So we have the identification of actual essence, power of being, and self-affirmation. And more identifications follow. The power of being is identified with virtue, and virtue consequently, with essential nature. Virtue is the power of acting exclusively according to one’s true nature. And the degree of virtue is the degree to which somebody is striving for and able to affirm his own being. It is impossible to conceive of any virtue as prior to the striving to preserve one’s own being (iv. prop. 22). Self-affirmation is, so to speak, virtue altogether. But self-affirmation is affirmation of one’s essential being, and the knowledge of one’s essential being is mediated through reason, the power of the soul to have adequate ideas. Therefore to act unconditionally out of virtue is the same as to act under the guidance of reason, to affirm one’s essential being or true nature (iv. prop. 24). On this basis the relation of courage and self-affirmation is explained. Spinoza (iii. prop. 59) uses two terms, fortitude and animositas. Fortitude (as in the Scholastic terminology) is the strength of the soul, its power to be what it essentially is. Animositas, derived from anima, soul, is courage in the sense of a total act of the person. Its definition is this: “By courage I mean the desire [cupi-ditas] whereby every man strives to preserve his own being in accordance solely with the dictates of reason” (iii. prop. 59). This definition would lead to another identification, of courage with virtue in general. But Spinoza distinguishes between animositas and generositas, the desire to join other people in friendship and support.
This duality of an all-embracing and a limited concept of courage corresponds with the whole development of the idea of courage to which we have referred. In a systematic philosophy of the strictness and consistency of Spinoza’s this is a remarkable fact and shows the two cognitive motives which always determine the doctrine of courage: the universally ontological and the specifically moral. This has a very significant consequence for one of the most difficult ethical problems, the relation of self-affirmation and love toward others. For Spinoza the latter is an implication of the former. Since virtue and the power of self-affirmation are identical, and since “generosity” is the act of going out toward others in a benevolent affect, no conflict between self-affirmation and love can be thought of. This of course presupposes that self-affirmation is not only distinguished from but precisely the opposite of “selfishness” in the sense of a negative moral quality. Self-affirmation is the ontological opposite of the “reduction of being” by such affects as contradict one’s essential nature. Erich Fromm has fully expressed the idea that the right self-love and the right love of others are interdependent, and that selfishness and the abuse of others are equally interdependent. Spinoza’s doctrine of self-affirmation include both the right self-love (although he does not use the term self-love, which I myself hesitate to use) and the right love of others. Self-affirmation, according to Spinoza, is participation in the divine self-affirmation. “The power whereby each particular thing, and consequently man, preserves his being is the power of God” (iv. prop. 4).
The participation of the soul in the divine power is described in terms of both knowledge and love. If the soul recognizes itself “sub aeternitatis specie” (v. prop. 30), it recognizes its being in God. And this knowledge of God and of its being in God is the cause of perfect beatitude and consequently of a perfect love toward the cause of this beatitude. This love is spiritual (intellectually) because it is eternal and therefore an affect, not subject to the passions which are connected with bodily existence (v. prop. 34). It is the participation in the infinite spiritual love with which God contemplates and loves himself, and by loving himself also loves what belongs to him, human beings. These statements answer two questions about the nature of courage which had remained unanswered. They explain why self-affirmation is the essential nature of every being and as such its highest good.