Plato's Phaedrus after Descartes' Passions: Reviving Reason's Political Force

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For this special issue, dedicated to the historical break in what one might call ‘the politics of feeling’ between ancient ‘passions’ (in the ‘soul’) and modern ‘emotions’ (in the ‘mind’), I will suggest that the pivotal difference might be located instead between ancient and modern conceptions of the passions. Through new interpretations of two exemplars of these conceptions, Plato’s Phaedrus and Descartes’ Passions of the Soul, I will suggest that our politics today need to return to what I term Plato’s ‘psychological virtue’ (drawing on virtue’s dual senses as ‘goodness’ and ‘power’), defined as a dynamic tension among mindful desire (nous), carnal desire (epithumia) and societal desire (thumos) achieved through rational discourse (logos). The upshot of this concept of psychological virtue, is that mind, at least via discourse, is also a desiring force, and thus capable of helping create new actions for souls in the political world.
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Archival date: 2021-02-17
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