Passion and Action: The Emotions in Seventeenth-Century Philosophy

By Susan James | Go to book overview

9
The Value of Persuasion

The task of ensuring that our knowledge is free from the distorting effect of passion is made difficult by the fact that the acquisition of scientia consists largely in the critical scrutiny of the sensible ideas to which our passions adhere. Even if some of our intelligible ideas are innate—as Descartes, for example, believes—and even if we acquire more intelligible ideas in the process of enquiry, we never transcend our dependence on the senses. This conviction is universally shared by early-modern philosophers, some of whom formulate it in terms of an explicitly Aristotelian division between the intellectual and sensitive souls. Charleton, for instance, explains that, while the sensitive soul can compound and divide notions of sensible things, only the intellect can review propositions conceived from the fantasy, judge them, and reorder them. 1 Others appeal to the messages passed between the senses, the imagination, and the understanding, as when Bacon describes the senses as an agent or nuncius sending over to imagination before reason has judged, or when Reynolds represents them as porters conveying ideas to the understanding. 2 A strictly comparable view is maintained by anti-Aristotelians who construe the erstwhile powers of the soul as distinct kinds of thought. In the preceding chapter, for example, we examined Descartes's claim that 'the intellect can either be stimulated by the imagination or act upon it. Likewise, the imagination can act upon the senses through the motive force, by directing them to objects, while the senses in their turn can act upon the imagination, by depicting the images of bodies upon it.' So, 'if the intellect proposes to examine something which can be referred to the body, the idea of that thing must be formed as distinctly as possible in the imagination. In order to do this properly, the thing itself which this idea is to represent should be displayed to the external senses.' 3 Regardless of how they put the point, all these writers present the intellect as a critical faculty with an ability to integrate ideas, including representations of the extended world. Fulfilling the first of these functions, it judges the ideas presented to it and

____________________
1
A Natural History of the Passions (London, 1674), 49.
2
Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning, ed. G. W. Kitchin (London, 1973), 120; Edward Reynolds, A Treatise of the Passions and Faculties of the Soul of Man (London, 1640), 3-4.
3
Rules for the Direction of the Mind, in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, ed. J. Cottingham et al., 3 vols. (Cambridge, 1984-91), i, rule 12.

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Passion and Action: The Emotions in Seventeenth-Century Philosophy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Passion and Action - The Emotions in Seventeenth-Century Philosophy *
  • Acknowledgements *
  • Contents *
  • List of Plates *
  • Note on the Text *
  • I - Introduction: the Passions and Philosophy *
  • Part I *
  • 2 - Passion and Action in Aristotle *
  • 3 - Passion and Action in Aquinas *
  • 4 - Post—aristotelian Passion and Action *
  • Part II *
  • 5 - Negotiating the Divide: Descartes and Malebranche *
  • 6 - Mental and Bodily Passions Identified: Hobbes and Spinoza *
  • Part III *
  • 7 - Passion and Error *
  • 8 - Dispassionate Scientia *
  • 9 - The Value of Persuasion *
  • 10 - Knowledge as Emotion *
  • Part IV *
  • II - Conflicting Forces: the Cartesian Theory of Action *
  • 12 - Deliberating with the Passions *
  • Bibliography *
  • Index *
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