Perfect self-affirmation is not an isolated act/which originates in the individual being but is participation in the universal or divine act of self-affirmation, which is the originating power in every individual act. In this idea the ontology of courage has reached its fundamental expression. And a second question is answered, that of the power which makes the conquest of desire and anxiety possible. The Stoics had no answer to that. Spinoza, out of his Jewish mysticism, answers with the idea of participation. He knows that an affect can be conquered only by another affect, and that the only affect which can overcome the affects of passion is the affect of the mind, the spiritual or intellectual love of the soul for its own eternal ground. This affect is an expression of the participation of the soul in the divine self-love. The courage to be is possible because it is participation in the self-affirmation of being-itself.

One question, however, remains unanswered, by Spinoza as well as by the Stoics. It is the question formulated by Spinoza himself at the end of his Ethics. Why, he asks, is it that the way of salvation (salus) which he has shown is being neglected by almost everyone? Because it is difficult and therefore rare, like everything sublime, he answers in the melancholy last sentence of his book. This was also the answer of the Stoics, but it is an answer not of salvation but of resignation.

Courage and life: Nietzsche

Spinoza’s concept of self-preservation as well as our interpretative concept “self-affirmation,” if taken ontologically, posit a serious question. What does self-affirmation mean if there is no self, e.g. in the inorganic realm or in the infinite substance, in being-itself? Is it not an argument against the ontological character of courage that it is impossible to attribute courage to large sections of reality and to the essence of all reality? Is courage not a human quality which can be attributed even to higher animals only by analogy but not properly? Does this not decide for the moral against the ontological understanding of courage? In stating this argument one is reminded of similar arguments against most metaphysical concepts in the history of human thought. Concepts like world soul, microcosmos, instinct, the will to power, and so on have been accused of introducing subjectivity into the objective realm of things. But these accusations are mistaken. They miss the meaning of ontological concepts. It is not the function of these concepts to describe the ontological nature of reality in terms of the subjective or the objective side of our ordinary experience. It is the function of an ontological concept to use some realm of experience to point to characteristics of being-itself which lie above the split between subjectivity and objectivity and which therefore cannot be expressed literally in terms taken from the subjective or the objective side. Ontology speaks analogously. Being as being transcends objectivity as well as subjectivity. But in order to approach it cognitively one must use both. And one can do so because both are rooted in that which transcends them, in being-itself. It is the light of this consideration that the ontological concepts referred to must be interpreted. They must be understood not literally but analogously. This does not mean that they have been produced arbitrarily and can easily be replaced by other concepts. Their choice is a matter of experience and thought, and subject to criteria which determine the adequacy or inadequacy of each of them. This is true also of concepts like self-preservation or self-affirmation, if taken in an ontological sense. It is true of every chapter of an ontology of courage. Both self-preservation and self-affirmation logically imply the overcoming of something which, at least potentially, threatens or denies the self. There is no explanation of this “something” in either Stoicism or Neo-Stoicism, though both presuppose it.