For whatever a man imagines that he cannot do, he imagines it necessarily, and by that very imagination he is so disposed that in truth he cannot do what he imagines he cannot do.
For so long as he imagines that he cannot do this or that, so long is he determined not to do it: and consequently, so long it is impossible to him that he should do it.
However, if we pay attention to these things, which depend solely on opinion, we shall be able to conceive that a man should under-estimate himself.
Benedict Spinoza – Ethics
I’ve played around with this quote for years because it gets right to the heart of a key aspect of Spinoza’s philosophy.
By imagination, he means dubious notions and images we absorb from the outside world without having examined them effectively – or even without having examined them at all.
He wrote long before modern ideas of psychological conditioning, but here he is effectively saying that our abilities as well as our thinking can be conditioned by the outside world.
If we absorb the notion that we can’t do something without taking the trouble to analyse why not, then we simply can’t do it and that’s that. Not a particularly remarkable conclusion for our times, but remarkable enough for his I suspect.
Many of us do underestimate ourselves and I suspect we should always try to notice the fact and analyse why it may be so. Was the underestimate fed to us by external circumstances?
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