A visit from the Groke (original name Mårran in Swedish or in Finnish, Mörkö) over the past couple of days has driven me in search of some medicine for the mind. With little give and take on terminology, I’m warming to Monsieur Descartes‘ latest book, The Passions of the Soul, published in 1649. Much of it comes out of the correspondence he had with Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia, herself a sufferer from melancholia who hoped to find a remedy for her disease in the study of philosophy.
He seems to capture something essential about the physical, embodied nature of emotions, the phenomenological nature of their arriving in the soul/self from or via the body, rather than originating in thought.
If I understand him correctly, this would be in opposition to the modern cognitive approach to understanding emotions and their more persistent cousins moods. But I somehow doubt that this reading is correct, and so I’ll continue to wrestle – and I’ll let you know who wins.
Meanwhile, to be getting on with, here is Descartes’ definition of sadness (article 92):
Sadness is an unpleasant languor, wherein consists the distress which the soul receives from the evil or defect which the impressions of the brain represent to it as belonging to it. And there is also an intellectual Sadness, which is not the passion but which hardly ever fails to be accompanied by it.