Rational Mastery, the Perfectly Free Man, and Human Freedom

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This paper examines the coherence of Spinoza’s combined account of freedom, reason, and the affects (FRA) and its applicability to real humans in the context of the perfectly free man Spinoza discusses towards the end of part 4 of the Ethics. On the standard reading, the perfectly free man forms the model of human nature and thus the goal to which real humans should aspire. A recently proposed non-standard reading, however, posits that the perfectly free man should not be considered the model of human nature. Consolidating FRA into a system of ten theses and outlining their intricate interconnections, I argue that under both the standard and non-standard readings of Spinoza’s perfectly free man, FRA founders when applied to real humans. While it is no big news that FRA may face deep problems when applied to real humans, the paper is innovative: (a) in the specific tensions in FRA it exposes; (b) in the strategy deployed to expose the latter; and (c) in showing that a recent non-standard approach to resolving these tensions is unsuccessful. Depending on the specific reading of FRA that I suggest, my critical conclusions may not apply to every reading of FRA. They nonetheless pose a serious challenge to similar readings prominent within the literature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1253-1274
Number of pages22
JournalPhilosophia (United States)
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2017


  • Affects
  • Causal adequacy
  • Epistemic adequacy
  • Freedom
  • Reason
  • Selfpreservation
  • Spinoza

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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