This paper revisits the question of the ontological status of universals in Spinoza’s Ethics. Specifically, it re-examines its position on common natures of finite modes. I first show that while it clearly teaches that only individuals ultimately exist and that universals are mere mental constructs, it nevertheless also posits the mind-independent existence of common natures of finite modes. I then reconcile these seemingly contradictory elements, arguing that common natures of finite modes are in themselves mere “formal essences”, devoid of all being and neither individual nor universal (universality being something they acquire only in the mind), and that they take on existence in individuated form as real metaphysical constituents of the “actual essences” of singular things.

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Keywords Actual essence, Benedictus de, Common natures, Finite modes, Formal essence, Human essence, Individuation, Ontology, Spinoza, Universals
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Journal Cogent Arts and Humanities
Stephenson, E. (2016). Common natures of finite modes in Spinoza’s Ethics. Cogent Arts and Humanities, 3(1). doi:10.1080/23311983.2016.1190438