Descartes' passions of the soul - Seeds of psychiatry?

  • Albuquerque J
  • Deshauer D
  • Grof P
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Rene Descartes (1596-1650), often called the 'father of modern philosophy', aimed at rooting all knowledge in certainty so that our understanding of the world could progress without error. To achieve this, he needed at least one sure thing on which to build. Starting with the most basic knowledge, the fact of his own existence - cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am), he systematically proceeded to explain the world. Such systematic understanding would be accessible to anyone who applied the Cartesian method, and in turn would lead to a good life. Descartes' Passions of the Soul was written according to his method of certainty and fits in with a meticulously refined worldview. It is one of the first systematic treatises to explain a wide array of emotions, both normal and abnormal. Based on the Cartesian dualistic model of mind and body, the work helps ground a long medical tradition of separating 'rational' consciousness from emotions. For Descartes, emotions arose from two sources, the intellect and the body (Passions of the Soul and Passions of the Body). The more subtle 'Passions of the Soul' were viewed as superior to coarser and often-troublesome emotions taking root in the body. It is interesting to note the absence of clarity, however, in Descartes' division of intellectual emotions from bodily emotions, perhaps revealing an enduring weakness in the dualistic model itself. The work grapples with the multi-causal nature of psychopathology and brings out complex interactions between temperament and life experience. While modern neuroscience makes ever-tighter associations between physiology and experience, many of the basic scientific challenges we face today are outlined in this 350-year-old book. © 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Depression
  • Descartes
  • History
  • Passions

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  • Joy Albuquerque

  • Dorian Deshauer

  • Paul Grof

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