DESCARTES' "PASSIONS OF THE SOUL": THE PSYCHOLOGICAL FOUNDATION OF MODERN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY

JEFFREY DON CHUSKA, Fordham University

Abstract

Descartes has been called the founder of modern philosophy and is often associated with the founding of modern natural science. But it is not always noted that Descartes also developed a psychology and an ethics, found primarily in Descartes' Passions of the Soul. The purpose of this essay is to discern the outlines of the political philosophy which could have grown from Descartes' psychology and ethics.^ The difficulty of the task becomes apparent when one considers that Descartes never wrote a systematic treatise on politics like, say, Aristotle's Politics or Hobbes' Leviathan. The difficulty is greatly reduced when two things are noted. First, the psychology and ethics contained in Spinoza's Ethics are essentially similar to those found in Descartes' Passions. Second, Spinoza's political philosophy is based on and derived from his Ethics. Thus, we already possess a model of the way in which Descartes could have developed a political philosophy. And because the Passions affords a fresh glance at the origin and nature of the conception of human nature which lies at the base of modern political philosophy, the attempt to describe a Cartesian political philosophy is desirable.^ Noting essential similarities between the thought of Descartes and Spinoza, the political works of the latter are used to assist in the search for and in the drawing of political implications from the Passions and other of Descartes' works. Comparison and contrast with relevant sections and concepts found in Aristotle's works is used to the same end. In conjunction with these models, the essay focuses concern on four questions: What is human nature? What is wisdom? What is virtue? What is the best regime? The author then presents an outline of Cartesian political philosophy.^ Descartes is primarily concerned with discovering the nature and extent of the power of what he calls the human soul. Human power arises from the uniquely human ability to will, and consists of the uniquely human possession of free will. Wisdom and virtue are, according to Descartes, expressions of human power which simultaneously increase man's power over both himself and nature. The political association also is an expression of human power. (Abstract shortened with permission of author.) ^

Subject Area

Political science

Recommended Citation

CHUSKA, JEFFREY DON, "DESCARTES' "PASSIONS OF THE SOUL": THE PSYCHOLOGICAL FOUNDATION OF MODERN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY" (1984). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8515893.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8515893

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