Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Brandon Look


Spinoza’s magnum opus, the Ethics, is written in a very peculiar, “geometrical” style, one that builds metaphysical and ethical doctrines out of mathematical, deductive proofs. These proofs rely on a series of definitions, axioms, propositions, and demonstrations. Nowhere in the Ethics does Spinoza explain his fundamental definitions and axioms, nor does he proffer a defense of his manner of presentation. I claim that by a thorough and systematic investigation of his earliest writings we can peel back the mystery of this geometrical garb and grasp why Spinoza presents his philosophy with formal, mathematical structure. I argue for the view that his methodology is more extensive and diverse than the geometrical presentation of the Ethics with which he is most closely associated. This essay pays special attention to Spinoza's earliest unpublished works with particular emphasis paid to Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect. Therein, Spinoza provides his only extant attempt at explicitly and systematically developing his method. By focusing on the genetic development of key epistemological concepts in this text, the origins of Spinoza's system comes into stark relief. I argue that the Treatise can function like a prolegomena for the Ethics. Though there are important doctrinal disagreements between the texts, the Treatise, when conceived as a proper propaedeutic to the Ethics, can make the experience of the latter more powerful and comprehensible, filling in gaps in meaning left open by the geometrical presentation. One route for accomplishing this task requires a sustained conceptual analysis of scientia intuitiva, Spinoza's term for intuitive knowledge, the greatest form of knowledge in his epistemology. I offer a developmental account of intuitive knowledge and explore a unique interpretation of its nature that elucidates and organizes the creative momentum of Spinoza's method from the Treatise on the Emendation to the Ethics and beyond.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)