Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Descartes on the stupefied admiration

"But more often we wonder too much rather than too little, as when we are astonished in looking at things which merit little or no consideration.  This may entirely prevent or pervert the use of reason.  Therefore, although it is good to be born with some inclination to wonder, since it makes us disposed to acquire scientific knowledge, yet after acquiring such knowledge we must attempt to free ourselves from this inclination as much as possible.  For we may easily make good its absence through that special state of reflection and attention which our will can always impose upon our understanding when we judge the matter before us to be worth serious consideration.  But there is no remedy for excessive wonder [(d’admirer avec exces)] except to acquire the knowledge of many things and to practice examining all those which may seem most unusual and strange."

     Descartes, The passions of the soul 76, trans. Robert Stoothoff (The philosophical writings of Descartes 1 (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1985), 355) =the standard Œuvres de Descartes ed. Adam & Tannery, vol. 11, p. 385.  I have not read The passions, but was put onto this by Thibault Barrier, "La capture de l'esprit:  attention et admiration chez Descartes et Spinoza," L’attention au XVIIe siècle:  conceptions et usages =Les études philosophiques 2017, no. 1 (2017):  48-49 (43-58):  "voluntary attention is not opposed to simple impassibility, but to an admiration become hebetude" (49), i.e. stupor.

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