He defines 'mode' in this way:

By mode I understand the affections of a substance, or that which is in another through which it is also conceived.

But it's not clear to me what this means. Could you provide some examples of what a mode can be? How modes are related to and/or different from 'attributes' like 'extension' and 'thought'?

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    See this post and the linked references. Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 12:05
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    It is what others call substances, or more plainly, things. To Spinoza there is only one Substance, namely God/Nature, so all other things are just "modifications", "affections" or "modes" of it. E.g. minds and bodies are finite "modes" of God/Nature.
    – Conifold
    Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 12:40
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    For Spinoza a mode is a modification of 'substance'. Substance is indivisible; it cannot be rendered into parts. But it can be modified, thus the infinite and finite modifications are derived from substance, 'contain' within them a micro-element of substance, but in no way do they alter substance's immutability. Infinite modes are; 'motion and rest', (Physics), in the Attribute of Extension, and Infinite Intellect, (Intelligibility). Finite modes are; planets, people, constellations; all 'material' objects. A mode is contingent; is caused by substance but retains some aspect of eternity. CMS
    – user37981
    Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 13:31
  • @Conifold - Could one interpret this idea as saying that all our names for individual objects should be reinterpreted as different properties/predicates of a single entity, "God or Nature"?
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 16:45
  • @Hypnosifl Well, he does say multiple times that any mode must be conceived under an attribute, but there is a clear difference between modes and attributes. Modes are anchors for various attributes, just as substances were anchors for their essences. If you will, Spinoza turns the traditional ontology into "effective ontology" that covers the "ultimate ontology" of God/Nature, not unlike Hinduist Maya does Brahman/Atman, but without negative connotations of concealment, deception and liberation from. It is more of a positive stepping stone, or even legitimate partial aspect.
    – Conifold
    Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 0:13

1 Answer 1


See Descartes' metaphysics :

According to Descartes' ontology there are three levels of being: substance, attribute, and mode. The levels of being are understood in terms of ontological dependence. Modes depend on attributes for their being in a way that attributes do not depend on modes. And, attributes depend on substances for their being in a way that substances do not depend on attributes.

The essence or nature of a mind, Descartes says, is to think. If a thing does not think, it is not a mind. In terms of his ontology, the mind is a (finite) substance, and thought or thinking is its attribute. Insofar as the essence or nature of a mind is to think, where thought is the mind's defining feature, Descartes calls it the mind's principal attribute. An idea is a mode of thought.

In the same way, extension is an attribute of the substance matter, and shape is a mode of extension.

In a nutshell, substances (two for Descartes; one for Spinoza) have attributes, some of which are the "fundamental" ones: thinking is the essence of mind.

Modes are the "ways" (modes) in which an attribute can manifest itself and the way we conceive them.

See Ethics, II :

Def I. By body I mean a mode which expresses in a certain determinate manner the essence of God, in so far as he is considered as an extended thing.


Ax.II. Man thinks.

Ax.III. Modes of thinking, such as love, desire, or any other of the passions [...]

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