Generosity And Mechanism In Descartes's Passions

Minerva 9:236-260 (2005)
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Descartes’s mechanistic account of the passions is sometimes dismissed as one which lacks the resources toadequately explain the cognitive aspect of emotion. By some, he is taken to be “feeling theorist”, reducing thepassions to a mere awareness of the physiological state of the soul-body union. If this reading of Descartes’spassions is correct, his theory fails not only because it cannot account for the intentional nature of the passions,but also because the passions cannot play the role in Descartes’s moral theory they are meant to play. I arguethat Descartes’s account is not best read as a feeling theory. I defend a reading of the Cartesian passions whichacknowledges their mechanistic nature, arguing that for Descartes, passions are modes of the soul withcognitive significance, they are perceptions of relational axiological properties. Thus, Descartes’s theory of thepassions has the resources to connect it with an account of good conduct. As a means of elaborating on thenormative nature of the passions I consider the role of generosity in Descartes’s moral theory

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Emer O'Hagan
University of Saskatchewan


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