V. Per modum intelligo substantiæ affectiones sive id quod in alio est, per quod etiam concipitur.

Definition V By mode, I mean the modifications of substance, or that which exists in, and is conceived through, something other than itself. (trans. R.H.M.Elwes)

So the word 'affectiones' is translated here and after as 'modification'.

Now in the following passage in Latin Spinoza used the word 'modificationes' which is translated the same for English - 'modifications'.

"Nam per substantiam intelligerent id quod in se est et per se concipitur hoc est id cujus cognitio non indiget cognitione alterius rei. Per modificationes autem id quod in alio est et quarum conceptus a conceptu rei in qua sunt, formatur : quocirca modificationum non existentium veras ideas possumus habere quandoquidem quamvis non existant actu extra intellectum, earum tamen essentia ita in alio comprehenditur ut per idem concipi possint."

"For, by substance, would be understood that which is in itself, and is conceived through itself - that is, something of which the conception requires not the conception of anything else; whereas modifications exist in something external to themselves, and a conception of them is formed by means of a conception of the thing in which they exist. Therefore, we may have true ideas of non-existent modifications; for, although they may have no actual existence apart from the conceiving intellect, yet their essence is so involved in something external to themselves that they may through it be conceived."

So my question is, are those definitions (Modus, Affectiones, Modificationes) here as synonyms or is there some difference in their meaning?

  • 1
    I really like this question and I think it arises because of the rather free translation of the first quote, which I find troubling. But others with a better understanding of Latin are more suitable to formulate a good answer on that.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Nov 24, 2016 at 13:51
  • 1
    Thank you - I couldn't decide first which forum to use - Philosophy or Latin, but thought perhaps it is more a philosophical question as people with a great understanding of Spinoza might know the answer :)
    – Aili J.
    Nov 24, 2016 at 13:59
  • 1
    The issue is complex; see Spinoza's Modal Metaphysics and Spinoza's Theory of Attributes. Nov 24, 2016 at 15:20
  • A substance (for Spinoza : the substance) is something that can exists "stand alone" and that we can understand (we conceive) through itself. Not so for a mode that we can conceive it only as "affection" of something other. Silly example : maybe I can conceive a colorless rose, but maybe I cannot conceive a color without a "coloured object". Nov 24, 2016 at 15:23
  • Is it then that 'Modificationes' is a paraphrase, too, as the meaning here is I think, the same as 'Affectiones' (not sure, really)?
    – Aili J.
    Nov 24, 2016 at 15:44

2 Answers 2


In the Ethics, Spinoza uses mode, modification, and affection as synonyms. They all mean a thing that is in another. He seems to use modification and affection a little more often when he's referring to modes in which the essence of a finite thing is modified by a partly external cause rather than by its own properties.


In Prop.XIV, Spinoza has established that there is but one (infinite) substance of Nature, and this is God.

And in Coroll.II he asserts :

That extension and thought are either attributes of God or (by Ax.I) accidents (affectiones) of the attributes of God.

Thus, we have that the building blocks of Spinoza's ontologt are :

substance (one), its attributes and modes (i.e. affectiones).

God alone is substance, and everything must be either substance (which is identified with its attributes) or a mode or "affection" of substance.

Prop XV But substances and modes form the sum total of existence (by Ax.I), therefore, without God nothing can be, or be conceived.

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