The Passions of the Soul

Dublin Core


Although this work has been overshadowed in the history of philosophy by Descartes’s more famous Meditations, it contains his most mature and influential discussion of mental states (specifically emotions) as the object of scientific (specifically physical and biological) investigation. As Descartes puts it in the book’s preface, “my purpose has not been to explain the Passions as an Orator, or even as a moral Philosopher, but only as a physicist” (17). Yet Descartes’s theorizing here at once draws upon and further develops his view of persons as embodied but ultimately supernatural souls. For this reason, most mental states are only partially intelligible in scientific terms. For instance, Descartes holds that “from the mere fact that we have the volition to take a walk, it follows that our legs move and we walk” (28). The bodily side of this process can be given a more detailed account in terms of physical laws. However, on Descartes’s view, there is nothing more to say about the connection between the mental state and the action it produces.


Translated by S. Voss. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1989 [1649]








Descartes, René, “The Passions of the Soul,” Legacies of the Enlightenment, accessed October 1, 2023,