By Hasana Sharp (1)

To think in terms of affect is necessarily to think in terms of “transindividuality”, such that forms of individuality are necessarily incomplete and variable in response to other beings.

Understanding human expression in terms of natural forces and affective determination urges us to conceive of speech as something that emerges by virtue of a complex play of contact and contiguity with other beings, human and nonhuman.

When defining human action, Spinoza’s target and antagonist is most obviously Descartes. André Gombay notes that there is something shocking and even abhorrent to most people about the Cartesian dictum “I think therefore I am”. (2) Aren’t we also embodied, feeling beings who relish the experience of awe before natural beauty and artistic expression?

With Spinoza’s theory of affect, we have a comprehensive redefinition of human agency. More than an affirmation of our corporeality, Spinoza’s theory of affect gives rise to a notion of agency that is in no way exclusively human.

The limitless possibilities ascribed to mind and body include not only those we call human but also the ideal and corporeal powers of beasts, computers, and collectivities.

“Affect” names those changes in power that belong to finite existence by virtue of being connected necessarily to other beings, immersed in a field of powers and counterpowers…

It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of affect in Spinoza’s philosophy as a whole. “Affectus” is the first word of the Political Treatise and remains a protagonist throughout the text. The Theological-Political Treatise begins with a vivid portrait of the misery provoked by hope and fear, the affects that nourish the superstition and despotism that are the treatise’s objects of critique.

Affect refers to a universal power to affect and be affected, to the fact that finite beings enhance or diminish one another’s power necessarily, by virtue of their inescapable interdependency. An affect is an encounter between bodies that involves a change in one’s power, for better or for worse, together with the idea of that change:

“By affect [affectum] I understand affections [affectiones] of the body by which the body’s power of acting is increased or diminished, aided or restrained, and at the same time, the ideas of these affections.” (3)

* * * * *

“Spinozean desire exists within a relational field and is fully actualized only with favorable relations. (…) The striving to persevere in being is the “essence” or “nature” of each and every singular thing. “Each thing, as far as it can by its own power, strives to persevere in its being.” (4)

Conatus names the singularity of beings, a force of existence unique to each thing, which accounts for the infinite diversity of finite things in nature. Conatus names a power of self-organization, self-maintenance, and striving to preserve one’s distinctness amidst infinetely other singular beings.

Nevertheless, within Spinoza’s relational ontology, the singularity of each essence does not entail that the conatus is the exclusive cause of a being’s perseverance. To remain this table or this body, one must maintain a constant flow of exchanges with myriad ambient beings. One must perpetually mutate in order to remain what one is. (…) Our most fundamental power to be cannot ultimately be separated from the concurrent forces of other beings. It is for this reason that the concept of “transindividuality” is particularly apt for Spinoza.” (5)


(1) Sharp, H. Spinoza and the Politics of Renaturalization. Chicago, 2011, pg. 24-26.

(2) Gombay. Descartes, IX.

(3) Spinoza, B. Ethics. III. Definition 3.

(4) Idem. Ethics.  III. Proposition 6.

(5) Sharp, H. Op cit. P. 132-33.


  1. I would say that Consciousness creates the body and exists independent of the body, but desires to experience itself. Thus reincarnation, The illusion of separateness is Consciousness experiencing Itself. (Matter is mostly empty space, as we know (”the measurement problem”) and is not solid. It is vibrating energy with potential, and it’s Consciousness that creates reality. Is this what Spinoza is saying, in a round about way?) I talked about this in my last post. Until science identifies the invisible, yet essential part of life, mankind will fill the gap of knowledge with beliefs and superstition, and that is fear based ignorance on parade. Tom Campbell (NASA physicist) has a Theory Of Everything that is compelling. He has a book, website and youtube channel.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, hipmonkey! Nice to see you again on my little corner of the blogosphere! I wouldn’t say Spinoza agrees with this statement: “consciousness creates the body”. This sounds to me a bit too idealistic. Can we ever find any empirical proof of a disembodied consciousness? Or is it that consciousness is always an attribute of bodies? I tend to think that consciousness can never exist apart from material bodies, and that various degrees or stages in the evolution of consciousness stand in direct relation with the natural evolution of organisms; and that the complexity of an evolved living body will be “mirrored” by the complexity of its consciousness of himself and the world around him…

    One of the most fascinating ideas about consciousness, methinks, is stated by Joseph Campbell in his talks with Bill Moyers, in “The Power of Myth”: he says that when the sunflower moves in order to “face” the Sun and receive its energies, it displays some sort of rudimentary form of consciousness. Some people find this absurd or ridiculous, but this idea appeals to me a lot: consciousness as something that slowly evolved in Nature and that manifests itself in thousands of different ways, according to the living body inside which it operates… I recently wrote about Thomas Nagel’s philosophy, in which he also seems to think about consciousness in bodies other than humans – in bats, for example.

    Well, those are themes I’m still thinking about and researching, and that interest me very much, even tough I don’t have the illusion of having reached any final answers! Thanks for your ideas and suggestions. Hope to see you again soon!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m leaning toward consciousness as information and source existing outside of the body after years of researching this mystery. And I’m OK with it remaining a mystery if that’s the case, but quantum physics has me considering this new paradigm quite seriously. Tom Campbell is worth reading, or viewing his youtube videos. (And many more physicists are thinking this way).


  4. Pingback: “The Triple Illusion of Christian Consciousness”, by Hasana Sharp | A W E S T R U C K _W A N D E R E R

  5. Pingback: A Ilusão Tripla da Consciência Cristã – por Hasana Sharp em “Spinoza e a Política da Renaturalização” | A CASA DE VIDRO.COM

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