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Passion and its Discontents

Western philosophy has long had an obsession with passion and what we should do about it. In an allegory in Plato's 'Phaedrus', Socrates portrays our passions as an unruly horse - in danger of dragging the chariot of our soul off of it's divine course. Aristotle advocates a cycle of control and catharsis to aid our ability to keep passion on reason's leash. Epictetus and Spinoza show us how to use reason to take the wind out of passion's sails, and the Romantic era's artists and philosophers advocate the very valorization of our passions over our rationality. The list goes on.

This dialectic between reason and passion has become a foundational part of our philosophical and ethical discourse. Perhaps, however, the dichotomy itself demands examining in its own right. After all, Wittgenstein and Kant show us that reason itself is not infallible, and Plato and Aristotle in their discussions of emotional education present our passions as parts of us that, though unruly, can be shaped and trained. Is it possible to think of ourselves not as two warring factions, but as a multi-faceted whole - many facets of which can be cultivated and refined? Or would speaking this way somehow rob our discourse of something that we hold dear?

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  • Brian

    american philosophy (federalism) makes a place for the passions, in recognizing man is fallible and will inevitably clash with one another as we strive to realize our true interests through democracy, thus needing checks and balances. So while passions are the fuel, the checks and balances provide the order/reason. Is this a relationship of reason keeping passions on a leash? Or is it just treating passions for what they are -- disorderly. Just as in philosophy, love of knowledge is what drives us. But we can't come to understand the structure of the universe, the order of being, or even order our discourse by way of passions.

    October 29, 2012

  • Brian

    3 · October 23, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    3. It would be interesting to explore the ideas of tantra and Indian "left-hand path" in the context of this discussion, where passions, usually seen as an obstacle to be overcome, are transformed into the very vehicle of enlightenment. This implies that there exist non-dualist solutions to the mind-body problem. I bring this up because "taming passions" implies a hierarchy with reason firmly in control, but I would propose it is useful to envision a non-hierarchical situation where both passion and reason, mind and body, get their due.

    4. How did reason come to rule over passion, anyway? What happened in ancient history, the transition from matriarchal to patriarchal societies, that made passions-body-feminine so dangerous and suspect, especially in the West and under the monotheistic religions? What does all that have to do with the very real power males exercised over females?

    2 · October 23, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    This topic raises a few questions:

    1. As the topic of discussion, are you really wishing to discuss "passions" (deep, overwhelming emotions) or emotions in general?

    2. Emotions could be said to generally have a somatic basis, so one could argue that the passion versus reason contradiction is simply a displacement of the mind/body dichotomy.

    1 · October 23, 2012

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