations of philosophical understanding is the virtue of fortitudo, a commitment to living as one’s understanding dictates. This virtue in turn encompasses two others; animositas or the ‘desire by which each one strives, solely from the dictate of reason, to preserve his being’, and generositas, ‘the desire by which each one strives, solely from the dictate of reason, to aid other men and join them to him in friendship’. In the first part of this paper I consider how understanding and fortitudo are related. I argue that Spinoza regards the process of cultivating fortitudo as distinct from the process of acquiring understanding. As finite beings who are striving to empower ourselves, we humans not only have to try to improve our grasp of what we and the world are like. We also have to learn how to live in the light of our knowledge. What does Spinoza tell us about this latter process? He shows us that cultivating fortitudo is both an imaginative and a political undertaking, and sketches some of the practices through which it  an be developed. In doing so, however, he opens up a topic of contemporary as well as historical significance, about which there is much more to be said.


Level 4, Forgan Smith Tower
Seminar Room 402