Article ID: CBB526688882

A Very Obscure Definition: Descartes’s Account of Love in the Passions of the Soul and Its Scholastic Background (2016)


The definition of love given by Descartes in the Passions of the Soul (art. 79–84) has never stopped puzzling commentators. If the first Cartesian textbooks discreetly evoke or even fail to discuss Descartes’s account of love, Spinoza harshly criticizes it, pointing out that it is ‘on all hands admitted to be very obscure’. More recently several scholars have noticed the puzzling (or even paradoxical) character of the articles of the Passions of the Soul on love and hate. In this paper, I would like to propose a reassessment of the definition of love provided by the Passions of the Soul and the Letters to Elisabeth and Chanut. By tracing back Descartes’s scholastic sources (namely Aquinas’s treatises on the passions and charity in the Summa Theologiae), I will demonstrate how Descartes builds up his definition of love by displacing or subverting the meaning of several major elements of the thomistic vulgata on love. Hence, a significant part of the obscurity of the definition given by the Passions of the Soul possibly finds its ultimate rationale in this attempt to recover some traditional questions of the scholastic debate on love, while advancing new answers to them.

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Authors & Contributors
Bergmans, Luc
Koetsier, Teunis
Cavazzini, Andrea
Giannetto, Enrico
Rousset, Bernard
Canziani, Guido
Perspectives on Science
British Journal for the History of Philosophy
Revue d'Histoire des Sciences
Bruniana & Campanelliana: Ricerche Filosofiche e Materiali Storico-testuali
Franco Angeli
Purdue University (Lafayette, Indiana)
Science and religion
Mind and body
Soul (philosophy)
Descartes, René
Spinoza, Baruch
Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm von
Hobbes, Thomas
Galilei, Galileo
Ariew, Roger
Time Periods
17th century
Early modern
18th century
20th century
16th century
North America

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