Le désir (synthèse de cours)

Une synthèse de cours sur le désir.
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Le désir est une notion philosophique principale et un concept fondamental pour la compréhension de l’Homme et de son action dans le monde. Ce document ci-contre propose deux définitions du désir:

  • La défintion classique du désir en tant que manque visant le plaisir (définition commune héritée de Platon)
  • La seconde est la définition du désir en tant qu’energie de vie (défintion héritée de Spinoza).

Baruch Spinoza on God

In the Ethics, Spinoza directly challenged the main tenets of Judaism in particular and organised religion in general:

– God is not a person who stands outside of nature

– There is no one to hear our prayers

– Or to create miracles

– Or to punish us for misdeeds

– There is no afterlife

– Man is not God’s chosen creature

– The Bible was only written by ordinary people

– God is not a craftsman or an architect. Nor is he a king or a military strategist who calls for believers to take up the Holy Sword. God does not see anything, nor does he expect anything. He does not judge. He does not even reward the virtuous person with a life after death. Every representation of God as a person is a projection of the imagination.

– Everything in the traditional liturgical calendar is pure superstition and mumbo-jumbo

However, despite all this, remarkably, Spinoza did not declare himself an atheist.

The body in philosophy

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Philosophy is mainly linked to existential questions, abstract concepts and metaphysical issues. However, many philosophers (maybe all of them) mentioned, studied and conceptualized the body. Some did it in an attempt to understand the cause behind the being just like the pre-Socratic did by studying nature, the physis; others focused more on the human body.

The body as a philosophical concept is underrated and it deserves our attention to comprehend life, energy and fitness! While the latter is never linked to philosophy, philosophers talked about it in between the lines.

In a round up of this subject, the principal problematic that always emerges about the body is its relation to the mind that you can check in my posts:

The mind body connection (part I) The mind body connection II The mind body connection III The mind body connection IV

On a more personal note, Spinoza and Descartes, although adversaries, taught me how to workout and you can check my posts on both of them:

What Spinoza taught me about my body

Descartes’ mechanism and the muscle-centric approach in fitness

Finally, why are we so eager to go through difficult physical contortions and put the body through ultimate tests? Check my post on Deleuze’s concept of the body without organs in this post:

Yoga or the deleuzian Body without Organs !

The mind body connection IV

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Following my three last posts on the mind body connection dilemma, it is interesting to present the Monadology as a monistic approach to answer the question of this connection between two highly different dimensions, the body and the mind.

The Monadology (a monad means a single unit) is one of the 17th century German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz’s best known works representing his later philosophy. He tried through his work to answer the question of the mind body connection as asked through dualism by 17th century French philosopher Rene Descartes as you can check by clicking on the link of my post: The mind body connection II

The monad, the word and the idea, belongs to the Western philosophical tradition and has been used by various authors. Leibniz declared that there are indefinitely many substances individually ‘programmed’ to act in a predetermined way, each substance being coordinated with all the others. This is the pre-established harmony which solved the mind-body problem, but at the cost of declaring any interaction between substances a mere appearance.

The system of Leibniz is monistic. The universe is made of monads that are simple substances interacting with one another by following a certain hierarchy. The degree of perfection in each case corresponds to cognitive abilities and only spirits or reasonable animals are able to grasp the ideas of both the world and its creator. Some monads have power over others because they can perceive with greater clarity, but primarily, one monad is said to dominate another if it contains the reasons for the actions of other(s). Leibniz believed that any body, such as the body of an animal or man, has one dominant monad which controls the others within it. This dominant monad is often referred to as the soul.

Being directly influenced by the 17th century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza ( to check Spinoza’s philosophy, please check these links: Ethica Spinoza, and What Spinoza taught me about my body ), Leibniz uses his theory of monads to support his argument that we live in the best of all possible worlds. He uses his basis of perception but not interaction among monads to explain that all monads must draw their essence from one ultimate monad. He then claims that this ultimate monad would be God because a monad is a “simple substance” and God is simplest of all substances not being able to be broken down any further.

Leibniz offered a new solution to the mind-matter interaction problem by positing a pre-established harmony between substances: the body is mere perceptions, which are all contained in a soul’s complete concept. The soul and body interact and agree in virtue of the pre-established harmony, maintained by God.

What Spinoza taught me about my body

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Or what exactly I have learned about the body in general reading Spinoza.

It is not very common to link philosophy to fitness, philosophy being a discipline of the mind and rational thinking. However it is such a vast world that the reader can find any topic analyzed by philosophers. Philosophy is maybe the only real lesson of life.

Baruch Spinoza was a leading philosophical figure of the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century.  Hegel said about him: “The fact is that Spinoza is made a testing-point in modern philosophy, so that it may really be said: You are either a Spinozist or not a philosopher at all.” His philosophical accomplishments and moral character prompted Gilles Deleuze to name him “the ‘prince’ of philosophers”.

Being a big critic of dualism, Spinoza’s philosophy focused on monism starting with the body and he wrote the following:

“We know nothing about a body until we know what it can do, in other words, what its affects are, how they can or cannot enter into composition with other affects, with the affects of another body, either to destroy that body or to be destroyed by it, either to exchange actions and passions with it or to join with it in composing a more powerful body”.

In other words, humans aren’t free unless they know the causes of their actions. The cause is in the body. To understand this idea, Spinoza describes life as a series of occursus or encounters. Therefore, we encounter everything: people, events, phenomenons, viruses etc. Each and every encounter affects us differently, depending on each one’s body characteristics and forces.

I learned this lesson seriously and I started to observe my body’s reactions to almost any encounter, including food, fitness exercises, some tasks at work and so on. Progressively, I began to add some little adjustments to my daily life based on my observations. Would you believe me if I say that Spinoza was a life changer?

I recommend reading Spinoza, specially his masterpiece Ethics. You can never go wrong.