A timely proposition today:

BOOK III, PROP. XVI. Simply from the fact that we conceive, that a given object has some point of resemblance with another object which is wont to affect the mind pleasurably or painfully, although the point of resemblance be not the efficient cause of the said emotions, we shall still regard the first-named object with love or hate.

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In his original formulation from The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud used to transference to refer to any transfer of affect from one object or thing to another. Thus, for example, transference is involved in the dreamwork, where displacement leads a particular element associated with the original object to which the affect is attached to the other object. As a result, something unrelated to the origin of the affect comes to take on an affective charge as a result of its resemblance or association to this other object. The same mechanisms are found at work in Spinoza’s analysis of affect as can be seen from above. For example, if one is repeatedly beaten by their stepfather they might come to experience the affects associated with their stepfather with regard to any other man that resembles their stepfather. Resemblance should be construed very broadly here. Resemblance can be obvious physical resemblances, but it can also refer to a common context or even a shared word or signifier. As nominalists have pointed out for a long time, there are fewer words than there are things. As a consequence, a diversity of things can be grouped under one and the same word without sharing hardly anything in common. Nonetheless, because they share minimally the word in common, affect can be transferred from one object to another based on the common link between the objects to the word.

It is interesting how much Spinoza, a rationalist, resembles Hume on these points. In his critique of miracles in an Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding Hume writes,

The maxim by which we commonly conduct ourselves in our reasonings, is, that the objects, of which we have no experience, resemble those, of which we have; that what we have found to be most usual is always most probable; and that where there is an opposition of arguments, we ought to give the preference to such as are founded on the greatest number of past observations.

Hume’s point is simply that we determine the probability of third person testimony of things that we have not experienced in terms of whether these reported events conform to the regularities we have come to expect in the world. However, one might be mislead in reading Hume’s reference to reasoning, as this is not a conscious process. It must be recalled that for Hume we form associations of relations between cause and effect through habit or custom, which he describes as an unconscious process that occurs automatically in our minds when two events commonly occuring together (thus allowing us to often confuse causation with mere correlation). Hume and Spinoza are very much on the same page here. Similar experiences of things that resemble one another produce similar affects for Spinoza, regardless of whether or not the two things are in fact the same. What makes Spinoza especially interesting here is the way in which he treats the passions as a principle by which these associations are forged and maintained.

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