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Hume's Classification of the Passions and Its Precursors James Fieser Hume's theory ofthe passions appears in book 2 ofhis Treatise (1739), and, in shorter form, in his "Dissertation on the Passions" originally from Four Dissertations (1757).1 When the "Dissertation" first appeared, two reviews criticized Hume's theory for being unoriginal. The first appearing review, which was in the Literary Magazine, says of the "Dissertation" that "we do not perceive any thing new. This we should notmentionifwe were not talking ofan authorfond ofnovelty."2 The Critical Review opens its account noting similarly that "in our opinion [the "Dissertation"] contains nothing new or entertaining on the occasion." After presenting excerpts, the reviewer concludes: "This whole dissertation, to say the truth, appears to us very trite and superficial; and unworthy of so eminent a writer. But no authors are always equal to themselves."3 Hume, by contrast, believed that his account of the indirect passions, which dominates both book 2 and the "Dissertation," was unique.4 William Rose, in his review of the "Dissertation" in the Monthly Review, agrees with Hume, noting that "[h]is theory depends entirely on the double relations of sentiments and ideas, and the mutual assistance which these relations lend to each other. What he says upon the subject, is extremely ingenious, and deserves the philosophical reader's attentive perusal."5 Few today would dispute the uniqueness ofHume's account ofthe indirect passions. Why, though, did two reviewers consider Hume's theory unoriginal? Part of the answer rests in the degree to which Hume's general classification of the passions follows traditional classifications. By understanding how Hume was in line with tradition, his uniqueness may be better appreciated. I will first sketch the traditional classifications of the passions. Second, I will draw comparisons between aspects of Hume's classification and other Enlightenment accounts. Finally, I will criticize the interpretations of Hume's classification offered by Kemp Smith, Ardal, and Loeb, and suggestwhatIbelieve is the most textually soundclassification. In each of these sections, my focus is on taxonomy. However, since many divisions of the passions derive from the psychological mechanisms which produce various passions, some account will be given of these operations. Volume XVIII Number 1 JAMES FIESER Traditional Classifications ofthe Passions The passions have been traditionally understood as disturbances ofthe mind or soul, the key ones beinglove, hate,joy, grief, hope, fear, desire, and aversion.6At therisk ofover-simplification, afairlyunified account ofthe passions can be found beginning with Plato and lasting until the mid-nineteenth century. One feature of this tradition is that the passions fall into positive and negative classes. This is first noted by Aristotle who argues that the passions are "feelings that are accompanied by pleasure or pain."7 Following Aristotle, most accounts divide the passions in reference to good or bad objects and experiences. Good experiences, such as dining, are pleasing, whereas bad experiences, such as illness, are displeasing. Consequently, passions such as joy and griefare mirror images according to the good (pleasing) or bad (displeasing) nature of the experience. A second feature of most theories is that there is a small foundational class of passions which gives rise to others through variation. The most popular foundational set includes four:joy, sorrow, hope, and fear. Although the earliest reference to these four is by Plato (Laches 191C), Zeno of Citium and the Stoics are attributed with developing a theory of the passions based on these. The fullest surviving account ofthe Stoic theory is given by Cicero in his Tusculan Disputations.8 In Cicero's discussion, the four most primitive passions are joy (laetitia), grief (aegritudo), desire (cupiditas or libido), and fear (metus). Joy and desire are the result of good circumstances, whereas grief and fear are the result of evil. Further, joy and griefresult when a circumstance or object is actually present, in contrast to desire and fear which arise when one anticipates a future circumstance. The division is as follows: Present Anticipated Good Object joy desire Evil Object grief fear In Roman and medieval philosophy, the Stoic division of the passions was widely endorsed by writers such as Virgil, Augustine, and Boethius.9With Thomas Aquinas, though, an alternative classification arose. Thomasrecognized...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 1-17
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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