I noticed that Spinoza (Ethics, proof for Prop. XI) mentions cause and reason often in the same sentence, but what is the actual difference between these terms?


"If, then, no cause or reason can be given, which prevents the existence of God, or which destroys his existence, we must certainly conclude that he necessarily does exist."

I always thought these words are synonyms, but now, when tried to find something about it in the internet, it seems that reason should mean something more mental, so cause is not mental? Or perhaps it depends who is causing it, in this example given is it then reason something what God is causing , and cause would be external, then?

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    According to Spinoza, everything is viewed under different attributes, of which he names two in Ethics, Thought and Extension, see What is an attribute, as used in Spinoza's Ethics? What is cause/causality under the attribute of Extension is reason/necessity under the attribute of Thought:"whether we conceive nature under the attribute of Extension, or under the attribute of Thought... we shall find one and the same order, or one and the same connection of causes".
    – Conifold
    Commented Dec 11, 2016 at 21:56

1 Answer 1


Such is the "principle of sufficient reason" and "...many philosophers of the period...did not carefully distinguish between the two."

Per https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/sufficient-reason/#Spin we can see how Spinoza uses the terms interchangeably: "Nothing exists of which it cannot be asked, what is the cause (or reason) [causa (sive ratio)], why it exists." A translation of "causa (sive ratio)" is either "the cause (or cause)" or "the cause (or reason)", even "the cause (or system)". Related to "ratio" note also that "rati" and "ratus" translate to "thinking" (compare to cogitare) - as well as by some accounts "thoughtlessly".

The terms are, however, either synonymous or antonymous depending on use of term. For example,

Q1: "Why are you shivering?" &
Q2: "Why are you putting on your sweater?"

are both answered by

A: "Because I am cold"

In the former instance, the answer cites (brute, physical, non-volitional) cause, in the latter, reason (and arguably, volition or "logical cause"). To discern meaning and intention with use of term, you might appreciate Grice's, "Utterer's Meaning and Intention." Lastly, as for how the "mental" is causal, you might want to investigate intentionality and I would recommend Searle's "Intentionality".

  • Reason would be the purpose? Commented Mar 26, 2022 at 7:21

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