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Passion and Passivity

Passion and Passivity

(p.199) 6 Passion and Passivity
On Descartes' Passive Thought
Jean-Luc Marion, Christina M. Gschwandtner
University of Chicago Press

Descartes’ clarification of my body has required the horizon of passivity, which reveals the limits of previous metaphysical thought and opens a new way to think the passions. In The Passions of the Soul and the correspondence with Elizabeth, Chanut, and Christina, Descartes responds to their reading of his work as a doctrine of morality and tries to clarify the precise function of the passivity of thought. While will, imagination and understanding seem eminently active, they can also take on passive dimensions, namely when perceptions come to us as passions stirred in us through the movements of various spirits. The will must be understood both as an active faculty and as passive volitions that come to me and move me. Virtue is provoked by a passion or passivity, but involves the good use of our free will (generosity). Morality does not eliminate passivity but rather integrates the activity of virtue into it. In this way, a passion such as love or gratitude can become the “highest of virtues.”

Keywords:   morality, virtue, passions, gratitude, volition

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