Cartesian Thought on Proper Behaviour and Passions Cover Image

Cartesian Thought on Proper Behaviour and Passions

Author(s): Rūta Marija Vabalaitė
Subject(s): Philosophy
Published by: Visuomeninė organizacija »LOGOS«
Keywords: passions of the soul; free will; cognition; good and evil

Summary/Abstract: The article deals with the ethical thought of René Descartes. It is grounded on an account of mechanistic interpretation of human psychology. Morality and ethics are a concern of Descartes most in his work The Passions of the Soul; some comments are in Discourse on Method, Principles and in his letters. He dispenses with the view that the soul has separate parts, and rejects the distinction between the concupiscible and irascible appetites. Descartes says that while the passions, like everything given to us by God, can contribute to our well-being, they can also be excessive and must be controlled. The Cartesian position rests on the claim that good, which is pursued, and evil, which is avoided, are not opposites: good is a privation of evil. He does not accept the view of the world as divided between perceived good and evil, between things to be avoided and things to be sought. Descartes is concerned to provide a unified schema of the passions giving rise to action, but he incorporates into his analysis the emotional diversity marked by the Scholastic notions of desire and aversion. He distinguishes six primitive passions, each of which has many modifications. While the passions are not under our direct control, by understanding what they are and how they are caused we can learn indirect means of controlling them. We have to work to bring about transformations in our responses by redescribing the objects of our passions and surrounding them with a new set of associations until we come to feel differently about them. Descartes is teaching us to be masters of our passions and to control them, to acquire such skill that the evils which they cause are quite bearable and even become a source of joy. Cartesian ethics is to a certain extent conservative. Descartes gives no last answer to questions of the relation between divine prevision and our free will, of cognition as a means for a good life or an end in itself.

  • Issue Year: 2005
  • Issue No: 43
  • Page Range: 54-61
  • Page Count: 8
  • Language: Lithuanian