The Passions in the Nouveaux Essais: Judgements or Nonrational Forces?

jeudi 30 septembre, 9h00-9h30

Résumé de la communication :

Questions concerning the passions were central to 17th-century discussions of free will, practical reasoning, moral responsibility, and the mind-body problem. This is as true for Leibniz as it is for Hobbes, Descartes, Malebranche, Spinoza, and Pascal. While his theory of the passions does significant conceptual work for Leibniz, he leaves nothing like Descartes’ Les Passions de l’Ame - an explicit analysis of passions – with the result that one must attempt a reconstruction of his theory from various remarks scattered throughout his corpus. Fortunately, the exegetical situation is not as bleak as the previous sentence suggests; 2.21 of the Nouveaux Essais – Leibniz’s long commentary on Locke’s analysis of power and freedom – provides fertile ground from which to reconstruct a textually sensitive account of Leibniz’s theory of the passions. Leibniz and his contemporaries were drawing on a rich and divergent tradition of theorizing on the passions and the ability, or failure, of philosophy as psychotherapy that we can follow from the fifth century BC onward. My paper will focus on some of following questions regarding Leibniz’s theory of the passions as that theory is adumbrated in the Nouveaux Essais.

In Leibniz’s view, are the passions cognitive – that is are they mental judgments or attitudes – or are they rather nonrational affective powers, perhaps arising from the body? A different way to put the question is whether Leibniz is a Stoic about the nature of the passions, in which case passions are essentially cognitive, or an opponent of the Stoic analysis.

Are the passions essentially indexed to embodiment? If Leibniz’s answer is yes, as I believe it is, we will never cease to be free of the passions, since we never lose our bodies. Related to this is the causal direction question – do passions always go from body to mind, or always go from mind to body – or are they causally bi-conditional?

Are the passions dangerous, or can they be harnessed to help motivate our God-given desire for the true and good, the only path to eudaimonia and ultimately the beautific vision? This is to ask about the function and value of the passions in Leibniz’s metaphysical psychology.

In Nouveaux Essais 2.21.36, discussing how Lockean uneasiness or disquiet is at bottom appetition, Leibniz equates appetitions with the Scholastic motus primo primi. In Seneca, first movements are pre-cognitive reactions, whereas in Thomas they are the first, involuntary appetitive drives. If passions are cognitive for Leibniz, then first movements are not passions – the interesting question then becomes how first movements are related to passions.

What does the importance Leibniz places on proper habituation in the context of moral therapy imply about the nature of the passions, and on the question of whether or how philosophy can lead to the moral life, the life of virtue?

How, precisely, do wrong passions unseat reason in practical reasoning? What is the ontology of the passions – how do they relate to the powers of the mind traditionally described as will and intellect?