SPINOZA’S PRACTICAL PHILOSOPHY AND THE PERSON CENTERED PARADIGM
Author: Dr. Claudio Rud
“In a universe which centre is everywhere and its circumference is nowhere” 
Baruch Spinoza’s practical philosophy, with its ethical, immanent and non-dualistic view of the world, provides an epistemological support that gives coherence, clarity and effectiveness to our way of living and working in aid relationships.
I have chosen a particular order in this exposition of concepts, starting with the notion of “single substance” and “immanence”, in order to understand later what we conceive as “event”; but, as in Pascal’s sphere or Borges’ Aleph, each concept contains every other concept and each one of these provides us access to a praxis that contains them all.
Etymologically, immanence refers to staying inside (from the Latin “immanens”: the prefix “im-” means inwards and the verb “manere” which is a synonym of “stay” or “remain”). It talks about a causal process, where the effect remains within the cause. In this sense, it is the opposite of “transcendence”, where the cause remains outside the effect.
Spinoza takes this kind of causality in a radical way: everything that exists is a single substance, an immanent totality. The cause of everything that exists remains in the effect. That totality exists by the very necessity of its nature, not by an external cause. Spinoza calls this causal process “causa sui”. When a process happens immanently, it invalidates any type of external intervention. An immanent process is, above all, self-sufficient.
Each of the components of that process (all things, the man included) is an expression of that whole, which is not a homogeneous totality. Its power is to express the infinite diversity through various single ways. Therefore, there is nothing outside that whole, on another level or another order.
Spinoza defines the whole as an absolutely interconnected, unique and current universe. He calls it “single substance”, a synonym of God or Nature. Thus, he clearly pulls away from the Cartesian dualism (which recognizes two separate substances: res cogitan and res extensa), which is still present nowadays, with consequences in the scientific thinking and our daily lives. The man belongs to that same immanent order; it is not about thinking of the man in a privileged place in the cosmos anymore, but considering it as another way, amongst different ways, in which the single substance expresses itself.
We cannot conceive ourselves as individualities, but as an expression of relations, knots from a greater pattern. Hence, another dualism falls apart because of the dichotomic thinking: the idea that the other and I are separated individualities. It is from the immanence that we understand how the other and I are different expressions of the same substance, and that difference does not imply a separation, but an inevitable and mutual dependence and a mutual power.
Spinoza’s practical philosophy is an affirmative philosophy; it is not possible to understand what happens from a negative point of view. What helps us understand this idea is the concept of “conatus”: the tendency of everything that exists to keep being. Another dualism falls apart: the idea of two forces creating the living. From this point of view, there is a single expressive force that is affirmative. We understand death and destruction as part of the interaction of everything, not as intrinsic forces anymore. What exists tends to exist and seeks whatever claims that action. Life tends to live. If everything that exists is affirmation, each thing that exists has an affirmative and expressive place within the immanent event. Nothing is left out from what we call “encounter”. Everything that happens is an expression of that “tendency to persevere in the being”.
WE ARE A RELATION
Every psychotherapeutic practice carries a notion of man within, explicitly or implicitly. I understand the man as another expression of this immanent interconnection of the universe. Each man in its uniqueness is an expression of a web of relationships, having a complex ability to affect and be affected. Being mutually constituted, we can no longer conceive ourselves as isolated individuals.
Everything that happens is constituted by encounters. We are a string of affections; we touch and are touched by countless contacts, some being pleasant, others being unpleasant and others being indifferent. The idea of immanence leaves out any reference to an order that is not connected to the event of the encounter.
Spinoza dedicates his third book of Ethics to the meticulous description of all human affections, not to judge or criticize them, but to get to know them and understand them properly. He shows how men are also ways in which the whole expresses itself. The man is an expression of two of the infinite attributes: extension (everything we understand as material) and thought (everything we understand as the world of ideas).
Nothing seen from this perspective can be thought as isolated or cropped out. Cropping is a task of the imagination (which is the first mode of knowledge). We tend to imagine that the individual is possible, being separated from its context. When we get to know reality properly, When we access the proper kind of knowledge, we understand things as encounters between the different ways of expression or singularities and their relations.
Proper knowledge always includes the thing or mode in the whole. I understand then that the people are also part of a network, a web; that we are a weaving, plexus, complex, always changing constitutive relationships. We are knots in a transforming web, which ties and unties constantly. Each knot is established as a singularity in a relationship, which disappears as such in time, reentering a new constitutive relationship and so on and so forth.
It is when we are facing others that we understand that what we call identity is a moving, ever-changing structure that happens in each encounter. This is what we mean when we say that the relation creates its own subjects. Each single individual is a knot of relationships, and each relationship is a knot of single individuals. It is from the weaving that each event defines who I am and every relationship forms new identities. One is not identical to oneself, our identity is made up by relationships and that is always changing.
POWER AND POTENCY
Everything we can is determined causally. That is, it depends on the complexity of the relationships that we are part of in the present moment. That expressed potency is our uniqueness.
Spinoza calls that expressed potency “conatus”: the force with which each human being tends to persevere in being. We are talking about a single force, the force of existing, the one that is essentially within us and every human being is an expression of that potency. Personal power is then a present, non-directional force expressing in action. According to the immanence philosophy, the essence is the potency, and the potency is everything I can do here and now, in act. That potency is always fully expressed and increases or decreases depending on the type of relationship I establish with all the expressive forces present in the surroundings. This way of understanding the power in the relationship, as expressive potency, places the therapist in a deeply involved and committed place in the encounter. Rather than keeping our distance, we regard ourselves as participants and cooperators of that transformation movement that the living being brings. The therapeutic encounter is a living experience in transformation.
I have pointed out that the relation is the one that creates its own subjects, the one that allows their expression. In this sense, there is already a founding reciprocity there, because the relationship gives reciprocally a circumstantial identity to each of the encounter participants. This means that the contact between at least two subjects, stripped of attribution to any of the parts, freed of meaning and purpose, is deeply even. This is the radical reciprocity I am talking about; the space that is generated by both subjects is what I call the “in-between”.
CONSEQUENCES IN THE THERAPEUTIC RELATIONSHIP
Getting closer to the understanding of that reciprocal vision is a stance against the reality and the practice, where transformation is possible from the mutual involvement.
When we are facing the other in the office, there is a radical, reciprocal and inevitable mutuality, the inter-subjectivity, the inter-corporeity are initial. There we are, being others in front of each other, building us mutually in the present of the relationship, expressing an immanent order. All our potency is expressed there, in togetherness with the other’s potency.
Carl Rogers explores the therapeutic relationship and he considers that the therapist’s attitudes are the facilitators of a transforming human encounter, where the contact is the first condition. We understand that contact is inevitable in every relationship, and we start the encounter bringing the awareness to this mutual involvement (contact). In my experience, the basic attitudes are the expression of a single attitude, which is more like a disposition, which I define as therapeutic presence. Like everything that happens, this presence is mutually constituted, it is not something that only the therapist offers; it is an event within this mutual involvement, within the expressive interconnection that is the therapeutic encounter. Therefore, we are not talking about two presences that add up, but a single one that expresses itself.
In our opinion, the “positive” unconditional acceptance is the acceptance of the process of being, together with everything that exists here and now. Life itself is an affirmative process that overcomes the implicit contradiction between negative and positive. It is not about a “moral” acceptance as a kind of duty, but an acceptance that is a “yes” to the newcomer who is the other and who is me constituting myself there, where a common language of a unique expression will be born.
Everything we experience in the therapeutic encounter is affirmative to the potency of existing, which from an immanent point of view is always expressed in its whole.
Rogers points out that the acceptance of what the client is at a given time, increases the possibility that the therapeutic change happens. “The therapist is open to the consultant being whatever his/her immediate feelings dictate.” Which is why there is nothing to change, modify or repair; the consultant is being everything he/she is capable of being in an affirmative way.
Psychotherapy’s success relies on opening up to the other, both consultant and therapist. In our opinion, opening up makes sense in two ways: the first emphasizes the “getting to know”, it is offering ourselves to that relationship, open and willing to get to know what is happening; the second emphasizes the “giving”, it is the way in which the consistency or transparency is expressed, another attitude that Rogers describes as facilitating.
Our ethic is to be of service, offering our present experience, being mindful that this is of service to the expression and the care of the other. We find it necessary to clarify here that, within this ethic (line), we consider that every PCA therapist must rely at least on three central concepts: continuous learning, personal work and co-vision work of the task the way we define supervision). We believe that these three central concepts guarantee care of the experience of opening up in the therapeutic encounter.
With this point of view, the relationship of power that is established is different; there is no requirement of an answer from the therapist, which is a law imposed by the medical logic that believes we must “heal” whoever consults us. We are talking about letting ourselves to be present, rather than feeling forced to “do something”. Our task then, is to attend the person who consults us, bearing in mind the rigor that implies being present in that event with all of our potency and actively contemplating, without external mandates, the constitution of that particular and unique encounter; with the certainty that, as we mentioned previously, it is where our efficiency as therapists lies.
To inhabit the experience of being, leads us to understand that we are in relationship; and that understanding is what Spinoza calls common notion (appropriate idea), which implies an increase of the personal potency of each of us involved in the relationship.
It is in the encounters and in the understanding of them as potency of the ordinary that we can have access to Spinoza’s ethics and political proposal, which in our opinion includes not only our specific task, but also a way of being in life, celebrating the encounter with the others.
Dr. Claudio A. Rud
Buenos Aires . Argentina. 2016
 Blas Pascal