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ALEXANDRE MATHERON ON THE CONATUS This doctrine [of the conatus] obviously rests on two fundamental principles.

The first remains implicit: there are things and individual things; individuality, far from being an illusion due to our ignorance of the Whole, possesses an irreducible reality. The second, under one form or another, is the leitmotiv of the Ethics: everything is intelligible, thoroughly and without any residue. By combining these two principles, we can therefore assert that there are individual essences. And this third truth, in its turn, appears under two aspects. On the one hand, since the order of knowing is modeled on that of being, each individual can be conceived independently of the others and form the object of a distinct definition. On the other hand, since the order of being is modeled on that of knowing, an individual is nothing other than the ontological transposition of its own definition: singular things, such as they are outside of our understanding, contain neither more nor less than what is included in their concept. On this basis, the conatus is justified in two stages. The first, purely negative, gives rise to no particular difficulty. Nothing, says, Spinoza, ever destroys itself. For, from the definition of a thing, we can only deduce consequences that agree with this definition; insofar as we consider a thing in isolation, we find nothing that is in contradiction with its essence. And since the thing, outside of us, conforms exactly to its own definition, we are a priori certain that it conceals no internal contradiction capable of destroying it; if, in spite of everything, it disappears, that can arise only from an external cause. But not just any cause: a thing of nature A can be destroyed by a thing of nature B only to the extent that these two natures A and B are logically incompatible, that is, they cannot belong together in the same subject; for, if the same subject could be simultaneously A and B, and if B destroyed A, this subject would destroy itself from inside. As soon as we admit the identity of the intelligible and the real, these propositions 4 and 5 of book III are obvious. But what is less obvious is the passage to proposition 6. From the fact that a thing cannot destroy itself, does it positively follow that it makes an effort to preserve itself? From the fact that its nature is not compatible with the nature of external causes that are capable of destroying it, does it positively follow that it resists these external causes? Yes, but on one condition: the thing must act. If its nature is to produce certain effects, it is certain that its effects agree with its nature and, and as a result, will tend to preserve it: its non-self-destruction will become self-preservation. If its nature is to exert certain actions, it certain that its actions are opposed to everything that excludes its nature: logical contradiction, then, will become physical conflict. This is what we wouldnt know how to demonstrate without appealing to the metaphysics of book I. (Translated by Ted Stolze and excerpted from Alexandre Matheron, Individu et communaut chez Spinoza, nouvelle edition [Paris: Minuit, 1987], pp. 9-11)