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Tigner, J.A. (1985). An Analysis of Spinoza's Pride and Self-Abasement. Am. J. Psychoanal., 45(3):208-220.

(1985). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 45(3):208-220

An Analysis of Spinoza's Pride and Self-Abasement

Joyce A. Tigner, M.D.

In Parts III and IV of The Ethics, Baruch Spinoza (1) discussed in detail the passive emotions of pride and self-abasement. He stated in Part III that the two are opposites (1, Definition of the Emotions, 29, explication, III). But later, in Part IV, he said that the two are closely related (1, Scholium, Proposition 57, IV). The exact relationship of the two is unclear because Spinoza claimed that both are manifest by ignorance of self, impotence, and envy, and that both the prideful and the self-abasing are most subject to emotions, talk of the faults of others, and praise themselves or their characteristics. One is left wondering how two emotions can be closely related, sharing many of the same characteristics, and yet be opposites.

Although it is clear that self-abasement is a passive emotion for Spinoza, he did not have one conception of pride. Two notions of pride appear in The Ethics, one an active emotion and one a passive emotion. The former originates in the pleasure of self-contentment with one's actual capabilities, assets, and achievements. Adequate knowledge of one's actual abilities enhances one's conatus. On the other hand, the second form of pride originates in an imaginary self-contentment. This second type of self-contentment is an inadequate idea in which a person ascribes to himself capabilities and assets which he, in fact, does not possess. This inadequate idea of his abilities renders him less capable of pursuing his conatus.

In this essay I wish to clarify the relationship between Spinoza's concepts of pride as a passive emotion and self-abasement. All references to pride in this essay shall be to the passive emotion. To examine these two concepts, I shall use the psychoanalytic conceptions of the twentieth-century psychiatrist, Karen Horney. Initially I shall describe Horney's constructive theory of neurosis and illustrate its similarity to Spinoza's psychology. Then, I shall examine the relationship between pride and self-hate in Horney's conceptual framework.

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