The Causality of God
In the Short Treatise, Spinoza devotes a chapter to the subject: How God is a Cause of All Things. His classification of God as cause in the Ethics from Propositions XVI-XVIII (and XXVIII, Schol.) correlates to his eight-fold classification in the Short Treatise, which is presented as follows:
Ethics, I Short Treatise, I, iii
Prop. XVI . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7. Universal cause, general cause
Prop. XVI, Corol. I . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1. Emanative, productive, active, efficient
Prop. XVI, Corol. II . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. Cause through himself (essential)
Prop. XVI, Corol. III . . . . . . . . . . . . 6. First, initial cause
Prop. XVII, Corol. I . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. Principal cause
Prop. XVII, Corol. II . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. Free cause
Prop. XVIII . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. Immanent cause
Prop. XXVIII, Schol. . . . . . . . . . . . . 8. Proximate cause
Wolfson has interpreted the first fifteen propositions of Book I of the Ethics as a criticism of the immateriality of God, which culminates in Proposition XV’s statement that whatever is, is in God, and nothing can be or be conceived without God, meaning that everything, including matter, is in God. He interprets the remaining propositions of Book I as a criticism of the conceptions of the causality of God. There is a bridge between these two issues by which the assertion that God is immaterial by his nature, which was universally accepted in medieval philosophy, led the medievals to deny that God was a material cause. For example, in Maimonides’ discussion that God is the Primal Cause, he states:
It has been shown in the science of physics that everything, except the First Cause, owes its origin to the following four causes:—the material, the formal, the efficient, and the final. These are sometimes proximate, sometimes remote, but each by itself is called a cause. They also believe—and I do not differ from their belief—that God, blessed be He, is the efficient, the formal, and final cause.
Thus, since Maimonides rejects that the essence of God can be material, he rejects that God can be a material cause, and asserts that God is the efficient, formal, and final cause. On the other hand, since Spinoza asserts that the attribute of extension is in God’s essence, he holds that God is the material cause. Unlike Maimonides, Spinoza will end up removing the classification of God as the final cause. For Spinoza, then, God is the efficient, formal, and material cause. If we accept Wolfson’s interpretation of Spinoza’s criticism, then the second point of critique in Spinoza’s first book of the Ethics is a direct result of the first. That is, Spinoza holds that the medievals err in rejecting that extension can belong to God’s nature, which culminates in Proposition XV and its Scholium, and it is this false conception of God’s nature that gives rise to a false conception of the causality of God in medieval philosophy.
In the Cogitata Metaphysica, Spinoza tells us that creation is “an activity in which no causes concur except the efficient” and that a created thing is “that which presupposes nothing except God in order to exist.” Maimonides had previously identified the three causes in his statement: “Aristotle has already explained that in Nature the efficient cause of a thing, its form, and its final cause are identical.” Spinoza is making the same identification, but with the efficient, formal, and material cause, and not the final cause. Spinoza therefore holds that the most applicable term for God is the efficient cause. Wolfson says this is so because “even as a material and formal cause, it is only through the active properties of extension and thought that God is conceived as cause” and God is “efficient in the most general sense of active and as the sum of all conditions that make for causality.”
In the beginning of his chapter on God’s causality in the Short Treatise Spinoza says that since one substance cannot produce another, and God is a being of which all attributes are predicated, it follows “that all other things cannot in any way exist or be understood without or outside him. So we have every reason to say that God is a cause of all things.”
I. Universal Cause
Spinoza first treats God as a universal or general cause. In Burgersdijck, the efficient cause is divided into universal and particular. The “Universal is that which concurrs with other Causes, with the Same Efficiency, to the producing of many Effects,” and “a Particular only which by its Efficiency produces but one Effect.” Similarly, Spinoza says of the universal cause in the Short Treatise: “God is also a general [universal] cause, but only in the respect that he produces different things. Otherwise, such a thing can never be said of him. For he does not need anyone to produce effects.” I believe that Spinoza moved the order of causes to place the universal cause first in order to show a further inconsistency from the medieval denial of extension as an attribute of God that results in a false conception of God’s causality. If God is pure simple form, and “a simple element can only produce one simple thing,” then that which emanates from God can only be one simple Intelligence and it must be the case that matter emerges somewhere else later on in the emanative process. If this is the case, then while God can be considered the indirect cause of ‘many effects,’ he is the direct cause of only one simple thing. Thus, according to the classification above of universal and particular cause, this conception of God is that of a particular cause and not a universal cause. Thus, those who agree with, for example, Aquinas, are mistaken when they say: “nothing can be among beings, unless it is from God, Who is the universal cause of all being. Hence it is necessary to say that God brings things into being from nothing.” Spinoza’s God, on the other hand, is a universal cause, for he is the direct cause of extended and thinking modes. Further, while medieval philosophers agreed that God was infinite, they held that God did not, or ever will, create the infinite things which he has in his mind. For Spinoza, this is clearly not the case. God produces everything in the scope of his infinite intellect, and the world is thus as infinite as God, consisting of an infinite number of modes. God is a universal cause because the world is the full expression of his being. If the world were finite, then Spinoza’s God would be a particular cause. Thus, Spinoza tells us in Proposition XVI: “From the necessity of the divine nature there must follow infinitely many things in infinitely many modes, (i.e., everything which can fall under an infinite intellect.)”
II. Efficient Cause
Efficient causation is the agency producing the result, or, as Burgersdijck says: “An Efficient is an External Cause from which a thing proceeds by a true Causality.” In the Short Treatise, when Spinoza classifies God as an efficient cause, he says that “God is an emanative or productive cause of his actions, and in respect to the action’s occurring, an active or efficient cause. We treat this as one thing, because they involve each other.” Whereas in Maimonides, the modes follow from God by an efficient causation that specifically involves emanation from the action of an immaterial being upon material objects, in Spinoza this distinction of incorporeal and corporeal agency does not exist. Thus, Spinoza concludes in the First Corollary of Proposition XVI that “God is the efficient cause of all things which can fall under an infinite intellect.” As is said in the Book of Psalms: “For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.”
III. Cause through himself
God as an efficient cause is divided into cause per se and cause per accidens. In the Short Treatise, Spinoza merely tells us that this will become more evident in a later discussion. Turning to Burgersdijck, he defines a cause by itself as “that which as it is such, produces an Effect of its own Council, and agreeable to its Natural Disposition,” and a cause by accident as that “which not as such, or else besides its own Council or Natural Propension.” What this means is that an essential cause, or cause by itself, is that which produces something of its own kind. An accidental cause, on the other hand, is that which produces something that is not of its own kind. Therefore, from the medieval conception of God as immaterial and the world as material, that is, not of his own kind, it follows that God is an accidental cause. However, since for Spinoza the world is not of a different kind than God, he says in the Second Corollary of Proposition XVI: “It follows…that God is a cause through himself and not an accidental cause.”
IV. First Cause
In the Third, and last, Corollary to Proposition XVI in the Ethics, Spinoza says that “it follows” that God is the absolute causam primam, that is, “absolutely the first cause.” In the Short Treatise, the first cause is also called the “initiating cause.” Spinoza again shows his minimalism by saying nothing else on the topic. Jonathan Bennett is right when he says of Spinoza that “his minimalism often leads him to underexpress his thought.” However, by looking into Burgersdijck’s logic, we can clarify exactly what Spinoza means. Burgersdijck tells us that an efficient cause is divided into First and Second. “The First is that which depends upon none” and “the Second, which depends upon the First.”  Further, there are two ways in which a cause is First: 1) absolutely, or 2) in its own Genus. That which is absolutely the first cause is that “on which all things depend; both when they are Made, Exist, and Operate…The Cause absolutely First is only One, to wit, God. For all things depend on God, both as to their Making, Being and Operating.” What Saint Paul says about our relation to God can be said for all beings: “for in him we live, and move, and have our being.” Yet, the proponents of the view that matter is not within God’s essence cannot rightly say that God is the first cause. For if it is said that the material world was created by God, but that God could not produce matter but only through his subsequent emanations, it follows that God is dependent upon his emanations. And since this is the case, then the God that is not the material cause cannot be a first cause, for the first is that which depends upon none, as Burgersdijck has said. Therefore, it is Spinoza’s God, and not the medievals’ God, who is an absolutely first cause, for he produces everything, including matter, by the necessity of his divine nature, depending on nothing else.
V. Principal Cause
In the Ethics, the next set of classifications of God as cause follows from his demonstration of Proposition XVII: “God acts from the laws of his nature alone, and is compelled by no one.” Since it is the case that from the necessity of the divine nature alone, absolutely infinite things follow (Proposition XVI), and nothing can be or be conceived without God (Proposition XV), there can be nothing outside of God that determines him to action. It follows from this that God acts from the laws of his nature alone, compelled by no one. The First Corollary of Proposition XVII tells us that it follows from this demonstration that “there is no cause, either extrinsically, or intrinsically, which prompts God to action, except the perfection of his nature.” This parallels Spinoza’s statement in the Short Treatise that “God is a principal cause of the effects he has created immediately, such as motion in matter, etc., where there can be no place for the subsidiary cause, which is confined to particular things (as when God makes the sea dry by a strong wind, and similarly in all particular things in Nature). Burgersdijck divided the efficient cause into the Principal and the less Principal. He describes a Principal as “that which produces the Effect by its own Virtue” and a Less Principal as that “which inserves the Principal towards its producing the Effect.”  A Principal Cause is said to be either equal to or nobler than the effect, but never more, whereas the less principal, insofar as it causes, is always inferior to the effect. Thus, Burgersdijck says: “When we compare the Effect with the Cause we are to consider the Cause as it is such; that is, according to that Virtue by which it causes, when the Virtue of the Cause is such as that it contains in it, whatever is in the Effect, it is said to be a principal Cause.” Since God’s action flows from his own nature, and is compelled by no cause, extrinsically, or intrinsically, it can be said that God is a principal cause.
VI. Free Cause
Spinoza’s next classification of God as cause returns to his definitions of free and necessary, from which he now classifies God as a free cause. Definition VII states: “That thing is called free which exists from the necessity of its nature alone, and is determined to act by itself alone. But a thing is called necessary, or rather compelled, which is determined by another to exist and to produce an effect in a certain and determinate manner.” Wolfson has pointed out that the problem of freedom in medieval philosophy is sometimes alternatively called the problem of possibility. For example, the discussion of freedom in Crescas is stated as: “An exposition of the view of him who believes that the nature of possibility exists,” and, “An exposition of the view of him who believes that the nature of possibility does not exist.” Wolfson links this same way of addressing the problem in the Short Treatise, where Spinoza asks the question: “Whether there are any contingent things in Nature, viz. whether there are any things that can happen and also can not happen.” In the Cogitata Metaphysica, Spinoza distinguishes between possibility and contingency. He says that “a thing is called possible, then, when we understand its efficient cause, but do not know whether the cause is determined. So we can regard it as possible, but neither as necessary or as impossible.” On the other hand, “if…we attend to the essence of the thing alone, and not to its cause,we shall call it contingent.” He clarifies this by saying: “We shall consider it as midway between God and a chimaera, so to speak, because we find in it, on the part of its essence, neither any necessity of existing (as we do in the divine essence) nor any impossibility or inconsistency (as we do in a chimaera).” A thing is possible, then, when it is made necessary by a cause, and a thing is contingent when it is possible in consideration of its own essence, that is, its essence does not necessitate its existence nor does it involve a contradiction. However, Spinoza does not think much about the distinction between these two terms, and says of those who would equate the two, that he “shall not contend with him…For I am not accustomed to dispute about words. It will suffice if he grants us that these two are nothing but a defect in our perception, and not anything real.” Thus, Wolfson is right when he says that Spinoza wishes to eliminate the idea that anything in nature is possible per se, for “everything which is possible per se is necessary in consideration of its cause.”  The term possible per se is merely a logical distinction, which represents no actual thing in nature. Hence, Spinoza says: “If he attends to nature and how it depends on God, he will find that there is nothing contingent in things, that is, nothing which, on the part of the thing, can either exist or not exist, or as is commonly said, be a real contingent.” Since this is the case, there are only two divisions of existing things: 1) that which is necessary by its cause, and 2) that which is necessary by its own nature. Spinoza’s definition of freedom, then, involves this distinction. Put simply, that which is necessary by its own nature is free and that which is necessary by its cause is compelled, or merely called necessary. This is why Spinoza says in the Short Treatise: “True freedom is nothing but [being] the first cause, which is not in any way constrained or necessitated by anything else, and only through its perfection is the cause of all perfection.”
According to Wolfson, there is a deeper criticism behind Spinoza’s God as a free cause than what I have already said. This lies in the medieval conception of God’s causality as an act of will, power, or intelligence, typically used in connection with creation, which is found in Saadia, Maimonides, and Judah ha-Levi. Maimonides holds that all three are identical in God. Maimonides admits that God cannot do the logically impossible, i.e., “produce a square with a diagonal equal to one of its sides, or a solid angle that includes four right angles.” Further, he says, “it is impossible that God should produce a being like Himself, or annihilate, corporify, or change Himself,” and “the power of God is not assumed to extend to any of these impossibilities.” Yet, when the question is raised that “to say of God that He can produce a thing from nothing or reduce a thing to nothing is…the same as if we were to say that He could…produce a square the diagonal of which be equal to its side, or similar impossibilities,” Maimonides answers the question of Creation by saying: “He willed it so; or His wisdom decided so.” Maimonides holds that “He…produced from nothing all existing things such as they are by His will and desire.”
In the previous Corollary to Proposition XVII, Spinoza had said “there is no cause, either extrinsically or intrinsically, which prompts God to action, except the perfection of his nature.” Spinoza is attempting to remove the notion of will and design from God’s causality, placing creation ex nihilo next to the other logical impossibilities. Maimonides holds that God is “perfect, incorporeal…above all kinds of deficiency.” Thus, God can’t be said to have any kind of imperfection in his nature, including deficiencies in his will or intellect. Hence, Spinoza responds: “I know there are many who think they can demonstrate that a supreme intellect and free will belong to God’s nature. For they say they know nothing they can ascribe to God more perfect than what is the highest perfection in us.”
There is, however, a deeper criticism in Spinoza’s scholium to Proposition XVII. Wolfson links Spinoza’s criticism to the view held by Abraham Herrera, who had said that God as the first cause acts not from the necessity of His nature but by the counsel of His intellect and the choice of His free will. In the Kabbalah, the question had been raised whether God could create the infinite number of things in his intellect or whether his power of creation was limited to that which he has created? In response to this, Herrera makes the following two remarks: “If God had acted from His own nature and by necessity, He would have inevitably produced everything that is in His power, which would be infinite,” and “since God has created by will and design, He has purposely created only a part of that which is in His intellect, in order to be able to create other and more perfect things.” Herrera tells us that an infinite number of things have not been brought into existence because God does not act by the necessity of his infinite nature. Instead, it is because “He acts only by the freedom of His will and purpose…that He has brought into existence and created finite things” and “for every one of the created things, however excellent it may be, He is able to produce something more excellent.” Spinoza certainly appears to be directly attacking this view when he says:
Moreover, even if they conceive God to actually understand in the highest degree, they still do not believe that he can bring it about that all the things he actually understands exist. For they think that in that way they would destroy God’s power. If he had created all the things in his intellect (they say), then he would have been able to create nothing more, which they believe to be incompatible with God’s omnipotence. So they preferred to maintain that God is indifferent to all things, not creating anything except what he has decreed to create by some absolute will…Therefore to maintain that God is perfect, they are driven to maintain at the same time that he cannot bring about everything to which his power extends. I do not see what could be feigned which would be more absurd than this or more contrary to God’s omnipotence.
There is an explicit criticism of his opponents ascribing will and intellect to God as homonymous terms. Again, we find in Maimonides that there is only a resemblance between God’s knowledge and our knowledge in name, for his “essence is in no way like our essence” and people are misled by this homonymity because “only the words are the same, but the things designated by them are different; and therefore they came to the absurd conclusion that that which is required for our knowledge is also required for God’s knowledge.” Of God’s will, Maimonides also says: “The term ‘will’ is homonymously used of man’s will and of the will of God, there being no comparison whatever between God’s will and that of man.” Spinoza characterizes what follows from this common view:
If intellect and will do pertain to the eternal essence of God, we must of course understand by each of these attributes something different from what men commonly understand. For the intellect and will which would constitute God’s essence would have to differ entirely from out intellect and will, and could not agree with them in anything except in name. They would not agree with one another any more than do the dog that is a heavenly constellation and the dog that is a barking animal.
As Wolfson notes, Spinoza likely means to convey “that since intellect and will are applied to God only homonymously, they are meaningless terms, and consequently God’s activity might as well be described as following form the necessity of His nature.” This is justified by Spinoza’s statement on the same topic in his letter to Hugo Boxel:
Since…it is commonly and unanimously admitted that God’s will is eternal and has never been indifferent, and therefore they must also necessarily grant (note this well) that the world is the necessary effect of the divine nature. Let them call it will, intellect, or any name they please, they will still in the end come to realise that they are expressing one and the same thing by different names. For if you ask them whether the divine will does not differ from the human will, they will reply that the former has nothing in common with the latter but the name; and furthermore they will mostly admit that God’s will, intellect, and essence or nature are one and the same thing.
In the Moreh Nebukim, Maimonides places both chance and necessity in opposition to creation as an act of God’s will. Those who follow Epicurus, says Maimonides, “believe that the existing state of things is the result of accidental combination and separation of the elements and that the Universe has no Ruler or Governor.” Hence, chance denies the existence of any cause in creation, for “there is none that rules or determines the order of the existing things.” Maimonides places necessity in opposition to creation as an act of God’s will because he believes that God could have refrained from creating the world, or he could have designed it differently. It is still a common religious belief today that our existence is a gift of God’s will in a benevolent act of creation. However, Spinoza attempts to differentiate between chance and necessity, and in doing so, demonstrate that “if God is assumed to act by a will whose laws are unknown to us, His activity really amounts to chance.” In the same epistle to Hugo Boxel, Spinoza gives an account of his view on the question as to whether the world was made by chance:
My answer is that, as it is certain that chance and necessity are two contrary terms, so it is also clear that he who affirms that the world is the necessary effect of the divine nature is also denying that the world was made by chance, whereas he who affirms that God could have refrained from creating the world is declaring in an indirect way that it was made by chance, since it proceeded from an act of will which might not have been.
It might be objected, though, that Spinoza is making an equivocation and introducing some other definition of chance. However, the view that Spinoza is attacking can be located. Wolfson outlines three views from the Middle Ages that existed in regard to the relation of God to the world and God’s knowledge of the world. The first view is strikingly similar to the position Spinoza is attacking in the above passage, namely that God is the arbitrary creator of the world who, having created it, is the arbitrary ruler of it. Both the creation and governance of the world are considered as the exercise of two faculties in God, that is, his free will and power. These faculties are conceived after the manner of free will and power in man, though they are infinitely superior to those of man and absolutely arbitrary, as God is independent of any external conditions or circumstances. This view is described by Wolfson as “primarily the uncritical opinion of the common masses of believers.” He notes that this was presented as a philosophical system by a branch of the Moses Kalam, which is restated in Maimonides.
According to this view, God’s will and power are conceived as absolute, unlimited, and unchecked by any rule. Creation, as a free exercise of will and power, is furthermore a continuous act, and every event is a direct creation of God. Existence is a succession of specially created events. It is analogous to the theory of divine concurrence alluded to elsewhere by Spinoza, though, I must say, the two views are not necessarily identical, for the Kalam denies not only natural causality but also uniformity of action in nature, inasmuch as it assumes God’s will to be absolutely arbitrary, whereas divine concurrence does not necessarily assume God’s will to be absolutely arbitrary; it is rather an intelligent will; and hence, barring the possibility of miracles, divine concurrence does not deny uniformity of action in nature. Spinoza characterizes ass such views as views which make everything dependent upon chance, and deny natural causality altogether.
It is only fitting that Wolfson refers to Spinoza’s epistle to Hugo Boxel at the end of this passage. In the second part of the Ethics, Spinoza also says: “By God’s power ordinary people understand God’s free will and his right over all things which are, things which on that account are commonly considered to be contingent.”
Spinoza holds that the attribution of will to the essence of God is no different than explaining things by chance, which likewise implies a denial of causality. Hence, his statement: “Tell me, pray, whether you have seen or read any philosophers who have maintained that the world was made by chance, taking chance in the sense you give it, that God had a set aim in creating the world and yet departed from his resolve.”
VII. Immanent Cause
In the Short Treatise, Spinoza’s acceptance of the principle of sufficient reason leads him to ask: “Whether there is any thing in Nature of which one cannot ask why it exists?” Spinoza mentions that in asking this we are also indicating through what cause a thing exists. Spinoza defines a cause as that which if it “did not exist, it would be impossible for this something to exist.” Note that Spinoza isn’t imposing any arbitrary definition of a cause as his own. Consider Crescas’ definition of cause:
For by a cause is meant that the existence of which implies the existence of an effect and should the cause be conceived not to exist the effect could not be conceived to exist.
Spinoza’s third and fourth axioms certainly echo this. That being said, Spinoza proceeds to discuss the nature of the cause:
We must seek this cause, then, either in the thing or outside it. But if someone asks what rule we should follow in this investigation, we say it does not seem that any at all is necessary. For if existence belongs to the nature of the thing, then certainly we must not seek the cause outside it. But if existence does not belong to the nature of the thing, then we must always seek the cause outside it. And since the former is only true of God, this shows (as we have already proven before) that God alone is the first cause of everything.
Spinoza states in Proposition XVIII: “God is the immanent, not the transitive, cause of all things.” Burgersdijck divides the efficient cause into immanent and transient cause. He describes the immanent as “that which produces the Effect in its self,”  and the transient, “out of it self.”  In the Short Treatise, Spinoza says that God “is an immanent and not a transitive cause, since he does everything in himself, and not outside himself (because outside him there is nothing).” This is precisely how Spinoza demonstrates that God is the immanent cause of all things in the Ethics. For since it is the case that everything that is, is in God, and must be conceived through God (by Proposition XV), God must be the cause of all things which are in him (by Proposition XVI, Corol. I). That is, God is the efficient cause of all things which can fall under an infinite intellect. Further, there can be no substance, or thing in itself, which is outside God (by Proposition XIV). It follows, says Spinoza, that God “is the immanent, not the transitive cause of all things.”
Since this is the only time Spinoza uses the term immanent in the Ethics, it is necessary to look into Spinoza’s other writings to give a thorough explanation of what it means to be an immanent cause. In a late epistle to Henry Oldenburg, Spinoza describes his conception of God as “far different from that which modern Christians are wont to uphold. For I maintain that God is the immanent cause, as the phrase is, of all things, and not the transitive cause.” He describes this view as the affirmation that all things “are in God and move in God.” More important is his reference in the Short Treatise to “an immanent or internal cause (which is all one, according to me)” Note that transcendent is not the same as transient, for Spinoza uses the term transcendens to mean logically greater or more general.  Thus, it is not a contradiction to say that God is a transcendent immanent cause. It is evident from all that has been said up to now that when Spinoza denies that God is a transitive cause of all things, he is denying that God is an external cause that is spatially separate from the world or that he is an immaterial cause separate from the world. When Spinoza says that God is an immanent cause, he is denying that God is an external and separable, hence immaterial, cause from the world. As Spinoza says in the Short Treatise, “the effect of an internal cause remains united with its cause in such a way that it makes a whole with it.”
The meaning of God’s immanence, and his unity with all things, does not mean that God is in things as the soul is traditionally conceived to be in the body, but instead, as Wolfson interprets Spinoza, “all things are in God as the less universal is in the more universal or, to use Spinoza’s own expression, as the parts are in the whole.” Although the universal does not exist separately from the particulars, it is not identical with them either. Hence, Wolfson says of God: “Being thus the immanent cause of all things in the sense that He is inseparable from them but still logically distinct from them, God may also be said to transcend them according to the old meaning of the term ‘transcendence,’ namely, that of being logically distinct and more general.”
VIII. Proximate Cause
In the Short Treatise, Spinoza says: “God is the proximate cause of those things that are infinite and immutable, and which we say that he has created immediately; but he is, in a sense, the remote cause of all particular things.” This corresponds to a passage in the Ethics, which is found in the Scholium of Proposition XXVIII: “God is absolutely the proximate cause of the things produced immediately by him, and not [a proximate cause] in his own kind, as they say. For God’s effects can neither be nor be conceived without their cause.” Spinoza says that this follows from Proposition XV. Burgersdijck had divided the efficient cause into the proxima (next) and the remote. The next, says Burgersdijck, “is that which produces the Effect immediately.”  The remote, on the other hand, is that “which produces the Effect by means of some more neighbouring Cause.” This is very obscure, and it is necessary to point out yet another passage in Spinoza to understand what he means by a proximate cause. In the Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione, Spinoza discusses the causal relations between singular, changeable things, and the fixed and eternal things. He points out that the essences of singular, changeable things are not derived from their series, that is, their order of existing, because this order is composed only of extrinsic denominations. This order is only circumstance, which tells us nothing of the “inmost essence of things.” This essence is to be found only in the fixed and eternal things, and the laws inscribed in them, which Spinoza calls their “true codes,” from which singular things derive their order and coming to be. He continues:
Indeed these singular, changeable things depend so intimately, and (so to speak) essentially, on the fixed things that they can neither be nor be conceived without them. So although these fixed and eternal things are singular, nevertheless, because of their presence everywhere, and most extensive power, they will be to us like universals, or genera of the definitions of singular, changeable things, and the proximate causes of all things.
Through a close reading of this passage, we can uncover what Spinoza means by classifying God as a proximate cause. It is obvious that when Spinoza says that the “singular, changeable things depend…essentially, on the fixed and eternal things” he means that the modes cannot be nor be conceived without God as the efficient cause, whose essence and existence are one and the same. When he says that the fixed and eternal things are the “genera of the definitions of singular, changeable things, and the proximate cause of all things” because of their “presence everywhere” and “extensive power,” he means that substance under one of its infinite attributes provides the first cause and universal genus for all finite things. The definition of a finite thing, then, gives us the proximate cause, which is the first cause as modified in a certain way in one of the attributes of substance. In the demonstration of Proposition XVI, Spinoza refers to an attribute of substance as a kind of genus: “Since the divine nature has absolutely infinite attributes, each of which also expresses an essence infinite in its own kind [genus], from its necessity there must follow infinitely many things in infinite modes.” Wolfson makes a controversial claim that substance has the character of a summum genus, and concludes that “Spinoza’s substance is inconceivable, and its essence indefinable and hence unknowable.” This view is clearly false, for Spinoza states in Proposition XLVII of the second part of the Ethics that we can have knowledge of God’s essence: “The human mind has an adequate knowledge of God’s eternal and infinite essence.” John Carriero criticizes Wolfson, and states that “what has the character of summa genera in Spinoza’s metaphysics are the attributes of substance, and while it follows that attributes are undefinable (because they are not conceived through anything else), he does not regard them as unknowable.” This view is much more plausible, and fits in with Spinoza’s reference to the attributes as infinite in their own genus.
God is absolutely the proximate cause of things which are produced immediately by him, that is, the infinite modes that are the totality of modes within a certain attribute. These are infinite and immutable, unlike finite modes. It is only as a first cause that God is a proximate cause, for God depends on none, and embraces all possible genera, that is, his attributes. The unchanging laws cannot be conceived without their cause, which is God, and the finite modes which depend on these laws cannot be conceived without them. God is the proximate cause by immediately being the cause of these laws, or infinite and eternal modes. In a very loose sense, God is also a remote cause. For the effects of the infinite and eternal modes are finite modes, and hence God causes the finite modes through the “neighbouring cause” of the infinite modes. However, since everything is in God, he is not separate from his effects. What Spinoza means by infinite and finite modes will be explained in the section below on modes.
 Shirley translates universal cause, Curley translates general cause. The original Dutch is “Algemeene oorzaak.”
 It has been shown (C I.80 n., Wolfson, I, 303, Wolf’s commentary on the Short Treatise, pg. 190-195) that Spinoza’s terminology of causes is borrowed from the Dutch logician Franco Burgersdijck’s Institutiones Logicae. The table presented here demonstrates the order in which Spinoza discusses the eight ways in which God is a cause in the Ethics compared to the Short Treatise. A similar table is found in Wolfson, I, 304, without my addition of the eighth cause as given in Ethics XXVIII, Schol. Wolfson notes: “However, while Spinoza has borrowed the scheme and terminology from Burgersdijck, he has made free use of it for his own purpose. The causes enumerated in this list are what the medievals themselves would have ascribed to God, but when used by Spinoza there is an implication that these causes are more truly applicable to his own conception than to theirs.”
 Moreh Nebukim, I, 69. Quoted from Wolfson, I, 302, based off of Friedländer’s translation, Vol. I, pg. 261.
 Moreh Nebukim, III, 13.
 Wolfson, I, 303. Wolfson refers to the Short Treatise, II, xxv, where Spinoza says: “Substance, because it is the principle of all its modes, can with much greater right be called an agent, rather than one acted on.” C I.72.
 Institutiones Logicae, XVII, pg. 66.
 KV, I, iii. C I.81. Brackets are my addition.
 Moreh Nebukim, II, 22.
 Summa Theologiae, I, 45.2.
 Institutiones Logicae, XVII, pg. 58.
 Moreh Nebukim, II, 12: “God being incorporeal, and everything being the work of Him as the efficient cause, we say that the Universe has been created by the Divine influence, and that all changes in the Universe emanate from Him. In the same sense we say that He caused wisdom to emanate from Him and to come upon the prophets. In all such cases we merely wish to express that an incorporeal Being, whose action we call ‘influence,’ has produced a certain effect.”
 Cause through himself, or, cause by itself.
 Institutiones Logicae, XVII, pg. 61.
 KV, I, iii, 6. C I.81.
 Bennett, A Study of Spinoza’s Ethics, 98.
 Institutiones Logicae, XVII, pg. 65.
 Institutiones Logicae, XVII, pg. 66.
 Ethics I, Proposition XVII, Dem. C I.425.
 Ethics I, Proposition XVII, Corol. I. C I.425.
 Exodus 14:21: “And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.”
 KV, I, iii, 5. C I.80-81.
 Institutiones Logicae, XVII, pg. 62.
 Ethics I, Def. VII. C I.409.
 Or Adonai II, v, 1-2.
 KV, I, vi, 2. C I.85.
 CM, I, iii, 9. Cf. Ethics, IV, Definition IV. C I.308, 546.
 It is interesting to compare this with Leibniz’s essay On Freedom (1689?). Leibniz states: “When I considered that nothing happens by chance or by accident (unless we are considering certain substances taken by themselves), that fortune distinguished from fate is an empty name, and that no thing exists unless its own particular conditions [requisitis] are present (conditions from whose joint presence it follows, in turn, that the thing exists), I was very close to the view of those who think that everything is absolutely necessary [and judged that being possible is the same as actually existing at some time], who judge that it is enough for freedom that we are uncoerced, even though we might be subject to necessity, and close to those who do not distinguish what is infallible or certainly known to be true, from what is necessary. But the consideration of possibles, which are not, were not, and will not be, brought me back from this precipice. For if there are certain possibles that never exist, then the things that exist, at any rate, are not always necessary, for everything that never exists would be impossible.” The English in brackets was first included, then deleted by Leibniz. AG 94.
 CM, I, iii, 9. C I.308.
 CM, I, iii, 10. C I.308.
 KV, I, iv, 5. C I.82.
 Moreh Nebukim, I, 53.
 Moreh Nebukim, III, 15. Cf. II, 13, Second Theory. These two examples are contrary to Euclid i., 47 and xi., Prop. 21.
 Moreh Nebukim, II, 13.
 Moreh Nebukim, II, 25.
 Moreh Nebukim, II, 13.
 Moreh Nebukim, I, 35.
 Ethics, I, Proposition XVII, Schol. C I.426.
 Ethics I, Proposition XVII, Schol. C I.426.
 Moreh Nebukim, III, 20.
 Moreh Nebukim, II, 18.
 Spinoza denies that intellect or will should be ascribed to the essence of God in Proposition XXXI.
 Ethics, I, Proposition XVII, Schol. C I.426-427.
 Epistle LIV. CW, 898.
 Moreh Nebukim, II, 13.
 Epistle LIV. CW, 898. The footnote mentions that the position described and criticized here is the same one that Leibniz will later hold in his Théodicée.
 Moreh Nebukim, I, 73-76; III, 17, Third Theory.
 Ethics, I, Appendix.
 Ethics, II, Proposition III, Schol. C I.449.
 Epistle LVI. CW, 903.
 KV, I, vi, 4. C I.86.
 Axiom III: “From a given determinate cause the effect follows necessarily; and conversely, if there is no determinate cause, it is impossible for an effect to follow.” Axiom IV: “The knowledge of an effect depends on, and involves, the knowledge of its cause.” C I.410.
 KV, I, vi, 4. C I.86.
 Institutiones Logicae, XVII, pg. 58.
 KV, I, iii, 2. C I.80.
 Ethics, I, Proposition XVIII, Dem. C I.428.
 Epistle LXXIII. CW, 942.
 KV, II, xxvi, 7. C I.148.
 Ethics, II, Proposition XL, Schol. I. C I.476. CM, I, vi. C I.312-313. Wolfson, I, 322.
 KV, I, ii, Second Dialogue, 3. C I.77.
 Wolfson, I, 323-324. See also Spinoza, Epistle XXII.
 KV, I, iii, 2. C I.81.
 Ethics, I, Proposition XXVIII, Schol. C I.433.
 Institutiones Logicae, XVII, pg. 67.
 TdIE § 101. C I.41.
 Ethics, I, Proposition XVI, Dem. C I.425. The bracketed word is my addition. Curley and Shirley both translate genere as kind. The original Latin is: “Cum autem natura divina infinita absolute attributa habeat (per definitionem 6) quorum etiam unumquodque infinitam essentiam in suo genere exprimit, ex ejusdem ergo necessitate infinita infinitis modis.”
 Wolfson I, 76. There are numerous critics of this view. See: H. F. Hallett’s review of Wolfson’s The Philosophy of Spinoza, Curley’s Spinoza’s Metaphysics, pg. 36, and John Carriero’s Monism in Spinoza. Joseph Ratner specifically criticizes Wolfson’s statement in his paper, In Defense of Spinoza. I will reproduce an excerpt from his criticism here: “Professor Wolfson’s general conclusion concerning the nature of Substance is what is most striking and interesting. He concludes that ‘Spinoza’s substance is inconceivable, its essence undefinable, and hence unknowable.’ Truly a remarkable pronouncement, when we consider that Spinoza defined substance, and that this chapter is supposed to be about that definition. Even if Wolfson would want to maintain that Spinoza defined one of the properties, or an accident of substance, not its essence (something he could hardly maintain), his statement would be no less distressing, since he maintains also that substance is unknowable. And if substance is unknowable so are modes (I, Def. V) and since nothing besides these two is granted beyond the intellect (I, 4) it follows we can never know anything—not even that Substance is a whole transcending the sum of modes which is the universe—(not necessarily excluding its being immanent, too). And yet, contrariwise, Spinoza maintained, differing from both Descartes and Maimonides, that ‘the human mind possesses an adequate knowledge of the eternal and infinite essence of God’ (II, 47). Besides, it would be somewhat difficult, were Wolfson correct, to explain why ‘the highest good of the mind is the knowledge of God and the highest virtue of the mind is to know God’ (IV, 28). The inspiration of the amor Dei intellectualis would, on the same principle, be pure charlatanism.”
 Ethics II, Proposition XLVII. C I.482.
 Carriero, Monism in Spinoza, in Spinoza: Metaphysical Themes.