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Sub specie aeternitatis, from the Philosophical Dictionary, Latin for "under the aspect of eternity"; hence, from Spinoza onwards, an honorific expression describing what is universally and eternally true, without any reference to or dependence upon the merely temporal portions of reality.
In clearer English, sub specie aeternitatis roughly means "from the perspective of the eternal". Even more loosely, the phrase is used to describe an alternative or objective point of view.
Spinoza's "eternal" perspective is reflected in his Ethics, where he treats ethics through a geometric investigation that begins with God and nature and then analyzes human emotions and the human intellect. By proceeding sub specie aeternitatis, Spinoza seeks to arrive at an ethical theory that is as precise as Euclid's Elements. In the history of philosophy, this way of proceeding may be most clearly contrasted Aristotle's manner of proceeding. Aristotle investigates ethics, physics, and metaphysics separately. In his Ethics and Politics, Aristotle begins from common opinions or common sense about human affairs and attempts to arrive at knowledge; throughout, these investigations are guided by an understanding of the limited precision inherent in any study of human affairs. Similarly in his Physics and Metaphysics, Aristotle begins from what is commonly observed and what previous philosophers have written. Aristotle is less than sanguine about the prospect of arriving at geometric precision in any field other than geometry, though his natural philosophy appears to approach precision more closely than does his political philosophy. Aristotle's methodological differences in his "philosophy of human affairs" and his natural philosophy are grounded in the distinction between what is "better known to us" and things "better known in themselves," or what is "first for us" and what is "first by nature" (discussed, among other places, at Metaphysics Z.3, 1029b3–12), a distinction that is deliberately discarded by Spinoza and other modern philosophers.
Thomas Nagel, in The Absurd, wrote:
Yet humans have the special capacity to step back and survey themselves, and the lives to which they are committed... Without developing the illusion that they are able to escape from their highly specific and idiosyncratic position, they can view it sub specie aeternitatis—and the view is at once sobering and comical.
Later in the article he states:
If sub specie aeternitatis there is no reason to believe that anything matters, then that does not matter either, and we can approach our absurd lives with irony instead of heroism or despair.
Michael Martin, in Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, wrote:
Unlike animals and inanimate things we can transcend our own limited perspective and see our lives sub specie aeternitatis. From this perspective, Nagel says, all we do appears to be arbitrary.
What Michael Martin is conveying is that
From the objective perspective, what we humans do on a day-to-day basis or even over a lifetime, may be meaningless.
Or even further, since we humans are capable of looking at our own actions from an outsider's viewpoint, we can see that our own, individual actions are arbitrary.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, in Notebooks 1914-1916, wrote:
The work of art is the object seen sub specie aeternitatis; and the good life is the world seen sub specie aeternitatis. This is the connection between art and ethics.
It is a peculiarity of man that he can only live by looking to the future—sub specie aeternitatis.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:
From all this it now follows that the content of ethical problems can never be discussed in a Christian light; the possibility of erecting generally valid principles simply does not exist, because each moment, lived in God’s sight, can bring an unexpected decision. Thus only one thing can be repeated again and again, also in our time: in ethical decisions a man must consider his action sub specie aeternitatis and then, no matter how it proceeds, it will proceed rightly.
Thus to see our place in society from the perspective of this position is to see it sub specie aeternitatis: it is to regard the human situation not only from all social but also from all temporal points of view.
Peter L. Berger, in The Sacred Canopy, wrote:
Just as institutions may be relativized and thus humanized when viewed sub specie aeternitatis, so may the roles representing these institutions.
Luciano Floridi, in The Philosophy of Information, wrote:
First, sub specie aeternitatis, science is still in its puberty, when some hiccups are not necessarily evidence of any serious sickness.
Christopher Dawson, in The Christian View of History, wrote:
For the Christian view of history is a vision of history sub specie aeternitatis, an interpretation of time in terms of eternity and of human events in the light of divine revelation. And thus Christian history is inevitably apocalyptic, and the apocalypse is the Christian substitute for the secular philosophies of history.
What we are to our inward vision, and what man appears to be sub specie aeternitatis, can only be expressed by way of myth.
The stewardess began setting up the SSA machine in a rapid, efficient fashion, meanwhile explaining it. "SSA stands for sub specie aeternitatis; that is, something seen outside of time. Now, many individuals imagine that an SSA machine can see into the future, that it is precognitive. This is not true. The mechanism, basically a computer, is attached via electrodes to both your brains and it swiftly stores up immense quantities of data about each of you. It then synthesizes these data and, on a probability basis, extrapolates as to what would most likely become of you both if you were, for example, joined in marriage, or perhaps living together.
It is customary to blame the economists for an alleged disregard of history. The economists, it is contended, consider the market economy as the ideal and eternal pattern of social cooperation. They concentrate their studies upon investigating the conditions of the market economy and neglect everything else. They do not bother about the fact that capitalism emerged only in the last two hundred years and that even today it is restricted to a comparatively small area of the earth's surface and to a minority of peoples. There were and are, say these critics, other civilizations with a different mentality and different modes of conducting economic affairs. Capitalism is, when seen sub specie aeternitatis, a passing phenomenon, an ephemeral stage of historical evolution, just the transition from precapitalistic ages to a postcapitalistic future. All these criticisms are spurious....