Leibniz on Emotions and the Human Body

In Breger Herbert, Herbst Jürgen & Erdner Sven (eds.), Natur und Subjekt (IX. Internationaler Leibniz-Kongress Vorträge). Leibniz Geschellschaft (2011)
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Descartes argued that the passions of the soul were immediately felt in the body, as the animal spirits, affected by the movement of the pineal gland, spread through the body. In Leibniz the effect of emotions in the body is a different question as he did not allow the direct interaction between the mind and the body, although maintaining a psychophysical parallelism between them. -/- In general, he avoids discussing emotions in bodily terms, saying that general inclinations, passions, pleasures and pains belong only to the mind or to the soul (NE II, xxi, §72). He is also keen to point out that our passions derive mostly from our bodies. However, like Spinoza (Ethics III, prop. XI, Scholium) he thought that some emotions such as joy can produce pleasures which can be described also in bodily terms. For example, in a short memoir Felicity he says that music can be a pleasure for the ears and symmetry can be a pleasure for the eyes. These more intellectual emotions are actions in the sense that they represent perfection emanating from their source, the absolutely perfect being, that is, God. The feeling of perfection may produce a state of well-being which concerns both the soul and the body. -/- In my paper I will trace instances of Leibniz’s remarks on how these kind of emotions affect the body. I will also discuss the different ways the body gives rise to passions in the soul. My primary source is Nouveaux essais, book II, chapter xx and xxi, but I will also discuss various other writings by Leibniz.

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Markku Roinila
University of Helsinki


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