I define "Pantheism" as the position that affirms the equality between God and the whole reality (not of course equal to every single existing thing, but equal to ALL reality, the reality as a totality).

Often Spinoza is called "pantheist", but in his Ethics [part I, proposition 5] he wrote:

if several distinct substances be granted, they must be distinguished one from the other, either by the difference of their attributes, or by the difference of their modifications (Prop. 4.). If only by the difference of their attributes, it will be granted that there cannot be more than one with an identical attribute. If by the difference of their modifications--as substance is naturally prior to its modifications (Prop. 1.),--it follows that setting the modifications aside, and considering substance in itself, that is truly, (Def. 3. and 6.), there cannot be conceived one substance different from another

So even if the modes are affections of God's substance (or God's attributes), inside God and ontologically dependent on God, "God" proper doesn't include the Natura Naturata, therefore the whole reality is God+Its modes=Reality but Reality=/=God;

Is this the right or at least the most common interpretation of Spinoza? Is this coherent with the proposition 15 of Part I?

  • 3
    Regarding Ethics, Ip15 : "If God is the only substance, and (by axiom 1) whatever is, is either a substance or in a substance, then everything else must be in God. “Whatever is, is in God, and nothing can be or be conceived without God” (Ip15). Those things that are “in” God (or, more precisely, in God’s attributes) are what Spinoza calls modes." Apr 3, 2019 at 12:00
  • 1
    Modes are like waves on the surface of water; they have no separate existence with respect to substance. Apr 3, 2019 at 12:07
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    Agreed; the debate on philosophical theories is full of "-isms". Maybe it is due to the human need to classify all... Spinoza is one of the biggest thinker in the Western tradition of philosophy: I dare to say that he is a spinozist (the first and probably the only one). Apr 3, 2019 at 15:47
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    No he is not, although it was a convenient label for disparaging him in 18-19th centuries. Modern scholars usually characterize him as a panentheist, see e.g. Mather's Judaism, panentheism and Spinoza’s intellectual love of God.
    – Conifold
    Apr 3, 2019 at 19:58
  • 2
    Of the 'titles' attributed to Spinoza, pantheist comes somewhat close, but still misses the mark. Pantheism seems to be defined as 'All of nature as a 'reflection' of god. For Spinoza, 'Nature' is 'God'. God does not sit 'outside' of anything, including humanity. The pantheistic or sometimes 'cabalistic' interpretation of Spinoza's God is not so far off since Spinoza's conception is extremely difficult to frame in our minds. At the same time our goal must be to form an 'intuitional' understanding for everything in the universe to be 'enveloped' into god's 'being'. regards, Charles Saunders
    – user37981
    Apr 3, 2019 at 20:40

2 Answers 2


Spinoza's view is that there is only one substance, and nothing but one substance, which can be alternatively referred to as 'God' or 'Nature'. Your quote, with its hypothetical 'if', does not conflict with this view.

The following passage sets out Spinoza's pantheism. It departs a bit from your language but does, I think, accurately answer your question :

Pantheism..., being a term derived from two Greek words signifying "all" and "God," suggests to a certain extent its own meaning. Thus, if Atheism be taken to mean a denial of the being of God, Pantheism is its extreme opposite; because Pantheism declares that there is nothing but God. This, however, needs explanation. For no Pantheist has ever held that everything is God, any more than a teacher of physiology, in enforcing on his students the unity of the human organism, would insist that every toe and finger is the man. But such a teacher, at least in these days, would almost certainly warn his pupils against the notion that the man can be really divided into limbs, or organs, or faculties, or even into soul and body. Indeed, he might without affectation adopt the language of a much controverted creed, so far as to pronounce that "the reasonable soul and flesh is one man" - "one altogether." In this view, the man is the unity of all organs and faculties. But it does not in the least follow that any of these organs or faculties, or even a selection of them, is the man.

If I apply this analogy to an explanation of the above definition of Pantheism as the theory that there is nothing but God, it must not be supposed that I regard the parallelism as perfect. ... For Pantheism does not regard man, or any organism, as a true unity. In the view of Pantheism the only real unity [complete, authentic, unqualified substance: GT] is God. But without any inconsistency I may avail myself of common impressions to correct a common misimpression. Thus, those who hold that the reasonable soul and flesh is one man - one altogether - but at the same time deny that the toe or the finger, or the stomach or the heart, is the man, are bound in consistency to recognize that if Pantheism affirms God to be All in All, it does not follow that Pantheism must hold a man, or a tree, or a tiger to be God. (J. Allanson Picton, 'Pantheism: Soime Preliminary Observatons', New England Review (1990-), Vol. 24, No. 1 (Winter, 2003), pp. 224-227: 225.)

There is nothing to contradict Ethics, I, Prop.5: 'There cannot exist in the universe two or more substances of the same nature, i.e. of the same attributes.' Since there is only one substance, which possesses all attributes (though thought and extension are the only ones known to us) there are not and cannot be two such substances.

The 'whole reality' is God; there is nothing but God. There is not God + the modes. The modes are not ontologically dependent on God. 'By mode I understand the affections of substance (substantiae affectiones)' (I.Def.5). The modes are 'affections ... of the attributes of God [as substance: GT], by which the attributes of God are expressed in a certain and determinate way' (I.Prop.25, Coroll.). So, for instance, the attributes of thought and extension are expressed in a particular, 'certain and determinate' human being. A mode is typing this.


J. Allanson Picton, 'Pantheism: Soime Preliminary Observations', New England Review (1990-), Vol. 24, No. 1 (Winter, 2003), pp. 224-227.

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


The OP offers the following definition of pantheism:

[T]he position that affirms the equality between God and the whole reality (not of course equal to every single existing thing, but equal to ALL reality, reality as a totality).

As evidence the OP cites Spinoza's Ethics (Part 1, Proposition 5):

In the nature of things, two or more things may not be granted having the same nature or attribute.

The OP compares this with Ethics Part 1, Proposition 15.

Whatever is, is in God, and nothing can exist or be conceived without God.

The OP suggests based on these propositions and the definition that Spinoza might not be a pantheist and asks:

Is this the right or at least the most common interpretation of Spinoza? Is this coherent with the proposition 15 of Part I?

This does look as if God contains the whole of reality, but is different from that reality as a whole since God is the container. This would appear to be a sort of panentheism (all-in-God). God might be viewed like a gravitational or electromagnetic field that contains the totality of reality.

However, according to Wikipedia Spinoza's view of God has been labeled "panentheist", "pantheist" and even "atheist". It would be a matter of opinion which of these is right or even most common.

To get a perspective on what is at stake, it might be useful to consider those who view Spinoza as a pantheist and ask why they might do so. I will only consider C. S. Lewis who viewed Spinoza as a pantheist. He writes (page 131)

Pantheism is congenial to our minds not because it is the final stage in a slow process of enlightenment, but because it is almost as old as we are. It may even be the most primitive of all religions....

What kind of view of God would not be pantheistic for someone like Lewis? On page 130 he offers this contrasting view:

...a God who has purposes and performs particular actions, who does one thing and not another, a concrete, choosing, commanding, prohibiting God with a determinate character.

That God would be free to perform miracles and participate in human history by doing so.

Lewis offers only three categories.

  1. Naturalism (more generally, atheism)
  2. Pantheism
  3. Platonism, Judaism or Christianity ("which has incorporated both", page 132).

He doesn't care about subcategories.

If Spinoza were given a multiple-choice question offering only these three options that Lewis provides keeping in mind how Lewis views God, Spinoza might choose pantheism as best fitting him although he might prefer calling himself by some other name.

Lewis, C. S. (1947). Miracles; a preliminary study.

Spinoza, B. Ethics. Retrieved on May 14, 2019 from Internet Archive at https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.190893/page/n47

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