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Journal of Early Modern Studies

Volume 4, Issue 2, Fall 2015

The Care of the Self in Early Modern Philosophy and Science

Patrick Brissey
Pages 69-91
DOI: 10.5840/jems20154215

Reflections on Descartes’ Vocation as an Early Theory of Happiness

In this paper, I argue that Descartes developed an early theory of happiness, which he rhetorically claimed to have stemmed from his choice of vocation in 1619. I provide a sketch of his theory in the Discours, noting, however, some problems with the historicity of the text. I then turn to his Olympica and associated writings that date from this period, where he literally asked, “What way in life shall I follow?” I take Descartes’ dreams as allegorical and provide an interpretation of his curious claim that poets are better equipped to discover truth than philosophers, made at a time when he chose to become a philosopher and not a poet. My way out of this conundrum is to identify in this text a philosophical psychology that I argue is consistent with the Regulae and the Discours, is part of what he took to be his “foundation of the wonderful science,” and is the essence of his early theory of happiness.