Journal of Early Modern Studies

Volume 10, Issue 2, Fall 2021

Olivier Dubouclez
Pages 35-64

Descartes et les quarante passions. Ordre et dénombrement dans les articles 53 à 67 des Passions de l’âme

The enumeration of the “principal passions” in the articles 53 to 67 of the Passions of the Soul (1649) is generally regarded as laborious and unclear. This article opposes to this view and proposes elements to make sense of Descartes’ enumerative procedure. First, it clarifies the nature and function of what is called “ordered enumeration”: it amounts to a methodical act of collecting which must not be confused with a cognitive sequence based on determinate principles. The article also suggests that the paragraph 52 of the Passions provides relevant indications to account for the structure of Descartes’ discourse. Indeed, different ordering criteria can be deduced from the under­standing of what the emotional object is (namely profit and importance), and from Descartes’ emotional subject as a “mind-body union” put into motion by passion (temporality). The article finally insists on Descartes’ main novelty: his forty “principal passions” are not exclusively centered on the ego and his desire; on the contrary, the enumeration makes room for other human beings who, being emotional subjects in their own right, play an active role in the develop­ment of the subject’s sentimental experience.