Anda di halaman 1dari 4

The interest in the emotions that so pervades seventeenth-century philosophy is itself part of a

broader preoccupation
in early-modern European culture with the relations between knowledge and control, whether of the
self or others. 8
The contribution of the passions to this theme is starkly portrayed in some of the advice books to
princes written in
this period, 9 and in a closely related genre of works which offer to teach the art to know men, 10
construed as including the art to know oneself.
Therapy, self-control, and power over others are blended to
produce an image of healthy dominion, the elements of which are clearly, if crudely, assembled and
displayed by
Senault's translator. In his Epistle Dedicatory, Senault himself emphasizes his therapeutic
aspirations, praying that his
book will help to make men virtuous by showing how passions are raised in them, how they rebel
against reason, how
they seduce the understanding and what sleights they use to enslave the will. . . . When I have
known the malady, teach
me the remedy that I may cure it.
At the same time, they delineate
a central set of oppositions. Our affective life is portrayed as for the most part a susceptibility to
pairs of positive and
negative emotions, which are variously characterized in terms of inclination and aversion, and of
unity and separation.
It is worth noting at the outset that these typologies include, alongside states that are nowadays
classed as emotions,
the passion of desire. For early-modern writers, desireand feelings such as love, anger, or sadness
are all states of a
single kind, and all answer to the rough definition of passion outlined above. In holding this view,
theorists differ sharply from contemporary philosophers, who tend to distinguish desires and
emotions. 27 Although
early-modern writers recognize that the role played by desire in reasoning and action differs in
certain ways from that
played, for example, by fear, they regard the similarities between these states as more significant
than the differences.
Consequently, their category of passions does not coincide with modern interpretations of the
category of emotion,
from which desire is excluded. Some early-modern writers use the terms passion and emotion
synonymously. 28 But
in following their practice, we need to remember that their sense of these terms diverges from
common contemporary
Whatever their
limitationsand there are manythe passions are a prerequisite of everyday human existence.
Explanations of their
functional character interpret them simultaneously as a natural adaptation of species to environment

and as evidence
of God's beneficence. According to the first view, the passions promote our well-being as embodied
according to the second, this goal dovetails neatly with our spiritual well-being so that, sometimes
in spite of
appearances, all passions are for our good.
The passivity of passions and the stirrings of perturbations may initially seem at odds with one
another: the one at rest,
the other in motion; the one inactive, the other driving. But these two descriptions are brought
together in an
understanding of the passions as forces that are at once extremely powerful and actually or
potentially beyond our
control. They perturb the economy of soul and body in ways that we are sometimes unable to
prevent, and in the most
extreme cases can overwhelm a person so completely that they die.
The process of breaking with Aristotelianism makes
this problem urgent and difficult, and the philosophers we shall consider all resolve it by analysing
the passions as
secondary qualities. They are viewed, that is, as thoughts which, like colours, tastes, or smells, are
not independent
properties of things around us but result from our interaction with the world. At the same time,
however, this
interpretation sits uneasily with the awareness that passions are highly inflected responses which
take into account our
experience and circumstances. What we feel about a situation depends on how we interpret it, and
to this extent
passions seem to be complex judgements. The problem of balancing and reconciling what seem to
be the relatively
instinctive with the more reflective aspects of the emotions echoes through this period, and we shall
trace it in the
struggles of our four philosophers to identify the thoughts that are passions and to characterize their
So far, this account suggests that Descartes identifies as passions exactly those kinds of thoughts
that Aristotelians had
described as powers of the sensible soul. But this is not the case, since he also discusses a fifth kind
perceptionunderstandingwhich occupies a slightly uneasy place in his account of the varieties
of thought. Strictly
speaking, he explains in a letter to Regius, understanding is the passivity of the mind, a perception
like the rest, 289 and
willing is the mind's activity. The soul can only understand when in some sense it receives ideas. In
practice, however,
perceptions of this kind are hard to distinguish from active volitions. [B]ecause we cannot will
anything without

understanding what we will, and we scarcely ever understand anything without at the same time
willing something, we
do not easily distinguish in this matter activity from passivity. 290 Understanding also differs
significantly from the kinds
of perception we have so far discussed, for whereas they depend on the motions of the body, the
soul is capable of
understanding by itself. It does not have the power to initiate its own understanding, as it has the
power to will. But
ideas that are innate in the mind, or are derived from the interaction of the soul with the body, can
be understood by
the soul, which has the capacity to identify some of their relations. Descartes's category of passions
or perceptions
therefore crosses the old boundary between the sensible and intellectual souls, and also crosses his
new boundary
between thoughts arising from the close and intimate union of soul and body, and thoughts that can
occur in the soul
alone. To qualify as passive, a kind of thought must presuppose that the soul is acted on in a certain
way, either by the
body or by the soul itself.

Elaborating his own definition of the passions, Descartes asserts that they can properly be described
as perceptions (les
perceptions), as sensations (les sentiments), or as emotions (les motions). By calling them
perceptions we draw attention to
the fact that they are not actions of the soul, that is to say, they are not volitions. By describing them
as sensations we
indicate that they are received into the soul in the same way as the objects of the external senses,
and are not known by
the soul any differently. But, Descartes goes on, it is even better to call them emotions, not only
because this term can
be applied to all kinds of thought, but more particularly because, of all the kinds of thought which
the soul may have,
there are none that agitate and disturb it so strongly as the passions. 295 Of these characterizations,
the first pair
reinforce the point that the passions of the soul, like sensory perceptions, are passive. But the third
adds the further,
though familiar, idea that the passions can be exceptionally powerful and unsettling. Although
Descartes does not by
any means regard the passions as pathological, he allows that their presence in the soul ensures that
it is liable to be
troubled, and that the course of life is in consequence unlikely to run smooth.

Descartes in fact has more to say about how the passions are caused than about what it is like to
experience them, and
this second theme is best explored in the light of his treatment of the first. As we have seen, there is
a close
resemblance between the opening of the causal sequences in which the passions are embedded and
the sequences

issuing in sensory perceptions. 298 In both cases, animal spirits move along the nerves from the
sense-organs to the brain
and move the animal spirits in the cerebral cavities. At this point one of two things can happen.
Motions in the cerebral
cavities may push the spirits along other nerves, causing bodily events such as a rush of blood to the
area around the
heart, or contractions of the muscles in the limbs. This purely physical mechanism explains all the
behaviour of animals
(a sheep therefore flees the wolf without feeling fear); 299 involuntary responses such as breathing
and digesting which,
according to Descartes, have solely physical causes in both humans and animals; 300 and reflex
actions such as putting
up a hand to shade one's face when one suddenly glimpses something coming towards it. These
types of behaviour
occur in the same way as the movement of a watch is produced merely by the strength of its spring
and the
configuration of its wheels. 301 In humans, however, there is a second possibility: motions in the
cerebral cavities may move the pineal gland, thereby causing
perceptions in the soul which may be sensory representations or passions, depending on the exact
composition of the
motion in question. 302 Where passions are concerned, these two effects usually occur together.
The movement of the
gland that causes a passion in the soul also causes further movements in the body, so that emotions
frequently have
typical physical manifestations 303 which Descartes itemizes at length. Shame is accompanied by
blushing, fear by
trembling, grief by pallor, and so on.