"All in Their Nature Good": Descartes on the Passions of the Soul

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Descartes claims that the passions of the soul are “all in their nature good” even though they exaggerate the value of their objects, have the potential to deceive us, and often mislead us. What, then, can he mean by this? In this paper, I argue that these effects of the passions are only problematic when we incorrectly take their goodness to consist in their informing us of harms and benefits to the mind-body composite. Instead, the passions are good in their motivational function, which they carry out by representing objects and situations as having various properties and thereby appearing to be “reasons of goodness.” Further, I argue that the main way in which the passions are problematic is merely an occasional physiological byproduct of a well- functioning system. I show, therefore, that the passions’ motivational function, representationality, and accompanying physiology are all significant and interrelated aspects of their goodness.
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First archival date: 2020-01-17
Latest version: 2 (2020-01-22)
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