Proposition 11. God, or a substance consisting of infinite attributes each of which expresses eternal and infinite essence, necessarily exists.

His argument is such:

If God didn’t exist then by Axiom 7 (If a thing can be conceived as not existing then its essence doesn’t involve existence) God’s essence would not involve existence

And by P7 (It pertains to the nature of a substance to exist), that is absurd.

Therefore God necessarily exists.

For P7 to contradict, ‘God is a substance’ must be true. Isn’t this (God is a substance) we are trying to prove, thereby becoming a circular argument?

  • But why Ax.7 ? "If the essence of a thing involves existence, then.." But why this must hold ? – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Apr 21 '18 at 10:55
  • If it was possible to prove the existence of Gods, then belief was not necessary. But since world is so bad that apparently no good Gods can have created it, Gods, if existing, obviously prefer to be believed by people who like to believe in the improbable. Since Gods by definition are onmipotent, they certainly have been able to secure that nobody can prove them. Therefore all proofs of Gods are rubbish. – Wilhelm Apr 21 '18 at 11:35
  • It may be a more palatable argument is we replace the word 'God' by 'fundamental phenomenon'. Then the argument becomes less potentially emotional and more about straightforward logic. . – PeterJ Apr 21 '18 at 12:24

I think you are exactly right : the relevant portion of Spinoza's argument is circular or question-begging. Since the matter is tricky to lay out formally I am going to rely later on an extract from Martin Lin.

Axiom 7 : 'The essence of whatever can be conceived as not existing does not involve existence. [Quicquid, ut non existens, potest concipi, eius essentia non involvit existentiam.]

How does Spinoza demonstrate this ?

  1. A substance cannot be produced by another substance [or anything else] (I Principle 6)
  2. A substance is self-caused (by 1)
  3. Therefore, the essence of a substance necessarily involves existence (by 2 and ld

A point to note here is that if we grant the argument it does not follow that substances even exist, let alone necessarily exist. All that follows, so far as I can see, is that substances, if they exist, have essences that involve their existence. This includes God.

Spinoza offers several arguments for the existence of God. The above point ruins at least one of them, the following reductio argument (Lin) :

  1. God does not necessarily exist (assumption for reductio)
  2. If God does not necessarily exist, then it is conceivable that God does not exist
  3. It is conceivable that God does not exist (by 4 and 5)
  4. If a thing can be conceived as not existing, then its essence does not involve existence (I, Axiom 7)
  5. God's essence does not involve existence (by 6 and 7)
  6. God is a substance (I, Definition 6)
  7. If anything is a substance, then its existence involves essence. (I, Proposition 7, Demonstration)
  8. God's essence involves existence (by 9 and 10)
  9. God necessarily exists (by 8 and 11)

(Martin Lin, 'Spinoza's Arguments for the Existence of God', Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 75, No. 2 (Sep., 2007), pp. 273-4.)

Premise 9. falls foul of the point above, namely that substances, if they exist, have essences that involve their existence. This is all, at most, that Spinoza has established. Spinoza has not proved but assumed that God is an - or rather the - existing substance. Spinoza can define God as a substance (1, Definition 6) but the actual existence of God as a substance does not follow from the mere definition of God as a substance. In the argument above, he has assumed what he needs to prove.


Spinoza, Ethics, tr. G.H.R. Parkinson, Oxford : OUP, 2000.

Martin Lin, 'Spinoza's Arguments for the Existence of God', Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 75, No. 2 (Sep., 2007), pp.269-97.


@J Smith In order to be fruitful, any discussion of Spinoza's selection and use of the term 'god' needs be addressed first. Spinoza has been accused of every imaginable fault possible in his stance on 'God'. He's been called an atheist, a pantheist, a pan-psychist, 'a god-intoxicated person' and everything in between and amongst all of these. He maintained that the anthropomorphic description of god, in any form whatsoever can only be a product of human 'imagination'. To act as if god exists as some sort of supra-human, who has 'created' people in his 'image' and will sit in judgement of each and every one of us, for Baruch is the height of absurdity. In light of all of this, the question must be asked; Why did Spinoza deliberately select the one term for his equivalency among substance/nature/God, which was bound to confuse the reader and lead to all the turmoil which in fact it has, when he titled his Ethics Part 2- Concerning "God'?

Let us consider his dilemma; how to give a name to that which; 'Is the source, cause, power behind and derivative driving force behind everything imaginable within the known and unknown universe; which is further, 'causa sui' the origin of all immanence and 'expression' in lifeforms, of every constellation, star, planet, person and thing; which is further, yet again, infinite, eternal, containing in 'intellect in function [actu] finite or in function infinite, [and thus the 'human mind'], everything conceivable in terms of thought, then we'll simply add, etc, etc, etc. After all, this and more is what God is! So without any sense of irony, may I suggest that he selected the one word which would conjure in every reader's mind up to and continuing to today, some concatenation of everything mentioned above. He called it god. The confusion persists because no matter how hard we try today to shake the cobwebs of the anthropomorphic from our thoughts, we cannot quite pull it off. Consequently each one of us comes to our take on the question, under consideration; what to make of Spinoza's proof of God, beginning with Ethics Part 2 Proposition 11; with our own uniquely organically formed pre-conception of the meaning of the word God. And now to the question;

The following excerpt is from my previously alluded to; 'To Discern Divinity'- A Discussion and Interpolation of Spinoza's Ethics Part One-Concerning God, which can be downloaded at charlessaunders5.academia.edu, for free. It covers Props. 11-15, and pp 73-76. Prop. 11- “God… expresses eternal and infinite essentiality [and] necessarily exists.”[this is prop. 11 abridged] The aforementioned modalities and the infinite attributes cannot be their own cause. The only possible cause must be something which effectively ‘contains’ the essence of every created item while remaining indivisible, eternal and infinite. [Note- What Spinoza has accomplished so far with Propositions 1-11 is to resolve the age old dispute over what is termed the ‘Ontological Argument for the Existence of God’ which contains the ‘Ontological Proof for the Existence of God’. This consists in the argument that once the being of ‘God’ is properly understood it would be impossible for anyone to think of ‘God’ as non-existent. Most thinkers reject this as a circular argument or a tautology which effectively is also empty; it conveys no meaning, or so it is said. The difficulty for each of us remains in the fact that no matter how many words any writer attempts to string together in the hope of clarifying Proposition 11, capturing its precise meaning lies out of reach. The resolution to this age old nemesis lies solely within the confines of an intuitional understanding which resides only and solely within each reader’s mind. Best wishes.] Prop. 12- No attribute of substance can be conceived from which it would follow that substance can be divided. Prop. 13- Substance absolutely infinite is indivisible. Prop. 14- Besides God no substance can be granted or conceived. Prop. 15- Whatever is is in God, and without God nothing can be conceived. [Pages 10-11] Explanation- Prop. 12- Prop. 13- With all of this intense focus on substance and its attributes and modalities the time has come to answer the key question: In what way is it possible for substance to contain an infinity of attributes and at the same time to remain undivided? And further if the modalities are finite how can they possibly be said to hold some element of the essence of substance? For the answers we must turn to the genius of Padua and his mind-bending ‘Savage Anomaly”. [Antonio Negri] This contemporary philosopher has captured the heart of the dilemma perfectly and has eloquently laid out the relationship among ‘substance’, ‘attribute’ and ‘mode’ and precisely how they interconnect and interact. For this we are forever grateful. It all incepts in the notion of ‘Power’. Consider the power of the universe to create and continuously re-create itself. And how the earth morphed from a molten ball of fire which disgorged the raw material for our moon in an explosion of incomprehensible size and eventually resolved itself into a placid sphere and home to 7 billion beings who cannot even detect its rotation on its axis or around the sun? This is a minor example of the power rampant in the reciprocal exchange of energy in the universe. ‘Substance’ provides the ‘cause’ of this power and much more, most of which is beyond our ken. It interconnects and interacts with both ‘attribute’ and ‘mode’ in a form of reciprocal ‘vacillation of power’. If we think in terms of sound waves or even better yet of the waves of energy produced by the solar flares at the surface of the sun, the million miles per hour winds formed as collateral, project out as bands of waves that evenly permeate all of the planets in the solar system. Some of the material from these explosions, traveling at incomprehensible speeds, penetrates and passes through every object in its path. Meanwhile from this same solar flare, at the atomic/molecular level, other materials deposit themselves and bond atomically with the residual elements present in the atmosphere and in the planets’ crusts. And yet any sensation for us from the bulk of the force from the sun storm passes harmlessly through the atmosphere and all humanity, virtually undetectable, (not unlike substance if it were capable of description). So too does ‘substance’, through the interaction of an undetectable yet conceivable vacillation, disburse its essence into; first the ‘attributes’ which gather its near complete force to form an infinity of discrete and infinite attributes, like the two we experience: thought and extension. It then essentially creates, through the action of modification, the more dense material elements which form the objects in our world, including us. (Think of modification as similar to the process of distillation interlaced with the process of atomic fusion). The difference between the storms on the sun (which have a limited duration) and the reciprocal vacillation among, ‘substance’, ‘attribute’ and ‘mode’, is that their relationship and interactivity forms a never ending and infinite regenerative cycle, moving back and forth, as it were; changing in its form and function within ‘attribute’ and ‘mode’, but never altering or affecting the nature of ‘substance’. All of this must be borne in mind while remembering that as the ‘Cause of Itself’ Substance is not amenable to any change or alteration in form. Now each of us must adapt all of the above description into language amenable to each reader’s method of reflection and contemplation so that it may be readily absorbed and most importantly, internalized.

This my friends, is God. To comprehend it means that it cannot be thought of as other than existing. I know that this is very long and I hope it is not just a 'bunch of bother'. Regards, CS

  • Thanks for drawing attention to this (old) question. My short summary of Spinoza's take on the question : Only an analytic/a priori proof of God can be considered a legitimate proof. Even shorter : Hail St. Anselm!!! – Rusi Apr 2 at 2:54
  • @Rusi- Love the brevity, exhibits a passelload of careful reflection! CS – Charles M Saunders Apr 2 at 13:37

I don't see how it is circular. Let me try and recap the argument (let me know if I missed something):

Axiom 7: Anything that can be conceived as non-existing does not have existence as part of its essence

Premise 2: God is a substance

P7: Existence is part of the essence of a substance

Conclusion: God exists

Couple of comments on that argument:

First, it really isn't circular. None of the premises by themselves make the same claim as the conclusion. Of course, the information expressed by the conclusion is contained among the premises as a set, but that is just the very nature of deductive reasoning: by combining premises we can get to the conclusion.

Second, I have no idea why you would even use Axiom 7. This is for two reasons. First, the conclusion immediately follows from premise 2 and P7. Second, when the proof by contradiction as you stated it assumes that God exists, and then uses Axiom 7 to conclude that existence is not part of the essence of God, there is a problem in that Axiom 7 talks about our ability to conceive something as not existing, which is really quite different from something actually not existing, so I don't see how that inference is supposed to work, unless you add the further premise that if something does not exist, then we can conceive it not existing. In the end though, this all seems unncessarily difficult, when we can go directly from Premise 2 and P7 to the conclusion: easy peasy!

Finally, though, P7 seems highly problematic by itself. Unicorns and lollipops the size of Jupiter are substances ... so it is in their essence to exist?!

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