Spinoza was a hedonist because he claimed that what are commonly referred to as good and evil are “nothing else but the emotions of pleasure and pain” (Elwes, 1955). By pleasure, however, Spinoza meant “the entertaining of clear ideas” or having a clear purpose. A clear idea is one that is con- ducive to the mind’s survival because it reflects an understanding of causal necessity. That is, it reflects a knowledge of why things are as they are. When the mind entertains unclear ideas or is overwhelmed by passion, it feels weak and vulnerable, and expe- riences pain and confusion because it lacks clarity.
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The highest pleasure, then, comes from under- standing the laws of nature, because to do so is to understand God. If the mind dwells only on momentary perceptions or passions, it is being pas- sive and not acting in a way conducive to survival. The mind realizes that most sense perceptions pro- duce ideas that are unclear and therefore inadequate, because they lack the distinctiveness and self-evi- dent character of true (clear) ideas. Because unclear ideas do not bring pleasure, the mind seeks to replace them with clear, adequate ideas through the process of reasoned reflection. In other words, clear ideas must be sought by an active mind; they do not appear automatically from sensory experience.