Spinoza's Theory of Emotions

Topics: Causality, Baruch Spinoza, Mind Pages: 14 (5169 words) Published: November 21, 2011
Christian Scherrer, student number: 013851259

Analysing and synthesizing passions Aspects of Cartesian and Spinozist method It has often been noted that in the third part of his „Ethics“ Spinoza follows in his list of definitions of affects to a great extent the one of passions given by Descartes in his “Passions de l'Ame” (apart from divergent evaluations of some of the passions1, like Spinoza´s refusal to include admiratio among them). It also appears that both of them are building a taxonomy of passions that introduces some kind of hierarchical order among these. We find both in Descartes as well as in Spinoza a set of passions2 out or by means of which further, in some sense more complex or specific passions are being developed from. What will be my guiding interest in this essay, is to compare and distinguish the two theories of passion according to the sense in which basic or primary passions are named thus and the way they are being discovered or identified and thereby hinting at a difference on the more general level of methodology. I want to begin with what is a starting point in Descartes´ and Spinoza´s defining the passions in a general manner. It is very interesting and insightful to compare the procedures through which they arrive at their different conceptions of passions and at identifying and defining the basic ones. It is true that they both operate with the notion of causa as a starting point for their distinction between action and passion, but we should draw our attention to what follows and what comes in between their principles of causality and the definitions of the basic affects to rightly appreciate the differ ence in their approaches. In reality, though, we already find important differences in the relational structure between the notions of action, passion and cause. In the very first paragraph of the “Passions de l'Ame”, Descartes starts with a very general principle, adopted from other philosophers, which consists in distinguishing within the components of a causal event between two things: an 1 As Spinoza, like Descartes, names several of the defined entities in part III of the „Ethics“ „passions“, except from those actions whose „adaequata possimus esse causa“ (see EIIID3), I will subsequently continue to talk about pas sions, without differentiation between their being cartesian or spinozist, where this distinction by Spinoza can be applied. The references in my quotations from Spinozas “Ethics” I will always abbreviate with “E”, followed by roman num bers for the respective part, then the letters “D” for “definitione”, “P” for “propositio” plus the respective arabic numbers, “Sch” for “scholium”, “Cor” for “corollarium” etc. References to the “Passion de l'Ame” will be abbrevi ated by “P” plus “§” and the respective number of the paragraph. 2 Also here it is adequate to speak only of passions in Spinoza`s use or the term because indeed in part 3 of the Ethics we find such affects that are derived from tristitia (which is always a passion) and laetitia only as far as „in nobis aliquid fit vel ex nostra natura aliquid sequitur, cujus nos non nisi partialis sumus causa“ (EIIID2), which means being passive. Whether kinds of active joy or even such with components of passive joy can be derived from the basic affects is another question and we will shortly come back on this again.


Christian Scherrer, student number: 013851259

active and a passive part in relation to which one and the same event may be called either an action or a passion. So in every single case that falls under this kind of structure we necessarily have one active and one passive component that will determine the perspective on the event relating them and decide whether it is an action or a passion. In Spinoza, on the other hand, we find a completely different structure in the relational field among these notions and we may suppose that this will have consequences on his further proceeding. First we have to...
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