Are Toxins Evil?: ethics and affects (a video-essay), by Trine Riel

ARE TOXINS EVIL? from Serious Life on Vimeo.

‘Indeed they seem to think of man in Nature as a state within a state, thus they believe that man rather disrupts than follows the order of nature and that he has absolute power over his actions and is not defined by anything other than himself‘ [1].

For Spinoza, there can be no distinction between what could be called ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’. Neither could the human ever be thought as a self-governing entity opposed to the order of nature; there is necessarily for Spinoza but one Nature for all bodies [2].

Nature should be understood as the main force — the essence in and order of all things; it operates in both man and in the minerals of the mountain. Rather than a term describing a ‘natural’ structure external to man, a structure who’s fragile self-reliant arrangement man is thought to brutally disrupt, it is that which gives all bodies the capacity (power) to affect and to be affected.

Instead of ‘a natural environment’ (singular) supposedly surrounding man, we might then talk of affective milieus of direct engagement; of situations in which complex processes (organic and other) of exchange take place — human and non-human alike; of a plane where bodies (all bodies; all individuals) constantly enter into altering relations, undergo multiple combinations and decompositions, rather than a site from which one specific body (the human) is absurdly excluded exactly when we talk about causing harm or having duties towards ‘it’ — the natural environment.

How do such milieus of exchange relate to ethics?

Spinoza’s ethics, far from being a system of morals, is a pure ontology and with Deleuze we might even call it an ethology, that is, ‘a practical science of the manners of being’ [3]. Manners of being affected more specifically; Spinoza’s Ethics is a whole economy of affective relations and interactions.

These complex exchanges taking place between bodies (organised by each individual’s capacity for affecting and being affected) are further described by Deleuze as chemical reactions.

The chemical connection becomes clear when looking at Spinoza’s analysis of ‘Adam’s big mistake,’ which appropriately also places it directly at the core of ethics as opposed to morals:

‘the prohibition to Adam consisted only in this: God revealed to Adam that eating of the tree caused death, just as he also reveals to us through the natural intellect that poison is deadly to us’ [4].

[1] Baruch de Spinoza Ethics part III, preface.
[2] In Spinoza a body is not defined as form or substance, as Deleuze explains: ‘it can be anything; an animal, a body of sound, a mind’ Gilles Deleuze Spinoza: Practical Philosophy.
[3] Gilles Deleuze Ontologie-Ethique.
[4] Baruch de Spinoza Letter to Blyenbergh.

Trine Riel, [tba], DK

Harvard Citation Guide: Riel, T. (2012) Are Toxins Evil?: ethics and affects (a video essay), International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 20 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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