Spinoza’s hatchet

Original publication: Poetica Magazine, Spring 2015

By Richard Mather…


For the sole perfection and the final end of a slave and of a tool is this, that they duly fulfill the task imposed on them. For example, if a carpenter, while doing some work, finds his Hatchet of excellent service, then this Hatchet has thereby attained its end and perfection; but if he should think: this Hatchet has rendered me such good service now, therefore I shall let it rest, and exact no further service from it, then precisely this Hatchet would fail of its end, and be a Hatchet no more. (From Spinoza’s The Short Treatise On God, Man and His-Well-Being.)

Now then, Baruch Spinoza.
Let us reason.
A hatchet is an object.
An obvious assertion, I think.
But is it really only a hatchet
when a carpenter finds it
“of excellent service”?
Or does it retain its hatchetness
when not in use?
What’s more, Baruch,
what about when it is in use?
When you hew wood,
are you swinging a hatchet
or an object-in-its-own-right?
Answer me this, Baruch Spinoza.
Isn’t its object condition worthy
of consideration? And if so,
isn’t it worth asking
if this hatchet is independent
of its properties and relations?
Or shall we be like Adam –
that supreme royal subject –
who, in his garden of many things,
objectified objects without
actually granting them


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