Of Dogs and Men: The «Psychological» and the «Ethical» in Descartes and Spinoza

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Descartes’ correspondence with Princess Elisabeth at times reads like a programme for what
would later become known as Spinoza’s theory of ethics. Crucial elements in Spinoza, however, such as the notion of beatitude and the idea of internal emotions, link up with Descartes’
Passions de l’âme , rather than with the correspondence – and yet it is on these very subjects
that Descartes and Spinoza part ways. Studying in some detail the example of the hunting dog
and the accounts of mental change occurring in both authors, this article will argue that Spinoza was able to side-step Descartes’ explanation of mental transformation for the reason that
he devoted himself to a completely different issue. Descartes’ focus in Les Passions de l’âme
is on negative emotions and behavioral training, whereas Spinoza’s attention in the Ethics is
on a remedy of the affects that may yield a naturalistic counterpart to the notion of religious
salvation – a difference in philosophical motivation between the two authors that should give
us reason to adjust commonplace interpretations of the Descartes-Spinoza controversy
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-410
Number of pages18
JournalRivista di Filosofia Neo-Scolastica
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


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