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Ethics V, Prop. XXXVIII.– In proportion as the mind understands more things by the second and third kind of knowledge, it is less subject to those emotions which are evil, and stands in less fear of death. 

Spinoza understands three types of knowledge that people are capable of. The first kind is the most false, caused by imagination, superstition, prejudice, and general inadequate ideas of things. Any inadequate idea is evil (IV Prop. LXIV). The second kind of knowledge is born from reason, intellect, and knowledge common to all men. The third kind, is from intuition. Intuition is defined as the “…kind of knowledge proceeds from an adequate idea of the absolute essence of certain attributes of God to the adequate knowledge of the essence of things.” (II Prop. XL Note 2).

I don’t know if I have any sort of the third knowledge, but I believe the point to take from this singular proposition can be very stoic. It is not uncommon, after all, to consider Spinoza a stoic. By increasing our understanding of a particular thing, it has less ability to affect us. For example, when you are mugged by someone, it is naturally a very negative experience. As soon as you have a more adequate understanding of the mugger, their life, the factors that drove him/her to crime (such as desperation or a messy childhood), and the ‘chance’ element at play, you are able to take it less personally. It is not an attack on you, it is you walking into a series of determined causes that just happen to crest as a mugger. Sure, knowing all that won’t make you super zen about it, but at least you can move on much more easily after it occurs.

Trauma from such things is hard to avoid. There is one traumatic experience I have gone through, inappropriate to speak of the details here, but one of the best mechanisms for coping (besides just not thinking about it or letting the thought slip on by) is to try to understand the cause. Not just that, but the cause of that cause, find the chain that led up to the event. Grab that chain, pull it, observe each link, find the vast interlocking web of events that the actors towards what you are trying to understand. Causes are external, internal, from genetics, from parentage, etc. When so many things are at play, I get the sense that it was predetermined. I cannot control the event, but I have a better understanding that the event is simply one of the many waves of causes coming to a crest.

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